Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I Support the Polish Heritage Historic District

Last night the City Council Ordinance Committee voted 4-1 (Alexander, Bartley, Lisi and Vacon –yea, Chateauneuf- nay) for the creation of a Polish Heritage Historic District (PHHD). The full City Council will have an opportunity to vote on its adoption at our April 7 meeting and will require the vote of 10 councilors. I want to list some key facts that went into my decision to support the District. If you find that you agree with these points, I urge you to call your City Councilors and ask them to support the district as well.

1.       The PHHD guidelines are not overly restrictive or burdensome for property owners.
The PHHD guidelines mimic the ordinances that create and define the Fairfield Ave. Historic District and in many cases are more relaxed because the PHHD has fewer design features to maintain than a residential neighborhood. The guidelines apply ONLY to modifications or improvements to EXTERNAL architectural features that are in public view from a public way.
You can see the guidelines here (Sec. 18-105(2) Local Historic District Guidelines- Polish Heritage Historic District) and a map of the district here.

2.       The PHHD does not prohibit the demolition, transfer, or sale of the property.
Property owners in the PHHD may freely sell or transfer their properties WITHOUT the involvement of the district Commission.
The property owners may demolish properties in the Historic District, but must first go through a review process and obtain a certificate from the PHHD Commission. (Demolition of these properties may also trigger a demolition delay that is independent of the establishment of the PHHD)

3.       The PHHD does not require or compel property owners to make any improvements to or rehabilitate their property at all.
Property owners included in the PHHD are not forced to make any improvements, upgrades or modifications to either the interior or exterior of their properties. The guidelines are only triggered if a property owner wishes to make changes or modifications to the exterior architectural features that may be viewed from a public way, in which case a certificate must be obtained from the PHHD Commission. As listed above, the guidelines may require property owners to use specific materials or design features when modifying the external architectural features of their properties.
There are three different certificates that property owners may obtain from the PHHD Commission that allow them to proceed with external improvements or modifications:
1)      Certificate of Appropriateness: states that the improvements/modifications sought fall within the jurisdiction of the PHHD and that they meet the stated guidelines. The PHHD Commission may in this case impose certain restrictions or limitations to help the proposed alterations meet the guidelines.
2)      Certificate of Nonapplicability: states that the improvements/modifications sought do not trigger the PHHD guidelines
3)      Certificate of Hardship: states that the applicant has demonstrated that the improvements/modifications sought bear some hardship, financial or otherwise, if they were to meet the PHHD guidelines.

4.       This is not about picking ethnic “winners” and “losers.”
The creation of the PHHD was initiated by a petition of Holyoke residents that wish to celebrate and honor the history and legacy of the Polish community that lived in this area years ago. It is the first petition of its kind to come before the City Council and as the economic benefits of such districts have been clearly demonstrated by a wealth of literature, I would happily support the creation of other similar districts that call attention to our city’s rich cultural history and ethnic diversity.

5.       The PHHD is a tool for neighborhood preservation and economic revitalization.
The City of Holyoke has been making great strides in advancing downtown economic development and investment. The creation of the PHHD, in setting out architectural guidelines and design standards, is simply another tool that assists in the neighborhood preservation and economic revitalization of our urban core.

Councilors in support of the PHHD: Alexander, Bartley, Lebron-Martinez, Lisi, Soto, Vacon, Valentin
Councilors in opposition to the PHHD: Chateauneuf, Tallman
Councilors who have not expressed a firm position on the district:
Bresnahan: 230-9351
Greaney: 534-5749
Jourdain: 538-5519
Leahy: 535-3353
McGee: 534-1764
McGiverin: 536-6557

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On Why I March and #FTP

Our country’s Founders had the revolutionary idea that everyday citizens would be more capable and effective than a monarch or elite class at creating a just and egalitarian society. One of the requirements of this vision is that everyday citizens take an active role in governance.

As an elected official, it is clear that I am interested in participating in this grand experiment we call democracy. From my work as a community leader I have demonstrated my commitment to motivating people to get involved in governance- whether by encouraging people to run for office, working with youth to develop their civic skills, training young leaders to organize campaigns, or by creating CRUSH- a social network where people could exchange ideas and develop new projects that could contribute to our community.

I want my son to know human beings have the ability to affect extraordinary changes- not only in our own lives, but also in the lives of others and in society. That when injustices are exposed, we have the capacity to not only recognize them, but to rectify them as well. It is for this reason that he and I took a bus down to NY this past September to participate in the “People’s Climate March” (to protest overreliance on a fossil fuel economy and support a transition to renewable energies) and it’s why I marched with him through the streets of downtown Holyoke last Friday in “From Ferguson to NYC to Holyoke” (to protest the recent shootings of unarmed black men, women, and youth and support the call for reforming problematic police practices).

As an elected representative of the community it was important for me to demonstrate to both the protestors and the police force that I expected the march to proceed peacefully, so much so that I was willing to be present at the march with my 14-month old baby strapped to my back. I joined the group as the moment of silence concluded outside of the Holyoke Police Department.

Several messages were chanted as the group made their way through the streets and it has come to my attention that some people are accusing me of chanting “FTP” (f@$% the police). I want to make sure that there is no mistake here- I did NOT have any interactions with police officers that day nor did I chant “FTP” at any point and I would not ever give my voice to support such a sentiment- I find it to be degrading and that it doesn’t reach the people who we need to include as we grow the movement- namely police officers and white, middle-class citizens. It was also my experience that this particular chant was not sustained by the group marching for very long- it came up, but died quickly unlike some of the other chants like “This is what democracy looks like.” Here again is why participation is so vital- it shapes the movement and the discourse; your voice can energize those aspects that you’d like to support and the absence of your voice can also rob less desirable aspects of the lifeblood they need to continue.

My father and grandfather as well as my mother’s brother are all retired NYPD. I have a deep appreciation for the hard work and risks that police officers take on every day in the field. I also believe that many police practices are in need of reform.

Since the Ferguson issue first came up I have seen it as an opportunity to explore what we are doing locally and only recently wrapped up a Public Safety Committee discussion with Chief Neiswanger about the level of militarization within the Holyoke Police force. I was very pleased to hear that the HPD had not acquired any military surplus items and that the Chief’s Community Policing efforts are the centerpiece of his law enforcement philosophy. To this end, the HPD has made significant investments in its human (as opposed to weapons) resources with skills and tactical training, so that our force is better equipped to make faster, smarter decisions in the field, under pressure and deescalate potentially violent situations. While I do not believe that any police force has got it down perfectly, I think that the Chief’s efforts are steering the Holyoke Police Department in a productive direction that more troubled departments may wish to emulate.

In closing, I think it’s important to remember that social movements not monolithic- they are conglomerations of multiple forces and groups that have different motivations for coming together to be heard and seen. I’m participating in these movement protests because I believe that we can successfully address the problematic police practices that are causing divisions within police forces and communities across our country. I have full confidence that through more engaged community dialogue and participation our country will be able to heal from these wounds.


Rebecca Lisi
City Councilor at-Large

Monday, December 15, 2014

Holiday v Christmas Tree?

Recently, the media has been reporting a debate about whether the City of Holyoke should call the tree outside of City Hall a “Holiday Tree” or a “Christmas Tree.” While I did not say one word about this issue at either of the two meetings where it’s come up, I feel that I have been unfairly placed on the side of “Holiday tree” and labeled a “bah-humbug.”[1] I’d like to set the record straight on a few points and articulate my perspective- which is that I simply do not care to discuss what I see as an unnecessarily divisive and frivolous order at a time in our City’s history when so many more substantive issues need our attention.

First, at the December 2 meeting of the full City Council, I remained completely silent on Bresnahan’s order when it came up for discussion. At an already very long meeting with several serious financial transfers and other matters to discuss, I chose to remain silent to help limit the time spent on floor discussion and move the process along. Ultimately, Besnahan’s order was sent by the body to the Ordinance Committee, the committee of which I am Chair.

Second, as Chair I have wide discretionary power over what is placed on the agenda for our Ordinance Committee meetings. Ordinance Committee is by far the busiest committee of the City Council; we meet every Tuesday night that the full council is not meeting (nearly every other Tuesday), for several hours, and take care of some of the most important legislative work of the City. I would be completely within my right to let Bresnahan’s order be placed quietly in the long cue of orders that have come before it and not take it up for several months. However, despite my personal feelings on the issue I recognized its time-sensitive nature and out of respect for Councilor Bresnahan decided to put it on the agenda, so it could come up for debate.

At the Ordinance Committee meeting on December 9, we had a full agenda with several public hearings and other issues (including high profile orders such as the Public Art Process) preceding the Christmas tree order. When the issue came up for a vote take it off the table for discussion I exercised my right to vote ‘no’ on that motion along with two other councilors (Alexander and Bartley). It is not a requirement that everything on the agenda be discussed. In fact, there were other items on the agenda (one filed by Councilor Vacon and two filed by Councilor Valentin) that failed to achieve the votes necessary to take them up for debate- there was no singling out of Councilor Bresnahan’s order. Voting ‘no’ does not ‘kill’ the order- it simply remains on the table for discussion at a subsequent meeting.

Additionally, some have commented that since Councilor Bresnahan was at the meeting we should have afforded him the professional courtesy of hearing his order. Perhaps this should have been so- I can see that this point has some merit. However, as Chair of a continually overburdened committee I may be more sensitive to the time constraints we face and did not want to take up a potentially controversial order when 1) we had a legal opinion that said that this item did not require an ordinance change and 2) there did not seem to be a need for the order at all considering there was nothing that legislated calling the tree outside of City Hall a “Holiday Tree” in the first place.

To the first point, once I placed the “Christmas Tree” order on the agenda I called the Legal Department for an opinion as to whether it would be legal for the council to take action on this item given the order’s tenuous relationship to the Establishment Clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." The Legal Department advised us that a resolution would be more appropriate because an ordinance carries the full weight of the law behind it and comes closer to violating the Constitution.[2] This opinion was forwarded to Council Bresnahan as well.

To the second point, it is my opinion that Councilor Bresnahan completely fabricated this controversy as there was no previous action taken by either the Mayor OR the City Council that specifically and/or exclusively designates the Christmas tree outside of City Hall a “Holiday Tree.” Councilor Bresnahan continues to reference 2012 as the year that “everything changed”- insinuating that Mayor Morse must have made this change when he took office, but I have not been able to locate any official action that limits the calling of the City’s Christmas Tree to a “Holiday Tree.” Councilor Bresnahan openly admits that he got the idea from a conservative talk radio show that he listens to on his commute home from work[3] and then arbitrarily applied it to our City. If I am mistaken, I would ask that Coucilor Bresnahan please reference the 2012 action that designates the City’s Christmas tree a “Holiday Tree.”

Finally, as someone who grew up with a Jewish mother and a Catholic father and whose household celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah, Easter and Passover- I’d like it to be very clear that I am completely comfortable calling the tree outside of City Hall a Christmas Tree. My point of contention is that I do not believe that we should be politicizing the issue and taking time to legislate the matter. It has proved to be unnecessarily controversial, divisive, and distracting from what I believe to be more important city business.


Rebecca Lisi
City Councilor at-Large

[1] Dan Bresnahan on “The Chump Line.” Howie Carr radio show Friday, December 12, 2014.
[2] Email communication from Kara Lamb Cunha to Rebecca Lisi on Tuesday, December 9, 2014 at 12:54pm re: Christmas Tree Order.
[3] Dan Bresnahan on “The Chump Line.” Howie Carr radio show Friday, December 12, 2014.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On "Misogyny and Loathing in Holyoke"

Thanks everyone for the outpouring of kindness and support that you have demonstrated toward me in reaction to the comments inadvertently caught on tape at last night's City Council meeting. Below you will find my thoughts on the incident:

This is not the first time Bresnahan has lobbed insulting or inappropriate comments at me or my husband, Building Commissioner Damian Cote, so his behavior does not surprise me.

The occurrence speaks to Bresnahan's character- which he clearly exposed to the Holyoke community through his comments.

He not only owes me and every other mother, or mother-to-be an apology, but he also owes the Holyoke community at-large an apology for the detrimental representation of our city that his actions portray to surrounding communities -- especially when there are so many of us working hard every day to create a more positive image of Holyoke.

I hope that the voters hold Bresnahan accountable for his actions and fail to re-elect him to the City Council this November. I also hope that in the future Councilor Todd McGee would refuse to tolerate such sexist and unprofessional comments in our work environment.

For my part, I want to focus on the exciting step that my husband and I are taking together in welcoming a new addition to our family.

For more information regarding the incident and Council members' reactions, see also:

Misogyny and Loathing in Holyoke

2 Holyoke City Councilors apologize for remarks about pregnant colleagues in pre-meeting chat captured on microphone

Friday, August 23, 2013

Appeal Letter to Holyoke First Members; Stance on Wal-Mart

22 August, 2013

Dear Holyoke First Members,

On behalf of the Committee to Elect Rebecca Lisi, I would like to request that you consider supporting my 2013 re-election bid for Holyoke City Council At-Large with a formal endorsement and by making individual financial contributions to my campaign.

During the 2008 Lowe’s controversy I consistently represented the neighborhood’s opposition to the changing the zoning of the sited Whiting Farms Rd. parcel.  In fact, I was one of only four councilors (Lisi, Lopez, Pluta, and Whelihan) to vote against the zone change at our January 6, 2009 city council meeting.  As I stated then, jobs and a robust tax base are the keys to successful economic development.  The development of a Wal-Mart does not contribute to our ability to develop either of these goals and the “by-right,” Business General zoning actually puts us at a disadvantage in negotiating contract benefits for the city compared to where we were years ago when the Lowe’s project was on the table.

Holyoke was founded on and drew its past success from sophisticated urban planning.  Like you, I believe that Holyoke’s future rests in its ability to attract an arts and industrial economic base that will support a downtown revitalization and renaissance.  I have advocated for this course of development since my 2005 city council campaign.  “Big box” development such as Wal-Mart in the Whiting Farms neighborhood directly undermines the progress we have made in welcoming creative projects such as the Victory Theater, the MA Green High Power Computing Center, and the Gateway City Arts to the downtown area.

I hope that you will support my candidacy for another term as the only remaining councilor that has a proven track record for defending the neighborhood’s interests.  The at-large race is very competitive this year and I will certainly need your help.  I look forward to continue working with you all on growing and sustaining Holyoke’s burgeoning arts and industrial presence in Western Massachusetts.

Best regards,

Rebecca Lisi
Holyoke City Councilor At-Large

To donate, please make checks payable to the Committee to Elect Rebecca Lisi and mail to
25 Reservation Rd., Holyoke, MA 01040, or contribute on-line at

Lisi, Rebecca.  Monday, December 8, 2008.  “Holyoke Needs to Engage in Plan for Economic Success.”
Lisi, Rebecca.  Sunday, January 4, 2009.  “Zone-change presents unique opportunity for Holyoke.”