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Newton, Needham, Watertown, Wellesley

News we've all been waiting for

News we've all been waiting for

Among our four chamber communities, keeping up with what’s happening locally has been hardest these past few years in Needham.

  • Wellesley is served by the Swellesley Report. Watertown has the Watertown News. Both are run admirably by residents who’ve turned their passions into independent small businesses.

  • The Globe used to pay more attention to Newton but recently ditched its Newton Report and Globe Local section. Fortunately, last June the impressive, Fig City News launched in Newton, while a second site, The Newton Beacon, is gearing up for a full launch this summer after focusing on the tax override this past spring.

But there's been nothing similar in Needham.

Finally, a few weeks back, the independent Needham Observer made its debut, providing the town with its first credible written news reporting in years.

And there's a new, second site, covering all things Needham now too: Needham Local just soft launched with plans to expand this summer.

While the Needham Observer is an independent, volunteer site run by former journalists and other residentsNeedham Local represents a different approach I’ve long believed offers a viable path to filling news deserts everywhere.
It's run by the team at Needham Channel, the nonprofit cable access station that has been covering the town for four decades and has produced a terrific local newscast since 1987.

In a multimedia era, it makes sense for a community access channel -- which already streams municipal meetings and has years of archival footage -- to expand its online journalism. Needham Local plans to hire a full time reporter but will also benefit from having access to the other Needham Channel resources, talent and leadership.

And while this is not a knock on the Observer, Fig City and other resident-written, volunteer efforts – they're doing vital, timely, work – there’s a difference when professionally trained, paid journalists cover the news, as Needham Local and the Newton Beacon plan to do. Looks like both Needham and Newton will soon be fortunate to have one of each variety.
All communities thrive and democracy functions best when we have a broad constellation of news entities exploring, explaining and watching.

Visit all these sites often. And please support them financially.

Chambers call on state to rebuild trust in UI system

Our chamber signed onto a statement this week encouraging state policy makers “to hold employers harmless in any remedial action necessary” to cover that $2.5 billion dollar Unemployment Assistance blunder made during the Baker administration.

The statement was issued through the Massachusetts Chambers of Commerce Policy Network, a newly formed group of ten large regional chambers representing over ten-thousand-member employers and millions of workers and customers across the entire state Massachusetts.

“As small to large businesses navigate the challenges of this post-pandemic recovery, they should reasonably expect that the Department [of Unemployment Assistance] can administer the UI system in a responsible and transparent method” and rebuild trust in the UI system, we wrote.

Members of the state’s congressional delegation also sent a letter this week urging the Labor Department to find a solution that minimize “the impact on hardworking people and small businesses.”

Newton voters could see ballot questions this fall

In addition to electing a new city council and school committee, Newton voters may be asked to weigh in on two ballot questions this fall, according to Fig City News.

  • Another would be a nonbinding referendum challenging many of the zoning reform elements that are currently being considered, but have yet to be adopted by the city council. Here’s the petition and a response from the Planning Department

Friday grab bag

  • We love when businesses across chamber communities collaborate. Even better if it involves frozen desserts. So we we’re happy to report that Truly’s in Wellesley is now offering plant-based ice cream from FoMu, made from scratch in Watertown.

  • Needham is seeking residents to serve on a Housing Needham Advisory Group to play a role in creating a zoning district for multi-family housing, under MBTA Communities Act. The advisory group will include one architect or land use planner; one real estate developer; one resident who rents their home; and one resident at large. Apply.

  • That popular downtown parklet at the corner of Central and Cross Streets in Wellesley Square won’t be returning this summer, the select board has decided. I know I'm going to miss it. 

  • Might Newton follow Needham’s footsteps by changing its zoning code to allow for breweries and brew pubs? Councilor Rick Lipof has docketed an item to consider that as well as removing the prohibition on bottling alcoholic beverages and opportunities for other craft beverage production and accessory retail.

  • Watertown Business Parking Passes for July 2023 through September 2023 will be available in the Treasurer/Collectors Office at Watertown City Hall starting June 20.

  • Homebuyers paying with cash purchased more than a third of homes sold in April — the highest share in nearly a decade, according to a new report from real estate brokerage Redfin. 

  • The Needham Farmers Market opens for the season at Greene’s Field this Sunday, 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. Featuring fresh and local food, music, artists, and a community table.

Study call to regigger CPA spending

Should communities and the state to rethink how Community Preservation dollars are allocated?

Property owners in our four chamber communities and 187 other cities and towns all pay a CPA surcharge to participate the program. Communities are required to allocate a minimum of 10% of the funds to each of three buckets: affordable, housing, historic preservation and open space projects.

But at a time when the state faces an staggering housing shortage, a new studywritten by the Tufts Center for State Policy Analysis and commissioned by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, found that as many as 70 communities may not be devoting their required share to housing.

The report also found that since the CPA took effect, less than five percent of projects have involved the creation of new housing, with funds primarily going towards upkeep and maintenance.

Not only that, but many suburban communities may actually be adding to the housing shortage by spending CPA dollars to buy land for preservation that might otherwise have be developed for housing.
"If you were designing [the CPA] today ... I think housing would be higher on the list," Evan Horowitz, executive director of Tufts Center says of the 23-year-old law.

Among other suggestions, the study recommends that the state offer additional funds to communities that commit at least 20 percent of their CPA dollars to affordable housing.

Can anything bring back workers?

From free snacks and massages to bring the pet days and stipends, employers are offering all sorts of incentives -- and even threats -- to lure employees back to the office.

This week Salesforce began offering to donate $10 per day, per employee, to charities of their choice for making the trip into work, according to Fortune.

Do any of these work? Not according to a sobering Wall Street Journal article "It's not my responsibility to save the office" (free link) explaining all the reasons many workers say nothing can persuade them to come back.

And for the many businesses that depend on the foot traffic, building owners and the municipalities that depend on the tax revenue, this is a really significant problem.
That’s Need to Know for today, unless you need to know the average age people lose their virginity worldwide.

Enjoy the weekend. Shop and dine local, right?

Greg Reibman (he, him)

P.S. Thanks to Franchesca CarringtonGuimel DeCarvalhoDaQuall Graham, (Insource Services, Inc.) and Colette Phillips for their time and insights during our discussion this week about DEI in the workplace. I learned so much from each of our panelists. Watch and please share the video here: 
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