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Gregory Bialecki, the attorney who led NorthPoint’s fight against the citizens’ lawsuit to require proper permitting, is now permitting czar for the Commonwealth. Bialecki answers to Dan O’Connell, former top executive of the managing partner of NorthPointSpaulding & Slye Colliers. O’Connell is now Secretary of Housing and Economic Development. This is insider influence on steroids! For more see the op ed below.

Stein: Waterfront policies awash in conflicts of interest
By Jill Stein/Guest columnist Friday, March 16, 2007
Metro Daily West, Cambridge Chronicle and others.

Insider influence is a way of life on Beacon Hill. But the Patrick administration’s intervention on behalf of the massive NorthPoint development project in Cambridge is off the charts. NorthPoint is a 45-acre “modern corporate community,” with office, retail and housing, being built close to the Charles River in Cambridge. NorthPoint construction hit a road block last month when the Supreme Judicial Court decided in favor of community advocates, ruling that the tidelands beneath the project – even if filled – remain a part of the public trust. As such, any plans to build on them require environmental permitting, community input, and compensatory public benefit.

The Patrick administration’s subsequent intervention on behalf of NorthPoint makes the Governor’s recent Ameriquest caper look like child’s play. That was just a phone call. In the case of NorthPoint, the Governor has filed a bill (H3757) that would roll back tideland environmental protection, community planning rights, and the Supreme Judicial Court ruling.

Two high-ranking Patrick administration appointees had close ties to the NorthPoint developer who benefits from these interventions. Gregory Bialecki, now state permitting chief, was the lead attorney for NorthPoint. Dan O’Connell, Housing and Economic Development director, helped lead the NorthPoint team for the Spaulding & Sly Colliers real estate company. Until recently, Bialecki and O’Connell were fighting the local Cambridge community in court to evade environmental permitting and community input. Now they’re in charge of development for the whole state, poised to facilitate construction on a massive scale in precarious and fragile terrain.

O’Connell and Bialecki claim to have discontinued involvement in any matters related to NorthPoint. But the relentless advocacy for NorthPoint continues in full daylight. Witness O’Connell’s March 6 statement to the press that NorthPoint is “a tremendous example of smart growth, and is a project with significant community support. It’s one I’m proud to have been a part of…”

With discretion like that, one can only imagine the back scratching behind closed doors. In the latest example of the continuing love fest, an invitation-only reception for government and real estate moguls was held in honor of Bialecki at the offices of none other than DLA Piper, the law firm Bialecki worked for while serving as NorthPoint’s legal chief.

With the revolving door spinning so fast between the developer lobby and government, it’s no wonder the Patrick administration can’t tell where private interests end and the public interest begins.

The Governor’s Ameriquest blunder could be put behind him with an apology and a promise to refrain from more of the same. But the violations of the public trust in the NorthPoint affair go far deeper. The people with longstanding entanglements with developers continue to be in charge of permitting agencies, where strings are easily pulled from the inside. So no community can be confident of getting a fair deal when negotiating with real estate interests.

To restore trust in his administration, the Governor needs to dismiss the foxes who have been put in charge of the chicken coop. Bialecki and O’Connell should be replaced with appointees experienced in community-based, sustainable development that is key to democracy and prosperity in the 21st Century.

Taking this decisive action will help build confidence that the Patrick administration will protect the integrity of our communities and the imperiled environment our health and economy depend on.

Jill Stein is an environmental health advocate and co-founder of the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities (MCHC).

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