Noah Daponte-Smith

The Board of Alders’ City Services and Environmental Policy Committee met in City Hall Tuesday evening to hear testimony on a grant application that could impact the city’s response to climate change and inclement weather.
If New Haven is selected to participate in The Rockefeller Foundation’s “100 Resilient Cities Challenge,” it will receive funding to develop a resiliency plan for the city, complete with a new city government position for a chief resiliency officer. Mendi Blue, New Haven director of development and policy, argued the grant’s case before the alders, saying it would allow the city to become up-to-date with the best resiliency practices used by cities across the world.

But there was a catch: The city had already applied for the grant in January — without the board’s advance permission.

The alders expressed dissatisfaction with this revelation, with East Shore Alder and committee chair Salvatore DeCola telling Blue she should have requested their permission at the board’s meeting in December, before the January submission date.

“We’re not happy with that,” DeCola said. “That’s not the way it should be done. This is bypassing the whole system of our country.”

Westville Alder Adam Marchand GRD ’99 concurred, calling the situation “not ideal.”

New Haven, Blue said, has partnered with Stamford to apply for the grant because The Rockefeller Foundation tends to favor cities with large populations, such as New York, New Orleans or San Francisco. She said applying with Stamford would make the joint application more competitive, given New Haven’s small population.

“Should we be successful, we’ll appeal to the foundation to link the resiliency efforts in the two cities,” Blue said. “Stamford has a lot of open jobs, and we have a jobs deficit in this city  — if we look at the transportation opportunities, we may be able to link them to provide access to jobs in Stamford.”

Though The Rockefeller Foundation will pay for a new chief resiliency officer if New Haven wins the grant, the city will be on the hook for funding office space and supplies. But, as East Rock Alder Anna Festa noted, the grant’s wording suggests that New Haven, and not the foundation, will have to pay for the officer’s salary.

This is not New Haven’s first pass at The Rockefeller Foundation’s resiliency grant.

Blue told the alders that the city applied for the grant last year, in conjunction with the city of Bridgeport. But difficulties stemming from Bridgeport’s involvement last year, Blue said, caused New Haven to jettison its southwestern neighbor in its current bid.

Irrespective of the lateness of Blue’s testimony, the alders expressed skepticism about the grant, citing a lack of details from the city administration.

Fair Haven Heights Alder Rosa Santana said she was concerned the grant’s vague wording might mean New Haven would end up with obligations to pay the salary of the new officer. Marchand said the city did not give them an adequate description of the chief resiliency officer’s duties during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I emerged from this meeting not fully assured that we have a full picture of this opportunity,” Marchand said. “So I’m really concerned — I have reservations. And, worst of all, the application’s already been sent, and that is a major problem.”

Marchand suggested the committee prepare a letter expressing their discontent to the city administration. After Marchand appealed to his colleagues to approve the application on its merits, it passed the committee unanimously — though with Marchand’s letter tacked on.

The headaches surrounding the Rockefeller grant were not the only source of controversy Tuesday evening. The last item on the committee’s agenda concerned the procurement of $49,000 for the emergency demolition of 55 Redfield St. Legislative liaison Rick Melita told the alders a fire on the property has made the demolition necessary.

But, though Frank D’Amore, the deputy director of the local anti-blight agency Livable City Initiative, was scheduled to testify before the alders on the demolition, he failed to show up. DeCola called the lack of attendance “not acceptable” and “not how our government runs.”

Festa was equally critical.

“If this is so important, and it’s an emergency request, then someone should be present to answer any questions we have,” Festa said before the committee tabled the motion. “But they weren’t.”

Now that The Rockefeller Foundation grant application has passed the committee, it will appear before the full Board of Alders for final approval during their upcoming Monday meeting.