Rebutting The Finding That Summer Visitors Are Non-Essential To Nantucket

Kathy Baird and Virginia Vidoni •

To the editor: Nantucket Together feels that there’s been an “elephant in the room” in all of these conversations about short-term rentals (STRs) on Nantucket. ACK•Now has walked us down the garden path where they expect to get their money’s worth. They are claiming in court, via the ACK*Now lawyer used by their plaintiffs, that the short-term vacation rental of one’s home in a residential area is an “illegal commercial enterprise.” The Town of Nantucket Zoning Board, our building inspector and the town’s legal counsel do not agree with their position, nor does the Massachusetts Department of Revenue which taxes our short-term rentals on Nantucket.

We also have been subjected this week to censorship behind closed doors. This letter to the editor was first submitted to the Inquirer and Mirror on 10/30/23 for last week’s edition and paid for as a political advertisement in advance of their deadline. We were told by the I&M to remove the word “bully.” We were told to remove the word or prove that ACK•Now uses ‘intimidation ’tactics. We were told that we could not use the newsworthy term “dark money” nor were we allowed to quote the I&M’s own article in last week’s edition titled, “Town Meeting dark money targeted.” In addition, we were told that we must get permission directly from Massachusetts Senator Cyr to use his quotation in the I&M’s article on dark money. While attempting to make edits that didn’t impede our freedom of speech, we were told by the I&M that we had run out of time to meet the deadline. Our $2,571 check to the Inky was refunded.

The Current’s poll last Sunday showed 67 percent of their respondents didn’t believe the conclusion of ACK•Now’s customized study: “STRs add little to overall island economy." If those results were true, restaurants and shops could stay open in the winter, and ACK•Now’s chair wouldn’t complain that he can’t get dinner reservations in August. Their director commutes from the mainland and their founder is a resident of another state. Why in the world would we trust them more than islanders? They don’t even know what the engine of the island is. It’s like they want us to believe the emperor is wearing new clothes on Nantucket.

ACK•Now must be getting desperate after failing to talk Nantucketers out of their valuable property rights at our last three Annual Town Meetings. Condé Nast probably won’t believe the ACK•Now findings either because they’ve ranked us #5 of their best US Islands. And Governor Maura Healey is working to grant Nantucket a “seasonal community” status to help us with our housing initiatives. But maybe the real PR culprit as to the success of our seasonal tourism economy is National Geographic which announced back in 2016 that Nantucket is the #1 island in the world. (Perhaps it’s time to tell our Chamber of Commerce they can take a vacation!).

Last week, ACK•Now’s unvetted report pushed past even their own values found on their website, giving us the impression that they are like the wolf in sheep's clothing:

• Despite being the ones who said they wanted regulations on STRs in the first place, now ACK•Now is asking voters to reject Articles 1 & 2 both of which have been strongly recommended by the town’s Short-Term Rental Work Group (STRWG). If the articles are rejected, it will allow ACK•Now to continue canvassing our neighborhoods looking for neighbors to sue neighbors who short-term rent. Their executive director Julia Lindner has indicated in public forums that besides changing local zoning laws, ACK•Now’s other main strategy is to punt the matter over to mainland courts via their neighbor vs. neighbor lawsuits. This is where a judge can simply decide to prohibit vacation rentals on Nantucket, like what happened in Lynnfield, MA. The removal of property rights by means of lawsuits is the very height of negative “community engagement."

• Their report was kept out of the public’s recent “Meet the Articles” forum, five days before it was published in the Inquirer and Mirror. This does not qualify as “open dialogue."

• Their report used completely different data sets, yet no hypothesis was revealed, and none of the sources chosen were specific to Nantucket except the 2020 Census— a source which two other statisticians on this topic have referred to as likely inaccurate in terms of real year-round numbers (Nantucket Data Platform, and Process First). This throws into question their study’s reliability and validity, plus it failed the Current readers' sniff test. This constitutes political obfuscation, the opposite of “transparent,” and therefore cannot properly contribute to “data-driven decisions”.

• ACK•Now’s findings imply Nantucket can afford to diminish the success of our island community by reducing the amount of time one can rent one’s own properties, when 80 to 90 percent of all our visitors stay in STRs. This threat would be an economic meteor to our island’s tourist trade which, if it hit, would take income away from most year-rounders who live and work on this seasonal resort island. During a Select Board meeting this summer to review the STRWG’s Articles, a Select Board member showed his hand when he proposed his preferred solution which would be to slowly sunset all registered STRs by reducing leases each summer by one week until there were no rentals left on Nantucket for anyone. This solution would ensure that homes on Nantucket can only be owned by those who "don’t need to rent them." This is certainly not “economic fairness” for our island.

Political obfuscation is the purposeful manipulation of information and it is hiding in plain sight on Nantucket. When ACK*Now tells people that corporate enterprises are coming into Nantucket and buying up big swaths of homes to STR, that is not accurate information. Process First, the data consultant the town hired for their STRWG clearly showed the percentage of corporate-owned STR on Nantucket to be between 2.2 percent and 4 percent currently. Voting yes on Article 1 is the way to ensure that this stays that way.

ACK•Now states in their white papers that their founder funds it annually with $2 million and that it covers a top PR Team. But politically active nonprofits such as 501(c)(4)s like ACK•Now are under no legal obligation to disclose their donors even if they spend to influence voters. ‘Dark money’ refers to “spending to influence elections, public policy, and political discourse, where the source of the money is not disclosed to the public” (Wikipedia). The excessive use of one founder’s money and its influence in obtaining others’ donations used for a monied minority agenda is an example of what is referred to as dark money. This is anti-democratic, and our state Representative Fernandes and state Senator Cyr recently filed legislation against it. Senator Cyr was quoted two weeks ago in the Inquirer and Mirror, “It’s bewildering and distressing that people with deep pockets and financial interests think they can buy their way into our local governance. We’re done with monied interests trying to sway town politics on the Cape and Islands. Voters deserve to know who is behind campaigns seeking to influence local policies that will impact those of us who live here year-round.” Whereas, Nantucket Together, also a 501(c)(4), was met with heavy censorship by our island’s 200 year-old newspaper, and if we had complied, these “edits” would have materially changed our message. It is with dismay that we note that the chairman and CEO of the censorious newspaper is the man whose photograph and bio are currently listed second on ACK•Now’s Instagram “Meet the Team” page (editor's note: the Instagram story mentioned here is from Aug. 27, 2020). While this person is not listed on the ACK*Now website, ACK*Now appears content to leave the impression of continued association.

Since its inception, ACK•Now has used a variety of ‘socially acceptable’ issues to lure us away from noticing their underlying motivation. This bait and switch tactic has won over many who find their elevator pitches easy to agree with. For example, while we applaud their recent $300K pledge to their “Lease to Locals” program, this act of philanthropy distracts from the neighbor vs. neighbor lawsuits they are currently funding on Nantucket. Their latest angle seen in the report by FXM has taken up the need to preserve enough locals to run the island. Prior to that, they called our attention to the nuisance of summer surge as well as protecting Nantucket’s resources. They have made their banner issue Nantucket’s long-standing lack of affordable housing pointing to summer rentals as the culprit, when it is their monied presence that has contributed so directly to skyrocketing land values and which pulled many year-round homes into seasonal home status over the pandemic.

The most recent statistical review of local STRs and affordable housing was reported yesterday in The Cape Cod Times, “Study: Rules on short-term rentals in Provincetown unlikely to reduce home prices or rents” (11/2/23), and was conducted by UMass’s Donahue Institute. It is a very helpful study for Nantucket to consider as we weigh our most pressing question posed best by the Inquirer and Mirror editorial this week regarding our up-coming vote on the matter: “To make it more difficult to reach a compromise is that the entire issue centers on one central question that has never been properly answered: Do short-term rentals have a harmful effect on the growing housing crisis on our island or not? If they do then they should be subject to stringent regulations; if not then they should go unregulated” (I&M 11/2/23).

But ask yourselves: What really motivates ACK•Now and their supporters listed on their Town Meeting flyers? Could it be the goal of moving Nantucket to privatization where they can have the pie to themselves and the privacy they feel they’ve paid for? To get it, they’re trying to stem the tide that brought them here, our now famous economic driver, the seasonal heritage tourism economy which has long ebbed and flowed with generations of short-term vacationers. Other entire islands have met this fate as well, like Larry Ellison’s “Lanai”, where privatization produces negative consequences for the local communities where locals no longer own their own land or homes.

Nantucket has already voted NO to ACK•Now’s agenda at our last three Town Meetings. But ACK•Now says they won’t respect no for an answer. They are known to work behind closed doors to influence people, and their PR Team works on various social media platforms to covertly quarterback their agenda. Worse, their tactics have intimidated many into being silenced bystanders. We don’t tolerate this bullying beahvior in our children’s schools, so why in the world are we tolerating it on Nantucket? This behavior is not real Nantucket.

Here is a better idea. Let’s all stand up and see these facts for what they are. Let's take back control of the island we all love. ACK•Now and their supporters either can’t see or can’t publicly admit the ACK*Now underlying motivation because it would be socially unacceptable and anti-democratic. But anyone who is a voter can finally put a stop to ACK•Now’s bullying behavior by voting yes and yes on Articles 1 and 2 on Nov. 7th at 5 p.m. in person at the Nantucket High School. Let’s keep our constitutionally protected property rights and return to civility in our island community.

— Kathy Baird and Virginia Vidoni
for Nantucket Together

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