CPA Campaign Case Study: Natick (2022)
In 2006, the town of Natick was one of 34 communities across the state that attempted to adopt the Community Preservation Act that year at a ballot election. However, CPA was still a fledgling program and had a lot to prove at the time, having only been adopted by approximately 100 municipalities. And so Natick was one of the towns that turned down the adoption proposal, with only 39% of voters approving of the measure. But 15 years later, the landscape of the CPA program had changed substantially—the number of communities that had adopted the program had nearly doubled during that time, and the benefits in the areas of open space, recreation, affordable housing, and historic preservation were well documented. The demographics of Natick had changed substantially as well, with a more diverse population that had a greater interest in shared amenities and funding for quality-of-life issues. For these reasons, local advocates in Natick believed it was time to try again.
Forming the “CPA for Natick Coalition”
In the summer of 2021, a grassroots effort to adopt the CPA program in Natick was formed from volunteers of Natick’s Affordable Housing Trust, Open Space Advisory Committee, and the Historic Commission. One representative described how despite their loss at the polls in 2006, advocates felt that each passing year without CPA was a missed opportunity. Working under the banner of the “CPA for Natick Coalition,” they felt there was no better time than the present to make it a reality.
“We should have done this years ago,” said Martin Kessel, member of the Open Space Committee and one of the original founders of the newly-formed Natick Coalition. “We’ve missed out on a lot of funding that could have done a lot of good for the town. We’ve had discussions over the years, but never felt we had the ability to get this moving forward again until now. Perhaps the reason as to ‘why now’ is that all three groups have experienced so many lost opportunities as funding has become tighter in the regular Town budget.”
The group decided to aim for the state election in November of 2022 to place CPA on the ballot, taking advantage of a higher voter turnout during a gubernatorial election. And with well over a year to build their campaign, the Natick Coalition’s strategy began with preliminary research and gathering supporters within the town’s local government. They also took special note of the recent success of the CPA campaign in the city of Framingham in 2020, specifically citing a study committee report that had been presented to the City Council. That study, which recommended CPA as a beneficial program for Framingham, was what ultimately convinced their city council to place CPA on the ballot. And while the proposal in Natick would need to go through Town Meeting on its way to the ballot, the local coalition agreed that compiling the research for a study report was the best way to kick off their campaign.
Over the course of six months, members of the Natick Coalition met with community leaders, town administration, members of their representative town meeting, the Selectboard, the Finance Committee, several boards and commissions related to the areas of CPA, as well as the Community Preservation Coalition. This extensive outreach across different municipal entities served two purposes: first, it allowed the Natick Coalition to hear directly from the different departments regarding opportunities for how CPA could be utilized. But perhaps more importantly, it allowed the local advocates to begin an early dialogue with important figures within the community, and ensured that the final report would be backed not only with volunteer research, but with the authority and expertise of Natick residents that best understood the challenges that the town was facing.
“CPA for Natick: A Proposal for the Adoption of the Community Preservation Act (CPA) by the Town of Natick” was published in March 2022, and over the course of this 45-page report, the Natick Coalition covered the following:
- An overview of the statewide CPA program, with data on current adoption trends, benefit and cost analysis, and a timeline for adoption in Natick
- Opportunities across the CPA categories that the town of Natick could pursue
- A detailed explanation of the CPA adoption process, the formation of a local Community Preservation Committee, and projected revenue figures
- And finally, a draft Warrant Article for the group’s CPA proposal for Town Meeting
The following month, Natick’s Town Meeting approved of adopting CPA almost unanimously after a presentation from Ganesh Ramachandran, the spokesperson for the Natick Coalition, as well as representatives from the Historical Commission, the Natick Service Council, and the Natick Housing Authority. Thanks to the early foundation built from the study report, the town of Natick would now be voting on a 1% CPA surcharge during the state election in November. But convincing Town Meeting to approve of CPA is only the first step for the adoption process—now the campaign could begin in earnest.
Propelled by the momentum of their detailed study report, the local advocates in Natick now had to convince the thousands of residents that would have the final say on adoption during the November election. And while a robust study report was a valuable resource for those who might be willing to read about CPA in detail, a successful campaign really requires grassroots support, concise and effective messaging, and plenty of local outreach. With this in mind, the Natick campaign spent the summer taking every advantage available in order to spread the word about CPA.
When it comes to a CPA adoption campaign, two key factors to successful public outreach are visibility and easy-to-access information on the proposal. The Natick Coalition set to work right away, creating the following materials:
- A campaign website with a CPA FAQ, endorsements from local officials, potential CPA opportunities in town, and opportunities for users to sign up to volunteer
- A social media page on Facebook, allowing the group to interact with neighbors and provide education on the CPA program
- Creating a “Vote Yes” CPA lawn sign, including the strategic placement of where signs were located across town
- Face-to-face advocacy with a booth at events in town, including the popular “Natick Days” festival
In the weeks leading up to the November election, the Natick campaign continued to organize volunteers to hold signs, attend local farmers markets, and solicit donations from nearly 100 residents to fund their outreach efforts. And when Election Day finally arrived on November 8th, the benefit of all this work was apparent—Natick passed CPA adoption at the ballot with 63% voting yes. This victory was a complete reversal from the town’s initial attempt to adopt CPA in 2006 where 61% voted no.