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Lowell City Council Meeting: January 16, 2018

Mayor asks for a suspension of the rules to take up a matter related to Abandoned Housing. City Manager Murphy explains that the city’s SWAT team (representatives from all city departments) did a tour last summer of lower Centerville. They noted many vacant and abandoned properties. Attorney General Maura Healey has come forward and volunteered her staff members to do all the legal work needed to bring these properties into the receivership process. This will lead to the rehabilitation of these properties and the payment of all outstanding real estate taxes. This will affect 18 buildings. He invited Amber Villa to the podium. She introduces several of her colleagues from the AG’s office.

Atty Villa explains this is the first of its kind partnership between the AGs office and the city of Lowell. This initiative is to ensure safer neighborhoods through blight reduction. They are working on 400 properties across the Commonwealth. They use many tools including receivership. She reiterates all of the adverse effects of foreclosed and abandoned properties. They have worked with Development Services for the past several months to identify approximately 18 properties that they will focus on. Many are fire damages or boarded up or just showing the indicators of being abandoned. All of the properties have been visited. Now the AG’s office will send demand letters to owners. They will work with those who wish to make repairs. If no one steps forward, the AGs office will initiate litigation. She says they have seen the power of getting even one property turned around. In the past, they have worked on smaller scale efforts like 2 or 3 properties in the neighborhood. She believes addressing 18 properties will make a big difference in the neighborhood.

Councilor Cirillo thanks the AG’s office for this. Councilor Elliott also thanks the AG’s office, says this is great news. Asks about the time frame for individual properties. A explains each case is different. Demand letter gives owner 2 weeks. If no response, they will file a receivership petition very quickly although they must give banks and lien holders 2 week’s notice. She says it can be as quick as 6 weeks from the demand letter to receiver take over. Council Elliott asks if they can address other neighborhoods too? AG answers they could do so in the traditional manner, working with the city. CC Elliott asks about the receivership process. AG explains it is in the state sanitary statute. A municipality can do this on its own but it takes a lot of resources.

Councilor Kennedy asks if city finds other properties can these be addressed. AG says if they are in Centralville, they could take them on. For properties in other neighborhoods, they will assist the city. As for how long it will last, the AG will stay involved until these are done. They could take on other Centralville properties in this program. They want to see if doing it in a single neighborhood would be more effective.

Councilor Mercier says this is a wonderful program and a big boost to the city. This is what the city needs. We want to make the city better. CC Mercier says the city has focused on bank-owned properties. Says this is a great boost.

Councilor Nuon thanks the Attorney General for making Lowell a partner. Asks about qualifications of receivership. AG says almost anyone, often it’s a contractor or an attorney or a real estate broker. AG’s office has a list of receivers they work with regularly. The Northeast Housing Court covers Lowell. It has a list of receivers it uses. Often the AG has to draw from that list.

Councilor Milinazzo thanks the Attorney General’s office. Says Lowell Development and Financial Corp has a financing program that might be useful to whomever is going to buy the renovated homes. He believes LDFC would be happy to participate.

Councilor Leahy asks about the power of the receiver. Receiver gets a super lien for work performed. Real estate taxes get paid first. The receiver has to file reports on expenditures and charges with the court and with the AGs office who look for excessive charges. There’s also a risk for the receiver that he wouldn’t be able to sell the property and recoup expenditures, so it’s in receiver’s best interest to do the work efficiently.

Councilor Conway reiterates what everyone else has said. Says when businesses or families contemplating moving to Lowell drive around and see run down properties, it turns them away. He believes this will help with everyone’s property values.

City Manager Murphy says the city has tried to do this on its own but has had a hard time attracting receivers. The AG’s office has a list of receivers. After this project is done, the city will have a relationship with a number of receivers and so will have an easier time handling this on its own in the future.


Motion Responses:

  1. A) Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund – city is applying for a grant which will be used to repair bathrooms at Lowell Memorial Auditorium and then the loading dock. CM Murphy is confident the city will get this grant.
  2. B) Beaver Brook – CC Kennedy makes a motion to instruct the City Manager to seek federal funding for this.
  3. C) LaPlume Avenue Handicap Parking – CC Mercier thanks CM for getting this done.
  4. D) Intersection of High Street and Rogers Street – no discussion
  5. E) Intersection of Aiken Street and Lakeview Avenue – CC Leahy asks to have the City Engineer look at this because the traffic gets very tied up in the morning.


  1. F) 2017 Compstat Crime Data – CC Nuon comments that violent crime in 2017 in city is down considerably. He commends the police for this. But there is an increase in South Lowell. Asks the Chief to comment on this. Chief Taylor says it did increase, but it was a statistically small increase. He says a more comprehensive report will be out in a month and they’ll be better able to offer an explanation then. CC Leahy says the Centralville neighborhood group last night was very pleased with the work of the police in that neighborhood. CC Elliott says there has to be some correlation between increased expenditures by the council on public safety and the decrease in crime. CC Elliott asks about increase in burglaries. Chief says burglary is often a “crime of opportunity” so the police are encouraging people to “harden” their properties with exterior lighting, cameras, neighborhood watches, etc. Taylor also says online market places for selling goods, sometimes anonymously, makes it easier for criminals to dispose of stolen goods. That’s a concern of his. Councilor Kennedy asks about the Gang Unit. Taylor says it’s been around for a long time but was reduced due to budget cuts. Says it has been restored over past four years.
  2. G) Attorney General’s Receivership Program – see above.
  3. H) Sidewalk Snow Removal – CC Milinazzo asks about Andover Street. Says people on Mansion Drive have backyards the abut Andover Street. Property owners don’t shovel the Andover St sidewalks. Dev Svcs Eric Slagle says property owner is responsible for all sidewalks that abut the property whether it’s front, back or sides. CC Mercier wants to remind public that the first complaint gets a warning but the second complaint gets $100 fine. She says they have issued many warnings and citations this winter. CC Kennedy asks City Manager for a report on an alternative to requiring homeowners to shovel rear sidewalks.
  4. I) Snow Removal Presentation – DPW Commissioner Bellegarde speaks on snow removal protocol. City is divided into 18 plowing zones. Eight DPW spotters oversee areas of the city. 50 pieces of city equipment; 200 pieces of contractor equipment. $22,000 per hour. Certain roads have priority as do bridges and bus stops. Clearing paths to and areas around schools are a priority. When snow accumulates over time, the city mobilizes city workers to remove snow banks from downtown. The snow now goes to Hamilton Canal District and is dumped there. CC Cirillo asks about the criteria for beginning plowing. DPW says they begin treating streets even before snow begins falling. To remove snow from sidewalks, etc, they wait for about 2 inches of snow. CC Cirillo asks that this report be placed on city website for residents to see. Councilors continue to ask detailed questions about equipment that is used, etc.

Communication – Appoint Mikaela Hondros-McCarthy to Sustainability Council. Council approves.

Appoint Sabrina Pedersen to Sustainability Council. Council approves.


Vote-Apply/Accept/Expend a Solarize Mass Plus Grant from the Massachusetts. Approved.

Vote-Apply/Accept/Expend Grant ($400,000) from the Massachusetts Cultural. Approved.


Councilor Mercier – Req. installation of (2) handicap parking signs in the front of the East End Club at 15 W. 4th. Street. Approved.

Councilor Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. direct the Law Department to create an ordinance that would require the City of Lowell ban plastic bags in stores larger than 4,000 square feet. The ordinance would only apply to carryout bags used at stores. These are to be exempt from the ban: thin-film plastic bags used for dry cleaning, newspapers, flexible transparent covering for uncooked raw meat, poultry, raw fish, hard cheese, cold cuts, fruit, vegetables, baked goods or bread and wet items. Councilor Cirillo asks that the motion be amended to reduce the size of the store effected to 3000 square feet which is what the state legislature is now considering. Says plastic bags are not good for the environment. They cannot be recycled. In Mass, we use 2mil plastic bags per year. She’s trying to make Lowell more environmentally friendly. Boston and 59 other communities in Massachusetts have these kind of bans. Points out that this is limited to stores of a certain size so as not to penalize smaller stores that use these bags.

Councilor Leahy says a bag is a bag so why don’t we just ban all of them. He asks if we are going to wait for the state to enact something that effects everyone across the state. He would like to see more discussion on this.

Councilor Elliott things motion is well-intended but he thinks it’s a state issue. He says people who live in outer neighborhoods and have cars can just go to neighboring communities to shop, so this will penalize people who live in the inner city who will have to pay for bags. He says he will vote against this motion.

Councilor Mercier says it is well intentioned but she is concerned that it is the duty of leaders of the city to bring businesses into the city. This does the opposite. Forcing people to not use plastic bags is anti-business. It’s OK to do clean energy but this is not that. Businesses will have to pay more and the prices will be passed along to the consumer. Plastic bags and Styrofoam now? What will be next? Paper bags? Where will it end. Who will be targeted next? Will plastic trash bags be next? Spending taxpayer money to address a problem that doesn’t exist is not a wise expenditure of funds. We live in Lowell, not Cambridge.

Councilor Milinazzo says he will support sending it to the new environmental subcommittee. He says in a community he goes to in the summer, there was a referendum that the voters enacted.

Councilor Kennedy says he has observed that when we invented plastic we invented something that will last forever, but we now use it for only a few minutes and then throw it away. He says the state legislature is contemplating this, but 20% of the cities and towns in the Commonwealth have already done this. He says this is deserving of study and analysis. Will it make a difference? Should we ban all bags and not just at supermarkets? We might not be Cambridge but we are Lowell. We should discuss it. He moves that we send this to the subcommittee on the environment and let them take it up. Then we can make an informed decision.

Councilor Nuon acknowledges the concern about the burden on the elderly and the poor. He shares that concern. But he thinks the motion is well-intentioned. He would like it to be sent to the environmental subcommittee so we can hear from all parties. This and the other related motions should be sent to that committee.

Councilor Kennedy says he has no objection to bundling them and doing that is OK with him if it’s OK with the maker of the motion.

Councilor Conway says it’s a good motion and people are going in that direction. But he’s concerned that with the state proceeding with a plan of its own and we come up with our own ban, we risk having businesses expending money to comply with our ban and then having different requirements by the state. He is worried that these measures at the local level might be inconsistent with state measures.

Councilor Cirillo accepts bundling the motions as long as everyone who is registered to speak can speak tonight.

Councilor Kennedy says he only know of a single Senate Bill (424). He says it has been filed for a number of years but there’s no indication that it’s going to pass soon. He expects the environmental subcommittee (which he says didn’t meet over the past two years) would fully study this so that it will by consistent with the possible state law.

Mayor Samaras reads the following three motions so that they may be bundled with this one and all sent to the environmental subcommittee. [Mayor reads the three motions].

Councilor Leahy says there is a bill pending in the House. He says we should discuss it but we should wait for the state to act.

Registered speakers:

Speaker 1 – represents members of Sierra Club who live in Lowell. There are 1000+ Sierra Club members in Lowell. They support the ban of single use plastic bags and Styrofoam containers. They are not biodegradable. They become trash. He says there are alternatives: biodegradable or reusable containers. We’ve got to start somewhere.

Jay Mason – speaking as private citizen. Says it is a direction we need to go in but supports more discussion and information. Says plastic bags are made from natural gas extracted by fracking which is another issue. He says we can debate the cost but should include the cost of litter pickup. Boston passed this just a couple of weeks ago. A packaging company raised concerns but Mayor Walsh of Boston went ahead and enacted notwithstanding those concerns. This has the potential to make the community more sustainable and resilient. Doesn’t agree that it will cost more. Instead of waiting for the state to act, we should set the example.

Lisa Arnold supports the motion. Has gone shopping 3 or 4 times since Friday. Realized she had carried her stuff home in plastic bags she didn’t need. I should have taken a small step to prevent that. If I wasn’t given those bags I wouldn’t have gotten those bags. She then says in Germany on vacation over Christmas, was carrying a UMass Lowell bag. Three different people came up to her and said how much they love Lowell. Providing reusable bags gives us an opportunity for branding for the city. And Lowell has always been a leader. We don’t have to wait for the state. We should set the example on this.

Councilor Mercier says she received three calls from business people who said non-styrofoam cups are much more expensive. She said it costs more to process and produce paper bags.

Mayor Samaras says all sides will be able to make their presentation to the subcommittee.

Councilor Elliott says on the third motion on banning Styrofoam, will this apply to all coffee shops? Cirillo says yes. Elliott says he thinks this will drive businesses out of town.

Councilor Mercier asks for a roll call on this. Seven vote to send it to the subcommittee; Councilors Mercier and Elliott vote against sending them to the Environmental Subcommittee.

Councilor Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. approve the purchase of 10,000 reusable bags for our seniors and low-income residents and develop a plan to distribute them to our residents. (sent to environmental subcommittee)

Councilor Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. direct the Law Department to create an ordinance that would require the City of Lowell ban all sales and distribution of expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) food containers, with a requirement that food packaging be recyclable or compostable. This ordinance will affect all establishments that serve food or drink in single-use disposable service-ware. This includes but is not limited to cups, plates, bowls, hinged or lidded containers, straws, cup lids, and utensils. Food establishments such as restaurants and fast food stores, grocery and convenience stores, beverage retailers, and other retailers will be required to comply with this ordinance. (sent to environmental subcommittee)

Councilor Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. direct the Department of Planning and Development to give the City an update regarding where we are in the process of the Canal Bridge’s bids which are due to be received on January 30th. Passes with no discussion.

Councilor Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. have the Division of Planning and Development produce a zoning amendment to allow the Zoning Board of Appeals to issue a special permit for the addition of front porches to existing homes. Councilor Cirillo says this is a quality of life motion. She thinks giving residents a greater opportunity to build front porches so they can sit outside, get to know their neighbors. Councilor Milinazzo supports this but believes it should go to Development Services. Councilor Elliott questions the need for this. City Manager Murphy says he would normally have Eric Slagle work with Councilor Cirillo to ascertain what exactly she wants. Elliott asks what the process his now. CM says if it meets setback requirements to they can build it. But if there’s not sufficient setback, they can seek a variance from the Board of Appeals. Councilor Kennedy says he assumes the point of the motion is to promote having more front porches in the city. That might mean making it easier to add a front porch. Referred to city manager.

ADJOURNMENT at 8:38 pm.

Donald Trump an embarrassment everywhere by Marjorie Arons-Barron

Just when you thought Donald Trump had already taken the Presidency as low as it could go, he asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries coming here?” Our esteemed President, according to credible reports, told a group of bipartisan legislators Thursday he didn’t want Haiti, El Salvador and African nations sending their foul and nasty immigrants here. At a meeting about saving the DACA program, Trump wondered why we just couldn’t have more (pure and white) immigrants from Norway.  Sounds like Adolph Hitler’s preference for Aryan types.

The timing of Trump’s disparagement of places with black and Latino populations couldn’t have been more telling. A day later he was issuing a Martin Luther King Day proclamation with MLK’s nephew looking on. Sadly, his racist remarks were predictable.  The specific language, crude as it is, is not the issue. We’ve heard his “locker room” style before and have come to expect his racist persona, manifest in his dog whistle innuendos, re-tweets of white nationalist propaganda, ignorant misrepresentations of fact and outright lies.  From his New York race-baiting days and discriminatory practices as a landlord, to the Obama birther calumny to his countless 2016 campaign ethnic slanders  to his Charlottesville white nationalist embrace, his record is clear and undeniable.

To his defenders I say, what’s in his heart is not the issue.  Trump is sullying our international reputation and besmirching such fundamental American values as diversity and inclusion. In diminishing our standing in the world and giving succor to our enemies, he is making us less safe.

Last night in Palm Beach, our august President proclaimed, “I am not a racist.” Kind of reminds you of Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook,” doesn’t it?  Trump’s rhetoric is far less important that his policies and the need to provide a check on his powers by winning back at least the House in this year’s mid-term election.

Trump’s base was largely unmoved by the “shithole” episode, save for the David Duke, The Daily Stormer and their neo-Nazi soulmates cheering that their guy wasn’t going soft on immigration. Fox commentators provided an expected amen chorus, though some of their reporters acknowledged Trump’s language was disparaging and ham-handed.

Remember when Speaker Paul Ryan described candidate Trump’s assault on a Mexican heritage federal judge as a “textbook definition of racist comment.”  This time he could only muster that the President’s language was “very unfortunate, unhelpful.” Shame on Paul Ryan and the rest of the GOP Trump-enabling leadership team.

Republican Utah Congresswoman Mia Love, whose parents came from Haiti, said “The president must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned.” But will she prepare a resolution condemning the remarks? Democrats will try to do so, but will Ryan or Senate President Mitch McConnell permit a vote? The press should get on record, preferably on tape, the response of every targeted, and retiring House and Senate Republican.

I assume Trump has never been to Africa and seen the modern cities that belie his “huts” slur or the graduate students in STEM fields and medicine who chose to stay and contribute to their home countries.  I suspect he is also ignorant of data describing the reality of immigrants from his “shithole” countries who come here, many of whom do as well if not better than native-born Americans.

Since 1994, Presidents of both parties have participated in a day of service to commemorate Martin Luther King Day. Not Donald Trump. No, he took off for Florida for a round of golf. Better were he to attend a naturalization service for wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital and personally thank those from “shithole” countries who have sacrificed more for this country than he ever has.

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City Council Meeting Preview: Jan 16, 2018

Mimi Parseghian provides this preview of tomorrow night’s Lowell City Council Meeting

This week’s extensive agenda offers a glimpse into what may be an area of concentration for the 2018 – 2019 Lowell City Council.  I am referring to City Councilwoman Karen Cirillo’s five motions.  I appreciate it when an elected official has a focus and wants to advance topics which may not be on the mainstream’s radar.

The freshman Councilor has three motions that could be classified as environmental concerns.

  1. Request City Manager direct the law department to create an ordinance that would require the City of Lowell ban plastic bags in stores larger than 4,000 square feet. The ordinance would only apply to carryout bags used at stores. These are to be exempt from the ban: thin-film plastic bags used for dry cleaning, newspapers, flexible transparent covering for uncooked raw meat, poultry, raw fish, hard cheese, cold cuts, fruit, vegetables, baked goods or bread and wet items.
  2. Request City Manager approve the purchase of 10,000 reusable bags for our seniors and low-income residents and develop a plan to distribute them to our residents.
  3. Request City Manager direct the law department to create an ordinance that would require the city of Lowell ban all sales and distribution of expanded polystyrene (styrofoam) food containers, with a requirement that food packaging be recyclable or compostable. This ordinance will affect all establishments that serve food or drink in single-use disposable service-ware. This includes but is not limited to cups, plates, bowls, hinged or lidded containers, straws, cup lids, and utensils. Food establishments such as restaurants and fast food stores, grocery and convenience stores, beverage retailers, and other retailers will be required to comply with this ordinance.

I will not anticipate the reaction of her fellow Council members.  I am hoping to be surprised and that these motions will find the majority willing to entertain the impact of trying to minimize or eliminate material that cannot be recycled.  In his Sunday column, Dick discussed the City’s plan for sustainability; urging the City Council not to ignore it but to modify it if need be.

I appreciate Ms. Cirillo’s introducing motions that are bold and that will generate analysis leading to creative solutions.  Now let’s see if the majority of the City Council shares my views.

The fourth motion introduced by Councilwoman Cirillo is “Request the City Manager direct the department of planning and development to give the City an update regarding where we are in the process of the canal bridges’ bids which are due to be received on January 30th.” I look forward to this report.  I for one am a bit confused about the total cost and the details of the transfer of ownership of the canal bridges to the City.

Her last motion Requests “City Manager have the Division of Planning and Development produce a zoning amendment to allow the zoning board of appeals to issue a special permit for the addition of front porches to existing homes.”  I hope the Council allows this motion to advance to the Zoning Sub-Committee so that the concept can be fully studied and discussed.

The last motion on the Agenda is from City Councilwoman Rita Mercier “Request installation of (2) handicap parking signs in the front of the East End Club at 15 W. 4th. Street.”

The City Manager’s portion of the Agenda is quite lengthy. The Motion Responses portion has five items.

Response to City Councilor Bill Samara’s motion (10.24.17) “request City Manager initiate an application to the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund through the Mass Cultural Council and Mass Development to enhance the presence of public art and lighting in the City and to expand these efforts into the City’s neighborhoods for the coming year.”

The reply drafted from Henri Marchand indicates that the Division of Planning and Development is in the process of applying for a $400,000 grant to help fund improvements at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium; the Cultural Affairs and Special Events (CASE) will explore opportunities for funding and partnerships to develop additional lighting and public art in the city. Currently they are working with the Lowell Waterways Vitality Project. They are also working with the Cultural Office of Lowell to complete a significant public art project in Utopian Park.  Utopian Park is the one acre of land at the triangle tip of the Hamilton Canal.

Response to Mayor (now City Councilor) Ed Kennedy motion (4.4.17) Request City Manager consider the construction of a dike on the west bank of Beaver Brook and make it part of the Capital Plan.” Answer provided by Nicolas Bosonetto, Interim City Engineer. In 2008, The US Army Corps of Engineers performed a preliminary study of Beaver Brook and the effects of upgrading the levee system along the brook. Further study is therefore needed to analyze the impacts the proposed levees would have upstream of the levees and a cost/benefit analysis for the ‘non-structural’ options such as relocation of homes.

Response to Councilor Rita Mercier motion of 9/12/17. Request City Manager have Traffic Engineer install handicap parking sign (60 day trial) for 380 West Meadow Road behind home on LaPlume Avenue.” The handicap parking sign was placed on LaPlume Avenue two months ago. The associated 60-day trial ordinance was inadvertently left out, but has now been included in 60-day trial ordinances per council vote on January 2, 2018.

Nicolás H. Bosonetto, Interim City Engineer (Interim) answered Mayor (now City Councilor) Ed Kennedy motion (5.9.17) “Request City Manager have Traffic Engineer reexamine the intersection of High Street and Rogers Street (Moody School) for possible installation of a 4-way stop sign.” A four-way stop sign is not warranted at this location. However, a number of significant changes have been made: new pedestrian warning system; repainting of lane markings; new crosswalk were constructed; a speed limit sign has been installed; and crossing guard is stationed for dismissal and arrival of the students.

Motion from City Councilor John Leahy (10.3.17) “Request City Manager have proper department review congested traffic at intersection (lights) at Aiken Avenue and Lakeview Avenue, and report possible solutions.” 1. No Right on Red signs have been placed at the intersections to diminish the number of vehicles turning onto Aiken Street from the west side of the intersections. 2. MassDOT will be reconstructing the traffic signal at Aiken Street and VFW Highway intersection in the summer of 2018. As part of the design process the city requested that the new MassDOT signal be constructed with the capability of communicating with the city’s signals at Lakeview and West Sixth Street.

There are four items under the City Manager’s Information portion of the Agenda

2017 Compstat Crime Data A 2-page document on the 2017 crime data in the City. The bottom line is that crime is down.

Attorney General’s Receivership Program Dick gave a detailed explanation of this effort in Sunday’s post. The memo written by Eric Slagle, Director of Development Services, reports on Attorney General Maura Healey’s efforts to assist the City with the issue of abandoned properties.

Eric Slagle, Director of Development Services, also wrote the report on Clearing of Snow from Sidewalks. The snow clearing ordinance requires that a property owner remove snow from an adjacent sidewalk within 12 hours after snow ceases falling. Slagle writes:

“Our inspectors track which properties have been warned. Should either a follow up inspection or a subsequent complaint indicate that the snow has not been removed from the sidewalk, the property owner receives a violation with a $100 fine. There are challenges that our inspectors face in the enforcement of this ordinance. First, in some of the neighborhoods in the City, not all of the streets have sidewalks, and this fact can be difficult to ascertain once a large amount of snow has fallen. Also, a subsequent snowfall can start the clock ticking again for shoveling. Finally, weather conditions and/or weekends can render a warning moot if the snow would disappear naturally. For the winter of 2016-2017, Development Services staff issued 145 warnings for snow removal, and wrote 19 violations for a total of $1,900. For the winter of 2017-2018 thus far, Development Services staff issued 105 warnings for snow removal, and wrote 13 violations for a total of $1,300.”

Snow removal, clean sidewalk, and paved roads are a major issue in the winter.  In addition to this report, there is going to be a presentation on Snow Removal.  The agenda did not have any other details but I believe this was a decision made by the City Manager after there were a series of questions on snow removal by the City DPW and contractors.

Lowell Week in Review: January 14, 2018

Climate Resiliency

I really enjoyed the 50 degree temperatures we had on Friday, even with the rain. Two weeks of sub-freezing and often sub-zero weather was tough to take. I didn’t mind the 12 inches of snow we picked up a week ago Thursday, but the image from that storm that has stuck with me was video of flooding on Boston’s Atlantic Avenue, right in front of the New England Aquarium. The flooding wasn’t from a burst pipe, it was from the Atlantic Ocean which over flowed the area in a way not seen before, including during the Blizzard of 1978.

In the aftermath of that flooding, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and others talked about the need for greater climate resiliency. To be climate resilient means having the ability to absorb the extremes of weather that accompany climate change. It’s about making systems and cities more sustainable.

Sustainable. Where have I heard that word before? Oh yes, Sustainable Lowell 2025, the city’s comprehensive master plan that was unanimously endorsed by the city council in 2013 but which no local elected official has referred to since.

The plan begins by citing 15 sustainability accomplishments by the city in the decade that preceded the plan, ranging from the renewable energy enhancement of 47 city buildings to a 33% reduction in solid waste tonnage through the use of recycling bins.

Future objectives cited by the plan are very neighborhood-focused including reviving neighborhood business districts, integrating parks and greenspace into the urban fabric, and prioritizing land use policies that promote walkable neighborhoods.

The plan has an entire chapter on Environmental Resilience. Here’s the introductory paragraph:

Lowell will strive to bolster its growing reputation as a model for environmentally sustainable practices in an urban setting. It will accomplish this goal by proactively preparing for and adapting to climate change and continuing efforts to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases so as to mitigate its impact on the environment.

Here are the ten objectives identified in the Environmental Resilience chapter:

  1. The City of Lowell will set an example by prioritizing environmentally sustainable policies and practices.
  2. Develop policies and programs that will build upon the successes of reducing solid waste and increasing recycling citywide.
  3. Develop programs and policies to reduce the disposal of organic wastes into the waste stream.
  4. Improve water quality.
  5. Improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions through energy efficiency enhancements and the adoption of alternative fuels.
  6. Promote urban forestry as a method of improving public health as well as the physical and built environment.
  7. Produce energy from renewable sources.
  8. Seek to reduce the adverse impacts and severity of flood events.
  9. Prepare proactively for heat waves, droughts, ice storms, and other types of natural disasters so as to mitigate their negative impacts.
  10. Educate the public about the importance and urgency of climate change and carbon emission reduction.

All seem reasonable and achievable. Some, like producing energy from renewable sources, have seen some progress. But many have been ignored, like the plan in its entirety.

The military is obsessive about planning, but all commanders understand that even the best plan only survives the start of the engagement. Still, those same commanders also understand that it is better to modify an existing plan than it is to make things up as you go along. If councilors believe circumstances have changed since Sustainable Lowell 2025 was unanimously adopted, they should take steps to modify the plan. They should not ignore it.

Getting back to weather extremes, I suppose anytime we experience a stretch of deep cold or an extended heat wave or a powerful storm, there’s a tendency to label it the worst there’s ever been, so we have to guard against exaggerating the scale of recent weather events. Notwithstanding that caveat, it does seem that our weather has grown more extreme in recent years. Consider our recent two week long, record-breaking cold spell, or the 115 inches of snow that fell on Lowell two winters ago, or the flooding of the Merrimack in 2006 and 2007. And how many times have we lost power? Many more in the past decade than I can recall in the decades that came before. Power outages happen so often that a generator is now seen as standard equipment in many homes.

Flooding on the Concord River at East Merrimack St

The United States remains one of the few developed countries in which a significant portion of the public does not accept the scientific consensus that dramatic climate change is occurring and that it is the result of human activity. That’s partly a result of the American mainstream media’s preference for entertainment over accuracy. It’s also because many among us take pride in disparaging learning and expertise. Why should I believe a person with a doctorate in science who says the earth is warming when recent weather has been colder than ever before?

One of my favorite Twitter accounts is Capital Weather Gang, which is the Washington Post’s weather team. Besides DC-area forecasts, Capital Weather Gang also provides worldwide weather news. At the start of that two-week long cold spell (on December 27, 2017 at 4:31 PM, to be precise) here is what they tweeted:

U.S. to be coldest region in world relative to normal over next week. Please note rest of world will be much warmer than normal lest anyone try to claim pocket of cold in U.S. debunks global warming, which they will invariably and irresponsibly do.

Joking about or consciously disputing climate change is irresponsible. It’s past time for us all to take this seriously.

Attorney General Maura Healey at public meeting at Lowell’s Wang Middle School, May 2017

Attorney General Maura Healey assisting Lowell

Ten years ago when Lowell was being wracked by the foreclosure crisis, then Attorney General Martha Coakley created a division in her office called Home Corps, the mission of which was to help individuals who were facing foreclosure. Home Corps established offices around the state including one in Lowell and did much to help individual home owners who were in financial distress. Communities in which those homes were located, like Lowell, greatly benefited from the program.

Foreclosed and abandoned properties can quickly drag down an entire neighborhood, so the efforts of Coakley’s office to prevent foreclosures from occurring proved very beneficial to Lowell. In my capacity as Register of Deeds for the Middlesex North District (which includes Lowell), I worked closely with the Attorney General’s office and with city officials back then, helping to trace the deeds, mortgages and foreclosures that affected those properties. That was when I first met Maura Healey, who was the Deputy Attorney General who oversaw the effort from the AG’s office. From the start, I was very impressed by Healey and so four years ago when she entered the race to succeed Coakley as Attorney General, I readily supported her.

Now as Attorney General, Maura Healey is again assisting Lowell with the issue of abandoned properties. One day last summer, I received a call from her office. Rather than have its Abandoned Housing Initiative team of lawyers and paralegals crisscross the state to handle a problem property or two in many different communities, the AG’s office wanted to try something different – to mass all of their resources in one neighborhood of one community to see if a big infusion of resources could make a difference. They asked if I thought the city of Lowell would be receptive to entering a partnership on this effort. A quick phone call to City Manager Kevin Murphy yielded an enthusiastic “yes” from the city. The AG’s assistance would indeed be welcome and appreciated and so the partnership was formed.

Examining the data related to foreclosures and abandoned properties, it was decided that Centralville should be the focus. Since then, the Attorney General’s personnel have done the necessary research and title examinations on abandoned properties in Centralville that were identified by the city’s Development Services team.

Now, the AG’s team will commence the receivership actions against these properties. In this context, receivership is a judicial process whereby the Attorney General will petition the appropriate court to appoint a receiver who will enter onto the property and bring it up to code. The receiver then has a lien on the property for the value of the work done. This lien is superior to all others, except for municipal liens, so it would have priority over any mortgages or executions that encumber the property. Once the property is brought up to code, the record owner has the opportunity to reimburse the receiver for the full value of all repairs. If the owner is unwilling or unable to do so, the receiver may then foreclose the lien and sell the property, all while under the continuous supervision of the court.

While a municipality may initiated a receivership, it is a long, resource-intensive process that the already very busy city solicitor’s office may not have time or resources to undertake. Consequently, having lawyers and paralegals from the Attorney General’s office handle the court proceedings and related research is of great benefit to the city of Lowell. The team from the Attorney General’s office is scheduled to make a presentation on this program to the Lowell City Council this Tuesday night, so check back afterwards for a report on what was said.

Upcoming Events

Despite it being winter, there is much going on in Lowell. Here is a sampling of upcoming events:

Winterfest 2018

Lowell’s annual Winterfest will take place on the evening of Friday, February 23 and throughout Saturday, February 24. Along with activities for the kids, live music, and a craft beer showcase, there will be the traditional soup bowl competition and the chocolate festival at St. Anne’s. Winterfest takes place on Lucy Larcom Park and nearby Arcand Drive.

Democratic Campaign Institute

Next weekend Democratic officials, candidates, operatives and activists from across the Commonwealth will descend on the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center for a two day campaign institute. Along with plenty of general sessions, there will be three specific tracks, one for candidates, another for campaign operatives and a third for activists. The fee for the Institute is $75 which includes a welcome reception on Friday night plus breakfast and lunch on both Saturday and Sunday.

Lowell Women’s Week

In its 22nd year, Lowell Women’s Week will be held from February 25 through March 10, 2018 and will feature many events that recognize the achievements, struggles and contributions of women in our community. Check out Women’s Week website for more information.

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

On Tuesday, February 27, 2018 at 6:30 pm at Lowell National Park Visitor Center at 246 Market Street, the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust in partnership with the Lowell Film Collaborative, will show the film Citizen Jane, a documentary about the activist and writer Jane Jacobs, who fought to preserve urban communities. After the film, I will lead a discussion about the film and its application to Lowell.

On the Road Marathon

On Saturday, March 10, 2018, the Pollard Memorial Library will host a marathon reading of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. This event will feature a relay of volunteers reading aloud On The Road from cover to cover. Modeled on New Bedford’s famous Moby-Dick Marathon, which was held for the 22nd consecutive year last weekend, the Lowell city library event will join the roster of Keroaucian activities the celebrate the great writer’s March birthday. To sign up as a volunteer reader and for more information about the On The Road Marathon, visit the library’s webpage.

Also as part of Kerouac’s Birthday celebration, on Sunday, March 11, 2018 from 10 am to 10 pm at the Ayer Lofts Art Gallery, 172 Middle Street, Aloysius Productions will present an exhibit called Collage of a City featuring portraits of Lowell people who participated in the Merrimack Lowell Community Film Project.

Irish Cultural Week

Also in March is Irish Cultural Week. This year’s schedule is still being developed but check back for updates in the coming weeks.

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