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Primary Election: Sept 4, 2018
General Election: Nov 6, 2018
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Mimi Parseghian preview’s this week’s Lowell City Council meeting:
The City Council will soon be in its summer schedule of a regular meeting every other week. This week agenda has a number of significant items, including 12 motions from the City Council.
Plain-Tanner St. Corridor Redevelopment Plans: Motion by City Councilor Rita Mercier (2/13/28) Requests City Manager provide an update regarding Plain/Tanner Corridor Redevelopment plans including the effect it will have on 168 Plain Street (Lowell Car Wash).
The response was prepared by Diane Tradd, Assistant City Manager/Director of Department of Planning and Development. Ms. Tradd wrote that “The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) had a meeting on March 14th with several property owners in the Tanner Street area, including the Lowell Car Wash and Max Levine Company Scrap Metal to talk about the Tanner Street Realignment project.” The realignment calls for the southern end of Tanner Street to shift the intersection with Plain Street east away from the Lowell Connector exchange at Plain Street and into the new signal for the Target and Meadow Brook shopping plaza.
Sidewalk Seating/ADA Compliance: Motion by Mayor Bill Samaras Request City Manager instruct proper department to ensure all restaurants with sidewalk seating comply with the 48 inch clearance as required by the American with Disabilities Act.
Eric Slagle, Director of Development Services responded that in addition to the Planning Department staff coordinates the processing of the applications for outdoor seating, during the “sidewalk seating season (April – October) a team of one a planner and one building inspector perform downtown inspections of all sidewalk seating facilities on a weekly basis.”
DPW Inventory Management: Motion by City Councilor John Leahy (5/8/2018) Request City Manager work with DPW to develop Best Practices for inventory control as it pertains to land and building in the City.
Motion Responded by Jim Donison, Commissioner of Department of Public Works (DPW) writes: “DPW/Lands & Buildings Division maintains a minimal inventory of parts as the availability of supplies from local suppliers/vendors through state contract prices are excellent. ..We have taken this approach as it would be extremely expensive to maintain an inventory of the various expensive parts for the numerous facilities throughout the City. The availability of parts from the suppliers is very good; they either have the parts immediately available or are able to obtain them with a relatively short period of time, i.e. typically one week.
List of Non-operational Items and Items in Disrepair Update Motion by City Councilor K. Cirillo (1/9/18) Request City Manager have the DPW Commissioner provide City Council a list of non-operational or disrepair items no later than August 10th, of every year which are vital to our municipal buildings working properly for our Fall-Winter season of 2018.
DPW Commission Donison also answered this motion. He informed the Council that the list will be provided in August but he outlined the methodology and data that will be used to comprise this list.
Periodic Maintenance of Schools: Motion by Councilor E. Kennedy (11/14/17) Request City Manager instruct the proper department to provide the City Council and the School Committee with the schedule of regular periodic maintenance at all schools in Lowell.
This motion was also answered by DPW Commissioner Donison. He mentions that currently maintenance is provided to the schools when requests are submitted through the School system’s Operation and Maintenance Software System.
Additionally,” preventative maintenance of HVAC filters and flushing of hot water heaters typically occurs every 4 months.” DPW is planning to implement a new Operations and Maintenance Software and Commissioner Donison suggests that “it would be ideal if DPW could coordinate with the Schools to both use the same software.”
Update on Construction at VFW Highway and Aiken St. Bridge: Motion by Councilor D. Conway (5/8/18) request City Manager provide update on road construction at the VFW Highway Across the street from Top Donut and the Aiken Street Bridge.
Motion responded by Jim Donison, DPW Commissioner Sarah Brown, Environmental Officer –DPD. The project was suspended due to the oil and hazardous material found in the soil when the construction began. Currently further tests are taking place. Once the results are gathered and analyzed, the State Department of Transportation will give the go ahead to start removing the soil. The timeline for that is mid-July 2018 and the completion of the project has now been moved to October 2019, a one year delay.
Neighborhood Schools: City Solicitor Christine O’Connor provided the memo on this motion and she stated “I write in response to Councilor Mercier’s request that the Law Department explore what steps are necessary to allow children to attend neighborhood schools and obtain a release from the consent decree. This motion has been forwarded to the Superintendent of Schools and the Mayor to request a report and recommendation from the school committee as to whether there is desire to seek such relief and depart from their current busing practices. As soon as I receive their response I will update the Council.
Article 97: This motion was also answered by City Solicitor O’Connor: Here is the content of her brief but comprehensive response: “I write in response to Councilor Milinazzo’s request that the Manager take all necessary steps to reinstate the Article 97 restrictions on parks and open space land which had been removed during the Lowell High School/MSBA site selection process. Although the legislation does contain a provision that “if the land transferred…is not developed for school purposes within 5 years …it shall revert to the board of parks…for park, open space or recreation purposes”, the City is planning to formally request a repeal of the Article 97 legislation relative to the previous Cawley Stadium site.
However, Option 3 will also require Article 97 relief relative to air rights for the reconstruction and/or repair of two pedestrian walkway bridges that extend over Lucy Larcom Park and the Merrimack Canal. Accordingly, at such time as the new request for Article 97 relief is made of the Massachusetts Legislature, the City will also request the previous “Act Authorizing the City of Lowell to Transfer Park Land for the Construction of a High School” be repealed.
INFORMATION REPORTS: Under this agenda item is a memo from City Manager Eileen Donoghue to the City Council informing them that she intends to propose in the $3.3 million in additional to the city funding for the schools this next fiscal year. She outlines where the funds will be targeted; $3 million will go towards capital investments.
In another memo to the Council, the City Manager attaches “a proposed Amendment to the Rules of the City Council relative to public participation at council meetings and the creation of a free speech zone to be located on the grounds of City Hall.” She requests that the “proposed amendment be placed on next week’s Agenda for a formal vote of the Council. “
I am assuming that this proposal is in reaction to what occurred last week at the Sub-Committee meeting. We will need to have a copy of the current rules to compare to what is being suggested. Additionally, there are a couple of Council motions concerning this issue.
ORDINANCE: The Council will vote on a new ordinance, this one covering the sale of recreational marijuana. The number of dispensaries will be limited to 5.
Councilor D. Conway: Request City Manager explore the feasibility of re-locating our police station to the site of the District Court located on Hurd Street when vacated by State.
Councilor R. Elliott: Request City Manager develop a policy and/or designated area to allow citizens to exercise their 1st Amendment rights.
Councilor R. Elliott: Request City Manager report on City adopting MGL Property Exemption for Veteran Volunteer Program.
Councilor R. Mercier: Request City Manager have Law Department provide an outline of where people are allowed to demonstrate or protest if not in Council Chamber during a Public Meeting and posts signs indicating such.
Councilor R. Mercier: Request City Manager have proper department install security cameras on 1st Street as well as address issues of lighting, excess trash, beer bottles and drug paraphernalia.
Councilor J. Leahy: Request City Manager have Law Department draft ordinance that would fine utility companies $100 per line after they were notified that such lines were illegally hanging from their pole.
Councilor V. Nuon: Request City Manager a report on challenges and successes in relationship between Lowell Career Center and clients of local non-profit who aid in addiction recovery.
Councilor V. Nuon: Request City of Lowell continue its support of non-profits that provide services to our residents in need and request City Manager provide periodic reports on progress and advise on how to strengthen results.
Councilor V. Nuon: Request City of Lowell join with non-profits to send a letter to the US Senate and House of representatives in support of Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency Act (CARE) proposed by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Elijah Cummings to begin treating the Opioid Crisis like the critical public health emergency it is.
Councilor V. Nuon /Mayor Samaras: Request City Manager have DPW work with representatives from Roberto Clemente Baseball field to install lighting with a scoreboard on the field and to concession stand in the near future.
Councilor V. Nuon /Mayor Samaras: Request City re-establish the Youth Council and/or Commission.
Mayor Samaras: Request City Manager instruct the Law Department to draft a Home Rule Petition to allow the City to appoint retired Lowell Police Officers to work paid detail assignments.
The Changing Housing Market
The Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce held its 23rd Annual Municipal Breakfast on Tuesday at the Radisson Hotel in Chelmsford. The event featured remarks from Chelmsford Town Manager Paul Cohen, Billerica Town Manager John Curran, Dracut Town Manager James Duggan, Lowell City Manager Eileen Donoghue, Tewksbury Town Manager Richard Montuori, Tyngsborough Town Administrator Matt Hanson, and Westford Town Manager Jodi Ross.
At the close of the program, Moderator Pat Cook of Middlesex Community College joked that the big issues for Greater Lowell communities seemed to be “bones and bones” by which he meant that several town managers had identified dog parks and marijuana retail outlets as sources of community controversy. While both of those are undoubtedly important, an equally prominent theme throughout the morning was housing, especially rental housing.
For years we’ve heard about the “new urbanism” which states that young people are increasingly drawn to cities because of the interesting people and things that can be found there. These same young people are less likely to prioritize their employment above all else. They value a better balance of “live, work and play.” Because businesses tend to go where the workers are, more and more employers are heading to cities too.
But if the speakers at the municipal breakfast are any indication, suburbia is competing with cities by providing its own “live, work and play” balance. That’s a phrase spoken several times by town managers on Tuesday morning.
In a number of Greater Lowell communities, new complexes with hundreds of apartments each are springing up along major roads and highways, not far from major employers. Those same employers emphasize to town officials the importance of providing amenities that attract workers to the community. Good schools have always been a given. Now, things like walkable town centers, recreation trails and dog parks are what defines a community as a desirable place to live.
This evolution of suburban housing was a consistent them from the town managers. However, here are some unique items worth noting:
Chelmsford – The next big development zone will be the junction of Route 3 and Route 40. This is the last undeveloped interchange with Route 3 and the town plans to alter its zoning to allow for more housing and services.
Chelmsford – This fall, the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management will begin the bid process for the 30 acre former UMass Lowell West Campus. They envision a senior housing/assisted living complex being constructed here.
Billerica – The partisan deadlock in Congress has frozen Federal infrastructure spending. The negative effects of this – especially the absence of repairs to highways, bridges and interchanges – is being painfully felt at the local level.
Dracut – Without a highway passing through town, Dracut is at a developmental disadvantage relative to the other communities. Still, Dracut excels at doing more with less and has adopted the motto, “Dracut is open for business.” The town is committed to adding amenities desired by newer residents.
Tewksbury – Engaged in a community visioning process. The thing desired by a majority of residents? More and better sidewalks. So the town has developed a master plan for sidewalks and has also adopted the Complete Streets program.
Tyngsborough – Thanks to a Mass Works grant, the Tyngsborough town center, which is opposite the Tyngsborough Bridge, has been revived and better defined. Also, the shopping plaza just south of the NH line (the one with the AMC Theater) just sold and the new owner has plans to make it more walkable and more attractive.
Westford – Besides a dog park, Westford residents, particularly its seniors, want a place to play pickle ball. The town continues to grow rapidly with many new housing units, new and expanded roads, and some new municipal facilities. The asphalt plant that was opposed by many residents is under construction and is due to open next spring.
Lowell – Eileen Donoghue was the rookie of this group, having held office for just a month, but she exhibited a strong grasp of the issues facing Lowell. She spoke of the need to alter the state school funding formula (something echoed by several of her colleagues – school funding is not just an urban issue). Donoghue was most enthused about the soon-to-be-realized potential of the Hamilton Canal District. She said the Lowell Judicial Center is ahead of schedule – it’s now expected to open in August 2019 – and it is also under budget. She said that the Judicial Center will draw people from all over the region and it will have regional economic benefits.
Thanks to the Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce for hosting this important forum. It’s a nice complement to the annual Legislative Forum that the Chamber holds earlier in the year.
Mimi Parseghian has become a key contributor to this website with her Monday morning Lowell City Council previews which dissect that agenda and all the reports that accompany it in anticipation of the Tuesday night council meeting. Mimi has now added a new recurring post, Lowell Round-Up, which she hopes to post each Friday (although I didn’t get the inaugural version online until last evening). Mimi hopes to share her observations on the week in Lowell politics. If you haven’t read it already, please check out this week’s Lowell Round-up.
2018 Ballot Questions
One of the things Mimi mentioned in her post was the expected presence on this November’s Massachusetts state election ballot of a question that would repeal the 2016 law that prohibited discrimination based on gender identity. (The Lowell City Council and many residents addressed this issue at a memorable city council meeting back on May 17, 2016).
This referendum would be just one of up to seven questions that might appear on our November ballot. Here are the others (thanks to Ballotpedia):
Income Tax for Education and Transportation Amendment. This would create a 4 percent tax on incomes that exceed $1 million with the additional revenue being dedicated to education and transportation. Known as “the millionaire’s tax,” the Constitutionality of this question has been challenged and is now pending before the Supreme Judicial Court. If the SJC finds this to be an appropriate matter for citizen referendum, then this will appear on the ballot.
The following measures all must obtain more than 10,000 signatures prior to July 2, 2018 to appear on the November ballot. So if you see people with clipboards and nomination-like petitions, they are collecting signatures for one or more of these questions:
Advisory Commission for Amending US Constitution about Political Spending and Corporate Personhood. This question would create a citizens commission to advocate for changes to the US Constitution regarding political spending and corporate personhood (i.e, overturn the “Citizens United” US Supreme Court decision).
Nurse-Patient Assignment Limits Initiative. This would set limits on the number of patients a nurse could be assigned to.
$15 minimum wage. Increases the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022.
Paid Family and Medical Leave Initiative. Creates a fund to provide for paid family and medical leave.
Sales Tax Decrease and Tax Free Weekend Initiative. Decreases the sales tax and establishes a tax-free weekend.
Leadership Change at GLAD
For the first time in several decades, there is a new Chair of Greater Lowell Area Democrats. At this morning’s meeting held at the Radisson Hotel in Chelmsford, longtime chair (and blogging colleague) Marie Sweeney “retired” from that post after leading the group through constant election cycles. The new chair is Christopher Jenkins.
Marie’s leadership has been amazing, not only for its duration but because of her management of a complex group of people with competing interests. GLAD meetings have long been a “must-attend” event for Democratic candidates from state representative to governor and US Senator. Things like that don’t just happen: a lot of work, effort and deliberation go into these events and Marie has provided them all with grace and good judgment.
The goal of GLAD is to sponsor forums, debates, caucuses, regional meetings and hearings to further the Democratic Party’s agenda in its member communities which are Bedford, Billerica, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Dracut, Groton, Lowell, Pepperell, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro and Westford. And Erika Johnson, the chair of the Wilmington Democratic Town Committee, was present at yesterday’s GLAD meeting to seek membership for the Wilmington Dems, a petition I believe will be happily granted at the next GLAD meeting.
Lowell Cemetery Memorial Event
The Lowell Cemetery will hold its annual Memorial Day Remembrance today at noon with a parade from the Knapp Avenue Gate to the Grand Army of the Republic Lot within the cemetery. Military, veterans groups and public officials will participate. The public is invited to attend. After a brief patriotic and speaking program, a US Army helicopter is scheduled to land within the cemetery and remain on the ground for public inspection. There will also be a number of antique military vehicles on display.
Thanks for your help!
Lowell Round-Up is a new column in which Mimi Parseghian shares her observations on the week in Lowell politics. In the future, this column will appear on Friday mornings.
There seems to be a lack of general interest in the three major contested elections this fall. Quite often candidates in mid-term elections, which include not only the Congressional ones, but also the elections for the State Legislature, ran unopposed. This year we have a contested Congressional race, a contested State Senate race and a contested State Representative race for the 18th Middlesex District, Lowell’s Acre and Highland neighborhoods.
The problem may be that there are so many Lowellians running in these three races and that supporters and political activists are dispersed. Also, if you have two people who you have previously supported running against each other, what do you?
We are approaching the end of May, so that leaves one month of strong campaigning before the summer lull. There will be a resurge of campaigning at the end of July due to the crowds that the Folk Festival draws. Since Primary elections are on Tuesday, September 4, 2018, the day after Labor Day, candidates are going to have a very short time to distinguish themselves from their opponents. Needless to say, the candidates with a strong, established political base have the edge.
I know that the Final Elections are in November but I am making the assumption that the Democratic nominee in all of these races will have a distinct advantage.
Tuesday night’s Environment & Flood Issues Sub-Committee Meeting has created much discussion on social media. In case you missed it, the Subcommittee was meeting to hear from National Grid about their expansion or modernization of the gas lines. Like many other such meetings, opponents were in attendance; unlike other such meetings, these opponents prevented the agenda from going forward.
I wished that National Grid was allowed to make its presentation so that we can begin to be informed as to what is going to happen. Also, the discussion would have allowed the City Council to express their concerns, if there were any, and perhaps make an impact on the direction this project is going to take.
Although I respect the right for civil disobedience, I do wonder how effective this demonstration was. I always thought that the goal of political activism is to influence the ultimate decision and not the activity itself.
Changes in City Manager always bring a new style of administering. That is obvious if you watch the City Council meeting. Unlike his predecessors, former City Manager Kevin Murphy had his Department Managers present at the City Council meeting if an agenda item pertained to their department. If there were any questions on an agenda item, they were available to answer. City Manager Eileen Donoghue has improved on that approach. She invites the Department Managers to verbally recap their written responses to the Councilors’ motions and then the floor is opened for questions. This format educates the viewer and gives background information to the discussion.
This week’s marks the two-year anniversary of the Lowell City Council vote supporting a bill that “prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of gender identity” (the transgender rights bill). Now that a referendum to repeal this bill will be on the ballot this fall, it may be a good time for the City of Lowell to reaffirm its anti-discrimination position.
This is the 55th installment of my Lowell in World War One series which commemorates the centennial of the entry of the United States into World War One. Here are the headlines from one hundred years ago for the past two weeks:
May 13, 1918 – Monday – New of Allied plan to hold American Army in reserve puzzles US officials. Americans “got” 600 Huns at Seicheprey. Navy officials enlist Textile School boys. US Navy recruiters will set up shop at the Textile school for the next two days, seeking to enlist undergraduates in the Naval Reserve until their graduation, when they would go on active duties. Students in civil and electrical engineering are especially desired. This is in line with President Wilson’s recommendation that young men remain in school until they have completed their courses. May 24 will be Italy Day in Lowell. Mayor Perry Thompson said he will issue a proclamation urging all residents to observe the day. Cardinal O’Connell coming to Lowell next Sunday afternoon as the guest of the Lowell branch of the League of Catholic Women at their meeting to be held at Notre Dame academy. K of C soldiers honored. The Lowell council of the Knights of Columbus held an inspiringly patriotic exercise yesterday with their service flag blessing and raising which honored 60 members who are now in the service.
May 14, 1918 – Tuesday – First million tons of ships built for US by shipping board now on the high seas. 159 vessels for 1,108,621 tons completed since January 1. Private Martin Connors of the quartermaster’s department, son of Lt and Mrs Martin Connors of this city, is now in Liverpool, England, according to his mother. Two well known Lowell young men left for Newport, RI, this morning as recruits for the Navy. Leo McCarthy, 70 Willie street, and Richard Farrell, 352 Broadway, are the new members of the water forces. Both come from the “Acre” district and are especially popular in that section of the city.
May 15, 1918 – Wednesday – Allies improve position in important sector. German counter attack beaten off by French. Allies improve positions as expected renewal of German drive fails to develop. Pupils of the High School commercial classes hear Professor Rittenhouse of the accounting department at Boston university. Rittenhouse told the students – the young women in particular – that the training which they are receiving in their commercial courses now will be of benefit to them in future life, whether they keep books or keep house. He also made an appeal to the young men to remain in school until they had finished their courses rather than leave to accept an attractive position outside.
May 16, 1918 – Thursday – Plans to care for 5,000,000 US troops in France. American preparations amazing in immensity. Today’s US casualty report contains 91 names including 8 killed in action, 10 other deaths, and 14 missing. Few buildings being erected in Lowell. James Reilly, president of the Lowell Board of Trade, said yesterday that the number of new houses being constructed this year is far behind previous years. He attributed the slowdown to a lack of building materials and high costs for materials that are available. This is especially unfortunate because the present needs of the government will require local munitions plants to double their capacity which also means doubling the number of workers they employ. These new workers will require additional housing in Lowell.
May 17, 1918 – Friday – Troops of new American Army reinforce British in Flanders. First American troops to get into fighting zone as units brigaded with British. Congressman John Jacob Rogers made a forceful speech in the House yesterday urging greater bipartisanship and for members to refrain from needless criticism. Mr. Rogers said that since were were at war and engaged in a struggle for existence, he supported granting broad powers to the president. Lieutenant Joseph Collins of the 108th Signal Battalion, Regular Army, stationed at Camp Logan, Texas, and son of Lt Thomas Collins of the Lowell Fire Department, was severely injured in the motorcycle accident in the south. Lt Collins, who is well known by the young men of the “Grove” broke one of his legs in the accident. Regarding the housing problem, with 4500 Lowell men now away in the service, there are many unoccupied rooms in existing houses. The newspaper recommends officials explore using those vacant rooms to help deal with the current housing shortage.