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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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- The City of Lowell will set an example by prioritizing environmentally sustainable policies and practices.
- Develop policies and programs that will build upon the successes of reducing solid waste and increasing recycling citywide.
- Develop programs and policies to reduce the disposal of organic wastes into the waste stream.
- Improve water quality.
- Improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions through energy efficiency enhancements and the adoption of alternative fuels.
- Promote urban forestry as a method of improving public health as well as the physical and built environment.
- Produce energy from renewable sources.
- Seek to reduce the adverse impacts and severity of flood events.
- Prepare proactively for heat waves, droughts, ice storms, and other types of natural disasters so as to mitigate their negative impacts.
- 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.
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 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.
Despite it being winter, there is much going on in Lowell. Here is a sampling of upcoming events:
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.
Through the years, writers on this blog have taken up the subject of Place as a way to talk about what it means to feel part of a community. The term “sense of place” is familiar to most of us, but that feeling is intangible and sometimes difficult to define. Community planners, city and town planners, these days like to talk about “place-making” as a way to create distinctive identities for their communities, something that is considered good for community psychology (makes people feel like they belong and encourages people to take care of what’s around them) as well as a good thing for the local economy—a competitive advantage for being special. Recently, I read two magazine articles that touched on the idea of Place and the ways in which a filmmaker and a writer have both explored their local places and contributed to the understanding and value of those local places. Artists of all kinds (painters, novelists, filmmakers, photographers, musicians, dancers, etc) play an important role in drawing out, expressing, and adding to the unique sense of place in communities everywhere. When Dr. Patrick Mogan and others in Lowell advocated for a stronger appreciation of the city’s history in the 1960s and ’70s, they talked about residents being alienated from their community because they lacked a sense of connection to and affection for the place. Feeling like you belong somewhere and wanting to be part of a place can make your life feel more coherent, more meaningful.— PM
“Chris Rock put his finger on the irony in ‘Brooklyn Boheme,’ Diane Pragas and Nelson George’s 2011 documentary about the black-and-Latino creative community that blossomed in Fort Green in the ‘80s and ‘90s. ‘Spike [Lee] made “She’s Gotta Have It,” [Chris] Rock said, ‘and Fort Greene just became like – Brooklyn! Like, wow, there’s a place in Brooklyn where black people live, and it’s nice.’” The complicated truth is that Lee, in film after film and more than almost any other single denizen, has played an integral part in his borough’s renewal process, with deeply urbane and humane portraits of his home that proved more attractive than even he may have intended.”
About film director Spike Lee’s influence on Brooklyn. From “He’s Gotta Have It: What Happens to a Provocateur like Spike Lee when the Culture Catches Up to Him?” by Thomas Chatterton Williams, NY Times Magazine, 11-26-17
“[Philip] Roth’s patriotic proposal invests not in the arc of history—which perhaps resembles too easily that eighth-grade pageant of Tolerance defeating Prejudice—but in a more fully realized sense of simple belonging. He proposes a patriotism of place and person rather than of class and cause. His patriotism recognizes how helplessly dependent we are on a network of associations and communal energy, of which we become fully aware only as it disappears. Not only can you go home again, Roth insists. You can only go home again. You get America right by remembering Newark [N.J.] as it really was.
“Making the point that only by having a deep local sense of place can one have a larger loyalty that contains within it the necessary contradictions and limits, he both narrows his allegiances to working-class Newark and makes Newark a miniature of America. Roth calls this, in a final summation, ‘the ruthless intimacy of fiction.’ He insists that “Newark was my sensory key to all the rest,’ and that “this passion for specificity, for the hypnotic materiality of the world one is in, is all but the heart of the task to which every American novelist has been enjoined since Melville and his whale and Twain and his river: to discover the most arresting, evocative verbal depiction for every last American thing.’
“This task can be encyclopedic, as in Melville and Pynchon, or it can be microscopic, as Roth now views his own. The job is to be attached to a place as one is attached to a self: not looking past its flaws, but literally unable to imagine life without it.”
From “The Patriot: The Collective Nonfiction of Philip Roth,” a review by Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 11-13-17
This is the 39th weekly 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 this week:
January 7, 1918 – Monday – Draft law constitutional. Supreme Court upholds selective service act. Lowell city government for 1918 inducted into office at City Hall today. Perry D Thompson inaugurated as city’s mayor. No change in assignment of commissioners. Constables, surveyors and weighers appointed. School board will organize tomorrow. Lowell school opened today. All public and parochial schools opened this morning after the annual Christmas vacation which was extended this year on account of the coal shortage. At the high school there was considerable trouble caused by the cold spell but classes went on as usual this morning. All B&M repair work at Billerica shops. The transfer of all Boston and Maine repair work to the shops in Billerica from those in Cambridge started today due to a fire that destroyed many of the existing facilities in Cambridge. Cardinal O’Connell urges loyalty at big service. Cardinal O’Connell addressed members of 22 Holy Name societies at a service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross yesterday, urging them to “stand shoulder to shoulder with our boys over in France in love, affection, and loyalty to America.”
January 8, 1918 – Tuesday – America’s war aims set out in speech by President Wilson who sets out program for world peace containing 14 specific considerations and says United States will continue to fight until these are achieved. Lowell men join Royal Munster Fusiliers. Frank McHugh of 69 Tyler street; Michael J McNulty of 143 Chapel street, and Jeremiah P Sullivan, 111 Fort Hill avenue recently enlisted in the Royal Munster Fusiliers, one of the most famous Irish regiments now in service. Others recently corralled by the British recruiting mission in Lowell are Henry Bird of 35 Smith street and Romelus Clermont of 187 Perkins street, both headed to the Canadian Expeditionary forces. Lowell recruits are also wanted to man the famous British “tanks” about which so much has been heard recently. Any British subject in Lowell working as welders, blacksmiths, boilermakers, electricians, or traction drivers are sought.
January 9, 1918 – Wednesday – Drastic measures to save coal. Conservation of fuel and light ordered by fuel and light administrator Storrow. Theatres, bars and all places of amusement must close at 10 pm. Business houses to open at 9 am and close at 5 pm. No heat or elevator service on Sundays and holidays. Every night but Saturday shall be a “lightless night.” Believe that Lowell sailor mourned as dead is still among the living. Fireman George Rogers of Lowell had been listed as “lost” after the sinking of the USS Jacob Jones on December 6, 1917, but a recent Navy publication listed Rogers as among those rescued after the sinking, raising hope that he is still alive.
January 10, 1918 – Thursday – US Army ready for active service. Secretary Baker answers critics in exhaustive outline of work of Department. Concedes delays in vast undertaking, but declares no army of similar size in history of world raised, equipped or trained so quickly. Army of 212,034 men raised to 1,539,506 in just nine months. Local fuel boards to enforce new order. Copies of the order have been sent to local fuel committees in every community. They are expected to enforce the order. How early closing will operate in Lowell. The negative effect on office buildings in Lowell will be much more pronounced than it will be in Boston. In this city, lawyers, doctors and others transact a great deal of office business at nights and on Sundays by reason of Lowell being an industrial city in which most working people cannot get away from their jobs during the day without loss of pay. Debate on suffrage amendment opens. With President Wilson’s unexpected support and the 11th hour endorsement by a republican caucus, the woman’s suffrage amendment came up in the house today where it is expected to get the two-thirds vote necessary to continue the process.
January 11, 1918 – Friday – Churchill makes powerful appeal for more American troops in Europe. British minister of munitions Winston Spencer Churchill, addressing the American luncheon club today in London, made a powerful appeal for the sending of American soldiers to Europe quickly and in as large numbers as possible. Two men killed and two injured in railroad accident at School Street crossing. The accident occurred shortly after 8 o’clock. The four men, all employed by the Boston & Maine railroad, were transferring lumber from a damaged car to another on a side track near the buildings of the Lowell Gas Light Company. The damage car suddenly collapsed, either throwing the men or causing them to jump into the path of an oncoming passenger train that was travelling at 25 miles per hour. School Board to fix blame for damage to school buildings caused by frozen water pipes. The investigation will determine whether janitors properly drained the schools of water before the shut down for Christmas, or whether the heating equipment itself was defective. Lowell High School ball postponed. The officers of the Lowell High regiment have patriotically decided to postpone their officers’ ball to a later time. Otherwise the ball which was to be held this week at Associate Hall, would have to end by 10 o’clock due to the fuel shutdown order.
January 12, 1918 – Saturday – No doubt now as to fate of Oliver Chadwick. Doubt no longer exists as to the fate of Oliver Chadwick, the intrepid Lowell aviator, for his tomb has been discovered and Germany has agreed to mark his grave. Such was the information received from Congressman Rogers. High war honors for Lowell soldier. Corporal A. G. Stone who enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914, returned to Lowell today wearing two British army medals for gallantry in fighting at Vimy Ridge where he was severely wounded.