Lowell City Council Meeting: May 17, 2016

Council suspends the rules to take private dormitory presentation and transgender opposition motion out of order.

First the dormitory presentation: Manager Murphy opens by saying one of his goals has been to make Lowell more of a college town because college students have a lot of disposal income to spend. He introduces former Mayor and City Councilor Bill Martin who represents the developer, Vision Development Inc which wishes to build private student housing at 1 Merrimack Plaza. Martin cites the city’s Master Plan which calls for private student housing that generates taxes and complements what the University is doing for its students. Vision has been doing this kind of work for more than 10 years.  Among other places, they’ve built similar housing at Wake Forest University and in Worcester in a former mill building. Mr. Rick Shaeffer, speaks next. Dan Benoit is their architect. Plan to build a 438 bed facility of more than 200,000 square feet. Says they have been well-received by city personnel. They hope to get construction underway in June and have it ready for occupancy for the fall of 2017. Says the downtown-side elevation will be respectful of the mill that formerly stood on the site. Goes through the various amenities. Martin says they were “fairly well received” by the Planning Board last night (which must issue a special permit). The Planning Board requested additional details. They also need approval from Zoning Board, Conservation Commission, and Historic Board.

Councilor Leahy asks about parking. Martin says there’s space for 48 cars onsite and the city will allocate the project some spaces in city parking garages. Councilor Mercier questions about the use of the Mercier garage and whether Lowell High students and employees will be able to continue to fit in the Ayotte Garage. Manager Murphy says that garage will be able to accommodate this project, LHS users, and the Lowell central office staff. Mayor Murphy says he’s been advocating private dormitories for quite a while because they produce property taxes and also because they bring students into downtown. Then he asks the developer to clarify who can live there. (the developer had said they can’t discriminate so if someone who is not a student wants to rent there, he or she can). Also asks about the adult supervision of the building and its longevity. The developer says their product – purpose built student housing – eliminates the risk of “Animal House.” Parents must guarantee the lease, onsite staff is trained in crisis intervention, security cameras in all common areas. There will be 24/7 staffing.

Councilors Elliott and Mercier – Request city council vote to adopt a resolution to oppose the transgender bill adopted by the State Senate, which allows access to women’s bathrooms and locker rooms. Councilor Mercier informs clerk she does not wish to co-sponsor the motion. Councilor Mercier seconds the motion. Councilor Elliott suggests allowing the registered speakers to proceed first (there are 25 of them).

Alex Cafanso – Ironic that today is worldwide anti-transphobic day. Also that a big project (the dormitory) is presented in front of people who find this motion hurtful. Commends city manager and councilors for pushing the city forward. The only thing that can hold the city back is fear. Not the first time that the toilet has been the battle ground for civil rights. This bill will not magically create a class of sexual predators. Instead it will say to every trans person that they are not welcome and will push them further to the periphery of society.

Joy Mosenfelder – supports Commonwealth’s attempts to help trans community. She says she is concerned with women’s safety too and cites statistics on rape and sexual assault for all women. She says trans women face much higher rates of sexual violence. Trans people are members of our community who face great challenges because of the intense stigma society attaches to them. They are some of the most vulnerable among us. Don’t they deserve our support too?

Charlotte Caragianis – Thanks council for hearing them. Thanks the speakers who will “educate you on something you know nothing about.” She IDs self as a member of the LGBT community. She says the risk to trans people are the ones needed protection. Says the bill offers no protection to predators. “Let knowledge pave the way rather than letting baseless fear to protect us.” Says idea of separate bathrooms has proven not to work. Criticizes Councilor Mercier. Shares the terrible experience of not being able to use either bathroom because of the risks involved. Urges the council to adopt a motion commending the state senate bill.

Rene (last name unheard) – Says having to use the “wrong” restroom exposes trans people to great risk of violence. Forcing businesses to have separate bathrooms for trans people makes no economic sense. This bill also addresses many other aspects of life for trans people that are critically important. Supporting this motion will turn your back on the most vulnerable people in this city. Speaks of discrimination she has experienced. This motion will have unintended consequences – that people have discriminated against me are in the right. Please support the bill.

Troy Bettencourt – Recalls summer of 1992 when he was at Lowell High. He secretly attended a gay pride event in Boston but his picture was in the Globe. His parents kicked him out and he was homeless. The ignorance of 1992 still exists today. Recounts how Massachusetts has been the first to protect gays, to recognize same sex marriage. Lowell should stand on the right side of history on this proposal.

April Starr – support this motion and opposes the state bill. Says it opens the door to sexual predators to pose as trans people to access spaces reserved for the other sex. Says this will lead to increase in sexual assault. Says this bill will do more to help sexual predators than trans individuals.

Nancy Greene – reads a letter from a trans friend who did not want to appear in person. Tries to assure everyone the trans people are not predators. Says women and trans women have been sharing bathrooms for years without incident. It’s trans people who have been the victims of assault. Says there is a lot of concern for a “non problem” and not enough concern for real problems (assaults on trans people).

Jennifer Macy – Three young girls speak, introducing themselves by stating the pronouns they use to identify themselves which they do to make trans people feel comfortable. They support the trans bill because we’ve been raised to support everyone and treat everyone equally. Everyone should have the right to use the bathroom they identify with.

Tim Starr – Lives in Lowell with his family; they have embraced the community. But he’s not comfortable with the bill passed by the Senate because it puts women and children at risk. Says there have been documented cases of men dressed as women assaulting women in rest rooms. Says there should be separate bathrooms for trans people. This bill only replaces one risky situation with another. Asks to postpone the vote to get a better feel for the community.

Laurie Afonte – owns a house here, works here, identifies as transgender. She knows what it’s like to be a victim of harassment, to not feel comfortable in a restroom, to be denied service in a public space. Has been trans for 30 years. Is an ordained minister and a licensed social worker. Sees many trans-gendered identified clients who live in Lowell. Says she has voted for Councilor Mercier for a decade because she is a “strong woman” and is the first person to speak out in favor of helping senior citizens. But as a woman you also speak out in defense of the vulnerable in this city. Trans people are the most vulnerable people in this city. My work involves teaching people how to stay safe when they have to use the restroom. I’m tired of doing that. As for the option of creating a third restroom, unless you are prepared to build new bathrooms in every public place in this city and I don’t think the city is prepared to do that financially. As a Christian, I believe we are all created in the image of God, including trans people. I urge you to not pass this motion and to instead pass a motion supporting the bill.

Deborah Fowler – The real issue is a lack of education about trans people. Says she taught at Lowell High for ten years. Created the first gender identity class. She understands the intent of this motion is to protect people from sexual predators and not from trans people but it just perpetuates the marginalization of trans people. Implores councilors to “stand on the right side of history” and to advance human rights.

Mary Anna Sullivan – Quotes attorney general Loretta Lynch to North Carolina – “This is about far more than bathrooms; it’s about the dignity and respect we afford all of our citizens.” She’s been a psychiatrist for 30 years and is head of the department at Leahy Clinic. She says there is no basis in fact or in science for the objections to this bill. Urges the councilors to support a substitute bill the supports the senate bill.

Sage Mastacouris – goes to school in New York City where everyone is comfortable being themselves. IDs self as part of the LGBT community. It hurts her very much to learn that the city in which she grew up might support something that is so hurtful to the cause of human rights.

Amanda Rosa – Lived in Lowell her entire life. Identifies as a lesbian women. This is all grounded in sexism. The designation of sex at birth is only “a powerful predictor” of gender.

Joshua Duran – Student at UMass Lowell, vet of US Army. Describes self as gender fluid.

Dee Halzac – Denying people right to public accommodations is to deprive them of the right to participate in public life.  “You wouldn’t put up with being treated that way; why should trans people.” UMass Lowell, the community of artists, status as a Gateway city all could be harmed if a fear-based anti-trans motion makes Lowell the focus of the wrong kind of attention. A motion like this sends a signal to the haters that it is OK to treat trans people differently.

Amy Saba-Farmer – Is appalled and embarrassed by this motion.

Patricia Coffey – Here in her capacity as Asst Director of Community Relations of UMass Lowell. Reads a statement from UMass Lowell which says individuals should use the restroom that complies with their gender identity.

Chris Yanapolopoulos – City is fortunate to have a councilor like Rita Mercier. Talks about God creating the world and then creating Adam and then Eve. “The animals today still work with male and female; what happened to us?” “I say this in a biblical way; you’ve heard of Sodom and Gomorrah.” Says “fire came down and destroyed cities because of this type of activity.” “All I’m saying is . . . we don’t want fire to come down.” “We don’t want to go against the 10 commandments or against God.”

End of speakers

Councilor Elliott – I know this is a very difficult issue. It’s very emotional. I know the issues faced by the LGBT community. That’s not what my motion is about. It’s about the bathrooms. I understand this motion will probably fail and I could have withdrawn it but people had registered to speak. The people I represent are genuinely concerned about allowing males in women’s bathrooms and so am I. It’s already been proven to be a place where assaults take place and this will open the floodgates of such assaults. Cites statistics of sexual assaults. Says takes pride in the melting pot of Lowell. Says equating letting trans people use the bathroom with civil rights movement cheapens the civil right movement. Says he filed this motion for the safety of children and women and of those who are preyed upon by perverts. I’m not saying that the trans community are predators. This is not about transgender’s attacking women; that’s a “bait and switch”. This law “opens the door for any creep to go into a women’s room and claim he’s transgendered.” I have to live with my conscience. [people interrupting with shouts; Mayor Kennedy keeps insisting that they listen to what people have to say otherwise he will clear the chamber]. Councilor Elliott begins citing instances from across the country of men assaulting women. He understands trans people are often victims but you don’t solve one wrong with another wrong. Says a separate bathroom is not discriminatory.

Councilor Mercier says she wants to clear the air. “I made a promise some months ago that I would always second a motion by one of my colleagues.” Says she admires Councilor Elliott for having his opinion. He has every right to express it. But “I think you may have misunderstood me when you told me about your motion when I said ‘go for it’ meaning I would second it.” What I feel on this issue is when they say we are all created equal, I don’t think that’s true. When children are born blind, of drug addicted parents, they’re not all equal. Years ago I may have thought of the “perfect family” but my personal opinion is that babies are born males who are trapped because they feel like they are in the wrong body, I don’t know how that torture affects you, but that doesn’t make you any less of a person. I’m no better than you. If a man identifies as a woman and needs to go to the bathroom and comes into the lady’s room, “I’m thinking it’s a woman.” I don’t buy that this bill will lead people to go into bathrooms and sexually assault kids. There are bad people in the world, that’s a separate issue. I don’t want to support a motion that harms trans people even further. Sexual predators go to the YMCA and we don’t close the YMCA. She says she supports the Senate bill.

Councilor Belanger – Thanks people for the several hundred emails and the speakers tonight. I know far more on this issue now than I knew 72 hours ago. This issue is complex and it’s evolving faster than people are evolving. Confesses that he should have been more aware of it than he was. The stories have been very compelling. Sees some parallels to opioid issue; there is a stigma attached to users and addicts. The council is working to change that. Similarly, this council has a responsibility to do the same thing for the trans community. Commends Elliott while he was mayor for being so inclusive; assures everyone that he is not a hateful individual; he has a concern “I may not agree with him on” but he’s sincere about it.  Says we represent 110,000 people and we have to take a step back and look at what’s best for everyone. Says he won’t support anything that will be harmful to the LGBT community. They are part of the city. The city has come a long way and we can’t be set back by the perception that we may be discriminatory.

Councilor Belanger makes a substitute motion in support of the transgender bill adopted by the state senate. Councilor Samaras seconds it.

Samaras speaks: He says when people talk about complex issues, things can get heated but we have to respect the opinions of others. My position here is simple: I follow Senator Eileen Donoghue when she said this is a civil rights bill. Says he will support Belanger’s substitute motion. We talk about Lowell being a place that is accepting, we have to show that it is an accepting city.

Councilor Milinazzo thanks everyone who came tonight. Says he will support the substitute motion. Says law enforcement, major employers in Mass have overwhelmingly supported the bill.

Councilor Leary says he will support the substitute motion. Says it’s council’s job to support those who are most vulnerable. I think it’s important for the council to take the lead on this to send a message to the city and the rest of the state. It’s not an economic issue; it’s about doing the right thing. I understand that there are people will disagree with supporting the bill but we have to set the example and take the lead.

Councilor Rourke requests a roll call.

Councilor Leahy says “we’re here to try to do the right thing.” We have to remember that the House has a bill and then it goes to the governor so the final result might be very different.

Roll Call on Substitute Motion for a resolution supporting the Senate bill: Passes 8 to 1 with Elliott against.

Council take a brief recess . . .

Meeting resumes.

Vote authorizing city manager to enter into Memorandum of Understanding with Local 1705 – motion approved.

Vote to accept timely submission of FY17 city budget.

Vote to approve the budget for FY17. Referred to public hearing.

Vote to rescind Lowell Memorial Auditorium Enterprise Fund. Referred to public hearing. Manager Murphy explains that an enterprise fund has to fund itself. When it doesn’t meet its requirements, the only alternative is to raise taxes to automatically fund it. Without an enterprise fund, we can negotiate with the auditorium for the amount and source of additional funding for the auditorium.

Loan order for FY17 Capital Improvements. Referred to public hearing.

Ordinance to amend Ch. 272 “Annual Sewer Use Charge.” Referred to public hearing.

Ordinance to create a finance department, a budget department. Referred to public hearing

Neighborhood subcommittee met on May 11 with Belvidere Neighborhood Group at the Sullivan School.

Finance subcommittee met earlier tonight. New city auditor gave an update on year to date finances. Also received a presentation on proposed sewer rate increase.



Councilor Mercier – Request city manager have proper department explore feasibility of naming Shedd Park Pavilion in honor of John Daniel Lord if naming rights are available.

Councilor Belanger – Request city manager update council regarding the joint marketing plan of the city of Lowell, UMass Lowell, and the Lowell Plan.

Mayor Kennedy, Councilors Samaras and Belanger – Request city council approve a resolution requesting MDOT include the monies necessary for an environmental study for the Rourke Bridge in the Capital Plan FY17 and request NMCOG approve a similar resolution and have Councilor Belanger invite representatives from Dracut, Chelmsford, Tyngsboro and other communities to submit similar resolutions.

Mayor Kennedy – Request city manager contact State House delegation regarding advocating for funds in the MDOT Capital Plan FY17 for an environmental study for the new Rourke Bridge.

Meeting adjourns at 9:32 pm

12 Responses to Lowell City Council Meeting: May 17, 2016

  1. Fred Faust says:

    Dick, thank you so much for your comprehensive and intelligent reporting on the transgender issue before the Council. I am reassured that the City (and state and country) are going in the right direction in recognizing the civil rights of all. Lowell wants to be identified as an enlightened and open city. Protection under the law is a basic constitutional right. We are not North Carolina. Thanks to those who spoke out this evening as well.

  2. Jack Thompson (@thompsonize) says:

    Here’s the part of the transgender rights issue that really males me itch: It isn’t like trans people didn’t exist before this legislation, suddenly to spring into existence now that more people are becoming aware of the issue. Where, exactly, do the people who are so against codifying trans rights think transgender people were peeing BEFORE the bathroom started to spread?

    It’s mind-boggling to me.

  3. Szifra Birke says:

    Thank you for taking the time to create this comprehensive piece for those of us who were not there, Dick. Fred Faust’s comment above reflects my thinking and feelings better than I could have this morning. Thanks, too, Fred.

  4. Brian says:

    Vision Development wants to spend millions where hometown Lowell 5 gave up on because of congestion and what does the council worry about? Parking!!! When you plan for parking you get congestion.
    48 surface spots is a waste of space and money when the garage is next door. They should be trying to get the bike lane extended on French St and Pawtucket St so students won’t even need a car. But don’t expect high usage if the bike lane isn’t protected.

  5. SeanT says:

    I echo Fred’s statement. Thank you Dick for your coverage of this and thanks to those who spoke out last night.

  6. Paul Early says:

    Brian, I agree here with you about parking. I also think that aesthetics should be considered. A 48 car parking lot is not going to be attractive. It also does not improve a sense of walkability. Perhaps, someday the city will allow a shop with apartments to be built there or perhaps it could become a small park with trees. I agree that we should be also focusing on increasing connectivity of bike lanes down French St. The street is plenty wide enough there. All that is needed is better delineation.

  7. jay says:

    Surface Parking downtown ? Our planning people should be up-in-arms over something like this. Where are they ? It shouldn’t be that difficult to explain to the council how absurd this is.

    We desperately need better engineering and planning people

  8. David Maine says:

    The City of Lowell is recognizing Combat Wounded Veterans through the installation of combat wounded parking sign and space at City Hall. This preferred parking spot at City Hall is in honor of Wounded Warriors. I was proud to park in that space yesterday, thanks to all involved in recognizing Purple Heart recipients.

  9. David Maine says:

    The transgender issue is not just about bathrooms and not just about sexual assaults. It is also about shower rooms and allowing males in woman’s shower rooms and showers. Does the transgender bill consider the civil rights of the girls and women who use these restrooms and showers? Would you feel comfortable with male in the shower room with your daughter, wife, sister or mother? Do you think they would feel comfortable? I agree with Councilor Elliott.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    Dick, could I make a gentle correction? The bill is to allow transgender people the right to use whichever bathroom/locker room is consistent with their gender identity, not specifically, as you stated, to allow access to women’s bathrooms and locker rooms. I fear if we phrase it that way, we grant the premise of those against the bill, who can only imagine male predators in women’s restrooms. This distracts from the true intent of the bill, to acknowledge and protect those with a different gender identity than the sex they were born with.