City Council Meeting: October 25, 2016

I missed last Tuesday’s Lowell City Council meeting and only got a chance to watch a replay today. Here’s my report:

Motion Response: Rourke Bridge traffic. Intersection with Pawtucket Blvd has an advanced traffic controller with cameras. They give Rourke bridge 65 seconds and the Blvd 55 seconds. The cameras detect if no cars are coming and cut that period short. Police are stationed on that side during evening rush hour. Can override the timer if needed. In morning, police are also at School and Pawtucket. That is heavier because Broadway Bridge is closed. Once that opens, more of the thru traffic on Pawtucket Street will shift to Broadway. Several councilors say “we definitely need another bridge” (meaning replacing Rourke Bridge. Councilor Elliott mentions the $50,000 set aside by the charter school for a cross walk at the Pawtucket Blvd near the Rourke Bridge. Suggests the cross walk will create more problems. Traffic engineer says there is no way for a pedestrian to get across Pawtucket Blvd at the Rourke Bridge so that’s why there should be a crosswalk there. Elliott asks if some of that money can be used to program traffic lights.

Proposed zoning amendments (see discussion in October 23 Week in Review. City Manager says this will cover many issues raised recently. Asks that it be referred to city council Zoning Subcommittee for a full presentation.

Public Hearing on using $500,000 for surveillance cameras. Superintended of Police Taylor asks council to approve this “citywide security and management system.” It’s a multi-local, wireless video system that can be monitored from multiple sites. Will enhance response time and deployment of resources. It will use the city’s existing iNet for its network and Police already have the video management software so much of the infrastructure is already in place. This money will allow 45 cameras with wifi can be monitored. This system can also be used for traffic monitoring, illegal dumping, other issues (some cameras are mobile/portable).

Speaking in opposition is Randy Breton. He asks “isn’t there something better we can do with this money?” Says he’s concerned with the overreach of constant surveillance on the public. Has copies of George Orwell’s “1984” for all city councilors. (The novel depicts a world in which everything is monitored and recorded). Says we are headed towards this kind of world. Suggests spending this money “to teach the kids that a life of crime is not the way to go” would be a better way to spend the money. A woman, whose name I did not catch, says we enable crime by providing transitional assistance to generation after generation.

Councilor Mercier says she values her privacy in her home. These cameras are for outside, in public spaces. Says people who oppose these haven’t been victims of crime. She also says when she helped search for the missing woman from Dracut, video cameras were very helpful in tracking her last known movements (the woman was found alive). Councilor Milinazzo says in Revere, where he works, there is an “institutional loop” that includes the schools, the police, and the housing authority. It provides a lot of safety to the citizens. Says it’s another public safety tool and will support it. Councilor Belanger says this is a great investment in public safety. Councilor Rourke asks about Eagle Park in Centralville. There was a lot of crime there but since cameras have been installed, crime has dropped substantially. Councilor Samaras says cameras in public spaces are a necessity. He recalls the many cameras at Lowell High School. They greatly reduced incidents and made the high school a safer place. Chief Taylor says police already have ability to tap into the Lowell High video feed. Officers responding can see what is happening as the officer responds. Councilor Elliott thinks it’s a good idea. Says we have to use technology to benefit society. Councilor Leary says this is not “big brother,” but is there to protect people.

Report of Downtown Redevelopment Subcommittee – Discussed ‘a better way” program as a way of addressing homelessness and panhandling which is in use in Albuquerque, New Mexico (Councilor Elliott had made a motion to investigate this program). Lowell is about to implement its own program, “give you change for change” which is a public awareness program that urges people to give money to institutions that assist the homeless rather than giving it directly to panhandlers. The subcommittee recommends the full council direct the city manager to implement the “change for change” program.

Councilors Leary and Samaras have a motion asking for the city manager’s plan for developing additional parking spaces in the Hamilton Canal District.

Meeting ends.