Lowell Week in Review: March 12, 2017

Did you remember to move your clock ahead one hour last night?

Francis Cabot Lowell silhouette at Boarding House Park

The Lowell Lions Club kindly invited me to give a talk on Lowell history at their Tuesday, March 7, 2017 meeting at the Olympia Restaurant. I spoke about Francis Cabot Lowell, the man for whom this city is named, and his vision for large scale textile manufacturing that was realized here just a few years after he died. (And excuse the plug, but if anyone is looking for an affordable – i.e., free – speaker on Lowell history topics, send me an email).

City Council meeting of March 7, 2017

Because I was out Tuesday night, I wasn’t able to report on that evening’s city council meeting in real time. I did watch the replay yesterday afternoon. After the marathon meeting from two weeks ago, the one that featured 16 members of the public speaking about Lowell High School, councilors were quick this week, finishing the meeting in less than an hour. The biggest chunk of that time was taken up by a report of the technology subcommittee.

Councilor Jim Leary, chair of the Technology Subcommittee, gave the report. The main purpose of the subcommittee meeting was to address a recent request by Verizon to install 50 WIFI “canisters” on telephone poles around the city. The council had delayed that request, hoping to use it as leverage in the council’s quest to have Verizon bring its FiOS cable service to Lowell.

Months ago, councilors became especially incensed when a Verizon representative appeared before them and said Verizon was getting out of the FiOS business only to have the Globe report days later that Verizon had reached a big agreement to install FiOS in Boston.

Tuesday, Councilor Belanger stated that he gets many calls from constituents who complain about the high cost of cable TV in Lowell (which is provided exclusively by Comcast). He said that Lowell cable bills are “almost double” cable service in some neighboring communities. He asked Manager Murphy about the chances of getting another company like Verizon to also offer cable TV service in Lowell in the hope that competition would lower prices. Manager Murphy said that was highly unlikely.

Councilor Leary said that at the subcommittee meeting, Verizon people explained that because more and more people, especially young people, are consuming media on devices other than traditional TV sets, Verizon sees the future of media and entertainment delivery as wireless, not as cables strung on telephone poles and houses. That’s why Verizon is interested in adding these wireless “canister” devices around the city.

Manager Murphy explained that one stumbling block in the negotiations with Verizon over this installation is the fee paid to the city for the use of public spaces. Currently, Verizon has one of these canisters installed on Gage Field in Centralville. For that, Verizon pays the city $6000 per year. For the 50 additional canisters, Verizon has proposed paying a total of just $17,000 per year. The city believes that amount should be higher. Negotiations continue.

Footnote number one to this item: Anyone who has read Mimi’s excellent post from earlier this week on the curse of double telephone poles would have to be pleased that technology may someday reduce the need for unmaintained utility poles in our midst. If you haven’t read Mimi’s post, please check it out.

Footnote number two: I used to be on the board of directors of Lowell Telecommunications Corporation, the city’s cable access provider. Back then, the bulk of LTC’s revenue came from a surcharge imposed on Comcast cable customers. On my cable bill, it’s called the Franchise Fee and it’s about $7.50 per month. Most of that money comes back to the city. Some of the money is given to LTC as part of its operating budget, another chunk is given to the school department for the educational TV channel; and the rest goes to the city which uses it for, among other things, televising meetings of the city council and other governmental boards.

My memory of the contract between the city and Comcast at that time was that if the city brought in a competitor to Comcast, the city would forfeit all of the Franchise Fee money. Unless LTC has greatly expanded its revenue stream from other sources, cutting that money from LTC’s budget would likely put the local cable access organization out of business. Losing the money from Comcast would also require the city to assume the cost of televising municipal meetings. I’m not advocating that we not seek competition; I’m just saying there might be unacknowledged consequences to doing that.

City Council meeting of March 14, 2017

I do plan to watch this week’s council meeting and will file a report on it Tuesday night (assuming they hold the meeting, which, given the weather forecast for a blizzard and a foot or more of snow that day, could cause the meeting to be cancelled). By way of preview of coming attractions, whenever the meeting is held, there are 16 motions on the agenda; 11 of them deal with the Lowell High building project. Here are those 11:

Councilor Belanger requests City Manager work with Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to discuss options to remove restrictions on the Cawley site.

Councilor Elliott requests City Manager and Law Department identify any potential preservation or conservation restrictions relative to downtown options for Lowell High School construction project.

Councilor Leary requests City Manager report to City Council by March 21st all the potential options available and make recommendations in order to keep the Lowell High School option four, Cawley field, on the table for final consideration.

Councilor Leary requests City Manager work with the Lowell Public Schools Superintendent in order to determine the potential busing costs for all Lowell High School students; report to include busing costs if school redistricting is implemented.

Councilor Rourke requests City Manager repay grant money as related to the Article 97 parcels at Cawley Stadium.

Councilors Samaras and Belanger request City Manager have DPD create a questionnaire for downtown businesses to identify reactions to location of Lowell High School.

Mayor Kennedy requests City Manager have Traffic Engineer conduct a traffic study that would consider the impact on the projected increase in traffic in the Belvidere neighborhood and on Route 133 and Route 38 if the high school were to relocate out of the downtown.

Mayor Kennedy requests City Manager report to City Council regarding anticipated costs due to infrastructure and traffic improvements necessary if the high school were to move out of downtown including any sidewalks, road improvements and traffic lights that were needed.

Mayor Kennedy requests City Manager report to City Council regarding any standing that the Town of Tewksbury would have regarding Article 97 and on any conservation or environmental issues.

Mayor Kennedy requests City Manager report to City Council regarding votes necessary by the Conservation Commission regarding the wetlands adjacent to the Cawley site and the natural heritage endangered species area that is adjacent to the Cawley site.

Mayor Kennedy requests City Manager report on Parking Solution regarding the Cawley Site.

The other motions on the agenda for Tuesday include three by Council Belanger dealing with continued dumping along First Street corridor; lighting and safety issues at parking lot on Broadway Street adjacent to Yim’s Variety; and a summer jobs program for 2017; one by Councilor Leahy on the possible use of ipads by department heads in order to operate more efficiently; and one by Councilor Milinazzo on determining the appropriate speed limit for East Merrimack Street between Rivercliff Road and Nesmith Street.

Welcome sign at entrance to Lowell High School

Immigration and the Schools

The school committee will take up an important motion at its Wednesday meeting. Committee members Connie Martin and Robert Gignac have filed the following motion:

“Request that the Administration prepare a resolution for consideration by the Lowell School Committee that clearly defines the district’s commitment to protecting our students, regardless of their immigration status and offers all LPS staff a clear procedure for ensuring that no Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials will be granted access to the Lowell Public Schools without the express permission of the Superintendent of Schools.”

I’ve written several times about the potential harm that the new national administration’s immigration enforcement policies may pose to Lowell, so I support this motion, especially the clear tone that it sets about “protecting our students, regardless of their immigration status.” The committee meets Wednesday night at 6:30 pm in the city council chambers. The meeting will be televised live on LTC channel 99. It will be worth watching to catch the debate on this motion.

Lowell House Honors Brian Martin

Lowell House will hold its 3rd Annual Living in the Light Gala on March 30, 2017 at Lenzi’s. This year’s recipient of the Lifetime Achievement award will be Brian Martin. While Brian is certainly deserving of this award under any circumstances, the fact that he recently announced his intention to retire at the end of this school year makes the Lowell House honor especially timely.

At this same event, Lowell House will also honor two non-profits, Megan’s House and Zack’s Team. For more information about this event (and for tickets), please visit the Lowell House website.

Lowell Municipal Elections: 1965-2015

Thanks to everyone who purchased a copy of my new book, Lowell Municipal Elections: 1965-2015, at Mill No. 5 last Saturday. The book contains the results of all Lowell city elections, council and school committee, final and preliminary, for the past fifty years. Also included are elections of mayors, city managers, school superintendents, and regional vocational school committee members.

The book is now available online from Lulu.com, a print on demand service. It should be available on Amazon soon.

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