Lowell Week in Review: March 19, 2017

Manning Field

City Council Meeting

With the cancellation of last Tuesday’s council meeting due to winter storm Stella, this coming Tuesday’s meeting will be a long one. The eleven motions related to the Lowell High expansion that I wrote about last Sunday will all be heard, plus the council will take up a proposed vote to approve the filing of special legislation that would remove the various city-owned parcels at Cawley Stadium from the recreational use restrictions of Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution to make that site available for the construction of a new Lowell High School on it (if that is the site ultimately chosen).

Since this is the first appearance of this vote on a council agenda, I assume it must be sent to a public hearing at a future meeting, so it might not be voted on this Tuesday. Still, councilors want this on the fast track, so who knows . . .

The proposed vote asks that two portions of the Cawley site – the lots on Clark Road now used for practice fields and a softball field; and the Douglas Road parking lot of Cawley Stadium – have any “recreational use only” restrictions removed from them.

The vote contains some interesting language about off-setting the loss of recreation space:

“There shall be no net loss of municipal recreational use as a result of this designation because if a public school is erected at the Clark Road Fields the recreational uses currently provided by the Clark Road Fields and the Stadium Parking Land will be replicated in full by the designation and, if necessary, the improvement of 22.35 or more acres of land owned by the City of Lowell and currently held for other municipal, non-Article 97 purposes, for recreational uses equivalent with the current recreational use of lands as described above . . “

I suspect (but am not sure) that the 22.35 acres mentioned in the vote are on city-owned property known as Manning Field (which I wrote about yesterday). I find it an amusing coincidence that half of that land actually is in the town of Chelmsford (although it is owned by the city of Lowell) and that a portion of the Cawley property affected by this vote lies in the town of Tewksbury (but is owned by the city of Lowell).

St Patrick’s Dinner

Congratulations to State Senator Eileen Donoghue and City Manager Kevin Murphy for another successful St Patrick’s Dinner. The turnout was as big as ever, and the food was pretty good.

Regarding the food, one of the most popular posts in the earliest days of this blog was titled “Red or Gray.” It asked readers for their preferred color of corned beef: red or gray? In my household, where everyone was descended from Irish immigrants, we only ever had gray corned beef. In fact, I didn’t know that corned beef came in red until I ordered a Barney’s Special one day (corned beef, Swiss cheese, cole slaw, and Russian salad dressing at Barney’s Delicatessen which was located on Middlesex Street, where the Early Parking Garage now stands). City Manager Murphy confirmed that this was still a hot topic. When I encountered him before the event began, he confided to me that he insisted that the Inn & Conference Center serve “real” corned beef – the gray kind – this year.

The entertainment was brief compared to prior years (which to me was a plus). Remarks from the podium were more serious than light-hearted. For example, Representative Dave Nangle spent most of his time reading highlights from a Dave McKean blog post on “The Grand St Patrick’s Day Parade in Lowell – 1904.” District Attorney Marian Ryan made positive comparisons between Dublin and Lowell. The person with the funniest jokes was Representative Rady Mom (“Did you see that NASA recently discovered seven new planets? Each had to meet three criteria: They could harbor life, they could harbor water, and they had enough open space for a new Lowell High School.”).

Governor Charlie Baker tried a joke or two, but he spent most of this time reading from an op-ed by J. D. Vance, the author of the bestselling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, that had appeared in that day’s New York Times. Vance, whose book recounted the crisis of his broken-home youth in Ohio and his escape from it thanks to the Marine Corps, the Ohio state university system, and Yale Law School, wrote that he was moving from his current home and job in Silicon Valley back to Ohio to start a non-profit that helps treat addiction. The point of the column (Why I’m Moving Home) was that struggling cities need people who leave for education and job skills to come back and rejoin the community. The resulting social capital, according to Vance, is more valuable to the community than any federal program or grant. Baker than observed that one-thing that separated Lowell from some other communities in the Commonwealth was the willingness of people to stay here or come back to here and become involved in the life of the city.

The professional comedian was Lenny Clarke. Because of some other commitments, he spoke first. He got plenty of laughs, but his jokes that belittled global warming, lead paint abatement, and other government programs, fall flat for me. They sounded more like a White House policy briefing than a comedy routine.

Federal Budget

Speaking of the White House, the President’s proposed federal budget for the next fiscal year was released earlier this week. Defense spending would increase substantially, but many other federal agencies and programs would be cut, some entirely.  Among those that would disappear is the Community Development Block Grant program.

In fiscal year 2017, the city of Lowell received nearly $2mil in CDBG funds. These funds were used for many purposes including the annual lease on the Lowell Senior Center ($350,000); Hamilton Canal District infrastructure improvements ($250,000); Neighborhood Business Corridor Improvements – think Cupples Square and lower Bridge Street ($275,000); and many park improvement programs within the city. Other CDBG fund recipients included House of Hope, Lowell Association for the Blind, CTI, YMCA, Girls Inc., Boys and Girls Club, Angkor Dance Troupe, Megan’s House, Catholic Charities, and Mill City Grows.

In the end, it is Congress that sets the Federal Budget, not the president. Still, programs like CDBG have long been a target of conservative legislators so now that they control both houses of Congress, it would not be surprising if federal programs they have long said they would cut are indeed cut.

Commuter Rail Cutbacks

The Globe reported on Monday that the MBTA is considering the elimination of all weekend commuter rail trains to help close a budget deficit.

This would be outrageous and ill-conceived. For many people in Lowell, commuter rail is their only link to Boston whether it be for work, medical treatment, or recreation and entertainment. The world doesn’t shut down on weekends; neither should commuter rail. Besides disrupting the lives of all who depend on this service, eliminating entirely weekend train service would put Massachusetts out of step with the rest of the world where all momentum is towards greater reliance on public transportation. Here in the Commonwealth, there’s always more money to widen a road or to build a new parking lot, but public transportation always takes a backseat.

Commonwealth Conversations

If you don’t like the proposed cuts to commuter rail, or anything about state government, you should go to UMass Lowell’s University Crossing this Tuesday at 6:30 pm for that evening’s Northeast Commonwealth Conversation and will feature State Senators Eileen Donoghue, Kathleen O’Connor Ives, Barbara L’Italien, and Bruce Tarr.

Lowell Bike Coalition Summit

And if you want to support modes of transportation other than the car, consider attending Lowell Bike Coalition’s Spring Summit on Thursday, April 13, in the evening at a time and place to be determined. The guest speaker will be Richard Fries, the executive director of Massbike. Watch for more details here in the coming weeks.

River Hawks Hockey East Champs

Congratulations to the UMass Lowell River Hawks men’s hockey team for winning the Hockey East championship last night with a 4 to 3 win over Boston College at the TD Garden. Now it’s on to the NCAA Tournament next weekend.

Lowell Municipal Elections: 1965-2015

Thanks to Ken Wallace for his very kind review of Lowell Municipal Elections: 1965-2015 in yesterday’s Saturday Chat in the Lowell Sun. The book provides the outcome of all city elections during that fifty year span. Besides council, school committee, and regional school committee races, elections of city managers, mayors, and school superintendents are also covered. As Wallace points out, the most startling part of the book is the precipitous drop in voter participation during the years covered. In 1965, the ninth place finisher for council received 13,586 votes. In 2015, only 4,011 votes were needed for the ninth and final position on the council.

The book is not yet available in any retail outlets, but it may be purchased online from Amazon or from Lulu.com.

2 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: March 19, 2017

  1. Mary Jo Brown says:

    First, thank you for keeping us informed about so many things.

    My comment on LHS:
    (1)It looks like this was poorly thought- out from the beginning. First, site research left a lot of gaps. The committee did not have a list of Lowell-owned property along with restrictions? That’s not good.

    (2)All annual spending for these proposals have not been publicized: Transportation, site renovations and upgrades, ongoing maintenance.

    (3)Architectural design for the Cawley site is cookie-cutter and standard. It could fit the site, leaving plenty of green space with vertical building design and underground parking.

    Maybe we should scrap the plan and start again, this time with all the research done first. This could get too complicated and costly.

  2. joe from Lowell says:

    Demanding that your meat be served grey is the most Irish thing I have ever heard of in my entire life.