Left In Lowell

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September 24, 2014

South Lowell/ Sacred Heart neighborhood group news

by at 8:20 pm.

School Committee Member Kim Duggan Scott posted on the Facebook Group Lowell Live Feed a summary of the South Lowell/ Sacred Heart neighborhood group meeting last Monday. Be sure to check the link to read the comments too.

The newly-organized South Lowell/ Sacred Heart neighborhood group met on Monday, September 15th at Primitive Methodist Church, 1193 Lawrence Street, in the heart of the neighborhood. A special thank you is extended to Reverend Allen for sharing the church space with the community.

A number of varied items were on the agenda. But we began the evening with Public Safety.
(more…)

May 4, 2014

On Free Speech and Serving the City

by at 7:42 am.

As of last week, former blogger Gerry Nutter had resigned his Election Commission post. In his letter, which he sent out to bloggers as well, he cites work and health concerns as the reason. The Lowell Sun Column (you can go find the link if you really want to read it) decided it warranted a mention (it probably did) and then went on to infer that the real reason might be that some Councilors were working behind the scenes to oust him, going to the new City Manager with complaints.

While Gerry and I don’t always agree on everything, I do believe him. One thing you can’t accuse Gerry of is deliberate dishonesty. I had an email conversation with him when he sent out the news, and he really does think he cannot give the Commission justice due to his other obligations to his health and job.

As to whether, prior to the resignation, certain city councilors did go to the City Manager in a coincidental, but not related bid to get him to resign or fire him, maybe they did. Maybe they just say they did. I don’t know. However, the two are explicitly unrelated, and as Gerry notes on Facebook, no one came to him with any issues, and he did have actual free speech rights to say what he thought about sitting City Councilors even as an Election Commissioner.

Now, for the record, I actually think that the Election Commission is one place where even if you can say something about elected officials or candidates, you probably shouldn’t. The appearance of neutrality and impartiality is important for those who oversee our democratic elections. You all know that I certainly sympathize with Gerry’s frustrations about this Council! But maybe discretion would have been the better part of valor…not because the City Councilors deserve to remain uncriticized, but because of a higher goal of preserving and protecting our elections.

However, some of these same councilors have made hay over members of boards other than Elections Commission saying things on Facebook or elsewhere. It’s like they want to shut up as many critics as possible, and it’s the ones which they have official say over that are the targets they can reach. Can’t shut up the bloggers? Well at least shut up people who are serving, volunteering their own time and effort, on Lowell boards and commissions!

I have an idea for how you can avoid such criticisms in the future…stop pursuing positions and issues which are blatantly ridiculous!

By the way, I suspect that the councilors in question will be much more unhappy with a Gerry Nutter totally unleashed to say what he really thinks about them. Just sayin’.

April 30, 2014

Gold Gold Comedy Gold…And, Rules? What Rules?

by at 12:13 am.

Part the First: Digging for Gold

So a Council meeting happened tonight. With so much chocolatey goodness I hardly know where to start! If you want an accurate, but straightforward and boring recap of the meeting, Dick’s already got his notes up. I’m not calling Dick boring, his write up is great, and so useful. But. BUT.

In cycling, you move your pedals forward for anything to happen. But, sometimes when you’re bored, and you don’t need to push yourself for a bit, you might flip your pedals the other way - while coasting down a hill, say. It makes this pleasant empty clicky-whizzing sound. But the Council’s backpedaling tonight was a sight to behold! I could almost see the furious weightless reverse motion of pedals moving through space and time but affecting so little. Breathtaking. Unchained. Glorious! Like going backwards on your bike pedals and realizing that actually, you’re producing sunshine and ice cream and puppies by the motion!

In an effort to showcase my on-the-spot razor wit, this post will be punctuated with my live tweets at various points, which will help illustrate the pure singing joy the evening brought me. Plus, I’m lazy. Many of the tweets will be out of sequence as I try to make some sort of salient narrative. Follow me after the clicky bit: (more…)

April 28, 2014

Who Needs Downtown Customers?

by at 1:45 pm.

So in case a Council meeting in which the destruction of brand new bike lanes isn’t enough fun for you (and a wonderful waste of taxpayer dollars already expended), there is also an Economic Development subcommittee meeting prior to the meeting, starting at at 5:30pm, where the parking ordinance will be discussed. Remember, this subcommittee is run by Corey Belanger, downtown businessman extraordinaire. Who, of course, believes he knows all the answers to downtown businesses’ woes. His latest blame game as to why his dive bar is emptier than he’d like? Those pesky parking fees on downtown street meters. The going “proposal” - I use that term loosely - is to go ahead and advertise the badly-kept secret that meters are not monitored past 4pm on weekdays and not at all on weekends. Just go ahead and make that official.

(As an aside…the thrice-bedamned PoS website is NOT updated with this term’s subcommittee membership. #majorwebsitefail)

Back to the subcommittee meeting…this is of course a totally wrongheaded and ill-informed direction for the parking ordinance. Belanger’s dive bar, the restaurants, the clothing stores, and the coffee shops…all rely on one really big thing to sustain an influx of paying customers: turnover. Downtown resident and neighborhood group secretary Corey Sciuto explains this a lot better in a letter he sent to the Council some time ago. (Worth a good reread.)

The fact that residents of the downtown know that after 4pm and on weekends there is no enforcement, means that a necessary turnover in parking, and hence of customers, comes to a complete halt in those timeframes. You know why I don’t go out to eat downtown at night or on weekends? Because I can’t find easy street parking. Why is that? Because downtown residents park and stay there for free, all evening and overnight, and all weekend. There’s no place to quickly hop out of the car, pay a small fee at a kiosk, and stay for the 15 minutes to 2 hours I can usually get my business done downtown. Once 5pm hits, a customer which wants to come in to shop or eat is screwed for street parking. Given a choice between the hassle of going on floor #4 of a parking garage blocks away from where I want to be, or going to find another place to eat outside of downtown, I often opt for the second one.

In essence, real experts in the field of economic development and revitalization indicate that we should be doing the exact opposite of what Belanger’s proposing, and actually enforce the night and weekend hours on the meters, and even extend it (maybe til 7 or 8pm, when the dinner crowd wants to come in, and on Sundays).

This is a simple concept and yet, despite the fact this is a well-known city planning rule of thumb, and that it’s been explained a zillion times, the self-appointed economic development expert just refuses to see it.

Hey look, I get it, you wanna look like you have big ideas. A sweeping vision. Funny how that comes across as entirely self-serving…and less like a vision and more like throwing shit on a wall to see what sticks…but you wanna be seen as the big man in town with lots of new ideas. Problem is, your ideas are going to sink us, real fast. This one, and the rest of the ones you’re kicking around.

The real heart of the problem is that the average IQ of this Council is just not that high. Intellectual curiosity? Heavily weighing the opinions of real experts? Thinking things through to their logical conclusion? Nah. The majority of these people will go with their uneducated gut. Real experts be damned.

I swear, this City Council is hell bent on making the City of Lowell look totally ridiculous in the eyes of our sister cities across the Commonwealth. No one can take this Council seriously. It’s gonna be a long two years, folks.

April 26, 2014

Lowell, the City of…Cars?

by at 2:21 pm.

Hey, hey, it’s the 1950’s. The Age of the Highway and Automobile. Right?

So you say it’s over sixty years from that decade…well, you live in Lowell. We like to stick to what worked decades ago. Suck it, bikers/public transit commuters.

Mayor Rodney Elliott and City Councilor Rita Mercier have filed a motion for Tuesday’s meeting requesting that the council vote to revert Father Morissette back to four lanes of traffic and have the bike lanes removed.

The faulty argument is that traffic is worse due to the Boulevard going from four to two lanes. This shows a fundamental disinterest in the facts of the matter, which is that any traffic you might see on FM is due to lights and bridges, which would back up regardless of having two or four lanes. I’ve been on FMB at many different times of day…the traffic studies which the DPD conducted previously seem to bear up, in my experience, so where is the sudden need to open up a Boulevard which barely gets a quarter of its use capacity, even with only two lanes?

Really, this isn’t about traffic, or public safety. That’s just window dressing on the real pissing contest that’s going on here. This is all about going backwards on the Lynch era, with a bonus for undoing any good or progress supported or proposed by former Mayor Patrick Murphy. This is the same impulse which is behind this amazing new urgency about moving the high school (though that also has “friendly developers” written all over it).

Let’s please not pretend this is about having a big grand vision. It’s more like the black hole opposite of having vision.


BadgermillCity logoSo, in a related matter and in case you missed it…and you want to keep yourself entertained while watching City Council meetings…you should check out the new drinking games at the BadgermillCity wiki. There are two games listed there so far - the Plain Jane drinking game, and the new “Elimination Libation” game, which is more of a get-buzzed-quick game whenever one of these “bassackwards” subjects come up. I think you’ll find yourself entertained just reading them!

April 16, 2014

Game of Postpones

by at 10:39 am.

Who here is a fan of the HBO series, Game of Thrones? The world of the books/series revolves around the utter instability and chaos, war, and madness that is brought about by Westeros’ sudden and not-quite-accidental regime change. King Baratheon might not have been the smartest or the best king ever, but his demise heralds the end of the relative peace of the Seven Kingdoms, with his queen’s non-Baratheon bastard children vying with other contenders for the Iron Throne, and the whole countryside erupting in war. Other families take advantage of the chaos to carve out and reclaim their little kingdoms which had been absorbed long ago. Still others just like to party by judicious use of castration and torture, mostly for fun.

Well, folks, take away the castration and violence (but not the drinking) and you have Lowell city politics right now.

Every decision made in the last seven years by past City Councils and the former CM is up for grabs, apparently. No matter how stringent the public involvement in deciding on plans for various projects in the city, be that the very preliminary, not-our-goddamned-decision high school reno or rebuild, or the much-lauded plans for the historic South Common, or any Master Plan element of bike paths or city street realignment or other projects already in the works.

I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if this City Council wanted a redo on the Appleton Mill artist lofts or the Early garage. I mean, hey, we could tear down or repurpose those things and hand them over to your buddies, right?

Supposedly, we have high level experts on the Council now on economic development. What I want to know, is how running a dive bar makes one qualified to build a high school? Or decide that street parking should have less turnover by not enforcing the meters? To me, every word that comes out of Corey Belanger’s mouth showcases a total and absolute lack of understanding of economic development and municipal management. Far be it for experts to have an opinion; Corey is on the job now, so Lowell is gonna make a turnaround. A renaissance. All of the downtown vacancies will be filled by the time his first term is over!

Or, wait. Businesses - small ones, and large ones - like stability when they make their business decisions. They like to know that the plans that were carefully made by transparent and open means, by a crew of amazing (now mostly fled) Planning and Development officials, will be carried out in a timely fashion. It’s no big secret that a lot of plans in Lowell were on hold during the Cox era and were put back on the front burner by the Lynch administration. Now, we’re going to reverse years worth of planning, public participation, and decision making because Corey Belanger wasn’t fucking paying attention during all of that?

Plans can change. Don’t get me wrong. We should be flexible. And I do not have a horse in the very silly race about the high school staying in or moving from downtown. There are merits on both sides. However, my understanding of the process as outlined by a state agency called Massachusetts School Building Authority is that they are the entity that gets to weigh all the factors. What the local idiots on Council can do, by waffling, is take us off the shortlist, which we cannot afford. The high school is in need of either rebuilding or renovating, soon. And “soon” is relative, since getting on the MSBA’s short list means it’ll still take years to go through final decision making. And oh yeah, they, not us, make that final determination about renovation vs. building a new building elsewhere. Based - GASP! - NOT on whatever private developer wants to build something (god knows what, they have yet to say) on the existing high school site, BUT…based on what is best for the students and their education.

I know, shocking.

So who wins in this Game of Postpones? Well, not the students, if Corey Belanger gets his way as an apparently honorary member of the School Committee and of the MSBA. PS - apparently, Mistah Mayah also has an extremely short memory, since all of this planning and participation and discussion happened while he was a City Councilor. So, either he’s dumb and doesn’t remember, or he never really paid any attention to what was going on in the city for the last seven years. Neither explanation is encouraging.

February 10, 2014

A Happy Ending

by at 9:09 pm.

Normally I would say that I watched the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting tonight so you wouldn’t have to, but…if you didn’t see it, you missed out on a hell of a lot of entertainment value. I’m speaking, of course, of the massage special permit hearing for Mill No 5.

It started out with Jim Lichoulas speaking as the developer of the building. You could feel his frustration with the opposition, when he talked about how Randy Mathieu [note: name corrected] had thrown around words like “happy endings” and “human trafficking” in regards to Mill No 5 and massage tenants. Later, Randy, speaking in opposition, claimed Lichoulas was exaggerating. It was not long after that that Lichoulas’ partner spoke, and read an email from Randy with those exact accusations in it. Pure, classic political entertainment.

Couple that with Councilor Rita Mercier who spoke, confused about whether or not she was in opposition or whether or not she could produce a motion…well, I hope to get video to you soon.

As for Mercier’s time at the podium, I will say this: her confusion about whether to be in opposition stemmed from talking to people at the meeting and getting that other side of the story. You know, the side which wasn’t throwing around baseless accusations. Something she apparently did not do before putting a motion on the agenda for the Council meeting tomorrow night. *facepalm*

The ZBA impressed me with its thoughtful, respectful yet firm discussion on this matter. Seeing that all this was really much ado about made-up crap, it was a pretty long discussion. The request for special permit passed, with some minor conditions, like a three month review. If I can get you some cut-down video I will!

Speaking of Tasks

by at 1:17 pm.

Christopher of Learning Lowell has an extremely excellent post taking a look at task forces, in light of the following motion for tomorrow night’s Council meeting:

C. Belanger – Req. City Council request Mayor appoint a downtown economic development task force.

There was a lot of discussion on Facebook around this item, so Christopher starts out with quotes from that discussion. His post highlights organizations that have in interest in economic revitalization downtown, and also the history of the last 12 years of master plans and studies.

I very much suggest Christopher’s post be required reading for the entire City Council before tomorrow night’s meeting…it’s that good. There is a ton of context and some good, solid suggestions. It raises very important questions, and I think the Councilor who can speak credibly to those issues will be light years ahead of everyone else. If a Councilor want to sound really intelligent, they should bring a copy of his post to the City Council meeting tomorrow night!

February 9, 2014

BotW: Buyback or Payback?

by at 9:22 pm.

It’s that time of the week again! This Tuesday’s agenda looks quite entertaining. Besides the motions I’ve already gone through, there are a couple more I’d like to poke holes in–er, I mean, take a look at, if I have time to post about them before the meeting. But meanwhile, place your guesses in comments, same rules as always: one guess per person, one agenda item per guess, and the more obscure or unpredictable the item, the bigger the prize.

joe from lowell I posted in the comments of the last BotW results post, answering your question about your prize. :) I deem you ineligible for this week’s BotW - let someone else win! Meanwhile, confirm your choice for your prize and I’ll get on that!

PS - let us hope they don’t take this Executive Session out of order again. Please, let them have learned their lesson…

This week’s agenda:

1 MAYOR’S BUSINESS
1.1 Citations – (1)Stephen Paris and (1)Matthew Sheehan; City of Lowell, 911 Dispatchers who assisted residents on Cabot St. December 12, 2013, out of a burning building, while off duty. 
Citations – (1)Domenique Riviera and (1)Noelia Aquino; Lifeguards for lives they saved last summer. 

2 CITY CLERK
2.1 Minutes of City Council Meeting February 4th and Special Meeting February 3rd, for acceptance.

3 UNFINISHED BUSINESS
3.1 Order-Discontinue a portion of Worcester Rd

4 GENERAL PUBLIC HEARINGS
4.1 Misc. - University of Massachusetts Lowell, Request storage of 3,200 gallons of Diesel Fuel II Liquids aboveground @ 220 Pawtucket Street.
4.2 Ordinance-Create new position and salary (part-time, temporary Literacy Director) Library
4.3 Ordinance-Amend position and salary Director of Elections to (Director of Elections/Municipal Hearing Officer)

5 COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE CITY MANAGER
5.1 Informational 

(A) Informational - New Economic Development Projects 
(B) Informational - Downtown Single Stream Recycling Center 
(C) Informational - Abandonment of Worcester Road north of Surrey Lane
5.2 Out of State Travel - Parking

6 VOTES FROM THE CITY MANAGER
6.1 Vote-Temporary License Agreement (299 Tanner St)

7 ORDERS FROM THE CITY MANAGER
7.1 Order-60 day trial

8 REPORTS (SUB / COMMITTEE, IF ANY)

9 PETITIONS
9.1 Claims (2) claims for property damage.
9.2 Misc. - Mary Lallas, Lowell, MA request to address City Council Re:157 West Forest St.
9.3 Misc. – Atty. James Flood for Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Consalvo request zoning amendment 1291 Middlesex St.

10 CITY COUNCIL - MOTIONS
10.1 C. Kennedy – Req. Finance SC recommend appropriate salary for Acting City Manager and Acting City Clerk.
10.2 C. Belanger – Req. City Council request Mayor appoint a downtown economic development task force.
10.3 C. Mercier – Req. City Mgr. have proper department provide a report as to current status and future proposed plans for Mill #5 building on Jackson St. located in the Hamilton Canal District.
10.4 C. Mercier – Req. City Mgr. have proper department explore the possibility of establishing a portion of McDermott Reservoir on Beacon St. as a site for a portion of a Community Garden for the Friends of the Reservoir.
10.5 C. Mercier – Req. City Mgr. have proper department inspect glass in windows in all downtown buildings for safety.
10.6 M. Elliott – Req. City Council discuss ordinance pertaining to accumulated annual vacation and sick leave policy and refer matter to Personnel SC.
10.7 M. Elliott – Req. City Auditor provide report on costs of accumulated annual vacation and sick leave for employees who have resigned or have retired since January 1, 2014.

11 CITY COUNCIL - EXECUTIVE SESSION
11.1 Executive Session to discuss and release minutes of Executive Session meeting on January 21, 2014 and any other minutes that should be designated to be made public from executive sessions.
11.2 Executive Session regarding litigation report, public discussion of which could have a detrimental effect on the City’s position.

January 29, 2014

We Have a Winner!

by at 5:09 pm.

So we have a winner this week in the Blowup of the Week contest. Congratulations, joe from lowell! I have deemed the portrait guidelines motion the most explosive. Of course, it’s never as you expect it…the blowup was preempted by Alison Laraba’s speech, which was stunning (clip later). By the time Rita Mercier got to speak on her own motion it was like a predictable dénouement. Then she was bookended by a citizen speaker, Aleks Tugbiyele, who’d registered to speak on the motion, and her speech was diplomatic but emphatic. But, it was the most explosive discussion of the evening.

Since it was probably one of the more obvious potential blowups of the week, I’m calling this a Level One prize, on a scale of 1-3. (Maybe somewhere between 1 and 2 because it amuses me - so, not too much more complex than Monty the Cephalopod.) So, “joe from lowell,” if you want to send me a preference for animal, or need some help deciding (I can send you links to some relevant patterns), you can email me direct (lynne at leftinlowell.com) or leave a comment. :)

Here’s the clip of Rita and the subsequent discussion, though it’s out of order, since the speech by Alison came before and Aleks Tugbiyele came right after her…I’ll add those clips, they’re both very worth watching. But here’s the actual blowup, now complete with cheesy special effects intro! (Don’t ever give me free software downloads to play with. It’s a bad idea.)

One thing you can always predict: Rita Mercier hates Patrick Murphy, and grudges are her speciality. (Witness poor Salmira last week, and Rita’s statements on the radio on Monday.)

On establishing guidelines for mayoral portraits going forward, how dictatorial are we gonna go? “You must sit with your hands in your lap, with your face three-quarters turned from the lens of the camera, with a flag lapel pin on your jacket…for women, if we ever have another female mayor ever again, you must wear a knee-length or longer skirt and matching suit jacket…you may wear a frilly blouse underneath said jacket, but whoa to you if it includes any lace…”

Seriously. And also, raise your hand if you think Mercier or Elliott gives a real care about this actual issue - aside from the burning of the former Mayor?

But other than this little distraction, and Rita’s goofup on the lawsuit pending in front of the city (also going to make a clip of that) did it seem to you guys that there was a certain level of better behavior during this meeting? Let’s hope that lasts. Not holding my breath…

OK, for color…and because it was EPIC…here’s Alison Laraba on her request to speak before Council. Alison, for those who are new, was a School Committee member a few years back.

Here’s Aleks Tugbiyele’s speech, which came after Rita spoke on her motion (sorry Aleks, you’re getting that YouTube fame!):

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