– Lowell Politics and History

Lowell City Council Meeting: October 21, 2014

Meeting opens with council recognizing all who participated in last Saturday’s Centralville neighborhood cleanup, especially the more than 100 Lowell High Jr ROTC cadets who participated (40 of whom were present at this meeting).

Rita Mercier asks City Clerk Michael Geary to explain procedure for minutes of executive sessions.  Clerk Geary says he keeps minutes of executive sessions secure until the city council orders them released.  The procedure is to go into executive session, review the minutes, and vote to release or not release them.  If the council votes to release them, the clerk releases them to the public.  Mercier asks him to compile a list of all executive sessions so they can address each of them

Motion Responses

Councilor Milinazzo moves that report on Fr Morissette Blv bike lanes be referred to transportation subcommittee (Milinazzo, Martin and Leahy) for a report and recommendation.


Draft ordinance re sidewalk signs and sandwich board signs.  Councilor Kennedy notes that the ordinance is silent on the size of the signs and leaves it to the historic board.  He says that kind of broad discretion may have been a cause of the problems so he advocates making the rules more detailed.  CM Murphy says that’s an excellent suggestion and will incorporate it into the ordinance.  Councilor Samaras says the Historic Board has offered several suggestions for sign sizes so the city and the historic board should resolve that.  The sidewalk sign period will coincide with sidewalk seating period.  Samaras says the ordinance should have some flexibility that allows signs except in periods of inclement weather.

Council votes to accept state grant for construction of a pedestrian bridge as part of the Concord River Greenway.

Vote to cancel council meetings of Nov 11 and Nov 25.  Passes unanimously with no discussion.

Island on Central Street designated Robinson Memorial Island.  Passes.  Sent to Board of Parks for their determination.


CCs Kennedy and Leahy request report on number of police department vehicles and also to allow police officers to take vehicles home.  Kennedy says his portion of the motion deals with the number of vehicles.  Says prior administration reported that LPD had 150 vehicles, most of which are not marked police vehicles.  Says the earlier report was incomplete.  Would like a report now that says where all of these vehicles came from and what they are used for.  Suggests city may want to auction off some of them.  Councilor Leahy says if we get more vehicles out into the neighborhoods there will be more visibility.  If we let police officers take police cruisers home when off duty, people will feel safer.  CC Mercier has some concerns about allowing police to bring cruisers home while off duty.  She wants to see cruisers on duty in the neighborhoods but doesn’t understand how this would accomplish that.  CC Belanger says there are too many police vehicles.  Would like to know how many are active on the street.  CC Samaras says the chief should be asked his opinion on this.  CC Leahy defends his idea.  CC Rourke asks that the report identify how many police officers actually live in the city.

CC Leahy motion about strategy for snow removal and for use of independent contractors for snow removal.  Leahy says we could have done a better job last winter.  There were too many cases of downtown parking spaces filled with snow waiting for snow to melt.

CC Leahy motion to explore use of outside contractor to fill vacant traffic engineer position.  Says other communities outsource such positions so we should explore doing that while the position is vacant.  CC Kennedy says it’s a good motion; that Northern Middlesex Council of Governments provides traffic engineer support to a few communities.  CC Milinazzo says with all the motions of this council the traffic engineer is kept very busy.  CM Murphy says the job has already been posted and he has four applicants.  He says since he’s been CM the traffic engineer has been very busy.

CC Belanger asks for two free weekends of parking in downtown garages (during holiday shopping season).  Says after speaking with merchants he thinks it will be helpful to “heal this parking perception.”  He says there’s plenty of parking downtown that’s clean and safe.  This would be a good way to introduce people to the garages and get used to using them.

CC Belanger asks CM create neighborhood crime watch throughout city with appropriate signage.  Says problems in the city persist.  Violence seems to have calmed down but random shootings still persists.  At neighborhood meetings he gets impression there are so many shots fired that people don’t bother calling the police or at least they wait 15 minutes.  He says the city needs the citizens to help.  To have someone on every block in the city providing eyes and ears for the police.  Suggests looking at how other cities do it.

CC Belanger requests CM report on possible parking ordinance changes.  Belanger says this is motivated by Jeff Speck’s remarks and a meeting Belanger had with the Lowell parking department.  He says no one wants parking to be primarily a revenue generator.  Says we need a plan that works for the merchants.  Maybe we need to enforce on Saturdays.  We’ve all reached the conclusion that we have to enforce later in the day.  Downtown is a neighborhood.  Residents have guests, visitors, and merchants need turnover but we know that some downtown residents park curbside Friday night and don’t move their cars until Monday morning.  We need some changes to the status quo.  Milinazzo says it’s a good motion.  Says we should look at parking ordinance as an economic development tool.

Meeting adjourns at 7:49 pm.

Book Event, Sat., Oct. 25: ‘Emerald Isle Classic’

Don’t miss this Saturday’s book event for Jim O’Brien’s “The Match: The Emerald Isle Classic” at 11:30am at the River Hawk Shop in UMass Lowell’s University Crossing complex (former location of St Joe’s Hospital), 220 Pawtucket Street.  BC alum Jim O’Brien, a familiar face in Lowell, organized the 1988 Emerald Isle Classic football game between Boston College and Army in 1988. It was the first NCAA-sanctioned American college gridiron game in Europe. In this book, Jim revisits the game that was seen by 42,000 people in Dublin. The book was published in collaboration with Lowell’s Jack O’Connor of O’Connor Studio. Jim will be on hand to talk about making the book, reflect on the experience of bringing American football to Ireland, and reminiscing about Boston College. This is Homecoming Weekend at UMass Lowell, so the campus will be busy with events and people. Parking for University Crossing is available in the visitor lot at Pawtucket and Salem streets.


No on 1- keep the gas tax COLA by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

ma-symbolForget the Pilgrim, the Minuteman and the Indian (Squanto?).  The real symbol of Massachusetts is the pothole.  The state has done a dreadful job of keeping up our infrastructure.  There are particularly bad places where hubcaps pile up by the side of the road.  Fixing our roads and bridges is paid for by gas tax revenues, and, until last year, our cowardly solons, ever fearful that dealing with these problems would mean voting for taxes, had gone 21 years without increasing the gas tax. The backlog of needed infrastructure work is enormous.

When in 2013 the legislature finally raised the tax by three cents a gallon (to 24 cents a gallon), they decided to link future adjustments to the rate of inflation. Not exactly a profile in courage!

Now Question 1 on the ballot would repeal that escalator.  The gas tax would stay the same unless the legislature voted affirmatively to raise it.  Supporters of repeal call the escalator “taxation without representation.”  But what we had for more than two decades was representation without taxation, at least as far as the gas tax was concerned

potholeIt’s very nice to say that it is our legislators’ responsibility to do so every year that road work makes it necessary, and that we should vote our solons out of office if they fail to act responsibly.  It’s a pretty civics class description of how things should work. But, especially in this overwhelmingly one-party state, generating that turnover to protest irresponsibility,  isn’t readily achieved. As a practical matter, we need that link to the Consumer Price Index to fix the half of all bridges that are deficient or obsolete and repave the rotten roads, which cost drivers an estimated $2 billion a year in repairs.

I’m not happy with this state of affairs, and I don’t normally like such escalator clauses.  But reality dictates a No vote on repealing  gas tax indexing.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

Lowell Week in Review: October 19, 2014

Governor Patrick in Lowell

It was great to see Governor Patrick in Lowell on Tuesday, bringing even more state money to the city.   The Governor’s opening comment – that when he looked around he could not see a building that had not benefited from state funding in some way – was right on.   He could travel to a number of places in Lowell and say the same thing.

Governor Patrick at site of Judicial Center

When talk turns to the troubles of urban communities, we often hear whining that the suburbs don’t pull their weight while cities carry a disproportionate burden in dealing with the society’s problems.  Such sentiments ignore the rest of the equation: that state government funnels a lot of the taxes paid by suburbanites to cities like Lowell.  I’m happy that Lowell has been able to benefit from it (which is a testament to the effectiveness of all who represent and have represented the city in the state legislature).

Governor Patrick’s comments brought to mind remarks made by Frank Keefe, the state’s budget chief under Governor Dukakis after a stint as Lowell’s chief planner, in a speech he gave in Lowell back in 2010.  Keefe (who is the brother of Jim Keefe, one of the principals of Trinity Financial, the developer of the Hamilton Canal District) called Lowell “a beacon that must be sustained as a role model for the rest of the cities in the Commonwealth.”  He said that when he first came to Lowell “the politics of patronage and negativity prevailed” but then a critical mass of local leaders decided that “Lowell should find its future in its past” and embraced preservation.  The key to Lowell’s success, according to Keefe, was a “shared vision arrived at by consensus that embraced every constituency.”

As I recall the faces of those gathered Tuesday to hear Governor Patrick speak at the vacant lot that will soon become the new Lowell Judicial Center, I would say Lowell still follows the formula described by Frank Keefe.  From Congresswoman Niki Tsongas to State Senator Eileen Donoghue to Mayor Elliott and many others, all levels of government were represented.  Leaders of banks, businesses and non-profits were also on hand as were neighbors, students and educators.  Despite a member or two of the Lowell chorus occasionally hitting a flat note (often loudly when echoed by pandering media outlets) on the whole, Lowell still shares a unified vision, at least as far as the Hamilton Canal District is concerned.

Lowell’s Future is Its Past

Frank Keefe wasn’t the first one to say Lowell’s future was its past.  To find out who was the first to say it, you should read Paul Marion’s excellent new book, “Mill Power: The Origin and Impact of Lowell National Historical Park.”  Paul had a great book-launch event Thursday night at the National Park Visitor Center and has two others scheduled.  The first is Thursday, November 6 at 4pm at UMass Lowell’s University Crossing bookstore.  The second is at the Pollard Memorial Library on December 3 at 7pm.  Books will be for sale at both events but if you can’t wait to get one – and you shouldn’t – the gift shop in the National Park Visitor Center at 246 Market Street has them for sale right now.

Paul Marion talking about Mill Power, his new book. Photo by Tony Sampas.

On Thursday night, Paul was effusive in his praise of all of those who assisted with the book but also lauded all of those whose hard work and dedication stretching back to the 1960s made the city that we know today a reality.

Wanted: A Champion of Walkers on the City Council

Since this council took office in January, I’ve watched just about every minute of every city council meeting.  I’ve heard plenty of talk about traffic and parking and even some discussion of bicycles (usually negative comments but at least bikes are mentioned).  What I don’t hear is much talk of making Lowell a more walkable city.

Could our city leaders take even a small fraction of the time they spend worrying about cars and devote it to people who move through the city on foot?  Winter is coming and Lowell as a community has always been deficient in keeping sidewalks clear of snow and ice.  The same is true of cars parked on sidewalks.  How about a citywide strategy to address these hazards as well as the overall disregard by drivers of pedestrians and their safety.  True, councilors have raised concerns about the dangers of crossing Andover Street and Rogers Street, both commendable efforts, but both seemingly reactions to specific complaints about specific points on the ground.  What we’re missing is a comprehensive approach that raises awareness, rewards good behavior, and penalizes bad.


Current design plan for Lord Overpass remake

Maybe a good project to kick off this pro-pedestrian effort is to convince the state Department of Transportation to use some of that $15 million the governor just dropped off for the reconstruction of the Lord Overpass to make the entire vicinity safer for and friendlier to pedestrians.  I’ve said repeatedly that the whole Sampson Connector/Dutton/Thorndike stretch from City Hall to the YMCA and the Connector is an impenetrable obstacle to pedestrians.  It chokes off downtown from thousands of residents living in the Lower Highlands and the Acre and it deprives businesses in those neighborhoods of the patronage of those who live and work in downtown.  It’s great that we have this money to redo the Lord Overpass and vicinity, but if we don’t start making noise about improving walkability along and across that route, MassDOT will just hand us a buffed up redo of our existing monument to 1960s car culture, something that will be a detriment, not an asset, to economic development in that part of the city.

Governor Patrick Visits Cupples Square, Endorses Rady Mom

Governor Patrick endorsing Rady Mom for State Rep

Governor Patrick endorsing Rady Mom for State Rep

I grew up not far from Cupples Square and walked there often as a kid for a multitude of reasons, so I took some neighborhood pride in seeing the photos of Governor Patrick walking past doorways that I knew as the Yum Yum Shop or Page’s Drug Store.  The reason for this first-ever gubernatorial visit to Cupples Square?  Governor Patrick was endorsing Democratic State Representative candidate Rady Mom (who owns a business in Cupples Square).

Gov Patrick, Rady Mom, Tom Golden, Eileen Donoghue, Niki Tsongas

Gov Patrick, Rady Mom, Tom Golden, Eileen Donoghue, Niki Tsongas

The Governor’s very public endorsement amplified the historic nature of Rady’s candidacy – if elected, he will be the first Cambodian-American in the country elected to a state legislature.  It also illustrates how Rady, again if elected, will be able to leverage the access and recognition that will come with such a historic achievement for the benefit of his constituents and of his city in a way that will far exceed the opportunities available to most other freshman state representatives.

More Police

One of the first demands placed on our newest state representative (whoever that might be) will be to find some state funding for more police officers in Lowell.  The city council at its Tuesday night meeting made it clear that increasing the size of the police force is a priority.

I’m all for a larger police force but the money to pay new officers has to come from somewhere.  Everyone always talks about grants, but grants are rare and often come with strings attached.  Only back in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton’s “Community Oriented Policing Services” or COPS program that put 100,000 police officers on America’s streets did Lowell receive outside funding of significant magnitude to make a difference in crime rates in the city.  Our current Congress can barely keep the Federal government funded so it’s fanciful to think that meaningful money for police will be coming from Washington.  I don’t see the funding coming from local sources, either.  It’s easy to engage in abstract discussions about squeezing out waste in government but then it comes time to cut actual programs and eliminate jobs and those discussions get a lot tougher.  Besides, we’re now more than a quarter through the fiscal year so a good portion of this year’s budget has already been spent.

The council has tasked the city manager to searching for more funds for more police, something I’m sure he’ll do diligently.  In the meantime, why not have a thoughtful discussion on the causes of crime rather than the symptoms.  If we tackle as a community things like drug abuse, broken families, and a lack of decent-paying jobs, maybe we’ll discover that those extra police officers aren’t needed after all.


Have you noticed that the media outlets that spent the summer stoking fear of illegal immigrants are the same ones inciting hysteria over Ebola?  What do those two things have in common?  Oh yes, they both involve people who don’t have white skin.  Racism and bigotry, both explicit and coded, are alive and well in the Merrimack Valley and throughout America.

Ebola is a deadly disease but it’s not new or mysterious.  Unless you somehow exchange bodily fluids with an Ebola patient, you don’t get Ebola.  It’s tragic that two nurses in Dallas became infected while caring for the one patient who did have the disease, but it’s pretty clear that what the American health care system thought was a prudent level of preparedness for care givers was inadequate.  Hopefully medical professionals have received that wake-up call and tighten up their safety protocols.  They need look no further than the doctors and nurses working in the midst of the epidemic in West Africa for practices that keep health care providers safe while they treat infected individuals.

As for the rest of us, don’t fall prey to the ignorance and misinformation being spewed by so many media outlets.  Winter is coming and so is the season for colds and flu.  Get your flu shot.  Wash your hands – often.  And vote YES on Question 4 which will give all employees in Massachusetts paid sick time so if they are not feeling well, they can stay home and take care of themselves and not feel obliged to drag themselves ill into work or risk losing their jobs.

See Past Posts »

The light, last night

See Past Posts »