Monthly Archives: June 2008

Blog Log Digital

Posted by “sharilee” on blog.worcestercountryrepublicanclub.com

It is a tragedy to see anyone lose their home, whether it’s a house or an apartment. But if you didn’t understand the obligations when you took out a mortgage, the government shouldn’t be bailing you out. Before you signed those papers, you knew whether or not you could afford the house.

I’m a home owner so “been there-done that.” Even 20+ years ago, when my husband and I bought our first house, realtors were pushy. They were sure we could afford a house more than twice as expensive as the one we bought. Guess what? We knew we couldn’t. So we bought what we could afford and we paid our mortgage. Some years it was a struggle, other years it was easier.

I’m not sure I’m happy about the government stepping in between banks and homeowners now that foreclosures are on the rise. If banks did, indeed, fool people into a mortgage they couldn’t afford, then the banks will get what they deserve – holding the bag on an empty structure that isn’t going to sell for, well, quite some time now. If the bank was on the up-and-up about the terms of the mortgage and the homeowner got in over his/her head, then now is the time for that family to find something more affordable.

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Council, digested

Tuesday’s meeting was so chock full of silly goodness that we wanted to highlight a few of the best (cough, propane blowing up the courthouse, cough) moments:

STREET VENDORS:

STREET RULES: Councilor Phil Palmieri was incredulous at the amount of time being spent on the street vendor/hawker debate. “Quite honestly, spending this amount of time on this issue in this chamber is incredible…with all the problems, and all the issues…It is a direct reflection on this council.” Or on the public. The conversation brought out a crowd of observers and 10 pro and con public speakers, the most on any issue in a while.

NO TO CARTS: The arguments for more regulation on street vendors came from downtown restaurateurs and ranged from competitive fairness (“Someone sets up a street cart and takes 20 customers a day…makes my business less feasible.”), to the less-than-sublime (“I’m also concerned with people having a propane tank on Main Street…people up and down Main Street smoking cigarettes….I don’t want Worcester to be in the news because [someone] blew up the courthouse.“).

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City Council Blog 6/24/08

9:25: Meeting adjourned.

9:11: Now time for Michael O’Brien: “I want to thank you for your kind words and constructive criticism.”

“We are faced with a range of needs and diminishing resources.” He thanks his staff top to to bottom.

“There’s nothing more that I want than to accomplish it all.”

“What you can expect from me consistently is prioritization, thoughtful planning and implementation… compassion…proactivity…care…consideration…and creativity.”

“I’m hired to do a job…I take that job very seriously.”

“I’ve laid out…some very ambitious goals for ’09.” There’s going to need to be unity to move on many of them, especially with tough financial times coming, he says.

9:02: Mayor Lukes (15.5/20) “I didn’t have very high hopes for the manager when he was selected….I have to state my evaluation is probably the highest I’ve given him.”

This is incredible. Lukes being positive on a number of fronts? She’s congratulating his financial acumen and efforts, his leadership on Section 18 (she also tells the retirees not to hope for any reversal of fortune).

Lukes, like everyone, commends the public safety performance. Big night for Chief Gemme; he gets a lot of praise from everyone.

However, she says the economic development and neighborhood work – especially with “green” building zoning – needs more focus.

“We have failed at marketing this city…”

Airport, access road, etc.

(Lukes has talked longer than any other councilor, as she was the one holding everyone else to a time limit)

“Regardless of the disappointments, the [accomplishments] outweigh those…I think we’re getting to the point under this City Manager where we have a large city agenda.”

8:55: Phil Palmieri (18.25/20). Palmieri raises the issue of why the district councilors rated O’Brien so much better than the at-large group: He lists a number of projects but his train of thought is clear—O’Brien has done a lot for the actual rubber on the ground district-impact issues.

“He’s a leader for all seasons….My grade for him has always been near the top.”

“I think we [as councilors] should be driven by principle..and conviction. Not self-preservation.”

“It has been over the past seven months a trying time for some councilors…sometimes it gets personal, and I get admonished for that…but it’s never personal. It’s business.”

“Thank you…for your committment to this city. And to you and you (he gestures to the staff).”

8:50: Bill Eddy (16/20). He’s happy. That’s what you need to know.

“As good a job as I think you are doing…there are some challenges.”

And again the council: He calls talk of dysfunction a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

8:44: Paul Clancy (18/20). Wow. Talk about praise. If O’Brien ever needs a job reference, he should just quote Clancy.

He’s turned his attention to how the council voted on the retiree vote — “the most courageous vote by a council in my tenure.”

Again…this is more about the council than O’Brien in some ways…he says he hope O’Brien and his staff don’t have to go through the “dysfunction” of the council.

8:37-8:44: Gary Rosen (15.4/20). Rosen is commenting on a lot of specific issues, reading from his written narrative evaluation.

He’s focusing on minority recruitment at all levels, saying “we all need to do a better job.” This has been a focus of a few councilors tonight..

And Rosen asks O’Brien to meet with a few constituencies–WCCA and the retirees in particular–that are at odds with O’Brien’s plans.

A lot of Rosen’s time was on specific issues-administration raises, the airport, etc — and lesson his overall performance

8:31: Rick Rushton (11.5/20). From the best score to the worst.

He’s downplaying his low score, but says, “I believe you can do better.” He’s saying there’s not enough of a clear unified vision/mission/values.

“Going from good to great is understanding that core mission.”

“You need to do a better job of showing that people are more than a number on a spreadsheet.”

And one more point: He says there are too many last minute supplemental items that don’t give the council enough time to fully vet them. “Your administration has to do a better job of giving us time to deliberate.”

“You’re a very good City Manager…You have the potential to do better.”

8:24-8:30: Barbara Haller (18.6/20) gave O’Brien his highest score. She says she’s proud of that.

She calls her district “the most needy” and says that his efforts have really targeted and benefited her constituents.

8:19:-8:24 Michael Germain (15/20) was NOT trying to give O’Brien a low score; he says he considers his score great. (a 75% is a C these days, Wormtown Taxi counted it as a D.

“Work ethic is second to none….If i were to make a recommendation, it would be to delegate more.” His only criticisms are “management style.”

Germain is also asking O’Brien to lobby him a little harder.

8:14-8:19: Joe Petty (18/20) says that he is exceptionally pleased with O’Brien and his administration. He’s going point by point, but everything sounds positive. “I think you’re on top of things, I think you do wonderful things…people are behind you, this council is behind you, and I’m behind you.”

8:08-8:14: Joff Smith (17.85/20) says the O’Brien’s biggest strength has been dealing with the budget and financial issues.

Smith spent most of his time on economic development, where he says progress is needed. He was pretty glowing on the other issues.

“Continue working hard as I know you do; looking forward to another great performance this year.

8:02-8:08: Toomey (gave O’Brien a total of 13.4/20) is up first and says she isn’t pleased with the rating system. Interesting use of time, say the judges.

She says the way Section 18 was handled was poor, though the manager’s overall economic performance has been good. And the economic development section? “We’ve been moving at a snail’s pace….we need to be more proactive.”

Kate is being a little more harsh than we usually see her, across the board. She says things need to be addressed, but she’s overall very pleased with O’Brien.

8:01: But hold the phone!!!! Germain asks comments to be limited to five minutes or less—AND THE VOTE PASSES (Rosen, Rushton, and Toomey vote against)….We take back our estimates kids, 9:30 looks possible.

8:00: So it’s 8pm, and we haven’t started the City Manager’s review yet. We’re also told each councilor is getting 10 minutes—meaning 110 minutes right there. Add in O’Brien’s comments, etc, we’re looking at 10:30pm, easy.

7:54: Finally noticed what the signs say that all the seniors are holding: “Worcester retirees rating for CIty Manager O’Brien: ZERO”

7:46: The foreclosure home-rule petitions are on the floor. These would provide relief to homeowners going through foreclosure, renters, etc. Pretty significant stuff here; really groundbreaking for Worcester. Universal support it seems. Unanimous vote, and huge applause at 7:58pm.

7:42: Voting to hold: Germain, Rosen, Rushton, Smith, and Toomey. Voting against: Clancy, Eddy, Palmieri, Petty, Haller, and Lukes

An interesting note: While the debate was going on, a few downtown restaurant owners whispered to each other that they weren’t trying to shut down the businesses that operate at little leagues, etc. “I have no problem with them,” said one owner.

7:38: Now counterpoint from Palmieri. “To take a look at downtown and how we’re hopeful of it working, we need more storefronts…This ordinance is not counterproductive to anyone in business at all. (He also cites seeing David Forsberg at a hot dog stand, and says, “maybe he didn’t have the money for the ChopHouse.”)

“Quite honestly, spending this amount of time on this issue in this chamber is incredible…with all the problems, and all the issues…It is a direct reflection on this council.”

7:34: The item is going to be held with at least four votes. Councilor Germain is saying that the ordinance needs to be vetted more; he’s speaking in favor of the vendors. “Since I’m 10 years old, we’ve [debated]…are we a city or a bedroom community?” Lukes interrupts his flow, asking if he’ll also allow other councilors to speak. “Or are we a city? I believe we are…I read that [all the councilors] wanted a 18 hour city. An 18 hour city without streetcarts?” He’s calling for the ordinance to be looked at again.

7:20: Speaking AGAINST the ordinance: Ron Laflash. He’s from Worcester; Konnie points out [chastises?] that his cart has Auburn plates. “Yes, my business is in Auburn,” he says. He says he’s more than 150 feet from any open business downtown, and never opens in front of any open business. “That’s a flat out lie,” one of the downtown owners quietly comments. Chris Gould – a potential vendor – says he’s been working with a bar owner on Green Street to open 10pm-2am “and this ordinance would crush that. The current ordinance may have problems, but this one goes too far.” And Jim, who is just starting out on Water Street says it would be tough.

Anthony Perro the flower vendor is giving a speech. He’s two minutes in, but has spent that entire two minutes not understanding that Mayor Lukes is only giving him two minutes to speak. He’s asking for 4 minutes, and then for 10 minutes. Lukes keeps telling him he only has two. He’s trying to explain his views—essentially, that other cities allow for vendors. He’s going to submit his writings to council.

Joanne Hart is saying “We don’t have to ban everything…we have to moderate.” There’s not enough cheaper downtown options, she says, aside from White Hen and sports bars.

And Jon Sweeney, who works a cart at several little league fields in town, says that they serve niche markets. “It’s too bad a few vendors…have to ruin it for the rest of us.”

7:15: Speaking FOR the ordinance are four downtown business owners: Scott Neri from Irish Times; Ryan of Z Cafe(“someone sets up a street cart and takes 20 customers a day…makes my business less feasible.”); Dean from Garden Fresh Courtyard Cafe(“I think the future of the city lives in storefronts….I’m also concerned with people having a propane tank on Main Street…people up and down Main Street smoking cigarettes….I don’t want Worcester to be in the news because [someone] blew up the courthouse.”); and George from we don’t know where.(“The fact to have a disadvantage right off the bat is something I don’t welcome.”)

7:14: Packed packed house tonight. Crowds for and against the street hawker vendor; seniors protesting; and city employees for the City Manager’s review. (Oh, and more Telegram reporters than we know what to do with.)

6:01: Can you feel it????? That pulsating energy that can only be….the CITY MANAGER’S REVIEW!!! YEA!!!!

We’ll be at council in an hour, covering all the praise and criticism live; there’s an added bonus tonight of a rally to support potential foreclosure relief legislation, and an attempt to pass a home rule petition that would effectively shut down any sort of street vendor culture in Worcester. (More on that later)

In any case, we’re taking bets on the length of the meeting tonight. We’ll spot you some inside info: If each councilor takes 7 minutes to talk about the City Manager (and it won’t be less), we’re looking at a minimum of 77 minutes. Counting everything else, we’re looking at a 10pm close tonight. Any over-under wagers?

See you at seven.

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Blog Log Digital

Posted by “Keith” on aleworks.org

Unfortunately, Worcester has plenty of code that prevents virtually anyone from manufacturing virtually anything on residential property that is intended for sale. I spoke to someone at the Code department and was advised that it simply couldn’t be done. I was given an example of a home-based business that was recently shut down for producing something consideribly less exciting than an alcoholic beverage.

While this doesn’t outright kill the project, it definitely makes it more difficult for me to proceed; it would have been nice to get some additional utility out of the house and land I own in Worcester (particularly since it’s dropped in value since I bought it). I’m now looking into suitable spaces in commercially-zoned areas, but industrial/manufacturing space tends to come in vastly larger parcels than I’d require. If anyone knows of a decent locale, please feel free to drop me a line at keith (at) aleworks (dot) org.

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End of Week Roundup

What a week.  If anything, this week was the week of the regulation: New rules for livery cabs(credit cards only!), potential new ordinances for street hawkers (can’t park on the street for more than five minutes!), and new regulations for a couple clubs(Hey, Alta Cafe: Two cops, even if the crowds aren’t there, OK?).

And next week? The City Manager’s performance review will dominate conversation all week – you know where you’ll find the best coverage.

See you next week, you crazy kids.

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Openings and Closings at the License Commission

It was all about starts and finishes at today’s License Commission Hearing.

First, the closings.

The commission (Peter Lukes, Karon Shea, and an absent Kevin O’Sullivan) heard two hearings for the underground-hipster coffee shop Q Cafe, off Chandler Street: One, an application for an entertainment license; another, a violation hearing for having entertainment without a license.

Police said there have been “more than 50” complaints from neighbors about the coffee shop, ranging from noise to public urination.  One neighbor at the hearing detailed public sex, strewn condoms, and cigarette holes burned through a convertible roof.  “[The customers] don’t [need to] hang around outside all day long,” said the neighbor, complaining about patrons on couches and playing soccer all day and night.

There were a few complaints about the noise from the entertainment the club has had sans-license, but more from the police than the neighbors.  Still, Peter Lukes – acting Chair for the day – said he couldn’t “in good conscience vote for an entertainment license [since] you’ve been violating…”

Despite pleas from the owners that a lack of entertainment would put them out of business, the commission voted to deny an entertainment license, and told the shop they needed to shutdown at 2am, not 3 from now on.  “For now,” said Lukes, “run it as a coffee shop as it was intended to be.”

In another hearing, the troubled Alta Cafe was ordered to maintain two detail cops per night, as legislated two weeks ago.  Police said that since the Cafe closed two weeks ago, neighborhood complaints have dropped dramatically.  Owner Benny Mercedes attributed the drop to El Delicioso food truck moving to Park Ave.  “The truck is the biggest problem…it’s no longer there,” he said.

“Before we had the truck there, within 15 minutes everyone [at closing] was gone.”

Mercedes, saying the regulations would put him out of business asked for “a one months trial with one officer…see how it goes.”  But even with a plan to valet cars to alleviate parking complaints, activists and the commission weren’t phased.

Neighborhood stalwart Billy Breault was clear in his goals.  “I hope you close him.  I hope you keep him to two officers.  I hope he goes out of business.”

And Lukes said that even if the truck was to blame, it would probably come back as soon as Mercedes reopened at night.  “Financially, the city can’t afford to send officers repeatedly.”

Mercedes, desperate, said he may move to open during the day as a restaurant to help pay for the officers at night.

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City Council 6/18/08

10:12: Palmieri reiterates his call – and Petty’s and Rushton’s – that the new chancellor of UMass-Med live in Worcester. He’s also saying it would be great to draw in 10% of the UMass-Med staff of 19,000 downtown.  Lukes says “there should be some sort of incentive [for employees] to live in the city.” We’ll be asking them in a few minutes if he feels the same about high-level city officials.

10:10: Under suspension: Toomey-wants a report on all area regulations on bicycles.

9:57: The recycling vendor is changing from Waste Management to Casella—and we’ll no longer have to separate out recycling. Yea!

9:34: Rushton-after a little quarrel with Lukes-“This is not a downtown ordinance, this is a city ordinance.”

9:29: Lukes takes the floor. She’s the originator of the motion that ended up with this ordinance. She says vendors and the families of vendors have all talked to her. “We don’t have the density downtown that will support that coexistence,” she says. “Maybe this is overkill, but if we don’t do this, we’ll have empty storefronts…people moving out.” “If you put canteens on Shrewsbury Street, this hall would be filled and you know it…the political pressure [would kill it].”

9:28: Just a reminder to all the councilors…street vendors mean more than just hot dog vendors. Sunglass vendors, toy vendors, peanuts, pretzels.

9:23: Palmieri, saying that hotdog stands in front of multimillion businesses will hurt them. Then a snide comment about “what [Councilor Rosen] was doing with a hotdog stand.” Rosen, incredulous, asks the Mayor to say something; she tells Rosen not to interrupt; Palmieri says Rosen “shouldn’t take it personally.” He compares hotdog vendors to people setting up chairs and tables and doing wills outside of law offices at a cut rate.

9:18: Moore says that there have been numerous complaints leading to this ordinance; additionally, he says there are issues of competitive fairness.

9:12: Under directed questioning from Rosen, Moore says the only real purpose of the ordinance is to allow the chief of police to license and charge a fee for hawkers and vendors. But Rosen raises the issue of the Elm Park hotdog vendor, who has been there forever…as a vendor on a public street, he’d probably be prohibited from selling hotdogs for more than 5 minutes. “I can’t let that awful operation [effect this one],” says Rosen, referencing a downtown vendor that’s been problematic. This is really an argument of intent vs. reality.

9:08: CM O’Brien is asking the council to take some action, just to move forward on it. Rushton is saying if we’ve waited this long, another few months won’t kill the city. It’s unfair to “drop it on us” like it’s the “end of the world.”

9:04: It’s being held, but rules are suspended to allow conversation anyway. City Solicitor Moore says the ordinance is for those selling out of vehicles only—Rushton reads the ordinance; it includes the words “on foot.” Moore says that phrase is under a different kind of license…a “transient license.” But, he allows, someone who is in one place for 12 months could still be considered transient. Rushton is still holding it–he says they needed more time than they got; they got the ordinance last night apparently.

8:56: Back to street hawkers. Rushton says the intent is good, but “it doesn’t look like it’s…for a city of 180,000…it looks like using a cannon to kill an insect.” He raises several issues, saying there are a lot holes: “if you want to sell a Christmas tree across from Haiku…you can’t.” And now, he brings up the point we brought up in print a few months ago, asking if his colleagues can imagine New York or Boston without street vendors. And (he’s on a roll) the El Delicioso, a target of the resolution, isn’t even in the covered ordinance zone. “It looks like an ordinance that’s written for a small town.” Lukes is covering her face as Rushton lists examples of when street vendors are good. “I know this bores you madam Mayor.”

8:42: Instead, Palmieri asks O’Brien to reach out to other private citizens who might be able to get in contact with Wyman bigshots more effectively.

8:39: Palmieri says “nothing will happen” if they take Wyman Gordon off the agenda. “Not a thing! Not a thing!” He says, essentially, that the City Manager will still call the company, the company will do what they’re going to do anyway….it begs the question than: What’s the purpose of putting anything on the agenda, if it makes no difference to how officials and private companies will act. The motion falls—Rosen, Toomey, and Lukes vote with Palmieri.

8:33: But then there’s Councilor Eddy, chair of the city Democratic committee, who says he doesn’t know how long the property has been on the council agenda, because he’s only been here for half a year. The City Manager is giving him a history lesson. We’ll spare you.

8:32: And Councilor Petty, the voice of reason, reminding everyone that Wyman-Gordon has still been an overall positive corporate citizen.

8:30: There are a lot of Worcester Common Outlets/Wyman-Gordon parallels. Some councilors are upset that the property looks like a hole in the ground; it looks that way because they tore down unused buildings, much like is the initial goal at CitySquare (and what we’d be left with if Berkeley backed out at the demolition phase). Rushton just took it a step further—he compared Wyman-Gordon’s silence to Cigna’s when Cigna owned the mall.

8:24: City Manager Michael O’Brien reveals that Wyman has been debating a further expansion at the site. He expected an answer by now, but says he’ll put in every effort to get an answer from Wyman-Gordon by the July 8 meeting.

8:20: Haller agrees that we should take another tactic with Wyman-Gordon. “It’s nothing short of insulting…it’s unacceptable,” she says, that the company hasn’t been more cooperative.

8:15: What’s up with Wyman-Gordon? Economic Development chief Tim McGourthy says they’ve been “incommunicado” about an internal review of their semi-empty downtown property, despite a dozen calls. They’re expected to get back to the city during the summer, and maybe put the property back on the market in the fall. Palmieri is saying we should take it off the Economic Development calendar if Wyman-Gordon is going to be so uncooperative.

8:09: There’s a “supplemental” item not appearing on the agenda that will somehow limit street hawkers and peddlers downtown—Palmieri calls them a “negative impact” on downtown restaurants. We’re trying to figure out exactly how far the new rules go. Rick Rushton wants to hold it; Konnie Lukes gives an exasperated sigh and says, “It’s taken months to get to this point.”

8:08: Just a note that next week will be the City Manager’s evaluation. Always a fun time.

7:59: Rosen calls having booze at a golf course an example of Worcester “being a little daring….it’s a sign of growing up, a sign of progress.”

7:54: As expected, this has turned into a conversation about the feasibility of alcohol and expansion at the Golf Course. Moylan says that he believes we’d be limited to “special” event-by-event licenses, unless we had a permanent vendor providing services at the course, similar to the original situation at Union Station.

7:42: DPW Commissioner Bob Moylan is calling last weekend’s golf tournament at Green Hill Golf Course a “huge success.” Profit was about $14,000—with the donated services from Gus Giordano, it was $18,000. This is sure to be what city officials point to as they move to have a semi-permanent alcohol license at the course. And sure enough, Giordano is using his soapbox to ask the council to consider allowing beer and wine at the clubhouse and on the patio.

7:35: Some major changes going through right now for taxi/livery cab rules – especially for the livery cabs. Unfortunately, the city’s document system is telling us that the maximum connections are exceeded, and we are unable to look at the full rules. We’ll give you the full list as soon as possible. But the councilors all seem pleased.

7:17: A proclamation honoring outgoing Superintendent James Caradonio is met with a standing ovation by the councilors and crowd.

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