Posted by Jeremy Shulkin
I’ll see you here at 7:00 tonight. Here’s the agenda.
Last week we had two people commenting. The week before we had none. This week let’s aim high for 11 commentors–one for each city councilor. I can’t raise this baby alone.
7:13: Here we go. We’re starting off by recognizing Equal Pay Day which is coming up next week.
As a note, the upper gallery has filled in. The bottom seating section is full of taxi drivers (and their families/supporters), the upper gallery is full of livery drivers (and their families/supporters).
Clancy isn’t here tonight.
7:17: We’re starting off with the sign moratorium tabled by Lukes last week. She tabled it last week because two councilors were gone last week to vote on it, but only one of them is here tonight. She wants to table it again so it can be voted on by a full council. She says it’s disappointing that one of the volunteer boards recommended this after the council included them in government, and she says that we have a hard enough time filling these boards and it sends a bad message that the city government isn’t even listening to those that have volunteered.
7:19: Solicitor Moore says Lukes can’t hold it twice in a row without three more pro-holding votes. Roll call for any more support to hold the item for two more weeks: Only Lukes and Germain vote to hold it. The floor is now open for sign moratorium debate.
7:22: Smith says that the new ordinance is coming soon, and in the meantime it’s unnecessary to have a sign moratorium. He motions to file the moratorium.
7:23: Haller says depending on who you speak to–from people who complain about digital signs to non-accessory signs to billboards–there is a need for the sign ordinance to be reviewed or modified. She says she at first supported Lukes’ moratorium, but then the city said “wait, we’re coming up with our own.” She says this is a difficult decision, and she’ll vote to file it. She wants the public to know that this discussion was important and not a “schitzophrenic” debate–it took a lot of twists.
7:29: Germain says that he’s trying to “protect the integrity of this council, of this floor” because they requested this moratorium, and the ZBA complied. Now the council is saying “nah, forget it,” according to him. “We asked them to make some tough decisions and then it comes to a public floor and we say ‘nevermind.'”
7:38: Palmieri credits Leonard Ciuffredo (one of his constituents and a former member of the Zoning Board) “for getting the ball rolling here.” He says this debate is a couple years old. He’s glad that the city will come up with a “real ordinance that will help our city.”
7:39: Petty quotes an old co-councilor, saying “government is messy.” He says at first it sounded like a good idea, but then there was a negative effect and people stopped buying signs because the language was confusing.
7:41: Roll call on Smith’s motion to file: The motion passes and is filed.
7:43: We’re going out of order here, and now we’re at the taxi v. livery situation. Sam Rosario is here speak on behalf of the liveries. He’s reading his response to the city’s response to his old 12 petitions. He says that all of his petitions were sent for review, or so he thought. He says there are “no substitive reviews” of his petitions. He goes back to his argument about the arbitrary 12 hour rule. “Why not six? Why not 24?” he asks. He requests the formation of an independent task force to study the taxi and livery services to “ensure safety, quality and service.”
7:47: He says a lot of misinformation is swirling around the issue, namely that the liveries aren’t against the police department, and a meeting with the ACLU was only for drivers to understand their rights. He says they’re also not anti-cabs, but the taxi system needs more competition, and this is an issue that won’t go away.
7:49: William Clark is here to speak for the taxi companies. All he wants is for the rules and regulations passed by the city be followed. He wants individuals and companies violating rules to be fined. He says there’s no way to know if there’s a need for more medallions because a huge part of the industry has been taken over by those who don’t follow the rules. He says claims that taxis can’t handle the workload aren’t true.
7:52: Rosario gives 1,000 signatures in favor of the liveries to the clerk.
7:52: Petty says this issue is national and a lot of cities have forced liveries out of town. He says cabs have followed the rules over the years, and cab companies that pay 12,000 dollars/year, while liveries pay around 3,000 dollars/year. He says taxis are regulated–“we tell the cab companies what to charge.” With liveries, that’s not the case. He wishes he “had a Solomon-like solution.” He uses the owner of Red Cab as an example, who built her company after spending $6,000 on one cab medallion for one car in the 1960s. Throughout Petty’s speech about medallion numbers and allocations Rosario shakes his head and mutters “not true, not true.”
7:56: Petty says cabs have grown and made careers by playing by the rules. He says the average response times “are there” and that while some cabs might not be clean, the liveries have those problems too. “The issue is we have a regulated industry following the rules.” He’d like a report from the city about out of town cab companies and how they can come to Worcester (he wants to know how to prevent that). He says liveries are there for driving people around differently than cabs–essentially that liveries act like limo services or private hires.
7:59: Lukes says this started with one person’s attempt to get a medallion in a different way than the market allowed. Then it turned into liveries acting like cabs, and what “prompted me to finally lose my patience with this whole thing” was when Rosario was interviewed on WTAG and admitted that Rosario said “yes” that cabs were breaking the rules. She says the council is being approached by “dirty hands.” She’s not inclined to pursue this any further after there was public admission that rules are being broken.
8:03: Rosario wants to rebut, but J.O’Brien asks him to sit down in the gallery. Rosario wants to address what Lukes said, calling it “disinformation.” A cop comes in and escorts him out (without touching him, and quietly too).
8:05: Eddy says “we rely on experts” combined with their own opinions on issues and appreciates the manager’s report on this. He doesn’t want people to think they just filed this without care. He wants to change the vote so that the council votes in the affirmative of the rules already in place, rather than voting to file the motion. Lukes agrees with this.
8:06: Smith says the bottom line is we do have a law in place, and people need to follow the rules. He hopes both the liveries and taxis co-exist, but they need to follow rules that are in place. He notes the violations in the past, and doesn’t want a “lawless society.”
8:08: Toomey says they ask that rules be followed. She asks if medallions were offered to livery companies. Rosario shouts “no” from the audience. Toomey says she understands there was an offer for the liveries to purchase medallions. J.O’Brien says he met with livery owners and Red/Yellow owners, and thought there should be a business agreement to work it out. He says one owner “expressed some interest” in selling, but under the terms that new medallion owners would drive exclusively for them. Toomey rephrases: “the option to purchase medallions was made.” J.O’Brien says he was not part of those discussions, only acting as a facilitator in setting them up. Toomey says if tere were offers to compromise, then she doesn’t understand why someone would say no. Rosario shouts “you can ask us, we’re here!” J.O’Brien doesn’t want to get into a back and forth dialogue, and that maybe Toomey’s questions are better asked towards the drivers. She says she wanted to confirm what was told to her before. She goes back to her “rules are rules” statement “and everybody should follow them.”
8:13: Juan Gomez wants to speak from the podium, but J.O’Brien doesn’t let him. Rosario says they’re being denied a public hearing–the council says no. Rushton calls Rosario “the worst spokesman” the liveries can have. He says the real question is “do we have enough transportation?” He says you can’t operate as a livery and act like a cab. He says 20 cab drivers are off the roads. He blames it on the livery increase. He says “until I get solid facts from somebody” that show the transportation service in the city isn’t up to par, “then it’s a moot issue.”
8:15: He says Lawrence, MA was used as a model because a similar issue was going on there. he says he can understand the frustration in the community about “quality on call transportation” and he wants “cold hard facts” in a discussion off the floor about getting that information. He says if there’s an independent body that wants to form to see whether or not Worcester needs more/better on call transportation, then he’d be for that.
8:19: Petty says he has a motion. He says Yellow cab is computerized, and the company can come back to City with their response times, saying that should answer some of Rushton’s questions. He says this is a statewide issue, and would like to start being treated as such.
8:21: Gomez says there was no public hearing, but J.O’Brien won’t let him speak, saying there is a process to follow. The cop walks up next to him and they start talking to each other. The council files the motion, and the crowd streams out.
8:22-8:39: Outside the chamber listening in on a livery meeting–Gomez was addressing the drivers.
8:40: Haller is talking budget cuts and public safety. She says it’s hardwork making Worcester a “livable” city, and that the fire and police and leadership have kept Worcester afloat. She wants public safety to be a priority for the next few budget cycles.
8:41: Germain says the lower crime numbers are great [the report’s statistics shows Worcester is much safer than many cities in New England], but they shouldn’t re-frame the conversation. He says the numbers show arrests are down, but that could be because there’s aren’t enough police to make the arrests. He doesn’t want these numbers to paint a rosy picture. He says these numbers “may not show the whole picture.” He says there’s a lot more to this report.
8:49: J.O’Brien takes the floor and says a lack of safety will push families out and keep some cities out. He says he worked as a paramedic in Lawrence, and saw the exits of families there. He says these numbers need to reflect higher pro-active policing–preventing big crimes by preventing “the little stuff.” He’s also worried about cuts to summer impact groups, and that there needs to be police bodies on the street. He wants a report on community impact program numbers from the police–what’s being cut and what will the effect be. He warns that we could go below the 418 number of officers working without stimulus funding in the budget for next year.
8:53: J.O’Brien wants to know how many police were on the street on the average Friday night three or four years ago as compared to now.
8:54: Eddy says he agrees with Haller, that there’s been a commitment to a number of police. He says there’s no part of Worcester that’s not in need of the summer impact program. Eddy says taxes will have to be looked at, but he doesn’t want to have that discussion tonight.
9:01: Smith says this report brings good and bad news, and that we must keep the WPD at current levels today, but without that we might be “playing with fire.”
9:03: Palmieri is worried that if we stop funding for public safety, then that might lead to investors leaving/not coming here.
9:05: Germain says the “creative” solutions in the past to save money have been layoffs, benefit cuts, etc. and “we can’t do those anymore.” He says we’re at a critical point now where we’re “going to have to have that awful discussion” about raising taxes. He says if we want a summer impact program, more firefighters, fix streets and sidewalks, then we need to have a hard discussion.
9:08: Stephen Gunnerson from the Police Union is speaking. He says the dept. has become pro-active, which you can see in the crime stats. He says Worcester “is not an inherently safe place to live” but it’s safe because of the WPD. He says that now that the dept. is down 52 patrolman , which is forcing the WPD to become reactive. He says as the economy gets worse crime goes up.
9:11: He says the 330 patrolmen is “unsustainable number.” He’s asking council not to cut police jobs when tough decisions need to be made.
9:21: “Stretch” Energy Code debated. It’s sent to Econ. Dev. committee.
9:30: Palmieri congratulates Dr. Morse and Derek Brindisi for their H1N1 vaccinations over the winter.
9:31: Brindisi says Worcester has always some high rates of TB. Right now there are 9 active cases.
9:34: Canadian geese come up. Are they a health issue? Palmieri thinks yes. He says they are internationally protected, and there’s nothing we can do but not feed them, and hopefully they’ll leave.
9:36: Haller recalls a time when Dr. Morse threatened to close Elm Park because of the geese. That’s when they passed the do not feed the geese ordinance and border collies were brought around. She wants to know how close we are to getting funding “to get the collie out there.’
9:38: Brindisi says Dr. Morse is working on it.
9:40: Eddy says the geese at Green Hill Park are bad too (he also notes that it’s odd geese has become such a hot-button issue tonight).
9:41: Eddy asks how much a border collie costs for chasing the geese. Brindisi says there’s more involved than just purchasing, but feeding, training all cost money too.
9:42: Eddy says this is important because the golf course is a revenue producer for the city, and could produce more. He says competing courses buy, train and house dogs.
9:43: Toomey says Worcester is not the only community dealing with this. She asks if the state is helping with this. Brindisi says not to his knowledge.
9:46: Lukes wants to know how we clean up after geese. Yes, we’re talking about geese poop at city council. I think she also just proposed butchering the geese.
Note: Tonight we’ve had police interactions, interruptions from the gallery and talk about goose poop.
9:49: Lukes is grilling Brindisi about geese control. Brindisi says the city’s anti-geese patrol is working, Lukes says they’re just being shuffled around.
9:50: Recommend that One Hundred Twelve Thousand Dollars go to fund expenses related to labor relation arbitration and litigation for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2010. Lukes is all over this one.
9:57: They’re talking about S&K Valet again. Haller wants to hold it for when Clancy is here. That motion fails. Smith is all over this one, saying we shouldn’t hold business when a councilor is on vacation. He says this is a public safety issue because valet business is currently done in the middle of road because there’s no room for valet services. He says we’re not creating a new city ordinance–it’s simply passenger zones in the following areas: Commercial St. in front of One Exchange Place, in front of 166 Shrewsbury St., in front of 82 Winter St., and in front of 50 Front St.
9:59: Lukes explains she wants to hold it because it wasn’t on the actual agenda, but was tabled.
10:01: Haller speaks for Clancy. He wanted to know if this would compete with residential parking. Haller doesn’t understand why these four locations were chosen. Smith says this has zero impact on residential parking. He says they’re directly in front of a business. She wants to know if any of these businesses have residential housing above the business. Smith says at 86 Winter, yes, but it’s a no parking zone anyway where this would be created.