City Council live blog 4/12/11 — The “My friend went to see Noam Chomsky and all I got was this lousy live blog” edition

Posted by Jeremy Shulkin

A little late posting tonight, but the internet fairies were not smiling on me at city hall tonight.

7:18: Haller talks about Ride the Bus Week (April 25 to May 1). She took her grandson on his first bus ride, told the other riders that it was his first time, and they all broke into “The Wheels on the Bus.” She wants all Worcester residents to find time this week to ride the bus.

7:19: Joan Crowell says secondary land on already developed parcels should not be assumed as subdivided under an Approval Not Required. “One flaw in the system is when the assessor indiscriminately divides properties” assumed as additional developable land. “The assessor shouldn’t be making assumptions on what land could be subdivided without an ANR plan.” She has a handout that talks about discrepancies in the assessor’s land on Salisbury St. Haller wants a report on this.

7:27: Haller talks about Clark’s PILOT payment (their requests for Downing St. are all over the agenda). “There was to be a meeting on that transfer with the committee of public works on that tomorrow night…since that notification came out I’ve received several calls and comments from individuals within the effected area.” She says the decision was made to hold the item tomorrow night so there can be a community meeting at 7:00 on April 27 at Clark.

7:30: Palmieri wants a date for National Grid conduits at Coral, Waverly, Grafton, Franklin, Norfolk, Villa Nova, Plantaition and Northboro streets. Moylan says he’ll answer it in a report for next week.

7:33: Theodore Kostas and Craig Olson are appointed to the Citizens Advisory Council.

7:36: Haller talks about Keep Worcester Clean. “Worcester is a place where when the weather gets nice we say ‘Oh it’s spring!’ then we say ‘Oh, it’s spring.’” She says the city is cleaner than when the snow first melted, and thanks community efforts – Holy Cross by name – for making it so. Moylan DPW is street sweeping (“it’s going reasonable well, and I say ‘reasonably well’ because its only limitation is personnel, quite frankly”). He says there are only 3 street sweepers this year instead of 5. “I don’t see us at this rate finishing anytime before July 1. I wish I was here to tell you we had enough people to finish by May 31, which was our old deadline, but personnel is simply limiting what we can do.” Haller says the Chandler Business Association wants a local recycle bin distribution center in the area – possibly through the MLK Jr. center.

7:51: Clancy says in last year’s budget he (and Eddy and Palmieri) requested a cut so that the DPW could deal with the tree trimming/removal and stump removal backlog. “I do applaud the administration for staying with the process and raising concerns about these trees and stumps.” He says there are other areas in the city that need tree attention, especially outside ALB zones. “I’m not sure how much money we can get in next year for the stumps/tree removal,” Clancy says unoptimistically, noting we can’t afford street sweepers.

Palmieri says a comment that over 200 trees will have to replaced at Green Hill golf course because of ALB. He wants to know if that’s accurate. Moylan says there were a “handful” of trees taken by ALB last year, but those have been removed and no other infested trees have been found there since. “At least at this point in time…no additional trees were found to be infested with ALB in that park.” Palmieri wants a report about Matt Moison’s remarks on this 200 number, and whether or not the USDA will be injecting trees at Green Hill. Eddy brings up burm repair too – “I get in tough economic times it’s easy to dismiss this as fluff…I remind my colleagues that in tough economic times…to remember the quality of life of our residents.” Moylan says there are nearly 500 stumps, that would cost around $90,000 to $100,000 to remove them all. He thinks they can get to about 1/3 of them this year. Eddy wants to know as the street and sidewalk scaping begins this year if stump removal can be rolled into it. “We are clearly coordinating the work to be done from property line to property line,” Moylan says. It sounds like if a stump to be removed is in the way, then it’ll come out. They’re also coordinating where new trees should be planted. “Think of the road resurfacing program solving all the ills that may exist from property line to property line: stumps, trees, drainage, signage.”

Clancy goes back to the article Palmieri cited before. He says it was an “odd” comment to say the trees up at the golf course will be devastated because that’s the opposite of the information the council has received. He wants “the real story” to get up there.

Tobacco ordinance discussion:

8:05: Monica Lowell of West Boylston and VP for community programs at UMass Memorial Health Care. She’s in favor of the tobacco ordinance. She says this program could stop almost 6,000 Worcester kids from becoming smokers and reducing health care costs $45 million city-wide. “As you think about your decision today, this would have long-term impact in reducing the cost of health care.”

Tony Abud, from Northbrook, IL, representing National brand tobacco. He points out the Blunt wrap ban. “The limitations they might impose [in other parts of the ordinance]…could be undone by the inclusion by the blunt wrap ordinance.” He says Blunt wrappers are a “legal product.” “Why would you want to outlaw this particular single product in your community.” He says even though it’s been identified as drug paraphrenelia, the customs agency already ruled it as not a drug paraphrenelia under the Federal Drug Customs Act because the product is not “intended” for use with illicit drugs. “The problem that we find with the ordinance is that it takes a global approach.”

He has visual aides. He says blunts first started by taking cigars, splitting them open and filling them with marijuana. “What this ordinance does is it singles out one particular product and it says ‘this one is ok, but this one is not ok.’” He says National Tobacco’s blunt wraps say on the packaging that they should be used with National Tobacco. He says this is subject to legal challenge if it passes. “In 20 state legislatures this issue has been addressed and rejected every time.”

Robyn Johnston of Worcester says she stand up for her future, to be the voice, for the millions of people who died in general, and relatives whose quality of life have suffered because of smoking. “We the youth are here fighting. We’ve been fighting for four years now…I’m asking you to support us. Help us make a difference. Help us save lives.”

Vern Johnson, Warren, MA, VP of operations for Honey Farms and VP of New England Convenience Store Association says he understands this is an “emotional issue.” But he says tobacco is a legal product and “should be sold as such.” He says the language in the ordinance is “very broad.” He says the Honey Farms on Foster St., under a MCPHS building, would have to close because of the way the ordinance is written. “With regard to the blunt wraps, again, it is a legal product.” On signage, “as a retailer we need to market the products we have to our customers…prohibiting signage to be hung and restricted in a place…is very far reaching in regard to the first amendment.”

A resident from Worcester says she’s in support of the ordinance. “I hope we can make the right choice…this is a case that we need to sacrifice…for the good of our community.”

Worcester Public Health Commission Dr. Dale Magee addresses the council, saying premature death (death before the age of 75) in Worcester is 1/3 because of cardiovascular disease and cancer. 40% of cancer deaths are from lung cancer. 50% of premature death from cancer is due to smoking. We’re higher than the state average, and where the state average was 20 years ago. Over a quarter of people 24 to 28 percent in Worcester smoke. It comes down as ages go up because “some people quit smoking and some people quit breathing.”

“Most of the marketing is aimed at people who are going to take up smoking. It’s not aimed at people who are switching brands…that is something to be concerned about…studies have been done that show young people are 60% more likely to start smoking because of advertising.”

He says 10% of permits for smoking are for pharmacies or grocery stores that have pharmacies. Ordinance like this in other towns show a decrease in the number of places that sell cigarettes. Boston’s smoking rate was under 16% (the state average) when their similar ordinance went into place.

Eddy says “there is quite a bit in this ordinance to like…smoking at 23 percent is simply too high.” “When councils get involved between businesses, it’s a slippery slope…absolutely, providing better health for our citizens is a huge priority, and if I thought this measure on pharmacies would reduce the smoking rate, then I might be there…but to turn around and say some can sell tobacco and some can’t…” “This was well intentioned and I share the passion and goal of reducing smoking. This doesn’t do it.”

He asks the solicitor to point out the four distinct parts of the ordinance: advertising, blunt wraps, education ban and health institution ban. He wants the votes taken separately so councilors can vote yes or no based on each part. “Having government get in the way of a competitive situation between businesses is not the way to do this…just because we can does not make it right.” He has harsh words for the Chamber of Commerce that supports this too, saying “this says more about the Chamber of Commerce and their ability to represent businesses.”

8:31: Toomey says she was 12 when her older brother challenged her to smoke her grandpa’s Camel cigarettes, which she says got her hooked. 18-20 years ago she chose to stop smoking “because I wanted to spend time with my family, to see my family grow up, to hopefully see my grandchildren.” She says she too lost family members to cancer. “It’s probably the biggest epidemic out there right now. Cancer is a horrific thing. I want our young people to not smoke. I don’t think that this is going to make that happen…the places that you’re buying cigarettes from are not the supermarkets with the drug stores, they’re the corner markets, the gas stations.” She does acknowledge that most smoking advertising is aimed at the inner city youth. “I think the better way would be to ask the stores that have cigarettes in them to help support the tobacco education program” that has lost funding which used to go into schools.

“If we really want to make an impact, to minimize the smoking for our youth, then we should focus on the existing laws…I don’t see what’s being proposed as making a difference…I do have a problem with telling a convenience store chain or a local business is they can’t sell because they might be affiliated with a business” or they have a pharmacy.

8:37: Palmieiri says “sometimes I’m surprised by what my colleagues say and do. Quite honestly tonight I’m stunned by some of their remarks.” He calls this a huge and important issue “but we’re being distracted by some of the councilors saying this isn’t the issue, it’s the reduction of smoking.” He says yes, this is an issue, (“a global issue”) but “when I hear such statements that the pharmacy is at an undue advantage in that they won’t be able to sell cigarettes anymore, and that the Honey Farms is going to be able to win that fight…they only have 20 stores – they might have to shut down one store, I doubt it…that it doesn’t make a difference to stop the sale of cigarettes in a pharmacy – how the heck can anyone believe it?”

“It’s lobbyists over children. That’s the issue. It’s the lobbyists. This wasn’t an issue until two weeks ago until people started getting calls from their lobbyist friends.” (That comments gets a rise out of a number of his co-councilors.)

He says people shouldn’t walk into a pharmacy to “get the drugs they need to be healed” they shouldn’t also be able to “get the drugs that will simultaneously kill them.” Then, at a dig to those not voting for this he says “For them [tobacco] probably should be in schools as well.” That gets the councilors riled up and they tell him to sit down. Rushton calls this an emotional issue and Germain says “it wasn’t until five minutes ago.”

Solicitor Moore and Rushton talk about the Honey Farms on Foster St. Rushton says the language would be tweaked to allow this particular chain to survive. “As it reads here, is that allowable?” Moore says no amendment has been proposed. Rushton asks if he can add language “in the next few minutes to make it possible.” Moore says it could be done “via interpretation of the language in front of you,” but he’s worried about making special exemptions. “You can’t treat similar places differently because then you run into an equal protection problem.”

“When you think of banning tobacco sales on an educational campus, you think of a traditional campus,” Moore says. MCPHS is different, so maybe an amendment could be made to make that exception.

Rushton says the smoking ban in restaurants was one of the best ordinances passed by the council a few years ago. He says “there was a carved out exception for people who sold 80 percent of their products related to smoking” like cigar bars. He calls the outdoor advertising ban “landmark – a shot heard round the nation.”

Petty points out that the city of Worcester is 20 years behind the state. “That’s a major problem…maybe this is unfair. Maybe it’ll be in court. But we’ve got to start somewhere.” He says that with the restaurant smoking bans you can still go to a private club and smoke. He also doesn’t have much pity for stores that lose their ability to sell cigarettes. He wonders how much of the health care cost increases are due to smoking.

Germain starts off by saying he knows no lobbyists except for former Sheriff Glodis, and takes serious issue with Palmieri’s comments. He talks about watching his father chain smoke. “Right now we finally have the first Germain that passed the age of 50” because all died of smoking-related issues. He personally has cardio-vascular disease but has never smoked.

“I concur with everybody that we have a huge problem in our city with our premature death rates, but don’t tell me that banning it at CVS when they can just walk 5 steps to White Hen and get their cigarettes…It’s not going to stop anyone from smoking. It might take 30 seconds out of their day.”

“If you want to talk about ‘where’s CVS, where’s Walgreens,’ they’re national chains. They don’t comment on local issues…I would support any effort to help educate any young person in this community to not smoke.” He says he has a no-cigarette pact with his fourteen year old son. “There’s nothing worse: it stinks. It kills people. But, it’s legal.” He says he’d have a legitimate discussion about an ordinance that would ban smoking in all of Worcester, but doesn’t like one that bans it only from certain places. “Doing this is an overreach and it’s something this municipal government should stay out of.”

Smith says “obviously this issue has brought about a serious amount of emotion.” He wants to deal with the facts: smoking is bad, we want to stop people smoking in Worcester, and keep kids from smoking. “We should have a goal of getting (the smoking rate) below the state average.” He doesn’t think this ban will reduce the smoking rate. He likens this to banning parking on one street, but cars just start parking on another street. “It’s going to shift where people purchase their cigarettes from. I want to get to the root of the problem.”

“I think government is overstepping its bounds by saying you can get a legal product at one place but not the other.” He credits the work by the HOPE Coalition and Palmieri though.

Lukes offers congratulations to the HOPE Coaltion. “You’ve practically brought the city council to its heels.”

She says she was impressed by the HOPE Coalition during subcommittee hearings, but said then she wanted to hear the other side. (She also says ordinances shouldn’t be rewritten on the floor.) She says what changed her mind today was when Dr. Magee said convenience stores and gas stations sell more cigarettes than pharmacies did, and this ordinance would help the convenience stores and gas stations. She says they also don’t know if Boston’s ban reduced Boston’s smoking rate. “It would probably be more fair and more comprehensive to have a total ban, but nobody’s suggesting that.”

She asks Moore if the ban on blunt wrappers goes through, could the implementation be delayed until Boston’s is figured out in court? “I don’t want to engage in unnecessary litigation. It’s clear we’re heading in that direction.” Moore says yes.

Haller says this ordinance was supposed to help the city take control of it’s own tobacco laws, thanks to the US Congress’ passage of the Tobacco Control Act of 2009. She points to a line in the congressional finding that stringent tobacco laws limit tobacco use. She says it’s time for Worcester to take control. “I believe this is in the best interest of Worcester on many levels…I believe it’s time for us to make history.”

Clancy says he supports all four ordinances, even as a “sometimes fallen off the wagon” smoker. He says he remembers councilors and a mayor that would smoke in the chamber, though he says he never did. (He tells the story of how smoking was banned in the chamber.)

He has three main issues: 1) “Compelling testimony from Dr. Magee,” 2) Young people and citizens addressing the council and working on this proposal. “This wasn’t initiated by the council. This was initiated by the citizens and a lot of young people. I want to support their efforts. 3) “Consistancy.” He says CVS and Walgreens are pharmacies, and their aisles are full of medicine. If a clerk there tells a smoker they don’t carry cigarettes because they’re a store that sells health products, “I think sends another strong message to the person who has been crippled by the addiction of tobacco.” He gets a round of applause from the gallery.

Eddy says we can disagree about the inter-relations between pharmacies and convenience stores, but there’s a better way to reduce the availability of cigarettes. Like having a lottery about what stores can sell cigarettes where. “I’ve been on this body for three years. I’ve made it a point to be collegial at all times…to impugn each others’ motivation, we need to be careful about that.”

Smith wants the administration to look at successes other communities have had to reduce the smoking rate so those methods can be adopted here.

Palmieri says “there’s always discussions on this council floor where a number of councils get excited about critical issues…I don’t think this body can send a clearer message” than voting for this ordinance. “It is an absolute critical issue. We do applaud those involved…In an issue that is this important, if there isn’t passion than we’re not going to go anywhere.” He says the question is about whether or not pharmacies should be able to sell cigarettes and whether signs should advertisement. “It has had a profound influence on me and I think it’s important to show the rest of the city and the rest of the state and the rest of the country that we will do the right thing…we should stop the excuses and vote it.”

O’Brien claims ditto on Clancy’s speech in lieu of his own, and thanks those who came to speak and Solicitor Moore.

Roll call on Eddy’s motion to strip the ordinance into four votes: All vote yes.

Moore reminds everyone that they’re voting to advertise, not to pass the ordinance.

Vote 1: To ban cigarette sales in health care centers/pharmacies: Clancy Haller Palmieri Petty Rushton O’Brien all vote yes, Eddy Germain Lukes Smith Toomey all vote No. 6 to 5, the motion carries

Vote 2: To advertise the blunt wrap ban: Clancy Y Eddy Y Germain N Haller Y Lukes Y Palmieri Y Petty Y Rushton Y Smith Y Toomey Y O’Brien Y 10-1, the motion carries. Lukes wants that delayed pending litigation in Boston

Vote 3: Educational campus ban: Clancy Y Eddy Y Germain Y Haller Y Lukes Y Palmieri Y Petty Y Smith Y Toomey Y O’Brien Y

Vote 4: Outdoor advertising: Clancy Y Eddy Y Germain Y Haller Y Lukes Y Palmieri Y Petty Y Rushton N Smith Y Toomey Y O’Brien Y

Vote to amend the ordinance that would exempt institutions where 80% of gross revenue comes from tobacco products: Clancy Y Eddy Y Germain Y Haller N Lukes Y Palmieri Y Petty Y Rushton Y Smith Y Toomey Y O’Brien N

Vote to delay implementation of blunt wrap ban: Clancy N Eddy N Germain Y Haller N Lukes Y Palmieri N Petty N Rushton Y Smith Y Toomey Y O’Brien N. Motion fails, 6-5.

Keep in mind these votes are only to advertise the ordinance, not to pass it. That’s why people who spoke out against it still voted yes. But, it looks like it’s going to pass when the next vote comes.

Back to the agenda:

Clancy again commends M.O’Brien for his health care plans, and reminds people that retirees won’t be moved unless they want to be.

Palmieri wants to know about Lincoln St. construction. He’s concerned that it’s blocking access to businesses there. He wants to make sure businesses are notified when construction is about to start.

“It’s clear that our CDCs are probably the best strategy to improving the economic viability of our neighborhoods,” says Lukes. She points out the Chandler Business Association as a private group doing similar work, and doesn’t want them to compete with each other. “I think we need to start looking in a new way to our CDCs…as an economic development tool.” She wants to know if “economic/business development projects can be initiated and implemented by community development corporations.”

10:02: Palmieri brings up the upcoming closure of Putnam Lane. He wants there to be a 30 day notice. “Maybe electronic signs throughout the neighborhood so that everyone will know that this will take place.”

10:09: Rushton says “Meadow Lane is in my mind and in my heart.” They’re having an issue with frost heaves. “It’s in the middle of the street and it’s dangerous.”

10:11: Smith wants limited parking on behalf of Overtime Tap on Franklin St.

10:11: O’Brien wants a list of the top 250 wage earners broken down by what town/city they reside in.



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5 responses to “City Council live blog 4/12/11 — The “My friend went to see Noam Chomsky and all I got was this lousy live blog” edition

  1. Is it before they take it off the map? That’s a lot of work to ask for!

  2. Cover it live not loading…

  3. Would be nice if half the city were turned into a walking plaza like Clark is proposing for Downing Street – so tired of dodging cars…

    On Noam Chomsky:
    That Left Gatekeeper always attempts to step carefully over the only issues that really affect all of us:

    He gives away the fact that he really does know the truth with the idiotic statement he makes from 3:55 to 4:00:

  4. -Q

    8:37 pm Palmieri quote: “sometimes I’m suprised by what my colleagues say and do”
    Nothing suprising here……maybe “four loko palmieri” should try staying awake during the city council meetings so he does not get shocked and suprised by the going ons……….
    The city council led by “four loko palmieri” is on the verge of stamping out free speech in our city and the right of businesses to sell legal taxable products………..depending on what kind of business you are in dictate whether you get “four loko palmieris” blessings to sell the legal product.
    Banning legal taxable products and telling taxpaying business owners what they can/cant sell and how they will advertise their products. Restricting private property homeowners on how many political signs they may be allowed to place on their taxed property is absolutely ridiculous and un-American………….Apparently there is no budget crisis here in the city when the city council resorts to creating issues rather than resolving issues…like maybe the budget deficit?

  5. Boots

    Smoke, smoke, smoke those cigarettes! Spend all the money you want on those silly studies that say kids smoke because of advertising when the fact still remains that they start smoking because of peer pressure.

    Banning the sale of legal products from a legal retail company seems to me to come under the heading of “Restraint Of Trade.” Maybe the worms from Wormtown have crawled into the ears of our City counselors while they sleep and ate their brains?

    How’s about “we the people” find out what things our City counsel like to do and then get petitions to ban them? Better yet, throw them out and replace them with people who want to solve real problems.

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