1. Kalamata, Greece: Sister City Update
Our new “sister city” relationship with the city that gifted us both Yanni and its olives is already bearing more fruit. In April of this year, Lowell formally entered into an agreement with Kalamata based on a “collective interest to broaden and strengthen ties between the two cities.” As, “[t]hey place similar values on scholarship, tourism, economic development, and the renovation of old industrial mill buildings.” More recently, a delegation, headed by Mayor Chau was able to travel to Greece to begin cementing the partnership.
This relationship seems to have potential to extend beyond mere symbolism as it was announced that plans are underway for educational opportunities between the two cities. A representative from Middlesex Community College reported that plans are afoot for exchange programs that will allow students in each country to partake in educational opportunities. No word as to whether my Greek sister website will be sending me to Greece this winter to report on the Kalamata City Council.
2. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training
In late August Manager Golden announced a partnership between the City of Lowell and Middlesex Community College (‘MCC’) regarding training for the municipal workforce on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion (‘DEI’).
The first class of trainees were present last night to receive certificates from MCC confirming that they had completed the DEI training (photo above. Not Yanni, the other one). Participants from both the city and MCC offered rave reviews of both the programming as well as the high level of participation and engagement on the part of the city employees. Moving forward, new “classes” of city employees will undergo the training and continue the momentum.
3. LAZ, My Azz
The city pays a pretty penny to an outfit named LAZ Parking to manage operations of its parking garages. In response to a motion filed by Councilor Robinson, it was reported that:
The city experiences on average one issue per week where multiple customers are stuck at a gate
for any number of reasons. In most cases, an attendant is in the office or within the facility
performing other duties. In the cases where there is no attendant in the garage during a specific
shift or due to a call in, there is an attendant available, via a phone call, within 5 minutes or less.
The Parking Dept. has been working with LAZ to staff needed positions and maintain properMotion Response: C. Robinson – Have Parking Department Provide A Report On How Many Incidences Of Patrons Being Stuck In Parking Garages In Past Year And What Corrective Measures Have Been Taken.
staffing at key times of day
In addition to the written response, Terry Ryan the Parking Director as well as Dave Edwards from LAZ were on hand to explain why people are stuck in garages and are expected to call a vague cellphone number for rescue. The excuse, this time, boils down to staffing and equipment issues.
I’m generally not a fan of privatization of public services. Whether it’s trash pick-up, parking, or any other endeavor, I usually come away with the sense that we don’t get what we pay for. However, I will concede that one of the alleged benefits of privatization is that the government can: (a) draft favorable contract terms and (b) loudly blame the corporation when things go wrong. Nevertheless, in Lowell, the following scenario plays out time and again:
- City and company sign a contract;
- City agrees to pay company huge sums of money and company agrees to provide a service;
- Company breaks contract;
- Citizens get pissed and complain;
- Motion is filed;
- City administration assures us that it “just had a meeting with company” and “boy oh boy did we read them the riot act;”
- City starts making excuses for the company: Covid, staffing, weather, Mercury in retrograde, etc., or
- City gaslights citizens – ie: “Actually, your trash WAS picked up on time…”
- Company switches contractors, a new administration comes in, or company rep is replaced and a new series of excuses begins;
- Accountability nowhere to be found.
Credit is due to Councilors Mercier and Gitschier for pressing the overlooked detail that LAZ signed a three year contract and is not delivering what they have promised. Hopefully our way of doing business on these matters evolves in the near future. Specifically, we can start drafting more favorable terms or actually enforcing existing terms.
4. New Energy Advocate
Good stuff here. Hot on the heels of a series of recent motions dealing with rising energy costs, the city announced the hire of Victor Vargas as our new Energy Advocate. Mr. Vargas addressed the council and discussed some of the ways that he can help citizens lower energy costs. Specifically, Mr. Vargas will work 1:1 with people seeking energy bill solutions. Mr. Vargas has office hours Tuesdays from 4:30-6:30 PM and Thursdays from 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM.
Here at the Citizen offices, we have also unveiled our Winter 2022/23 energy savings program. You are free to borrow:
5. We Made the Store 38 Parking Lot a Street
Well, well, well…if it isn’t the consequence of our own actions. Prior to the closure of Gold Star, the last great attempt to improve public safety at the intersection of Rt. 38/Laurel St./Fairmount dates back to 2018. At that time, the MassDOT began implementing a plan aimed a reducing the number of accidents at the location. Sounds good, however one feature was the elimination of access to Laurel Street from the Route 38 southbound and Boylston Street eastbound approaches. The problem is that an “unintended” consequence of restricting access to Laurel Street is an increase in motorists “cutting through” the parking lot of Store 38. In October of this year, Mr. Nitin Patel, the owner of Store 38, addressed the council to seek a solution to these dangerous cut-throughs. In response to a motion on this issue, it was reported that during a recent afternoon observation period, our Transportation Engineer observed cut through movements approximately every five minutes, which equates to an average of 10-12 vehicles per hour. In other words, we’ve turned a parking lot into a street and turned a dangerous intersection into a dangerous parking lot.
These consequences may have been unintended, but we can’t say that they were unforeseen. Indeed, in 2018, Mr. Patel and over 230 neighbors submitted a petition to the city opposing the DOT plan:
As per the motion response, the Transportation Engineer “recognizes that the vehicles cutting through the parking lot is a frustrating situation.” However, no changes to the configuration are recommended. Rather, the following solutions were suggested:
• Install speed bumps within the parking lot to discourage cut through traffic and slow vehicle
speeds. Speed bumps are unlikely to deter regular or new patrons of the store.
• Physically create two parking lots with travel between the two lots prohibited. No customer
access would be lost.
• Fully close the Laurel Street driveway and provide all access via the Fairmount Street
driveway. No customer access would be lost.
• Request periodic enforcement by Lowell Police Department of the “No Thru Traffic”
I can appreciate that there has been a reduction in crashes at this location. However, it’s a tough pill to swallow when DOT engineers trample the will of residents in executing their plans and the city is left to clean up the mess.