Split Decision:50/50 Night for Reimagining Broadway as Council Wrestles with Legalities

Split Decision:50/50 Night for Reimagining Broadway as Council Wrestles with Legalities

There’s still time to reimagine Broadway.

Or at least a few stretches of the $5 million traffic project city officials have been working on for close to two years.

Monday night, the City Council delivered a split decision on the Reimagining Broadway downtown traffic proposal following a presentation by Alexander Train, the city’s assistant director of planning and director.

The most controversial aspect of the project, converting the section of Broadway from Bellingham Square to Chelsea Square from a one-way street to a two-way street with increased smart traffic signalization at several intersections, was sent back to the Traffic and Parking Commission for revision.

Councillors also opposed, by a narrow margin, the plans for the improvement of the Bellingham Square portion of the project. However, the Council did give its okay to two portions of the proposal tied to Fay and Chelsea Squares themselves.

The debate over Reimagining Broadway included several short recesses as Councillors debated in smaller groups the legality of how the vote was proceeding, and what a split vote would mean for the overall project. City officials kicked off Reimagining Broadway in the beginning of 2017 as a way to improve the downtown streets for motorists, pedestrians, and public transit.

During one of the breaks, a call was made to the City’s legal counsel to make sure the Council could legally split the vote on Reimagining Broadway into four sections, according to District 5 Councillor Judith Garcia. However, legal counsel drew the line at, and the majority of the councillors agreed, that amendments to the four sections beyond what was presented to the Council were not legally in order.

By the end of the evening, there was still some concern as to what the Council had accomplished.

“I just want to be clear on what the Council voted on,” said District 8 Councillor Calvin Brown as Council President Damali Vidot gaveled the two-hour meeting to a close.

“I’m not diminishing the hard work of the City staff, but I am asking that they go back to the drawing board and come back with options A, B, and C,” said Vidot, who voted ‘no’ on each section of the proposal.

Vidot also said she was uncomfortable passing the Reimagining Broadway plan through piecemeal without knowing what that would mean for the project as a whole.

“I don’t know what it means to approve one part and deny another,” she said.

Going back to the drawing board would provide a better opportunity to reach out to Chelsea’s citizens, Vidot said.

“Let’s reach out and do a better job,” she said. “We can do better, let’s go back to the drawing board.”

But Garcia said the time has come to put the plans in motion, especially when it comes to the safety of her constituents.

“I am excited to bring change to Broadway and hopeful of the possibilities it can create in the downtown,” said Garcia. “But one of the key messages we keep forgetting is safety.”

Garcia pointed to the addition of a traffic signal in front of a senior and handicapped housing building at 272 Broadway as one of the safety benefits of the project.

“That is a dangerous intersection,” she said. “When I ran for election in 2015, I promised to try to make is safer for them. Today, what we are being presented with is a concept. What we are voting on today is not set in stone.”

During his presentation, Train stressed that the Council was only giving its okay on conceptual plans.

“There will be more engineering and design details in preparation for construction,” he said. That process would also include more opportunity for public input, as well as plans on how the project would be phased over time to minimize construction impacts for local businesses and residents.

ONE WAY OR TWO?

The most heated debate on the nuts and bolts of Reimagining Broadway itself was easily the proposal to convert Broadway from a one-way to a two-way street from Bellingham Square to Chelsea Square.

Train presented two versions of the plan.

The one recommended to the Council called for 11-½ foot travel lanes in each direction with sidewalks and parking on each side of the street. The second proposal included just a single travel lane with the sidewalks and parking along with a dedicated bicycle lane.

Several councillors, including Vidot, said they were concerned that converting to a two-way street would make Broadway more, not less, dangerous for pedestrians and motorists.

There was also a difference of opinion among councillors, and long-time Chelsea residents, Leo Robinson and Giovanni Recupero, who couldn’t even come to a consensus on whether the road was safe when it was a two-way street in the 1960s.

Robinson, who supported the two-way proposal, said he grew up on Broadway and there was a good flow of traffic on the street at that time.

But Recupero said going back to the past would only make a bad situation worse.

“My constituents do not want it and say it is crazy with traffic already,” he said. “It didn’t work then and I don’t think it will work now.”

Some of the legal wrangling during the evening centered on Councillor-at-Large Roy Avellaneda attempting to strike out some of the language in the proposal, essentially keeping Broadway one-way, but including the traffic lights and other improvements for the road as presented by Train.

“I do not want to support a two-way Broadway, but the residents need and deserve the traffic lights,” said Avellaneda.

But after the call to the city solicitor, the Council voted that Avellaneda’s move to strike language from the initial proposal was the same as an amendment to the proposal.

The two sections of Reimagining Broadway will now go back to the Traffic and Parking Commission for revision before being brought back to the City Council.

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Community Preservation Committee Talks Future Money for Residents

Community Preservation Committee Talks Future Money for Residents

A recent Chelsea Community Workshop on the Community Preservation Act (CPA) witnessed a vibrant community come out to speak about future investments they want to see in their respective neighborhoods, and the newly-established Community Preservation Committee (CPC) said they are there to help residents accomplish those goals.

Taking place in the main room of Chelsea’s senior center, residents poured in at on Sept. 27, and listen to local committee members present the growing potential of tax revenues collected as part of the CPA, which was passed in Nov. 2016 by Chelsea voters. To date, there has yet to be any projects designated for development by CPA funds.

Jennifer Goldson, founder and Managing Director for JM Goldson, presented the main purpose of the community workshop. Goldson presented the most viable options to the community and get them the most for their money’s worth, while also collecting their opinions on the matter to engage the community’s wants directly.

“We have to prioritize how we use that money and be smart about it,” Goldson said.

Goldson said an estimated $1.46 million has been collected from taxpayers for the CPA in 2017-18, and is available for future investment possibilities.

The CPA, which was passed with 66.5 percent of the vote, allows Chelsea to have direct control over tax revenue collected through residential and commercial properties at a rate of 1.5 percent, which is also matched by state government assistance. This new tax revenue requires a 10 percent commitment to three categories: historic preservation, community housing, along with open space and outdoor recreation programs.

Totaling 30 percent for these three mandatory categories, the CPC presented varying ideas to the community about how they’d best like to allot the remaining 70 percent.

“As time goes on the priorities of our communities change,” Jose Iraheta, chair of the CPC  stated as he greeted the crowd in both English and Spanish, adding “We really need your help to pick between the three brackets.”

Iraheta addressed those in attendance coming in by asking them to tally a total of seven points into the three categories presented for allocating the appropriate tax funds for Chelsea to choose from. Residents walked up to tally their choices with the overwhelming majority of these votes going to community housing funding.

Voting for specific returns in the community proved popular amongst those in attendance, with Goldson conducting a series of small polls to gauge what the public felt was most necessary to invest in from each of the three categories.  Additionally, Goldson also asked everyone in attendance to write down their ideas on the paper table covers in order to later collect them and determine which ideas were most eligible.

Presented in a matrix of potential possibilities Goldson displayed a few of the options residents could choose to focus on, including: new housing, home ownership programs, preferences for low-income families, stewardship of historic buildings, creating community gardens or waterfront access, improving existing parks, and preservation of natural resources.

Bea Cravatta, director of Chelsea’s Recreation and Cultural Affairs division, collected information about the demographics of the meeting through a 10 question poll.

“Great turnout today, a good mix of ages, profound interest, and collaboration has been the most exciting thing for me to see,” Cravatta said.

During the last half hour, residents were allowed to take the microphone to represent each table they were sitting at.

Some residents, like former City Councillor Matthew Frank, raised valid concerns.

“Instead of creating new open space, we need to clean up what we already have,” Frank stated in reference to existing open space problems the City already has on the Harbor Walk and other locations.

The CPC must present any and all ideas before City Council for approval after creating a Community Development Plan. The City Council retains the power to approve, deny or lower the allotted funds for project ideas.

The CPC will convene again in November at a date to be announced, and will present their viable future investment options in December.

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Schools Look to Restore Some Positions with Additional State Money

Schools Look to Restore Some Positions with Additional State Money

Chelsea School officials are looking for one last vote from the City Council in order to restore several cut positions from the existing School Department Budget, this after getting nearly $1 million in additional funds from the state recently.

Supt. Mary Bourque said it was nice to get the additional monies, but she didn’t want anyone to think that it has ended the funding problems in the Chelsea schools.

“We were actually not ‘held harmless’ because that fund was only funded at 56 percent,” she said. “We should have received $1.1 million if we were really held harmless. I’m thankful, but they are still not addressing the funding gap. We’ve applied a very small Band-Aid to a large wound…I don’t want the community to think we fixed this. This is $900,000, but we had a $3.2 million budget gap.”

Supt. Mary Bourque said a combination of additional monies came in in September from State Legislature appropriations for English Language Learners and for the “hold harmless” fund to help districts with uncounted low-income students.

Bourque said Chelsea was able to get $630,000 for ELL students, and another $296,000 for the “hold harmless” account. That equaled $926,000 that they were able to appropriate to restore “painful” cuts made during last spring’s budget process.

Bourque said with the ELL money they were able to bring back two crossing guards, restore one yellow bus route, a special education teacher at the Clark Avenue Middle, a special education paraprofessional and intervention tutors.

Meanwhile, she said the “hold harmless” monies will be used to, among other things, restore a full-time librarian that will operate at Chelsea High School 75 percent of the time, and the Mary C. Burke Complex 25 percent of the time.

The librarian cut was controversial because it accompanied cuts in the previous years to librarians at the elementary school. The restoration allows a librarian presence at both the high school and elementary school once again.

“The reason we split the time is because two years ago we cut the elementary librarian completely and we’ve gone a full year without a librarian down there,” she said. “I’m all for the digital technology piece, but I also feel you instill the love of reading in children when you put a book in their hands. The 25 percent at the Complex isn’t enough for me and I want more time there going down the road.”

The School Committee has approved the acceptance of the additional monies, and the Council has had one reading on the issue. They are expected to vote on it at their Oct. 15 meeting.

MCAS results at Chelsea High reflect high dropout rate from surge of unaccompanied minors

The School Department has received the public rollout of the MCAS results for the district and the schools ranked in the lowest 10 percent of districts statewide, with Chelsea High School particularly cited for having a high dropout rate.

Supt. Mary Bourque said five of the district’s schools did well, with two flatlining and Chelsea High declining.

The results have qualified the district as one of 59 statewide that are required to have state assistance.

Bourque said the dropout rate hasn’t been a major issue at CHS in the past, but she said the change comes as a result of the unaccompanied minor surge that happened about four years ago. The dropout rate is a four-year look at the students starting and graduating.

“The kids we’re getting now are from the major surge we had four years ago and that’s the reason we’re seeing the graduation rate issue,” she said. “You don’t feel that for four years down the road. However, we’re going to continue to feel it.”

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Trash Talk:City Manager Calls for Consideration of Universal Trash Fee as Rates Rise for Water, Sewer and Trash

Trash Talk:City Manager Calls for Consideration of Universal Trash Fee as Rates Rise for Water, Sewer and Trash

City Manager Tom Ambrosino told the City Council he believes it might be time to start a discussion about charging everyone a trash fee in the coming years as costs continue to rise for rubbish collection and recycling.

This came at the same time that he announced water and sewer rates would increase by 7.95 percent this year and the existing trash fee would climb 10 percent over last year.

Currently, trash fees are only charged to properties that are not owner-occupied. However, Ambrosino said it might be time to change all that.

“This new trash fee represents an increase of 10 percent,” he said. “Residential owners will pay an additional $32.88 annually as a result of this increase. I recognize that annual increases of 10 percent are painful, but even with this increase we will not cover the cost of our trash system with our fees. I have mentioned for some time that the City should consider changes to our current rate structure for Solid Waste Disposal. Specifically, I suggest we start the discussion of at least some nominal fee for owner occupied units. Otherwise, 10-plus percent increases will be the norm for the foreseeable future.”

The trash rate will increase to $30.09 monthly for residential property and $141.96 monthly for commercial units in mixed buildings.

Meanwhile, for water and sewer rates – which affect every homeowner – the combined rate increase will be 7.95 percent over last year. The average water user can assume a bill of $1,776 annual for water and sewer charges.

The water rate alone will go up 6 percent, and the sewer rate alone will go up 9 percent. Together, they arrive at the combined rate increase of 7.95 percent for residential users.

For Tier 1 users, the combined rate is $14.80 per hundred cubic feet.

The rates went into effect on July 1, but a Monday’s Council meeting Councillor Bob Bishop was quick to criticize.

“The water and sewer rates in Chelsea are too high,” he said. “I think we should be doing everything we can to hold the line or decrease these rates every year. Other cities and towns aren’t charging the rates we charge…It seems to be a feeding trough at the water and sewer department. I don’t like it.”

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Chelsea Cultural Council Grants to Support Art and Cultural Projects

Chelsea Cultural Council Grants to Support Art and Cultural Projects

Chelsea Cultural Council has received $21,900 from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) a state agency, to assist public projects that promote access, education, diversity and excellence in the arts, humanities and sciences.

Council members will be available to discuss grant procedure and guidelines on Monday, September 24 from 2-6 p.m. in the lobby of the Williams Building, 180 Walnut Street.

Organizations, schools, individuals are encouraged to apply for grant funds that can be used to support a variety of artistic and cultural projects that benefit citizens in Chelsea – including field trips, exhibits, festivals, short-term arts residencies or performances in schools as well as cultural workshops and lectures.  Projects awarded must be implemented between January, 2019 and December 31, 2019.

The deadline for completed Online Application must be received by October 15, 2018.

Online Application is available at  www.mass-culture.org/chelsea.  Guidelines can be picked up at Chelsea City Hall, Dept. of Health & Human Services, Room 100 or find it at  www.chelseama.gov/ccc.  For additional information call (617) 466-4090 or email  culturalcouncil@chelseama.gov.

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Council Seeks Further Study of Two-Way Broadway

Council Seeks Further Study of Two-Way Broadway

Facing many critics from the public that showed up to speak against two-way Broadway, the City Council on Monday decided to defer any vote and, instead, hold a Committee on Conference to review the matter.

In August, the Traffic Commission voted 5-1 to approve the two-way plan, as well as a spate of many other non-controversial changes to Fay Square, Chelsea Square, Bellingham Square and City Hall Avenue.

Council President Damali Vidot called for the committee, and the Council approved the move. She said they had until Oct. 6 to hold the meeting and to have a vote of the full Council. The City Council must approve all actions of the Traffic Commission, but if they do not do so by Oct. 6, the Commission’s approval will become law.

Many on the Council have not made their opinions known yet, but some have, and ultimately the fate of two-way Broadway will fall on the votes of 11 members of the Council.

Council President Vidot has been critical of the idea, and has particularly disagreed with the planning process that has unfolded over the past two years. In the past, she has been against the change.

Councillor Leo Robinson, however, said this week he is in favor of two-way Broadway.

“I’m a two-way Broadway guy,” he said.

Councillor Joe Perlatonda has also spoke in favor of the plan, and said the one-way plan is dangerous because it calls for cars to park outside of the protected bike lane. He said that would leave those exiting their cars in a dangerous position with oncoming traffic and with oncoming bicyclists.

Meanwhile, Councillor Bob Bishop said he doesn’t buy the idea of two-way Broadway. To this point, he said he isn’t convinced it’s a good change.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino and Chief Brian Kyes are some of the biggest advocates, and though they don’t have a vote, they have strongly called for the change for months.

Resident Sharleen McLain, however, was one of several residents who said the plan is flawed and has been forced upon the public.

“From the very first it was clear the City Manager and the planners have been pretty bent on getting two-way Broadway,” she said. “They’ve been pretty manipulative in moving forward on this two-way plan. None of these meetings have allowed for meaningful input. It wasn’t until the July Traffic Commission meeting that members of the public were able to speak directly to the plans.”

Said Barbara Richard, “I think two-way Broadway is spot-on dead wrong. Businesses will go under. I also think it hasn’t been a good enough outreach to the community.”

Ambrosino said he is in favor of the two-way plan, but he implored the Council to consider the plan is much more than just the two-way Broadway situation. He said there are many, many more non-controversial changes in the package that people do want universally.

“Much of what is before you is non-controversial,” he said. “Whether it’s Fay Square, Bellingham Square or City Hall Avenue, these provisions have no opposition to the changes.”

The Council will meet next on Monday, Sept. 24, and the Conference Committee will likely take place next week.

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Council Approves Resolution Supporting Locked Out National Grid Workers

Council Approves Resolution Supporting Locked Out National Grid Workers

The City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the locked out National Grid gas workers in a vote of 8-0 on Monday night, adding to the numbers of elected officials now supporting the workers – who have been locked out in a contract dispute for 12 weeks.

Ray Bell of Chelsea – who has lived here for 45 years – came before the Council as one of the locked out workers. He said it’s a matter of public safety, as the replacement workers are not trained or experienced enough to carry out the work they’re doing.

“This is a matter of public safety,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to. This is not a labor issue. The workers trained and experienced need to be in the ground fixing our pipes. This is a no-brainer. It’s putting Chelsea people first…They’ll bury their mistakes. It may not go off now. Maybe it goes off in two months or two years. It could be a disaster. I’m telling you they don’t have experienced and trained people working on these gas pipes.”

Former Councillor Paul Murphy – whose brother is currently locked out – said he doesn’t want to see a disaster either.

“Knowing the work they’re doing on our streets, there could be a disaster here,” he said. “It is a labor dispute, but a different one because they’re locked out. They want to work.”

Councillors were very much in support of the measure despite a miscue last month at a special meeting when the matter didn’t pass due to Councillor Bob Bishop objecting to it. At a special meeting, one objection to a matter can kill it.

On Monday, Bishop said he didn’t oppose the matter, but had concerns last month due to the fact that it conflicted with the charter. Now, he said, the new draft of the resolution was free of any such conflicts.

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Four Members of City Council Endorse Rollins for District Attorney

Four Members of City Council Endorse Rollins for District Attorney

This week, Rachael Rollins received the endorsement of four Chelsea City Councillors, including Councilor Leo Robinson (At-Large), Councilor Roy Avellaneda (At-Large), Councilor Joe Perlatonda (District 3), Councilor Giovanni A. Recupero (District 6) and the Ward 4 – Chelsea Democratic Committee in her candidacy for District Attorney of Suffolk County.

This endorsement adds to a large list of civic leaders who have endorsed Rollins including, Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell, Boston City Councilor Kim Janey, State Senator William Brownsberger, among others.

Councilor Robinson said: “In order to make change, you have to be at the table. Rachael is the one we want at the table for us. She’s a fighter and is the voice that Chelsea needs in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. Join me in voting for Rachael Rollins on September 4.”

Councilor Avellaneda said: “As someone who has dedicated my adult life to civic engagement, I know we have a partner in Rachael Rollins. Having previously worked together with Rachael at MassDOT, I have witnessed firsthand her ability to administer a public agency. Her proposals for a common-sense, progressive policy to address issues of public safety and the opioid epidemic in Suffolk County is what we need. She is absolutely the right choice for Suffolk County DA.”

Councilor Perlatonda said: “I’m proud to join my colleagues on the Council and the over 60 individuals and organizations that have endorsed Rachael Rollins.  There isn’t a more experienced leader in this important race.”

Councilor Recupero said: “All of our communities are safer when we have trust in our District Attorney. Rachael Rollins is someone you can trust. In order to understand the people, you need to be with the people and Rachael is with the people. I’m proud to endorse her and will be casting my vote for her on September 4 in the Primary Election for Suffolk County District Attorney.”

Rollins stated: “I am so proud to have the support of each councilor. Chelsea is lucky to have these wonderful public servants. I know the hard-working and dedicated people of Chelsea want a fighter and someone who will advocate to keep their community safe. If elected, I will hold true to this promise and will fight every day for the people of Chelsea and Suffolk County. Thank you again to the councilors as well as the Ward 4 Democratic Committee. I am grateful and inspired by your support.”

Election Day is Tuesday, September 4. To learn more about Rollins or to get involved, please visit: www.rollins4da.com.

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I’ve Just Started:City Manager Ambrosino Would Like to Continue Work in Chelsea

I’ve Just Started:City Manager Ambrosino Would Like to Continue Work in Chelsea

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he would love to have a new contract and return to Chelsea so he can continue the work he started more than three years ago.

The announcement came on the eve of the beginning of his annual evaluation by a committee of the City Council – a process that will start Aug. 27.

Ambrosino is under contract for four years, and his contract runs out in July 2019, but the Council is required to notify him by January if they want him to return.

He’s hoping they do.

“I do hope they ask me to come back,” he said. “I have a great interest in continuing my work here. I love this city and love being City Manager here…The people here are wonderful. The challenges are interesting and it’s a vibrant and dynamic city with an exciting future ahead of it. I can’t think of a better place to be City Manager or CEO.”

Ambrosino signed his contract on July 20, 2015 in a four-year deal. Upon coming into the position, one of his first goals was to begin revamping the downtown business district, which was something that former City Manager Jay Ash had defined as a next focal point before he left.

Ambrosino said he feels like he only just started that work, and while a lot of planning and groundwork is complete, he’d like to see things completed.

“I feel like I’ve just started here, particularly with the downtown and our waterfront,” he said. “There’s a lot I’d like to see through to completion. When I was mayor in Revere, most of what I did there didn’t come to be until my last term in office and my last year there. It takes a long time to put your mark on a city.”

He is particularly impressed with the collaboration between the community and stakeholders like MGH, North Suffolk, Roca, the Collaborative, GreenRoots and so many more.

“I really feel that’s unique here and the City is lucky to have organizations like it does,” he said. “These are really tremendous community-based groups.”

All of that comes right alongside the upcoming City Manager evaluation process.

That has run a little slowly this time around. Though it is supposed to start in April, the Council appointed a committee but hasn’t had meetings yet. They will kick that off on Aug. 27, Council President Damali Vidot said.

The Committee is made up of Councillors Vidot, Judith Garcia, Bob Bishop, Leo Robinson, and Calvin Brown. They will evaluate Ambrosino on at least 11 points of his performance over the last year.

“It’s been tricky with our summer recess, but I’m confident we’ll have it wrapped up by October,” said Vidot.

She said a sticking point for her in any upcoming contract talks with Ambrosino – and in his evaluation – will be his residency.

Ambrosino said he cannot relocate to Chelsea due to personal circumstances that existed before he took the City Manager job.

Vidot said she feels strongly that the City Manager should live in Chelsea, but she also said that the previous Council didn’t require him to live here, so it wouldn’t be right to enforce it now.

“However, that shouldn’t be the norm moving forward,” she said.

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Chelsea and Winthrop Town Councilors Join Coalition of Support for Suffolk County DA Candidate Shannon McAuliffe

Chelsea and Winthrop Town Councilors Join Coalition of Support for Suffolk County DA Candidate Shannon McAuliffe

Three Winthrop Town Councilors, including Councilor at-Large Michael Lucerto, Councilor Heather Engman, and Councilor Nick Loconte as well as Chelsea City Counselor Enio Lopez announced their endorsement of Shannon McAuliffe for Suffolk County District Attorney. They join a wide range of leaders in Suffolk County that have endorsed McAuliffe, including Sheriff Steve Tompkins and ten local unions. These unions include the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, Iron Workers Local 7, UNITE HERE Local 26, Building Wreckers Local 1421, Operating Engineers Local 4, Painters District Council 35, Plasterers and Cement Masons Local 534, Sheet Metal Workers Local 17, SEIU Local 888, and NAGE/SEIU Local 5000.

Winthrop Councilor at-Large, Michael Lucerto stated, “I am proudly endorsing Shannon McAuliffe for Suffolk County DA.  Suffolk County needs Shannon’s vision for a data-driven, results oriented, common sense approach to justice reform.  Shannon possesses the rare combination of experience and leadership, while also running for office for the right reason: to lead positive change in our communities.”

Echoing the sentiments of his counterparts in Winthrop, Chelsea City Councilor Enio Lopez says,  “Shannon is the partner the Chelsea community needs in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. She possesses a smart and strategic vision for our criminal justice system, and I am proud to support her.”

Commenting on the recent endorsements McAuliffe says, “ I am honored to be supported by leaders I respect so deeply. Working in partnership with every community in Suffolk County, from Dorchester to West Roxbury to Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop is crucial to ensuring that our justice system is equitable and fair. Having the support of community leaders demonstrates that my vision of a smart and strategic DA’s office, where addiction is not treated as a crime, and where your background does not dictate your fate in court, resonates across Suffolk County. It is time to change the way we look at our justice system, and I am excited to have these partners in that work.”

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