The Chelsea City Council voted 11-0 to on Monday night to begin looking at the forthcoming, new Silver Line Stations and how to prevent commuters from hogging parking spaces.
Councillor Roy Avellaneda introduced the order at Monday’s Council meeting in order to get ahead of what could certainly become an immediate problem once the Silver Line opens some time in the spring.
With working moving at a rapid pace, and residents now able to see the stations and where they will be, Avellaneda said he was compelled to call for some sort of study.
“There areas of the city where these new stations would open are certainly vulnerable and we should think about some parking regulations around them,” he said. “I can imagine there will be outsiders parking in these areas if allowed. So that we don’t harm our residents living in these areas, we should look at doing these parking restrictions now.”
Avellaneda received unanimous support on the Council, and his order calls for a working group to be assembled to look at what might work at the new stations.
The working group would include city councillors, the city manager, the city clerk, the police chief and the Planning Department.
On Monday morning, Margarita Nievez kept busy folding a sheet and some clothing that was set to be trucked out to New Jersey – and later to Puerto Rico.
The day before, she and her friends helped load rice onto pallets.
Last Thursday evening, they participated in a vigil at City Hall, and then helped collect more food that was loaded onto trucks provided by the Teamsters Local 25. That collection was also being shipped to Puerto Rico.
For Nievez, it’s all about staying busy and keeping her mind off her home island, which has been wiped out by two hurricanes this month, most recently Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20.
“It feels good to help here and not think about it,” said Nievez on Monday while folding a sheet at the Chelsea Collaborative. “They are suffering down there from not having food and water. They could be dying now.”
She began to tear up, and then went back to her work.
Nievez said she has family in Ponce and Comerio – among other remote places that were hit directly.
“I haven’t heard anything from any of them,” she said. “I don’t know where they are.”
Maria Figueroa has a sister in Mayaguez, and she said it has been encouraging to see the community in Chelsea band together so quickly to help.
Indeed, Chelsea historically has one of the largest Puerto Rican communities in the Northeast per capita, and so such a devastating impact on many in the City.
On Monday, Chelsea Police officers and Public Works crews were stationed in the Collaborative racing against the clock to load everything up before the tractor trailer arrived at 3 p.m.
Thousands of pounds of food waited in a hallway.
“I’ve been here doing something from last week until now,” said Figueroa. “Thank God everyone is helping each other. Different cultures and different races are all coming together.”
As they worked, David Rodas came through the doors to bring a variety of rice bags, water and canned goods.
“I’m not even Puerto Rican,” he said. “I’m from El Salvador, but we’re all humans and I see people in need. This is what you do.”
Collaborative Director Gladys Vega said keeping busy has helped her, and helped many like Nievez and Figueroa.
“It’s a way of them coping with what they see on TV,” she said. “They don’t want to sit around the house and not do anything and not know what’s happening. So, I’ve had a lot of people who have showed up and wanted to help since last week. They fold clothes, organize food, or whatever they can do.”
Margarita Nievez folds a sheet at the Chelsea Collaborative on Monday while Leanna Cruz organizes clothing in the background. Many Chelsea residents who have family in Puerto Rico haven’t heard any news of their whereabouts since the devastating Hurricane Maria struck on Sept. 20. To cope, they keep busy.
Gold Star Mother Diana Ramirez said nothing can take away the pain of losing her son in 2008 to the war in Afghanistan, but gatherings such as the one on Memorial Day at City Hall Monday help ease the pain of loss.
Ramirez was the keynote speaker at Monday’s exercises, and also the Grand Marshal of the Girl Scout Parade. She said nothing can prepare one for the loss of a child in war.
“A young boy decided he wanted to join the military,” she said. “He joined the Army and two years later, he lost his life in Afghanistan. Time goes on, but the hurt never does heal. This community gathered here helps the hurt though. To see this group of kids here today. This is the medicine that helps our hurt.”
Following her speech, members of the DAV and PAV placed wreaths for the Gold Star Mothers and for those lost in the service of country.
The exercises on Monday were punctuated by the threat of bad weather, but that didn’t come until after a great musical program from the Chelsea High concert band took place. Also, students from each elementary school – all named after fallen veterans – read the story of those that their respective schools are named after.
Veterans Service Officer Francisco Toro and Supt. Mary Bourque thanked everyone for coming out.
Ramirez’s son, Nelson Rodriguez Ramirez, died while fighting in Afghanistan in June 2008.
Specialist Rodriguez Ramirez lived in Rochester, NY with his wife and daughter when he passed.
He died in Kandahar City in Afghanistan as a result of his unit coming in contact with an improvised explosive device and small arms fire.
A heated battle over two-hour parking signs in Cary Square erupted at the City Council meeting on Monday, and it likely is settled – even after a vote of 2-5 by the Council rejected the placement of the new signs, which were petitioned for by Pan y Cafe business owner and Councillor Roy Avellaneda, as well as some other business owners.
Now, however, the matter might not be over even after the vote killed the measure on Monday night. The problem, Council President Leo Robinson said, was that the vote has to be a majority of the Council rather than a majority of those present. That would mean six votes, and only five voted against it. Councillors Judith Garcia, Paul Murphy and Giovanni Recupero were absent on Monday, and Avellaneda was not allowed to vote on the matter or be present in the room during discussion.
Robinson said Councillor Yamir Rodriguez, who represents Cary Square, has filed a reconsideration of the matter, and Robinson will call for a Special Meeting on May 30 to allow for another vote.
Scores of residents and business owners flooded the Council Chambers on Monday night, some to oppose the restrictions on the eight new two-hour parking signs and some to support them. Avellaneda first brought the idea to the Traffic Commission earlier this year and called for an expansive meter program. He argued that commuters were taking all of the parking in the Square in order to use the 111 bus, which prevented his business and others from using the parking for customers.
The Commission compromised and instituted the eight, two-hour spots on a trial basis through August.
However, many businesses and members of the Cary Square Club were outraged by the development and called on the Council to use a little-known oversight power to reject the Cary Square parking program.
The Commission’s report was approved two weeks ago, but the Cary Square matter was pulled from the report and held over until Monday night.
“There was not an issue there and never has been an issue,” said Karen Moschella of Off Broadway Dance. “No one is parking in Cary Square and taking the bus in. Maybe further up on Washington Avenue, ok, but not here.”
Zaida Ismatul-Oliva, of Spruce Street, said she and her mother opposed the change.
“I find it problematic that we’re now trying to change two-hour parking for one or two businesses int he area when its always been parking for residents,” she said.
Dan Morales, of the Blue Frog Sports Bar in Cary Square, said he likes the idea.
“I’m in favor of the parking restrictions because I think it will help businesses,” he said. “I have personally seen people park and take the bus and take up spots for five or six hours. That limits the amount of business you can do.”
Michael Albano of Willard Street said it was time to make a change to liven up that business district.
“It seems to me the Parking Commission got it right,” he said. “I would like to make Cary Square a place people want to go and make vibrant and a place that businesses can flourish.”
But most councillors did not agree.
Rodriguez said it simply wasn’t the right time given the fact that the Clark Avenue School was under construction and taking up a lot of spaces temporarily.
Councillor Luis Tejada, whose district is nearby, was also in agreement, saying that some 15 or more spaces are taken up at the Clark Avenue project, forcing residents to push parking into the Square.
“I’m not in favor of this because it’s just not the right timing,” Rodriguez said. “We have a lot of projects going on right now and it’s pushing the parking issue to other places. We need to wait until that is finished and we should solve the parking issue another way. Two hour parking is not the solution.”
Councillor Dan Cortell, however, agreed with the issue. Living on Admiral’s Hill, he said he rarely visits Cary Square because it is too complicated to get to and park.
“I think the Parking and Traffic Commission got it right,” he said. “They did compromise. It was on a trial basis until August…The Traffic Commission meetings were well attended…They chose a compromise. I’m in favor of the compromise.”
When the vote came down, it was a decided loss, at 2-5. Cortell was joined by Councillor Matt Frank in voting for the change.
However, the next day it was discovered that to use the oversight of the Traffic Commission, and reject one of their measures, requires a majority of the Council – or six votes. With only five votes, Rodriguez took action to call the Council back to perform another vote with more members present.
On Wednesday, that meeting was expected to happen on May 30.
Luis Rodriguez of Blade Masters on Everett Avenue gives a free haircut to Adin Bahan during a special event at the Boys & Girls Club on Monday. Rodriguez and Councillors Yamir Rodriguez and Damali Vidot worked together to start the event this year and hope to make the free haircut day a fixture of Back to School in Chelsea.
The costs of getting kids back to school is a tough bill to pay for parents, and many parents are in situations where they cannot afford all the things that kids need.
In those times, they must pick and choose what kids go back with on their first day.
And often, when it comes down to new shoes or a haircut, the sneaks win out most years.
This year, though, many parents didn’t have to worry about that decision as five local barbers corralled by Luis Rodriguez of Blade Masters, and organized by City Councillors Yamir Rodriguez and Damali Vidot, set up shop in the gym of the Boys & Girls Club on Monday for many hours and gave free haircuts to Chelsea kids just before the first day of school, kids who might otherwise go back to school not looking their very best.
“When I was going to school here in Chelsea, I didn’t have much money for a haircut, so I know what it feels like on the first day of school,” said Luis Rodriguez of Blade Masters on Everett Avenue, a 2015 Chelsea High School graduate. “I’m licensed and I can do this and I wanted to give back to these kids and to the community. I know how they feel and it feels good that I can give back by giving free haircuts. It can be tough for parents in Chelsea to pay for everything. This is one less thing, and I’m glad I can do it.”
Councillor Rodriguez said Luis Rodriguez had been a student at Chelsea High School when he was coaching on the basketball team. The two got to know each other well back then, and last spring, Luis Rodriguez said he wanted to do free haircuts.
“He wanted to give back somehow and had this idea to give free haircuts before school started,” said Councillor Rodriguez. “I told him it was a great idea and we got on the phone and got a couple of barbers to join us and help out. We always talked about helping out in the city and this was one very good way…It’s something Luis can do and it’s something that we know some kids cannot afford.”
On Monday, at least four, sometimes five, barbers were hard at work in the gym cutting hair for one kid after another. All of the barbers were local and said they were really glad to give back to the community and remembered going back to school every year with a fresh haircut on the first day.
Councillor Damali Vidot said it’s something that a lot of people don’t think about, but something that really helps parents who are trying to get kids ready for school.
“This is something we know helps the kids and these barbers wanted to give back and they’re all from Chelsea,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for everyone.”
Councillor Rodriguez said next year they will continue the effort and perhaps do more advance planning to make it a bigger event and to help more people.
“We do plan on making it a yearly event and next year we’ll make it bigger and maybe try to tie it to the Williams School celebration,” he said.
Four days a week, soccer is where it’s at for local young people in Chelsea who want to get down to business and score goals.
In its third year, the Chelsea Collaborative’s Summer Youth Employment Initiative (SYEI) and the GOALS program of the Massachusetts Youth Soccer organization have teamed up again this summer to provide soccer games and light instruction to Chelsea young people. The drop-in program started in late June and takes place Monday through Thursday at Highland Park Field from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The activity is free and supervised by qualified coaches and by Chelsea youth working in the summer program.
“The GOALS program is the Massachusetts Youth Soccer initiative to promote soccer in the inner city areas,” said Loy Urbina, assistant technical director and GOALS program director. “We give the program to organizations like the Chelsea Collaborative. The only condition that we demand is that the program is free. We don’t charge anyone to play. We supply the balls, the T-Shirts, coaches and we pay the coaches. It’s supposed to be a totally free program. My job is to go around Massachusetts and find sites in inner city or low-income areas and bring the beautiful game of soccer to the area. We now have 29 sites and Chelsea has been a great partner.”
Sylvia Ramirez of the SYEI supervises the site Monday through Thursday and said the youth that she employs enjoy helping out and providing water and support to the popular program. She said upwards of 60 or more young people, depending on weather, can show up in a day.
“This is a very good program to give access to the game of soccer and to provide them an opportunity to play a very popular game in our city on a field that isn’t very accessible because it is so busy,” she said. “This is a really fun activity for the youth, and we do it four days a week. Parents can stay with the kids or drop them off. It’s all supervised with qualified people.”
GOALS also provides coaches to help the kids develop some skills, with most of the coaches being college level players from local universities and community colleges. A site supervisor is also provided, and in Chelsea that is Orminsun Medina – long time Chelsea Youth Soccer coordinator.
Urbina said one thing that could improve the program is to overhaul the field, which is the only artificial surface field in the City aside from Chelsea High School. He said the field is now getting old and in rough shape, but that there could be a grant available from soccer organizations.
“There is an organization called the U.S. Soccer Foundation,” he said. “Their number one goal is to help cities and towns repair soccer fields. They give grants anywhere from $1,000 to $1 million. This field need to be fixed. They could put an application in to get Highland Park Field updated and fixed.”
Meanwhile, Urbina and Ramirez said there is some serious talk about expanding the program in Chelsea so that young people from East Boston, Revere and Everett could come to the site to participate. By having a morning session and an afternoon session, Urbina said he believes they could make it work.
“We envision having kids from Everett, East Boston, Everett and Revere come one day a week for each community in the morning,” said Ramirez. “Then we would have the Chelsea kids come four days a week like they are now in the afternoon session. We really would like to expand and we get requests from those communities all the time.”
Last Thursday, boys and girls from Chelsea were still excited about the previous weekend’s European Cup, where Portugal won an improbably victory over France.
Pretending they were Christian Ronaldo, or any of the other stars, the young Chelsea players dribbled the ball around and kicked goals with stars in their eyes.
The GOALS program by the SYEI is for kids age 5 and older and runs through Aug. 4 at Highland Park Monday through Thursday from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.
For more information or to register, call (617) 889-6080.
Eric Monckada blasts a kick from the center of the field during the free soccer program sponsored by GOALS and the Summer Youth Employment Initiative (SYEI) last Thursday afternoon, July 14. The program is free to Chelsea young people Monday through Thursday from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Councillor Luis Tejada apologized publicly on Monday night, June 20, at the conclusion of the Council meeting regarding a Facebook post he wrote two weeks ago regarding the safety of children and women in light of the passage of the transgender ‘bathroom bill.’
“I want to make an apology,” he said. “About two weeks ago, before Orlando, I made a posting on Facebook that was inappropriate. It was about the LGBT community; it was about the issue with transgender persons and bathrooms. I apologize that my words hurt people. I meant no harm. My intentions were pure.”
The post, which has been deleted and is not available any longer, discusses transgender persons having a ‘gender identity disorder’ and also talks about concerns he had if a ‘transgender guy’ would go into the same bathroom as his 21-year-old daughter.
In an open letter to Councillor Tejada, resident John Valinch challenged the posting – a letter that Valinch read publicly at the Council on Monday before the apology.
“Your statement that transgender individuals have a ‘gender identity disorder’ is ludicrous and not, in fact, borne out by relevant medical literature,” he said. “As for your statement that you have ‘lots of bi and gay friends,’ it may astound you that we, too, were labeled by the same psychiatric manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, as mentally ill. This continued up until 1987. Perhaps you are unaware of this, or choose to ignore it to fit your political narrative that transgender people are intrinsically criminal, deviant, or mentally ill. You would be wrong to continue doing so.
“Second, you insinuated that if a ‘transgender guy’ were to go in the same bathroom as your 21 year-old daughter that you would be soon to follow,” he continued. “Two things about your statement are problematic and, in fact, promote both grave misunderstanding and violence towards trans people: an individual who identifies as a trans male would not go into a restroom designated for women and; you are prompting violence against individuals for using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Remember, we are not talking about individuals that are falsifying an identity for nefarious purposes, but are instead attempting to live out their lives according to their identity.”
Tejada did also say on Monday he still has concerns about what is being done in the wake of the new law to protect girls and women – as well as to protect transgender persons from violence enacted upon them.
“Not all girls are in the same place,” he said. “Some are being bullied and some are being molested. What is being done to protect young girls?…As far as the transgender community, I want to know what in the bill to protect them from bad people.”
Once again, though, he did apologize for his words.
“If I hurt you with my words, then I apologize,” he said. “If you have a problem with my words, just get in touch with me. We can talk and maybe let’s agree to disagree. Sometimes you can’t agree with all my points. It’s America. We can disagree. I want to apologize and meant no harm.”
In a unanimous vote on Monday night, the City Council passed the Community Preservation Act (CPA) measure, allowing the plan to proceed to the November ballot for a vote of the people of Chelsea.
The vote was 10-0 with Councillor Giovanni Recupero absent.
The matter has to be approved by the voters of Chelsea in November or it is null and void.
The measure was brought to the forefront by Councillors Roy Avellaneda and Matt Frank earlier in the year, and progressed through the usual legislative channels and is believed to have wide-ranging support.
“Now those of us in favor of this have our homework to do,” he said. “This is an opportunity for the residents to decide what they want to do. We have to make sure we are out educating people and letting them know what this is about now, though the summer and especially closer to November. There are several other communities that will be seeking this on the ballot, including Boston, and that will serve as a reminder here when people see the advertising leading up to that vote in Boston. We also wanted to make sure this went on the ballot when there was the largest voting block coming out, and this will be on the same ballot as the U.S. Presidential race and that should draw out a lot of people. This has the potential to bring a lot of great things to the City.”
The proposal in Chelsea would add a 1 percent surcharge to all real estate property tax bills. The exceptions to the charge would be for someone who owns a home and is qualified for low-income housing or low- or moderate income senior housing. There would also be an exemption of $100,000 of the value of the property lopped off before assessing the 1 percent – whether commercial or residential property.
It is estimated that the assessment would generate $335,000 in extra taxpayer dollars and that is matched by state funds at a rate of about 30 percent. That would mean a CPA fund would get about $435,000 in most years to spend on affordable housing project, parks, and historic preservation.
The average additional cost for a single-family homeowner annually is estimated at $24.22 and $14.27 per year for a condo owner. A three-family is estimated at an additional $38.31 per year.
If adopted the money would be placed into a fund and that fund would be controlled by a CPA Board. It would not be dispersed by the City Manager or the City Council, but rather this new Board made up of residents.
“I have given this idea much though,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “After careful consideration, I conclude Chelsea would benefit greatly from adoption of this act. Given our significant need for affordable housing and recreational space, I believe adoption of this surcharge, in a modest amount and with appropriate exemptions, would significantly enhance the quality of life of our residents.”
The CPA can enact a surcharge of up to 3 percent, but the proposal in Chelsea is for 1 percent.
“I think this is vitally important for our city,” said Frank. “Over the last 10 years, believe it or not, we’ve brought parks online and several of them. It’s not enough though. We need more revenues. It’s the big items like a soccer field and we’re running out of space. We need more funding…If Boston passes this and we don’t, Boston gets our share of the state money. I’d rather have the money spent on my fields.”
Councillor Judith Garcia gave an impassioned speech about how she used to play in a vacant lot called ‘War Zone’ only a few short years ago and hoped one day to be able to have a real park to play in. This, she said, could help to further that goal.
“Not that long ago I used to play in an empty lot with trash and syringes that we called ‘War Zone,’” she said. “My dream was to have more parks and open spaces that were clean and weren’t ruled by gangs selling drugs. Now, here I am at 24 and have the ability to vote on something that could bring about that change.”
Added Council President Dan Cortell, “We had a meeting about the shortage of playing fields a month ago and this is the kind of thing that would get us those badly needed playing fields…Now we need the public’s help all the way through this process.”
Certainly, though, the Council had the public’s help on Monday night, as speakers from the general public and the Chelsea Collaborative flooded the Chambers to speak in favor of the CPA.
“I’m a homeowner and I’m for the CPA,” said Jose Iraheta. “It will increase the property taxes on my home and the values of my home are up which means more property taxes too. However, I am ok with this because I think this is just and it is needed in our community. This is money we’re not getting that we’ve paid in state taxes. It just makes sense.”
It was an historic occasion on Monday night when the Chelsea City Council voted unanimously to enact a Wage Theft Ordinance – the first Council in the state to do so.
Workers in the crowd at City hall brought signs encouraging the Council to vote in the new Wage Theft ordinance, which the Council passed 11-0 on Monday.
The City’s wage theft ordinance, brought to the floor by nine councillors earlier this month, would seek to make a statement about the prevalence of wage theft from employees, but in particular from vulnerable immigrant communities in the city. Practically speaking, the ordinance states that no contractor (or any subcontractor) or vendor hired by the City can have a federal or state criminal or civil judgment, administrative citation, final administrative determination, order or debarment resulting from a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act or any other federal or state laws regulating the payment of wages within three year prior to the date of any contract with the City. It also calls for any violation of the above laws during a contract period be reported to the City within five days.
It also includes a provision that allows the License Commission to deny any permit or license if violations of the law have been made within three years of any application. If any violation of the above law occurs during a licensed period, the Commission can also take action on a license for the violations.
Wage theft is defined roughly as not paying minimum wage, not paying overtime, withholding pay and sometimes not paying at all.
After the unanimous vote, the crowded Council chambers erupted in the chant, “Si se puede, si se puede!”
“I think this is more than a statement; it’s the right thing to do,” said Councillor Judith Garcia. “I support this because I can’t help but think of my mother. She is a factory worker in Chelsea and has been for 26 years. I know as the daughter of a single-mother who raised me on minimum wage that it is so important to get that wage. When we deprive people of their wage, we destabilize them and their families. I support this in the name of my mother and all the other workers that are the fabric of our nation.”
Councillor Roy Avellaneda said this is a great opportunity to make a tremendous difference.
“We will be the first City Council to pass this in the state,” he said. “Rarely do we get the opportunity to make such a difference and such an impact. I am telling you from experience we will rarely get a chance to make this much difference and this much of a statement…We are on the front lines of this problem.”
Labor leader Tony Hernandez, also a Chelsea resident, said stealing from workers is a huge problem in Chelsea.
“This will make a statement that the City of Chelsea is open for business as long as you want to do business right,” he said. “The most abused are immigrant workers who don’t speak the language. They hire one guy who speaks English and they pay him well and he is the leader of all the other guys. The other guys who don’t speak the language are abused.”
Maria Aguillar of Cottage Street told the Council that her husband has had his wages stolen, and often their family suffers from not being able to buy food or pay rent.
“We experience what it means every day to have our wages stolen,” she said. “My husband was working for a company and was not paid for two weeks. We had a very, very tough situation. We were behind on rent and behind on bills. That’s why I ask you to pass this because wage theft doesn’t just affect us as parents, but all of our families.”
Rich Rogers of the Greater Boston Labor Council said his organization is very pleased that Chelsea was taking this step.
“Wage theft is an epidemic in our nation,” he said. “Chelsea with its huge population of immigrant workers with limited English proficiency is particularly vulnerable…We’re very pleased Chelsea is jumping into the forefront of preventing wage theft.”
Chelsea Collaborative Gladys Vega said passing the ordinance is a major victory for Chelsea. She related the 2013 action by the Collaborative and the state Attorney General where $1 million was recovered from workers who had their wages stolen by Boston Hides & Furs in Chelsea. Some of those workers were paid $300 for more than 60 hours of work, if paid at all, according to the settlement from 2013.
That was just one case, she said, and one of the few that was caught.
“When the City puts a bid out, people will know Chelsea is not a place to bid if you have dirty laundry,” she said.
We congratulate the Chelsea City Council on its unanimous vote to enact a Wage Theft Ordinance,, becoming the first council in the state to pass this important legislation.
The ordinance will deal directly with the issue of wage theft and incidents of employers not paying minimum wage, not paying overtime, and withholding pay from employees.
As Chelsea labor leader Tony Hernandez said at Monday’s Council meeting, business in Chelsea must be about doing business right, and the Council’s action shows that it understands how vital the new Wage Theft Ordinance is to the city and its large immigrant population.
We agree with Chelsea Collaborative executive director Gladys Vega when she says that the passage of the ordinance was “a major victory for Chelsea.”
The City Council has set the precedent for other communities to follow and the councillors deserve commendation for their decisive vote that will help residents across the entire city.