Preview: City Council agenda (August 16)

The Worcester City Council meets Tuesday at 6pm. The agenda is here.

This week: Dog park, Airbnb, dumping, Pokémon Go. If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

  • Proposed Police Hearings: Local activist Gordon Davis wants the city to hold hearings regarding “broken windows,” “stop and frisk,” body cameras, etc. I’m noting this request here because for all the protests etc around this stuff, these issues only rarely appear before our local elected officials in written, actionable form.
  • The Right to Defend Your Good Name: Local activist Susan Serpa wants a new rule so that when a city official insults a member of the public during a public meeting, that citizen would be granted two minutes to argue in their defense.
  • Boards and Committees: John Amoah and Timothy Quinn have been appointed to the Mayor Thomas Early Scholarship Fund Committee. Meaghan Hardy-Lavoie and Hank VonHellion have been appointed to the Worcester Arts Council.
  • Trash: The Commissioner of Public Works reports that in June the city cleaned 155 sites, hauled away 30 tons of trash from public areas, removed 76 instances of graffiti or stickers, hauled off 30 abandoned vehicles and 4 shopping carts, and issued 11 related citations for $3900.
  • Dog Park: We now have a master plan for dogs in parks. If passed, the plan would allow dogs on leashes in most parks, and would make it a little easier for us to have an actual off-leash dog park somewhere. Many more details at the end of this post.
  • Elm Park Construction Done: The city’s 5-year, $6 million upgrade of Elm Park is done.
  • Tax Breaks for Senior Housing: The administration has responded to Councilor Bergman’s proposal for the city to exempt from property tax anything built or improved for housing a senior relative of the property owner, this exemption lasting as long as the person lives there. First, this is already an option under current law. By a simple vote of the Council, we could give up to a $500 break for this (equivalent to no taxes on a $25,000 upgrade). Second, if we wanted to give larger tax breaks, we’d have to ask the state legislature to take action; it’s not something the Council could do. It’s likely the Council will ask to raise the limit.
  • Airbnb Crackdown: The administration presents possible legislation that would give the Council more control over Airbnb renting in the city. The first piece would make it clear you can still rent rooms to people if they’re renting for more than 30 days. The second piece would require a license (and presumably fees) to rent to someone for less than 30 days. The City Manager encourages the Council to have some public hearings as part of the process, both because this is a relatively new issue and because, administratively, there are a lot of moving parts.
  • Overdoses: We have a report warning that August and September are historically months with lots of overdoses. We’re currently on track to have about as many opiod overdoses in 2016 as we did in 2015. It’s nice the number isn’t going up, but it’s a high number. Police and fire administered narcan (anti-overdose medicine) about 150 times in 2016 so far. We had 2 overdose deaths in July, and 89 suspected overdose incidents. Most repeat incidents are happening on Main Street, Chandler/Madison Street, or at the library. If you want to learn to use narcan, there’s a free class August 23, 5:30pm, at the library. Last year I got some narcan and took a class, and I’m glad I did. Now when I see someone passed out on the sidewalk I can give their foot a little tap to see if they’re responsive. I haven’t narcanned anyone so far. Our Department of Public Health is doing a bunch of education on drugs, but it’s not yet clear what effect this has had.
  • More Dumping: The city’s “Quality of Life Taskforce” has a report on how they’re responding to neighborhood problems and homelessness. There is a ton of info in this report. Some highlights: They’ve removed 395 tons of dumped junk in the past year and issued $8000 of fines. They have installed cameras to record activity in areas with frequent dumping, so they can catch more dumpers. They have 2 proposed ordinances that would increase city fines for dumping. On the homelessness side, they have identified 80 camps of homeless people and are doing outreach to them.
  • Marijuana: Councilor Gaffney would like a local law restricting public weed smoking just as we restrict public drinking.
  • Jaywalking: Councilor Gaffney asks the city’s law department what we can do to crack down on jaywalking. (Every time I walk around the city, I am so glad we can freely jaywalk; every time I drive I am driven nuts by people wandering slowly back and forth across busy streets.)
  • Water Street: Councilor Lukes would like to see us try “traffic calming” strategies on Water Street on weekends, like making some areas pedestrian-only.
  • Architectural Review: Councilor Lukes would like to see there be an “architectural review” phase of new public buildings and new construction by developers getting tax breaks.
  • Pokémon Go: Delayed from last week. Councilor Lukes has an item asking if we can use Pokémon Go “as a teaching tool regarding current public events and city historical monuments and buildings,” and also asking if there are “negative and dangerous aspects of the game and whether police oversight is required.”
  • Outsourcing the Parks: Delayed from last week. Councilor Lukes has an item asking for a pilot program to outsource “maintenance of a large city park.”

Dog Park Notes

Master Plan includes a number of key recommendations that include the following:

  • An Ordinance amendment that includes: Changes to where dogs are allowed on leash; Sunset Provision that requires a review of the program after two years; Changes to licensing of dogs, license fees, and tightly controlled off leash locations; Locations still off limits to dogs even on a leash; Provisions for the City Manager to manage this revised ordinance
  • New policies and operational protocols: To support the new ordinance change that will require DPW & P to develop operational and management protocols to ensure successful integration of the dogs and their owners into the public park landscape
  • Establishment of a Friends of Worcester Dog Parks: To support the new dog related facilities and be an advisory group to the Parks & Recreation Commission
  • Public outreach: To market and inform the public of the new ordinance, new facilities, and updated rule and regulations
  • Installation of new park elements to support access by owners/dogs will include: New signage to support the new ordinance; Two types of new off leash facilities (Type A – lower costs to allow facilities to be developed on a smaller footprint with basic amenities. Some of these could include second phase of work as funding becomes available; Type B – higher costs with a more elaborate and expansive program, larger footprint, and more amenities)

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