Saturday, July 31, 2010

SouthCoast Photo of the Month

This isn't exactly a Southcoast photo but, I came across this just a short walk away from Fenway Park in Boston. My first thought was what in the world is it. At a quick glance I had thought it was some prefab construction trailer. At second glance I realized it was made up of stacked shipping containers and finally I realized it was going to be a Puma Store.

This seems like a cross between a recycling project and a Frank Lloyd Wright design. I really this is actually a pretty cool concept and it makes me wonder how much these containers cost. Hmmm, a couple in the backyard my make pretty good offices for Blog Headquarters.
______________________________________________________

Are you an avid picture taker? Do you have a shot you're particularly proud of? Perhaps just a shot that you'd like to share? Submit it here for the SouthCoast Photo of the Month! Send submissions to aviewfrombattleshipcove@gmail.com

Dear or Alive?

The deadline is drawing near. The legislature has agreed in principle to a gambling bill but it still remains to be seen whether or not this will become law. Although I'm sure there are all sorts of interesting particulars, on the surface the compromise simply takes the key point from the Senate's bill, 3 casinos, with the key point of the House's, slots at the tracks. I'm not really sure we should consider that a compromise. That just seems like everybody is trying to have their cake and eat too. Where's the balance? Of course our legislators need to come up with a compromise bill that will pass in both the houses and the senate but at the same time that bill has to be good for the Commonwealth, and I'm not sure this one is.

By both sides simply getting what they want we risk a real oversaturation of whatever market exists. With a proposal for 3 casinos and 2 racinos there is a real risk of there not being enough of a market for each venue to thrive. Instead of becoming true destinations that would draw money from around the state and hopefully from outside the state, these venues would instead draw from the region of their host communities and become parasitic destinations that just exacerbate the social costs.

But will it pass?

There has already been some speculation that the compromise bill may have a tough time passing a Senate vote, due to the inclusion of slots at the tracks. To make matters worse the Governor, who has never been in favor slots, is already saying anything more than one racino is not acceptable. Here's the big catch 22. The timer is almost down to zero. The sand has almost run out. If the powers that be want to legalize gambling the opportunity is here but somebody is going to have to accept something they don't want. Who's going to blink? Speaker DeLeo needs racinos to be included in the bill or else he goes home to his constituents with nothing, but at the same time if the bill doesn't pass he still goes home with nothing. The Senate and the Governor don't want racinos but may have to accept them as the only way to get this done in this session. I suppose there is always the option to extend the session but our legislators have already expressed no interest in doing so and they would still be deadlocked around these same basic points.

Of course if the bill does fail to pass it will bring a big sigh of relief from those who oppose legalized gambling and from those of us who do not want to see a casino in Fall River. However would this bill's failure to pass be enough to derail the Mashpee Wampanoag plan? I guess that waits to be seen.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Check is in the mail?

How long does it take to issue an abatement check? One property owner has been waiting for over 3 months! Over 260 abatements have been awarded but only 40 checks have been issued. If we assume that those 40 were issued over the last 3 months it would mean to process the remaining 220 at the same pace would take over a year!

The head clerk feels this lack of progress is not extraordinary. Maybe THAT'S the problem.

Things only get worse because it seems nobody knows what the hell is going on! The tax collection head clerk, Nelia Oliveira says that to receive an abatement a request form needs to be filed. However Lorrie Gagne, the head clerk in the assessor's office says not refund form is needed!  Apparently both departments, currently lacking a department head, are overseen by our newly hired treasurer David Grab. Also apparently, it was Mr. Grab who reinstituted the refund form policy. If Mr. Grab is overseeing BOTH departments how come they're not on the same page? I'm willing to cut Grab some slack here considering he is new to his position and is dealing with the lack of department heads. However that still doesn't resolve the basic problem, which is these checks are just not be processed in a timely manner! Remember they've only issued "a good 40" checks out of 260 and we know at least one person has waited 3 months and still hasn't gotten a check. This didn't ring any alarm bells? There's no weekly meeting where things like the status of issuing these checks gets brought up? Really what the hell is wrong with this picture? How long does it take to write out 260 checks and check the files to see if these homeowners owe any past tax bills or not? It seems that this whole process or at least the bulk of it should have been completed in a few weeks and really probably a lot less than that.

I'd like to know what the timeline is for getting the rest of these checks out and what other little backlogs we don't about.

Schools too valuable to sell

So after more than 2 years Fall River officials are NOW trying to fast track the process of selling off and determining what to do with 15 surplus school buildings. It's kind of shocking that some of this leg work wasn't done YEARS ago when the schools were still open. It's rather pathetic that we've sat on and maintained 15 buildings (some, I think, for close to a decade) and haven't come up with any real course of action. Of course there has always been some interest in selling off these buildings and bringing in some much needed revenue for the city. I'm not really sure how much some of these buildings are worth. Some date back well over 100 years and are probably a nightmare for renovators, possibly filled with lead and asbestos. The cost to renovate and repurpose for homes, offices, or other uses could potentially be more than the cost of demolition and building new. For some of these buildings the city may find much less interest and for much less money than some of our officials believe. But then there is the other problem, it could be that these schools are too valuable to sell.

Oh, I'm not implying that we should keep them all. I'm simply saying that we have 15 properties that we have the ability to do whatever we want with and in some cases it might make more sense to do something with these properties other than selling them. Of course the big idea that has been floated around is giving one to the Children's Museum. Personally I've been in favor of this for at least a couple of years now and I have been stating that THE best location is the NB Borden School. Now I know this was just recently suggested at City Council Committee meeting and has been criticized by commentors on the Herald News website, but I think the downtown site is ideal. The Children's Museum can be a real catalyst for bringing people into our city and helping revitalize Fall River's downtown. The blacktopped area should provide ample parking and if need be traffic patterns around the building could be altered to make for easier access. Selling NB Borden MIGHT bring some immediate revenue to the city's coffers but donating it or leasing it to the Children's Museum has the potential for a much greater long term impact. The city has talked about utilizing the Stone School for in-house special education but I have to wonder if the Belisle School with its newer construction and one floor layout wouldn't make more sense. Certainly the interest expressed by Cathy Ann Viveiros should be considered as well. Ironically converting the school into apartments, condos, or tearing it down to build houses would seem a bad idea because the elementary schools that serve that part of the city are already at capacity. Which makes me wonder if it might be worth putting back into service?

By the same token I think the Laurel Lake site is far too valuable a location, from a commercial standpoint, to turn into parkland. This IS an area ideal for development where the city could probably get top dollar. The Carroll School, on the other hand SHOULD be leveled and converted to parking lot for the new Morton Middle. It is a lucky coincidence that the property is so near, no longer in use, and already city owned.

Lefty's View: Figuring out what is the best use of these properties and what the city would LIKE to see developed there is key and really should have been done YEARS ago. Obviously some historical preservation should be considered and those schools that are deemed to be the best choices for restoration should be marketed with that expectation. The city should be willing to take less money or possibly give it away for a proposal that is ideally suited for the building and the neighborhood it is situated in. This is a lesson we should have learned from the fiasco with the police station. Selling our resources for the short term gain of getting "top dollar" is a mistake we should NEVER make again.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Land Sale

To the surprise of no one the Redevelopment Authority voted 3-2 to sell 300 acres originally designated for a BioPark to the Mashpee Wampanoags to build a destination casino.

I know Fall River is full of casino supporters, so let's string up the banners and have a ticket tape parade down Main Street.  Let's hear how this is going to mean jobs and prosperity for all. Hip Hip Hooray…

The agreement certainly is a good one…for the Wampanoags. They have covered themselves well. They can back out of the deal if gambling isn't legalized, if the land restriction isn't overturned, if Fall River isn't awarded a license, if the referendum vote to approve doesn't pass and pretty much any other risk they may have faced.

The meeting, much like the entire process so far seems to have been conducted in a great rush, full steam ahead, don't worry about the icebergs.  Flanagan's three stooges all voted to cut short any discussion. Meanwhile the other 2 members wanted more public explanation of the contract. A sticking point for Chairman Kenney is the possibility that the Wampanoags could convert that land sovereign immunity land. He also noted that the city may need to make concessions depending on the tribe's legal status on environmental and labor issues. I assume that means if the land is under sovereign immunity we're going to have to negotiate for them to adhere to certain employment and environmental regulations that the tribe would be under no obligation to honor.

Mayor Flanagan weighed in afterwards stating that:

"When I sit down and negotiate a deal on our behalf," Flanagan said later, "I'm going to negotiate a deal in our best interests to create jobs, protect our legal interests and generate revenues."

Of course that likely means without the input of the city council, concerned citizens or any other concerned party.

This is a decision and a course of action that is going to change the face of this city forever. Why are we not exercising caution and taking the time to make sure we are getting this right? There are enough reasons to be concerned. Instead this administration has proceeded at a reckless pace while often keeping everyone including the city council in the dark.

Mayor Flanagan has certainly demonstrated an arrogant tendency to want to have things his own way. His remarks tonight seem to be a pretty good insight into his leadership style:

"It's important mayoral appointments and the mayor be on the same page to approve developments in the city,"

That's right it' s not important to appoint the best qualified or the those with a sincere interest in serving. No, it's important to appoint those who will agree with you and rubber stamp the agenda that you push forward.

Flanagan himself admits "this is a hotly debated issue", he just doesn't believe he should have to listen to that debate.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Birds of a Feather

If the Mashpee Wampanoags can't honor their contracts should they be allowed to operate a casino? That's what Middleboro officials are asking in a letter sent to the National Indian Gaming Commission and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Middleboro officials are upset that after 3 years of support for a casino in their town that tribe has suddenly decided to abandon those plans to build one here in Fall River. The move puts into question the future of 500 acres of land that the tribe is attempting to put into trust and the town officials believed would be the location for economic development.

By calling into question the tribe's ability to honor its contracts and basically questioning how trustworthy the tribe is, Middleboro officials should be setting off all sorts of alarms for Fall River officials to take notice of. After all despite all the talk about drafting up agreements that will protect the city THIS tribe has already walked away from one agreement. What's to stop them from doing it again?

Why wasn't this an issue for the Flanagan administration?

Well it could be because THIS administration seems to have the same modus operandi. The tribe simply walks away from one agreement simply because new leadership decides to, without any consideration for the other parties involved or all the work that had already taken place. The Mayor has made similar decisions in regard to replacing the BioPark with the Casino and pulling back funding on the YMCA's affordable housing project.  Flanagan has pulled the rug out on UMass Dartmouth officials and officials at the Y in the same way the Mashpee tribe has left Middleboro officials standing there like the girl who got stood up on prom night!

I'm not sure if we should be concerned about the tribe or if the tribe should be concerned about us! I suppose it's a match made in heaven. You know, birds of a feather flock together.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The View

Storage Fees…

As you may have already noticed the Herald News is now charging a "small fee" to access archived articles. As a blogger this is a big disappointment because the Herald's archives have been a great resource. I'm not sure if the Herald intends this to be revenue generating change (if so I personally doubt it) but the "small fee" is actually more like armed robbery! Want to print out the story about your kid winning the spelling bee? Well THAT is only $2.95 but what if you were looking a little tougher to find? It's possible you would need to view a ½ dozen articles to find the right one. I know because I've done it! Well THAT will cost you $21.95 (for a monthly pass for up to 10 articles), which at that point I would probably end my search! If you're a blogger like me or anyone who may want/need/require yearlong access you would have to pay $995.00 a year with the ability to access 500 articles! This seems absurd and when you think about how cheap data storage is today, unnecessary too. I don't blame the Herald for charging for content but a year's worth of access should cost $50.00 not $1000! Hell just go out and buy a terabyte drive and save every article you come across that you even slightly think you may need down the road. It will be cheaper!

I'm more impressed by the other guy…

The Herald recently had a story announcing that Leo Pelletier is now the longest serving city councilor in Fall River's history. At 26 years and 7 weeks Leo has bested the record held by John "Jack" Medeiros. But the article points out; Leo has done so during 3 separate stints, while Medeiros served 26 consecutive years on the council. Wow! I have to admit I know NOTHING about Jack Medeiros; he ended his tenure just as I was moving into the city and starting to pay attention the political landscape. How in the word did I miss this guy? 26 consecutive years! Leo may have broken his record but there needs to be an asterisk or something here. 26 years seems like a pretty tough record to beat but consecutively? That seems impossible. I'm not trying to take away from Leo's longevity here but I'm more impressed with the other guy!

The waterfront police station

Apparently the Regatta is for sale and the owners are looking for an appalling 5 MILLION dollars. This sounds like an Austin Power's joke, go ahead put your pinkie to the corner of your mouth and say it 5 MILLION DOLLARS! These idiots bought the property 13 years ago for 1/10th the amount they're now looking to get and basically ran the damn thing into the ground. I can remember when this was the Gangplank, a nice somewhat upscale restaurant. It was kind of like Fall River's answer for the Venus or White's. It's a great location with tons of potential. It would be great to see an upscale restaurant establish itself there or maybe a large family restaurant (think McGovern's on the waterfront!) with maybe some take out windows for seafood in the summer, maybe even ice cream for all those boardwalkers. But neither is going to happen at 5 MILLION dollars. Not only would someone have to pony up the purchase price but God knows how much more you'd have to spend to get it all back in shape again. I'm afraid at that price the owners are aiming for someone to develop the land for luxury apartments or a hotel. However I think we're going to have plenty of luxury apartments in the vicinity and I can't see anyone spending that type of money to put a hotel on the waterfront. It seems that the Regatta is destined to become like the old police station, another high profile property in a desirable location that just rots away.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

John M. Arruda – Former Mayor passes away at age 90

Former Fall River mayor, John M. Arruda recently passes away at the age of 90. I did not learn of this by reading the glowing tributes to him in the Herald News. In fact I could not even find a single mention of this on the Herald News. No, instead I learned it by coming across a letter to the editor that was published on SouthCoastToday.com.

It's rather disappointing and pretty sad (in a pathetic sort of way) that the Herald News didn't cover this. Where are the retrospectives, the career highlights, the timeline and the tributes?

Mayor Arruda certainly shaped Fall River's future in one key event. When Rt. 195 was being built with its path going right through the middle of the city, it was Arruda who worked to secure the air rights above the highway to build a replacement city hall above the roadway. The idea was that the new city hall would be located in the same location as the old city hall and help reunite the city, literally divided by the highway. Today the decision to build Government Center is often ridiculed but the reality is, it was built over a dozen years after Arruda left office. Whatever problems have plagued the building is the fault of a different mayor.

In a way I wish I had taken the opportunity to search out and speak with Mayor Arruda. It would have been fascinating to speak to the last Mayor of Fall River to preside over a city that wasn't dissected by highways. It would have been interesting to find out what he wishes he had done differently and what accomplishments he was most proud of.

John Arruda helped shape Fall River's future in one other way. Arruda was Fall River's first Portuguese mayor. Today many joke that just having a Portuguese surname is enough to get elected and not having one enough to be defeated. But it was his election that demonstrated that the city's Portuguese citizens could wield political influence and clout.