Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year


So I'm logging in post number 100 for 2010.

Happy New Year!

And here's hoping that 2011 brings you good health and prosperity.

Fall River Thoughts

First Night
I miss First Night. I didn't go every year, and probably missed more than I attended but I have fond memories of the ones that I did go to.
I can remember ice sculptures near Government Center and the "ice rink" set up between it and the post office. I remember a Broadway review at the library and a country singer at Quackers. I remember fireworks cascading down the facade of Government Center and indoor fireworks at the Bank Street Armory. I remember a magician who made the Mayor disappear. I remember a few winters so cold that walking venue to venue was a test of endurance!
Polar Plunge
A little advice for Mayor Flanagan, Councilor Casey and the rest. I caught a little news piece about another Polar Plunge and they offered some advice. Basically when it's cold sand can hurt, so protect your feet. The guy on the radio suggested wearing old sneakers, although he said flip flops or water shoes would work also. I've been down to "Sandy Beach" and let me tell you there isn't a grain of sand to be found. It should have been called "Rocky Point" but I guess that name was taken. So dig in your closets and find an old beat up pair of sneakers. Apparently some also wear hats to help keep themselves warm, not sure I see that making much of a difference.
King Philip Lunch
I happened to be in the area tonight and saw the lights on. The place looked locked up and empty. Is this a good sign? Is a new owner getting ready to paint and spruce up a bit?
Mayor's Race
How soon will it be before people start announcing their intentions to run for Mayor in 2011? I will practically guarantee that Cathy Ann Viveiros will make another run and I would be surprised if Brad Kilby didn't throw his hat in the ring.
Back to the plunge..
Speaking of the Polar Plunge, who do you guess will end up wearing the Speedo?
This is the 99th post of the year and if I wrap it up quickly hopefully I can put number 100 out right behind it. I have this odd sense of math where i expect to blog about 4 posts a month but somehow magically reach 100 for the year. What's really upsetting is to realize that Mike Moran does one column a week and gets paid for doing it. That's not a knock against Mr. Moran but damn 52 articles versus 100 posts.. and most of mine are pretty damn wordy...
5 Minutes to go...

Taking in the Z

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a performance of the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra at the Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford. I've long been familiar with the Z but I've never actually gone there. Occasionally I would hear about some event that would pique my interest but never quite enough to actually go. However the performance of the NBSO was family friendly, very affordable and not too long. It seemed to be a perfect holiday activity.
Now I really had no idea what to expect when driving to the Z. I was worried about parking. I was worried about how far away I might be since I was sitting in the "cheap seats". I had driven by the Zeiterion a few times before and thought that the building was so unremarkable that you could easily drive by it and never know there was theatre there.
As it turned out parking was a pleasure with the parking being located right next door and free that day! The Z itself was delightful. I couldn't after one brief visit due justice in describing but the lobby the elegant and the theatre itself charming, cozy, intimate. I may had had the worst seats in the place and they were still great seats.
As I sat and listened my eyes moved around the theatre taking in all the details. The orchestra sounded great and my ticket had cost me just $15. And while there were several available seats the turnout was really quite good. The Z can seat about 1,200 patrons and I would guess there were maybe 800 there for that performance.
Now, as it turns out I had placed to go and right after the show I headed back to Fall River but I definitely would go back. And honestly I could see looking for a some little nearby place to grab a bite to eat before or after the show and making more of a day of it.
The one thought that kept running through my head was why don't we have this sort of thing in Fall River?
Of course they almost didn't have that sort of thing in New Bedford either. The Zeiterion was slated to become a parking lot when local preservationists stepped in and saved it. With the help of a lot of state money the Zeiterion was restored to the jewel it is today. Tragically at around the same time this was all taking place, Fall River was losing some of its last remaining downtown theaters. The Center Theatre closing in the late 70's and apparently City Councilor Marilyn Roderick fought to save it.  More crushing is the Academy closed in 1979. If any downtown theatre deserved to be saved and restored it has to be the Academy, which at that time had just recently celebrated its 100th birthday. The Center may or may not still exist somewhere in the building that occupies the site today. Some claim it's the same building just heavily remodeled others say it's a new structure entirely. The Academy would be saved at least its historical facade but all traces of its history as a performing arts center and movie house are gone forever.
Of course we now know that one theatre did survive, the Capitol. The Capitol is an amazing story because the theatre closed and became a bowling alley and then became a retail store and through it all this large cavernous space remained largely intact. And thankfully the people who currently own it really want to see it restored. But for some reason the big push just hasn't been there. Oh I realize that a tough economy hasn't helped but I'm convinced that for the Capitol to ever become a performing arts center it needs a big push with city backing
After finally taking in the Z I'm more convinced than ever that it would be tragedy if we don't find a way to bring back the Cap.

Consider it an upgrade..Mike Miozza for City Council

Mike Miozza is making his 3rd run for the Fall River city council. Mike ran (unsuccessfully) in 2007 & 2009 and is kicking things of early for a run in 2011. He's hoping the early start with help push him over the hump and into a council seat. When Mike lost in 2007 I said it was my biggest disappointment of election day. I said the same thing in 2009.
I've always tried to reach out and get to know the candidates for local office. I do this even more so since I've been blogging.  Of all the candidates I've talked to Mike Miozza has always struck me as one of the most honest and sincere. I've found him to be intelligent with good ideas and sound reasoning. I've found him to be humble! Mike doesn't act like the city needs him, he has always come across as someone who just wants to work to make a difference. When I've talked to Mike I've always gotten the impression that he was really listening and that I had his attention. I think Mike has a good sense of what direction the city needs to move in for its long term future as well as the improvements we need to make today.
Honestly take a good look at our current City Council. Are you really going to tell me replacing one of our sitting members with Mike Miozza wouldn't be an upgrade? I can think of 4 councilors without hesitation that I would gladly replace with Mike Miozza. Hell, a bigger challenge would be to argue what councilors shouldn't be booted off in favor of Mike. When you start seriously thinking about what candidates to vote for come election day instead of voting for the same folks who have been there year after year after year it's time for an upgrade. Consider giving your vote to Mike Miozza. 

What's Happened to the Blogosphere?

When I published my first blog post in February of 2006 the local blogosphere seemed small. A few months before I launched A View From Battleship Cove local radio host Keri Rodrigues launched her blog The Keri Rodrigues Broadcast. Although there were some other local blogs in the area none of the others focused on the local happenings of our community.
That first year I joked a lot about my "six loyal readers" but as the election season got underway in 2007 more and more people began to discover the blog and they let me know they were reading. And suddenly more blogs started to pop up. At this point so many have come and gone that I can't even remember them all. But for a while there always seemed to be a steady core of local bloggers. At first it was The Keri Rodrigues Broadcast, A View From Battleship Cove, & Fall River Community. At some point Keri's blog seemed to become an issue at the workplace and as her blogging decreased we suddenly found ourselves with another core blogger stepping in. The lineup was now A View From Battleship Cove, Fall River Community, & Fall River-tastic. Other blogs would pop up...and usually just sort of fade away a few months later.
Even when Fall River Community closed up shop another blog, this time Chowmeinsammich, stepped in. The last year or so has seen a handful of other bloggers join the fray. But for some reason the local blogosphere seems to be less than it was when we started the year!
Fall River-tastic has posted 37 times versus 128 times in 2009. That's a 71% drop!
Chowmeinsammich has posted 143 times this year but no new posts since October.
Fall River Undercover has only posted 8 times since launching the blog over 1 year ago.
Southcoast Citizens Soapbox has posted only 14 times in 2010 (versus 55 in 2009)  and the last post was over 3 months ago.
Into the Breach started off strong with 7 posts in May and 7 in June but nothing since then.
I'm not bringing this up to criticize because I think 2010 has been an off year for me as well. I'm struggling to hit my "goal" of 100 posts (4 more to go!) but it's been a year where maintaining the blog has taken a bit more effort. I know for a fact that in the case of some bloggers 2010 has just been a hectic year where blogging has just taken a back seat. But I also wonder if there is just less interest in blogging. After all why go through the trouble of creating a blog and writing posts and trying to build a readership if you can just post your opinions on the comment section of the local newspaper? (Something that was not an option back in 2006!)
Anyway, as 2011 quickly approaches I'm ready to pound the keyboard a little longer. There are just too many things to look forward to. What will happen with the Biopark (and the casino). Who will run for City Council? Will anyone run against Flanagan? A View From Battleship Cove also has some milestones to hit in 2011 with its 5th anniversary and 500th post in site.  So hopefully there is enough interest out there to keep you reading and hopefully 2011 will be comeback year for local blogging.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Is it warm where you are?

It's 20 degrees outside right now. It's still dark and I suspect in many homes people are trying to squeeze in those last moments of sleep before they have to get up. In many apartments getting up will mean leaving a warm bed and padding across a very cold apartment and then turning up the space heater so the living room or kitchen will heat up to toastier temperatures.
Throughout the city coffee is brewing and people are jumping into hot showers.
But what if you're homeless?
Five local churches are ready to begin a patchwork solution to provide shelter for Fall River's homeless. Starting Sunday the churches will take turns, providing overflow shelter services. Is it enough? Starting SUNDAY. It's 20 degrees outside where would you spend the night if the shelters were full? The other night as we prepared for blizzard-like conditions where did the city's homeless go?
The Salvation Army used to provide overflow shelter services until tougher regulations made that impossible. Regulations to improve safety seem like a good thing but there seems to be a lack of common sense when such regulations work to keep you safer from the RISK of fire versus the near certainty of freezing to death. Thankfully Representative David Sullivan took up the cause and was able to get some flexibility in the regulations. Why was he the only member of the local delegation to do so? On the city-side Councilor Eric Poulin worked with Sullivan and The Rev. Donald Mier of the First Baptist Church to come up the rotating church plan. Eric has brought up the issue of the city's homeless before. In fact I recall trading some emails with him on the subject as far back as 2007. So it's great to see Councilor Poulin focusing on issues that he has in the past campaigned on. But why isn't it on anyone Else's radar?
In November of 2008 the Herald News ran an article that basically said there were enough beds to handle the needs of the city's homeless but an increase could overtax the various agencies that provide shelter services. In January 2009 I blogged about this and stated that the agencies were already crying that there was an increase. What happened? What's been done? By the end of 2009 I was pointing out that I wasn't aware of any long term plans to deal with the issue and as it turns out up in Boston regulations were being put into place to make the problem worse not better.
Over the last several years there is no doubt we have seen clear visible signs of a homeless population in our city. It's appalling that another Winter is upon us and we still haven't come up with a long term plan to address this, the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 - The Year in Review

Republican State Senator Scott Brown surprises everyone by winning a special election to fill the seat of the late (U.S.) Senator Ted Kennedy. The Mashpee Wampanoag's consider Fall River as the location of a possible casino.
A View From Battleship Cove celebrates its 4th anniversary. State Senator Joan Menard confirms she will not seek reelection. An A View From Battleship Cove Coffee Mug does a little traveling!
City Councilors Joe Camara and Linda Pereira are cleared of ethics charges. Heavy rains wreak havoc with local dams. A professional basketball team considers a Fall River franchise.
My mind is obviously not on the city as I talk about grills and seafood. Mayor Flanagan however concerns himself with a dire budget situation and announces plans on hosting several public forums.
With the new court house getting ready to open the issue of parking suddenly hits the news. The casino issue heats up. The city council hears about the plans for the new Morton Middle. Shawn Cadime  is tapped as the new city administrator.
Former Fall River Superintendent Dr. Nick Fischer gets mostly high marks in his new position as Superintendent in New London, CT. Meanwhile Fall River School Committee member Joe Martins gets into hot water over some remarks concerning Boston's Gay Pride Parade. Mayor Flanagan announces plans for a Downtown Farmer's Market.
Former Mayor John Arruda passes away. The RDA votes to sell 300 acres to the Mashpee Wampanoags. The legislature agrees in principle to a gaming bill.
City Councilor Brian Bigelow is arrested in a prostitution sting. The race for Joan Menard's senate seat gets ugly. Flanagan involves himself in the affairs of the Zoning Board.
The RDA votes to retain the services of the Fall River Office of Economic Development. State Senate candidate Mike Coogan gets "Hummeled". Primary Day results in ZERO surprises.
A View From Battleship Cove focuses on asking a question to the candidates. Steve Torres get angry "on air".
Rumors circulate that King Philip Lunch will remain open. Pro-casino forces say it's all about the jobs, I say that just isn't true. A look to Bethlehem brings MORE casino concerns not less.
Fall River announces plans to auction off 5 former schools in Feb of 2011. TJX announces AJ Wright closure. City seems ready to revisit Biopark proposal. Is the casino dead?

Taking the Plunge

This Saturday several supporters of Forever Paws Animal Shelter will join City Councilor Pat Casey and Mayor Will Flanagan for a polar bear plunge in the frigid waters of Mount Hope Bay. The event put together by Casey will be held in her Sandy Beach neighborhood.
Now, I think it's a great thing that people want to support a local animal shelter. Personally I don't like jumping into cold water in the dead of Summer so these folks deserve a big hand for doing so in the frosty grip of Winter. Shelters deserve our support and they often provide amazing service to our four-legged friends on very tight budgets. I also understand that Pat has been a big advocate of Forever Paws and this is one of the things that I have admired about Councilor Casey, she is a community activist at heart.
The problem is she IS a City Councilor. To have her put together an event that favors one shelter and to include the Mayor and other city officials seems wrong. It seems almost like a city endorsement of one shelter over another. I've been to both shelters and I think both do good work. If Pat wanted to support Forever Paws she should have participated in an event that somebody else put together but since she is the one who put it together I think it should have been to the benefit of both of the city's shelters.
Again both shelters do good work and if you're able deserve your support. A quick check shows that you can donate to either shelter from their website.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Who Killed the Casino?

It's a sentiment that I've heard on the radio and read in the paper. Ten taxpayers have decided the fate of the entire city! How dare THEY decide what is right for the rest of us! Don't they know how many people needs JOBS? Don't they know how many are struggling to survive and stay in their homes? How dare they kill Fall River's last chance at jobs in this city!

Like I said, it's a sentiment that I've heard on the radio and read in the paper and it's plain bullshit.

The ten taxpayers did not kill the casino. Yes their lawsuit halted the land sale to the Wampanoags but really the only direct impact that has had is to deny the Redevelopment Authority of revenue it gets from land sales. For the RDA this is a real issue because they are in desperate need of the money but for the casino it's just one small little hurdle.

Now don't get me wrong I think what these 10 taxpayers have done is fantastic. I think they're heroes. I have major issues with taking land that only was transferred to the city and to the RDA with the stipulation that is not be used for a casino and then ignoring that and working around it. The argument is the stipulation would have been in place but the reality is if the land were to become sovereign land the stipulation wouldn't matter.

However, halting the land sale didn't kill the casino. Even if the sale of the land happened tomorrow you couldn't build on it. Casino gaming isn't legal in Massachusetts. That has to go back before the legislature and then back before the governor. And while I am hearing from some that it will come back before the legislature it doesn't mean it will pass. Even if it does pass a panel will have to select which proposals get a license. There is no guarantees at all that Fall River would be one of the ones selected.

Again the 10 taxpayers didn't kill the casino because it's not legal in Massachusetts and even if it were there is no guarantee Fall River would be one of the selected locations.

Of course the tribe also wanted to put the land into trust which would make it sovereign land. While this would certainly eliminate the problem of the it not being legal or the risk of not being selected Sovereign status is no guarantee either. The tribe has no direct connection to the land and such claims are said to get a low priority.

The 10 taxpayers didn't kill the casino because sovereign status was never a given and without the tribe can't build because it's not legal in Massachusetts and there is no guarantee that Fall River would be one of the selected locations.

Lastly, even if the land sale had gone through with all the other obstacles in the way it would be years, if ever, before a casino was built and operational. It would be years before they ever broke ground.

The 10 taxpayers didn't kill the casino, they simply added one more hurdle to the process. Maybe it will be the straw that broke that camel's back but overall it's a small hurdle compared to what the casino already faced. What the 10 taxpayers have done is given us an opportunity to take a breath and reassess. With Meditech building just over the Freetown line locating the Biopark in the north end makes more sense than ever. It is a project that can break ground almost immediately and one the whole region sees the benefits of. UMD's Chancellor McCormack still believes that the 300 acre site is the best location for the biopark. As for the casino, it's not dead. Mayor Flanagan is already talking to the Wampanoag's about alternate locations and considering that it's not yet legal we have time to do it right.

Is the Casino Dead?

With the city's appeal denied by Appeals Court Justice Kafker is Mayor Flanagan really ready to abandon his plans for a resort casino and work to reestablish a biopark in the north end of the city?

It would seem so. Flanagan has stated that he is not out of options but indicated the city would take no further legal action. He has also indicated that he would be talking to the state officials and Chancellor Jean McCormack.

Is a casino really dead?

Maybe not.

I think if someone threw the Mayor a lifeline he would grab it. At this point he would need some indication that a casino bill would be a high priority in this next legislative session. The lifeline could also come in the form of removing the land restriction on the 300 acre site, which would make the land sale legal.

Of course neither of these things would make a casino in Fall River a reality. There are other obstacles.

It seems that the Mayor is ready to at least talk about bringing the biopark back to the site and Chancellor McCormack has stated that this is the ideal site. She has also made it clear that if the University commits its resources it will only be with a binding agreement in place.

Is a casino dead?

Maybe not.

It turns out the Mayor has been discussing other possible locations in the city with the Wampanoags. If that's the case well then maybe we really could have both. It might even lead to a casino proposal I could support.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Too Dark to See?

An elderly man was hit while trying to cross South Main Street near
the Mitchell Apartment building. Normally this wouldn't be something
that I would blog about but there was something about the story that
got my attention. The Herald News reported that the driver slowed when
the elderly man's daughter was crossing but didn't see him step out
from between two parked vehicles.

The comment section seems filled with back and forth comments on
whether the driver should have used more care of the pedestrian.

Just last night I found myself driving on Bay Street near Gold Medal
Bakery and as I was driving someone crossed from the side of the road
where the bakery is on over to Sunset Hill.

I never saw them.

The only thing I saw was a darkness that broke up the beam from the
headlights. Now the person crossing didn't jump out in front of me.
They were a safe distance in front and I had plenty of time to slow
down. But as I got closer I could see that there was another person
holding a child between two vehicles waiting to cross. What if they
had decided to go? What if they had assumed I saw them and was going
to stop?

Now things are a bit different between Sunset Hill and Mitchell
Apartments. There is no crosswalk with a light to stop traffic. I
don't think there is any crosswalk at all.

While the commentors online focused on the driver, the pedestrian, the
crosswalk, the vehicles headlights, I was caught by this:

"Police said the street was not very brightly lit…"

Now personally I have driven that stretch of Bay Street enough to
think that they should have no parking on both sides of the road and
create parking spaces within the grounds of Sunset Hill. But I have
also driven it enough to know that when it is really dark out there is
not enough illumination from the street lights. Now this accident
takes place and the police say the street wasn't very brightly lit.

It seems to me we should make sure that areas that are high traffic
and have crosswalks should be well lit.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Don’t shop at TJ Maxx this Christmas

TJX the parent company of TJ Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods and AJ Wright has announced that they are closing all AJ Wright stores in 60 days. They will also be closing two warehouses one here in Fall River and the other in Indiana. The closings will put over 1,400 Massachusetts employees out of work, about 800 of them in the Fall River area alone.

Companies are in the business of making money. That's the goal and the priority. I get that, and if AJ Wright was losing money I could understand this decision. However AJ Wright is estimated to have made 10 million dollars in after tax profit for the year. So this decision isn't about making profit, it's about making MORE profit. I get that companies are not obligated to have a moral conscience but something seems terribly wrong with closing a profitable division and putting over 4,000 people out of work because you want to make MORE money.

In this economy companies should take pride in putting people back to work not laying them off so the rich can get richer.

In Fall River the AJ Wright Warehouse may be closing but the AJ Wright store will be renovated and converted to either a TJ Maxx, Marshalls or HomeGoods store but really let me give TJX some advice..just close the store. After all you're putting 800 people out of work, so they can't shop there. Fall River already has over 5,000 citizens looking for work so they're not going to be shopping there either. No, you'd be better off closing it now. Think of your investors!

But if you decide to go ahead and open your store anyway I won't be shopping there. You see as a corporation you have the right to decide what to do with your assets. You can open locations and close them however you see fit and for whatever reason you see fit. You can even close a profitable division simply to make MORE money. But I get to decide where I spend my money and I'm not giving it to a company that puts people out of work simply for greed.

I would urge anyone reading this to considering not giving your business to TJ Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, or AJ Wright.  

Thursday, December 09, 2010

School Auction

Five former schools will be auctioned tentatively this February. The schools represent 1/3 of the total of vacant schools the city currently has.
It's understandable why the city would want to move forward on disposing of the Belisle, Coughlin, Lincoln, Brayton Avenue, and old Henry Lord schools. The sale of any of the buildings would generate some much needed revenue for the city not only from the purchase but also from real estate tax. Selling the buildings would also save the city money as Fall River would no longer have to pay to maintain and secure the buildings and grounds. The city would also not have pay for utilities such as heat and electricity. Besides if the city has no clear use for the buildings it's better to see them developed in some way shape or form than to sit and deteriorate further.
The problem is there was a whole lot of talk about getting community input to decide the fate of these buildings. What ever happened with that? I haven't heard much about what the input amounted to, or how it will be used by city officials. After all these buildings pretty much served as a prominent cornerstone for the neighborhoods they once served. Making sure that their future development fits in with the character of the neighborhoods and at the same time makes sense for the future of the city should be the top priority. So I'm dismayed to read in the Herald News article that Attorney Torres saying that properties would be sold to the highest qualifying bidder.
Selling these properties to the highest bidder may seem like the wisest move, especially considering the tough financial situation Fall River finds itself in, but the reality is it is much more important to award these properties to the bidders who have the best long-term proposal. The best proposal should be one that fits the character of the neighborhood and makes sense for the future of the city. It may be that in one instance it is more desirable to tear down the existing building to develop a new building. If that is consistent with the character of the neighborhood, the needs of the city, and represents the best investment in the property (which should take into consideration future taxes generated, and potential job creation) then this is the offer that should be accepted; even if that means turning down one that offers more cash initially but in the long-term will do little to benefit the city.
Attorney Torres mentions that the Lincoln School might be an ideal site for owner occupied condominiums and I would agree. However I think it might also be worth discussing it as a possible site for the Antioch School. I know they have expressed interest in the Highland School, but so has the Children's Museum and so has Truesdale Clinic. Why not see if the school, which is currently closer to the Lincoln might not have some interest in the that site? Torres also discusses the Belisle and mentioned that with 5 acres of land  there could be " a half-dozen house lots" placed there. Is he implying tearing down the school and developing 6 house lots? In Fall River 5 acres equals about 20 house lots! Do we really want to see a realistically dozen houses crammed into that space? If so where will those kids go to school? The Viveiros School is already at maximum capacity. Perhaps the Belisle shouldn't be sold. Originally the master school plan called for the school to be kept and expanded in capacity at some point in the future. Why, if the original plan called for expanding it and with the nearest school already at capacity are we looking to sell it?
Again, we should be looking and actively working for proposals that best suit our long term needs. Selling Belisle to developers for house lots may bring put cash in our pockets now, and heck maybe even return some nice real estate tax but that has to be factored against the impact on the neighborhood and the cost of services that we will have to provide. And in the case of Belisle I think we really need to answer the question are we sure we're not going to need it and if so how do we replace it? Condos may be a perfect fit for Lincoln, but Antioch may better proposal on the grounds that it would free up the Highland and possibly allow us to develop two beneficial proposals instead of hoping for a suitable develops for the Lincoln.
Back in 2006 we bid out the former police station stressing that we were going to award it to the best proposal. Through a comic series of missteps we concluded we should have appraised the building first to determine value and went and decided to re-auction the building. Now with an established "value" the minimum bid was much higher than the previous winning bid. Of course the second time around the city accepted a much higher bid but look at what has happened to the property. Any additional profit made has long ago been spent. Had we gone with the original bid, even at a much lower value today that property would house a new office complex and would be generating revenue for the city in the way of higher real estate taxes. 
We need to make sure we get this right and that we auction of these properties in a way that is going to benefit the city not just today but years from now. We need to get this right because after these 5 schools we have 10 more to go.