Monday, March 29, 2010

Salem Jail’s Open House

Long line of people waiting to get in

There was never a time during the Salem Jail’s existence that people would be waiting to get in to the Jail, but it happened yesterday during a scheduled open house.

There were about 30-50 people in line at any one moment and about an equal number of people in the Jail itself.  Several hundred people likely went through.  (Relatively few people visited the other buildings in the open house, the jailer’s building and the (reconstructed) carriage house.)

There wasn’t much overlap between the areas we were allowed to visit in the open house, and the parts of the Jail that Dan Stanwood took me through two years ago.  The open house took us through the eastern side of the building facing the parking lot;  the tour was mostly on the west side.  (Dan offered to take my party through more of the facility but we were short on time and I had had enough video to make the show out of anyway.)

The front entrance hasn’t changed much from then:

Main entrance, old Jail


Main entrance, new Jail

The pay phone pedestal is still there!  If you’re observant, you may have noted the white metal wheelchair lift in the old photo.  Inmates with disabilities were brought in with the lift (and stayed on the first floor as the rest of the building was not accessible.)

Today, there’s a ramp, or what appears to be one.

Wheelchair ramp, new Jail

Inside, one of the old cells near the entrance has been preserved:

old Jail cell

This will be part of a small museum.

The new Jail has an elevator:

Salem Jail elevator

Reportedly, the hook on the ceiling of the dining area upon which people were hanged, is still there in one of the units:

Hanging hook

One of the units:

One unit, overlooking St. Johns

In a few months this could be someone’s home.

Grafitti on Jail door:  This is my home

My Flickr stream of the old Salem Jail.

My Flickr stream of the Salem Jail renovation, including the open house.

Monday, March 22, 2010

March 2010 Unofficial Minutes of the Salem Commission on Disabilities

Meeting of the Salem Commission on Disabilities

Salem Commission on Disabilities

Minutes for March 22, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Salem Commission on Disabilities met at scheduled at 4 PM in the SATV conference room

Jean Levesque and Andy LaPointe will not be present.

Present were Lisa Cammarata, Human Resources (in Jean’s place), Jack Harris, Co-chair, David Tracht, David Moisan, Mike Taylor, Charlie Reardon, Co-chair, Debra Lobsitz, Jean Harrison, and Mike Sosnowski, Council liaison.

Jack: Meg Robertson from the Massachusetts Commission of the Blind called in sick and could not show for her presentation.

Capt. John Jodoin of the Salem PD is here to discuss the Right on Red law and how it affects pedestrians and people with disabilities. He’s going to talk about my “favorite” intersection, Riley Plaza.

Capt. Jodoin: History. Massachusetts passed the Right on Red law in 1980's in response to the (ongoing) energy crisis. We have the law but we apply it differently from every other state.

All other states allow right on red unless posted. We don’t allow right on red unless it is posted at individual intersections.

Crosswalk signals are not good for people with disabilities who often have to wait several cycles to cross the street.

The timespan for pedestrian crossing is very short; the normal way we evaluate an intersection is how quickly it can move traffic. But it must be able to allow pedestrians to move safely. This conflicts.

Many times, I’m in my car [cruiser] watching a disabled person try to cross and I pull over the car, get out, and make the traffic stop to let the person cross.

David Martel: How are seatbelt fines assess?

Capt. Jodoin: Seatbelt fines are tacked on to whatever other fines we assess. We have a course on brain injury that we have motorcyclists we find without helmets take.

You can count on Massachusetts to take federal law and interpret it in its own special way.

Jack: Right on red? Is it option for the driver?

Capt. Jodoin: No, not if the intersection is signed for no turn on red. It’s very confusing, especially the intersection near the post office. It’s marked so cars can’t block it, but even if there were a machine gun nest were there, people still do.

Capt. Jodoin: The state gets interested since it is a state route (1A and 114). We would have preferred two four-way intersections there, but the current Riley Plaza is still much safer than before.

Jack: That’s what Meg would have brought up. We have audible signals, but with right on red, how does the blind person know?

Capt. Jodoin: They don’t. That’s the problem. It’s a confusing mess and we don’t have an answer. We would have liked to have an overpass there.

Jack: How is the intersection [Wash. And Derby] accident stats?

Capt. Jodoin: Don't know. Don’t have figures but since Riley Plaza removal it is much better. Before the redesign there was at least one fatality every year.

Ultimately, the pedestrian is the controller. If he or she is in the crosswalk they have the right of way regardless if the driver has right on red.

Jack: Have we been told that? From blind community: "I'm in the crosswalk…but will traffic stay still for me?"

David Tracht: My problem, many of the crosswalks are not painted well. It’s especially bad in the morning and evening with the sun.

Capt. Jodoin.: Yearly ritual. We put down the hot markings, but they are destroyed by plows. It's New England. No good marking.

Jack: Cambridge has lighted crosswalks. How does it work?

Capt. Jodoin: The state is asking for the laws to be changed to allow stop light cameras. Right now an officer needs to monitor the camera at all times. They could also be used for pedestrian incidents.

Automated cameras take pictures of cars violating the red light, take a picture of the car again in the intersection, and another camera takes pictures of the plate.

Camera has a computer processor; if there's an amber alert or a BOLO and plate camera finds a match, it alerts.

Riley Plaza is ideal--it is the biggest longest intersection in Salem that pedestrians have to cross.

Jack: Other cities and towns, are they getting involved?

Capt. Jodoin: Yes. Unfortunately, the camera can only do one thing at a time, Amber Alerts or red-light violations. A person is still at police headquarters looking at the images to determine if there are real violations.

Jack: You have a yellow light, say. When does the violation start in the intersection?

Capt. Jodoin: The light has to be red when the vehicle crosses the stop line for it to be a violation. But, Massachusetts has a twist: If you see a yellow, you are supposed to treat it as a stop sign.

Jack: There was a news story recently, a lot of MBTA buses don’t obey the signals. Does this apply to state vehicles (MBTA)?

Capt. Jodoin: Sole discretion for determining violations is with the officer. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an MBTA vehicle or not.

Jack: I’d heard of a lot of violations re MBTA. Do you remember any?

Capt. Jodoin: A bus was coming in early in the morning, in Riley Plaza of all places, and it was 5 degrees out, and the bus’s brakes were frozen. They hit someone at Dunkin Donuts and kept going over the curb into the Riley Plaza parking lot itself. That’s the only instance I remember.

Capt. Jodoin: We have to follow what the will of the community is. An ironclad rule we follow: Enforcement is not a way to generate capital, but to insure safety.

The Commission could do an announcement, PSA, etc., on pedestrian safety. Like the one done for school kids, etc. We had cones on crosswalks reminding people to stop.

Jack: Remember those lime-green kid-shaped cutouts in Peabody that neighborhoods would put in the road? Those were controversial.

Capt. Jodoin: We could put a thousand of those. Anything that makes people stop, we’ll use.

We have another vehicle speed display we got used from the Avon police.

Jack: John has been a huge friend to the Commission and to the City of Salem and has served the Commission very well. I’m proud and humbled to say he’s been an excellent resource to us and the police department. I’m highly pleased with the expertise of not only the police department but also with the expertise of individual officers who have shown great sensitivity to people with disabilities.

Capt. Jodoin: You need to make more public service announcement videos and notices on the [SATV] bulletin board.

Jack: I remember hearing about a program where there were posters in businesses where kids in trouble could go into and get help. Don’t know what came of it but it could be done in conjunction with Project Lifesafer.

Capt. Jodoin: Project Lifesaver is Lojack for people. In fact, Lojack bought the company. [Project Lifesaver is an independent nonprofit.] Because our program is named and modeled after the national program, they don’t charge the city for the equipment.

Andy got us $3000 to get started.

Person wears small device (like a gps bracelet).

2200 saves nationwide.

Average find time: 30 minutes.

100% success—everybody’s been found.

It cost us $3,000 for the startup and training [that we got from Andy].

We have one application so far.

Cost to the users is $99 to start up and $30 per month.

The bracelet is made of tough nylon that’s hard for the wearer to remove. It’s not a problem for Alzheimer’s patients but many autistics can’t stand the feel of it—they get sensory overload.

A few years ago, we had an Alzheimer’s patient wander off. We found the guy but we were about to get extra officers from out of town to help. Fortunately, it was during the summer. And the guy was found near his house in a vacant apartment.

For some strange reason, many Alzheimer’s patients go to the water.

We find them with the system with two radios, and find the nearest body of water. And narrow down the search that way.

David Tracht: The nursing homes with Alzheimer’s patients could use it; have they been approached?

Capt. Jodoin: Yes. A word about funding. A charitable account is being set up by city for people in need of it.

We’re trying to get it covered with Homeland Security money. Boston is signing up in the spring.

It’s a completely portable system. We can drive around in the car with the system, and then get out of the car and use our hand-held antennas to continue on foot.

Project Lifesaver is a win-win! We have over a hundred applications out there!

Jack: Woman in Waltham who went into the bank, left, and apparently died. If she had had something like that on her, perhaps she could have been found sooner.

Capt. Jodoin: It’s a great program.

If someone has the system, and passes away, the family can donate the bracelet to the city and it will be available.

Jack: It works with another program, Are You OK?, that the senior center runs. I think with the Salem PD putting these programs in place, we make the city more attractive, doing what we need

Capt. Jodoin: I was the least involved with the startup. Andy has done all the legwork and he and Friends of the Council on Aging have been great!

You can call Andy if you have any questions about the program; he’s done more than anyone else to get it going.

A search can cost $50,000 per hour, so this can save money as well as time.

Jack: It does put people at risk when you perform searches.

MBTA Garage update:

We won a victory at the 30% Design meeting: There will be a full-height platform. Next push: Covered platform. Security: Cameras would be in the new garage. I asked the head of security there if they would be working with the Salem PD? I got the standard answer (“oh, yes, of course.”), but I am going to ask the mayor's office for sitdown between T and SPD and ask for cameras in the new garage so that our technologies and the T’s are integrated. The cameras the captain is talking about may be similar to the ones the T will use.

Jean H.: I have a question about the 911 Indicator form? Can the homebound disabled fill out the form?

Capt. Jodoin: Yes. Call and tell the dispatcher. We processed 20-50 forms this week. [SATV produced and is airing a PSA on the indicator form.]

If someone indicates they are mobility-impaired, deaf/HoH, blind, allergic--puts a code on the dispatch form for that address.

Lisa C.: Promotion ran in Salem Gazette and Salem News.

Capt. Jodoin: Disabled people don't like to wave the flag. We got 20-30% of the forms returned. But it is voluntary and confidential. It’s all under your control.

Jean H.: It’s ironic the forms are at City Hall—on the fourth floor!

Lisa C.: Form (In PDF) is available on the city website ( on the Commission page amongst others.

Mike S.: Can it be filled out online?

Capt. Jodoin: No. It can’t be done on line; we must verify the address. It is a state form. It can’t be submitted electronically for that reason (at least not by the city itself.) I maintain the master file and have to change it constantly. We have several “0” addresses that front onto other streets.

Jack: A few days ago, a fire in Dorchester. Brother and sister. Sister was bedridden on 2nd floor (and the brother died too). How would the 911 indicator have helped? Are the forms specific?

Capt. Jodoin: No, it’s not that detailed. Computer screen is small and not enough room for detailed information. The dispatcher display will come up with the information on the owner of the telephone not necessarily person with disabilities.

Jack: Many people are giving up their landlines, which are in the E911 system. Cellphones connect to the state PD with 911. Are cellphones supported with this?

Capt. Jodoin: We’re making progress. Eventually, cellphones will be in the same system. We can track phones by 10-mile circles around cell towers now, but are hoping for it to be in the block level someday.

Jack: Peabody woman who ended up in a lake comes to mind.

Capt. Jodoin: She made a last minute phone call saying she was in the water. We narrowed it down to the cell tower but there were about 5 or 7 lakes in the area. We sent a dive team.

On the second search dive, we had a side-scanning sonar paid for by the family. We found an old rusted car, not much more than four tires and a mound of rust. But we found a second object, dropped an anchor and sent in a diver. It was the car and the woman.

Jack: It demonstrates the fact that our police department is involved in a lot of things and I am proud of that. We need to support them in any way we can. Including the new chief, who is doing a great job.

Capt. Jodoin: We ran after one guy once, we chased him to a marina and he’s hugging the piers. Bob St. Pierre (the Chief) was yelling at the guy and pointing his gun. And he was in his civilian clothes!

Jack: He’s on the Licensing Board now. It shows his dedication in not wanting to be idle.

Charlie: The Citizen’s Academy program: Will that come back?

Capt. Jodoin: It’s all about money. We are flatlined in the budget. We had a program at SATV, “Behind the Badge” which was great and won national awards. But we were shorthanded and didn’t have the funds to continue.

We had a program for sixth-graders to keep them out of gangs and people loved it—but it’s gone. We hope it and all the other programs come back. But we’ve had good budgets and bad budgets.

David Martel: The kids know everything. Cops would know them personally. And talk to their parents.

Capt. Jodoin: We teach the youth: YOU are part of the community, you have a role. You can be the Man, you can be part of the community. They’ll be in high-school and college and in the workplace before they know it!

We want to get them to be part of the bigger picture.

Jack: The Citizen’s Academy had accessibility features built into it. Andy participated in it, and a deaf person participated through an interpreter. It was great.

Capt. Jodoin: We want, need to, erase the us-vs-them mentality. The police are part of the community and the community is part of the police.

Jack: Anything else? Thank you, Captain Jodoin.

The meeting adjourned at 5:30 PM.

Next meeting April 20, 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My letter to John Tierney on the health reform bill

No picture in this post.  I just faxed this to my congressman. 

Disclaimer:  Does not represent an official stance of the Salem Commission on Disabilities.

Short and I hope to the point:

Congressman John Tierney

2238 Rayburn

House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Tierney,

I’ve followed the news on the health care bill and I understand that you’re undecided on it.

I urge you to vote yes tomorrow.

In your home town you may be familiar with the Salem Commission on Disabilities. We represent the interests of all of Salem’s citizens, businessmen and visitors with disabilities.

20% of the citizens of Salem have a disability.

Health care, and access to health care, are critically important. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 70%—this is a brutal statistic!

Many people on SSI or state welfare are trapped there, lest they lose their health coverage. More, still, become disabled and lose their jobs when their employers get the word and the premium hikes come—they can’t afford to keep people with health issues!

I am an unrepentant supporter of single-payer health care. But the current bill is probably as far as we’ll be able to get. There’ll always be another chance, if President Obama can be courageous.

I realize that, outside Salem, in the rest of your district, this is not a popular stance.

But it’s the courageous one.

You opposed the Iraq war, and expressed that opinion and got through it. You’re still in office.

I ask you to take a stand again, no matter how loud the opposition gets.

David Moisan

Commissioner, Salem Commission on Disabilities

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How Big is Monopoly Park?

Monopoly Park, based on bypass road blueprints

UPDATE:  Square footage for Lappin Park added—see below.

So how big is the Salem Jail greenspace?

The opening image in this post is from the original blueprint that Sue Cranney provided me of the bypass road project at St. Peter St.  St. Peter St. is on the left.  Howard St. is on the right.  The Jail and cemetery are on the bottom of the image.  You can clearly see the existing access road (to the old sally port) at bottom center.

The new access road that NBV is planning to build will cross the greenspace in the middle, exiting onto Bridge St.  (An exit at St. Peter St. was considered but quickly rejected.)

I should note, very strongly, that this blueprint reflects the greenspace as MassHighway planned it.  It is in no way an “official” plan for the space.  I imagine NBV will be forthcoming with that very soon.  I only hope I get an electronic copy, such as a PDF, next time around.

“Monopoly Park”, also, is not the official name although I’m going to do my best to make it so!


These are my estimated boundaries of the green space.  I used the blueprint to get measurements.  According to the scale 1 inch corresponds to 80 feet, and my pedometer confirms it, as walking from the corner at St. Peter to the corner of Veterans Riverway @ Bridge St measures about 250 feet;  the blueprint says 240, but that is assuming a totally straight-line walk.  It’s likely close enough.

For measurement purposes I had to split the space into two triangles, calculate the area of each and sum the areas together.  I used the first calculator I found, CSG Area Calculator.

I calculated 35,476  sq. ft. for Monopoly Park. 

Summarizing what I’ve found so far:

  • Armory Park: 21,316 sq. ft.
  • Gonyea Park: 23,452 sq. ft
  • Lappin Park: 11,480 sq. ft.
  • “Monopoly Park”: 35,476 sq. ft.

By comparison with the other two three parks, “Monopoly Park” is no tiny space!

The likelihood of Armory Park being reclaimed for parking is nil.  Gonyea Park could conceivably be reclaimed for parking by some developer, but this would deprive the whole neighborhood of their greenspace.  As it is, it is a very small space to serve what is now a very dense area with the nearby Jefferson complex.

If I lived there and a developer wanted to make it a parking lot I would complain no less—and more loudly—than the neighbors!

One of the most successful greenspaces in downtown, one I didn’t visit for this post, is Lappin Park, home of the famous Bewitched Statue.  It is popular at all hours.

It’s half the size of Armory Park, making it the smallest park downtown.  It was carved out of a vacant lot left when the building that was once there burned in the early 1970’s.

Lappin Park

To my experience, that had been a vacant lot up until Lappin Park was built.  There was never any (successful) consideration towards making it a parking lot though in many ways parking was an anxiety even then to Salem.

It was never a parking lot.

Do we want to make it into parking?  I’m sure Samantha’s statue could be accommodated somehow.  Still want to?  We could probably squeeze 15 spaces in there.  Why not?

As alienated as I am with the neighborhood groups, they and I both agree we need to keep all the green space we can have.

“Monopoly Park” is no little dinky greenspace that people will miss.

Gonyea Park: Invisible Park

Gonyea Park

Gonyea Park is one of Salem’s newer parks.  It is also one of Salem’s invisible parks.

Gonyea Park

Gonyea Park was established in 1997 to serve the families in the Northey St. area.  Before that park was built, the nearest public parks were Salem Common and, further yet, the Collins St. Park.  Even the closer Common is “on the Moon” as far as Northey St. is concerned, separated by busy Bridge & Winter Sts over a half-mile away.

It’s a neighborhood park that’s so well hidden that you can’t even find it from nearby Howard St., which now has the northern end of the huge Jefferson complex.  It is accessible from there through Woodbury Court, and it is on the very end of Northey St. @ Smith St.

Playground at Gonyea Park

Behind the park is the Veterans Riverway and the commuter rail tracks.  There’s a buffer of bushes that effectively shields the park from the Riverway below.  (Northey St. is one of a few streets along the Riverway that does not have an entrance to the bike path.)

It wasn’t the easiest task to calculate the square footage.  Gonyea Park is a rough trapezoid (emphasis on “rough”) with a rectangular playground area.  Between the winter-stiffened turf and the irregular shape, it’s a wonder I could get the measurements.

Best I could do, using PowerShell and the Bing math page on trapezoids, is 23,452 square feet for the park including the playground area and part of the entrance leading up to it.  All of my square footage estimates have included sidewalks and driveway areas.

Next:  How big is “Monopoly Park”?

Armory Park, Measuring Up

Armory Park Entrance

Following up on my previous post, I’m visiting parks around my neighborhood and comparing their size to “Monopoly Park”, my name for the Salem Jail greenspace that some think is “dinky”.

This is Armory Park, dedicated in 2002 and built on the grounds of the former Salem Armory, which an arsonist burned in 1982.

Armory Park

Many people still have hard feelings about how the Peabody Essex Museum treated the Armory facade, which many people wanted preserved.  I lived through this and the bitterness remains with older Salemmites to this day.  Many of them vow never to visit the park ever again.

However, most users of the park are visitors knowing none of the history.  It’s a popular area, now owned by the PEM, and a stop for tourist trolleys insures continuous foot traffic.  I pass it every day and I would be lying if I said I never stopped there for a break in the spring or the summer.  (Sometimes the PEM’s public Wifi leaks out the front entrance and into the park, on good days.)

Armory Park is a perfect square, measuring 146 feet on each side.  It takes up 21,316 square feet.

Next up:  An invisible park on the Bridge St. Neck.

Is the Salem Jail Greenspace really that small?

Salem Jail Greenspace

Proponents of a parking lot for the Salem Jail green space all say nearly the same thing:  “It’s a dinky little space near cars and traffic!  Why do you want it green?”

Indeed it doesn’t look like much now, littered by construction on the north end (a backhoe was busy laying down sewer pipes, behind the black van in the photo, this afternoon) and that same van and many other vehicles parking on the south side, “my” side.

But is this space really that small?

I set out to take measurements to find out.  I used my feet and a cheap pedometer:

Cheap pedometer

This is a cheap pedometer one can find at Wal-Mart and like stores.  The McDonalds chain was selling ones like these a few years ago as sort of an adult Happy Meal.

This one, like most, can be calibrated to your step size and show your miles walked;  I use it to make sure I’m really walking that far when I go to Salem Willows in the season (which can’t start soon enough!)

To set a pedometer like this, the best way is to walk a known distance, say a city block, several times and average out the number of steps taken.  Then divide the distance in feet by steps taken and multiply by 12 to get your step size to enter into the device.

Since there are few spots in Salem with mile markers accessible to pedestrians, I used Daft Logic’s Google Maps Distance Calculator to get the distance of a block I walk every day, the stretch from Essex St. from Washington Square to New Liberty.  It’s about 446 feet, from the Philips Library corner to Armory Park outside the PEM entrance. 

My pedometer and my notes say I walked this in 160 steps, so that corresponds to 33-1/2 inches.  Can’t put this into my pedometer so 33 inches is good enough.  Neither it, nor my feet, are precision instruments.

Combine this with high-school math and some walking to get a rough measurement of square footage.

I’m not a civil engineer or a surveyor, but this should be close enough to get some idea.  Many people can’t visualize what square footage really means and this is a good way to visualize it.

I visited several parks in my neighborhood and compare them against the Jail green space, which people have suggested be named “Monopoly Park” (A name I would enthusiastically endorse!)

Is Monopoly Park really big enough to be a “real” park?

You might be surprised.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Smoking Ban in Public Housing to Be Discussed (UPDATED)


Nearly a year after it was first proposed, the Council’s Committee on Public Health, Safety and Environment will take up Tom Furey’s proposed smoking ban on public housing in the city.

I loathe and despise the habit but as I said when Tom first proposed it, it’s bad law.  And it’s condescending, encouraging people to think that “poor” (or low-income as the people in my building are) are “bad”.  (If they have money they must be “good” or at least, well, “it’s their money they can do whatever they want with it!”)

Whatever your views on smoking, if you live in public housing and have an opinion, please show up at the meeting.  

Tuesday, 6:30 PM in the Council chambers.  (I can’t be there myself due to other commitments.)

UPDATE:  Last night, the proposal was DOA.


Earlier, Furey said that living in taxpayer-supported public housing was "not a right and an entitlement, but a privilege and a responsibility."

OK, Tom, what’s the next rung down?  The poorhouse?  The homeless shelter?  I have been in public housing for 25 years.  Yes that makes me lazy and irresponsible.  Glad to hear it and will try to uplift myself and my neighbors right away.

Some other comments from the 101st Chairborne, Salem News Regiment:


They have money for smokes because their rent, health care and food costs are largely taken care of by the taxpayer leaving plenty of splash cash.

OK, pretend it’s your mom or dad in my building.  They probably are.  A lot of middle-class people use their parents as tax shelters.  They won’t want their inheritance wiped out by housing when Dad can’t live in the family homestead anymore.  So they’ll have Mom spend down her personal assets and file for Medicaid.

And public housing.  It’s not far from the truth to say that elderly housing is no less a subsidy to middle-class boomers with aging parents, and to old boomers themselves, than it is to dissipated people like myself.

In this economy, and even before, many who would think they were too proud to consider public assistance have come to plead for it. 

And, once they have it, invent justifications for why they are more deserving for public assistance than those “others”.

Meanwhile, in buildings like the Jefferson built by the private sector, you can smoke as thou wilt.   Considering the build quality of that complex, the first tenant to sleep in bed with a smoke may likely be the last one!  (It was, after all, a disposed lit cigarette that destroyed an entire apartment building in Peabody.) 

Not sure about you, Tom, but I am for sure “morally” concerned about that.  As much as I hate the Jefferson, a fire in that complex will be catastrophic and my schadenfreude doesn’t extend to seeing body bags carried out of a smoking crater across the street from me.

Where’s your outrage?  You didn’t think that far ahead when that project was green-lighted in the Usovicz administration?

Now you can grandstand about public housing and personal responsibility. 


Get your head out of your ass.

Salem Commission on Disabilities on Salem Now

The Salem Commission on Disabilities will be the subject of Salem Now tomorrow night (Tuesday) at 7 PM on Channel 16.  It’s a live call in so it’s your best chance to yell at us make us aware of important problems in your neighborhood relating to accessibility.

SATV’s Annual Meeting for 2010.

Patrick and Dave during the show

Pictures from last week’s Annual Meeting

Diana Levesque has a smile for the camera

My cronies:  Ken, Leo, Pat, Frank, Charlie and Sal

Dave fortifies himself an hour before showtime

Bridge Street Reconstruction Begins

Salem Jail Park 2010-03-13 006, originally uploaded by dmoisan.

Bridge St. reconstruction starts today. There'll be an informational meeting at the Carlton School tomorrow night at 7. I won't make that meeting. The neighborhood is no stranger to construction projects like the Veterans Riverway and the Veterans Memorial bridge, and this project is the end of an overall plan spanning over 30 years.

This Salem News article has the usual cynical commentariat about flagmen, corrupt officials and lazy workers.  Yawn.  I love how there are always magical private sector pixies about that would finish projects instantly if we only stood back and let them.  I seem to recall, though, reading over the years of private sector, excuse me, Private Sector contractors getting paid by the day and padding projects.

My colleague Charlie will bear it worse than I will since I live a good distance south of the construction.

(For such a “tiny insignificant greenspace”, it’s remarkable just how much it insulates me from most traffic, especially since I’m just feet away from moving cars on the Ash St. side of my parking lot.)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Final Thoughts on Jail Parking and the Greenspace

Salem Jail brownspace Final followup, I hope, to the ongoing Salem Jail Parking drama.  The Salem News gave an account of last Tuesday’s meeting, and talked about it some more.

Any time the neighborhood associations get involved in discussions like this, I’m unhappy.

I say this even though I was in substantial agreement with those opposed to the parking plan. 

Had New Boston Ventures came to the meeting with their original 39-space plan, I would have opposed it as well.

But NBV proposed what I thought was a very interesting compromise:  12 spaces and an access road.  The access road is required by the fire department in any event.

During the day, NBV suggested that the new spaces could be used by the elderly housing complex in which I live next door.  We have a serious parking problem.  Whatever my views are on over-dependence on the automobile in downtown, there’s an undeniable need for visitor spaces in my building and the adjoining building next door.  You can’t expect an oxygen delivery van to park in Museum Place.

I’d hoped that the committee would take that under consideration and table NBV’s compromise proposal until the next meeting.  The neighbors would vent and rant a bit but that’d be fine.

I had wanted it to work out—having green space, parking and the restaurant all at once.  Maybe it wasn’t possible but no harm in wanting it!

But that did not happen.  Mike Sosnowski had come into the meeting against the idea and went out against it.  The neighborhood groups were a big reason why.

I’d expected the meeting to have fewer attendees than I expected.  I had thought this was a matter for my immediate neighborhood, the Bridge St. Neck association, and perhaps the few urban planning experts amongst us.

Over 100 people showed up, most all from various neighborhood groups around the city.   They all spoke out against the proposal, whether they lived nearby or not. Despite what the News reported, there was no turn of opinion there.  All came in against, all left against.

Low point—angriest point for me—is when a gentleman from the Northfields spoke out against the proposal.

That’s not what I was angry about;  he had expressed many of the concerns I had had as well.  If he had a view of the Jail from across the river, he may have even had a point.  One point I’ve come back to is the great vista of the Jail from both northbound and southbound Bridge St.  It is beautiful!  I can only imagine what it looks like from the river and am looking forward to finding out when spring finally arrives.

But this guy started talking about how my building (and the building next door) didn’t want the restaurant and any commercial development. 

He didn’t ask us.  I know I didn’t coordinate my talking points with others from my building, but I wouldn’t pretend to speak for them.

He of Northfields, likely of a mortgage with five or six zeros in it, dictating to me and my neighbors what we think.

I was livid!

And he’s wrong about commercial development.  Next door to me is 10 Federal.

10 Federal has been a commercial property for the 60 years it existed;  at first for New England Telephone, then NYNEX, Bell Atlantic, Verizon and now a renovated private office building.

Ironically, it’s very visible coming down the Veteran’s Riverway from the north.

The associations are all of a piece, they all think like this man.

And my councilor has no choice but to go along.  I’m very frustrated with him but ultimately I’m sympathetic—he has an impossible position to govern from.

He answers to the Downtown, Salem Common, Bridge St. Neck and Federal St. Associations.  I’m certain that once the Jail is occupied, there will be the Salem Jail Neighborhood Association. 

My greatest fear is that they can and will all speak for me, without actually needing or appreciating my input.  It isn’t as though people in public housing have an “investment” in Downtown.

And that Mike is just going along, out of necessity.

[Note:  I had posted an earlier draft online that was a bit too vituperative overall and particularly unfair to my councilor Mike.  My frustrations with him have been long pent up because I have never been able to have that hard, though productive, conversation that clears the air.  Perhaps we’ll have one sometime. 

PS:   Despite speculation on Salemweb, I doubt that Mr. Treadwell was the guy who spoke—Mr. Treadwell is an expert who would have well known the exact makeup of my neighborhood and that it was once all commercial.]

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Salem Jail Parking Proposal Apparently Dead

Salem Jail Parking presentation at City Council

The City Council met tonight to discuss New Boston Venture’s proposal to reconfigure the greenspace triangle at St. Peter, Bridge and Howard Sts for additional restaurant parking.

The proposal is apparently dead.

Rather than give my opinions again, here are my notes.  No doubt the Salem News will report this tomorrow;  there was already a letter in today’s News opposing the proposal.

I couldn’t hear everybody who spoke—nearly everyone from the neighborhood groups showed up, but the important points are here as best as I could hear and write down.

The original proposal brought by New Boston Ventures (NPV) was for 37 parking spaces carved out of the greenspace near the Jail wall.

NPV came back with a compromise proposal of 13 parking spaces and a turnaround that would be on a new access road from Bridge St.

There are two restaurants currently interested in the space.  They have indicated that additional parking is a prerequisite for their interests.

NPV talked a little about the sidewalk that bisects the current greenspace and will intersect the access road.  Some thought was given to a crushed stone sidewalk recycled from the original granite blocks from the Jail.

NPV expressed great appreciation for the effort that the city, the Council, and the SRA have put in to make the Salem Jail project work.  Everyone agrees it has become a beautiful building and NPV is happy with their efforts so far.

The head of the Planning Dept. (Lynn Duncan, IIRC) has been inside the restaurant space.  It is on a second level with a river view.  She believes the parking plan is much improved.

If there is no restaurant, the space will be made into housing, 3 units.

But the City would much prefer the restaurant;  she is concerned that if the Jail becomes all private housing, that will threaten or make non-viable the small Jail museum that is in the current plans.

One member of the committee (couldn’t make out whom) talked bout the spaces lost from Morency Manor use.  [For a long while, while the Jail property was vacant, visitors to Morency Manor were allowed short term parking in the Jail lot.  These were used by VNA’s, relatives, and other visitors who needed to stop by briefly.]

NPV proposed their lot to be used by Morency Manor visitors during the daytime hours (2 hr. parking.)

Councilor O’Keefe:  The access road must be there on Bridge St. due to fire regulations.  That is not negotiable.

Counicilor Pelletier: Are there condos [in the Jail]?

NPV:  No.  Apartments for now but if phase 2 is approved, the new building will be condos.  Because of a complicated arrangment involving tax breaks for historic properties, this was necessary for the project to go through.

Question from the committee regarding National Grid’s transformer—why did that take three months to settle?

Transformer siting--National Grid changed their mind on NBV’s placement of the distribution transformer on site.   National Parks Service rejected this placement, due to the sensitive granite wall around the Jail.  National Grid then wanted to place their vault with other utilities, water, sewer, etc. and NBV thought that was infeasible.  This went on for some time.  The morning of this meeting [tonight],  National Grid agreed to a compromise placement suitable to NBV, NG and NPS.

A committee member had a question:  Is the road considered a private access road on what is public land.

Rules were suspended so that the public comment period would take place.  Nearly half the room took their place to speak [including my colleague Charlie Reardon, and myself] so I didn’t get everyone and couldn’t.

The public comment was unanimous—No parking!  The points came down to three.

1) Green space is very very important to Salemmites.  No one wanted to lose any.  People were very concerned over the original  37-space proposal, and very few people, if any, were mollified by the compromise, although people appreciated that NBV tried to change it.  The quote of the night came from one woman:  With the recent reconstruction of Bridge St., and the Leslie’s Retreat park space along the North River to the south, Salem has its own “Emerald Necklace”, like the famous green space of parks, rivers and walks in Boston writ small.

2) Why does a restaurant need additional spaces when there are already spaces available during the evening hours?  Moreover, many thriving restaurants manage to survive without storefront parking.  One committee member put it:  “Salem doesn’t have a parking problem, it has a walking problem.”

3) If the restaurant can give up 13 spaces during the day to Morency Manor, spaces that it would use for delivery trucks and etc., perhaps it didn’t need the spaces after all.

Mike Sosnowski had the closing words before the vote.  He had been present during the long planning process for the Bypass Road, some 35 years of effort, and the word [a new word to many of us at the time] was mitigation.  That green space was mitigation for the road, amongst many other compromises that needed to be made.

Mike, continuing:  I respect NBV very much for what they have done so far.  But it is not worth losing that green space to keep the restaurant.

NBV:  Offered and requested to withdraw their proposal.

The committee voted to give a negative recommendation to the full Council. 

Friday, March 5, 2010

March 9th meeting on Salem Jail parking

Tuesday, March 9th, mark your calendar if you live in the St. Peter St./Howard St. area. The Council will meet to discuss this.
RE: Matters in Committee, Authorize Mayor to enter
Right of Entry Agreement with New Boston Ventures (Salem Jail Project)
INVITED: Bridge St. Neck Assoc., Historic Comm.,
Howard St. abutters, SRA, Mayor, New Boston
Ventures, Planner, Solicitor

The meeting starts at 6:30 PM.

Salem So Sweet 2010

Cornerstone Books' ice sculpture, February 2010

I wandered about downtown for Salem So Sweet 2010’s ice sculptures.  This the one outside Cornerstone.

But, oddly, my favorite was a new sculpture outside Tavern in the Square:

Tavern in the Square, ice sculpture

It’s commercial and not at all whimsical but I like it.  Shrugs.

Last Signs of Winter in Salem, 2009-2010

Beautiful snowy February morning, St. Peter St.

We’re seeing the end of winter.  And ready to turn the page to spring, no doubt.

Snow outside SATV, March 2010

Morency Manor Elevator Update, March 2010

Worker installing elevator door.

The elevator construction in my building continues.  A few days ago, I held the door for a five-man crew wrangling a very large item through the front door.  Later that day, I’m with a neighbor and one of the contractors waiting for the elevator and they get to talking about the work.  That big package I helped get in the building was, as I suspected, the elevator cab.  This has to be assembled on site.  I’ve been trying to find pictures of elevator construction on Bing and Google without much success.

That was the first sign of progress I’d personally seen, though I’ve heard the pounding and construction noises for the past few months.  (My unit is neatly between the old elevator and the new one!)

The elevator shaft was finished in January:

Elevator shaft and machine room, Morency Manor

And the permanent view from my window:

New elevator shaft from my window

According to the contractor (and not an official announcement), the work itself will be done in a few weeks.  A few weeks after that, the elevator will be inspected—there are only two inspectors for the whole state—and presumably open for service after that.  So sometime in mid-April, we’ll be using our new elevator.

After that, the talk is that the old elevator, long prone to breakdowns and stalls, will be replaced.  So the construction noise won’t stop for me.

Sign of Spring: SATV's Annual Meeting Next Week

A sure sign of spring: SATV's Annual Meeting, set for March 10th. We're setting up a projection screen to show the entries in our PSA contest. We've had projectors set up before but this one is permanent this year; after years of talking about it, we finally have a projector.