Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Salem Commission on Disabilities, Unofficial Minutes for June 2010

Elevator under construction at City Hall

City Hall elevator, under construction

Salem Commission on Disabilities Minutes for May 15th, 2010

The Salem Commission on Disabilities met at 4 PM on June 15th, 2010. Present were Jack Harris, chair, David Martel, David Tracht, Debra Lobsitz, Jean Harrison, David Moisan, Mike Sosnowski, City Council Liaison and Charlie Reardon, co-chair.

Jean Levesque is recovering from surgery. Andy LaPointe had a personal matter at home to attend to; Michael Taylor is having an accreditation review.

Old Business

Update on Jean.

Jack: He is set to go home soon, by Thursday the 17th. Michael says he’s doing very well. He’s being monitored, so he can’t go home yet. Jean expresses his gratitude at all the cards and well-wishes he has received. He hopes to be home soon.

Market Basket

Jack: I heard from John Matthews. I’m setting up a meeting with him, the mayor's office and the MBTA. Jennifer [his assistant] has offered to get the contacts for us; my contact at the T has moved on so I need to get a new contact. As soon as we get the meeting arranged, we can check off that one, we hope.

Salem Ferry wheelchair access

Jack: The Salem Ferry had a problem during the March storms. A section of pier, essential to wheelchair access, was damaged and needed to be replaced. Tom St. Pierre got in touch with me to let me know the part has gone out to bid to be fabricated. Service started on Memorial Day, and the part was to be replaced on the 15th.

Salem Ferry MBTA passes

Jack: The other part of this—I was at the BCS office in Lynn and had to go up the steps to the train station in Lynn. I fell on the steps--it was a very dark area and no yellow markings or stripes. Anyway, I spoke with a friend at the BCIL and he referred me a person at the T—Gary (can’t remember his last name)--and the T will do a site visit to see what needs to be done. I also got into some other discussions about the Ferry. We sent an email higher up to get T passes accepted on the Ferry. People may have seen a newspaper report about the lower fares this year.

Charlie: The wheelchair access repair? How is it going?

Jack: The MAAB was notified. It was hoped the wheelchair access ramp would be fixed by now but I understand it is a special part.

Jack: Please ride it if you can—it’s a great experience!

David Martel: The ferry's great.

Charlie: It is so smooth and comfortable.

Charlie: Andy and I were on the Ferry and were passing by Logan Airport. There was a very loud roar—a plane flew over us!

Jack: If the wind is just right and depending on the aircraft it is very loud.

Charlie: Andy's dog wanted to dig a hole through the bottom of the boat!

Jack: Some background—we (the city) own the Ferry (the boat) and a private operator runs it.

Jack: The city has been able to get Dominion to sell them the Blaney St. pier; the city is working on grant money to build a new pier for cruise ships there.

Charlie: There have been cruise operators there before.

Jack: But this project will create new opportunities for larger ships.

Jack: The city will need to open up its public transportation options. The Trolley does a good job. I was reading that a cruise ship in the new terminal could carry 600 tourists. That may be a bit much for the Trolley. We hope this opens up transportation options and the Commission will be there to support them.

Salem Common Playground

Jack: The playground is complete. It was a great dedication. Charlie was there.

Charlie: I was there, Jack and Donna (Harris) was there. We were there with Steve Dibble when he built it. We had a crew of over one hundred people for three days. The floor surface is deceiving, it's very soft. Kids fall down and literally bounce back up.

There are two regular swings and two swings for disabled children. It's a great project. A lot of people will enjoy it.

Jack: The group behind it is Parents United. I have to admit they did a great job. They are selling engraved bricks on a new walkway to donors if anyone is interested.

They are holding a dance fundraiser Friday.

They did a great job working with the city.

I also praise Steve Dibble for his efforts, and his sacrifices, to put this together.

But it’s done. We have been talking about this on the Commission for a long time.

Salem MBTA Station

Jack: There's been a little trouble implied by the press, where it was suggested the project was in turmoil. Governor Patrick says the project is still on track.

There was a newspaper article about Beverly’s depot project and the new scheme they will use to build it.

But again in my previous discussions about the Lynn station with my contact at the MBTA, if the Commission wants to look at any accessibility aspect of the Salem design, he will help us to review it.

I don't think it is so much the details that have been already proposed that are already on paper, but the details that have not been committed to, like the covered platform. The raised platform is supposed to be a done deal.

David Martel: Thy MBTA uses a common cost-saving cookie-cutter format for their designs. They used it to build a garage at the Museum of Science, but didn't look at the plans closely enough and had to cut concrete and rework several of the floors and it was very expensive. The cookie-cutter design is cost saving to them but if they make a mistake it costs.

Jack: I think most of what the city has asked for has been supplied. It is just issues like the covered platform. Because of where it is, it gets cold in the winter. I think we’re headed in the right direction. Whether this continues, we will wait and see.

Jack: The courthouse is exposed now. I have not heard a lot about it.

David Martel: We don't hear about it except from the newspapers.

Jack: They will try to get it all done at the same time. I don't think that will happen.

Charlie: They have underground parking, it looks like.

David Martel: Secured parking for prisoners, judges and such.

Jack: Sidelight on that, a new restaurant has been approved for the Jail. Open in August. There will be no parking on the green space--that has been settled. The space will be cleared as soon as the Bridge St. construction is complete.

Most of you are aware that Boston wants to raise its HP parking fines to increase revenue; that has been in the news lately. The mayor has been very vocal recently about parking.

MAAB Update

4 First St.

Jack: I spoke with Tom Watkins. The developers have been directed to make a curb cut by the MAAB. It should actually happen, within 45 days. I haven't gotten the ruling yet.

Parking Issues

David Martel: Woman got a ticket in Danvers for parking in an HP space. She claimed to be disabled but had no placard.

Jack: I guess she went there, twice, and the 2nd time around she parked in the HP space.

When she went into Superior Court to file suit, I guess the court waived the $250 filing fee but her husband couldn't represent him because he'd lost his law license. Point is, she got the ticket, she's got the right to fight it but probably she won't win.

Jean Harrison: Has there been discussion about the HP parking fines? The fines are too small in many communities.

Jack: There has been some discussion resurfacing about increasing our HP parking fines.

David Martel: Some communities like Saugus put the money back into enforcement.

Jack: Yes, Waltham. This funds an off-duty officer on behalf of the city's Commission to find violators. They found that that money comes back threefold what they pay the officer.

Jean Harrison: I have troubles regularly with people parking in the HP space that I need. Several times I have had to find an officer.

Jack: Any time you have problems like that, try to take down the license plate. The police are good about that.

The weird thing: If the woman in Danvers had parked in the fire lane it'd only be $20!

Jean Harrison: Exactly!

Jack: I’m revisiting certain parking lots in the city. One of the areas I have been revisiting is the 400 Highland Ave strip mall. There are spaces there for HP but they aren't appropriate. We actually sent a letter out to the owners and hadn’t heard back. Tom [St. Pierre] is going to follow up. Parking is an issue, is always an issue, will always be an issue, and won’t be resolved.

I want to reiterate quickly: As most know, if you have a HP plate or placard and use a metered space—no fee! If you park in the Almy's lot or the garage [both?], you need to pay. There are HP spots in those places but you need to pay.

A year ago, there was talk about putting a garage on 10 Federal to include HP parking. It didn't happen. There was an offer from Jim Hacker about putting a few HP spaces on the Church St. side of the lot. But there are no curb cuts in that area from the parking lot to the sidewalk; we were working on that but it hadn’t been resolved. There is a new crosswalk in the area—it’s just a matter of curb cut access to the lot itself.

David Moisan: Many people don't have pen and paper. But many do have cellphone cameras. You should use them. It would be a good idea to learn how to use your camera phone and how to send pictures in email to yourself, or transfer the files to your computer via Bluetooth. It’s good not just for parking violations but for curbs, broken sidewalks and etc. Just take pictures before the owner comes back so the owner won’t be tempted to confiscate or destroy your phone or camera.

Charlie: The police told us, never, ever, ever, get into a confrontation.

David Martel: Does the camera really help?

Jack: Oh, yes, the MAAB has gotten photos and taken action on a parking issue based on that.

Debra Lobsitz: I was at a meeting this morning on ways to get funding. The Watertown Commission on Disabilities gets funding from parking fines and puts the money back into communications and other projects to improve accessibility in the town of Watertown.

Jack: Absolutely true. As most know, when those fines are paid here [in Salem] it goes back to the general fund. But in Waltham and other towns, the city realizes there is revenue generated that can be used to improve access. We need to put a bigger bite into HP parking fines.

David Martel: Like Saugus as an example.

Jack: The hope, my hope, is that we can split the funding between the city, the Commission and an off-duty enforcement officer. At least that's what we want.

David Martel: My problem is with the temporary signs for street sweeping that aren’t taken down. People ignore them.

Charlie: They don't take the signs down when they're no longer in effect. They look at the signs three months later and ignore them!

Jack: Debra’s correct. Many commissions have done this and it is an option. Some communities have done that but the disability commissions have been isolated and many feel, unfairly, that the commissions are just collecting fines. But we have been very open and have great relationships with the rest of the city government.

Charlie: The city has been very responsive when we needed to put an HP sign up.

Jack: In fact, the Mayor's office has actually been suggesting these initiatives.

David Martel: We got a significant number of curb cuts installed in the city last year.

Jack: I've never seen as many wheelchairs and cane users as I have seen in the last few years.

New Business

Election of Co-Chairs

Jack: I have called for an election of two co-chairs. This is happening because my term is ending in January [2011] and I do not want to pick it up again. I’ve been here for 15 years. You will get a letter on this. It’s time.

I nominate David Tracht and Debra Lobsitz. You have the nomination sheets; I will print a ballot for next month.

You and all who have come before you have worked hard to bring the Commission to where it is today. On another note: I congratulate David Martel and David Moisan on their reappointments to the Commission.

David Martel: I really didn’t know what our group did until I joined it. This city is held to a higher standard--that came through very clearly during the access training last year.

Jack: The one thing I want to pass along and emphasize is our relationship with the city. Politics is a factor of course, as it is in everything, but if you can work around that you can get a lot done. I'm proud to have worked with various mayors, the licensing board, city inspectors and planners over the years.

David Martel: All of these commissioners now, when they do site visits, do these just for the point of catching mistakes people miss in design and planning, before they get stuck with the mistake afterwards.

Jack: We gave owners and stakeholders the opportunity to go to the AAB. Sometimes, they had a different take on the issue than we did and that is fine. I do the best I can--but people can see things differently. We want different perspectives.

David Martel: As a newly-disabled person, I’ve seen things a bit different. Entertainment is very important to us, as it is to able-bodied people.

Jack: I don’t want any of you to feel you aren’t a part of the Commission because you aren’t working actively on something at the moment. Your time will come. The mayor has recognized that each of you has skills that the city needs to make accessibility work and contribute to the success of the Commission.

Disability Policy Consortium

Jack: There will be a Disability Policy Consortium regional meeting. June 29th, 6 PM, Wilmington.

If people would like to go, let me have a sense. I gave a heads-up to Doug Bollen, if you want to go and there are enough of us we can get a right. I don't think MOD is going to do a regional meeting in the area anytime soon. It's a good time and place to network.

Another sidelight: In the Globe, this group submitted a lawsuit when the water emergency took place a month ago; there wasn't notice given to people with disabilities.

Let me know tomorrow--if there are enough people I will get Doug Bollen to get a van.

This would be a very interesting meeting for the Commission to go to.

4th of July Fireworks

Jack: Charlie and I have been talking about accessibility on the lawn at Derby Wharf. I mentioned it to the city a few years ago and also last year, but it was too late to get something done.

They're still trying to figure it out. But there will be an access aisle on Derby Wharf and an area on Derby St. for mobility-impaired folks.

What I told Ellen [Talkowsky]: Let's try this. It should be publicized on the city website. It's hard to judge exactly how much space we need. The other part of that: at the end of the night; I have two disabled daughters in wheelchairs. It's scary trying to get out of there at night with them. I've been in touch with the PD and asked them if there is a free officer, if they could assist people in getting out of there.

The other thing put in place: There'll be a portable toilet for wheelchairs. There are disabled restrooms on the park service space but we wanted another one.

Objective: We want to see how well this works. We don't want to use more space than we need nor make it inconvenient for non-disabled people. If people aren’t going to use the space, we don’t want to go to the effort.

Charlie: If they take a two-foot line from Derby St. to the lawn, the visitor’s center and fence on the left side and mark it off with chalk as for football lines, we can make a no-blanket no-sitting area.

Jack: That's not nailed down yet. There will be access to the field by whatever means, chalk, fencing, flags, etc.

Other Business

Thoughts on the Commission

David Moisan: I want to thank the Commission for three great years. I didn’t know it would be like this when I joined. Of course, I was associated with the Commission for years before [filming meetings]. When all you do is film things, and the neighborhood associations have asked me to film meetings, you get burned out when you can’t get involved. I had to join the Commission and it was the best thing I ever did.

I have the greatest respect for Jack and for his two daughters who are my virtual godchildren. I understand Jack and his need to step away from the job; it happens. I’ve thought hard about doing his job someday just as good as he has.

Jack: I’m not going away!

David Martel: It’s been great.

Jack: The most important thing, as David [Moisan] says, is all the people I have met and the people that many don't know, all the people in the disability community who I have met who have affected me personally. A gentleman in Topsfield worked for a box company for years. He is deaf--but no one knew it, he taught himself lip reading. It's an amazing story. Those are the kinds of stories, the kinds of individuals it is amazing to learn about. These are the stories we need to bring forward.

Charlie: Salem has gone forward in a lot of ways. It's inconceivable to be without the Commission.

Jack: 20th Anniversary of the ADA is coming up. It would be good if you could review the history, see what was supposed to happen--and what actually did! Not only for people with disabilities generally, but specifically in the City.

We have a long way to go.

David Martel: If people run into obstacles and roadblocks and we don’t bring attention to them, they don’t get noticed. Even the mayor notices this.

A-Frame Signs

Jack: The other thing that people should know: The A-Frame ordinances from last month were approved. Look at them and make sure they conform.

City Hall Elevator

Jack: Some people have not known this--it's quiet--the elevator at City Hall is very close to being completed. In a few weeks it will be up and running. They kept me very well updated.

David Martel: What about Morency Manor?

David Moisan: The new elevator appears to be in service, reopened very quietly. The variance work was not done. I understood it to be an extra relocated control panel on the first floor.

David Martel: Correct.

David Moisan: It was quietly turned on, I used it last week. They told us, they would open the elevator when some surface treatment, laminate or something was installed in the elevator. I’m not sure if that referred to the new panel.

They don’t tell me much of anything. I really wish they’d asked to do this when the construction crew was there—it would have already been rolled into the general construction and complete! The replacement for the old elevator is in design. When it gets torn out, I will ask the SHA if I can take pictures!

The meeting was adjourned at 5:21 PM