August 4, 2021: Twelve Steps for the City of Gloucester
Admit we are powerless over the current political class, that our lives here have become unmanageable.
Believe that new people will restore our city processes to some semblance of transparency and accountability for the benefit of the good people of Gloucester who, by the way, are paying the freight.
Make decisions to give our votes to candidates who don’t ignore the wishes and desires of the citizens of Gloucester.
Make a good attempt to elect candidates who can insist that integrity guide the political class in Gloucester.
Admit to ourselves the exact nature and dysfunction of the current political class of Gloucester.
Be entirely ready to have new people populate the political class and remove the defects of the old political class.
Ask for help and work together to impress upon the ruling class that we mean business.
Take inventory of all those harmed by past policies affecting the citizens of Gloucester and be willing to make amends to them all.
Make direct amends to citizens harmed, wherever possible.
Continue to conduct ourselves with integrity and when we stray get right back on track.
Seek through direct dialogue with the citizens of Gloucester to carry out the will of the people and not the will of special interests. Again, we are paying the freight.
Once we are back on track, stay there. Hold the position and let it guide the new, enlightened, full-of-integrity fiduciaries forward.
Candidate for Councilor-At-Large 2021
July 29, 2021: AGAINST ALL ODDS: Regarding Effort to Save Mattos Field
In Newburyport last Thursday, comments were made suggesting that the citizens initiated legal action just to stop a school from being built. That’s not our motivation. If it were, we would likely have made an equal effort to stop ALL new schools in Gloucester. We haven’t. Our motivation to challenge the taking of Mattos Field is derived from our enjoyment of constitutional rights under the 97th Amendment of the Mass Constitution. The government’s taking of more than three acres of Mattos Playground resources back in 1954 for the Veteran’s School wasn’t enough for the City, was it? When will we understand that the government NEVER feels it has enough? To many of us, the SECOND attempt at taking away of this park land is too much.
The Massachusetts Constitution identifies our rights - not gives us our rights. The laws give us things that the lawmakers can take away. Constitutional amendments are not laws that can be taken away so easily. We are motivated to exercise our constitutional rights to preserve the people’s right to enjoy Mattos Field - right where it lies on Webster Street and not halfway across town.
With this project, the Davis Street Extension neighborhood loses the benefits of a true neighborhood school, and the Webster Street neighborhood loses a beloved park that the City dedicated to public use – a use that the City has officially denied ever making. In its environmental assessment, submitted to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs this past February, the City stated that there is no Article 97 land involved with this project. Why did it make that claim? That part of the assessment was not shared publicly for the people to see. Why wasn’t it? The City is very much incorrect. Who is a winner in the current situation? Who is a winner when the victory is gained by denying a group of people their rights?
One neighborhood stands to lose the benefits of a true neighborhood school it’s enjoyed since 1948, and one a park it’s enjoyed since 1924. No kids are going to walk from the Davis Street Extension neighborhood to Webster Street, and no kids from the Webster Street neighborhood are going to trek to Davis Street Extension to use that open space. A better solution can be reached and it’s certainly not too late or unachievable. The government can fulfill its mandate to educate without hurting another’s rights. We shouldn’t educate our future leaders by taking away another’s rights to enjoy their natural resources.
Why is it okay to deprive people of ‘green space’ in order to build ‘green schools’? The way things are trending, the kids will have virtual clean experiences to learn about open spaces, unlike the old schools where the kids learned outside on un-programmed playgrounds at recess and went home with grass stained knees and sweaty collars, and maybe a bruise from playing on grass. No grass allowed in the current plans.
Article 97 protection of public open spaces is for all of Massachusetts’ citizens. Just as we have an obligation to smartly protect the air, water, and other resources, all of us gain a benefit when one another’s open spaces are cherished and preserved. We all lose if they’re not. Can’t we all get on board and contribute in any way to help Patti Amaral to save Mattos Field for all of us, and to encourage the City and the MSBA to work with everyone to develop a more widespread acceptable plan?
from Patti Amaral and Denise Pascucci with love
Send Contributions to Patti Amaral 14 Myrtle Square Gloucester, MA 01930 OR
July 17, 2021: Reprint of an oral communication to City Council in April 2021 supporting continued Zoom meetings and requesting the City adopt a permanent hybrid approach combining both in-person and Zoom.
I am here to request a budgetary line item be put forward in this year’s City budget to purchase and support a full capacity Zoom account. The cost estimate is very modest, under $4,000 each year.
The adaptation of Zoom call meetings in the Covid era has proven to been essential for the continuation of government and societal functions. Federal, State, City governments and private companies have adapted seamlessly – and have derived many long-term benefits.
The recording of important City presentations and events held in City Hall is a benefit to City officials and our citizens. Currently, recorded coverage for meetings beyond City Council and School Committee meetings does not exist.
Technological advances allow important City meetings and presentations held by various City Boards and Commissions, the outcomes of which effect the entire City, to be available for citizens to participate in, or refer to at a later time, from the convenience of home or from anywhere around the world. Accurate, detailed information not available in the transcription of minutes is of legal benefit to municipalities.
Attending meetings in person at City Hall, or elsewhere around the city, where audio transmission is difficult, affords no public access viewing of documents, while sitting in cold, hard chairs for hours should no longer be acceptable as the only access afforded for public participation.
This is a good public transparency accommodation. An excellent ADA accommodation. The only disability accommodation offered in City Hall is to provide lift access. This is insufficient. It does not take into account the many varied disabilities that exist. Mobility issues, health issues, logistic issues, transport issues, age, weather issues, time, effort, other conditions and simple convenience are a reality. If necessary, the Human Rights Commission should be asked to render an opinion.
Moving forward, a hybrid of in person and continued Zoom access for all public meetings should be authorized and budgeted for.
The universal access Zoom provides encourages and enables civic participation. The numbers of participants to City meetings has dramatically risen over this year. As evidenced here tonight, the ease by which public participation can be afforded is an asset to government function. This is good public transparency and excellent ADA accommodation.
Please ask the Administration to afford the citizenry this small budget item and this reasonable ADA accommodation.
Patti Ann Page
July 8, 2021: The Elephant in the ‘School Consolidation’ Room: Stripping Nature and Supersizing is Unjust City Planning in Most Any Neighborhood
It has been two years now since I was asked to meet about the taking of Mattos playground for a 440-student consolidated elementary school. The team leading this project wanted to stress that although this 5.75-acre property could be destroyed, the softball field could be moved, and that money was no object. I was told that there would be ample opportunities to be heard as this project had to go through many steps by many boards. As the conversation continued, I thought about our field and the many years of hard work and fundraising it took to make our field complete.
Hard work pays off, right?
I thought about Pvt. Mattos and his family and our rededication just 10 months before to honor Pvt. Mattos.
I thought about the current school as ideally situated as any neighborhood school and natural environs could ever be.
I thought about the teams of volunteers that helped to guide neighborhoods, conservation, and education in our city; and how lucky I had been to volunteer for the city for more than 23 years. I served on the Open Space and Recreation Advisory Committee, the Cemetery Commission, and was co-Chair of the Clean City Commission. I was co-chair of the PTO at Veterans Memorial Elementary School, and then site council representative for the Gloucester school district when my son attended Gloucester Public Schools.
I found myself questioning this newfound information. Mattos and two elementary schools and neighborhoods couldn’t be destroyed.
I decided to work to Save Mattos Field and the total count of elementary schools already built in Gloucester. All of the school properties integrate the natural world beautifully. Now I have no education to carry out such a large task, but I had to try and fight ‘City Hall’, aka the ‘Consolidation Team’ (building committee-school committee-city council-MSBA).
I have attended almost every meeting since that day that would in any way help us to save this dedicated memorial playground and schools. In these meetings I sat next to many residents that also cared and wanted the best education for our students, too. Many of these residents followed the process closely since 2014. They too felt that the buildings do not teach our students, the teachers do. They too felt health and safety concerns were not being considered. They too knew that the sites of the city’s elementary schools were priceless as is. They too believed in science, research, and common sense. They questioned why if decades of research supporting more elementary schools, not less, was beneficial, and more open space and access to nature, not less, was a matter of public health, then how could these truths be dismissed?
We knew something had to be done. Meeting after meeting we attended, but we could not always speak up. If the “school building project” was on an agenda, we could not speak. If the “school building project” was part of a working group, we could not attend. Any questions we asked, or public hearings we requested, were not granted and did not require answers nor action. Yes, meetings are subject to open meeting law so they are public. That is not the same as public input. Plus the working groups skirt that pesky public requirement.
When they said there are no other sites for the school in Gloucester, we countered that claim needs context. There are no other sites for a supersized consolidated elementary school, and the public had already voted for saving neighborhood schools, not consolidation. There were five perfect public elementary school sites. We reminded everyone about the public outcry that ceased a proposed consolidation for the Pines in East Gloucester, and members had been vocal about and elected because of their defense of neighborhood schools. Puzzlingly, the School Committee voted for blanket consolidation, without public hearings or a public vote, thereby rendering options for the total quantity of and where to site elementary schools moot. That technicality was simultaneously key for moving this EGS/Veterans option forward, and disregarding public concerns and research including the studies commissioned to assess the school buildings. (Veterans was deemed entirely unsuitable for consolidation, a tortured site option capped at best 266 students.)
We continued to attend meetings and educate ourselves, but the silence was deafening as to concerns and pleas. As a resident who has sat on our city boards, I found this way of working or not working together very alarming. We were told our questions would be answered. They weren’t. We were told we didn’t know anything, or we didn’t have the facts. We did. We were asked to just be open to possibilities and the details and answers will come. Yet possibilities were not welcome and details were fuzzy.
Our concerns were never addressed and soon, we were “The Opponents”, or worse.Of the 60 “public” meetings held, one required public hearing was convened and filled City Hall on September 9, 2019, (1623 Studios). The Consolidation Team’s presentation consumed the start of the meeting. Dozens waited to speak in opposition and express concerns. After the public weighed in, some explanations were given. We were told Gloucester buys an inordinate amount of lottery tickets, and was entitled to its share of state money for this consolidation. In essence, “Why leave it on the table? The MSBA state funding is based on sales tax.” There is no sales tax on lottery tickets. And Gloucester is unremarkable for its lottery ticket purchases. Newton, for example, buys more. Not only was that budget information incorrect, it was a troubling, biased comment, one of many still to come.
By the time of the “out of abundance of caution” process to remove Article 97 protection from the Webster street area without a public ballot vote, hundreds of residents signed petitions in opposition that were shared with the city and with the State House-- during a pandemic lockdown. 2/3 of the letters to the state house were in opposition to the project. Those in favor served on the “Consolidation Team” (a few are on record confused about what Article 97 protection was, recanted or opposed). Come the November 2020 vote, the debt exclusion vote was of particular concern. We stood in the rain and snow every day holding our Vote NO signs, we came up short, but the near 50/50 split vote (and close to 1000 left blank) showed just about as many of our residents wanted to save this dedicated land and schools, or disagreed with the vague ballot question, as those who voted for it.
Oddly, the environmental impact review came after the November ballot, despite so many concerns having been brought up and left unanswered throughout the process. We believed that the MEPA review with all its thresholds and requirements would help safeguard rules and regulations. Would it really be necessary to compromise in the face of such overwhelming evidence? After all:
· This land is Article 97 protected land.
· This land is wedged between two major state highways, bearing the burden of the city's traffic, accidents and pollution.
· This land is only 4000 ft. from an Environmental Justice area. Miles of research point to inequity, including the trending The Trust for Public Land June 2021 study
· This land is only 5.72 acres and the proposed consolidated building will take every blade of grass. The swap to EGS is an overlay and less than.
· This land is sensitive as it is in direct line for our salt marshes.
· This land is a dedicated memorial playground.
· This land was wet enough to flood a pond. EGS was a concern because of a trickle stream.
A MEPA review would address all of this and more. Again, we wrote letters and attended meetings and spoke up, and again our pleas were not heard. Rules and regulations are for others to follow, in other neighborhoods. We found ourselves scratching our heads in dismay.
Here we are today still addressing all the issues that were brought up at the first meeting we attended 2 years ago, and for others since 2014, because they remain unanswered and delayed.
Only last week, regardless of very real concerns and a court date slated for mid-July, the local paper was invited to the Veterans Memorial Elementary School time capsule reveal and ran a premature headline story: “Children, staff say goodbye to Veterans forever as new school is slated to be built on site,” Jun 16, 2021. A Letter to the Editor admonished the public, “Support Critical as School Project Enters New Stage”, GDT, June 24, 2021, promising concerns will be answered.
When? Well, not yet. Instead,
You see, for the Webster Street/Mattos neighborhood, and small elementary schools, we need to forget it. Move On. Pretend.
· Pretend it doesn't matter that there was no diverse representation on the Building Committee or “Consolidation Team”, from this neighborhood, nor significant outreach in this neighborhood.
· Pretend that the Green Street neighborhood consolidation opposition was “good and “polite”, or the Pines opposition was different than the city wide residents’ opposition to the Webster street neighborhood.
· Pretend public comments in support of the proposed EGS/Veterans consolidation don’t matter like this one: “Where, specifically? Where is the alternative (site) that will fit in terms of the state grant that won’t be met with greater neighborhood opposition?”- Gloucester Daily Times Facebook, Oct 12, 2020. One of the biggest failures of the process to date has been its exclusion of poor, working poor and diverse representation despite equity rationales being the insistence to build.
· Pretend that it does not matter that the Article 97 in place for protecting special spaces, especially in underserved communities, was undone in one and that it’s “frivolous” to complain.
· Pretend that there is research proving consolidating elementary schools is better for students and saves money.
· Pretend that there are no public health benefits from smaller schools and Open Space.
· Pretend that dedicated land to a fallen hero does not matter.
· Pretend that the new West Parish school, surrounded by ample natural environs, a roof fail, traffic safety issues, less enrollment than 2010, and costs impossible to pin down should retain its “model” school status, without cause for concern or comparison.
· Pretend that it does not matter that the “Minecraft-like” renderings are perfunctory, this real neighborhood wasn’t drawn in, the houses portrayed simply as white boxes.
· Pretend impartial impact studies and competitive cost analysis aren’t necessary.
· Pretend the cost does not matter.
· Pretend it does not matter that after having been signed into law, the Article 97 Bill had to be amended so that the "Article 97 legislation" never mentions Article 97 at all. The language referring to "no net loss" of land (EOEEA Article 97 Land Disposition Policy requirement) was REMOVED from the legislation. Otherwise the Conservation Commission, EOEEA, MSBA and other safeguard steps were side-stepped.
· Pretend a public decision cannot be reversed. See Letter to the Editor. “The Problem With Gloucester” published GDT 6/28/2021
BUT DO NOT PRETEND
Do not pretend when it comes to other neighborhoods. No, for other neighborhoods we must “go to the mat” and fight to protect them at all cost.
For the community surrounding Western Avenue and Essex Avenue that need MassDOT to assist with traffic grants to study and deal with parking and speed, leaders promise to go to the mat.
For neighbors on Eastern Point worried about losing trees and a Brace Cove view, or opposing a consolidation in the Pines, or purchasing an Atlantic “Save Our Shores” open space property, go to the mat.
For the Green Street neighborhood threatened with consolidation, because they were so “good and polite,” unlike Webster St. apparently, go to the mat.
For West Gloucester neighborhoods and open spaces, like Coffins Beach, aka the private side of Wingaersheek, go to the mat, even if it means reversing a vote as happened with the gun range proposal on an Article 97 protected area.
For the residents adversely impacted by a marina proposal, go to the mat.
For the Annisquam neighborhood, a village where “people are biking, and there are baby strollers,” (presumably unlike Webster St.), where the Speed Limit 20 is plenty!, go to the mat.
For the Lanesville neighborhood where traffic and parking is a problem surrounding Vulcan St. and Lanes Cove streets, and open spaces and quarries need vital protection, go to the mat.
And for this Webster street neighborhood, wedged between two highways? Do NOT go to the mat. Rip the mat out and act like nothing else matters. Have we learned nothing from our mistakes and our past? Stripping nature and supersizing is unjust city planning in any neighborhood, and is the elephant in the room. When will the elephant leave the room?
Peace and open spaces,
Patti Amaral, June 28, 2021
Gloucester resident(s) Open Space, public health, and public school advocate (s)
July 6, 2021:
To the editor of the GDT:
The Cape Ann Surfers Union (CASU) is an all-volunteer grassroots organization devoted to expanded ocean access for surfers and the promotion of a healthy and safe ocean environment for all. We have spent the last two years advocating for a few small regulatory changes that would increase safe surfing opportunities at Good Harbor Beach. On Feb. 25, 2020, we presented a pilot program proposal to our City Council in a public meeting. Our current proposal is endorsed by Councilor Scott Memhard, and the 2020 Council expressed strong support for a trial program.As surfers, we are NOT interested in surfing on crowded beach days. But unfortunately, the current policy of prohibiting summer surf access from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. forces increasingly large numbers of surfers into a very narrow time window of potential surf. We believe our proposed pilot program will help reduce this overcrowding and improve safety by allowing surf access at underutilized times when there are few or no swimmers in the water.
Of course, we recognize that there are days when Good Harbor Beach is packed from sunrise to sunset. But what some beachgoers might not realize is that there are times during the summer with few to no swimmers in the water, including some weekday mornings and days with adverse weather conditions. Our proposal is simply asking for the opportunity to surf at those underutilized times. As surfers we care about the safety of ALL beachgoers and recognize that lifeguards can call surfers out of the water at any time if conditions change. CASU recently interviewed five Good Harbor Beach lifeguards who all agreed that our proposal is manageable and safe and felt confident that lifeguards and surfers can work together to create a safe beachgoing environment for all.
More than 500 CASU members, Good Harbor Beach lifeguards and City Council members have expressed resounding support for our pilot program proposal. After years of clear advocacy and positive feedback, we were confused and disappointed when our public works director recently implied that we are interested in surfing on crowded days. To be clear – our proposal DOES NOT seek shared time in crowded water with swimmers.
What’s even more disappointing is the recent legal opinion we received from Gloucester’s general counsel, Chip Payson, which states, “My research indicates that the DPW director has charge and control over all public lands in the city including beaches (GCO sec 2-283) and, under the Charter (Charter 71-16), the DPW director may promulgate regulations to govern the same … any new regulations or any changes to existing regulations must START with the DPW director and go to the mayor for approval BEFORE going to the City Council.“ In other words, without the DPW director’s blessing, our two years of working closely with the City Council to develop a safe and manageable pilot program is now invalid.
As citizens of Gloucester and stewards of our wonderful public lands and beaches, we should all have the right to challenge public access regulations and there should be a public process for doing so. The DPW director is not an elected official and should not be the sole gatekeeper regarding questions of access to our public resources. But according to our city lawyer, no avenue exists without first gaining his approval. We believe this policy violates the basic principles of our democracy. If you agree, please let your voice be heard.
COURTNEY HAYES Cape Ann Surfers Union Gloucester
July 1, 2021:
Gloucester's land area is approximately 26 square miles, its water area 15 square miles, so in its entirety it encompasses closer to 41 square miles. One could easily surmise, based on the reactions and sentiments of some opinionated and vocal individuals, that the last tree standing in America was here, growing in our beloved city.
If I may, I would like to very politely suggest that it does no good to appear greedy, selfish, or interfering where access, use and property rights are concerned, both public and private, as one could easily infer we are not a welcoming community nor are we mindful of civil liberties or the obligation that the city must ensure all lawful rights are equally upheld. Posturing and positioning, granting some privilege while denying others, is capricious and never good policy; if one calculates, using the higher figure of 41 square miles, unless of course one wants to consider the value of water and its views random statistics and toss them out (which, of course, is why property values are so high in the first place), the percentage of undeveloped area is not 65 percent as stated in one particular city document but closer to . . . well, you do the math.
We are truly fortunate; indeed, there is plenty of room to accommodate people’s private property rights, and development rights, and the city’s right to use its land as it sees fit, particularly those rights afforded under local zoning regulations.
Robin Hubbard, publisher