Bridge of sighs

It’s been one of those weeks where everything old is new again.

1. Food Trucks

Witness, if you will, last week’s long debate (or was it monologue?) on an ordinance that isn’t yet before the Council.

Bill Eddy did a quick count of his colleagues, and realized that only four Councilors remain who’d voted in favor of the street vendor ordinance in 2008 (Eddy, Petty, Lukes, Palmieri).

Councilors Rushton, Germain, and Toomey had opposed the strict ordinance the last time around, and the current request for a better ordinance had been requested by Rushton, Toomey, and two new councilors: Economou and Rivera.

So — keeping in mind that he needed to get both Russell and O’Brien on his side to stay in the game — Councilor Eddy did what anyone would do: he went on a long “reminiscence” about why the ordinance was passed in the first place.

If you’ve followed the mysterious ways of city government, but somehow missed the street vendor debate — no worries!  Everything happened exactly as every other debate before the City Council: anyone in a certain class of business (“street vendor”) was lumped in together, with those who followed rules and paid for permits lumped in with those who abused the system.  The City Council decided on the most draconian rules to make sure no one but the most masochistic would try to operate under the new ordinances.  And visitors and residents wonder why there are few food trucks in the city.

Most of us don’t want to live in the Worcester Bill Eddy seems to live in.  It’s a place where the only thing keeping us from a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome-like world is a police department that operates without question, and preferably with lots of surveillance.  And, sadly, Konnie Lukes is the closest thing we have to Tina Turner.

For those of you who’d like to really reminisce on what happened the last time around, I recommend this video:

Not to be outdone, Konnie Lukes reminded everyone that her husband’s family ran a diner for years (not in Stars Hollow), and that it’s tough enough to run a food business without having to worry about being undercut by a food truck.

I totally understand her concerns, but fears need to be tempered with reality.  And the reality is that food trucks can be a good testing ground for entrepreneurs who — yes! — actually want to get into the bricks-and-mortar restaurant business.

I’m looking forward to a continued debate on food trucks, and I hope it happens soon.

2.  Lawsuits

In the past week, we’ve seen:

  • the city sue Ed Ryan, the lawyer for Nga Truong, for not being a good enough lawyer to stop the city from breaking the law
  • an appeals court uphold the arbitrator’s decision to reinstate Officer David Rawlston [$]
  • former police Lieutenant Tim O’Connor sue the city [$]
  • and we’ll probably get another photocopied Wall Street Journal editorial about the EPA attached to a memo from Commissioner Moylan in the next City Council agenda, where he vows, once again, to fight all the way to the Supreme Court for our right to flush with impunity

I’ve thought a lot about this, and there’s only one explanation that makes sense: the city administration is involved in a long-term bet to see how many ridiculous lawsuits they can be involved in and/or lose.

The prize?

I suspect it involves hockey…

3. Bridges to Nowhere

If only.

There was a  story in today’s Telegram [$] (based on this outside audit) about the Hilton Garden Inn owing the city over $700,000 in parking fees.  The auditors found, among other things, that:

Information related to accounts receivable for parking garage services are not forwarded by the DPW to the City Auditor’s office for entry in the general ledger. As a result, accounts receivable are understated in the general ledger. While the parking accounts receivable balances at June 30, 2012 were immaterial to the City’s financial statements, the City is at risk of misstating its financial statements when these amounts are not recorded on the general ledger.

Perhaps this is why previous years’ actuals in the budget don’t match the actuals in the off-street parking report DPW outlined last week.

Perhaps this is why Worcester’s parking system has run a “substantial deficit” in recent years.

If there’s one reason to be thankful for a worldwide economic downturn, though, it’s that the project to build skybridge from the Major Taylor garage to the Hilton and thence to the DCU Center was postponed indefinitely.

(The reason the Hilton isn’t paying the city parking fees is that they were promised a skybridge.  According to the city manager, the city and the owners of the Hilton are in “negotiations/litigation” regarding the bridge.  The long-term bet theory is looking better and better…)

The skybridge is an adequate representation of everything that is the worst about Worcester: an idea that makes urban planners cringe, but which would invariably scream “big city” to someone who’s never actually been in a big city.  Whereas food trucks, the staple of real cities, make the movers and shakers in Worcester run for the hills.

Not to get all Bowie-and-Mercury, but one of the big things that separates what it is to be a city from what it is to be Holden is people on streets.  Skybridges discourage that.  Food trucks encourage it.

If Worcester could just focus on not getting sued, didn’t engage in wackadoodle deals, encouraged entrepreneurs, and recorded their accounts receivable balances in the general ledger, it wouldn’t be a half-bad place to live.

We don’t live in a village, and we need to stop acting as if we do.

(Image: bridge of sighs, a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licensed image by justinls)

Meetings, of interest

If you haven’t already, I recommend subscribing to Worcester City News, which will send you an email or two a week with recaps and previews of city meetings.

Two meetings of especial interest (to those who share this blog’s obsessions):

Off-Street Parking Board
Thursday, March 7, 8:00am, 76 East Worcester St, agenda.
They will be discussing the parking assessment study and the Theatre District redevelopment and possible effects on the McGrath Municipal Parking Lot.

Historical Commission
Thursday, March 7, 5:30pm, City Hall, agenda.
They will continue the discussion of the complete demolition of 332 Main Street (the Central Building).  For more on why you should care, you can read my series on the Krocks.