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)

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10 thoughts on “Bridge of sighs

  1. Chris Robarge says:

    What can I say, except you nailed it absolutely…?

    Oh, one thing I can say. Ed Ryan is going to eat this city’s lawyers for breakfast, and then ask for a side of pancakes…What’s going on now is so audacious, I don’t even care what it costs me to watch the city get crushed.

  2. What Chris said. Excellent post.

  3. Sean says:

    Nicole-

    Please pull some papers and run for City Council. I’ll be the first to sign them.

    Someone needs to say these things on a weekly basis on the Council Floor.

  4. Kevin Ksen says:

    Mayor Petty met with the street vendors group twice back in 2008. At that time he told the group that he was going to support the ordinance as is, but if it turned out it hurt existing street vendors he would work on changing it.

  5. Kevin Ksen says:

    People keep saying “Food trucks” but the ordinance changes in 2008 focused primarily on street vendors and put almost all of them out of business.

    While we need to look at ways to support and encourage food trucks the more salient questions concern the detrimental effect the new ordinance had on street vendors.

    • Nicole says:

      Kevin — to both your points: I hope Mayor Petty is willing to remember that and that we get a better ordinance.

      I linked to the video because I felt it was really important to see the number and variety of vendors we had before the new ordinance.

      And I never know what to say — I think people are more responsive to the phrase “food trucks” but perhaps in future I should try to use “street vendor” to be more inclusive.

  6. epb says:

    Ultimately I would love, love, love to see a giant food court downtown that had multiethnic choices for consumers.

    Was the skybridge promise written down in stone somewhere?

  7. JoeCitizen says:

    “The skybridge is an adequate representation of everything that is the worst about Worcester.” Really? You think it was that bad of an idea?

    Honestly, I was disappointed when I heard it was canceled. You ever stay at the Hilton? One has to cross 5 or 6 lanes of traffic from the garage to the hotel, and then another street if going to the DCU. Real fun when dragging kids or luggage on a nice day, never mind in the rain or snow, heat or cold. Maybe your vision of an ideal downtown involves real-life games of Frogger, but mine doesn’t.

    And as for discouraging people on streets, is that really the best sky-is-falling, slippery-slope concern you had against the thing? It’s not a monorail whisking people from end of downtown to the other where people get shuttled past local businesses. It’s not the 290 – Rt.146 connector. It’s was simply going to be a safer, more convenient way to cross a single street, like a highway crossing.

    And the skybridge wouldn’t have killed the number of people on the streets anywhere else downtown but that one intersection, so all the concern about it setting the landscape-clocks back to a Holden-esque time was probably unfounded.

    Whatever the case, built or not, I suppose when weighs the city’s other questionable policies and decision making, the skybridge issue wouldn’t even crack the top 20.

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