Even After Moving, Tech Issues Plague City Council on Monday

For more than an hour, the Everett City Council appeared to have been taken over by Martians, aliens or the lollipop kids – with technical issues taking over the meeting and making every councilor and presenter appear to have a very high-pitched and electrified voice.

It was nothing new for the Council, which had experienced numerous technical difficulties over the last year when holding meetings at City Hall, but it was unexpected as the body had moved to the School Committee Chambers in Everett High School. The School Committee has met there successfully for months with no issues, but on Monday the system went awry. It evoked the best of Buck Rogers, Lost in Space, or maybe Dr. Who, as everyone sounded quite strange and outer-space like.

The meeting started out fine, but after the third item, something went wrong. Apparently, few realized the broadcast was compromised and the meeting continued for about an hour with the strange voices.

Later, it was realized that the sound was off, and there was a recess. The Council returned and plunged forward, but still had the strange voices. A final break was taken, and members were spread out and the sound was tweaked, and that seemed to fix the problem.

The meeting continued without incident, but City Clerk Sergio Cornelio said they would have to review the tape to see what items were broadcast with the alien voices. He and City Solicitor Colleen Mejia said those items would likely have to be re-advertised and taken up again at the next Council meeting.

PARKING METERS NOT WORKING WELL

Councilor Anthony DiPierro inquired into the status of the parking meters in the City, and found out from CFO Eric Demas that the electronic system instituted some time ago does not really work.

“We did have a drop in 2019,” Demas said. “We had a number of issues with the new electronic meters. There was a big learning curve and we had a number of number of issues with the company. The batteries on the machines were failing and we had to do a lot of maintenance.”

He said they eventually had asked the company to train the City staff to repair the machines, but that is a work in progress and they are now looking at maybe trying some other system. He said the company they contracted with came highly recommended from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), but just didn’t work out.

“We are looking to see if we can bring in a better program,” said Demas.

DiPierro said he would like to see that, and he also said it would be nice to have systems like surrounding cities that allow payment of meters with a phone app – such as is done in Chelsea, Revere and Boston.

Councilor Fred Capone asked that the hours of operations for the meters be placed on them, as there is great confusion as to what works, when it works and when it doesn’t.

LACK OF QUORUM SINKS TMD PLAN

The plan to bring in a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan to the City Planning efforts has been relatively non-controversial, but getting it passed has been an effort in perseverance – one that will now continue on into June.

Transportation Director Jay Monty and Councilor Rosa DiFlorio introduced the development-friendly measure – which is used in many other cities – last year. However, it had been in the works going back to 2019 when the Planning Department began discussing it with the Planning Board. The TDM is a set of mitigation measures that developers can use, with City approval, to mitigate traffic and parking concerns within their development. Monty describes it as a predictable “menu” of options for developers to make real contributions to reducing the impacts of their projects on the city. The measure also moves that decision away from the Zoning Board and to the Planning Board.

There have been robust meetings to explain the matter, and several times it has been brought before the Council – only to be delayed or postponed. Two weeks ago, the Council enrolled the ordinance and it was finally on the way to being instituted.

Or so everyone thought…

The final step on Monday night was to engross the ordinance, which is usually just a formality. However, it did need a super-majority of eight votes and, with many members missing, there were only seven to vote on it – as Councilor Gerly Adrien stepped away from the meeting shortly before the vote.

So, it was defeated on engrossment, but a vote of 7-0 was taken to reconsider that, and it will likely be brought up for another vote at the next meeting.

Mayor Carlo DeMaria is in favor of the TMD plan.

“Passing Transportation Demand Management zoning and parking reform is a huge step forward to advancing important citywide goals ranging from affordable housing, to less traffic congestion, a cleaner environment and a more vibrant business community,” he said. “Consider that the cost of building four garaged parking spaces is roughly the same as building a unit of affordable housing. Or that the space required to build 10 parking spaces could house a new business employing a dozen city residents, or build a playground for 20 of our young children to play in. By encouraging and in many cases requiring new developments to provide incentives, services and infrastructure for better transit, better bicycling and better walking facilities in place of building parking, we’re reducing the impacts of traffic and congestion while also creating a system of benefits that our entire community has access to. By transferring the cost that would have been spent building excess parking spaces, a developer is able to make market rate housing more affordable for those who don’t qualify for low-income housing and at the same time be able to create more low-income housing units for those who do.”

PARKING STICKER PROGRAM APPROVED

By a vote of 6-0, the Council engrossed a new parking sticker program that will apply to new developments in the City and will be a steadfast way to hold up the parking sticker ban that has been applied to new developments for the last year or so.

With limited resident parking in the neighborhoods, the City and residents are concerned that new developments along Broadway and within existing neighborhood could qualify for hundreds of new parking stickers, with those new residents possibly taking valuable parking from those in the neighborhood.

Transportation Director Jay Monty has championed the program and said the new program would likely be a stronger argument than the outright ban that has taken place over the last year on new developments. The new program would take the overall frontage of the project, and distribute stickers through a formula based on that number. For example, if a 200 unit building had frontage that accounted for four parking spaces, the development would receive four residential parking stickers. The property manager of new developments would be in charge of distributing those stickers, but they cannot charge for them or offer them as an amenity. A series of fines is in place for anyone caught doing that.

The program does not apply to existing neighborhoods or existing buildings, but only to new construction on larger buildings.

COUNCIL POSTPONES NEW SCHOOL VOTE

Though it was significantly garbled by alien-sounding chatter, the Council stood pretty solidly against the idea of putting in a Statement of Interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for a new high school proposal in the RiverGreen area.

The School Committee approved the measure last week, with it being a plan to reduce overcrowding in all of the City’s schools by building a new high school at RiverGreen and then re-purposing the existing Everett High as a middle school. The plan is a long-standing effort to reduce overcrowding in the schools, but on Monday some on the Council indicated they would rather re-use the old Pope John High School.

Councilor Fred Capone said he would rather use the existing school, which the City owns and has been designated for a future affordable housing project, rather than build on existing green space.

“I’d hate to take up a large piece of green space we have at RiverGreen for a new school,” he said.

“We have a school and we have overcrowding,” said Councilor Michael Marchese. “I think it’s simple…I’m not in favor of submitting this Statement of Interest.”

The matter was to be voted on, but was postponed for two weeks on the motion of Capone and others. However, due to the sound issues, the item might have to be re-introduced and discussed again.

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