City officials knew that asking North End residents to move their cars for winter street sweeping would not be popular, but they probably did not expect a partial walk-out at last night’s community meeting. With the promise of cleaner streets, the Public Works Department (PWD) made their case. Tempers flared when it was clear that City Hall’s decision was made. Some residents blamed officials for putting the onus on residents for the trash problem.
Instead of halting mechanical sweeping during the winter, the pilot program will use new mechanical street sweepers during the months of December through March. Because it requires no water, the machine can be used in freezing weather without fear of adding ice to the roads. A new sweeper was on display outside the Nazzaro Center meeting.
Depending on the specific street, car owners will have to move their cars about twice per month or risk ticketing or towing. The Public Works Department says the cars have to be moved in order to allow for the mechanical street sweepers to get to the curb and clean the gutters. The pilot program may be rolled out to the rest of the city after an evaluation in the Spring 2011.
“I am here to ask for your help and support for the pilot program,” said City Councilor Sal LaMattina. “We have been trying to get the North End streets cleaned for years. I get numerous complaints about the trash on the streets and as a result, the rodents. We have a good team, including a new commissioner who is committed to working with us. PWD’s Frank O’Brien regularly attends the Clean Streets meetings and John Meany is here from Inspectional Services.”
“I have been out there, talking to business owners and getting them to help,” continued LaMattina. “I have knocked on doors asking if we can put out more street barrel in front of buildings. I personally send out letters to problem landlords. I have even thrown trash back in doorways when it shouldn’t be out on the streets.”
The Councilor explained why he believes moving the cars is so important. “We can’t get to the gutters. We have hoakeys (manual street sweepers) that are helping, but to really clean the streets you need to move the cars. I only get a handful of complaints about the cars getting towed or ticketed. I get many more complaints about the filthy conditions of the streets. Give this a chance. If you live on Endicott St, it’s only twice a month.”
City Councilor Sal LaMattina complemented the NEWRA Clean Streets Committee for supporting the pilot program. LaMattina also complemented State Representative Aaron Michlewitz and State Senator Anthony Petruccelli for passing the Green Ticket law.
Defending the pilot program, PWD’s Frank O’Brien said, “The North End has the perfect storm with six days of residential trash (three pickups per week) on the streets and over 90 eating establishments in the neighborhood. In addition, the North End is the State’s #2 tourist destination after Fenway Park.”
“We don’t have an army of manual street cleaners. We cannot go through this for another year. DPW gets deluged with phone calls. There are simply too many rodent problems. We have tried voluntary car moving programs with temporary signs. The signs either get ripped down or no one moves their cars. The situation is unacceptable to the Public Works Department.”
How Winter Street Sweeping Will Work
Explaining the particulars, O’Brien said, “If there is snow and ice in the gutter and the temperature stays below freezing, we won’t be sweeping and you won’t have to move your car. If the sweeper can’t get to the gutter, you won’t have to move your car. Mother Nature is going to play a major role. If there is snow forecast the night before, we won’t be sweeping the next day.”
The City will communicate whether the streets will be cleaned by 9:00 pm the night before the scheduled street sweeping using its “No Tow” program (View and sign-up for “No Tow” emails). Currently, there are only 175 subscribers in the North End.
Those without email can call Mayor’s Hotline at 617-635-4500 the night before to find out if there will be sweeping the next day. Officials say the ticket officers are always ahead of the sweepers, not behind. Once the sweeper has gone through in the morning, you can put your car back.
To soften the blow, PWD said that once the cars are away, they can will get a dump truck and take out the snow. “This should free up more parking spaces. We can also fill pot holes, etc.”
Residents React and Tempers Flare
After the half-hour presentation by city officials, a group of residents strongly spoke out against the program and the way it was introduced to the neighborhood. Jorge Mendoza, resident and business owner addressed the officials, “I have been a member of the neighborhood council (NEWNC) for over a year. I have never heard a word from you. The NEWRA Clean Streets committee does not represent the needs of the community. We represent the community. I sit with LaMattina’s representative (i.e., NEWNC President Stephen Passacantilli) every month and I have to read about it in the Globe?”
“The streets are filthy because we live in a high density area,” Mendoza continued. “We generate high taxes for the City. You are making money from us. There are a lot of logistics with the pilot program that won’t work. The program has no regard for seniors and those that cannot move their car after the 9:00 pm notification. The email notification is for specific streets but residents can park anywhere in the North End. Parking in the summer is difficult. Forget about it in the winter. There was no forum before this was decided. As a NEWNC member, I represent the group of people that elected me. Nobody informed us. Businesses already have to pay meal taxes. Our property taxes just went up at the worst time. City Hall is doing this after the Mayor was elected.”
PWD’s O’Brien responded, “We are not here to vote on the pilot program. The PWD is driving this bus. We are getting deluged with complaints. This is not up for discussion. This decision is made, with the backing of the Mayor’s office.”
Supporting the PWD, Councilor LaMattina added, “I am not going to hide from this issue. These are people’s homes. The streets are much cleaner in the summer months with street sweeping. We are making an effort. Give us some credit.”
“It is a done deal. We read about it in the Globe. Why are we here?” complained one resident.
A 71 year-old resident of Noyes Place said she did not have a problem with moving the cars, but complained about the general trash in the neighborhood. “The filth is ridiculous. We are paying big property taxes. I was in Nice, France on vacation and they wash down the streets every morning. The city is clean as a whistle.”
“We have a ton of people picking through the trash every night,” added Mendoza. “There is no police presence at night. The solution is not double-ply bags. Suffolk students flip the restaurant barrels over every night. My property is clean because I clean it. None of us want to live in a dirty neighborhood. The spin on the issue is what kills us. Most residents put out their garbage correctly, other than young Suffolk students. These vandals also destroy our properties by puking and pissing in the name of liberating themselves. We need to have more police presence.”
The Walk-Out: At this point in the meeting, a back and forth argument ensued between a group of residents and city officials with several people yelling and speaking over one another. A group of 7-10 residents unhappy with the pilot program walked out of the meeting. After a pause, the Q&A period resumed.
Mark, a local store owner, asked why the rat problem was due to the paper trash in the gutters. John Meany from Inspectional Services said that the rats look for papers and containers with food residue. “They live subsurface and come up at night. Rat sightings are down because the streets have been cleaner.”
A resident asked about how the restaurants put out their trash. “Many restaurants seem to have two bins and 30 bags of trash that don’t fit in the bins.” LaMattina and Inspectional Services said they would contact businesses that are not putting trash in bins.
Tina Busa said to officials, “I don’t want you to dismiss the manual street cleaning. I speak to the workers and they don’t respond.” PWD officials said, “It is not the most glamorous job in the world. We recognize the problem and that is why the mechanical street cleaning is so important.”
A resident on Endicott St. said, “The #1 issue is absentee landlords and the college parties. I am tired of reporting them. I spent over $8,500 on sound proof windows. Even after a sleeping pill, they still wake me up. This madness of frustration is due to people getting away with things. Most at fault are the absentee landlords. They cause most of the noise and garbage.”
Councilor LaMattina responded, “We have a problem properties task-force for issues like that. We made an arrest at that party.”
A resident asked, “Can a leaf blower push the gutter trash so the mechanical sweeper can pick it up without moving the cars?” Officials said, “That is not the best way to do it.”
Another resident questioned the enforcement of the Green Ticket law, “Why should I get a ticket when others put trash in front of my property?” A discussion ensued regarding how code enforcement issues tickets when they cannot find an address in the illegally placed trash.
PWD’s Frank O’Brien concluded the meeting by saying, “We knew this was not going to be popular. But as the Public Works Department, we know we have to do this to clean up the North End.”
Below is the official pilot program notice from Public Works:
Editors note: In a web poll on NorthEndWaterfront.com with 116 unique votes as of this writing, 66% are in favor of the year-round street sweeping program and 34% opposed.