Sunday, December 27, 2009

Schools and Prosperity

Over the years, I've been involved in numerous discussions about how to improve Waterbury, how to make the town more prosperous and a desirable place to live. At the moment, I am visiting family in Manhattan Beach, California (Los Angeles). When they bought their house here 20-some years ago, it was a very small, single-story home without basement, attic or garage. Every other house in town was the same, and they were all very affordable.

Since then, the town has grown considerably. The majority of those small houses have been rebuilt as large two-story houses with attics, basements and garages. The desirability of the town has soared and the housing prices have gone up accordingly, with only three dozen homes (including condos) currently listed on Yahoo's real estate site for less than one million dollars (and 162 properties listed between $1 million and $7 million). Granted, some of that inflation is due to the overall real estate bubble of recent years, but it is indicative of how much the town has changed.

I was thinking about the transformation I've witnessed over the decades and wondered what caused it (and, of course, how we might implement something similar in Waterbury). One important contributing factor was the quality of the schools. The real estate market became increasingly competitive because there were so many parents trying to get their kids into the schools. If you visit www.greatschools.org, you'll see that the highest-ranking Manhattan Beach public schools are rated 10 out of 10 points, whereas the Waterbury public schools range between 1 and 5 (very low scores), with Rotella getting the only 6 and Kaynor Tech the only 7. (On a side note, this answers some questions I've heard from people wondering why Kaynor Tech is so popular and why so many of its students are college-bound, rather than going straight into the work force).


The newly-rebuilt Kaynor Tech high school,
Waterbury's highest-rated school


This is by no means a comprehensive or even scientific analysis, but I think this is definitely something that does make a difference in a town's prosperity, not only because having the best schools will make Waterbury more desirable, but because better schools will give Waterbury's students better educations, and we will all benefit from that.

Alan Stein, a professor at UConn-Waterbury, wrote an excellent letter to the editor that appeared in yesterday's Rep-Am newspaper. The focus of his letter was an argument in favor of electing aldermen by district (which I strongly support), but he also wrote a very good observation about the Board of Education:

Some may question whether it's even appropriate for a Board of Education to be an elected body.

The political nature of that board is probably partly responsible for the recent attempt of some of its members to force school principals to ignore the Constitution.


I think that our Board of Education is fundamentally flawed, and I think that Prof. Stein is probably correct in assigning part of the blame to its political nature. Given the less than wonderful ratings of our schools (not just from the Great Schools website), the sole focus of the Board of Education should be searching for ways to make the schools better and implementing those improvements. Instead the Board seems to spend its time squabbling and grandstanding over Christmas parties vs. Winter Celebrations, the Duggan School construction project, and problems with the management of the school buses.

Our schools are some of the lowest-rated in the country. Let's make them the highest-rated.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Pop!

I stopped by the Mattatuck Museum last Sunday for a little holiday shopping and was amazed by the popsicle-stick castle in the Munger Room (next to the front lobby).





I had seen a photo of it in an email from the museum, and I had been mildly impressed that it was made from 396,000 popsicle sticks setting a new world record, but as with so many things, seeing it in real life was way better.





It is absolutely worth visiting, especially if you have young children--they will be amazed to see what can be done with popsicle sticks.



The castle was built by Stephen Guman and brought to the museum by a tractor trailer truck in several pieces, then assembled by Guman in the museum. It will be on view until January 22, and there will be a special event with Guman this Sunday, December 27.





See the castle, meet Stephen Guman, and build popsicle structures yourself at Discovery Club.  Art teacher Audrey Grice will be on hand to show you how!  Children's admission is $4 for museum members and $7 for non-members.  Adults accompanying children are addmitted for free.

Where and When
Munger Room

Sunday, December 27, 2009    2:00 - 4:00 pm

Friday, December 11, 2009

Religion 101

I'm probably going to get some flak for this one, but I think it's time for me to dive into it.

There's been a lot of controversy and anger over the "news" that Walsh Elementary School principal Erik Brown has supposedly banned Christmas (he hasn't). According to the Republican-American, he has received hate mail from people all over the country. This raises my first point: if you are upset by the idea of Christmas being banned in a public school, the correct Christian response is not one of hatred. Sending threatening or hate-filled letters or calling to swear at Principal Brown is the exact opposite of the spirit of Christmas.

Second point: Principal Brown has not banned Christmas. He has instead assessed the demographics of his school and determined that overloading the kids with Santa Claus and other trappings of Christmas would be a problem for many of them. For example, many of the children at Walsh come from Jehovah's Witnesses families who are deeply offended by the commercialization of the Holy Day. Let's also not forget that not everyone in Waterbury is a Christian--we have, for example, many Jews and Muslims who might not appreciate having their children indoctrinated in another religion. Principal Brown's course of action, to have a winter celebration that is inclusive of more than one holiday tradition and to discourage the teachers from placing too much emphasis on a single interpretation of one religion's traditions, is a very good way to show respect towards the religious sensibilities of all the children in his school.

John Theriault has been up in arms over the issue, apparently thinking that Brown is somehow being unfair to the children at Walsh school because the other schools all have Christmas parties. I can only assume that he is forgetting about the children whose parents do not allow them to attend Christmas parties, and is oblivious to the fact that Brown is simply showing respect towards those children and their families.

I guess I am blogging about this topic because I am shocked at the level of public outcry over it. In every instance, it seems that people with no children at Walsh are reacting as if they personally have been prevented from enjoying their own Christmas celebrations and have forgotten just how much religious diversity there is in the world, in the United States, in Connecticut and in Waterbury. I guess I am also struck by how some of the people who are angry at Principal Brown are behaving far more like the Grinch than he is.

Come to think of it, let's take the metaphor of the Grinch one step further. The point to The Grinch was that the trappings of Christmas, the gifts, the trees, the roast beast, are completely unnecessary. Christmas exists in our hearts and is celebrated in the way we treat one another. Everything else is superfluous.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Water

Is it just my house, or has anyone else noticed a strong chemical smell in the tap water lately? It seems strongest in the hot water, and it is the sort of smell that makes me afraid to use the water.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Marty's Corner

I read in today's paper that Marty's Corner store in Naugatuck is closing, hopefully to be reopened eventually by new owners.

When I was a kid, we lived in Naugatuck for a couple years, and Marty's Corner was one of my favorite hang-outs. This would be 1984 and '85. I can't remember how I found the store, but I was drawn there by the video games. I put endless quarters into the Ms. Pac-Man machine and spent the rest of my allowance on candy and comic books.


Photo by Paul Singley, Republican-American


I always felt slightly intimidated when I entered the store--I remember dark wood, a long counter with stools, old men pausing in conversation to glare sternly at me, and shelves stocked with cigars. I had to muster the courage to walk past the formidable front of the store to get to the two (or three?) video game machines in the back. It was a little strange, I suppose--the store had entertainment for kids, but they didn't really encourage kids to hang out there.

I remember Marty's Corner with fondness. When we moved to Watertown, I was never able to find as good a place to hang out. Which I guess is what kids, even pre-teens and teens, need.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Support the Schools

Stop & Shop, which has three stores in Waterbury and a fourth just over the line in Watertown, has a great program that makes it easy for you to help provide a little financial support to Waterbury schools. The A+ Bonus Bucks program donates money to the 3 schools of your choice (among those that are registered); the amount of the donation is connected to a point system based on how much money you spend at Stop & Shop.


In order to join the program, simply go to the website, register your Stop & Shop card (type in the numbers from the bar code), and select the schools. Simple as pi!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

More Low Numbers

When you look at the voter turn-out numbers (just sent to me by Bryan Baker), and add that to the notion that we need the police to keep the campaigners under control on election day (see comment #8 by S. on the previous post), I'd say we have a very serious problem. The numbers are as follows: in 2001 50.3% of the voters went to the polls, and the following elections had turnouts of 39% ('03), 40% ('05), 32% ('07), and 24% ('09). If that trend continues, eventually no one will vote in Waterbury's local elections except for the politicians.

It seems like everyone in Waterbury is eager to complain about the problems, so why are so few people voting? I don't think it's because they're satisfied with the way things are--otherwise, wouldn't they have voted in order to ensure the status quo?

There are two basic reasons I've heard from registered voters who don't bother to vote in the local elections:
1. There's no point bothering, they're all the same and they don't care about me;
2. I have no idea who all those candidates are or what an alderman does, so I wouldn't have any idea who to vote for.

This situation needs to change. The responsibility for that change lies with all of us.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Election Day

I stopped by the WOW center this evening to vote in the local election. Early results should be available in less than two hours, thanks to modern technology.

I was a little surprised to see a police cruiser parked across the street from the entrance to the polls. I checked with some friends, and it sounds like there was a strong police presence at all of the polls all day long (which explains why, when I called in a noise complaint earlier in the day, I was informed that it would be a while before they could get around to dispatching anyone).

One person I spoke to said he felt very intimidated by the police presence, especially when the cruiser outside the WOW center followed his car home and then looped back around to return to the center. He was furious when he told me this story. In the interests of fairness, I tended to believe that it was an unfortunate coincidence but did a little research and learned that a strong police presence at the voting places can be a very bad idea.

Here's an excerpt from an ACLU of Virginia news release dated October 21, 2004:
Civil liberties group says many voters won’t show if police are present
The ACLU of Virginia today asked the Chesterfield County registrar to withdraw a plan to post armed, uniformed police officers at the County’s 62 polling places on Election Day. The ACLU says that the police presence--a reminder of when armed government officials were used to prevent minorities from voting--will intimidate many potential voters, causing them to avoid the polls.

An article on the website of the American University Radio by Jessica Forres dated November 5, 2008 had this to say on the topic:
A Latino advocacy group says some Hispanic voters in Virginia's Prince William County may have been intimidated by the heavy police presence at one polling site.

It seems like it's a very delicate balance. If police have received a credible threat that would place voters in danger when they vote, then of course there should be a strong presence. But if voters feel intimidated, then that's a problem that needs to be fixed.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Question of the Day

If the DOT can no longer afford to widen, straighten and otherwise improve the small yet annoyingly dangerous stretch of I-84 between Austin Road and Hamilton Avenue, then why are they moving forward with a project to widen the much larger and significantly higher quality stretch from Waterbury to Danbury? While I'm making an effort to comprehend the motivations of the DOT, why are they holding a public hearing about the Waterbury to Danbury project at 2 p.m. on a weekday, guaranteeing that anyone who works won't able to attend?

Monday, October 19, 2009

City Grants Writer

The city is finally hiring a grantwriter. This is a job that a lot of people have been hoping would be created for several years now. There are so many ways in which Waterbury's quality of life could be improved if only we had someone going after the many available grants. A good grantwriter could bring in millions for the city.

In order to better spread the word so that we can land the best possible candidate, I'm posting the links to the job description and application form here. Please spread the word!

More Grammar Problems

Jarjura's campaign ads aren't the only ones suffering from grammatical errors that drive me batty. Theriault, the Independent party candidate for mayor, has been running ads featuring a pair of slogans: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs and Taxes, Taxes, Taxes. While the fine print explains that he's in favor of more jobs and less tax, conventional grammar rules interpret the pairing of the slogans very differently, that he is demanding jobs and taxes.

Theriault's background is in education, which makes me cringe even more. Isn't it possible to have political slogans with good grammar? Then again, this is the same party that sent out a campaign promotion with Independent spelled incorrectly.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Google vs. Reality

A few weeks ago, I noticed that Google's search engine had changed and no longer seemed quite as good as it used to be. Today, while looking up the business hours for Banfield Pet Hospital, I was surprised to see some major problems with Google Maps.


How does Google control its map-making? More specifically, who the heck decided that the Home Depot/PetSmart/Sports Authority shopping complex is really the Pathmark Shopping Center?

The last time I checked, what Google claims is the West Dover Street Playground is at best described as a parking lot, while the Rolling Mill Playground (where are they getting these names?) is an empty lot next to the First Light power generator.


Moving north up the map, I learned that Google thinks Rose Hill, or perhaps the land just below it, is called Center Square, which is actually what the Green used to be called. Then again, Google Maps seems undecided about what to call the Green, since it has it labeled twice (once with a cute little pine tree).





And then there's Naugatuck Valley Community College. Granted, it has been through numerous name changes, but I'm pretty sure it's been called Naugatuck Valley since before Google existed. And what's the Westwood Shopping Center? Isn't that really the former Scovill headquarters?




 Finally, here's Google Maps' opinion of the actual location of Naugatuck Valley Community Technical College (which also no longer exists, "Technical" was dropped from the name a few years ago).



Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Grammar Problems

Two years ago, and again this year, I have been struck by and giggled at the gross grammatical error on the Jarjura campaign signs. The phrase is: Jarjura - Still the "right" choice.

Now, I understand why right is in quotation marks. It's intended as a reference to Jarjura having once been a write-in candidate. However, it looks ridiculous to anyone who knows grammar.

When a single word is placed inside quotation marks, the quotation marks imply irony or reservation. Specifically, when placed inside quotation marks, the implication is that the opposite is true, that Jarjura is not the right choice.

I was a little dismayed to see the grammar mistake reappear this year. It's a minor error, but in a city with struggling schools, it's very embarrassing to see our incumbent mayor make such an error.

The Jarjura ad which ran in today's Rep-Am got rid of the error by switching the slogan to Now the Best Choice, but instead put quotation marks around Proven Record, implying that he doesn't have a proven record, and added the grammatically foolish statement And Mayor Jarjura and his Democrat Team DID NOT RAISE YOUR TAXES IN 2010. Of course they didn't. 2010 hasn't happened yet, therefore that statement is impossible (and confusing for future historians!). Presumably the statement was intended to refer to the city's most recent budget, but that is not specified.

As with all grammatical issues, most people probably don't care, while those of us that do are driven crazy by it.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Taking Requests!

The holiday season is fast approaching, and I promised myself that I would do a few holiday-themed paintings this year which would also be available as greeting cards.

With that said, do you have any suggestions of your favorite Waterbury winter scenes (or memories--how did the city celebrate holidays back in the 1950s?) that you would like to see as a greeting card? I have several that I am already planning to do, but I think it would be interesting to see what you, my fellow Waterbury fans, would like to see.

If you are not familiar with my art, you can see some examples at my online gallery or at Goldsmith's on Bank Street.

[Pseudo-legal, tongue-in-cheek disclaimer: making a suggestion does not obligate you to purchase a painting or greeting cards; making a suggestion I appear to follow up on, assuming I actually have time to this, does not entitle you to any share of the proceeds, especially since there is very little chance that there will be a profit, but maybe I can give you a personally signed copy.]

Get in the holiday spirit, think of some favorite Waterbury holiday scenes or memories, and post a comment sharing your thoughts!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Walsh Forum

I was kind of glad to see that the Rep-Am didn't report on Saturday's forum at Walsh School until today, but only because I was feeling bad about not having had time to blog about it yet!



I was surprised that there was almost no one in the audience. The only notice I had seen about the event was in the paper the day before, but the write-up made it sound like an important event for anyone who cares about the WOW neighborhood (where I live). However, as the school's principal, Erik Brown, pointed out, most people were probably planning on listening to it through WATR. After all, going to a 4-hour program that starts at 9 a.m. on a Saturday can't possibly be easy for most parents.

The forum was absolutely wonderful. I thought maybe there should have been an opportunity for public speaking from neighborhood residents, but, then again, there weren't that many of us and there was an opportunity to speak to most of the panelists after the program was over. (One panelist, Joan Hartley, never showed up or sent a substitute; a second panelist, Mayor Jarjura, joined the group more than an hour and a half late, spent a few moments shaking hands, spoke twice and left after an hour.)

The first hour might have been the best part, a discussion about the impact of poverty on Waterbury's students. It was a discussion that everyone should listen to, especially if they have never struggled with poverty.

Dr. Edward Joyner and Principal Brown spoke very well about specific students they have worked with whose poor behavior in school was directly connected to troubled home lives and very well about general difficulties.

Based on what I heard Saturday, and on a piece by Michael Puffer in today's paper, it seems that there is an unfortunate debate in the Waterbury schools about how to deal with student discipline issues. I suspect there are two competing philosophies of how a school should function. With the first philosophy, all students are treated exactly the same and are all expected to behave exactly the same. In this philosophy, the function of the school is largely limited to book learning and passing mastery tests.

The second philosophy recognizes that not all students are the same, that some students, when they are outside school, face challenges and difficulties that are overwhelming, that the only positive adult contact they might have is in the school, and that their school is the only place where they have a chance to learn how to rise above the difficulties of their lives.

If a student is homeless, do you suspend him when he acts out in school? If a teenage girl is stuck living in a house with heroin users, do you suspend her when she acts out in school? If the behavior merits suspension, then use an in-school suspension. Don't force them to stay home for a week. It will only make things worse.

While nearly all of the four hours was very inspirational, the last 20 or 30 minutes was frustrating, even infuriating. The discussion topic raised pertained to the terrible condition of the neighborhood and the impact that has on the ability of students to do well in school. If I'm remembering correctly, Larry Butler spoke early in the discussion about the responsibility of city and state officials to help solve the problems of blighted, abandoned buildings, crumbling sidewalks, litter, and so on. But the conversation quickly went downhill when some panelists insisted that the responsibility lies with the residents, that the burden of responsibility lies entirely with the people who live in the neighborhood and that if only we took pride in our neighborhood, everything would be fine. I almost stood up and demanded that they walk out onto the streets and say that to the many people who have spent the past 20 years struggling to make this neighborhood better, the people who are outside picking up litter every day, the people who were promised new sidewalks but have never seen them, the people who have complained about the problems and received no assistance, the people who call the police when there is a disturbance and don't see a response for 20 minutes (long after the culprits have disappeared), the children who have been hit by cars while crossing the road, the homeowners who have seen their taxes double and triple in the past eight years without seeing any increase or improvement in city services.

To every single panelist who placed the blame on the neighborhood residents, shame on you. What are we supposed to do about the crumbling sidewalks? What are we supposed to do about the abandoned, blighted buildings? What are we supposed to do about the speeding cars?

I have, in the past, notified the blight patrol about excessive litter at certain properties. The owners cleaned up the mess, passed their repeat inspection, and a week later all the litter was back. I didn't contact blight patrol again. I didn't see any point to it.

Last summer, I reprimanded a group of kids who were trying to demolish my neighbor's fence. Their response was to gesture toward all the abandoned buildings and say "who cares?" It was clear in their minds that this neighborhood is a disaster zone, that it will never get better, and that no one cares about it or them.

I've said this before and I will keep saying it until something happens: if the city could afford to borrow $2 million to buy Drubner's property, then it can afford to invest $2 million in the WOW neighborhood.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Keep Watching This Space

Progress is being made, ever so slowly, on getting construction started for the downtown Facade Improvement Program. As I wrote previously, Main Street Waterbury has awarded improvement grants to several building owners. Since then, there have been designs submitted and revised, contracts written up and sent to Corporation Council, and all sorts of other stages of the process.



One of the projects that is just about ready to go is the newly renovated apartment building on the corner of Bank and Center Streets. I've heard great things about the quality of the apartments, I can't wait to see how the exterior looks when it's completed!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Petroleum Man

Last night I made a trip to Target for some chicken soup and orange juice--I was hit by the flu early this week, and Target has really low prices on chicken soup. I also made a stop at the Sunoco station on the corner of Wolcott and Lakewood. I was a little surprised to see a panhandler asking drivers for spare change, and I was a little surprised by how cheery and friendly everyone was being. Usually people being panhandled become surly or terrified, but the people he panhandled cheerily wished him good luck. I don't know why they weren't upset, maybe the gas station is close enough to Wolcott that people feel safe?

When he asked me if I had any spare change, I warned him that I had the flu. He then told me that things like swine flu and pneumonia are caused by water. Bear in mind that, thanks to the flu, I wasn't entirely coherent, but I think maybe he wasn't all that coherent either. He went on to explain that the germs get in through the pores in your skin, possibly via water (I didn't entirely understand how water factored into the equation), therefore you should coat your skin with a layer of petroleum to keep out the flu. If only I had known that sooner! Somebody inform the CDC and start spreading the grease around!

On a more serious note, there are reports of a recent spike in flu-type symptoms at Connecticut emergency rooms, and it does seem like a lot of people have been getting sick lately. There's some speculation that Waterbury has a higher immunity to swine flu, because we had more cases of it in the spring. The first delivery of swine flu vaccine isn't due to arrive in Connecticut for several more weeks, by which time we may already be well into flu season. While I don't recommend coating your skin with petroleum, I do recommend stocking up on flu supplies before you get sick, so you don't have to make a late-night, half-delirious chicken soup run.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Greenway

The second public meeting for the Greenway project was held on September 16. I am very impressed with the consultants for this project--they are getting good things done at a very good pace (unlike the consultants for the transportation center, who seem to be working at a snail's pace).

The updated information about the greenway trail will be available on the project website next week, www.waterburygreenway.org.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thank You!

My sincere thanks to everyone who voted in the Primary on Tuesday. Sadly, only 19% of the eligible voters came out that day. I am, however, very proud of my district (72-2) which I had been told is not worth bothering with because voter turnout is always so low here. We had 173 voters, while the supposedly busier and more worthwhile 73-5 had 168 voters.

One of my goals going forward is to increase voter participation in the 72nd district. The city has been ignoring this neighborhood for many, many years (we've been asking to have the sidewalks repaired/replaced for just over a decade with no results), and one reason surely must be the low voter turnout. In fact, there seems to be a direct correlation between neighborhoods known to have high voter turnout and neighborhoods that are well-maintained by the city.

At some point when I have time, I'll write up a long article about my experiences on the campaign trail. But first I have a few household chores to get caught up on!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Primary Day

11:14 a.m. ~ So far a slow day. I was assigned to Blessed Sacrament this morning, where we averaged approximately 12 voters per hour. Coleen Flaherty-Merritt was there as well and told me that polling location usually sees 30 in the first hour and another rush before 8 a.m. There were no rushes at all.

Next I took my dad over to Chase School so he could vote. They were at maybe 40 or 50 voters. Jarjura was there, and he very graciously offered me a piece of fruit. I wish I had thought to say that I would prefer new sidewalks, but I was trying to be polite.

Third stop was my home district at the WOW Center. I was voter number 36. From what I saw after, I'd say the pace is about 12 voters per hour. The 72nd district is known for low voter turn-out, but so far today it doesn't seem to be lagging that far behind the supposedly busy 73-5. We'll see if things change later today.

3 p.m. ~ Hot, hot, hot! A slow afternoon but definitely worthwhile. If only I had thought to put on sunblock! Today is definitely the most stressful day of the campaign. My sister is going to stop by with water and moral support before she goes to her polling place. Five hours to go. What a day!

6 p.m. ~ Back at Blessed Sacrament, which had a little over a dozen voters in the past hour, so really not much busier than the WOW Center, where Joyce Petteway is currently doing a hard sell of Jarjura for the rare undecided voter. Two hours to go.

6:45 p.m. ~ Mosquitos!!!

12:44 a.m. ~ A shocking upset, thanks to the Berginesque absentee ballots and ridiculously low voter turnout. There's a lot I learned, there's a lot I still have to process, but I still love this city and am determined to bring it up out of the muck.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Traintime

I'm sitting on the train platform right now, waiting for the 9:15. I don't normally sit around waiting, but I had to drop my car off at 8 for much-needed maintenance. A young woman just came up to me and asked if she could give me a copy of Watchtower. When I said "sure, can I give you one of my flyers?", she looked flustered and politely said no. I handed her the Vance for Mayor flyer anyway, pointing out my photo on the back, and she instantly went from worried to pleased and interested. I gave her a quick spiel, the she and the other woman, with small child in tow, went on their way.

Monday, September 07, 2009

River Baldwin Forum

I love political debates (and wish we would have one during this election season!). Last Friday's Democratic Forum at the River Baldwin center had a brief moment when Vance and Jarjura slid into a debate, but the moderator quickly got them back on format. While the two hours were relatively calm, it certainly was informative.

I was astonished by some of the things Jarjura said, especially considering that the first round of Q&A was prepared in advance. Most notably (if that's the right word for it), he proposed several scenarios in which he will raise taxes and one scenario in which he will be cutting funding to some city programs.



Most infuriatingly, at one point Jarjura claimed, in effect, that things are great in all of Waterbury's neighborhoods. I was so outraged by his claims that I almost started shouting at him. The question to which he was responding (I wrote notes, but not verbatim) asked what his plan was for improving the city's suffering neighborhoods. Jarjura answered with a sort of anecdote about how terrible things were when he first became mayor eight years ago, that back then city residents were so fed up and frustrated that they were ready to leave Waterbury, but now (after 8 years of Jarjura as Mayor), everything is fine, we have plenty of grant writers, there is money available for homeowners to upgrade their houses, and we have no extra money to fix up neighborhoods.

Now, granted, I'm writing this 48 hours later, working from notes I typed quickly into my phone, so these are not direct quotes, just the gist of what he said. Tearing it apart one piece at a time:

~Most everyone in my neighborhood is frustrated and fed up and ready to leave Waterbury; in the past 8 years, they have seen their property taxes more than double without seeing any improvements to city services, and in most cases they don't feel like they have seen any city services worth mentioning;

~If we have "plenty" of grant writers, why don't we have any extra money to fix up neighborhoods? if we can spend $2 million buying Drubner's land, why can't we spend $2 million fixing up blighted neighborhoods? If we have neighborhoods that NEED fixing up, then how is it possible that everything is fine?

It was clear from what Jarjura said that he has never been to my neighborhood, or any other neighborhood that has been suffering for years. He is completely oblivious.

Other memorable highlights from the forum: in response to the lack of diversity in city hiring (for example, every member of the Mayor's office staff are white, in a city where 25% of the population is Hispanic), Jarjura said "the problem is primaries", that Cicero Booker has failed to recommend minorities for assorted positions, and that the Board of Aldermen, which according to Jarjura has nothing to do all year except approve his budget, hasn't done anything and "hopefully the next Board of Aldermen will do their jobs." I wondered what the incumbents on his ticket thought of that. I spoke to Alderman Nogueira after the forum--he was furious.

After a mid-forum break, members of the public had the opportunity to have their questions asked. One woman from the South End wanted to know what each candidate was going to do about the poor conditions of some of the school buildings and school supplies. Jarjura was flummoxed, and insisted that everything was fine with schools, implying that the woman didn't know what she was talking about.

The forum started out with a general question about problems Waterbury faces. Jarjura responded by citing the national financial crisis and, for the next question concerning future policy decisions, warned that he will have to stop funding some programs in order to avoid raising taxes. Later on, he described a plan to increase the sales tax for anything sold in Waterbury so that the city will gain extra revenue. This is apparently a plan concocted by the mayors of several cities, but it seems fundamentally flawed. It increases taxes for the poorest city residents who are unable to go to a town with lower taxes to do their shopping.

The overall message from Jarjura was "everything is fine, there's no need to make any changes or improvements," except when he was blaming problems on anyone other than himself (in addition to the above examples, he also blamed the school problems on single-parent families, teen pregnancy and abusive households).

In contrast, Vance proposed numerous ways to improve city services, lower taxes and improve quality of life in Waterbury. His plans include ways to make the city friendlier to businesses, establishing the Mayor's office as a hub for economic development, reducing the city's expenditures for legal fees by putting legal services out to bid, hiring a grant writer (which was in the city budget for last year, but instead a new aide was hired for the Mayor's office), establishing monthly community meetings for the Mayor's office and making the Board of Aldermen more accessible to the public by holding some meetings in community centers, give neighborhood associations grant funds to help improve the neighborhoods, create tax incentives to help fight foreclosures, and reduce pollution (whereas Jarjura spoke about bringing in more industry to the heavily-polluted South End).

By the end of the 2-hour forum, Vance had earned several new supporters.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

$1.75 million

I'm trying to avoid having this blog dwell too much on campaign issues, but this one is really bothering me, and I think there are a couple of reasons for it. Mayor Jarjura's proposal to purchase the 130+ acre Park Road parcel of woodlands from Norman Drubner is a proposal I would support if there was a plan to preserve it as open space (instead the plan seems to be to sell it to the next eager developer--who will that be? Jarjura?) and if the price were more realistic. Spending $1.7 million to buy land that has been assessed at less than $40,000 just doesn't sit right with me.

Jarjura says the expenditure is an investment for the city. I have a better investment proposal. For $1.75 million, the city (or designated organization, for example, WDC) could purchase every abandoned, blighted house in my neighborhood (and there are a lot of them!), rehabilitate them, and then sell them to people who would live in them and maintain them. The city would possibly make an immediate financial profit, followed by an increase in tax collection from the newly owned buildings, and the improvement to this neighborhood would be phenomenal. In one year, my neighborhood could go from being blighted to being one of the nicer neighborhoods in the city.

Or we could just stick with Jarjura's plan and funnel the money into Drubner's bank account without making any improvements to the city in the short or long run. That's Jarjura's plan, isn't it? Use the property exactly the same way as Drubner would, but first give him a big chunk of taxpayer money.

Now that it's been re-appraised for $4.3 million, wouldn't it be more profitable to let Drubner keep it and pay the appropriate taxes on it?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Comment Apologies

Thanks to a new web marketing strategy in which hired spammers in Sri Lanka and India post fake blog comments with links to commercial sites, I have changed the options for leaving comments on this blog. Going forward, no comments will post until I have reviewed them. Hopefully this will take less of my time than going back through old blog posts to individually delete the spam comments.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Campaign Events



The Democratic Primary is only a few weeks away (on September 15) and things are really heating up (especially, for some reason, on Facebook).

The Grand Opening of the Vance HQ is Monday, August 31 at 5 p.m., complete with free Frankie's hot dogs, courtesy of our Board of Aldermen candidate Frank Caiazzo.

Join us again at The Turf on Grand Street for a fundraiser on Wednesday, September 2, 7 p.m. - 10 p.m. ($20 per person).

You can check out votevance.com to keep up-to-date with the latest events.

My lawn signs are finally here, so if you want one, send me an email or give me a call (I'm in the phone book as R Guest).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Park Road "Gift"?

The need for more open space in Waterbury has been a concern of mine for many years. In the past two weeks, there has been a lot of news concerning the 134 acres of forest owned by developer Norman Drubner on Park Road. It’s a beautiful stretch of land, one of the most park-like roads in the city, and one of the most endangered open spaces in Waterbury.

Drubner had planned on building 431 condominiums on the property, which provoked a public outcry from residents who feel that the city has more than enough high-density housing and not enough open space. The issue of open space in Waterbury has been a hot topic for many years: sometime around 2005, when the city was considering selling a portion of the East Mountain Golf Course for condo development, Mayor Jarjura was quoted as saying that Waterbury has enough open space, including cemeteries in his count.

Jarjura, a real estate developer, has now offered to have the city purchase Drubner’s land for $1.75 million. The property is assessed at less than $40,000. The difference between those two values has raised some instant red flags for a lot of people. Either the city has offered to pay far too much for the property, or Drubner has not been paying anywhere near enough taxes for it.

There also seems to be some confusion regarding the future of the property: Drubner was quoted in the paper on August 20 as stating that “this property is going to be preserved.” Preserving land usually means that policies, laws or zoning changes are enacted to guarantee that the land will never be developed as anything other than open space. The same article notes that Drubner envisions the land being converted for baseball fields and hiking trails, which would be a fantastic use of the property. Unfortunately, Drubner has yet to announce that this would be a condition of the sale.

More unfortunately, in the August 19 article announcing the deal, Mayor Jarjura was quoted saying “I don’t want to call it open space… I would like it to be undisturbed property. If for whatever reason the city finds itself in trouble, this would be an asset the city could sell, develop or whatever.”

It sounds an awful lot like Jarjura has no intention of using the space as Drubner now envisions, with baseball fields and hiking trails. Instead, it sounds like Jarjura intends to use the property exactly as Drubner has previously intended for himself: a multi-family development cash cow.

Further in the August 19 article, Jarjura says that he would like to see Drubner and “even himself” (in the reporter’s words) “concentrate on redeveloping the housing stock in the city’s inner core rather than bulldozing virgin sites like the Drubner property.” The hypocrisy of this makes me laugh. While I absolutely agree with the sentiment, I have never seen any evidence of Jarjura doing anything except the exact opposite. During his tenure as Mayor, Jarjura and his business partners have bulldozed virgin sites in the East End and just over the town line in Middlebury to construct new building developments. I have never once heard of them rehabbing existing buildings.

While the newspaper article printed yesterday (Wednesday August 26) suggests that the purchase of the land would end the fight to prevent unwelcome developments on the property, it also notes that the residents opposed to the development still want the area rezoned from multi-family to single-family. The reality, as described by Jarjura, is that the city’s purchase of the land will not prevent the property from being converted into condominiums or any other high-density housing. It sounds more like the city will wait until the furor dies down, then sell it to a condo developer.

The issue of whether or not the transaction constitutes a gift hinges on the appraised value of the property. Drubner, quite naturally, wants the land appraised at the maximum value he believes he would gain from developing it for multi-family housing, which would be two or three times the amount of money he proposes selling it for. The difference is what he calls his “gift”, which would perhaps be tax deductible. But, again, if that’s the true value of the property, shouldn’t he have been paying taxes for that value?

I question the ethics of waiting until after the sale to change the zoning on the property. There is clear pressure from the community to change the zoning now. The only reason for waiting is to maximize Drubner’s tax deduction. I assume that is not illegal, but it certainly does not seem ethical.

In times past, the people who donated land to the city for parks also donated endowment funds for the maintenance of the property, and in some cases also paid for the conversion of the land into public parks—Fulton Park is an excellent example of this. Why can’t that happen now?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What a Summer!

I can't believe I'm writing this, but here goes: I have not had to use the garden hose even once this summer. My front lawn is still green and grew nearly a foot in the past week.

It's late August. My front lawn, which gets full sun all day long, should be brown right now. I shouldn't have to mow it, because normally this time of year it's stopped growing. At the start of last week, I actually started to think that we might not get much rain the rest of this month.

It's a good thing that this was the year I finally made an effort to reduce the amount of damp in my basement. One section of basement wall is afflicted with mold every summer, a white, fluffy, disturbing mold. Earlier this year, I purchased some plastic sheeting and spent an hour digging a trench along the side of the house corresponding to where the mold grows in the basement. I laid down the plastic in a couple layers, at an angle directed away from the house, then buried it back under the dirt.

I wasn't sure if I had spread out enough plastic to divert the rain properly, but now, months and several feet of rain later, I believe my labor has paid off--although the basement wall is a little damp, it's not fluffy.

Next summer I'll figure out how to get rid of the basement damp completely.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Train Time!

I think I must blog about the train more than anything else these days. I guess when you're dependent upon public transportation, it become very important to you!

For the past month, the train running between Waterbury and Bridgeport has been replaced by buses to allow MetroNorth time to do some basic service work to the tracks (nothing that will increase the number of trains, just basic maintenance to keep the existing trains running). The morning bus has usually been a Peter Pan with free wifi, which was nice to have, but for some reason the a/c was always set to about 60 degrees. The morning bus was an express, which meant we got to Bridgeport in about 35 minutes. The downside was that the bus left 15 minutes earlier than the train--the upside was that I was sometimes able to catch the 7:02 from Bridgeport, getting into the office before anyone else, and the total travel time was reduced to two hours instead of two and a half.

The evening bus was always a CT Transit bus, no wifi, no express (although the only other stop was Naugatuck). It took just as long to get to Waterbury as the train did, even though the train made a lot more stops. That fact says a lot about the merits of train transportation.

I'm not the only one who prefers the train: I overheard several people talking on their cell phones, explaining where they were to whoever was on the other end of the line, and speaking very disparagingly about being on a bus instead of on the train. A few people even sounded like it was insulting to be forced to take the bus rather than the train.

Happiness should return tomorrow morning, when I and my fellow commuters finally get our train back!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Turning Them In

I took a break from work at lunchtime today to join some of my fellow candidates and Vance supporters at the office of the Registrar of Voters. We turned in 180 signed petitions, close to 3000 signatures, with more petitions to follow before tomorrow's deadline. So far it's been a very interesting experience.



I feel like a politics geek when I say this, but I am really enjoying participating in democracy, and I am really kind of glad that my first go-round as a candidate is with the petitioning challenger. I think I am learning more about the democratic process this way. It's also been an amazing experience to talk to so many people about their concerns, complaints and viewpoints.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Freight Street Gallery

I've been hoping for years that someone would put an art space in one of the many old factory buildings in Waterbury. It's been done in other cities with great success--The Nest in Bridgeport, for example.

One of the great things about using old factories for art spaces is that the roughness of the space allows artists and musicians to be relaxed. You don't have to worry about being too loud or messing up the woodwork.

Waterbury now has the Freight Street Gallery, on Freight Street which is shaping up to be a real hot spot for the city, thanks to Sin City across the street.

I checked out the gallery at the closing of the Steve Soklin/Larry Livolsi exhibit. I'd been seeing flyers and other mentions of the space for months, starting way back when it was being called Brass Monkey. Tracey O'Shaughnessy's article in the Republican-American got me finally motivated enough to actually visit the gallery.

There were more events at the gallery this weekend--the Fighting Cocks played there on Friday night, and a new exhibit opened on Saturday. My apologies for not having more info on either of those events; I wasn't able to go either night for a variety of reasons. However, here are some photos from closing of the Soklin/Livolsi exhibit:









Friday, July 31, 2009

Online Tax Payments

I've been waiting eagerly to use the city's new online payment option for property taxes, launched this summer. Today was payday and my car tax is due August 3rd, so today was the day to do it.

I'd been reading the letters to the editor in the Rep-Am written by taxpayers who were angry at having to pay a 3% convenience fee for paying by credit card. I didn't think this was a real problem, since they have always done that. The credit card companies charge the city that fee, so the city passes it on to the credit card user so that they don't lose any tax revenue. Nothing new there.

A letter to the editor from Steve Gambini, the Mayor's aide, seemed to clarify everything. Yes, there's a 3% fee for using a credit card, but that's normal. If you pay online by check, the fee is only fifty cents. Given that a stamp costs nearly that much and snail mail requires an earlier payment, I was content.

I went online this morning and eventually manoeuvred through the bill pay site (I had to do it twice--after I got through maybe five or six screens, I got a message telling me that I was using the wrong browser and needed to switch to Firefox). I finally got to the section where you actually pay the bill and was shocked by what I saw.



For a payment of $155.89, there is a mystery convenience fee of $4.68 which appears to be completely separate from the "convenience" fees related to the form of payment. That's a 3% fee, completely unexplained. I started getting very upset, but in the interest of properly testing the system for myself, I continued with the payment (also, I really didn't want to go wait in line for an hour at the Tax Collector's office).

Lo and behold! When you enter your direct debit information and move on to the next screen, the 3% fee magically transforms into the 50¢ fee!



I'll keep using the site to pay my taxes, but whoever designed the tax payment site needs to take a remedial course in User-Friendly Design.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Petitions!

If you are registered as a Democrat in Waterbury and would like to be able to vote in a primary in September, we need your signature! We're going all over the city, but we simply don't have time to go to every single door.

If you would like to sign the petition, simply stop by Vance HQ in the little plaza at 451 Meriden Road or call the HQ at 510-3175.

The Vance slate is as follows:

Mayor
J. Paul Vance, Jr.

Board of Aldermen
Bernard Bailey, Jr.
Francis J. Caiazzo, Jr.
George F. Flaherty, Jr.
Raechel E. Guest
Martin J. Misset
Paul M. Nogueira
William J. Phelan
Ruben A. Rodriguez
Richard J. Scappini

Board of Education
Lisa A. Cheney
Robert C. Lyons
Melissa Mancini Torrance

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Farmer's Market on the Green

I finally made it to the Farmer's Market last Thursday. As always, it was very sociable and full of good food. It seemed like there were more vegetables this year and definitely more pastries!

Below are a few pics from last week. The Market is open Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.










Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fun with Quotes

I was very disappointed by the Republican-American's coverage of last night's Democratic Convention, which seemed strongly biased in favor of Mayor Jarjura. Last week the newspaper wrote, in an overly opinionated way, that Vance would have to scramble at the last minute to put together his slate of candidates. Today they failed to mention that he had his slate in place at the convention, just as they failed to mention the names of anyone running with him (which includes incumbent Alderman Martin Misset, who was at the convention).

I think this quote in the article stood out most for me: “What does it say about the Vance campaign that even the rival party thinks I’ve done a good job? I mean, when even your rival party won’t run against you, how can a real, true and loyal Democrat find fault?” Jarjura asked after the convention ended. “It’s petty.”

First of all, define "good job". When Jarjura first became mayor, the state Oversight Board (remember them?) was making the hard decisions and required actions to pull us out of an economic morass. Jarjura didn't fix the city's budget all by his lonesome. He has stayed the course and done the basic things that a mayor should do. Nothing more, nothing less. Unfortunately, after so many years of corrupt government, people in Waterbury think this is something outstanding. It's not. It's the bare minimum.

Here in Waterbury, we think it's highly commendable if the Mayor isn't corrupt and on his way to jail. It's not. It's the bare minimum.

So if by "good job" Jarjura means "hey, great, we've got a balance budget and the mayor hasn't been arrested", then yes, he's doing a good job.

Second, the reason the Republican party isn't running against Jarjura has more to do with their party being dead in the water. Waterbury voters still equate their party with Giordano. There was absolutely no point in their running a Republican candidate against Jarjura. It's going to be a long time before the voters will trust a Republican mayor again. The Republicans have endorsed Jarjura in order to save their own party and to oust the Independents.

Third, considering that Jarjura has set himself up as the Republican candidate, I don't think he has any right to talk about being "a real, true and loyal Democrat". Cutting a back-room deal with a rival party is about as far as you can get from being loyal to your own party.

Fourth, saying that it's petty for a fellow Democrat to find fault with the sitting Mayor sends chills down my spine. The last time I checked, this was a free and democratic nation. The Office of Mayor is not a dictatorship. It is not petty to find fault with one's government--it is our patriotic duty to speak up when we don't agree.

Neil O'Leary came very close to joining Vance in challenging Jarjura in a primary, does that mean he is petty as well?

If there was as strong possibility that the Republicans or Independents could win the mayoral election, I could almost agree that this is not a good year for the Democrats to be divided. But that possibility doesn't exist. The voters deserve choices.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Welcome to the Campaign!

When I started this blog in 2005, I was very dissatisfied with how the city was being run. Yes, things had improved since Giordano was removed from office, but the only noticeable differences were a balanced budget and a mayor who wasn't a sleaze bag. Waterbury has suffered for so long under political corruption that this seems like a great thing, but a balanced budget and a mayor who isn't on his way to jail should be the bare minimum expectation. It is time to demand more than the bare minimum.

In the past four years, I have become increasingly involved with making a difference. As a volunteer with Main Street Waterbury's Design Committee, I have had the opportunity to see first-hand how the city works and how it doesn't work. I have also had the opportunity to help bring about positive change.

I am honored to say that I have been offered a new opportunity to do what I can to help Waterbury achieve its potential to be one of the best cities in the country. At tonight's Democratic Convention, it was announced that I am running as a candidate for the Board of Aldermen. I am delighted to say that I am running with Mayoral Candidate J. Paul Vance, Jr. I firmly believe that it is long past time for a new Mayor in Waterbury and that Vance is eminently qualified for the job.

Tonight's Democratic Convention was my first political convention (talk about diving in head-first!), and I don't think I have ever been as nervous as I was right before my name was announced as a candidate for the Board of Aldermen. At the beginning of the convention, the majority of the Town Committee refused to allow Vance the opportunity to speak. At the end of the convention, when Jarjura and his slate naturally received the endorsement (apparently a large number of Committee members are either city employees or Jarjura's family), he was permitted a long speech. At least a third, maybe half, of the room got up and left when Jarjura started speaking. I stayed to hear what he had to say. When he was nominated by Ned Cullinan, there was a moment when I was so outraged (see below) that I almost shouted out loud, so of course I had to hear more.


Settling into our seats at the Convention.

In his speech, Jarjura claimed that Waterbury is in excellent economic condition, that we are somehow better off than any other city in Connecticut. The facts tell a very different story. In 2007, 19.4% of Waterbury residents had income below the poverty level, while the state as a whole was at 7.9%. As of May 2009, Waterbury's unemployment rate was at 13%, the second-worst in the state. Last year there was a big effort to shut down tent cities, a symptom of severe economic distress, along the Naugatuck River. The Republican-American ran articles and photos deservedly lauding the city for its efforts to help the homeless. Last week I was informed by a reliable source that there are currently 23 tent cities down by the river. None of this sounds like a good economic condition.

As a follow-up, Jarjura implied that Mayor Vance would somehow bring economic ruin to Waterbury. This is ridiculous rhetoric. Vance has been President of the Board of Alderman since 2001. He served as Chairman of the Budget Subcommittee from 2002 to 2008. He has a Master's Degree from Columbia University in Public Administration. He is a smart man, and an honest man. We can trust him with the city's economics.

I was disturbed by Jarjura's attempt to strike fear in the hearts of the voters present. He seemed to be saying "if you vote for Vance, bad things will happen." I have never had any respect for any politician who attempts to sway voters by appealing to their fear of the unknown.

I was even more disturbed when Jarjura demanded that everyone, including those of us running with Vance, abandon any interest in a primary and just go with the endorsed ticket. Seriously, he wants those of us who are dedicated to collecting enough signatures for a primary, those of us who believe that Waterbury will be better off with a new administration, to suddenly jump ship and do what we're told. I thought this was a democracy, not a dictatorship.

Perhaps Mayor Jarjura is afraid that he will lose the primary. After all, he lost a primary to Karen Mulcahy, and Paul Vance is a vastly more qualified Mayoral candidate. But there's good news for Jarjura! If he loses the Democratic primary, he can still run as the Republican candidate! That's right, the man who insisted in his speech tonight, over and over again, that he is a Democrat, has agreed to be the Republican party's candidate for Mayor.

Jarjura also spoke about being "pro-family". This one made me laugh. The same man who was quoted in the newspaper blasting Vance for being with his wife and their first baby, only hours old, instead of a public function, is claiming to be pro-family. How can you claim to be pro-family and also say that Vance will make a terrible mayor because he chose to be involved with the birth of his child?

As mentioned above, I was outraged during Cullinan's speech about how wonderful Jarjura is. Amongst the many things that Jarjura is supposedly responsible for was the Facade Improvement Program. Believe me when I tell you that Jarjura has had no involvement in that program other than, perhaps, to have been persuaded that it is a good program. All of the work of the Facade Program has been done by Main Street Waterbury's Design Committee and by the Waterbury Development Corporation. I wrote the guidelines for the program. The Design Committee sub-committee, many years ago, approved the plan. The program languished for years under bureaucratic folderol. Carl Rosa and I continued to press for the program to move forward. Kathy McNamara and Geoff Green at WDC cut through the red tape to make the program viable. The new sub-committee, made up of member of Design Committee and WDC staff, have selected 7 buildings for the program. The last update I had on the project is that it is languishing at the city's Corporation Counsel (as of July 13). There is absolutely no way that the Facade Program can be credited to Jarjura.

I have a tendency to avoid bragging about my accomplishments, but when I hear other people taking the credit for my work, it makes me angry. There was, however, a delightful and long moment in Jarjura's speech when he all but endorsed me (and Republican Aldermanic candidate Bryan Baker). Jarjura gave a poetic description of how tired and worn down and dilapidated the City Hall building was when he first became Mayor. He spoke of staring out the windows of the Chase Building at the poor, forlorn City Hall, a relic of Waterbury's better days. He spoke of the pleasure he now has, able to look across the street at the construction project that is steadily restoring City Hall to its past glory. If only he had given credit where it was due: when the fate of the building was being hotly debated, when it looked like the historic and important City Hall building was going to be either torn down or boarded up and abandoned, I spoke up at Design Committee meeting and said "shouldn't we be fighting to save the building?" The rest of the Committee agreed, and we began a campaign involving impassioned pleas to the Board of Aldermen and letters to anyone and everyone who might be interested. We joined forces with the Mattatuck Museum and the Waterbury Foundation to coordinate the Cass Gilbert Symposium, during which I led one of the tour groups. I was dismayed when Jarjura caved in to pressure from Larry DePillo and refused to allow the full renovation/restoration project to move forward, but I was relieved that he was willing to allow the bare minimum to happen. So thank you, Mayor Jarjura, for praising an improvement project I fought for. Next time don't forget to mention who was involved.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

State of Absurdity

Some days it seems like I can't read the newspaper without getting annoyed. This time it was the article about the state Department of Public Health requiring barbers and hairdressers to "pass a state licensing exam in English or, if an applicant has earned a license in a state that gives exams in languages other than English, they must pass an English proficiency test."

Waterbury will begin inspecting salons later this year and will inform the state DPH of any barbers or hairdressers who are unlicensed. On the surface, that sounds perfectly reasonable. The problem is that Waterbury is an immigrant city, full of Dominicans, Mexicans, Albanians and others who do not speak or read English. Granted, they will in theory have had several months to prepare and pass the licensing exam, but imagine trying to pass an exam in a language you don't speak. That can't be easy.

First level of absurdity: since when has proficiency in English had any bearing on someone's ability to be a good hairdresser?

Second level of absurdity, as printed in the Republican-American: "But the state Department of Public Health said it is too expensive to offer the state exam in other languages, at least right now while the state is grappling with its huge budget deficit, Gonzalez said. It won’t allow translators out of fear of cheating, she said."

Actually, I think that's the second and third levels. Too expensive? If this is a written exam, how expensive can it possibly be to hire translators for the most common languages? At most, probably fifty grand. Balance that against the number of barbers and hairdressers who will become unemployed because the test is available only in English. Add to the mix the number of empty storefronts and the loss of revenue from those businesses.

Connecticut will lose tax revenue if they shut down businesses because the state refuses to spend the money to translate the test.

As for fear of cheating, if the test is a written exam, I don't see how cheating is a problem. Hire reputable college professors to do the translation. If the test is an oral exam, well, there's just as much a risk of cheating in English as there is in any other language.

When my great-grandparents came to this country one hundred years ago, they spoke no English but were able to support themselves and their family by starting their own business. I wonder if they would have had a harder time doing that today, or if the difficulties and challenges, while not the same, are equivalent?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Flood?

After the flooding we had on July 2, I started thinking about the Flood of 1955 and went back through my notes for the exhibit I curated at the Mattatuck Museum in 2005 to remind myself of the sequence of events that led to the 1955 flood. Circumstances are certainly different today--numerous flood control dams were constructed after 1955--but I still wonder just how bad things could get.

The immediate cause of the 1955 flood was a double-whammy of hurricanes. Hurricane Connie dumped 3.5 inches of rain on Waterbury on August 13, while Diane brought 8.06 inches on Waterbury and 14.25 inches on Torrington a week later, on the night of August 18-19.

Flooding on the Green, August 19, 1955 (Collection of the Mattatuck Museum Arts & History Center)


There have been other major floods in Waterbury's history: in 1896, heavy rainstorms on February 6, February 29 and March 19 turned the streets downtown into rivers five feet deep; a flood on November 19, 1853 took out nearly all of the bridges on the Naugatuck River; while the first recorded flood, in February of 1691, wiped out farmland and drowned the Green.

On July 2 this year, an estimated 4 to 5 inches of rain fell in three hours, manhole covers popped off and many streets were under several feet of water. As we all know, we've had a tremendous amount of rain this year. The river is higher than normal (I've been told four feet higher, but I haven't fact-checked). The flooding we had this month is presumably linked to the city's sewer and drainage system being unable to handle that volume of water, but I've also been told that the elevated height of the river relative to the drains is part of the problem.

View of the flood on August 19, 1955 from Waterbury Hospital (Collection of the Mattatuck Museum Arts & History Center)

Considering how much rain we've had this summer, and considering just how saturated the ground and rivers are, I'm a little concerned about hurricane season. Yes, we have flood control dams now, so the overall devastation surely wouldn't be as bad, but what we saw on July 2 suggests that we could be in for a lot more localized flooding and wash-outs.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hoppy

Last year I wrote about the sole grasshopper living in my front yard. This year there are more--at least two, possibly three. Okay, I have no idea how many, so far I've seen two at one time. The first time I saw one was at least a month ago, when it was just a tiny little speck of pastel green. They're bigger now, with a little more variation in their coloring.



I know absolutely nothing about grasshoppers. I am going to have to assume the one in my yard last year was a female, and I'm wondering if there was more than one and I just never noticed the second, or was she already pregnant when she arrived with the plants I bought, even though she was just a tiny little thing?

Also, how do they survive the winter? According to the only information I've ever read about grasshoppers, they spend the summers singing and partying and then end up starving to death in the cold, cold winter while the industrious ants it living it up by the fireside.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lady Godiva

I had a great time painting at Goldsmith's on Friday. It was a productive painting session, and some great visitors stopped by to say hello (and I got a copy of American Brass--great stuff, check it out!). The highlight of the afternoon, however, was Lady Godiva.

About mid-afternoon, a woman came into the store and was in the back talking to Todd for a while. As she was leaving the store, she stopped to talk to me and shared the fantastic story of her 40th birthday and the horse fountain.

When she was a little girl, she declared that she wanted to climb up the fountain and sit on the horse just like Lady Godiva, completely naked. Her mother, not surprisingly, refused to let her do that. Decades later, on her 40th birthday, she was drinking at a bar downtown and decided that it was time to make her life-long dream come true. She stripped down in the bathroom, ran out of the bar wearing nothing but a coat, and climbed up onto the horse with a little help from a milk crate. She was a little dismayed to find the horse's back was covered in bird droppings (and was worried about getting ringworm, so she washed herself off back at the bar afterwards), but she had a great time, whooping and hollering, sitting on the statue of Knight just like Lady Godiva. She had only two regrets: her mother wasn't alive to see this finally happen, and it didn't make the newspaper.

I wondered what Carrie Welton would think, but somehow I suspect she might approve.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Juvenile Delinquents

Remember those teen gang movies from the 1950s and '60s? Waterbury is beginning to look like them. The big news in the paper this week (so far) involves 20-30 kids fighting outside the Arts Magnet School downtown, and 70 kids fighting in Washington Park.

I don't know how long this trouble has been brewing, but I saw it start to manifest in my neighborhood this spring. For a couple of weeks, there were numerous teen fights involving large groups of kids, some with weapons. The girls seemed to be the ones most eager to fight and to use weapons. On the worst day, the police had to break up fights five or six times.

I don't know all the details, but one thing I heard from a neighbor was that a girl in the 8th grade was feuding with another girl and was coming to our street to start the fights. For at least one fight, her mother came to help her fight. Craziness.

The paper also recently reported on a fight between two young women that resulted in one of them getting stabbed. They were allegedly fighting over a man who had been dating both of them. More craziness--never attack each other, go after the jerk who was two-timing the both of you.!

Seriously though, why is there so much fighting going on? We could blame video games or television (I once read an article blaming the tv show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" for inspiring teen girls to fight one another), but I think that's pointless. Violence existed long before modern technology.

We seem to have a city-wide problem with teens fighting. Punishing the ones caught fighting (if you can figure out which ones were doing the fighting) isn't going to solve the problem. Maybe there is an established program for teaching kids that fighting isn't the solution to their problems. I'm sure there must be. The schools must be able to identify the kids most likely to be involved. There's probably even funding somewhere for this sort of thing.

I think another part of the equation, as much as I hate to say it, is that Waterbury is now a party city for teens and young adults. There's been a growth in the number of popular nightclubs and in nightclubs with 18+ events. (Not to mention the illegal rave in the former Odd Fellows Building on the Green--now we know what it takes to get 500 people to attend an event downtown! -- just kidding).

Waterbury has been described as a "kindergarten town" for many years. Until now, there's been nothing for teens and young adults in Waterbury (other than hanging out at the mall). Now we have nightclubs, raves and fights. Rather than seeing this as just a problem, hopefully we can see the opportunity as well. We finally have young people coming to Waterbury for their entertainment--surely there is something a little more classy and upscale that we can offer them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Metro-North

[Disclaimer: I'm in a bad mood about this. Maybe it won't be as bad as I think. Or maybe it will be worse.]

I think the administrators at Metro-North need a good, swift kick in the pants. They need to make extensive repairs along the Waterbury branch line. Instead of doing the work at night, when the trains aren't running, they've chosen to simply not run the passenger trains for a full month, starting today until August 14. Instead, they're running buses.

The newspaper has run a couple of stories about this which included the suggestion that there might be an express bus between Waterbury and Bridgeport. I don't know if this is true or not. I'll find out tomorrow morning.

What has me very unhappy right now is the posted bus schedule. My normal train for commuting to NYC leaves Waterbury at 6:40. The replacement bus leaves at 6:25 a.m. and, according to the schedule, makes every stop along the way. No express. The same story applies to the return train at the end of the day.



They're doing the same thing to the Danbury line, but only during Off-Peak hours. I'm going to lose half an hour of my day because Metro-North loves to screw over Waterbury.

I can't wait to see what kind of bus they stick us on.

[Update, the next day:]

I take it all back. I'm still not happy about getting up a little earlier, but Metro-North has definitely put a lot of effort into making this as painless as possible. They had ten or twelve representatives on hand this morning to help out, and there were four coach buses, two of which were Peter Pan buses. In addition to which, they did run an express to Bridgeport. I'm willing to concede the earlier departure time is designed to guarantee we avoid getting stuck in traffic (not a problem when we're on the train!).

I had a little bit of motion sickness from the bus, and my toes turned blue because the a/c on the bus was set to an extremely low temperature, but I did get into NYC half an hour earlier than normal.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

South End

I've been planning on writing this blog post for a few weeks now. The theme was going to be "why South Main Street is a terrible location for the biofuel plant." Earlier this week, I had decided that today was the day I finally would have time to get this done. Lo and behold! this morning's newspaper announced that Chestnut Hill had decided to give up on moving into Waterbury.

I was sorry to see how much animosity was involved in the announcement. I can understand their sentiment, however, since they probably assume that Larry DePillo represented all of the opposition. DePillo devotes a tremendous amount of time to protesting just about everything (okay, I'm exaggerating, it just seems like that sometimes) and he typically cites information that is either completely wrong or is correct but misinterpreted. More than once I have seen outsiders to Waterbury become exceedingly frustrated and flat-out baffled by DePillo's speeches at public hearings. While I appreciate the energy he puts into his causes, I wish he would take the time to get his facts right. He makes all of us look bad.

The Republican-American has run a few stories suggesting that those of us opposing Chestnut Hill never bothered to research the facts before arriving at our decisions to oppose the plant. I certainly was more than willing to consider their proposal in full fairness, and from what I can tell, many other opposition voices also did the research first. For more on the topic, see Bryan Baker's blog post, "Good Riddance".

Unfortunately for Chestnut Hill, the facts were damning. Their poor track record is unsettling. Their venture in New Jersey was a colossal environmental and health disaster. Their lack of respect towards the Waterbury community compounded the problem. Factor in the unsuitability of the location relative to several plans to revitalize that neighborhood, and factor in pollution concerns, and the proposal falls flat.

One question that I was going to raise before reading the news this morning, but that I think is a valid concern going forward, is the issue of pollution levels. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention, but it seems like the amount of pollutants legally allowed for each site creating pollution (like FirstLight and Phoenix Soil) is based solely on the output of that single business. [If someone knows the answer to this, please share!] While the amount of pollutants being produced by a single business might fall within legal safety limits, the combined total pollutants being produced by all the businesses in Waterbury's flood plain area is, logically, higher. If a company wants to add a plant that creates even a miniscule amount of pollution, shouldn't the acceptability be based on the total existing pollution level?

Speaking of which, what is the current total existing pollution level in downtown and the South End?


Now that Chestnut Hill has decided to forget about Waterbury, we're left with the question of what to do with that factory site. A few people have expressed bitterness over the loss of Chestnut Hill (which I don't think is that great a loss). The great thing about this whole situation is that people are demanding to know how the city will bring that site back to life. This is fantastic. One year ago, this neighborhood barely registered on anyone's radar. The Loyola group has struggled for support. The residents of this neighborhood have struggled to have even their most basic needs met. Our success in preventing Chestnut Hill from starting their biofuel factory on South Main Street is only one small step in revitalizing an important part of our city.

The question remains, what is the future of that property? It's a large tract of land with a rich history and loads of contaminants. I decided that I should stick to my original plan of visiting the site before tossing out any suggestions.

I drove down to the South End this afternoon and parked in the side lot at PetSmart. I wound up spending almost two hours walking the perimeter of the Anamet facility (a good chunk of that time was spent talking with security guards at Ansonia Copper & Brass / FirstLight -- I was accidentally trespassing, but after I explained myself we had a really good conversation about the brass industry and what's going on now with old factory sites). I took a lot of photos and came to a few conclusions.

Basically, I have to say that the property is not well-suited for industry. Times have changed, as have logistics and expectations. The only practical way that large trucks can reach the site is from the Meadow Street exits of I-84, but even then it's a little tricky with some of the turns.

In times past, the Naugatuck and Mad Rivers were seen as power sources and convenient sewage systems. Today they have the potential to be fantastic recreational facilities and therefore a reason for people to choose to move to Waterbury. We should be working to convert the rivers to parks, rather than encouraging the restoration of industrial facilities on these magnificent resources.

Also in times past, it was considered perfectly acceptable to locate people's homes directly across the street from factories. This can't possibly be seen as acceptable today. It's just plain uncivilized.

There are factory buildings running along South Main Street from Jewelry Street to Washington Avenue. They are bleak, bland and crowd the street. They have no architectural value. Tear them down and widen South Main Street, turning it into a tree-lined boulevard with bicycle lanes and ample sidewalks. Find money from somewhere to clean up the brownfield pollution (yeah, I know, it's not that easy a task, but let's not be stopped--if we continue to complain and protest and fight like we've done the past few months, just imagine what we could accomplish!).

I don't have any answers as to what should replace the factory buildings. It needs to be something that works well within a residential neighborhood and can function as a buffer against the FirstLight facility on the other side of the river. Imagine a greenway running along the river. That could be enough of a buffer. The Anamet property could become a mixture of condos and retail.

I took too many photos to post here, so I've got them loaded onto Picasa. You can watch them as a slideshow or you can click on this link to the page and see them individually with captions/commentary and some map locations.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

North Walnut

I'm back to thinking I can stick to an exercise regime, so I went for a long walk before dinner tonight. There are some areas of the city that are very rural, even if they are looking out over very urban neighborhoods. It's all due to the trees.



I was startled when I realized what a great view there was on North Walnut Street. I think the gorgeous woods are part of Lakewood Park.




The one thing I don't like about my house is that it doesn't have views like this. Oh well.