Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Blight Meeting

Things are heating up!  The Mayor convened a public meeting last night at Walsh School to share with area residents the new anti-blight and litter initiative he has launched. It was the best-attended event in the WOW neighborhood in a long time. The Walsh gym was packed. There were, of course, city officials and several community activists present, but they were far outnumbered by neighborhood residents. There was a buzz of excitement and a renewal of hope.

The format was largely one in which the different city departments involved in the new anti-blight initiative explained what they are doing. Although one audience member later accused them of merely patting themselves on the back, they really were reporting to the public and much of what they had to say was very warmly received.

As the Mayor pointed out, he has been in office for less than two months. I think there has been more progress in fighting blight in that time than there has been in years. Two of the most important steps are the formation of the Waterbury Blight Enforcement & Control Division and the formation of the Blight Task Force. Instead of farming out blight control to WDC, which has very limited enforcement ability, a division of the police department is now in charge of enforcement. Instead of every city department working on their own, their efforts are unified by the task force.

There seemed to be two basic areas of concern for residents and landlords.

The first concern is that the city is not actually going to follow through on its new promise to help the neighborhood. I think everyone who has lived in the WOW neighborhood for more than 15 years can quickly point back to broken promises and empty promises of the Giordano and Jarjura administrations. All I can say in response to that concern is that the past is the past. Learn from the past, hold the city accountable for its promises, but don't slow things down by dwelling on past wrongs.

The other area of concern is that property owners will be treated unfairly. The city is absolutely getting tough on blight. Property owners are going to be held fully accountable for the condition of their properties. The possibility of jail time for property owners who refuse to comply with anti-blight regulations is being looked into. The city, however, does recognize that not all situations are the same. I know they are very sympathetic towards landlords who are stuck with destructive tenants and are working on finding solutions.

The city is very willing to help anyone who needs help. One audience member last night talked about the difficulty she is having with her rental property. She can no longer afford to maintain it, can't sell it, and was unable to get any assistance from HUD. As soon as she finished speaking, someone from the Health Department sat down with her, got her contact information, and started the process of finding a solution. Mayoral Aide Geraldo Reyes sat down with her next to talk about how he can help.

There was one new initiative announced that received a vigorous round of applause. As most everyone in Waterbury has noticed, the Republican-American has started posting the names and addresses of property owners cited for blight violations by the Health Department. The majority of the property owners live outside Waterbury. This is a huge frustration for those of us who live in the WOW neighborhood. We get blamed for the blighted conditions here, but many of the problems are caused by absentee landlords. What makes it particularly frustrating is that we in the neighborhood have no way of reaching those out-of-town property owners, no way to talk to them about doing a better job of maintaining their property, no way to tell them to clean up, but we are still blamed by the rest of the city for their blight no matter how clean our own properties might be (and, as Bonnie Orintas noted, the WOW neighborhood has some of the city's most beautiful and best-maintained properties).

At last night's meeting, Roseann Wright, Director of the Health Department, announced that they are now sending press releases about out-of-town owners of blighted properties to their local newspapers. This was loudly applauded. Here is a sample press release that was distributed last night:

Paul Guidone presented a Facility Improvement Plan for Walsh School. The plan includes a long list of short-term renovations to be completed before the new school year starts in the fall, including recaulking windows and building exterior joints, reconstructing the front entrance sidewalk, installing security cameras and a new fence, and cutting back overgrown trees and shrubs. The long-term plan is short, but is mainly major renovations and expansions. The Walsh School Facility Improvement Plan is a perfect example of where we are: everything on the list should have been done already, which is frustrating; but I am so pleased that is going to happen now. Waterbury is finally moving in the right direction.

Last, but not least, a delicious pasta dinner was served at the end of the meeting by the PAL organization.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Snow Monsters Return!

I was hoping the snow would lead to some more creativity at MD Auto on North Main Street, and it has. Yay!

Here are this year's first snow creatures.

This one is, sadly, damaged. Someone kicked him in the jaw.

I have not yet met the artist (MD Auto was closed when I went by today), but the Rep-Am reported last year that Harold Figueroa is the inspired genius.

Here's a couple of the snow/paint sculptures from last winter: late Decembermid January and late January. Each one is more complex and "finished" than the last.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter Critters

So much for not having anything to blog about. The snow day must be inspiring me.

 The birds are all busy at the feeders. Same crowd as usual. Sparrows, chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and juncos.

Then there are the cats. For some reason, we've been invaded by stray cats. First there was the Cute Black Cat (CBC).

He's adorable. Started showing up at the window when we called for the cat who is supposed to come when called. CBC didn't care that we weren't calling him, he wanted in on the action. Normally I don't feed stray cats, but this one was very persistent. After a couple days of food and water, he started looking better. He figured out how to get into the garage and has been sleeping on the soft top of my car.

CBC hasn't been on the front porch asking for food in several days. He has been replaced by Straggly Kitten. Straggly is a mess. He looks awful. He has trouble using his mouth for eating and drinking. He has a large bald spot on his tail. The first night he appeared, his belly looked unnaturally swollen. His fur was messy, sticking out in all different directions, and filthy. He looks better now.

He keeps trying to run inside the house, but I already have five indoor cats and I'm not going to allow an unneutered, potentially diseased cat inside (especially since one of my older cats is suffering with a bad tooth problem right now).

Luckily for Straggly K, there is a cat shelter on the front porch. I have lined the sides with blankets and made a cozy nest for him. He's been guzzling down all the warm water we bring him, and filling his stomach with food. I picked him up yesterday and realized he is nothing but skin and bones--his belly no longer looks distended, so it may have been just from starvation, not disease. The missing fur could be from flea-related over grooming.

I can't afford to take stray cats to a regular vet (can't afford to take my indoor cats to the regular vet!), but the H.O.P.E. Spay/Neuter Clinic has very affordable rates for neutering and vaccinating. Even better would be if one of my readers wants to adopt him (hint, hint).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Upcoming Events

I have not been doing much blogging lately, probably because it's winter and I'd prefer to hibernate or relocate to someplace warm and sunny. I've tried to think of interesting topics to write about, but nothing has really gripped me--and been a quick write. I've been busy with a backlog of freelance work which I still haven't caught up on (ye editor of The Observer has begun to nag), so there's not much time for blogging.

While I still don't have anything interesting and quick for the blog, I figured I could do a filler post listing a few upcoming events that are likely to be blog subjects.

WOW Community Meeting
Tuesday, January 24, 6:30 p.m. at Walsh School
Held at the request of Mayor O'Leary, the meeting will inform students and parents in the WOW (Walnut-Orange-Walsh) neighborhood, as well as the school's faculty and staff, of the status of improvements completed and planned for the school and the surrounding neighborhood. The public is encouraged to attend.

"The Future of Our Downtown Green" Community Forum
Wednesday, January 25, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Mattatuck Museum
A public meeting to discuss ideas for the Green, part of a grant-funded study.

WOW/NRZ Youth Council's 9th Annual Black History Celebration
Wednesday, February 1, 6:00 p.m. at the WOW/NRZ Community Learning Center
This year's theme is "Celebrating a Rich Heritage" and features a host of distinguished speakers and guests.