Upham's Corner Online

SNI Organizing Meeting 1/25/11 - Safe Street Initiative

Posted: 1/26/2011    Nancy J Conrad

SNI Planning Meeting, January 25, 2011

This narrative is a commentary based on facts, not hearsay, not memory.  To ensure impartiality, we provide a transcript of the entire meeting except for a few attendees whose voices could not be understood.

PLEASE:  If you have any doubts, read the transcript.  If you still have doubts, ask us for a copy of the MP3 file.

Around 32 people attended the safe neighborhood initiative planning meeting, including seven officers in uniform, three people from the DAs office, representatives from neighborhood organizations and residents.

On the surface the DAs objectives seemed to make sense - too many small meetings that all deal with the same topics.  Wouldn't it be nice to combine forces and make a big splash?  That's what Matt Feeney and Sgt. Tommy Brooks repeated during the hour and a half meeting, over and over and over again.

More interesting were the attendees who live in Upham's corner, who know their issues and who are working grassroots in the community on a daily basis.
  1. Area residents cited issues they are passionate about
  2. Community organizers provided solutions to problems such as language barriers
  3. Attendees called for more ways to connect with residents than through the neighborhood organizations that are not wellattended
  4. An attendee took issue with the DAs contention that public officials will not show up unless the numbers are large
To these contributions from the residents, Matt Feeney and Sgt. Brooks turned a deaf ear.  Their only message was:  "Come back another day."  Reminds us of the nursery rhyme:  "Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day."

"We need you to come back with even more people as a show of force." 

Force?  What force?  That is the language of prosecution and police - FORCE. 

By contrast area residents stated they needed action Now and provided three suggestions on what to do NOW to get people to come to the next meeting.

All of the suggestions, comments and requests for help were ignored. 
  • No one wrote down action items. 
  • No one agreed to accomplish anything prior to the next meeting. 
At the end of the meeting, it was a draw.  Residents who had come hoping for a glimmer of support in solving their problems went away empty-handed and the language from the SNI leaders grew more direct. 

"We can't help you, but we need you to come back with more people."

Matt Feeney introduced his support team including the police and stated why a periodic larger group meeting with City/State officials present would be a good idea.   He noted that many of the crime issues are petty but annoying and never make it into the press.  Other quality of life issues are present as well. 

Matt introduced Flavio Daveiga and asked attendees to talk about issues bothering them.

600 Columbia Rd
Nancy Conrad spoke passionately about the conditions surrounding 600 Columbia Rd.  The owner of the building does not take care of it properly.  And it disgraces the overall appearance of our business district.  She also expressed frustration that code enforcement, said they could do nothing about it.  They could cite the owner all they want but they can't make him clean up the property.

Nancy asked for help from city officials or anyone else who could get the owner to take responsibility and stop dumping on Upham's corner.  As a result, one of the attendees stated the name of the owner, Paul Roiff, indicating that he lives locally in Bosto and that he is very wealthy.

Trash everywhere
Aaron Larget-Caplan cited the locations close to the main business district and on the main business district streets that he finds repeatedly littered with trash.  To him it feels like the street magnetically attracts the trash.  The overall appearance greatly diminishes the attractiveness of Upham's corner.  He even noted that despite the trash cans on Dudley Street, there is still a lot of trash in the street and on the sidewalks.

Group home density
Aaron Larget-Caplan has been working on this issue for well over a year.  His quality of life was greatly diminished because of the problems coming out of a group home on Virginia Street next door to his residence.  He worked with the Boston police, the mental health services company (Vinfen) and the neighborhood organization to effect changes in how the group house is managed.

While great progress has been made, Aaron would like to know why Dorchester has such a high density of group homes.  He would also like to know if anything can be done to reduce the density or at least control it in the future.
Trash ordinance

Nancy Conrad has worked with business in the Upham's corner business district to get them to cooperatively put out trash barrels to reduce the trash being thrown in the street.  In particular, customers of Camilo Liquors were throwing lottery tickets and nipper bottles on the ground in the immediate proximity of the front door ofCamilo Liquors.

They also were not displaying a "No Trespassing" sign and a "No Loitering" sign.  She asked the owner to consider putting a trashcan just outside the store entrance and to display the appropriate signs.  Camilo responded positively to these requests.
Henry Nevarez also keeps a trash barrel outside to help him keep the front of his store looking attractive and professional.

both of these businesses are making a huge difference in the block of Dudley Street between Monadnock and Virginia.  At the same time, by doing this they are violating a city ordinance and could be fined.  So the dilemma is that to business owners doing a good deed could cause them to be harmed

We need the ability to have permission from the city of Boston for business owners to put out their own trash barrels as long as they also agree to maintain the barrels and appropriate manner.

Excessive snow on groom Street
Fernando Bossa pleaded with the group for help, an impassioned plea greater than that of any other person in attendance.  He began by stating that many of the people on Groom Street do not speaking English. They do not attend neighborhood meetings and they do not know city ordinances.

Groom Street is a narrow street with parking on both sides.  When there is heavy snowfall, there is no place to put the snow and the whole street is up for grabs.  So many of the residents on the street have been carving out their own parking spot in the snow and protecting those spots with chairs and buckets.

However, this does not leave enough space for all the cars that normally park there.  Fernando has been trying to tell them that they cannot protect their spaces.  They, on the other hand, are adamant about protecting their spaces.  He has agreed to call the police so that the police can't explain the law to them.

He said the situation is getting serious.  It could lead to fisticuffs.

Fernando made an impassioned plea.  Please can we find some way to remove the snow from the street?

Columbia Rd The City is aware of the situation.  There isn't much that can be done except to continue citing the owner, Paul Roiff
Trash in the streets We can work with Main Street to determine a location for more trash cans
Density of group homes Not much can be done about that
Need for new ordinance
We can work with Code Enforcement on this
Too much snow on Groom Street
We can try talking with DPW

Matt Feeney's response was this:

"Not to cut anyone off, I have to get going to another meeting.  We need to get going on a different topic." 

The explanation he provided was that it was nice that people had issues they were concerned about.  However that was not the purpose of this meeting.  This meeting was intended to tell people that another meeting was coming and that they needed to find more people to come to the next meeting.

He then asked if anybody had any suggestions on how to proceed with the next meeting, how to organize it.  Several people spoke up.  Note that not all who spoke up are documented here because their voices could not be heard.

Invite more neighborhood groups
Joane Tighe believes that

"We are shooting ourselves in the foot if we are only focusing on this side of Columbia road.  We've got to reach out to the other side of Columbia road.  I think we are ineffective, it's only the side.  If we're talking about really trying to build a power base and get things accomplished, we need everybody."

Do not limit to neighborhood associations
Nancy Conrad stated that

"Funnelling suggestions through neighborhood associations is the wrong thing to do...consider any neighborhood association you want.  People don't go but they still have tons of issues.  They need to have a voice as well. 

The question is how you get all that input before the scheduled meeting that so that the stats can be digested and the problem solvers contacted.  You can start working on the issues and by the time the meeting occurs, you could have the start of a solution."

New faces and new blood
Rev. John Odom's called for concerted effort to attract new faces and new blood. 

"For 10 years I've been coming to these meetings with and you know what? It's almost always the same faces from the community.  There are a few new faces but for the most part the same people who've been trying, trying really hard for a decade or more to improve the neighborhood. 

We need to figure out how to get more people involved, not just getting them here but feeling ownership of the community and of the quality of life in the community.  I think representation from neighborhood associations is not the only avenue."

"I don't want to keep going on forever and ever.. .  Frankly, this is a program that's going to be run by the DAs office and the police."

In other words, "We're in charge."

Matt then proceeded to repeat the same message that he and the SNI representatives had been stating over and over again. 
  • On the one hand, they suggested that spontaneous ideas coming out of the quarterly meetings might, for example, lead to a cleanup. 
  • On the other, they would say they did not want to hear new issues generated at the quarterly meetings because there was only so much time
Rather, Matt, who likes the idea of block captains, wants the orderly meetings to focus on preselected issues that have accumulated over the last three months.

It is to be noted that several of the police officers used the snow problem on Grooom Street as an example of how a problem could be handled by the "new" SNI approach.

  • Put the snow issue on a high-priority list 
  • A month later have the safe Street Team check with the neighborhood association meeting to see if the snow had been taken care of
  • If it hadn't, then put the snow issue back on the list for further escalation
  • Continue this until the quarterly meeting when someone would be held responsible for clearing the snow on Groom Street.

May we suggest and note that this is completely ludicrous.

Fernando Bossa made an impassioned plea because he is concerned about fights breaking out over the lack of parking spaces on his street.  He does not need to be put on a waiting list that is escalated over three months time.  By then the snow would have melted.

Capt. John Davin from the Boston Police Department District B2 has been involved in a community effort that has been quite successful, so much so that the city would like to replicate it.  It has been given the name Neighborhood Response Team (NRT).

Capt. Davin's description was the one bright light in the entire meeting.  This is exactly the type of neighborhood initiative that is needed to make a difference in Upham's Corner. View complete article on the NRT.

Matt continued to ask the group:
  • Do you think this will work?
  • Do you think we can get enough people in attendance?
Except for a few suggestions on how to reach out to more civic associations and to people outside of the civic associations, not one resident answered Matt's questions.

Instead, several people spoke up stating that would make what would make a difference to them is if some sort of action took place as a result of this meeting.

Take action on snow removal
Alma Finneran stated the following: "Attendance at a subsequent meeting would be greatly encouraged if something happened about snow removal between now and the next meeting, if, as a result of this meeting, the snow got taken somewhere else, wherever it goes.  Otherwise nobody is going to want to come here and talk about the problems.  They are actually expecting change, so we really need to see some results.

Inaction guarantees failure
Nancy Conrad stated the following: "interaction is going to guarantee that this meeting is not well attended again.  If you look at the comments that were major tonight, you have at least three topics that could be worked on before the next meeting.  Capt. Devens description of his weekly neighborhood walk through his example of effective action.

Action is the key to making a difference.  If you can demonstrate that what came out of this meeting are three issues that progress was made that the basis for saying this meeting was effective.

What topic?
Aaron Larget-Caplan asked the group:  "So, can we get an idea of what we want to see by the next meeting?  Whose feet do we want to hold to the fire?"

Someone said the following: "I think that we should focus on single issues that people feel passionate about.  I will want to come back if we are working on issues that are meaningful to me.

Erroneous assumption
A representative from the McCormick civic Association stated that her organization regularly has in attendance representatives from the Mayor's office and the city Council is covering that area.  She said why do you think you need to have a large meeting?  You don't.

Neighborhood Services
Joane Tighe expressed concern because Neighborhood Services left the meeting early. 

"I was very disappointed that Flavio left early.  I realize he goes to a lot of meetings.  If you hear about an issue that should be sent over to Neighborhood Services but he doesn't hear about it directly, it will not have the same meaning to him.  So maybe you, Matt, should talk to the head of Neighborhood Services, Jay Walsh.

Matt Feeney ended the meeting with not a single response to any of the requests for action. 

Instead he returned to the same message of the evening, the only one he thinks is going to work - generating a large meeting to make it look like we have important issues in Upham's Corner.

"We can go around in circles all night long trying to figure out what we can do and what we cannot, what the problems are that need to be fixed.

I'm telling you right now that what I need from you, I need your help and I need you to bring more people who want to see things done.  That's what I'm asking you guys to do.  If you can do it, great.  If you can't, well just bring yourself."

We are sorry to have missed the suggestions made by the people whose voices did not carry across the room.  They surely had wonderful things to say.  It is clear that most people came to that meeting with issues, ideas and energy.

There's an old expression that says: "Never bypass an opportunity."  Matt Feeney missed a ton of opportunity.

All it would've taken is a simple flip chart to write down the ideas and suggestions. The entire group would at least have gotten the impression that the DAs office cared about the residents of Upham's Corner.  Instead, we all walked away from that meeting with no action items, not even a future meeting date.  "We'll get back to you."

May we suggest that SNI, Safe Neighborhood Initiative, is a complete waste of money.

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