Category Archives: Economy

Leading–the Best and the Worst of the Legislative Process, Newburyport 2014

CityOfNewburyport

This year, 2014, it is my opinion that Newburyport saw the best and the worst examples of the legislative process in the Newburyport City Council

THE BEST

The best was the attempt to preserve Newburyport’s historic assets.

The process had its origins in Newburyport’s raucous and rancorous LHD debate (see endless posts). The two sides as I now look back:

1) Preserving Newburyport’s historic assets through regulations governed by a particular commission.
2) A concern about the control of that commission, and a distrust of commissions like it in other communities.

I ended up thinking that both were valid points of view.

And then Newburyport City Councilor Katy Ives spent a good year and a half listening to all and sundry and came up with an incredible win-win solution.

1) The properties before 1930 in Newburyport’s Historic District could not be demolished.
2) Newburyport’s commercial downtown, our “brand,” needed to be preserved.

Katy Ives got elected to the Massachusetts State Senate, and the compromise by Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives died. Poof.

That is until Jared Eigerman got elected as Ward 2′s City Councilor. And Councilor Eigerman met with the “Yes LHD” folks, the “No LHD” folks, hardcore preservationists, and hardcore property rights folks. It was made clear that no one was going to get everything they wanted, and that an ordinance would be presented that was possible in the existing political climate. It was basically what Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives had proposed a year and a half before.

People may have not liked all of it, but it passed unanimously with an 11-0 vote.

And people, whether they liked all of it or not, did not:

1) Feel ignored
2) Feel invisible
3) Feel as if their insights were insignificant

People felt that a decision had been made that took into account a wide variety of feelings and thoughts about the issue.

The result = a whiff, or slightly more than a whiff, of trust and hope.

THE WORST

The worst legislative process in 2014 by the Newburyport City Council in my opinion was the Plastic Bag Ban.

For me this was the most frustrating and appalling legislative process that I have been involved in. During that process, all kinds of very productive points of view and ideas were presented. They were swept under the rug.

As a result people:

1) Felt ignored
2) Felt invisible
3) Felt as if their insights were insignificant

People felt that a decision had been made that did not take into account a wide variety of feelings and thoughts about the issue.

The measure passed with a split vote of 6-5 with 2 of the City Councilors who voted for the measure, expressing doubt and reservation on the Council floor.

The result = a huge lack of trust, a festering sore and lingering resentment, and discouragement (the opposite of hope) in a process that did not reflect the larger representation of the citizens of Newburyport.

Newburyport and Massachusetts Primary Wins

VOTE

Newburyport and Massachusetts Primary Wins:

Ed Cameron wins the Democratic primary for State Rep. for 1st Essex District.

Kathleen O’Connor Ives wins the Democratic primary for State Senator for 1st Essex District.

Seth Moulton wins over John Tierney in the Democratic primary for US House, 6th District.

Maura Healey wins the Democratic primary for Massachusetts Attorney General.

Newburyport, Market Basket and Artie T are Back!!

Market Basket Associates excited to be back

Newburyport Market Basket Associates excited to be back

What an emotional roller coaster this has been. I have put up photos of the associates at Newburyport’s Market Basket as they have been triumphantly boycotting the store (along with Newburyport area customers), but I didn’t put up any photos of the times that I checked on them, when things seemed bleak, and there spirits struggled.

But this morning, the associates were elated that their boss, Artie T and his entire management team, including the 8 who were fired, are back.

MarketBasketSign

Market Basket sign inside window

And I listened to Arthur T. Demoulas’s talk to the associates this morning. It was incredibly moving, and I cannot imagine too many CEOs in this country saying anything like what he said today. Here are some quotes from the speech.

“It is not about a “Greek Tragedy,” it is about justice, and a moral compass that unites the human soul.”

“Everyone has purpose, everyone has meaning, but no one person is better or more important than another.”

“No one person holds the position of privilege, whether it’s a full timer, a part timer, a stacker or a cashier, or a grocery clerk, or a truck driver, or a warehouse director, a store manager, a supervisor, a customer or a vendor, or a CEO, we are all equal.”

“You, associates, customers, vendors, have taught professors and analysts that the workplace at Market Basket is so much more than a job.”

“Today is a day in modern history where people were put first and all the money in the world did not matter.”

I hope that this Market Basket revolution changes how places like Harvard Business School teach its students how to be CEOs–fairness, dignity and people first, money second. It sounds simple, but unfortunately in our culture, it is a truly revolutionary approach to being a CEO.

Market Basket sign inside window

Market Basket sign inside window

A video of Arthur T. Demoulas’s speech and triumphant return, courtesy of the Lowell Sun, can be seen here.

Market Basket, Update August 8, 2014–”Off With Their Heads”

Market Basket

Market Basket

Well, they went and did it. As I write, roughly 20,000 part time associates at Market Basket–their hours next week have been cut to zero.

As I understand it Market Basket employs 25,000 people.

Market Basket’s new CEOs have claimed that the 8,000 part time associates in New Hampshire and 12,000 associates in Massachusetts, have not been laid off.

It’s a technicality, zero hours = no work, and the attorney generals in New Hampshire and Massachusetts are addressing the issue of associates receiving unemployment benefits.

Oy Veh.

Councilor Colin Van Ostern from New Hampshire writes/tweets, “Cutting 8,000 #MarketBasket part-timers from work next wk is economic equivalent of a natural disaster, that is how state must treat it.”

What is so creepy, is that the new Market Basket CEOs are letting the store managers do all their dirty work. The CEOs claim that no one is being laid off. Again, sort of a technicality.

And part time often is 25-35 hours a week, we are not talking about just a few hours here and there for 20,000 people.

So the workers stuck their necks out, and the CEOs and current Board of Directors said, “Off with their heads.”

“The impact of these cutbacks in hours will be devastating, if not crippling, to the majority of the company’s 25,000 employees. Again, it needs to be made clear, the only people striking are the drivers, warehouse workers and those who work in the offices at HQ. But these draconian cuts will impact the employees at all 71 stores.

Many of these employees are college and high school students, single parents and retirees on fixed incomes. These cuts will be crushing.

Which is exactly why Gooch, Thornton and Arthur S. are doing it. They want to rip the very heart out of this employee rebellion by hurting its most vulnerable participants.

They are intentionally punishing those workers who had the temerity to speak their minds and support Arthur T. and the strikers. These employees had the gall to stand up against what they believed to be a wrong being done to their former boss and their fellow workers. All the while, reporting for work every day and doing their jobs.

Their only “crime” is loyalty, a love of their company and their boss and exercising their First Amendment rights…” From Your Tewksbury Today. The entire article can be read here.

Market Basket’s CEOs Scare Tactics and a Misleading and Manipulative PR Statement

Customers grocery slips from other stores on Market Basket's door

Customers grocery slips from other stores on Market Basket’s door and a poster of Arthur T

Late yesterday afternoon, Market Basket’s new CEOs released a PR statement that got a lot of attention all over the world (I’m not kidding). The headline in today’s Daily Mail, UK, “Grocery chain threatens to sack ALL its workers unless they return to work from mass protests to save “It’s a Wonderful Life CEO who lost control of the company.” The article can be read here.

The CEOs’ statement “We want Market Basket associates back to work…” And it states that they are going to hold a job fair to replace workers starting Monday August 4–August 6th. The whole statement can be read here.

The manipulative implication of the PR statement is that no one is working at the Market Basket stores. And it wasn’t only the UK’s Daily Mail that came to that conclusion, papers all over the country and the world came to the same conclusion as well (the PR statement exploded on Twitter and Facebook yesterday afternoon and evening).

My take, the PR statement was designed to cause panic, fear, anger–anger at the Market Basket employees, and to make folks think that the employees aren’t working, when they are.

It could also be a PR ploy to get the word out, that the stores are actually running (although devoid of, as of yesterday, dairy, produce and meat). A test to see if customers actually return.

I only know about our Market Basket in Newburyport. ALL of the employees are working (some of their hours have been cut back). The employees are protesting on their days off and on their breaks. No trucks from the warehouse have been refused. Many Market Basket managers and assistant managers have signed a petition promising to resign unless Arthur T. Demoulas is reinstated as their boss. BUT, they have not resigned because, the Board of Directors (at least as I write this) has not announced any decision, so they are very much on the job.

How do I know this, I’ve gone over to Newburyport’s Market Basket any number of times to see what is going on for myself.

These folks, the new CEOs, are playing real mean, manipulative hardball. And as of last night it has become not only a local and national story, but an international mega story as well.

The “David vs. Goliath story, a ‘Tale of Two Arthurs’ and even the ‘ultimate Greek tragedy,” To quote the UK’s Daily Mail, has now captured the imagination of the world.

A PR set-up by the CEOs, and may it backfire big time.

The anger that I feel is towards the existing Board of Directors and new the CEOs that they hired.

Market Basket Update, Continuing PR Disaster, and Real Time Info from Twitter and Facebook

Outside-Market-Basket

Outside Newburyport’s Market Basket

On this gorgeous summer day, in the middle of Newburyport’s Yankee Homecoming, what am I doing? I’m tracking Twitter for the latest updates on the Market Basket Story, going up to Market Basket, not for groceries, but to find out what’s going on and taking photos.

Customers grocery slips from other stores on Market Basket's door

Customers grocery slips from other stores on Market Basket’s door

And what one of the things that is so fascinating to me, is that this Market Basket story is unfolding in real time on Twitter and Facebook. And many of the sources that I now have, are the same one’s that the news media has. I’m hooked.

Aisles-empty-of-customers

Aisles are empty of customers at noon.

So this is what I’ve picked up: Arthur T’s original bid was turned down by the Market Basket’s Board of Director’s (unconfirmed), and then there were 4 other bids that were withdrawn after all the chaos started (unconfirmed), for chaos, see previous posts. That’s all in all likelihood, probably right, but, again, “unconfirmed.”

No-produce

No produce at Market Basket

What is confirmed is that a major player in the family, Rafaela Evans Demoulas, Arthus S’s sister-in-law, arrived back in Boston yesterday. What is also reported, as I write, on Twitter, and on Save Market Basket’s Facebook page, is that Arthur T’s offer is now the only one on the table, and that both sides are working, “around the clock to hammer out a deal; #MarketBasket losing millions of dollars a day amid turmoil.” (From a Boston Globe tweet that can be read here).

No-lines-at-checkout

No checkout lines at Market Basket at lunch time.

And at our very own local Newburyport Market Basket, people are out protesting in force on Storey Ave. The door to Market Basket is littered with receipts from other stores put up by customers. Inside, the store is virtually empty of customers. No produce has been delivered to the store since last Tuesday. There has been no delivery of any dairy products except ice-cream. And as you can see from the photos, although there are other things on the shelves, the customers, by and large, have seemed to boycotted Market Basket in favor of other stores. And there are no baked goods, but on the wall behind the empty display cases, there is a picture of Artie T and a sign that says “Artie T We Support You,” (press photo to enlarge).

Bakery-and-sign

The bakery, empty, with a picture of Artie T and a sign that says “Artie T. We Support You.” (Press image to enlarge.)

Yes, You Can Buy Food in Newburyport, and Market Basket’s Continued PR Disaster

Market Basket, Newburyport

Still Protesting for Market Basket on Storey Ave in Newburyport

I went to Shaw’s this morning bright and early, 8:45, and it was packed and the shelves were stocked and being continuously restocked.

What I sensed among shoppers, many clearly were Market Basket shoppers, was a sense of bewilderment and a sense of panic, “Will I be able to get groceries,” Will I be able to afford groceries,” “Are the groceries here any good.”

The answer is “Yes,” you will be able to get groceries, do not panic, and Shaw’s grocery store, from my conversation with various folks, is doing its best to welcome customers, be unbelievably gracious to customers, welcome back customers, and to do everything they can to take advantage of the opportunity that has now been given them. I was very impressed. Shaw’s hasn’t been this hop’n in a very, very long time.

Arthur S. Demoulas Interview with Boston's Channel 7

Arthur S. Demoulas Interview with Boston’s Channel 7

Market Basket, Board of Directors, this is a very bad thing for you.

And I went over to Market Basket, to put up my Shaw’s grocery receipt up on the window, which was now crowded with receipts from other grocery stores, and the parking lot was empty.

The one shopper that I saw starting to go in, turned around and left.

Wow!!

And Market Basket employees were out on Storey Ave protesting again with signs and had signs just outside the door and the petition to sign, having had a rally for Arthur T. Demoulas yesterday, with an estimated 10,000 people (the story can be read here.)

And yesterday I watched Boston’s Channel 7, WHDH, trying to get a response from President, Arthur S. Demoulas before yesterday’s board meeting.

I was, excuse me, appalled by his behavior when asked about his customers and loyal employees, to me the arrogance and contempt he displayed was astounding (you can watch that exchange here).

To me this is a continuing PR nightmare for Market Basket, Arthur S. Demoulas, the current management, and the Board of Directors. Wow!! And the emotional and psychological stress that it is putting on the community is palpable.

Market Basket/Demoulas Dysfunctional Family Threatens Jobs, Economy, Food in New England

I went foraging for food today.  I went to Shaw’s. On my way past Market Basket there were employees that I’ve known for a long time out on Storey Avenue protesting with signs. And I honked like mad in support.

Market Basket, Newburyport

Protesting for Market Basket on Storey Ave in Newburyport

I talked to one of the employees at Shaws.  The grocery store is scrambling to keep up with demand, and the gentleman thanked me for being patient and supportive of their effort to get food on the shelves for the folks in Newburyport. He also said that he fully supported the workers at Market Basket, and I quote:

“Once it’s no longer in the family and it becomes public, it’s all over.”

(And I remember Shaw’s when it went public.  The prices there are now a whole lot higher than at Market Basket. And as I remember it, it didn’t used to be that way.)

Market Basket, Newburyport

Protesting for Market Basket on Storey Ave in Newburyport

Then I went over to Market Basket and took photos of the people protesting.  Their spirits seemed to be much better today than they were yesterday.  I think they really appreciate the local support, and the larger support for their effort.

Market Basket, Newburyport

Protesting for Market Basket on Storey Ave in Newburyport

I put my Shaw’s grocery slip in the window at Market Basket, I hope other folks do the same.

Market Basket

Shaw’s grocery slip taped inside Market Basket by a customer

And one of my favorite photos is of a really sweet young lady holding a sign inside Market Basket, next to the photo or Arthur T, that says, “More for your dollar Family.”

Market Basket, Newburyport

Protesting inside Market Basket

For an explanation of what’s going on, my favorite is still Buzzfeed, “Mind-Blowing Pictures of Empty Shelves As Employees Protest Corporate Greed,” which can be read here. Yesterday’s post on the Newburyport Blog about Market Basket, “Newburyport, Market Basket, a PR Disaster,”can be read here.

Market Basket, Newburyport

Sign outside Market Basket in Newburyport

Newburyport, Market Basket, a PR Disaster

Today, walking into Market Basket, one of Newburyport’s grocery stores , the one that I have shopped at for decades, it felt as if there had been a local disaster, and the employees were required to do their best, stocking what they could in a very spooky feeling store.

empty-store

Not many people in Newburyport’s Market Basket, or check-out line.

I walked around, took photos, and asked how the folks who worked there were doing. Some said that they were holding up Ok, some said that they were really scared.

no produce Market Basket

No produce on Newburyport’s Market Basket’s shelves.

Buzzfeed has an article, “Mind-Blowing Pictures of Empty Shelves As Employees Protest Corporate Greed,” which explains what is going on, better than I can.  I’ll quote from that article, which can be read in its entirety here.

Newburyport's Market Basket-empty shelves

Empty Shelves at Newburyport’s Market Basket

“Deliveries from Market Basket’s warehouses were halted on Friday, July 18th as warehouse workers walked out to protest the firing of three top level executives in the company…

Market Basket, a family-owned company founded on principles of quality, low prices, and excellent customer service, fell victim to a long-running family feud last year which resulted in board room shake-ups and the ouster of beloved CEO Arthur T. Demoulas…. He is famous for his hands-on approach to management and frequently visited the chain’s 70+ stores, chatting with managers, associates, and customers…

After the new management team refused to address concerns regarding Artie T’s removal, associates, vendors, customers, and even Massachusetts lawmakers banded together to send the board and the new CEOs a strong message about loyalty to their Market Basket “family” through boycotts, rallies, and petitions…

Stores remain open and fully staffed, but with no deliveries everything from produce and meat to plastic shopping bags is in short supply…

On July 20th, at least eight more high-level associates from the corporate office were fired via a letter delivered to them by courier. The eight highly respected associates lost had a combined 280 years of experience with the company….

Associates maintain that they are fighting not just for themselves and their co-workers, but for customers as well, many of whom have fixed or low incomes and rely on Market Basket’s low prices…”

Market Basket, Newburyport, empty parking lot

Pretty empty parking lot at Market Basket

The complete story on Buzzfeed can be read here.

New Rules, Bricks on Curbs to be Replaced by Cement in Newburyport

Example of new white curb cut next to a brick sidewalk.

Example of new white curb cut next to a brick sidewalk.

This is what I now know (please see legal disclaimer–I am an amateur blogger, not a legal expert, or highway engineer, or any of the other things one might want to be, to fully comprehend this, and yes, there are still a lot more questions).

In March of 2012 MassDOT mandated the following changes for ADA curb cuts (those are the cuts on sidewalk corners):

1) To have a “Detectable or tactile warning strip, consisting of truncated domes.” (i.e. bumpy things)

2) And the change is also in material, the requirement is that it be “slip resistant” which according to the description, eliminates brick:

“7. Walk surfaces shall be designed and constructed as firm, stable and slip resistant surfaces. They shall lie generally in a continuous plane with a minimum of surface warping.”

The document can be read here:

What this means in real simple terms, is that legally cement is now in, and brick is out.

I have confirmed this with a very, very nice person at MassDOT, as well as folks who know this stuff in Newburyport City Hall.

And this applies to historic cities and towns all over Massachusetts, including Boston. And from what I can make out (every place that I have checked), with the exception of Beacon Hill, has eventually given in and gone with cement over brick (with much wailing and gnashing of teeth) (again, I am an amateur blogger, not a professional journalist–disclaimer one more time).

On Monday night, at the Newburyport City Council Meeting, the list of streets and sidewalks to be repaved is on the agenda to be Ok’d by the City Council. My hope is that at least one member of the City Council will get up and say, “Wait a minute, could we Ok all the money for roadwork and sidewalks, but could we take a little bit of time to find out some answers to the curb cut–no more brick thing, before we give the big go ahead on that one.”

My hope is that if brick is out and cement is in, that maybe we could mitigate the visual impact in some way.  And I’m just throwing ideas out there, there is such a thing as stamped cement, that looks like brick.  I have no idea if that would work, but something along those sort of lines would be better than glaring white strips of cement that would eventually replace the brick corners that now exist.

Here is a list of corners that are slated to be redone this year, where brick would be an issue:

Along High Street:
State Street
Market Street
Federal Street
Lime Street
Parsons Street
Coffins Court
Allen Street
Bromfield Street
Barton Street

And:
State Street and Garden Street (Where the Dalton Club is.)

Brick-curbing

An an example of a good looking curb cut with brick that now exists. (The arrows pointing to the good example are photoshopped by me.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: A REPRIEVE!!  Newburyport City Councilor Bob  Cronin has just gotten up at the Newburyport City Council meeting and asked that the curb cuts that had been designated to be turned from brick to cement along High Street be sent to committee for further discussion. As I understand it, the matter was sent to “Public Safety.” (P.S. I wasn’t sure whether or not the now brick curb cut by the Dalton Club, at the corner of State and Garden was also included in that list.) Thank you so much Newburyport City Council!!

Another Idea on how to have a Win-Win on Recycling Plastic Bags

An idea. I’m brainstorming here.

RecyleCleanThe plastic bag industry definitely has gotten the memo loud and clear about recycling plastic bags. However, the plastic bag recycling industry wants clean dry thin filmed plastic bags for recycling, not soiled ones. That means they want plastic bags to be returned to participating stores. Neither the plastic industry or the City of Newburyport wants them in the recycling bins (plastic bags reek havoc for our recycling machines). The thin film plastic bags and other clean, dry thin film products are then bailed and shipped to places in the United States or to Canada or China for recycling. Recycling thin clean, dry thin film plastic is a billion dollar business, for real (see earlier entry).

So this might be a way to have small stores to be able to recycle plastic bags, if that is what they would like to do. Maybe the stores downtown, on Storey Avenue and in the Tannery might be able to participate (if they wanted to, along with providing reusable bags and bags made out of paper, I’ve seen some really nice ones from stores downtown). And maybe either Market Basket or Shaw’s might be able to be the “anchor store” (see below).

If the “industry” is involved, (the “bad guys”) in helping the city with a plastic bag recycling program, then the plastic bag industry has a real incentive to not only help us start something effective, but make sure that each year it becomes more and more successful.

So this is a quote from PlasticFilmRecycling.org on a “Business-to-Business” (B2B) pilot program.  And the website may look like a non-profit, but the American Chemistry Council is behind it (see the fine print at the bottom).  So yes, I am proposing that environmentalist work with “the bad guys” to come up with a solution instead of an outright ban on plastic bags. Nelson Mandela knew about working with your enemy–he becomes your partner.

b2b

This is from “Business-to-Business” (B2B), the entire link can be read here. 

“The B2B recycling program staff facilitated partnerships with large retail “anchor” stores and their smaller neighbor merchants that are located in shopping centers and malls. The anchor stores serve as collection points for clean, used plastic bags and film from their customers and from the neighboring stores. The anchor store is then able to use its existing infrastructure to transfer or “backhaul” the plastic bags and film back centers in delivery trucks that would otherwise return empty to their distribution centers.

The smaller retailers benefit because they are able to take advantage of a recycling opportunity that in most cases would be too expensive or unavailable to them. The anchor store benefits by being able to sell more recyclable material and to promote its environmental efforts by using existing resources and committing to a relatively small increase in labor. The Orange County SWMD benefits in many ways including conservation of landfill space due avoided disposal of tons of plastic bags and film, increased recycling rates, and avoided costs for a commercial recycling program as a result of the successes of the B2B recycling program.”

NOAA_debris

And to learn about Marine Debris, visit NOAA’s (U.S Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Marine Debris website here, including information on what is sometimes referred to the great garbage patch, or how debris accumulates in the ocean here.

From NOAA: “Our oceans are filled with items that do not belong there. Huge amounts of consumer plastics, metals, rubber, paper, textiles, derelict fishing gear, vessels, and other lost or discarded items enter the marine environment every day, making marine debris one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the world’s oceans and waterways…”  “The term “Pacific Garbage Patch” is a popular nickname for an area of marine debris concentration in the North Pacific Ocean, located in between Hawaii and California…” “While higher concentrations of litter items can be found in this area, along with other debris such as derelict fishing nets, much of the debris is small pieces of floating plastic that are not immediately evident to the naked eye…”

And from NOAA’s Marine Debris Blog, which can be read here.

“With all of this information flying around, much of it conflicting, what is actually known about these topics? And what do we believe?

First, the name “garbage patch” is a misnomer. There is no island of trash forming in the middle of the ocean, and it cannot be seen with satellite or aerial photographs. While it’s true that these areas have a higher concentration of plastic than other parts of the ocean, much of the debris found in these areas are small bits of plastic (microplastics) that are suspended throughout the water column.  A comparison I like to use is that the debris is more like flecks of pepper floating throughout a bowl of soup, rather than a skim of fat that accumulates (or sits) on the surface…”

“The bottom line really is that all of this human-made trash simply does not belong in our oceans or waterways…”

All of this is not good.  

Why I Personally Like my Plastic Bags, and NO, I’m Not in the Pocket of the Plastic Bag Industry

Gluten Free

Gluten Free

I just vowed I wouldn’t go there, put people ask me, “Why in the world do you want to have plastic bags so much?” And for anyone thinking or saying that I must be in the pocket of the plastic bag industry (because that seems to be the immediate reaction if you happen to like plastic bags), the answer is “No,” and believe me, I have opinions on stuff, people have accused me of a lot worse (see 7+ years of earlier posts).

I have something called celiac disease.  It has been ruled as a disability under the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA).  Who knew? not me that it was ruled a disability, until all this research on plastic bags last week. See the link on ADA and celiac here.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has come out with a ruling saying something cannot be labeled gluten free, unless it is really and truly is gluten free, which they have said is 20 parts per million (20 ppm), in other words–a microscopic amount. You can read all about it here, if you feel like it. (That one I knew about, the FDA ruling thing. The White House actually sent me an email telling me about the new gluten food labeling by the FDA, it made my day, week, month, year.)

When I was diagnosed (and all of that info is on the blog if you want to go look for it) back in 2009, no one knew hardly nada about what celiac was. Now, gluten free, here we come, which as it plays out, is fantastic for people with celiac. I was told is that microscopic amounts would make me sick (as in eventually kills you), so scrub out your kitchen, throw out and replace all sorts of stuff.  I thought they were being hysterical nut cases. It turns out “they” were right. When I got rid of anything that might have microscopic amounts of gluten, I started to get better.

The weird thing about celiac is that if effects everyone differently, it has all kinds of different symptoms, and basically they still know mostly nada.  But I am one of those pesky folks where only digesting microscopic amounts takes me 6 weeks to recover. And am I paranoid about getting “glutened?” you bet I am.

Which brings me to plastic bags at the grocery store. When they open one of those plastic bags, I know that no gluten has ever, never ever, been in there.  I am safe, safe, safe. No need to wonder, did I bring home gluten stuff in this bag?  Do I throw this bag away? Do I throw them all away to be safe?  No, every plastic bag is a safe bag for moi.  And it brings peace of mind and serenity to the ever not wonderful challenge of going to the grocery store as a celiac (where gluten is everywhere and not in everything anymore, but still in tons of stuff). And I take those plastic bags that make me feel safe and never glutened, and recycle them back at the grocery store.

Whether people understand my fondness for plastic bags having celiac disease, is up to them. But for me, it is huge.

Trying for a Win-Win Solution instead of an Outright Ban on Plastic Bags, and the Plastic Bag Industry has Gotten the Message

RecyleCleanI went to Tuesday night’s meeting held by the Newburyport City Council on the Plastic Bag ban, and it was without doubt the most frustrating and depressing meeting that I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to a lot of meetings), and my read was that I wasn’t exactly alone in feeling that way.

The meeting seemed to me to be more about a homily to a plastic bag ban, than a how can we problem solve this together as a community.  When I raised my hand, I said it felt a lot like being at a Waterfront meeting and being for some sort of buildings down there (you gotta live in Newburyport, to understand that one). (And this proposed ban is in 2 City Council committees, there will never be public hearings.)

There was a young lady at that meeting, and from what I could make out, she was not from Newburyport, who said that plastic bag lobbyists lived among our wards and were giving bribes to city councilors (city councilors, who were there, I may not have gotten that completely right, but that is basically what she said). I resent someone calling our local city government corrupt.

I chased down the plastic bag people who appear to recycle our plastic bags at Market Basket, Hilex Poly, to ask them to help us with a recycling program, I asked if it would be possible to have receptacles at the grocery stores that are fun and easy to notice.  I ended up talking to the lobbyist, who does live in Newburyport, many people know him, he was the campaign manager to John Kerry in the senate race against Governor Weld in the 1996 senate race and was then Senator Kerry’s chief of staff (John Kerry is now the Untied States Secretary of State). One of the city councilors at the meeting remarked that he was in fact helpful (I don’t remember the exact words).  Mr. Greenly agreed, and said he would get back to me this week.  We’ll see.

canada-map

Canada

The plastic bag industry has definitely got the memo that they better get going into putting a lot of effort into recycling plastic thin film bags.  And I now know more than I ever imagined about recycling plastic bags.

This is appears to be the bottom line. There is a billion dollar recycling plastic thin filmed industry.  There is a huge market for clean, dry thin filmed plastic, including clean, dry plastic bags. There isn’t a strong market for soiled plastic, but clean, dry plastic–it’s unbelievable the market for this stuff.  If you go to the back of our grocery stores, there will be bails of clean thin filmed plastic (including the recycled plastic bags) along with bails of clean cardboard.  Some of it is used here in the US (Hilex Poly has just built a $25 million dollar plastic bag recycling plant in Indiana). But the big bulk of it appears to be exported to China and Canada for big bucks, to be reused for all sorts of things, including decking by Trex.

Wegmans

Wegmans recycling program

And what I said at the meeting, is that every time I bring up the subject of recycling plastic bags as part of a 2 pronged strategy (used at a Mid-Atlantic grocery store called Wegmans, with the help of the plastic bag industry) of both recycling and using reusable bags, I get shouted down by environmentalists that recycling plastic bags is out of the question.

The plastic bags create absolute havoc with the machinery when they are put in the recycling bins here in Newburyport.  They gotta go back to the grocery stores, Market Basket and Shaw’s (or places like Lowe’s, Walmart, Sam’s Club up in Seabrook). People don’t know to bring them back. The plastic bag industry was more than willing to work with Mid-Atlantic grocery store Wegmans.  I feel as if I am shouting against the wind to try and get Newburyport to work with the “bad guys,” the plastic industry, to help us come up with a win-win solution here in Newburyport, because people for all sorts of reasons like their plastic bags, they just haven’t gotten the memo, (well, some have), what to do with them–i.e. return to sender, bring them back.

The article about Wegmans effort concerning plastic bags can be read here, including the video which can also be seen here.

Editor’s Note: From Wegmans Food Market

ROCHESTER, NY - It’s not every day that one good turn earns double credit! But during April, customers who bring their clean, dry plastic bags to a Wegmans Food Market for recycling can feel good twice over: First, for recycling their bags, and second, for helping to increase the contribution Wegmans is making to an organization that’s a friend of the earth, The Nature Conservancy.

Last year in April, Wegmans customers recycled 177,000 pounds of plastic bags – the equivalent of about 11 million new bags. The company wanted to improve on last year’s record and came up with a plan to contribute at least $10,000 to The Nature Conservancy, the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect lands and water for nature and people. To inspire customers to scour closets, pantries and other storage areas for plastic bags to recycle, Wegmans pledged to contribute 50 cents to the Conservancy for every additional pound above last year’s total of 177,000 (with a minimum contribution of $10,000).

“Sustainability is a company-wide priority at Wegmans,” says Sustainability Coordinator Jason Wadsworth, “and the duty to protect air, land and water for people today and tomorrow belongs to all of us. We’re very proud of the steps we and our customers have already taken to reduce, reuse and recycle, but to keep moving in the right direction, we need to keep coming up with more and better ways to conserve these precious resources. It made sense to us to inspire customers to do their best too by working together on this recycling initiative.”

During April, signs near the recycling bins in the stores’ vestibules will remind customers to bring in their plastic bags for recycling, and Wegmans will track the total weight as the month goes by. In addition, on Saturday April 26 between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., the first 300 customers at every store who bring in a bunch of clean dry plastic bags will receive a coupon for a Wegmans reusable bag.

“The reusable bags come in lots of designs and colors, and they’re actually the best option from an environmental standpoint,” Wadsworth says.

Since some customers prefer plastic bags, however, Wegmans has also looked for ways to increase the amount of plastic that is recycled. In January, Wegmans introduced new plastic bags with the slogan “Return to Sender.” The bags are made with 40% recycled plastic. “It helps people to know we put their plastic shopping bags to good use after they bring them back to the store. Our supplier uses those recycled bags as raw material for brand new bags. Last year, together with our customers, Wegmans recycled a total of 3.6 million pounds of plastic bags and wrapping.”

Today, every Wegmans store now uses on average 4,000 fewer plastic carry-out bags per day compared with 2007, the year Wegmans introduced reusable bags and began reformulating its carry-out plastic bags. That’s 120 million fewer bags each year.

To read please see link here.

A Fun Way to Recycle Plastic Bags

Recycle_BagRecycle_BagLook, not only do I get that plastic bags are detrimental to our wetland and coastal areas, I agree with it.  However, instead of an outright ban, I’d like a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of single use plastic bags.  And I understand that Market Basket has been unresponsive to this issue (and the single use plastic bag industry must be as well, since their “recycle and reuse” logo is so tiny, you can hardly see it), and I hope that the proposed ban forces Market Basket to have a meaningful dialogue with the city council and residents about how to solve this issue.

And this is what I don’t understand.  First of all, it would be a giant PR move for both the single use plastic bag industry and the supermarket industry if they put big, huge colorful “reduce, recycle, reuse” logos on their plastic bags, with where to recycle them (i.e. at Market Basket or Shaws) in big bold letters, instead of in fine print at the bottom.  Both industries would be heroes instead of goats. Seems like a pretty good idea to me. If both those businesses/industries did that, we might not be having this local fight over plastic bags, that we are having now, and they would help the environment all over the place. This would be a good thing.

recycle-machine copy

Fun slurping recycling machine

The other thing is, that if I was an inventor, or if I was the plastic bag industry, I’d find me an inventor, to have a fun way to recycle the plastic bags once they got to the supermarket.  If I was an inventor, I’d invent a machine that slurped the plastic bags in one at a time and gave a penny for each plastic bag, or a penny for 5 plastic bags (whatever is economical and fair).  First of all, little kids (or even grown-ups) would be mesmerized by a machine that slurped plastic bags.

And when you could first get money for returning cans, people were scouring all over the place, cities, suburbs, to find cans to make some extra money.  If you had a fun machine that slurped plastic bags AND got a little dough in the process, I bet the same thing would happen, and I bet you would have a whole lot less single use plastic bags wandering around our environment, and I bet they’d be reduced in a major, major way, pretty quick.  It would be a huge PR win for the plastic bag industry, and they wouldn’t be so vilified and it would be fun to boot. And it would be a good thing for the plastic bag industry to work with environmentalists  to help solve problems for a win-win solution.

The Ban Plastic Bags Ordinance – A Newburyport Progressive Political Overreach

OverReachForgive me, but here I go again.

What I see in the Ban Plastic Bags Ordinance, as it is now written and as it has been presented (see 2 earlier posts here and here), is “progressives” overreaching and making the same mistake they made in the 2008-2009 council.

People may not remember that the City Council passed the Wind Turbine through fast, very fast, and it passed with an 11-0 vote.  After the Wind Turbine went up, and there was such an incredible backlash, and people saw the effects that it had on real peoples’ lives, I can’t tell you how many councilors said to me, “What did we do?” and wished there hadn’t been such a rush to judgement. And I’m pretty sure, at that point, the vote would have been pretty close to 11-0 against.

I had hoped that this was one of the most level headed city councils ever. It got off to a good start by being careful, thoughtful and inclusive in its approach to protecting downtown (our brand), and our historic buildings (a whole other post).  (The Planning Board has not made its final recommendation yet, and the City Council has not yet voted–the process is still ongoing.) That governing template and process resulted in a bucketload of good will and trust in our city council.

This overreach, in my mind, is a legislative setback and now an “old school” approach.  And I could imagine exactly how it happened. The Citizens for Sustainable Bagging have been working towards the goal of banning “single use, thin filmed” plastic bags (the ones at Shaws and Market Basket) for 2 years, and they have supporters on the council, which is perfectly natural.  And what most probably happened, was the thought, “We have a progressive city council, finally, and we can now get our agenda (in this case it happens to be an ultra-progressive one) passed.”

Please don’t go there, don’t go that route.  If this passes, as is, without a more moderate approach, what will happen is “conservative” candidates will run in the next City Council election, on a moderate restoration of plastic bags, and you have no idea–they will get so many votes. And if the ordinance, as written, is not made more moderate, that bucketload of trust that this Newburyport City Council has right at the get-go, will be eroded so, so, so very quickly.

ConCom-PBags

Letter from ConCom, press image to enlarge.

Editor’s Note:  I have in front of me a letter to the City Council, on city stationary, from the Conservation Commission, that “does not endorse the complete ban on plastic bags at this time,” but supports “a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of plastic bags, as a reduction in their use would have a positive impact on the environment.”  (To read the entire letter, please press the image to the left to enlarge.) Seems fair to me.

Second Editor’s Note: The ConCom minutes of August 6, 2013 which are referenced in the letter above can be read here.

“Discussion of Proposed Plastic Bag Ordinance

Sheila Taintor of the Citizens for Sustainable Bagging discussed the ordinance to ban plastic bags that the group intends to put before the City Council. She asked the Commission members to support the draft ordinance. Members commented that they wish to have more details about the way in which the ban would work and how the ban has been implemented in other communities.

They said that while the plastic bags greatly impact the environment they might favor voluntary compliance or an incentive program over a ban. Paul Healy moved that a letter be sent to the City Council stating that while the Commission does not endorse the ban, it would support a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of plastic bags, as a reduction in their use would have a positive impact on the environment. Steve Moore seconded the motion. The motion was approved with Dan Warchol voted in opposition. Julia Godtfredsen will draft a letter for approval at the next meeting.” From ConCom minutes August 6, 2013 which can be read here.

Third Editor’s Note:  This is the complete last paragraph in the letter above to the Newburyport City Council from the Conservation Commission:

“While the Conservation Commission does not endorse the complete ban on plastic bags at this time (due to lack of information on how it has been successfully conducted in other similar municipalities), we would support a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of plastic bags, as a reduction in their use would have a positive impact on the environment.”

The Ban the Plastic Bag Ordinance – An Unfortunate Guide for Governing

plasticBag-2

I had two emotions watching last night Newburyport City Council during the public comment period (this is where the public can express their opinion to the City Council before the Council gets down to business).

On the one hand, I was enormously impressed that the young people in our community want to and are learning how, at an early age, to become involved in the “civic” process, and speak so eloquently, and at times passionately about an issue that they believe in. Would that so many other residence in Newburyport become involved in our the process of our city government in the same way.

On the other hand, it makes it very difficult for someone like me, who would like a more measured approach to this particular subject, the issue of banning plastic bags, to speak up and ask for a more moderate approach, without sounding like a complete douche bag (a contemptible and despicable person).

And the other thing, not to repeat myself, but to repeat myself, is that the proposed ordinance to ban plastic bags had seven sponsors.  It is my understanding that when asked to sponsor the ordinance, at least some sponsors were under the impression that they were the second sponsor (which would be the norm), and that it wasn’t until they saw the actually ordinance, as it was presented, that they understood that they were, unwittingly, part of the “gang of seven.”

I think that this is an unwise template for the democratic process on any level, and in this particular case the municipal level. I am glad that eventually a city councilor asked for the Ban the Plastic Bag Ordinance to go to a “Committee as a Whole” (which means that legally all the councilors can discuss the issue together).  And I hope that folks like me, who have a lighter green approach to life, have an opportunity to be “heard” and taken seriously, and not shunned, because on this matter, we have a different point of view on how to address this particular issue.

Proposed Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance — An Unwise Approach

plasticBagI don’t know how to write this post without sounding like a real “bitch.”

There is a proposed ordinance (piece of legislation) that is coming before the Newburyport City Council on Monday night, March 17, 2014, to ban the use of “single use, thin filmed plastic bags,” i.e. the plastic bags one gets at Market Basket and Shaws.

The first, very first thing that I have a problem with in this ordinance, promoted by Newburyport’s Citizens for Sustainable Bagging, and originally championed by City Councilor Barry Connell, is that it has 7 sponsors. (There are 11 members of the Newburyport City Council, and it takes 8 members to pass a piece of legislation.)

I’ve never seen this before. In my experience ordinances are usually sponsored by at most 2 city councilors.

It strikes me that for a proposed ordinance to have 7 sponsors, that it stifles debate, and undermines the democratic process, which to me is unwise. And comes across as manipulative, with the intent of ramming a particular piece of legislation through our city government, without proper input and feedback from the public. To say that I’m disappointed by this approach, when there has been a template for a truly thoughtful way of governance, with the process of the recent proposed zoning amendments (which has been called “brilliant”), is an understatement (the process of the proposed zoning amendments–a whole other post). “Brilliant,” this process of banning plastic bags, it is not.

The ordinance, as now written, has a punitive approach, which in my mind, if pursued, could cause tremendous resentment and a backlash for Newburyport’s Green Community, which has worked very hard over the last decade, led, with tremendous grace, by our Recycling and Energy Coordinator, Molly Ettenborough.

Backlash and resentment against Newburyport’s Green Community is nothing new.  Both the wind turbine, and the effort to turn off all of Newburyport’s street lights, did not win Newburyport’s Green Community a whole lot of friends. Not a good rerun.

And, if one looks back to the City Council of 2008-2009, it was one of the most liberal councils that I have seen.  A fairly robust liberal agenda was pursued, and a major backlash was the result. I would hate to see this council go down that particular road again, especially, when such a thoughtful governing template has already been demonstrated, with the proposed zoning ordinance process.  I’d be concerned with self-destruction a 2nd time. One would hope that history is something to be learned from.

And I think that there are councilors who would suggest a more incentivized approach to this issue, instead of a punitive one.  This might not please the Citizens for Sustainable Bagging.  However, such an approach could avoid a backlash, and make it a whole lot easier for the Newburyport’s Green Community to achieve its long term goals.

Zoning Overlay NOT a Local Historic District (LHD)

Unfortunately the Newburyport Daily News has repeatedly reported that a Local Historic District (LHD) is being proposed.  This is NOT the case, there is NO LHD period.  I am extremely disappointed in our paper of record.  I feel that it is the paper’s responsibility to inform and educate people, not to scare them. To me saying that this proposal is a LHD is like shouting “Fire” in a crowded room, when there is no fire, for me this is unfortunate and irresponsible journalism.  I expect more from the Newburyport Daily News.

Newburyport City Councilor Ed Cameron has clarified what is being proposed in the comment section of the latest Newburyport Daily News article on the subject.  Here it is:

Several clarifications to this reporting are necessary:

First of all this is not a single proposal by Councillor (Jared) Eigerman. He has submitted three separate zoning ordinance changes. Although they can be seen as related, they are each separate.

The three are:

1) a proposal establishing an Interim Downtown Overlay District is zoning that would preserve our historic downtown. Currently there are zero protections since the deed restrictions related to the HUD rehab of downtown which were in effect from 1971-2005 have lapsed. The Planning Board which oversees downtown site plan review would be the Special Permit Granting Authority.

Please note that Councillor Eigerman’s submitted change for downtown zoning is not a local historic district. A local historic district is created under Massachusetts Gen. Laws Chapter 40 C. What is proposed is a zoning change, not a local historic district, and is covered by Massachusetts Gen. Laws Chapter 40A. In this proposal, the local Historic Commission is not involved.

2) a proposal establishing an Interim Demolition Control Overlay District is zoning which would establish protections regarding teardowns in the Federal Newburyport Historic District established in 1984. The ZBA would be the Special Permit Granting Authority in these cases.

3 ) a proposal to amend our off-street parking regulations so that developers who are making a use change or building a new development and want to use public parking to meet their parking requirements will have to pay for it.

Please note that the Council Planning and Development Committee and Committee of the Whole did not “balk” at approving these zoning changes last night. The process is that these zoning changes will go to a Joint Public Hearing of the Planning Board and the Council’s Planning and Development Committee, an opportunity for the public to give input. Any zoning change in Newburyport must go through this process before the City Council takes action. That meeting has been advertised in the Daily News and will occur on Wednesday, February 19 at 7 PM at City Hall.

More details are here:

Councillor Ed Cameron”

Editor’s Note:  This is a comment  from John Macone, the Editor of the Newburyport Daily News, in the comment sections in the latest article in the Newburyport Daily News.  I appreciate it a lot.

“ Thank you for your comments. I agree with commenters who have said this is not a true local historic district proposal, as set down in state law. However, it is also clear that these zoning amendments seek to achieve some of the same protections/property restrictions that the LHD contained.

I’ve changed the headline to better reflect the intent of Councilor Eigerman’s proposals. Also, we will be following up shortly with a comprehensive explanation of the similarities and differences between these proposals and the LHD proposal.
John Macone, editor”

The headline was changed to: “Historic Protections Proposed for Downtown.”

The Story of the Newburyport Turnpike, Rt 1, with Thanks to Gordon Harris

newburyport_turnpike

The Newburyport Turnpike, courtesy of Gordon Harris, originally from Massachusetts Beautiful, by Wallace Nutting, 1923

I’ve discovered a wonderful new (to me) blog, written by Gordon Harris of Ipswich, Massachusetts. The blog is called “Stories from Ipswich.” And I discovered it via Facebook.  Mr Harris has written the story of the Newburyport Turnpike or what we now call Route 1, and how it came to pass.

In 1803 a group of Newburyport investors incorporated as the Newburyport Turnpike Corporation in a commercial venture to build a straight toll road from Boston to Newburyport (the highway we call Rt. 1). The intent was to bypass Salem and promote Newburyport as a commercial destination. Proponents claimed it would cut travel time by a third compared to the old Bay Road (Rt. 1A).”

To read the entire fascinating account/history, please press here.

And many thanks to Gordon Harris for letting me borrow/steal the photo of the Turnpike for this post. To see a large version, please read his blog post.  And if you download the photo, please give Gordon Harris and his blog credit (it is now one of my pet peeves that I find images that have been collected by me, the editor of The Newburyport Blog, for the last 7 years, all over Facebook, without any credit to The Newburyport Blog or the place where the image originated).

New Newburyport City Council Committees

The Newburyport City Council has very important committees where the difficult work of the City Council gets done. The president of the Newburyport City Council appoints the people on the committees.  For 2014 the Newburyport City Council committees are as follows:

Budget and Finance:
Chair-Charles Tontar, Ed Cameron, Robert Cronin

Planning and Development:
Chair-Ed Cameron, Barry Connell, Jared Eigerman

Neighborhoods and City Services:
Chair-Barry Connell, Ari Herzog, Meghan Kinsey

License and Permits:
Chair-Allison Heartquist, Bruce Vogel, Meghan Kinsey

Joint Education:
Chair-Meghan Kinsey, Allison Heartquist, Larry Giunta

Public Utilities:
Chair-Ari Herzog, Jared Eigerman, Bruce Vogel.

Public Safety:
Chair-Robert Cronin, Larry Giunta, Charles Tontar

General Government:
Tom O’Brien, Bruce Vogel, Mayor Donna Holaday

Rules:
Chair-Robert Cronin, Larry Giunta, Tom O’Brien