New Swamp

You'd think having a week without a Select Board meeting would mean I'd have lots of extra time, but it sure didn't feel that way.  Been a busy couple of weeks.   What have I been up to?

Winterfest:  It was fun last year, but this year was better. (Maybe the fact that I wasn't campaigning had something to do with that...  And this year, I had hand-warmers, another plus.)  Hanging around an outdoor fire, watching kids race decorated cardboard boxes, tasting wine and cheese, seeing practically everyone you know - it's a good time.  Only problem:  none of the chili in this year's cook-off was vegetarian.  Gee whiz, no respect.

Chamber Breakfast:  The February 11th breakfast topic was Hadley's 350th celebration.  Learned all kinds of things about their history, such as:  before asparagus, Hadley was renowned for its broomcorn crop, and was a broom manufacturing hot spot.  Also, they had various names for the eastern area that would ultimately become Amherst.  Yep, among them was New Swamp.  Kinda like that, actually.  I wonder if our eponymous College would have attained the same level of esteem.  Don't miss the events of Hadley's celebration year.

JCPC:  Thursdays at 12:15 are the Joint Capital Planning Committee meetings (three so far - it only meets in preparation for Annual Town Meeting.)  Every week is a "hearing" where different departments present their capital requests.  The 12th was DPW, the 19th was Planning, LSSE, Conservation, and Libraries.  I've learned a lot of interesting stuff at these (like about vehicles:  DPW needs pickup trucks for supervisors that are powerful enough to be part of the snow plowing brigade, and plowing is really rough on vehicles, because you hit curbs and other protrusions that are covered by the snow. And:  when possible, vehicles being replaced are passed down to departments with less-intense needs.  Learn more about Town vehicle inventories when the SB discusses this topic at the 2/23 meeting.)  This committee rotates doing minutes, and it was my turn on the 12th.  All my various SB write-ups have left me with an intense allergy to minutes - I can barely even read them - but I did get these done.  Budget Coordinating Group has the same rotation policy, so that looms in my future too.  Something to keep in mind when choosing committee assignments.  JCPC has good web info, including the hearing schedule.  Next up is Police and Fire on the 26th.

Founders Day:  Nice ceremony on the Town Hall steps.  Great reception in the Town Room.  Be sure to visit the Town Room and check out the extremely cool gift from Senator Stan Rosenberg and Representative Ellen Story - a framed high-rez photo of the original document of the Town's founding, from the State archives.  Even better than the photo is that they have arranged for preservation of the original, to prevent deterioration.  Bravo to the 250th Committee for all their hard work.  It is going to be a year full of great events.  (Don't miss any - the schedule is here.)  Later that day, I went to the lecture at Jones Library about Lord Jeffery Amherst.  Fascinating stuff, and delightfully presented by Amherst College Professor Kevin Sweeney, using the different elements of the famous portrait as structure.  (Just found the lecture here, as published in the Amherst College magazine.)  Also at that event:  retired Town Engineer and accomplished local historian Jim Smith received the Conch Shell award for his contributions to historical study of the town. 

Other Committee Meetings:  Went to the Conservation Commission meeting on the 11th and Public Transportation and Bicycle Committee meeting on the 17th.  Both meetings are always interesting, and low-intensity for me, since as liaison, I am really only there to listen and learn.  And learn I do.  Con Com in particular is a major education for me, with all its talk of "bordering vegetated wetlands," "mitigation" and "buffer zones."  (They didn't call it "New Swamp" for nothing.)  It's too bad all the various committee meetings can't be televised, because all this stuff is interesting if you pay attention.  (All Town board and committee meetings are entirely open to the public though - check the schedule and find one that strikes your fancy.)

Parking Task Force:  This has been a fascinating group to be part of so far, trying to weigh and consider various issues and interests related to the parking situation downtown.  I had prepared a big memo for the 2/20 meeting, trying to summarize many of the points that come up repeatedly in parking discussions, so that we might start from there and not rehash them all anew.  I also hoped it would help focus a complicated discussion about determining what happens next, but I didn't manage that part very well because I got bogged down in the details of a new proposal being suggested by some business folks for trying out free parking on North Pleasant Street.  I now think that our group's difficulty is that we haven't clearly defined what the "problem" is we're looking to solve, so we have various ideas and proposals to change rates and time limits, but the goal of each is quite different.  I'm looking forward to the next meeting (9:30 a.m., 3/13), and trying to help get us all on the same page.  (Interested in parking issues?  If so, you'll love the Pioneer Valley Panning Commission's Study of Amherst's Downtown Parking.)

What's next:  We have a short agenda for 2/23, because we meet again for another FY10 budget discussion on Wednesday, 2/25.  (And really - how many meeting hours can we bear??)   That meeting will feature a proposed prioritized "cut list" prepared by Larry Shaffer and John Musante, addressing the shortfall in the municipal budget from the planned State aid reductions.  (The municipal, school and library "cut lists" will be jointly discussed at the Budget Coordinating Group meeting at 11:30 on 3/2, and there will be a report at that evening's SB meeting.)   There's also another Four-Towns budget meeting hosted by the Schools on Saturday morning, 2/28.  (Have I mentioned that this "job" pays less than a dollar a day? You really have to wonder about anyone willing to do this.  I know I'm wondering...)

Reporting:  I don't think I've mentioned our new monthly Select Board Report.  It is intended to be another way of letting people know about the nature and scope of the work we're doing.  I had hoped the Bulletin might publish it, but they thought it was "too dry."  It's available on the Town web site, and there are hard copies at various locations in Town Hall, at the Jones Library and at Bangs Center.  I think it will be a useful catalog of our activities, and I hope people find it informative.  Dry, but informative. 

Packet stuff:  I know, I know, I haven't written up my packet info in a while.  I haven't stopped doing it on purpose, but it is a lot lower on my priority list, now that the actual materials are on-line.  (True, you don't get all the scintillating details of my mail that way...)   And you may not be aware that the different packet elements are now individual PDFs, instead of one giant file (Thank you Kate!)  Access the most recent packet from the link on the Select Board page, or see the full archive here.

And just for fun:  Check out this wonderful archive of historic photos and postcards of Amherst.  Some really amazing stuff there.    


Anonymous said:

How about free BEER on N. Pleasant St. too?

Eva Schiffer said:

This is a great report, Stephanie; thanks. Just checking out all the interesting links will carry me to your next one!


Rob said:

Kudos for an excellent "big memo" on parking issues! Here's a further bit of anecdotal evidence (in the form of a rather peculiar "feedback" loop) on whether "subdollar" pricing has much (if any) marginal effect: take a look in the "tips" jars at many local shops, such as the Black Sheep or Rao's; there's a lot more than pennies in there, and these come from customers who put similar amounts into their meters moments earlier (or later); and - here's the weird "feedback" loop - there is at least one shop which uses almost all that tip revenue to pay for their staff to park at nearby meters (in effect, a "feedback" loop leading to meter "feeding" ;-). All this suggests (but doesn't prove) that the price of parking in Amherst is still plenty cheap enough to not make make any difference in shopping habits. My advice: make all the parking 50 cents per hour, but extend the duration of many more meters to 3 hours (to accommodate cinema-goers, slow-foodies, long-meeting-wonks, whatever) or longer; this also reduces the need for folks to move their and find a new space, and allows consolidation of trips, saving even more gas and money (at the federal rate 50 cents a mile, its no bargain to drive the extra 5 miles to the malls to park for free all day long - there are other reasons besides free parking for which drive folks there - food shopping being one of the biggest) . My other advice: make the meters free in the (early) morning when the demand is still low, say up until 10AM, but consider enforcing them through 8PM (at least on the high-demand evenings, i.e. Thursday, Friday and Saturday).

Thanks for the feedback, Rob.

We can't know the best "answer" until we're clear on the question. How to maximize revenue to the Transportation Enterprise Fund has a very different answer than how the Town can provide parking viewed as most "friendly" by the business community. These are two extremes, but the example is illustrative. The PTF has now shared a lot of info, ideas and different perspectives, and I think the next meeting will let us focus all of that into a specific goal, so we all come out of it knowing: The question we are trying to answer and the problem we are trying to solve is X.

I suspect that determining the answer/solution will require more time. But you never know.

Rob said:

Maybe the question (and answer) lies somewhere in between: How to most effectively accommodate folks who want to do business in Amherst Center, whether by private or public (or alternative) transportation?



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