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Despite Earlier Reservations, Newton Aldermen Agree to Test Out Shoveling Rule

Much of the board rallied around the trial in hopes that two years will be enough time to work out kinks.

As the calendar marked the start of spring, aldermen last night considered a snow shoveling rule that, just a few months ago, seemed as though it would have to wait for another run in 2012. 

But in a full board vote last night, , a measure that has been heavily contested and

"This does have to be a community effort," said Alderman Vicki Danberg. "It’s an effort to increase safety for children and improve our city."

Danberg was one of the aldermen to initially docket the item and bring it before the board. During last night's discussion, the Ward 6 alderman-at-large received praise from her colleagues for her hard work championing the ordinance and was greeted with handshakes and congratulations following the vote.

In the end, 18 aldermen supported the snow shoveling measure, which will require residents abutting sidewalks to clear the walkways and handicap ramps within 30 hours after a storm. Six aldermen -- including Ald. Charlie Shapiro, Vice President Cheryl Lappin, Allan Ciccone Jr., Anthony Salvucci, Greer Tan Swiston and President Scott Lennon -- were opposed.

The two-year trial will start Nov. 1 of this year and will not include any fines. The board will reconsider the rule prior to the ordinance's Nov. 1, 2013 "sunset" date; the ordinance will expire at that time unless the board terminates it earlier or votes to continue the rule (with potential fines). For more details and to read a copy of the ordinance,

"We really ought to step up to this and accept the fact that we are trying to create safe passage for residents," said Alderman Lisle Baker, adding that "we owe it to our children" to make streets in Newton safe and walkable. 

The vote took more than three hours of debate, two of which were on amendments alone. Many aldermen agreed, though, that while the measure is not perfect, there will be two years to hone in on details and work out any problems.

"To me, this is using public policy as an expression of our values and the values in our community," said Alderman Deb Crossley. "I hope with good communication on the city’s part that over the next two years we will work out the kinks and come up with a better solution."

Alderman Ted Hess-Mahan agreed, saying that he plans to "devote" the next two years -- if re-elected -- looking at how the shoveling ordinance works and evolves.

"I’m glad that we’re dealing with a two-year trial," Hess-Mahan said. "Hopefully within two years we’ll know a lot better (as to) where we stand and how it works in Newton."

And while some believe it is the city's responsibility to clear the sidewalks, several aldermen pointed out that current budget constraints make that task difficult.

"We don’t have the resources to talk about the city coughing up the money necessary to plow all sidewalks in the city," Crossley said.

Nevertheless, shifting that duty onto residents also means shifting the financial burden, some aldermen argued, as costs to hire shovelers or plow drivers add up quickly. 

The board would be doing a "disservice" to residents by not recognizing the "difficult financial times" and voting in the ordinance, Alderman Charlie Shapiro said. 

Vice President Cheryl Lappin argued that the ordinance would not only place a cost burden on residents, it is also not clear as to what the cost will be for the city to monitor the ordinance. 

"Even though this [ordinance] is diluted, I think there are some major issues," Lappin said, who also questioned how the complaints would be handled.

According to Danberg, any letters of "non-compliance" issued during the trial will be complaint-driven. Residents can dial into , for example, to notify the city that neighbors may not be shoveling sidewalks and someone from the city can check and verify the complaints. There is no plan, however, to negotiate with parking control officers or spend any money on overtime with safety officials, Danberg said.

Prior to the final vote, the board spent roughly two hours considering several amendments to the proposed language, including the unanimously-approved clarification that "treatment" to the sidewalks did not have to include just sand and salt, as Alderman Susan Albright pointed out that some residents may use items such as kitty litter to treat walkways.

Another amendment voted in clarified that residents can use "reasonable effort" to remove the snow and ice from abutting handicap ramps and sidewalks, as oftentimes city and contracted plows pile up snow and slush onto property, leaving residents with large mounds of snow to remove. 

The one amendment that didn't pass, which was proposed by Shapiro, looked to protect residents from liability tied to clearing the sidewalks. The amendment, however, was voted down by 19 board members.

Judi March 22, 2011 at 12:52 PM
Considering how many elderly and disabled homeonwers live in Newton, I just wonder if this was taken into consideration-some of these properties may never get shoveled out if the homeowners either is too old or ill to do it themselves and doesn't ave anyone to help. also, when the city plows in the ends of the driveways with all of the chemicals, sometime it is impossible to clear the ends of the driveways as well as the sidewalks due to the hardening of the surfaces.. while in theory it is a good idea to keep sidewalks and walkways clear after a snow fall, it may be impractical in many situation. What about utilizing the plowing machines that I often see going up and down Beacon street clearing the sidewalks..this might provide a better overall solution if Newton could concentrate on using these thypes of plows to clear sidewalks.
Kristine Munroe March 22, 2011 at 02:42 PM
If there are no fines for the trial period, I can't imagine anything will change. There has to be some sort of shoveling solution. A man in a wheelchair was going down a West Newton street (the sidewalks were unshoveled forcing him on the road) and he fell out of his wheelchair due to a pothole. He had to call an ambulance! This is NOT okay! But it's a problem for the elderly or disabled to shovel. I just don't see a solution short of the city taking care of all sidewalks, but I can't imagine the costs associated with that.
Adam March 23, 2011 at 02:21 AM
Judi, having the city plow was part of the discussion, but it would cost millions that the city doesn't have, and there is a required opt-out clause (for those who may actually prefer to just shovel their sidewalk) which would seem to make it very difficult to administer. The plows really don't do that good a job, in my opinion, but they're a good first pass on priority routes, like school routes, where sidewalks must be available first thing in the morning. Those physically and financially unable to do the work are exempt under this ordinance, but in general, other communities manage to make shoveling ordinances work. Most of the time, for many residents, it's not an impossible task.
Edward Molleur March 23, 2011 at 07:31 PM
So there is no amendment relieving citizens of liability in the case of an instance where liability for slipping on a sidewalk becomes an issue. So, do that mean a homeowner is liable for a fall that occurs on a City owned sidewalk, because of ice, etc.? Why isn't this question answered first instead of just passiing the amendment and waiting for something to fall out of the black bag. Which of course, it will.
Adam March 23, 2011 at 07:54 PM
Edward, apparently there are proposals before the state legislature to address this. The consensus on Monday was that the liability issue is not something Newton can or should resolve.
jm storey March 24, 2011 at 04:13 AM
Perhaps it's time to reintroduce the barter system. The ciy is about to raise fees for among other things, athletic activities. You have hundreds of able bodied students whose family's can't afford the fees and hundreds of elderly citizens who physically and financially can't shovel the sidewalks. Have the teams, not the individuals, sign up to shovel and collectively reduce their fees. It's good training, good teamwork, and good citizenship. A yellow school bus loaded with shovels, a few coaches, and their respective athletic squads could clear a lot of city sidewalk in your average PE class hour.

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