Monthly Archives: May 2014

Annual town meeting: human relations, regulations and zoning

Brookline’s 2014 annual town meeting held its second session Thursday, May 29. Another session is scheduled for Monday, June 2, and a fourth session continues to look likely. Progress on Articles 10 through 25 might look rapid, but consideration of Articles 15 through 19, about redevelopment at Brookline Place, was postponed. A summary of actions on articles:

10. Community relations commission–amended and approved
11. Greater Toxteth neighborhood conservation district–approved
12. Noise control bylaw amendments–rejected
13. Tobacco control bylaw, High School no-smoking zone–approved
14. Tobacco control bylaw, increased age of purchase–approved
15. Zoning amendments, Brookline Place–postponed
16. Zoning amendments, Brookline Place (alternative)–postponed
17. Grant of easement, Brookline Place–postponed
18. Restrictive covenant, Brookline Place–postponed
19, Release of documents, Brookline Place–postponed
20. Zoning amendment, Mason Terrace–rejected
21. Zoning amendments, S-4 zoning, Meadowbrook area–approved
22. Zoning amendment, convenience store at gasoline station–rejected
23. Zoning amendment, accessory dwelling in single-family zone–rejected
24. Grant of easement, Carlton Street footbridge–approved
25. Adopting local option, Retirement Board stipends–rejected

Contentious issues resulted in six recorded votes, including one just on procedure. Debate took over an hour on Article 10: to replace the Human Relations Youth Resources (HRYR) Commission, dating from 1970, with a new Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations (DICR) Commission. Rejection of Articles 22 and 23 on zoning, filed by the Planning Board, again showed consequences of burdening annual town meetings with traditional topics for fall town meetings. Neither rejected article involved an urgent situation. Both were likely to benefit from extended reviews.

Human relations: Arguments over a proposed new DICR Commission revealed little that had not already surfaced in about a year and a half of controversy–during which the Board of Selectmen, their “diversity committee” that proposed the change, the Advisory Committee, its special subcommittee for the matter, the Human Resources Board, the standing Committee on Town Organization and Structure, and the existing HRYR commission all weighed in.

Article 10 at the 2014 annual town meeting was an outcome of Article 10 at the 2013 annual town meeting. The 2013 article was submitted by HRYR commissioner Larry Onie, by Brooks and Mariela Ames, recently but not then HRYR commissioners, and by town meeting members Bobbie Knable, Frank Farlow and Arthur W. Conquest, III. It cited a low level of minorities in Brookline’s professional work force–zero in leadership positions–and sought to strengthen HRYR roles in diversity, equal opportunity and human rights.

Also at the 2013 annual town meeting, Article 9 proposed to abolish the HRYR Department and the position of HRYR director. Stephen Bressler, HRYR director since 1974, was retiring, and Town Administrator Mel Kleckner was eager to chop a small department out of the town’s government structure–leaving responsibilities to the Human Resources Office created in 2000. That office replaced the former Personnel Department–in practice a division of the selectman’s office. The 2013 town meeting approved Article 9 and referred Article 10 to the selectmen’s “diversity committee.” Mr. Kleckner nominated Dr. Lloyd Gellineau to a new position of human relations and human services administrator, reporting to Dr. Alan Balsam, director of Health and Human Services.

Submitters of Article 10 in 2013 pointed out that Human Resources, like former Personnel, focuses on employee compensation and benefits. Workforce diversity gets little attention beyond filing reports and updating policies. In 1994, Brookline revised a municipal affirmative-action policy. In 2011, it revised a municipal anti-discrimination policy. Nevertheless, over the 42 years since Richard Fischer resigned as the first human relations director in 1972, Brookline’s municipal workforce never had an African-American or Latino among senior leadership, and its school workforce had only one.

Under Article 10 at the 2014 annual town meeting, Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 and Martin Rosenthal of Precinct 9 proposed to amend the main motion, making the new commission effectively a town department, as HRYR had previously been, and providing its director with the stature of a department head. Town Administrator Mel Kleckner has argued against what he called excessive overhead to maintain a small department.

After around an hour, the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, accepted a motion to close debate. That takes a two-thirds vote. It was rejected in the first of three electronically recorded votes, getting support from only 62 percent of those voting. Arguments continued. In a second recorded vote, the amendment proposed by Mr. Spiegel and Mr. Rosenthal passed by a margin of 107 to 95. The third recorded vote approved the new DICR commission and department, 185 to 16 with 6 abstentions.

Now Mr. Kleckner will have to figure out where to locate and how to budget a new department. Sandra DeBow, director of the Human Resources Office, will have to share duties that include recruiting a more diverse workforce. The Board of Selectmen will have to decide whether to advance Dr. Gellineau to head the new department, if he wants to do that, or find a different director. Will current HRYR commissioners apply for the DICR Commission? If they do, will the selectmen appoint them?

Regulations: Residents of the Toxteth Street vicinity organized to create a neighborhood conservation district for their area, under Article 11, to be called Greater Toxteth. This type of district has regulations that go beyond zoning but are less strict than a local historic district authorized by Massachusetts under Chapter 40C of the General Laws.

Greater Toxteth’s regulations call attention to front porches common in the area. A special review would be required to enclose a front porch for living space. So would alterations that add living space encroaching on current front yards. However, other additions that increase living space less than 15 percent would not need special reviews. Town meeting did not need much time for the article, because the Neighborhood Conservation Commission and the residents of Greater Toxteth had “done their homework” well.

Noise control bylaw amendments in Article 12 were proposed by Fred Lebow, an acoustic engineer and a former Precinct 1 town meeting member, to provide what he claimed are more reliable standards for measuring noise. One complication was that the article proposed a method for estimating background noise at night by making measurements during the day and subtracting an arbitrary 10 decibels.

The proposed approach may work for some neighborhoods but might not provide accurate estimates for those near highways and busy streets, particularly Route 9 and the Turnpike. They tend to have larger differences between day and night background noise. Both the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee supported the proposal, with one minor difference between them. However, town meeting was not convinced and voted no action.

Tobacco control bylaw amendments in Articles 13 and 14 were proposed by High School students Nathan Bermel, Mary Fuhlbrigge and others. Article 13 called for a no-smoking zone extending 400 feet from grounds of the High School. That becomes a large area–around 35 acres, roughly but inaccurately sketched in the warrant report.

It extends approximately through the intersections of Blake and Rawson Roads and of Welland and Somerset Roads, on the north, through the intersections of Lincoln Road and Gorham Avenue and of Cypress Street and Brington Road, on the east, through the intersection of Clark Road and Route 9, on the south, and across Tappan Street just short of the intersection with Gardner Road, on the west. All of the Cypress Street Playground is in the zone, which looked like a main intent.

As voted by town meeting, the restriction applies full-time, year-round, whether or not school is in session, but it applies only to someone classified as a “minor or school personnel.” If John Dempsey, a member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee, were still the principal of Devotion School, he would be not be allowed to smoke at home–not that Mr. Dempsey has likely wanted to. Former superintendent Robert Sperber, now a Precinct 6 town meeting member, would be restricted, were he still superintendent. Enforcement may be difficult, except perhaps on or next to High School grounds. An obvious refuge for High School smokers becomes Tappan Street near and northwest of Gardner Road. Other refuges are likely to be found quickly.

Under Article 14, town meeting voted to raise the minimum age for tobacco purchase in Brookline from 19 to 21. Like Article 13, the restriction appears symbolic; it may not have much practical effect. Within a metropolitan environment as large and complex as Boston, there are innumerable ways to skirt local laws. The initiative could still be effective if pursued as a state law rather than as a local law.

Zoning: Under Article 20, submitted by petition, town meeting rejected rezoning 273, 277 and 281 Mason Terrace from single-family (S-7) to two-family (T-6)–a rejection that was recommended by the Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee. The argument from the Planning Board was that, if allowed, a “future threat of demolition of [those] dwellings in order to construct new buildings” could damage the Mason Terrace neighborhood.

In contrast, under Article 21, also submitted by petition, town meeting–as urged by the Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee–approved a new S-4 type of single-family zoning, using that to designate properties in the Meadowbrook Road area. That neighborhood was historically called “Buttonwood,” settled in the early twentieth century by officers of Brookline’s police and fire departments and their families. As petitioners described, “It is one of the few neighborhoods left in Brookline where a family can afford to buy a single-family home with a yard for less than a million dollars.”

The counterpoint of Article 21 versus Article 20 shows how Brookline’s town government continues to support measures that strengthen neighborhood character and continues to oppose measures that encourage profiteering. That makes striking contrast with attitudes found some 50 and more years ago–a lasting mark of Brookline’s “neighborhood zoning” begun at a dramatic, four-night town meeting held in December, 1973.

Town meeting rejected two routine measures proposed by the Planning Board. Article 22 would have recognized a convenience store at a gasoline station. Article 23 would have prohibited an accessory dwelling in a single-family zone. While there were arguments for and against those proposals, they are likely to have been victims of rushed consideration and might better have been put off to the traditional venue of a fall town meeting. There were recorded votes. Article 22: 109 in favor and 62 opposed. Article 23: 106 in favor and 59 opposed. Both fell short of the two-thirds required for a zoning change.

Under Article 24, town meeting accepted a grant of easement that would allow the so-called Carlton St. footbridge, closed since the fall of 1975, to be renovated and equipped with wheelchair ramps. The project is Brookline’s largest contribution to an effort that is mostly federally funded: dredging the Muddy River channel, following disastrous 1996 flooding that shut down the MBTA Green Line for weeks.

Under Article 25, town meeting rejected stipends for Retirement Board members. The session’s last recorded vote found 47 in favor and 100 opposed. Decades of skeptics notwithstanding, Brookline remains a town and not a city–in fact as well as in name. Members of a few boards, including the Board of Selectmen and Zoning Appeals Board, are paid–although stipends remain nominal–but hundreds of town residents serve on unpaid boards, commissions and committees. The 240 elected town meeting members are, of course, unpaid.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 31, 2014

Annual town meeting: budgets and a larger Driscoll school

Brookline’s 2014 annual town meeting held its first session Tuesday, May 27. More sessions are scheduled for Thursday, May 29, and Monday, June 2. The agenda is not that long: 33 articles. However the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, said he expected extended reviews of several issues–probably needing a fourth session, to be scheduled on Monday.

The session addressed the first 9 articles, including the entire budget for fiscal year 2015, starting in July. Unlike some odd procedures used several years ago, articles were considered in the order listed in the warrant report. A summary of actions, by article:

1, Wood and bark measurers (traditional)–approved
2. Collective bargaining agreements–no action needed
3. Compensating balance agreements–approved
4. Closing out special appropriations–no action needed
5. Unpaid bills of prior years–no action needed
6. Adopting local option, property tax exemptions–approved
7. Fiscal 2014 budget amendments, Lawrence School funds–approved
8. Fiscal 2015 appropriations–approved with an amendment for Driscoll School
9. Adopting local option, senior property tax deferral–amended and approved

An effort to enlarge Lawrence School using modular classrooms had gone nowhere. The sole bidder’s price was in the range for conventional classrooms. Under Article 7, the town meeting agreed to an extra $1.5 million for more durable construction. Four added classrooms are expected to be available in the fall of 2015. Students will not need to be relocated during this round of construction.

Debate over a feasibility study for expanding and renovating Driscoll School took about an hour. It was just one section of around a hundred in the budget under Article 8, yet controversial after parents of Driscoll students became agitated over building a larger school. Driscoll, Heath, Lincoln and Runkle each have about 500 to 550 students, while Devotion, Pierce, Baker and Lawrence each have about 650 to 850. Of the smaller schools, Driscoll has been the fastest growing.

After switching position, first supporting then opposing the feasibility study, the Advisory Committee had most recently proposed to delay spending until after a town meeting next fall. However, town meeting members appeared mostly absorbed–not about timing or spending–but about whether Driscoll was going to become a larger school. The tone of the debate and size of the vote told a story.

By law, Advisory proposes the budget. Harry Bohrs, the committee chair and a Precinct 3 town meeting member, led off debate, saying budgets “communicate our choices…values and aspirations.” One choice was clear: “municipal” expenditures $68 million, up 2 percent, “education” expenditures $87 million, up 5 percent. Advisory proposed a sizable boost in school spending at the expense of almost everything else.

Mr. Bohrs proved about as anodyne as most Advisory chairs over the years. His speech featured acronyms and insider language. Probably a fraction of town meeting members did understand all he said, speaking in that mode, but with so many details few would likely remember it all for long. However, almost everything had been public since the warrant report appeared on Brookline’s municipal Web site two weeks earlier.

Discrepancies turned up, anyway. For example, the school department will have 1,218 “full-time-equivalent” employees, according to the warrant report, versus 1,285 that Mr. Bohrs claimed at town meeting. According to the warrant report, municipal departments will have 679 FTE employees. A couple of minutes later, Mr. Bohrs said for fiscal 2015 there would be 1,374 municipal and 1,671 school employees. Taken at face value, that would apparently mean the average municipal worker is employed about half-time. Really?

Mr. Bohrs faithfully echoed longstanding concerns of Advisory that are now entrenched in town policy: full funding of pension obligations and full anticipation of capital spending for buildings and major equipment, both gaining momentum in the 1970s. He said the current plan for pensions intends to achieve full funding by 2030. If that happens, that goal will have taken about 60 years to reach.

In closing remarks, Mr. Bohrs became more engaged. “Our educational institutions are suffering from system stress,” he said, because of “an unprecedented and sustained surge in our school enrollment.” Predicting a sea change in the community, he said “schools of 500 students are likely a thing of the past.”

Describing the proposed school budget as “unsustainable,” Mr. Bohrs said budgets will be “constrained and tempered by the levels of our resources…[Next year] we will likely be considering an override [to Proposition 2-1/2] in the spring…It’s a decision that will define Brookline.”

Newly elected chair Kenneth Goldstein responded for the Board of Selectmen–patronizing authors of what he called an “award-winning financial plan.” He emphasized “new growth” but focused only on new revenue, omitting to mention any new costs–particularly when “new growth” brings more students to public schools. Most of his speech repeated what Mr. Bohrs had already said but lacked the forward-looking cautions Mr. Bohrs had noted.

Mr. Goldstein’s strongest contribution was to describe investigations by the B-SPACE committee about school expansion, on which he served–leading to what he called an “expand-in-place” plan. That mainly targets Devotion, Lawrence and Driscoll Schools. Of those, only Devotion has a fairly generous campus. The Driscoll campus is small, while the Lawrence campus is hedged by conservation restrictions on adjacent parkland.

Proposed funds for a Driscoll feasibility study produced one of those classic town-meeting debates about bigger issues than what shows on the agenda. Precinct 14 town meeting member Pam Lodish, an Advisory Committee member and former School Committee member, spoke for a delay in spending for a Driscoll feasibility study, saying “we don’t want to disenfranchise significant groups of our community.” She was joined by Werner Lohe from Precinct 13 and by Perry Stoll, a Driscoll parent.

Rebecca Stone, a Precinct 3 town meeting member and current School Committee member, urged town meeting to press ahead, saying, “We know how to run successful, beloved schools with the larger numbers.” She was joined by Betsy DeWitt, speaking for the Board of Selectmen, and by Casey Hatchett, a Driscoll parent. As debate churned on, applause for those points of view grew louder.

Mr. Gadsby held a recorded vote. Using an electronic system, introduced in spring, 2013, it took only about a minute instead of 15 to 20 minutes for the first roll-call votes at town meeting, in 1970. The outcome was 176 in favor of funding without delay versus 43 in favor of delay and 5 abstaining. Town meeting appears to have made up its mind: Driscoll parents must accept a larger school.

On the balance of the budget article, there were several questions, but only at-large Advisory Committee member Leonard Weiss spoke at length. He said it was time for school management “to demonstrate leadership on affordability.” Town meeting passed almost the entire fiscal 2015 budget unanimously, except that Regina Frawley of Precinct 16 asked to be recorded as opposing the operating budget for Public Schools of Brookline.

Article 9, submitted by former Precinct 6 town meeting member Arthur W. Conquest, III, and by Brooks Ames, a member of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, sought adoption of a state law allowing a higher income-limit for senior residents seeking property-tax deferral. They also proposed a lower interest-rate. Both the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee supported the higher income-limit but opposed the lower interest-rate. That approach passed unanimously.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 29, 2014

Paper or plastic? The Devil’s work

For some environmental activists, plastic disposables are the Devil’s work. Paper or biopolymer disposables and reusable items are “obviously” better for the environment, they may say. However, it can be “devilishly” difficult to make reliable comparisons.

A typical controversy is whether to replace, with different products, the cups and trays made of expanded, closed-cell polystyrene foam–sometimes mistakenly called Styrofoam, a Dow Chemical trademark for slabs of extruded foam. The main alternatives are reusable cups and trays made of glass, solid plastics, metals and ceramics, and disposable cups and trays made of paper, biopolymers and composites.

Reliable comparisons will weigh several environmental impacts. Those include at least energy consumption, greenhouse-gas emissions, water and air pollution of many types, human, animal and plant toxic exposures, soil erosion, mineral extraction residues and side-effects, stratospheric ozone depletion, and eutrophication of water bodies. They need to examine product life-cycle and cost factors for raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, cleansing for reuse, recycling and disposal.

For some factors, there will be more than one option. Options that reduce impacts may increase costs. The more costly options are less likely to appear in common practice, making it hard or impossible to know their real prices. There will sometimes be big uncertainties, such as total cycles for a reusable item. There will typically be more than one type of environmental impact. Factors that cut some impacts may boost others.

Preferences among products involve relative values for multiple impacts. A theory to evaluate such situations began to appear in the 1970s, expressed through the mathematics of linear algebra and multivariate calculus. So far, however, textbooks on so-called “eco-efficiency” avoid the ugly foundations: large uncertainties that sometimes turn elegant theory into practical rubble. Impact studies often try to elide these problems.

Even comparisons limited to a single type of impact can substantially disagree. For example, van der Harst and Potting (2013) reviewed ten life-cycle studies comparing disposable cups for greenhouse-gas emissions. The studies produced conflicting estimates for the same types of cup. Van der Harst and Potting were unable to identify “a best or worst cup material.” They traced conflicting results to differing inputs, including “weight, production processes, waste processes, allocation options and data.”

Among the comparisons van der Harst and Potting reviewed was Ligthart and Ansems (2007), a sophisticated work that considered ten types of environmental impact. Those were consolidated into a single impact-measure by adding the so-called “shadow costs” of impacts, which multiply estimated market prices to mitigate impacts by amounts of materials needing mitigation.

A key weakness of such an approach is information that may be unknown or unknowable. For example, mitigation of farm fertilizer as a eutrophication impact may require changes in practices and technologies that have never been tried on a large scale. Unless there are widely applied mitigations–such as scrubbers for power-plant smokestacks–”shadow cost” estimates will lack a reliable base of knowledge, turning elegant theory into practical rubble.

Such problems likely influence conflicts among life-cycle studies of disposable cups that van der Harst and Potting documented. With care, one might be able to estimate individual impacts, but knowledge may be lacking to understand impact relations or assign weightings and combine them–for example, to predict fair and effective prices that might be charged, rather than arbitrarily banning some types of cups but not others.

Don’t just do something. Stand there!

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 28, 2014


Eugenie van der Harst and José Potting, A critical comparison of ten disposable-cup life-cycle analyses, Environmental Impact Assessment Review 43:86-96, 2013

T.N. Ligthart and A.M.M. Ansems, Single-use cups or reusable drinking systems: an environmental comparison, Netherlands Organization for Applied Research (TNO), 2007

PWC France, Life-cycle assessment: three approaches to commercial fish boxes, Price-Waterhouse Coopers, 2011

Shunrong Qi, Lan Xu and Jay Coggins, Deriving shadow prices of environmental externalities, Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota, 2004

Rolf Färe, Shawna Grosskopf, C.A. Knox Lovell and Suthahip Yaisawarng, Derivation of shadow prices for undesirable outputs, Review of Economics and Statistics 75(2):374-380, 1993

Gjalt Huppes and Masanobu Ishikawa, ed., Quantified Eco-Efficiency: An Introduction with Applications, Springer, 2010

Jukka Hoffrén, Strengths and weaknesses of eco-efficiency, Statistics Finland and Ministry of the Environment, 2012

School Committee: Driscoll plans, policies, technology and testing

A regular semimonthly meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, May 22, started at 6:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics included Driscoll School plans, policy changes, “technology” plans and the state’s PARCC testing.

School expansion plans: Noticeable discord has grown over plans to expand Driscoll School. Some parents are opposed, others skeptical. A Web site appeared to circulate information. The Advisory Committee has reversed its earlier support for a feasibility study, recently recommending that funding for a study be deferred to a fall town meeting.

Perry Stoll, a Driscoll parent, was recently quoted in the Boston Globe, saying, “The permanence of a thousand-plus-person school just pulls at my heart; I can’t stand it…As you keep increasing the size of our schools, you pull apart the connection of its community.”

Committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff said a delay in funding a feasibility study for Driscoll would be likely to have a “domino effect,” interfering with “long, multi-year projects. ” Superintendent Lupini appeared troubled, saying “We don’t have a Plan B.” Committee member Rebecca Stone said she hoped the town “still has a long-term plan in place,” speaking of solidarity with the Board of Selectmen.

To an untutored ear, the reactions might sound a little strong–for a proposal currently said to seek six more classrooms at Driscoll. However, as with many past school projects, what could possibly be a straightforward, frugal expansion of school space can–and maybe it already has–become enmeshed in more complex and costly goals.

The discord has an echo from 1973, during previous planning to renovate Devotion School–with quite a twist. The School Department then called for shrinking school capacity–from about 850 to 650 students. History that was recent at the time had seen Devotion with as many as 950 students. The Sperber administration stood by a consultant study that said falling birthrates and smaller family sizes would reduce demand.

The 1970s Devotion project replaced the northwest wing and renovated the entire center section for around $5 million–or about $30 million today, adjusted for inflation. The community might question why another renovation now would need to cost about three times as much, in real dollars.

Policies for community uses and residency: Committee member Abby Cox announced that discussion and voting on proposed changes to “community use” policy would be delayed, “for more community review.” The proposal has already drawn criticism from organizers of after-school programs. It risks looking hostile toward local organizations that sometimes use school rooms for community meetings, as they learn more about it.

One obvious change is a sentence that now says Public Schools of Brookline will make facilities available to the community “at as low a cost as possible.” As proposed, that would instead read “at reasonable cost.” The current policy took form in the early 1970s, as the Sperber administration was pursuing renovations to Pierce, Devotion, Lawrence, Lincoln and Driscoll Schools.

At the time, Brookline was growing around 20 new neighborhood associations and several advocacy groups. The policy probably helped solidify community support for school renovations–strongly controversial at the time. A 1973 referendum brought against the Devotion appropriation failed to reverse it by a margin of only about 200 votes. It took three tries to overcome opposition to building a new Lincoln School on Kennard Rd., which finally opened in 1994.

Discussion of policy on “instruction” veered into of how parents establish residency, proposed to be required at the start of each school year. Committee member Helen Charlupski, who has served since 1992, recalled that parents formerly “signed a card and sent it in…What now?” Superintendent Lupini said parents must now submit “some form of proof.” He named alternatives, all requiring originals of paper documents. Committee vice chair Barbara Scotto asked, “What will happen to the documents?” The question went unanswered.

Controversy over growth: During “public comment,” Sanford Ostroy, a League of Women Voters board member, urged the committee to examine recent assertions from the Override Study. He cited claims that “minority populations” are the source of student population growth over the past 20 years and that METCO students are “the most expensive to educate.” He questioned both accuracy and pertinence.

In his finance report, Peter Rowe, the deputy superintendent, had some answers for Dr. Ostroy. It has been a surge of growth in student populations during about the past seven years, not in previous years, that generated pressure for more space and staff. Mr. Rowe presented a table comparing students in each elementary school at the start of school years in 2004 and 2013.

For years 2004 to 2013: Baker 629 to 754, Devotion 701 to 840, Driscoll 366 to 551, Heath 378 to 518, Lawrence 440 to 658, Lincoln 398 to 565, Pierce 548 to 782, Runkle 426 to 560. Total students grew from 3,886 to 5,228–a difference of 1,324 students or 35 percent. Of those, Mr. Rowe said, no added students came from METCO, and about 40 added students came from town employees through the “materials fee” program.

Plans for “technology”: Dr. Lupini presented his plans for more “technology,” focusing on elementary schools in fiscal 2015–startinng in July–through fiscal 2019. He frankly called it “plumbing,” not “transformational technology.” It is hardware-heavy: more classroom computers, more network support, more digital projectors. Next year has an added $30 thousand for “professional development.”

Goals of the effort, as presented, were all stated in general and vague terms. There were no specifics about what the hardware would used to do, and there were few real-life examples. Although Dr. Lupini expressed concern that current resources are not available outside classrooms, the only concrete proposal that could be found to address that limitation was to put some computers in school libraries.

Testing regimes: Superintendent Lupini announced plans to switch to the state’s new PARCC series of tests in the next school year for most grades. However, he would stay with MCAS for grade 10–that is, English and math tests required for graduation. That would put 9th grade science tests, which have proven the most difficult for Brookline students, into the PARCC camp.

Dr. Lupini said the PARCC regime will allow extra time for special education students and students with limited English proficiency. However, apparently it will otherwise remain strictly timed. That is likely to affect minority students in Brookline, because they probably will not qualify for “accommodations.”

Decades of experience show that strictly timed tests put students from foreign-language and low-income backgrounds at severe disadvantages. With strictly timed tests, those students are placed at well known risks of lower scores. School Committee members sounded distant about risks for Latino and African-American students to perform poorly. However, Dr. Lupini clearly sees his proposal could become a “hot potato.” He intends a public hearing on it June 5–time and place to be announced–followed by another School Committee review June 22.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 27, 2014


Jaclyn Reiss, Full plate at Brookline Town Meeting: development, Driscoll School work, Boston Globe, May 25, 2014


METCO communities, spring 2014
Source: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, for fiscal 2014

METCO now has 37 participating communities, organized into 37 partly overlapping school districts. Among the districts, Brookline has the second largest number of students. However, when districts are considered according to METCO students per thousand residents, Brookline is only slightly above average–with 5 METCO students per thousand residents compared to an average of 4. Relative to population, Weston, Lincoln and Wayland make far stronger commitments to METCO than Brookline.

District Students Grant Per student Pop., 2010 Student/1000
Arlington 72 $382,028 $5,306 42,844 1.7
Bedford 97 $556,137 $5,733 13,320 7.3
Belmont 120 $542,300 $4,519 24,729 4.9
Braintree 31 $221,152 $7,134 35,744 0.9
Brookline 296 $1,336,196 $4,514 58,732 5.0
Cohasset 45 $255,195 $5,671 7,542 6.0
Concord 101 $486,746 $4,819 17,668 5.7
Dover 9 $31,023 $3,447 5,589 1.6
East Longmeadow 52 $260,586 $5,011 15,720 3.3
Foxborough 45 $239,690 $5,326 16,865 2.7
Hingham 32 $191,027 $5,970 22,157 1.4
Lexington 237 $1,342,033 $5,663 31,394 7.5
Lincoln 91 $474,791 $5,217 6,362 14.3
Longmeadow 38 $203,886 $5,365 15,784 2.4
Lynnfield 41 $213,673 $5,212 11,596 3.5
Marblehead 78 $427,516 $5,481 19,808 3.9
Melrose 125 $628,863 $5,031 26,983 4.6
Natick 54 $313,496 $5,805 33,006 1.6
Needham 155 $840,442 $5,422 28,886 5.4
Newton 404 $2,154,051 $5,332 85,146 4.7
Reading 71 $362,137 $5,101 24,747 2.9
Scituate 57 $370,016 $6,492 18,133 3.1
Sharon 70 $406,676 $5,810 17,612 4.0
Sherborn 11 $37,917 $3,447 4,119 2.7
Sudbury 70 $411,849 $5,884 17,659 4.0
Swampscott 70 $386,093 $5,516 13,787 5.1
Wakefield 50 $252,759 $5,055 24,932 2.0
Walpole 49 $277,496 $5,663 24,070 2.0
Wayland 137 $658,361 $4,806 12,994 10.5
Wellesley 157 $815,042 $5,191 27,982 5.6
Weston 181 $891,661 $4,926 11,261 16.1
Westwood 43 $221,859 $5,160 14,618 2.9
Concord Carlisle 64 $369,509 $5,774 22,520 2.8
Dover Sherborn 20 $127,418 $6,371 9,708 2.1
Hampden Wilbraham 27 $140,845 $5,216 19,358 1.4
Lincoln Sudbury 91 $455,410 $5,005 24,021 3.8
Southwick Tolland 20 $127,909 $6,395 9,987 2.0
Totals 3,311 $17,413,788 $5,259 817,383 4.1

Public Transportation Advisory Committee: new services and reviews

A regular monthly meeting of the Public Transportation Advisory Committee on Wednesday, May 21, started at 7:00 pm in the fourth-floor conference room at Town Hall, with all three current committee members attending plus five members of the public, two representatives of GroupZoom, proposing a new transit service, a Brookline Transportation Board member, a member of MBTA management and two representatives of the MBTA Advisory Board.

Express buses to Cambridge and Boston: Matthew George, founder of GroupZoom, located in Cambridge, described the Bridj transit service his company expects to offer. It plans to provide express-bus service between high-demand locations–featuring Web-based scheduling, electronic payments and on-board amenities, including WiFi. According to business news reports, GroupZoom has received around $3 million in venture funding from a private investor group that includes Scott Griffith, a partner at General Catalyst and former CEO of Zipcar, now an Avis division.

Mr. George said initial plans are for two Brookline-centered routes and two Cambridge-centered routes. He claims routes between the vicinities of Coolidge Corner and Kendall Square and between the vicinities of Coolidge Corner and Post Office Square are prime candidates in Greater Boston. Traveling the MBTA Green Line and Red Line between Coolidge Corner, where he lives, and Kendall Square, where he works, Mr. George measured morning rush-hour travel time at around 55 minutes. He says his service will take less than 20 minutes.

Initially, Mr. George expects the Bridj service to provide full-size, 54-passenger buses run by Academy Bus, a charter company operating from Braintree. The fare for the Kendall Square route is projected at around $6 each way, or three times the current MBTA Charlie Card fare, in return for saving an estimated 35 minutes each way. Linda Lally, an MBTA system planner at the meeting on other issues, said MBTA supports the proposed Bridj service as a complement to the mass transportation services MBTA provides.

Abigail “Abby” Swaine, committee chair, said GroupZoom would need Brookline Transportation Board authorization to operate a jitney service and would need approvals for locations it plans to pick up and drop off passengers. The company will probably need similar authorizations from Cambridge and Boston for the routes Mr. George described. Committee members asked about locations of stops. Mr. George said possible locations are near municipal parking lots, particularly ones on Centre Street.

Jerry Lazar of Craftsland Rd. asked whether GroupZoom might provide service from Chestnut Hill. Mr. George was not sure but said Bridj will have zoned fare capability. He said there is also interest in service from Brookline Village. Scott Englander, a Brookline Transportation Board member, asked about sharing data with host communities. Mr. George said GroupZoom would do that, subject to nondisclosure agreements. An inquiry the next morning with Todd Kirrane at the Brookline Transportation Department indicated no applications yet from GroupZoom.

MBTA equipment, more 3-car trains: Richard T. Leary, a former executive secretary to the Board of Selectmen and later Brookline’s first town administrator, presented a report for the MBTA Advisory Board. He has served for many years as Brookline’s representative. He was accompanied by Paul Regan, the board’s executive director. Responding to the committee’s interest in 3-car trains on the Green Line, Mr. Regan said the MBTA has only enough equipment for a few 3-car trains at rush hours.

Running more 3-car trains will also need power upgrades, according to Mr. Regan. Some power substations have been renovated, but trolley wires are up to 80 years old, and overloads and brownouts occur at rush hours, When power upgrades are finished, replacing antique signals will be the next priority. Only those near Kenmore Square, which flooded in 1962 and in 1996, have had recent attention.

The current MBTA capital plan calls for 220 new Green Line cars by some unspecified date. However, the financial tables, out to FY2018, show no such acquisition. The Green Line currently has 114 operable Kinki Sharyo Type 7 cars, now 17 to 28 years old, that are to be renovated. It has 95 operable Breda type 8 low-rise cars, now 6 to 15 years old. They will not need major maintenance soon. No additional 3-car trains can likely be expected before 2022.

Mr. Regan, Mr. Leary and committee members discussed measures to speed up boarding passengers and discourage fare evasion. About two years ago the Green Line stopped opening rear doors when running on the surface. That led to crushes in the fronts of cars, especially at rush hours, so the Green Line resumed opening rear doors during rush hours. Mr. Regan said MBTA will be hiring more transit police but faces high turnover. Officers often leave to take highway, city and town police jobs.

Committee members asked whether MBTA will add more payment kiosks to service Charlie Cards. There are now about 150 of them, but there are none for surface parts of the Green Line except on the Riverside (D) branch. Mr. Regan said there are four payment centers located in Brookline groceries: the two Star markets, one 7-11 store and Bay State Foods. He did not think more payment kiosks or centers would open in the next few years.

Speedier Beacon Street trolleys: Last year the committee supported a $50,000 study of Beacon Street traffic signal improvements, to reduce delays on the Cleveland Circle (C) branch of the Green Line. The 2014 annual town meeting looks set to fund the project. It is included in the Advisory Committee’s budget, under Article 8.

Mr. Regan said MBTA management was “thrilled” about the Beacon Street project, a first for the MBTA Green Line. So far, MBTA has worked on traffic signal improvements for buses and for commuter rail but not for above-ground parts of the Green Line. The Advisory Committee has proposed some conditions on the funding, which committee members had yet to investigate.

MBTA fares and finances: Mr. Leary reviewed MBTA finances. Last year’s Transportation Finance Act, Chapter 46 of the Acts of 2013, adds about $600 million per year to state transportation funding for FY2014 through FY2018. Although MBTA gets a portion, much of that goes toward repairing degraded bridges and roads. MBTA is committed to a “proposition 2-1/2″ approach. It will raise transit fares by about 2-1/2 percent a year: likely about 5 percent every 2 years, starting this July.

However, the agency’s financial problems are far from over. Since 1947, the MBTA and former MTA fares have never paid the full cost of rides. Before 2000, MTA and MBTA got a yearly and much maligned “deficiency budget” from the General Court. In 2000, under so-called “forward funding,” MBTA was instead granted one percentage point of the state sales tax. For a while that worked, because of increasing ridership and sales tax receipts. Then fare revenue flattened after 2005; sales tax receipts flattened after 2008.

For FY2010 through FY2014, the General Court provided $160 million a year in so-called “contract assistance.” That means, in effect, the old MTA and MBTA “deficiency budget” from the past has been revived in a new form–added to the sales-tax earmark. The General Court looks on course to do the same for FY2015.

According to Mr. Leary, those funds, along with management reforms and the 2013 finance act, have brought financial stability to MBTA. MBTA is hiring 63 workers to bring more maintenance in-house plus 180 workers to run late-night service. Employees are on the state’s Group Insurance Commission health plan, which is also helping Brookline cope. Subway trains are being run by single operators. Absentee rates are down. Need for the last two reforms had been reported since at least the 1950s, by the old Boston Herald and by the Boston Globe.

MBTA is to maintain a “recovery ratio” of 33 percent or more–meaning fares are to pay at least one-third the cost of rides. Of its current $1.9 billion budget, Mr. Leary said about $160 million is being paid by “local assessments” on cities and towns in the MBTA operating area. Brookline is paying about $5 million. Similar municipal transit support has occurred since the 1920s, starting with the former Boston Elevated Railway Co.

Committee member Sherry Flashman asked about falling ridership. Mr. Regan said ridership is actually up. That becomes somewhat complicated. MBTA preliminary reports of increased ridership have often proven inconsistent with federally audited reports appearing much later in the National Transit Database. Those showed largely stagnant system ridership after 2002 and falling ridership after 2005. Possibly the years after 2012 may see sustained, verified increases, but it is too early to know.

Less waiting for the next bus: Brookline Transportation Board member Scott Englander presented a quantitative study he carried out to see whether wait times near Cleveland Circle, transferring between MBTA bus routes 51 and 86, could be reduced by schedule shifting. Route 51 extends through south Brookline to Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain. Route 86 extends through Allston, Harvard Square and Somerville to Sullivan Square in Charlestown. Combined, they could approximate a so-called “urban ring” long advocated to connect radial transit routes in and out of downtown Boston.

Mr. Englander’s work was assisted by MBTA system planner Linda Lally, who arranged access to real-time records of bus arrivals and departures. Ms. Lally said bus scheduling has been computerized for about three years and now includes “interlining”–meaning drivers may transfer from route to another. Those changes improve efficiency but do not reduce wait times for passenger transfers.

Mr. Englander found that shifting schedules of 51 buses relative to 86 buses could reduce average wait times somewhat. However, he said the best case amounted to only several percent of total travel times.

More ridership in south Brookline: For some time, the committee has looked at potential changes to the 51 bus route, in hopes of increasing ridership. According to Mr. Kirrane, the transportation director, one possibility is the segment between the intersection of Chestnut Hill Avenue with Route 9 and Independence Drive southwest of Putterham Circle.

The 51 bus currently follows Lee, Clyde, Newton and Grove Streets. Ridership might increase by instead following Boylston, Hammond and Lagrange Streets and Beverly Road. In the 1970s and before, areas near the latter streets were served by the former 59 bus, but that bus was discontinued in a cost-cutting change. The 59 number is now used for a route between Watertown and Needham. The committee meets next on June 15, also at 7:00 pm.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 24, 2014


Comment, June 10, 2014. Scott Englander, a Transportation Board member, sent a comment about MBTA 51 bus service:

The MBTA has so far only offered Brookline the possibility of shifting Rt. 51 bus schedules uniformly (i.e., shifting all departure times forward or backward by the same amount). Mr. Englander found that shifting schedules of Rt. 51 buses uniformly could, at best, reduce passenger layover times at Reservoir by 5%, and even that modest overall improvement would come at a cost of adversely affecting outbound passengers. The analysis did not look at potentially beneficial changes in schedule that don’t involve shifting all schedules by the same amount of time.


Katie Johnston, Data-driven bus service set to roll out, Boston Globe, April 10, 2014

Rafael Mares and Kirstie Pecci, Keeping on Track: Transportation for Massachusetts, Conservation Law Foundation and MassPIRG, March, 2014

Massachusetts Transportation Board, FY2015 transportation plan, Draft, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, January, 2014

Massachusetts Transportation Board, The way forward, FY2014 transportation plan, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, January, 2013

Nuclear news: a “cat-litter mystery”

Followers of nuclear issues likely recall reports in February about a significant discharge of radioactive contamination at the U.S. Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located about 25 miles east of Carlsbad, NM. WIPP is the only government-licensed facility for long-term storage of radioactive waste. Producing plutonium for nuclear weapons, between 1943 and 2002, generated the waste being stored at WIPP.

Brookline–about 2,000 miles from the New Mexico site–is not as isolated as one might think. Contamination from WIPP apparently became airborne and, if it did so, can travel long distances. It resembles long-lived components of radioactive fallout from above-ground nuclear weapons explosions–starting in the U.S. with the Trinity site explosion of 1945 and lasting until the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Nuclear waste storage: WIPP is the earlier of two U.S. nuclear-waste repositories authorized between the late 1970s and late 1980s. Construction of WIPP took from 1980 to 1988. It was designated to hold relatively low-level but long-lived radioactive waste from military programs. The other repository is Yucca Mountain, in southern Nevada. It was designated for high-level waste from nuclear power-plants. Construction began in 1992, during the Herbert Bush administration, but was halted in 2010, before completion, by the Obama administration.

WIPP construction started before the site’s geology was known in much detail. By the time construction ended, geologists had found buried faults and fractures, boreholes and aquifers above and around the salt deposits tunneled into to build WIPP. Years of disputes and further studies followed. In 1998 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved WIPP as safe to use, during the Clinton administration, and in 1999 waste storage began.

Radioactive discharge event: WIPP was evacuated after sensors warned of a major radioactive discharge in underground work areas late at night last February 14. Three months later, the discharge had been traced to a drum of waste shipped to WIPP from Los Alamos National Laboratory, where plutonium processing and testing began in 1943. The Department of Energy, which runs both WIPP and Los Alamos, originally said radioactivity had been trapped in filters.

More recently, WIPP managers disclosed that 22 above-ground workers had “ingested or inhaled” radioactive contamination. At a February 23 public meeting organized by the mayor of Carlsbad, NM, a Department of Energy spokesperson estimated about 10 nCi of plutonium and other alpha-emitting elements had been released into the open atmosphere around WIPP.

The main isotope, plutonium-239, has a half-life of about 24,000 years. Reducing it to trace amounts–a billionth of current amounts–takes about 40 half-lives, or a million years. Some of the main products of nuclear fission persist much longer: technetium-99 half-life about 220,000 years, iodine-129 half-life about 17,000,000 years.

The 1980s designers and 1990s certifiers of WIPP looked only 10,000 years ahead–just an instant in time, compared to long-lived radioactivity and to geology. In at least the million years they should have considered, geologic history has seen about eight full glacial cycles. The most recent of those left the Great Lakes and the Grand Canyon.

Hazards from the atmospheric release of radioactivity estimated by the Department of Energy last February 23 would be small for people miles from the plant, as department personnel say, but they are hardly zero, since alpha emitters are powerful inducers of tumors. Far more radiation has evidently spread through underground tunnels. The Department of Energy has not allowed workers to resume ordinary activities underground. As of May, 2014, WIPP remained effectively shut down.

Power-plant waste: In addition to high-level radioactive waste–spent fuel rods–nuclear power-plants also generate low-level waste, containing some long-lived radioactivity similar to waste being stored at WIPP. That consists of used filter elements, residues from cleanups, contaminated tools and clothing, and other byproducts of routine operations. Like the other 103 licensed nuclear-power reactors in the U.S., the reactor at the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth is holding both spent fuel rods and low-level waste on-site.

Eventually, low-level power-plant waste is currently destined for a privately run repository that is under construction in west Texas. The principal investor in Waste Control Specialists, located about 35 miles west of Andrews, TX, was the late Harold C. Simmons. Mr. Simmons was also a well known contributor to “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” the group that broadcast attacks on former Sen. John Kerry, now the U.S. secretary of state, during the 2004 Presidential campaign.

High-level nuclear waste is another story. In addition to alpha-emitting elements such as plutonium, irradiated fuel contains nuclear-fission products that emit intense beta and gamma radiation–notably strontium-90 and cesium-131, both with half-lives of about 30 years. Several minutes of exposure to an irradiated, unshielded fuel rod can be fatal.

Sources of high-level waste are former factories for nuclear weapons and nuclear power-plants. U.S. weapons factories left the equivalent of about 2,500 metric tons of heavy metal in plutonium-processing wastes, separated from the plutonium that was used to make weapons. As of 2014, the U.S. nuclear-power plants have left about 73,000 metric tons of heavy metal in unprocessed spent fuel–97 percent of the U.S. total high-level wastes.

Rated capacity of the unfinished, now idle Yucca Mountain repository is only 70,000 metric tons of heavy metal. At current rates, another facility of that size is needed about every 40 years. Most high-level waste is being stored where it was made. The large storage sites in New England are closed power-plants in Wiscasset, ME, Haddam Neck, CT, and Rowe, MA, and active power-plants in Waterford, CT, Portsmouth, NH, Plymouth, MA, and Vernon, VT.

“Government misadventure”: Writing in the New York Times, before the February 14 radioactive discharge at WIPP, veteran reporter Matthew L. Wald called storage of low-level radioactive waste “a government misadventure.” Among the most difficult issues are unexpected events. No one expected waste that had already been in storage for years to explode, but that is what the drum from Los Alamos apparently did at WIPP. A photo published online shows a gaping hole in the drum’s lid.

Laura Zuckerman, writing for Reuters, recently reported that contents of the failed drum heated, because of some unexpected chemical process. Jeri Clausing, writing for Associated Press, reported that one of the main suspects has been commercial cat litter packed around waste containers. Cat litter had long been used as a packing material to absorb liquid leaks. However, for the failed drum, instead of clay composition, available since the 1940s, Los Alamos reportedly used one of the newer cellulosic compositions–also known as “organic.”

“Cat-litter mystery”: News articles report speculation that somehow nitrates in waste reacted with cellulose in “organic” cat litter to create a highly flammable or explosive material. Since the 1820s, it has been known that cellulose can react to form flammable or explosive nitrocellulose–also called “guncotton.” However, that requires a strong acid, usually nitric acid.

Plutonium processing typically uses high-strength nitric acid to dissolve irradiated reactor fuel, as the start point for extracting plutonium. Before wastes from processing are stored, they are ordinarily mixed with alkali compounds to neutralize acids, so that wastes can be held in plain metal tanks. In a laboratory setting, however, strong acid wastes might have been stored in glass or other nonmetal containers. Until contents of the failed drum at WIPP have been examined, a “cat-litter mystery” endures.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 23, 2014


Update, slow progress: As of May 30, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy has stopped sending nuclear waste from Los Alamos to WIPP. In a notice to the New Mexico Environment Department, it estimated two to four years to clean up and reopen WIPP. Other, major clean-up efforts are likely to be affected: notably those at the Savannah River and Hanford sites in South Carolina and Washington state, which produced nearly all the plutonium used for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.


Jeri Clausing, Associated Press, Feds say it could take 2 years to seal nuclear waste site, Billings (MT) Gazette, May 31, 2014

Jeri Clausing, Associated Press, Has cat litter turned barrels of New Mexico nuclear waste into ticking time bombs? Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 23, 2014

Jeri Clausing, Associated Press, WIPP leak linked to container from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Albuquerque (NM) Journal, May 17, 2014

Steve Sandoval, Communications Office, Los Alamos National Laboratory ships last of high-activity drums to WIPP, Los Alamos National Laboratory, November 25, 2008

Laura Zuckerman, New Mexico official urges removal of nuclear waste drums that could leak radiation, Reuters, May 16, 2014

Laura Zuckerman, Possible radiation leak at New Mexico military nuclear waste site, Reuters, February 16, 2014

Matthew L. Wald, Texas company owns national radioactive waste monopoly, New York Times, January 21, 2014

Matthew L. Wald, South Carolina threatens over cleanup of nuclear waste, New York Times, November 29, 2013

U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Nuclear Energy Institute v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 01-1258, July 9, 2004 [373 F.3d 1251] sourced from U.S. EPA

Robert Vandenbosch and Susanne E. Vandenbosch, The revised radiation protection standards for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, Forum on Physics and Society, American Physical Society, 2009

Richard A. Kerr, For radioactive waste from weapons, a home at last, Science 283(5408):1626-1628, March 12, 1999

Board of Selectmen: bonds, licenses and human relations

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 21, started at around 6:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. As happened last week, several people attended who are interested in a proposal to replace the human relations commission.

Announcements: Next week, the 2014 annual town meeting starts Tuesday, May 27, at 7:00 pm in the High School auditorium, side entrance at 91 Tappan St. It continues on Thursday, May 29, on Monday, June 2, and for other sessions as needed. This week, the Brookline Neighborhood Alliance is holding a forum on town meeting issues Wednesday, May 21, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. According to board member Betsy DeWitt, it will review Articles 8 (budget), 10 (replacement of human relations commission), 11 (Toxteth neighborhood district), 15-19 (Brookline Place development), 21 (small-lot zoning near Meadowbrook Rd.), 26 (repealing sale of taxi medallions) and 28 (prompt snow clearance in business districts).

The Brookline VFW and American Legion post has organized site visits on Memorial Day, May 26. Bus trips leave at 8:30 am near the Veterans Post at 386 Washington St. An outdoor ceremony starts at 11 am near Town Hall, 333 Washington St. An open house will be held at the Brookline Senior Center, 93 Winchester St., on Friday, May 30, from 3 to 6 pm, showing the new fitness center. A full-length meeting of the Board of Selectmen is not scheduled next week, because of town meeting. However, the Advisory Committee schedules early evenings on town meeting nights, starting at 6:00 pm in Room 208 at Brookline High School. The selectmen will hold a short meeting at the same time Tuesday, May 27, in Room 209–mainly for change orders, budget transfers and other routine business.

Bonds, police, seniors: Treasurer Stephen Cirillo won authorization to sell $8.4 million in municipal bonds. The effective interest rate from the low bidder is 1.8 percent, he said. Most of the money will pay for building and grounds maintenance projects. The largest of those is $3 million for repairs to the former Lincoln School. Sewer maintenance receives $1 million. The town got a favorable interest rate because of its AAA credit rating, Mr. Cirillo said, awarded because of attention to long-term financial planning.

Since the new Lincoln School on Kennard Road opened in 1994, the sturdy, 1930s structure on Route 9 has been used repeatedly for temporary space during renovation of several schools, Town Hall, the health department building and the main library. However, with three schools now being considered for expansion projects, old Lincoln School may not be enough. The Board of Selectmen and the School Committee have each held long executive sessions recently to consider “leases.”

Other, long-term projects are being performed in stages and get only parts of funds from this bond sale. The municipal service center on Hammond St., just 15 years old, gets a major renovation. Its structural design proved inadequate for heavy equipment on an upper floor. Reconfigurations will move equipment to the ground floor, and the upper floor will be repaired.

Construction of Fisher Hill Park gets $1.2 million from these bonds. Brookline bought the 1887 Fisher Hill Reservoir, a project of the former Boston Water Board, from the state in 2008. It had been out of regular service since the 1950s. The new park is a late stage in a complex redevelopment. The reservoir’s historic gatehouse is to be restored.

Chief of Police Daniel O’Leary won authorization for nine student police officers. They will train at Lowell Police Academy, he said, and are expected to begin service in late fall. In a nod to the board’s renewal of concerns about workforce diversity, Mr. O’Leary noted that three of the nine are African-American.

Two of the student police officers, Mr. O’Leary said, are “legacies.” That is a code word for members of several families with long-term backgrounds as Brookline employees. From at least the middle 1800s through the 1960s, those families lived in Brookline and comprised much of the workforce.

Brookline’s Age-Friendly Cities program was reviewed by board member Nancy Daly, who chairs the Age-Friendly Cities Committee, with committee members Ruthann Dobek, the Senior Center director, and Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member. Brookline was the first New England community to cooperate with the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency, in starting a program.

According to Mr. Caro, the committee is focused on pedestrians in urban Brookline and wants to reduce bicycle use on sidewalks. In the late 1960s, however, Massachusetts passed a law requiring bicyclists to use sidewalks outside business districts, where they are available.

License reviews: The board heard seven applications for food service, liquor and entertainment licenses. Five proved fairly routine, with no member of the public offering comments or objections.

Juan Carlos Hincapie asked for new food service (“common victualler”) and entertainment (radio, TV) licenses to operate Milky Way cafe on Cypress St. near the corner of Route 9, at the former site of Yobro cafe. Neighbors protested midnight closing hours Monday through Saturday. Mr. Hincape said he was seeking only what Yobro had. It turned out that while Yobro had applied for midnight closing, it was allowed only until 10 pm. The board approved the new licenses, with closing hours of 10 pm Monday through Saturday and 8 pm Sunday.

Lisa Wisel applied for an extension of liquor service hours at VineRipe Grill, housed in the Putterham Meadows golf clubhouse on West Roxbury Pkwy. Several residents of the area sent letters and spoke in opposition to pushing morning hours back to 8 am Tuesday through Sunday and 9 am Monday. Service hours now start at 10 am Monday through Saturday and at noon Sunday.

Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, spoke of “neighborhood concerns,” saying, “If you need a drink at 8 in the morning, you’ve got a problem.” Cornelia van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, told the board, “10 am is early enough, drinking early in the morning is not a good sign of mental health.” She was seconded by Saralynn Allaire, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and member of the Commission for the Disabled.

Ms. Wisel explained that there had been requests for beer with breakfast, particularly during golf tournaments. Board chair Kenneth Goldstein sounded sympathetic, saying it was “part of the golfer culture.” Board member Neil Wishinsky said it was “not [his] style,” but he was “willing to give it a try.” That didn’t appeal to board member Betsy DeWitt, who said she could not support 8 am. Board members Nancy Daly and Benjamin Franco both said they were “uncomfortable with 8 am on weekdays.”

On a motion by Ms. DeWitt, the board voted to authorize a 10 am starting hour every day, only Mr. Goldstein opposing. That allows a two-hour extension to current hours on Monday. Mr. Goldstein then proposed the hours Ms. Wisel had requested, but that lost by a 3 to 2 vote, attracting support from Mr. Wishinsky.

Human relations: The board again considered Article 10 for next week’s town meeting, on which it was unable to reach consensus the previous week. That seeks replacement of the current Human Relations Youth Resources Commission by a proposed Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, and Sandra DeBow, the town’s Human Resources director, spoke about the issues, but most other officials present at last week’s review did not attend this one.

Earlier in the evening the Advisory subcommittee for the article met with the selectmen-appointed “diversity committee” chaired by board member Nancy Daly, which submitted Article 10. Later that evening, the full Advisory Committee reconsidered the article. Ms. Daly summarized what those committees recommended and proposed that the Board of Selectmen join with their views on several items:

  • number of commission members to be 15 rather than variable, 11 to 15
  • quorum to be a majority of members serving, with a minimum of six
  • Board of Selectmen to appoint a non-voting representative
  • chief diversity officer also to be director of the new commission’s “office”
  • chief diversity officer not to be a department head or senior administrator
  • chief diversity officer to report to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner
  • chief diversity officer to have an option to take issues to the Board of Selectmen
  • commission also to have an option to take issues to the Board of Selectmen
  • commission office to be budgeted and located per the town administrator
  • Brookline schools to be included among concerns of the chief diversity officer

The board spent about an hour on Article 10. Many arguments proved similar to those at previous reviews. Some board members indicated support for changes Ms. Daly described. However, Ms. DeWitt expressed skepticism over the Board of Selectmen appointing one of their number as a representative to the commission, saying it would cause “built-in conflict,” since selectmen are to hear appeals from the commission and chief diversity officer.

Ms. DeWitt noted that selectmen are not involved in the police complaint process because they act as an appeals board. The same applies to the Transportation Board, to which the Board of Selectmen do not send a regular representative. The selectmen did not appear to reach consensus on this issue.

Ms. Ames, the current commission’s chair, contended that the chief diversity officer should be appointed by the Board of Selectmen rather than the town administrator. It is common practice for the board to review and approve senior employees, likely to be followed here too. What can matter more is how and by whom senior employees such as the proposed chief diversity officer are recruited. For example, with Charles Flaherty retiring as director of the Public Library of Brookline, a screening committee was set up by the library trustees to seek and review candidates for a new director.

It has been clear that Ms. Ames and several other current commission members are concerned over a much diminished role for the proposed new commission in reviewing complaints. Ms. Daly, Ms. DeWitt, Mr. Wishinsky and Ms. DeBow all addressed that issue, emphasizing growth in the town’s responsibility for privacy rights since the original Human Relations Commission was established in 1970.

The board voted to support Ms. Daly’s proposals about number of commission members, quorum and inclusion of Brookline schools among concerns. While they voiced some support for proposals concerning a chief diversity officer and functioning of the commission, the vote they took did not explicitly refer to those matters.

Unsatisfied, Ms. Ames asked the board, “Do we now have an equal opportunity policy?” Ms. DeBow conceded, “There is no existing policy…that is, in many ways, how we got to this debate.” After the meeting, Ms. Ames said that proposals for a new commission, so far, would not produce an improvement over the current commission. What was mainly missing, she said, was action on recruitment and promotion of minorities “from the top.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 21, 2014


Corrections, May 24, 2014. Third night of the 2014 annual town meeting is Monday, June 2, not Tuesday, June 3. The selectmen scheduled a short meeting for 6 pm Tuesday, May 27, in a room at the high school.

Climate Action Committee: “green” schools and solar energy

A regular monthly meeting of the Climate Action Committee on Monday, May 19, started at 6:00 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall, with 10 of the 15 committee members present, plus five members of the public and Doron Bracha, a Brookline resident giving a featured presentation on “green” schools. Co-chair Keske Toyofuku presided. Next Step Living, a solar energy firm in the Boston seaport district, was to present at this meeting but rescheduled for next month’s meeting.

Mr. Bracha, an architect specializing in energy-efficient school buildings, lives in the Devotion district, where his children attend. He is active in the Green Team at the school. He illustrated design features for school buildings that manage solar flux entering windows, reduce energy consumption with air heat exchangers, capture and store rainwater, and control acoustic reverberation.

Some of these features were illustrated with recent pictures of Wayland High School, where several “green” design elements have been employed. Committee member Dan Bennett asked about a high ceiling, looking to be around 20 feet, over the lunch room. Mr. Bracha acknowledged there had been tradeoffs between prestige appearance and energy efficiency but said some of the upper space was occupied by a mezzanine and balcony.

At Devotion School, Mr. Bracha said he noticed there was little recycling. In particular, the lunch room was discarding disposables and food scraps in refuse bins. He wondered whether other Brookline schools were also missing recycling opportunities. Committee member Benjamin Chang, who also serves on the School Committee, said he did not know but would ask Food Services director Alden Cadwell, who joined the school system at the start of the current school year.

Committee member Werner Lohe, who also serves on the Conservation Commission, said he had read that Boston University recycles both disposables and food scraps. Committee member Don Weitzman said some but not all schools have blue recycling bins supplied by the public works department. Co-chair Neil Wishinsky, who also serves on the Board of Selectmen, cautioned that the department lacks authority to require recycling by Public Schools of Brookline. An audience member recalled Green Teams at elementary schools organized several years ago by Mary Dewart, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, saying they had been less engaged recently.

Mr. Bennett asked about the variety of alternative energy systems considered for “green” schools, saying he believes cogeneration gives the most “bang for the buck.” Mr. Bracha replied, “Every project is different,” and “many projects don’t have the budget for environmental enhancements.” Committee members were concerned that could happen with current projects under review for Devotion, Driscoll and Lawernce. Mr. Toyofuku said he hoped Mr. Bracha would come to future meetings to continue the discussion.

The meeting turned to energy efficiency programs, alternative transportation and solar energy installations in Brookline. Mr. Wishinsky called attention to the Hubway bicycle station formerly at Town Hall and now near JFK Crossing, the intersection of Fuller and Harvard Streets. Mr. Lohe said utilization at Town Hall had been low. He hopes to see improvements to traffic signal coordination but realizes it is complex and costly.

Committee member Linda Olson Pehlke expressed concern that if town meeting rejects Article 16, submitted by Precinct 13 town meeting member Andrew Fischer, reducing parking at Brookline Place, it could not be proposed again for two years. The Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee all recommend Article 15 instead, submitted by the Brookline Place Advisory Committee.

A question from the audience asked about the status of a program guide for solar energy. Lara Curtis Hayes, who provides staff support to the committee, said there is now a first draft and that the agency running the state’s rebate program has received a recent infusion of funds. Massachusetts makes available a comprehensive list of all the state’s subsidized solar energy projects since 2008.

After a slow start, the Massachusetts solar program became very active in 2012 and 2013, spurred by drastic drops in solar panel prices. The state offers rebates of up to $4,250 for a home installation, if the household income is not over $95,420. The federal government offers a 30-percent tax credit. In 2013, there were 4,262 installations of small solar systems in the state, rated at up to 10 kilowatts, peak.

Although small systems were 87 percent of the state’s solar installations for 2013, they provide only 11 percent of their rated power, because several large solar plants were brought online–mostly by cities, towns and utility companies. For 2013, Brookline had 16 solar systems installed, all of them small ones for homes, rated at a total of about 90 kW, peak.

Compared to a statewide average of 33 peak watts per resident, new Brookline systems for 2013 were rated at just 1.5 peak watts per resident. A fairly typical home solar system was rated at about 5 kW, peak, and it cost around $25,000 installed. However, installed system prices reported in Brookline during 2013 ranged from $3.40 to $6.98 per peak watt; they were similar to prices in other places.

For New England, small solar installations rarely realize capacity factors above 12 percent–ratios of average to peak power. Their unsubsidized prices are equivalent to around $40 per average watt. So-called “third generation” nuclear is coming online this year at unsubsidized prices around $8 per average watt. Of course, small solar installations deliver energy to the doorstep, while delivering energy from utility plants adds transportation and distribution costs–quite high in New England.

Committee members strategized about stronger efforts to promote solar energy. Next month’s committee meeting will feature several solar energy installers providing services in Brookline.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 20, 2014

New England casino gambling: a business in decline

The 1990s surge of casino gambling in New England is long past. Newer casinos have largely been feeding on older ones. Unlike the Southwest and Midwest, New England is geographically compact. Except for northern Vermont, most people in the region now live within about a 2-hour drive from a New England casino. Most people in the region who want to participate in casino gambling have been doing so.

There are now six New England casinos: two each in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine. Adding casinos in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire could make gambling more convenient for some 3 to 5 million residents. That would be likely to increase gambling somewhat and to grow more gambling addicts. However, no surge in gambling resembling the 1990s appears in prospect. Trends can be seen in reports of gross incomes, on which state gambling taxes are based.

New England gross incomes for casino gambling, 2004 to 2012

Source of data: New England casino gambling, 2013 update, U. Mass. Dartmouth

A declining trend in gross income from New England casino gambling–total stakes less total payouts–began in 2007, before the severe recession of 2008 and 2009. There has been no recovery. Instead, gross income from casino gambling continues to fall. Adjusted for inflation by the U.S. Consumer Price Index, total gross income in 2012 for New England casinos–which includes food, lodging and other entertainment–fell to about 71 percent of total gross income in 2006, the peak year. Gross income from New England casino gambling remains a small element in the region’s economy. For 2012, it was 0.28 percent of New England’s gross domestic product and shrinking.

During the 21st century, there was a major expansion at the Twin River casino in Lincoln, RI, in 2007. New casinos opened in Bangor, ME, in 2005, and in Oxford, ME, in 2012. None of the additions led to an increase in gross income from New England casino gambling. Instead, each addition appeared to take business from older casinos. From 2006 to 2012, the New England market share for Foxwoods in Ledyard, CT, shrank from 46 to 33 percent. The market share for Mohegan Sun in Montville, CT, shrank from 44 to 40 percent. An ambitious 2005 program to expand Foxwoods proved badly timed; in 2009 Foxwoods defaulted on debt.

NewEnglandFoxwoodStates

Source of data: New England casino gambling, 2006 and 2013 updates, U. Mass. Dartmouth

The main sources of decline in New England’s gross incomes from casino gambling look straightforward. The origin states of gamblers at Foxwoods, the oldest and largest New England casino, have gradually concentrated in Connecticut, where it is located. As casinos opened in New York and Pennsylvania, fewer gamblers opted to travel longer distances to Foxwoods. For the great majority of gamblers who do not become addicts, casinos are only one of many pastimes. In the 1990s they were novel in New England; now they have become dated and, for some, no longer as interesting.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 17, 2014


Clyde W. Barrow, et al., New England casino gaming, annual update 8, Center for Policy Research, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, 2013

Auditi Guha, Barrow resigns, alleges faculty exodus and lack of support at UMass Dartmouth, New Bedford Standard Times, April 22, 2014

Matthew Sturdevant, Foxwoods report details revenue erosion, debt details, risks of increased competition, Hartford Courant, January 8, 2014

Clifford Woodruff and Catherine Wang, Widespread economic growth in 2012, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, June, 2013

Public Works: question time and complaints

Brookline’s Department of Public Works (DPW) held a public meeting to answer questions about its services Wednesday, May 14, starting at 7:00 pm in the first floor north meeting room at Town Hall. At least 30 town meeting members attended, along with quite a few other Brookline residents.

Since at least the 1940s and likely since open town meetings before 1916, questions and complaints about town services dominated town-meeting debates on the former highway, sanitation and water budgets and, after the early 1960s consolidation, on the public works budget. By the 1970s, problems with potholes, water leaks, street cleaning, litter, burnt-out lights, missing signs and crumbling sidewalks and paths would often take most of an evening’s town-meeting session.

“Question time” began in the 1980s, in hope of reducing the town-meeting schedule and solving rather than just airing some problems. DPW has now made a tradition of the event, held shortly before an annual town meeting. Commissioner Andrew Pappastergion, former chief of the water division, led this year’s “question time.” Division directors were on hand: Kevin Johnson for Highway and Sanitation, Fred Russell for Water and Sewer, Erin Gallentine for Parks and Open Space, and Peter Ditto for Engineering and Transportation. Some of the senior managers were also present: Thomas Brady for Forestry and Conservation, Edward Gilbert for Solid Waste and Recycling, and Todd Kirrane for Transportation.

Mr. Pappastergion said DPW has Brookline’s second-largest expenditure, after schools: for fiscal 2015 about $42 million in total spending. Much of that pays for MWRA water and sewer, but the rest would still leave DPW as the third largest budget, between Police and Fire. In the budget tables–which account separately for pay changes, health care and other employee benefits–DPW is now proposed for near-level funding in fiscal 2015.

Parks and Open Space is allocated a 4-percent cut, about $137 thousand, while other divisions are getting increases. However, Parks and Open Space has the second largest share of the Capital Improvement Program, after schools. In the warrant report for the 2014 annual town meeting, neither the Board of Selectmen nor the Advisory Committee explains cutting the operating budget for parks.

Mr. Pappastergion’s “flashiest” program for the next fiscal year is starting to install light-emitting-diode (LED) lamps for street lighting, a 4-year program. Brookline maintains its street lights rather than pay a flat fee to Northeast Utilities (before that Boston Edison, then Nstar). Energy savings and extended lamp lifetime from LED rather than high-pressure sodium-vapor lamps can save money when costs of replacing lamps are high, as with street poles. Recent drops in LED prices combine with a state incentive program to result in estimated payback periods under ten years. When the new lamps are lit, residents will see more balanced white rather than pink color.

The first question came from Harry Friedman, a Precinct 12 town meeting member. He asked when the town would address deterioration of Claflin Path, on Addington Hill. He said flooding has become more severe and more frequent, and a path light has failed. Before it failed, neighbors replaced the bulbs. Several neighbors detailed problems, including Amy Hummel, also a Precinct 12 town meeting member, who said flooding has occurred often for at least ten years.

Mr. Ditto of Engineering promised Claflin Path will inspected soon, and a plan will be drawn up to correct problems. That could involve larger drains and catch basins; if so, it might take some time. The failed light fixture is attached to a house, and Mr. Ditto did not know who owned it.

Carol Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, complained about “tree wells,” as she called them, around street trees in commercial areas. Without protective grates, edges of brick or pavement around tree bases are increasingly exposed as soil compacts or erodes. Ms. Caro tripped on one and suffered injuries.

During the 1960s, a small “first wave” of commercial-area street trees were planted without much protection for either trees or pedestrians, mostly in lower-density areas. As soils compacted or eroded, mulch was sometimes added, with little concern about sidewalk appearance. Over time many of those trees died, but several still survive. Higher-density areas, notably Coolidge Corner, were left bare, as they had been since Brookline began to pave streets shortly after 1910.

When a “second wave” of commercial-area street trees were planted during the 1970s and 1980s, in a program galvanized by former Brookline business-owner and resident Anita Belt, higher-density commercial areas got trees, including Coolidge Corner. In some places, brick edging was installed along curbs and around trees, with heavy metal grates spanning spaces between brick or pavement edges and tree trunks.

As tree trunks and roots grew, grates began to shift and warp. Many have now been removed, exposing the “tree wells” about which Ms. Caro complained. Mr. Brady of Forestry knew about the issue and sympathized, but he did not appear to have a solution ready. He said Brookline plans to try polymer bricks set into soil around trees, as already done in parts of Boston. He did not say how trees will survive without ample rainwater.

Jean Stringham, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, reported fewer newspaper boxes, with the remaining boxes in better condition. When she coordinated a survey over a year ago, more than 150 boxes were found, with about three-fourths in what she called “poor condition.” A recent survey found only 33 boxes, all in “good condition.” While more neatness may please some people, it may not help others. For example, the Brookline TAB used to distribute newspapers from a box in front of the Arcade Building at 316 Harvard St. Now that box is gone; there are no longer any TAB newspaper boxes in Brookline.

Cornelia van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, complained of several problems, including snow clearance violations near her house, street lights extinguished and fluorescent lamps left out with refuse for collection. Mr. Gilbert described the town’s recent expansion of hazardous waste collection, from once or twice a year to Thursdays from May through October. Fluorescent lamps are accepted at the South Brookline transfer station between 7:30 am and 12:30 pm and at the Health Center dropoff between 8 am and 5 pm.

Several people described problems they reported via the Brookonline Web page deployed in fall, 2011. While it lacks a distinctive site address, or URL, people said it has been effective–with problems often cleared a few days after being reported. However, some people have reported problems that remain unaddressed. One is rainwater accumulating in recycling bins. An unidentified resident said she found them too heavy to empty.

Ruthann Sneider, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, asked whether there is a program in Brookline to survey and correct gas leaks, citing reports of thousands of leaks found in Boston. Actually, the survey she likely read about also found many leaks in parts of Brookline too, near Coolidge Corner and toward B.U. Mr. Brady of Forestry described a survey to locate leaks near street trees, where soil is exposed.

In response to a report from Virginia LaPlante, also a Precinct 6 town meeting member, about a recent, strong gas odor near Welland Rd. at Tappan St., Mr. Brady said that sounded like an emergency situation: if noticed again, call 911.

Clint Richmond, another Precinct 6 town meeting member, asked about new street-marking materials that appear to be plastic. Mr. Pappastergion said DPW is trying out several materials for durability and contrast. He said one of the more successful trials had been crosswalks in service for about three years at the busy intersection of Beacon and Harvard Streets.

A South Brookline person asked about plans for trash metering. Mr. Pappastergion and Mr. Gilbert described proposed automation for solid waste collection, after the town’s current disposal contract expires at the end of June. That includes an element of trash metering but not the typical “pay as you throw” adopted mostly by low-density communities.

Instead, Brookline would continue to charge a fixed fee, paying for collection and disposal of one standard-size, marked refuse bin per household per week. Additional refuse would be collected when left out in marked plastic bags, Mr. Pappastergion said. Under the recent proposal, the town would supply marked bins to the 13,200 households using the town’s refuse service–around half the households in Brookline.

The new refuse bins would be compatible with automated handling, similar to what now occurs when recycling bins are emptied into collection trucks. However, Mr. Pappastergion said, the likely capacity of new refuse bins is 35 gallons, about half the capacity of current recycling bins. Marked plastic bags for additional refuse would be sold at grocery and convenience stores, at prices based on costs of collection and disposal.

Mr. Pappastergion said under the proposal Brookline would operate waste collection using its own trucks, with conditions still being negotiated with the union representing workers. No one asked, but apparently Brookline would no longer take bulky items, such as mattresses and tables, that won’t fit in plastic bags. If that were so, a likely result would be accumulation of discards along sidewalks in some residential areas.

Participants raised several other issues, although many of them have been widely reported. The atmosphere contrasted with what might have been found forty or fifty years earlier: little of the “us and them” attitudes once common. Instead, even though far fewer Brookline employees live in the town today, on all sides it was mostly “we,” “us” and “our problems.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 15, 2014


Beth Daley, Boston riddled with natural gas leaks, Boston University study finds, Boston Globe, November 19, 2012