Monthly Archives: August 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: do cell phones deserve a zoning variance?

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a public hearing on Thursday, August 26, about a proposal from Verizon Wireless to install equipment for cellular telephone and data service on the roof of a Beacon St. apartment building, located between Coolidge Corner and Washington Square. Assigned to the hearing were the board’s chair Jesse Geller, a lawyer, joined by Mark Zuroff, a lawyer, and Christopher Hussey, an architect.

Zoning restrictions: Like many other communities, Brookline restricts cellular service equipment proposed for residential areas. Seeking an exception, Verizon was represented by Michael S. Giaimo, a lawyer from Robinson and Cole in Boston, and by Martin Lavin and George Evslik from the company’s technical staff. Also on hand were representatives from its contractors for this proposal: Daniel Hamm of Hudson Design in North Andover, a telecommunications engineer, and Eric Wainwright of Structure Consulting in Arlington, an installation manager.

Verizon’s representatives described a “coverage gap” along Beacon St. between Coolidge Corner and Washington Square. That and the nearby part of Washington St. are located in a valley between Corey Hill to the north and Addington Hill to the south. The two hills and some of the buildings block signals to and from existing Verizon equipment. The proposed installation, they said, would fill the “coverage gap.”

Section 4.09 of Brookline’s zoning bylaw regulates such installations, known in the bylaw as “wireless communications” and “wireless telecommunications” (WTc) antennas, facilities and equipment. As modified by town meeting in 2005 and 2010. this portion of the zoning bylaw currently reads, in part:

“[Section 4.09] 6. Use Regulations
“a. Wireless communications antennas and facilities shall not be located: (1) on any of the following structures: residences, public schools, hospitals, nursing homes or historical sites; (2) within 50 feet of any residence, nursing home or hospital; (3) within 50 feet of any historical site….”

Since Beacon St. in Brookline is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, at the proposed location WTc installations are apparently banned by all three subsections: on a residence, within 50 feet of a residence and within 50 feet of a historical site. The Building Department said a variance from Section 4.09.6.a would be needed. Much of the hearing was spent on whether circumstances justify a variance.

Searching for a site: The representatives of Verizon described searches for non-residential locations and said they had not found any suitable for the purpose. Potential locations were either on low-rise buildings, they said, or were too far away to help. Janice Kahn, a Precinct 15 town meeting member who has worked on WTc issues for many years, said Verizon should consider Brookline’s Fire Station 7, at 665 Washington St.

The Washington St. location Dr. Kahn pointed to is less than 300 ft from the location Verizon proposes to use. It is not subject to some of the restrictions for WTc equipment. Mr. Lavin of Verizon said the fire station had been investigated, but it has a steeply pitched roof with “no way to locate an antenna inside.” However, the fire station also has a hose-drying tower, about as tall as the building Verizon now proposes to use.

There are other alternatives. Dr. Kahn proposed distributed antenna systems, used in south Brookline to fill coverage gaps after many years of disputes over other approaches. Verizon representatives did not respond clearly to that proposal, suggesting that in high-density areas they were somehow impractical. Dr. Kahn objected, saying they are “ubiquitous in New York City [and] appropriate for commercial areas.”

Seeking a variance: Requirements for variances are not regulated by Brookline. Instead, they are specified by Chapter 40A of the Massachusetts General Laws, in Section 10. A key element is whether, for the property in question, the Zoning Board of Appeals can reasonably find that:

“owing to circumstances relating to the soil conditions, shape or topography of such land or structures and especially affecting such land or structures but not affecting generally the zoning district in which it is located, a literal enforcement of the provisions of the ordinance or bylaw would involve substantial hardship, financial or otherwise, to the petitioner or appellant, and that desirable relief may be granted without substantial detriment to the public good and without nullifying or substantially derogating from the intent or purpose of such ordinance or bylaw.”

One problem for Verizon is that, according to its representatives, the M-2.5 zoning district on middle Beacon St. generally suffers from weak cellular service, not just the property where it proposes to install equipment. Another is that Brookline’s bylaw says purposes of its regulations are to “encourage location of antennas on existing commercial buildings and structures rather than on residential ones….” [in Section 4.09.1]

Panel members seemed clear that Massachusetts and Brookline law did not justify a variance and sounded likely to deny one, but then they stepped back. Mr. Giaimo, Verizon’s lawyer at this hearing, said to the Appeals panel that under the Federal Telecommunications Act, “you have the authority to grant a variance.” He may have been trying to invoke controversial Section 332 of the 1996 act.

A federal case: Section 332 of the federal law says local authorities may not act “so as to prohibit the provision of personal wireless services.” That could be a red herring. In response to questions, Mr. Lavin of Verizon, supported by others, had affirmed that “there is some coverage, but it’s weak.” In other words, Brookline did not “prohibit the provision of personal wireless services.” Instead, Verizon wants to improve services but appears to resist added costs of such measures as outfitting Fire Station 7 or installing distributed antenna systems.

Panel members, apparently unfamiliar with the federal law, decided to continue the case in order to review it. They invited Mr. Giaimo to return at 7 pm on a fateful 13th anniversary this Thursday, September 11. More such cases look likely in the future, since the Brookline Housing Authority made an agreement with a company this summer to install WTc facilities at its buildings. Those are not on “town owned” property and will probably be regulated in the same ways as the apartment building now at issue on Beacon St.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 30, 2014

Levin V. Czubaroff, Cell tower companies face a heavy burden of proof to succeed in a validity challenge to a zoning ordinance, Fox Rothschild (Philadelphia, PA), September, 2013

John C. Drake, Hang-up in Brookline’s cell antenna effort as neighbors object, Boston Globe, November 20, 2008

Bridget Samburg, Spotty reception slowing Brookline’s cell tower, Boston Globe, February 27, 2005

Board of Selectmen: anti-discrimination law, auto dealer transfer

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, August 26, started at 5:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Board member Betsy DeWitt was in contact by telephone. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Alex Coleman, a member of the Human Relations Commission, supported an article for the fall town meeting in November, from town counsel. It follows a resolution Dr. Coleman proposed as Article 31 at this year’s annual town meeting, affirming support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity or gender expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education.

When town meeting approved Article 31, it added an amendment proposed by the Advisory Committee and endorsed by the Board of Selectmen, asking Brookline’s legal staff to review the town’s bylaws and propose changes at the next town meeting to make them “consistent with [the] purpose” of the resolution. That is what the new article is intended to do. Several parts of town bylaws would change, adding “gender identity and gender expression” to categories of prohibited discrimination.

The new article is being proposed to town meeting by the Board of Selectmen. Chair Kenneth Goldstein asked Dr. Coleman if he and other petitioners for the previous article wanted to join as co-sponsors of the new one; they do. Dr. Coleman explained that addressing discrimination in public accommodations will be particularly helpful, because of gaps in state and federal anti-discrimination laws. The article will be filed by joint sponsors.

Audi of Brookline, at 308 Boylston St., is the town’s last remaining dealer in new automobiles, after departure or closure–over the past forty years–of former Cadillac, Ford, Buick, Oldsmobile, AMC/Jeep, Volvo, Saab and Volkswagen operations on Commonwealth Ave., Beacon St., Harvard St., Boylston St. and Hammond St. The Audi dealership was recently bought by the Herb Chambers company, which applied for transfer of a license to sell used vehicles at the site.

Boston’s and Brookline’s former automobile row on Commonwealth Ave., starting at the B.U. Bridge and proceeding west, is entirely gone. From about 1910 through 1990, most U.S. and major foreign automobiles could be found along both sides of this three-quarter mile of street. The only reminders now are Herb Chambers operations up Brighton Ave. and past the bend at Packard Corner on Commonwealth Ave.–selling and servicing over 30 makes.

The Herb Chambers company was represented by Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, by Brad Gomes and Steve O’Neill, general managers for Herb Chambers, and by Antonio Bruno, designated manager of the Audi division in Brookline.

The board questioned Capt. Michael Gropman of the Brookline Police Department about incidents on Lawton St., involving vehicles connected with the nearby Herb Chambers operations, parked on the street and dropped off at night by tow trucks. After Brookline police intervened about six months ago, Capt. Gropman said, Herb Chambers managers stopped those problems, and apparently they have not recurred.

Problems have also been reported in the past on East Milton Rd., a short street off Cypress St. that ends at the back of the Brookline Audi property fronting on Boylston St. One resident of the street spoke about recent pickup and dropoff of materials via East Milton Rd. and about continuing use of the street by vehicles being repaired. There is something going on making lots of noise and fumes, he said, maybe work on wheels.

Mr. O’Neill of the Herb Chambers company said the work was wheel refinishing, done within company premises by a contractor who uses state-approved equipment. The neighborhood resident said the Brookline Health Department had found the operation lacked proper filters, allowing fumes to escape. Mr. O’Neill denied that there had been a citation. He also said a vendor comes by about every two weeks to pick up waste motor oil at the East Milton Rd. access, because an oil storage tank had recently been moved there during a renovation.

According to statements, car dealerships have operated at the site since the 1930s. There are many departures from current zoning, but they can continue as long as they are not worsened. Mr. Allen said that under Herb Chambers management there would be no expansions of uses and buildings. He said an “Audi image program will force beautifying the premises.” The board approved the license transfer, subject to several health and safety conditions, including all the current conditions.

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

Brookline Place project: convening a design advisory team

Under Brookline’s “design review” zoning begun in 1971–amended several times since–reviews by a design advisory team are required for “major impact” projects, involving 16 or more new residential units or 25,000 square feet or more of new non-residential space. A team consists of one or more Planning Board members, one or more design professionals and one or more neighborhood representatives.

From committee to team: The Planning Board has yet to appoint a design advisory team for Brookline Place, and there has been no public notice about appointing a team, as required in the zoning bylaw. However, a 12-member Brookline Place Advisory Committee was appointed by the Board of Selectmen in October, 2013. The committee submitted Article 15 to the 2014 annual town meeting, proposing zoning changes to support the now ongoing Brookline Place project. Those changes passed by 170 to 9, in an electronically recorded vote on June 2.

Polly Selkoe, assistant director for regulatory planning, attended the August 26 meeting along with seven members of the selectmen’s committee: Mark Zarrillo and Linda Hamlin, chair and member of the Planning Board, Cynthia Gunadi and Steve Lacker, architects, John Bassett and Edith Brickman, nearby town meeting members, and Arlene Mattison, an environmental advocate who lives about three blocks from the site.

They were joined by Antonia Bellalta of Bellalta3, landscape designers currently on contract with the town for redesign of Hickey Triangle in the heart of Brookline Village. Ms. Bellalta had been named in an August 26 memorandum from Ms. Selkoe to the Planning Board as a candidate for the Brookline Place team.

Mr. Lacker asked, “What is [the design review team] charged with? Ms. Selkoe said it should “report to the Planning Board” on issues found–not including traffic–and “give the board updates as it goes along.” She said there will also be meetings of department heads, unannounced and closed to the public. If a quarter of the design advisory team consists of Planning Board members, the board should get plenty of ongoing information from the team.

Concept plans: Children’s Hospital, the owner and developer, was represented by Charles Weinstein, their architect Elkus Manfredi by Sam Norod and Tim Talun, and their landscape designer Mikyoung Kim by Bill Madden. The Children’s design team also includes civil engineers at Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, traffic engineers at Howard/Stein-Hudson and environmental consultants at Sanborn Head. George Cole, a Children’s consultant, coordinated presentations.

An agenda for the August 26 meeting had not been announced to the public, despite Massachusetts open meeting requirements that a meeting notice describe topics. The business consisted of presentations by the Children’s Hospital design team and of committee discussions about concepts: designing building outlines, relating buildings to contexts, organizing open spaces and considering potentials for public, outdoor uses.

The selectmen’s committee had presented a detailed report to town meeting, tailoring zoning around fairly concrete plans for new offices and a new parking garage, so there were not likely to be surprises. The Children’s Hospital design team presented concept plans similar to what the selectmen’s committee reported. However, a sketch exhibited last spring showed new offices in an 8-story rectangular tower.

Elements of the design: At the August 26 meeting, representatives of Children’s distributed copies of concept plans for two new office buildings and a new garage, adding 325 more parking spaces. One of the new buildings was shown sited near the corner of Washington and Pearl Sts., eight stories as expected. The other was shown expanding existing 6-story offices toward the southwest. Both have curved outer walls, together forming a trumpet bell onto Washington St.

View of Brookline Place development looking northwest

A small, landscaped interior plaza, linked by wide walkways to Washington St. on one side and to Pearl St. on the other, opposite the Green Line stop, looks smaller in a perspective rendering than one might have expected. The addition to the existing office buildings seems to crowd the plaza and to create a canyon into the project from Washington St., almost entirely hiding views across the site that might include Station St.

Previous drawings the selectmen’s committee used to illustrate their proposals had suggested there could be a larger interior plaza and less constricted views across the site. A local comparison of sorts–Winchester St. approaching Beacon St.–shows a similar canyon effect, running to the 13-story tower at 1371 Beacon. That was unanticipated by nearby neighborhoods when the tower was allowed, replacing a church under former, much higher density zoning for the Coolidge Corner area.

Design issues: As he had promised, Mr. Cole kept presentations brief, but closer to twenty than to five minutes. Everything mentioned appeared to be contained in a 73-page document he circulated, which becomes a part of the public record. Right away, Mr. Zarrillo, the Planning Board chair, called for “a list of amenities that were to going be provided,” as negotiated with the selectmen’s committee.

About the amenities, Mr. Cole said, “We have not done that yet.” Mr. Zarrillo responded, “I would say that you should do that.” There was a bit of discussion about how the project might integrate with the long planned, so-called “Gateway East” project along Route 9, between the Riverway and the old Brookline Bank. No one knew when any action could be expected from the state’s transportation department, the key agency.

Ms. Brickman complained, “I don’t see any grass. Where’s the grass?” Mr. Cole and Mr. Madden, the landscape designer, ruffled through their cache of computerized slides and came up with a couple showing patches of green. However, those looked hardly sufficient to meet what the zoning changes passed by town meeting in June require, “Hard-surfaced walks and plazas may not exceed 55 percent of the total…open space.”

Landscaped versus paved space took up a good fraction of time at the meeting. Ms. Mattison said “it was really important to protect the triangle of green. The thing that saved Brook House was green around it.” Committee members proved resistant to mere decorations suggesting the project was somehow related to nearby Brookline Village. Ms. Bellalta said, “The development should have its own character.”

A suburban design: Some committee members seemed absorbed in discussions about amounts and locations of landscaped space, but not Mr. Zarrillo. He said that the project “needs a better design. It’s pretty pedestrian…one of those California outdoor malls.” Mr. Lacker seemed to agree, saying, “There’s something that feels corporate suburban right now.”

Mr. Lacker said he “would like to see something where there wasn’t a glass…curvy appearance…What’s urban in this context is really important.” Mr. Bassett sounded skeptical, “You’re suggesting pavement instead of grass in the plaza?” Apparently, not quite. Mr. Lacker said he “never liked Gateway East,” mainly a highway project with a touch of landscaping.

Mr. Bassett wanted to “take advantage of the old buildings on Station St.” At one point, Mr. Cole asked, rhetorically, “How do you make this feel like part of Brookline Village?” It sounded “all hat and no cattle.” None of the views in Mr. Cole’s document showed Station St. in the background, looking outward. Instead, they looked into the project from Washington St. or looked west along Route 9 or looked toward and away from the Brook House.

The group plans to meet about every two weeks, apparently on Tuesdays–the most crowded day of the week for meetings, including the Board of Selectmen and School Committee. The next meeting was tentatively set for 7:30 pm Tuesday, September 16, at Town Hall.

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

Override Study Committee: warping the facts

Brookline’s Override Study Committee appointed in 2013 did themselves no favors with a report filed Thursday, August 14, in the dog-days of summer, when no one might be watching. Their report comes across as wordy, warped and awkward–read in tandem with the much more straightforward report from the Override Study Committee of 2007.

Fuzzy logic: A fuzzy argument from the 2013 committee held that Brookline taxes are unusually heavy. [p. 115] That fiction was concocted by combining medians for incomes with averages for taxes. People who work with statistical data would know such an approach is not valid. Actually, community data as taken from the committee report show the opposite: that is, when compared to community incomes, Brookline taxes are unusually light.

Property tax versus Income, selected Massachusetts cities and towns
Source of data: Brookline Override Study Committee, Final report, August, 2014, pp. 114, 115

Fair comparison: In the chart, a magenta line reflects average taxes per resident, as a percentage of average incomes per resident, for the 19 communities that the Override Study Committee of 2013 cited as a basis of comparison. Communities above the line have relatively high taxes, considering their incomes; those below the line have relatively low taxes.

As compared to community incomes, Brookline’s taxes are well below average. In fact, Brookline is the stingiest–or, if you will, the thriftiest–of all. By percentages instead of amounts, Medford–second from the left–is slightly more thrifty than Brookline. Part of the reason families have been moving to Brookline, other than the reputation of its schools, could be that its taxes have become a fairly good bargain.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 24, 2014

Note: No one, at least any time recently, has tried to relate circumstances in Brookline to those throughout Massachusetts. The recent study committee did not do so. Their so-called “peer” communities were mostly very well-heeled places–not chosen to represent the state.

The town’s history runs to such an approach. As recently as the 1880s, Brookline’s gentry advertised the community–without a trace of modesty–as “the richest town in America.” Who might then have guessed, 130 years later, that Brookline would have a substantial and growing poverty rate?

The following chart presents the same type of picture as the earlier one, but it includes nearly all the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns. Data came from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue for 2011–the latest income data that can be readily extracted from census machinery, with only residential property taxes.

Property tax versus Income, Massachusetts cities and towns

Excluded from this chart were 21 vacation destinations–mostly Cape Cod and the Islands–totaling less than two percent of the population. Property tax versus income comparisons there are badly distorted by absentee owners of luxury houses. Their property taxes are tabulated with those communities, while most of the luxury-owner incomes are not.

This chart shows a concentration of communities near the state’s average income per resident of around $35,000. Of the state’s many moderate-income communities, only Framingham and Medford somehow landed on the committee “peer” list and thus on the earlier chart, while this chart shows nearly all those communities.

The magenta line on the statewide chart is the statistical trend from an unconstrained, unweighted linear regression. The slope is about 0.058 and the source intercept about $9,400. On average, this means that the state’s communities, aside from vacation spots, were collecting in residential property taxes about 6 percent of resident incomes over about $9,000 per person.

As also found in the chart with only so-called “peer” communities, Brookline sat on the low-tax fringe in the statewide comparison. Its residential property taxes were substantially less than typical for the town’s income levels. Cambridge, with its portfolio of high-tech industries, achieved much lower residential property taxes for its income levels. Among the communities with middle and upper average incomes, statewide, Brookline had the second lowest residential tax burdens relative to incomes.

Planning Board: a house trying to eat a hill

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, August 21, started at 7:30 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Reviews of five property improvement applications were scheduled. A proposal to convert a single-family house at 227 Tappan St. to a two-family house drew strong neighborhood opposition.

SC districts: Many properties near the peak and on the south and east sides of Addington Hill are in types of zoning called SC-7 and SC-10. SC zoning was introduced in the early 1960s, when Brookline made its first major revisions to zoning since 1922. Single-family houses in SC districts can be converted to two-family with special permits approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The single-family property at 227 Tappan was bought by a developer this year, who applied for a conversion permit. Several such conversions have not aroused much controversy, because owners maintained the outlines of houses and added inconspicuous second entrances. In this case, however, the developer plans to add a large extension onto the rear of a two-story house, more than doubling the floor area.

House on a hill: Slopes along the south side of Addington Hill are among the steepest in Brookline. No cross street connects Tappan St. to Rawson Rd. uphill from it except Garrison Rd., in relatively flat territory near Beacon St. Several properties along the middle section of Tappan St., including the one at 227, have deep lots with steep, heavily forested slopes in back.

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, represented the developer–who also brought along an architect and a landscape designer. Comments from members of the Planning Board indicated they saw skilled and professional efforts to plan construction on the steep rear slopes, while largely maintaining current appearances from Tappan St.

It was just those factors that most alarmed neighbors. They presented a memorandum of objections, and several spoke out about their concerns. Construction plans call for a large excavation, probably scooping out several hundred cubic yards of Addington Hill and uprooting or disturbing mature trees. Big, deeply set retaining walls would be needed. The scale of land disturbance is rare except for major buildings and highways.

Objections: Next-door neighbors were upset about the potential for “shifting of the ground,” as one put it. “We’re going to end up with a cracked foundation,” he predicted. Drainage from Addington Hill onto Tappan St. has “a 50-foot head…[it] will flow onto adjacent properties” and may flood them. For those Tappan St. residents, it was “not a question of aesthetics but a serious structural problem.”

Other neighbors were concerned about a concentration of automobiles opposite the intersection of Tappan St. with Beaconsfield Rd. Based on parking designs, there can be five to seven instead of only one, they said. The neighbors said current driveways are hazards for children, especially during snow season, but the proposed one would be much worse. because of its location and the number of cars there.

Lee Cooke-Childs, a Precinct 12 town meeting member who lives on Rawson Rd., directly behind the Tappan St. property, objected to disturbing trees. It’s “a climax forest,” she said, asking whether “their excavation is going to threaten the roots of my trees.” Another resident, a few doors away on Tappan St., observed that “60 percent of the lot is flat…[yet] the plan will tunnel into the hill.”

Alex Coleman, a member of the Human Relations Commission who lives on the other side of of Tappan St., said neighbors were at work on a proposed zoning change for part of the SC-10 district. However, Dr. Coleman conceded such a change would come too late to prevent the development proposed for 227 Tappan St., if it were allowed by the Appeals board.

A skeptical board: After hearing from the neighborhood, Planning Board members began to express skepticism about the proposal. However, board member Steve Heikin said Brookline did not have much leverage over dimensions, since the plan observes Brookline limits for floor area and setbacks. He recalled a recent, large Toxteth St. development that needed no special permits, saying it had inspired a neighborhood conservation district enacted at the 2014 annual town meeting.

Board member Robert Cook was probably the most direct. “It’s way too big,” he said. Board member Linda Hamlin said she didn’t “think it meets community standards…asking for too much.” Board member Sergio Modigliani, an architect, said the plan was “a big reach, as much as possible inside that envelope.” Mark Zarrillo, the board’s chair and a landscape architect, summed up. “I can’t support this,” he said, “The project is too big.”

Faced with little or no support from Planning Board members, Mr. Allen looked for an alternative. “Maybe we could return on September 4,” he said, “Maybe we could come back with something like” what amounted to around a 20 percent smaller house. Mr. Zarrillo recommended the developer and his architect look into “extra height to avoid a larger footprint.”

The developer said he “would be willing to engage…if it was worthwhile.” Mr. Zarrillo responded, “You need to talk to the neighbors.” The developer said, “I’ve tried to have that conversation…only one person showed up.” Tentatively, the Planning Board scheduled another review for September 18 and continued the case without voting a recommendation.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 22, 2014

Board of Library Trustees: cafe problems

A special committee of the Board of Library Trustees met Wednesday, August 20, starting at 6:00 pm in the Trustees Room on the top floor of the main library. Trustee Judith Vanderkay chaired the meeting with five other board members, including Michael Burstein, the board’s chair. The committee is looking into how to help the operator of the cafe at the main library cope with reported financial shortfalls.

Cafe space was added during renovations completed in 2003. It is located on the ground floor, just to the right of the main stairs, going down. The cafe has a work space of around 150 square feet and table space about the same size on either side of an open corridor, near the periodicals room and teen center. Cafe management has changed since the cafe opened.

When the trustees re-advertised in 2010, there were two proposals. The current concessionaires, who also run KooKoo Cafe at 7 Station St., were chosen over operators of VineRipe Grill, at the Putterham Meadows (Lynch) golf clubhouse. The current operation began early in 2011. According to Sara Slymon, the library director, a 3-year agreement was up for extension early this year. So far, there has been no extension of record.

KooKoo’s Nest, as the cafe is now known, is open between 10 am and 3:30 pm Monday through Thursday. It serves sandwiches, soup, salad, muffins, scones, cookies, juices, soft drinks, espresso and other coffees. Food is brought in from Station St. Sandwiches and half sandwiches are $7.95 and $3.95. Some are vegetarian, others are tuna. Of six listed, not all may be available. Latte is $3.25 and $3.75, and Snapple beverages are $2.25.

Ms. Slymon said Ali R. Mohajerani and Elizabeth A. Dunford, owners of KooKoo, were seeking $700 a month to compensate for operating losses. According to Ms. Slymon, Mr. Mohajerani said their library cafe has always lost money. They had agreed to a dollar a year for the space, but Trustee Gary Jones, who monitors financial matters for the board, said he could not recall a payment.

Trustees on the committee could not understand why, if they had been losing money, Mr. Mohajerani and Ms. Dunford waited so long to raise the issues. Apparently, they have not met with the board since the current agreement was reached. When the board meets next in September, the committee voted to recommend not providing subsidies for the cafe, but they also voted that “the committee would entertain any request from KooKoo’s to meet” about problems.

Mr. Jones said he had contacted Lauren Stara, a library building consultant at the state Board of Library Commissioners, and heard that financial problems at cafes in municipal libraries were fairly common. However, he said, ones in Watertown and Framingham were reported to be paying rent and doing fairly well. The cafe concessionaire in Watertown confirmed that he has always paid a few hundred dollars a month to the library.

Red Leaf Cafe, at the Watertown library, is located just inside the main entrance, to the left. It occupies the Friends of the Library Room, set up when the library was expanded and renovated several years ago. That offers at least twice the total space of Brookline’s cafe. Walls of the table area are lined with bookshelves, about 150 feet of shelves mostly filled with paperbacks. Many books are available for sale. Red Leaf Cafe is open from 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday and from 10 am to 3:30 pm Saturday.

Watertown’s cafe serves a menu similar to Brookline’s, except that some sandwiches are made with meats and all sandwiches there are made to order. Full size sandwiches range from $5.50 for melted cheese and tomato to $7.25 for ham and cheese, with three bread choices. Cappuccino is $2.65 and $3.25; sodas and juices are $1.95. The manager said he meets with the library trustees most months and gets business from employees at the nearby town hall, police station and fire station.

Brookline could probably do more than it has done to promote business for its library cafe. Trustees at the committee meeting sounded willing to help, as did Ms. Slymon. Unlike the situation with Brookline’s cafe, Red Leaf Cafe is featured on the Watertown library’s Web site. The morning after the committee meeting, signs appeared at entrances to the main library, announcing a “new” KooKoo’s Nest cafe on the ground floor.

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

Public Transportation Advisory Committee: Brookline Place, MBTA 51 bus

A regular monthly meeting of the Public Transportation Advisory Committee on Tuesday, August 19, started at 7:00 pm in the third-floor conference room at Town Hall, with four committee members present. The committee is planning a survey focused on neighborhoods that might be affected by changing parts of the route of the MBTA no. 51 bus that run through south Brookline.

Brookline Place: A “draft” transportation demand management (TDM) plan for the proposed Brookline Place development surfaced at the meeting. It had been prepared by Howard/Stein-Hudson of Boston, a consultant to Children’s Hospital, the owner and developer of the parcel, which is adjacent to the Brookline Village transit stop on the D branch of the MBTA Green Line between Station and Pearl Sts.

Although dated January 16 of this year and although addressing a hotly controversial topic, the proposed plan has not received much public attention. Under Article 15, the 2014 annual town meeting changed special zoning devised for just this one parcel of land to allow a new above-ground parking garage with a maximum of 683 spaces, replacing the current above-ground garage that has 377 spaces.

In partial compensation for adding parking and for not requiring that parking be underground, the developer is required to implement a TDM plan. Against Brookline’s traditions of citizen government, no approval of a TDM plan was required from any public board. Instead, the developer needs only approval from Todd Kirrane, the transportation director, and Alison Steinfeld, the planning director. Those two town employees are not subject to the Open Meeting Law or any other detailed requirements for public notice or accountability.

The “draft” TDM plan reviewed by the committee was spartan, just over one printed page. Committee members reacted to provisions intended to promote transit use by employees at the site. Linda Jason criticized “50 percent transit subsidies,” saying that in major Boston developments full subsidies of MBTA transit had been required. The committee is to continue its TDM review at a future meeting.

MBTA 51 bus: The committee began planning processes for public input on proposals to change the route of the MBTA 51 bus in south Brookline. Unlike the most recent three committee meetings, no MBTA representative came to this one. However, at this meeting the committee focused on process rather than on any specifics for potential changes to the 51 bus route. This bus goes from Cleveland Circle through south Brookline, West Roxbury and Roslindale to Forest Hills, returning along the same route.

Proposed changes previously discussed affect MBTA 51 bus route segments between Chestnut Hill Ave.–at the intersection with Boylston St. (Route 9)–and Independence Drive running through Hancock Village. Instead of operating via Lee St., Clyde St., Newton St. and Grove St., a modified route would operate via Boylston St., Hammond St. and one of two options to connect with Independence Drive.

The purpose is to increase MBTA bus ridership, operating through more densely populated neighborhoods in south Brookline. One of the two options would use the partly parallel roads West Roxbury Pkwy. (NE side) and Newton St. (SW side) between Horace James Circle and Putterham (Ryan) Circle, then southwest on Grove St. The other option would use Lagrange St. and Beverly Rd. between Horace James Circle and Grove St., which is renamed Independence Drive near Gerry Rd. and southward.

The committee wants to see whether there is substantial support for any change and, if there is, which of the two options between Horace James Circle and Grove St. is more attractive. Using West Roxbury Pkwy. might be easier, but that is more remote from residents and offers fewer opportunities for stops. Beverly Rd. runs through more populated neighborhoods but has narrower roadways, particularly at the curve near Baker School.

Online survey: Ms. Jason presented a draft, online-survey questionnaire, developed with software tools. The committee members offered comments and made some edits. Committee member Sherry Flashman noted that either proposed route change would worsen bus access to Larz Anderson Park. Committee chair Abby Swaine noted that either one would improve access to the newer Skyline Park.

Committee member Deborah Dong suggested the questionnaire ask about MBTA 51 bus stops now in Brookline. There are four on the Chestnut Hill Ave. segment connecting to Cleveland Circle, nine on the current segment via Lee St. and Newton St., and four on the Grove St. and Independence Drive segment through Hancock Village into West Roxbury. To get clear descriptions of stops could be a challenge. Some are known by two names, depending on the direction of travel. Also, MBTA does not now accurately distinguish between Grove St. and Independence Drive.

The committee decided to plan its survey for October and November, to try to include a notice of it with the October water-bill mailing and to promote it through schools, shops, south Brookline institutions and local recreation programs. Tentative plans are to hold a public hearing in December and arrive at a recommendation in January, to be presented to the Transportation Board and MBTA.

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

Transportation demand management program (draft), Howard/Stein-Hudson Associates, January 16, 2014

Brookline bicycle crashes: patterns and factors

Chief Daniel O’Leary of the Brookline Police Department wrote an analysis of bicycle crashes, based on his department’s records for 2013. It shows the highest density of crashes for that year on Harvard St. between Auburn and Verndale Sts. He also provided to the Bicycle Advisory Committee some detailed information about the 53 bicycle crashes police investigated in 2013: on average, about one a week. Several patterns appear.

Patterns: Three-quarters of bicycle crashes occurred from May through October: 40 during the six warmer months, compared with 13 during the six colder months. Few crashes occurred from 8 pm to 8 am–6 reports–compared with 8 am to 8 pm–47 reports. Most crashes occurred during daylight hours in warmer months. A bicycle crash around 10 am in summer was about 20 times as likely as a bicycle crash around 10 pm in winter.

All the police reports from Brookline were for collisions involving motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. Peak hours for bicycle crashes were late morning, 10 am to noon, and late afternoon, 4 pm to 6 pm. None of the police reports from Brookline were for bicycles falling over or colliding with fixed objects. However, a long-time Boston-area bicyclist and observer reports that “most injury-producing bicycle crashes do not involve a motor vehicle at all.”

Circumstances of bicycle crashes are harder to understand. For about two-thirds of Brookline bicycle crashes, bicyclists were transported for medical attention. No fatalities were reported for 2013, but the extents of injuries were not otherwise described. Police reports of primary causes did not appear to follow a uniform system and needed to be categorized. Grouping them into five categories yielded the following:

Motorist struck bicyclist—-18 reports
Collision at vehicle turn—–12 reports
Bicyclist violated signals—-11 reports
Collision with vehicle door—9 reports
All other circumstances——-4 reports

Factors: Lack of attention by both motorists and bicyclists appears to be a strong factor in the reported bicycle crashes. Frequent circumstances were motorists pulling out into traffic, making turns and opening doors. Motorists were considered at fault in 28 reports, bicyclists in 12 reports and pedestrians in 2 reports. Citations were issued to 21 motorists and to 7 bicyclists.

From these reports alone, one cannot tell whether Brookline streets are relatively dangerous or relatively safe for bicyclists. They do not indicate corresponding bicycle and motor vehicle traffic densities. So far, there is little comparable information from elsewhere in the United States. Informal observations find bicyclists in Brookline stopping more often at traffic signals than those in Boston’s terror zone along Commonwealth Ave.

Other communities: Several years ago, New York City published a multiple-year report on bicycle crashes. It focused on fatalities and “serious injuries” but also analyzed “contributing factors.” This report found the two most common factors were “bicyclist crossing into a vehicle path”–reported for 84 percent of crashes–and “driver inattention” or “driver error”–reported for 60 percent of crashes.

Crashes at intersections were reported about ten times as often as crashes in mid-block. Midtown Manhattan and south, down to Union Square, appears to be the terror zone of New York City. Informal observations often find bicyclists in midtown Manhattan weaving through traffic. Neither Boston nor Cambridge has published detailed information online. Occasional incident maps from those communities provide the few clues.

Improving safety: Reducing bicycle crashes remains an art and a goal in the United States, not yet a science or a record. John S. Allen, a veteran urban bicyclist in the Boston area, has described some efforts in Cambridge. His report on a Vassar St. bicycle lane shows how what might have sounded like a good idea, at least to some, yielded perverse results. It is not clear how thoroughly the Brookline Bicycle Advisory Committee has investigated this nearby experiment.

As of summer, 2014, there are no federal standards for enhanced bicycle markings at intersections. Designs have been promoted by organizations, but they have yet to be validated against alternatives through systematic and prolonged testing. Issues can become complex. Mr. Allen described several he encountered while a member of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee during the 1990s. So far, they do not appear well resolved.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 16, 2014

Daniel C. O’Leary, 2013 bike crashes, Brookline Police Department, February, 2014

Leze Nicaj, et al., Bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries in New York City, NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner and NYC departments, 2006

John S. Allen, About Bicycle Sidepaths, 2010

Note: Readers who examine Mr. Allen’s descriptions will find he disapproves of separated bicycle lanes, which he calls “sidepaths” and “bike paths” rather than “cycle tracks.” Mr. Allen omits to mention that as a long-distance commuter, between Waltham and Cambridge, he tacitly sides with high-speed bicyclists and against low-speed bicyclists. The former try to maintain around 20 to 30 mph–about 7 to 10 times walking speed–as contrasted with around 6 to 9 mph for the latter–about 2 to 3 times walking speed.

That difference has developed over about the last 30 years here. It has become a major distinction between a typical U.S. and Canadian approach to urban bicycles, tending to favor high-speed bicyclists, as compared with a typical Dutch and Danish approach, tending to favor low-speed bicyclists. Loudmouths and pressure groups among domestic bicyclists represent only high-speed riders. Nearby, one often finds those in the Boston terror zone, B.U. neighborhoods of Commonwealth Ave.

An even more violent scene of the same sort can be observed in Watertown and Cambridge segments of the Paul Dudley White bicycle path, mostly on the north side of the Charles River, around 8 to 9 am on a weekday morning. These days, unlike the 1970s, arrogant high-speed bicyclists dominate the scene, recalling classic, hyper-aggressive “Boston drivers” of the 1950s and 1960s.

Zoning Board of Appeals: trying to square a garage “triangle”

The Zoning Appeals Board held a hearing on Thursday, August 14, for the “triangle” zoning case on High Street Hill. Owners of a house on Upland Road, opposite Philbrick Square, applied to restructure a garage in back so as to use an entrance from Walnut Place, a narrow private way, instead of a long driveway from Upland Road. Assigned to the hearing were the board’s chair Jesse Geller, joined by Mark Zuroff and Avi Liss–all lawyers.

Issues: The case involves a proposed garage entrance on a “triangle” created by a flared-out curve of Walnut Place. The twelve owners of houses on Walnut Place oppose the plan, saying it would become a “blind driveway” and would be unreasonably hazardous. What might have been a quiet dispute turned into fireworks, with two of the town’s most experienced property lawyers representing Upland Road applicants for the plan and Walnut Place opponents of it.

A current side of the garage would not ordinarily be used for an entrance, according to Brookline’s zoning bylaw. The outside of the Walnut Place curve flares out along lot lines, one parallel to the side of the garage and perhaps a foot from it. A garage entrance has to be at least 20 feet from a “street.” [Table 5.01, note 1] A “street” means “a public or private way.” [Section 2.21] However, since the Building Department did not cite those issues when reviewing the plan, the Appeals panel was not going to consider them.

The Appeals panel also declined to review an objection from owners of Walnut Place houses that the Upland Road owners have no right of vehicle access to and from Walnut Place. Accepting advice from Brookline’s town counsel and from the Planning Board, Mr. Geller called that a “property dispute” to be settled among the parties or in a court of law.

In favor: Scott Gladstone, a Brookline-based lawyer and a Precinct 16 town meeting member, represented the Upland Road applicants for the garage plan. He said the current garage had been built about 1927, after Brookline enacted zoning but before it had today’s dimensional requirements. He then tried to embroider that bit of history with arguments over access to Walnut Place.

Mr. Gladstone claimed there was a deed “with all rights of access to Walnut Place,” Mr. Geller would have none of that, calling it a “floodgates” type of argument: “the camel’s nose under the tent.” Members of the Appeals panel said they had no jurisdiction over deed rights.

The applicants were going out of their way to preserve historic appearance of the garage, Mr. Gladsone said. It is located in one of Brookline’s historic districts, but the Preservation Commission has found extra effort not required, because the side of the garage is not visible from Walnut St. or any other public way. Mr. Gladstone argued the effort was a “counterbalancing amenity,” helping justify a special zoning permit.

Opposed: Jeffrey Allen, also a Brookline-based lawyer and a former chair of the Board of Selectmen, represented Walnut Place owners in opposition. He argued the garage plan called for a “structure” on the Walnut Place “triangle”–namely, a driveway. Part of Walnut Place, now shared property, he said, would become a driveway for “personal use” of the applicants.

In Mr. Allen’s version of the hazard arguments, “Kids will be playing in someone’s driveway [instead of in the 'triangle' as it has been] used by the neighborhood for 40 [or more] years…Walnut Place is narrow; two cars can’t pass…there hasn’t been any safety analysis.” Mr. Allen then invoked several sections of state law and of the Brookline zoning bylaw.

He made a complex claim that the plan would turn the back of the Upland Road property into a second “front yard,” where an “accessory structure” such as a garage is not allowed. Mr. Zuroff asked whether the “triangle” was part of Walnut Place. Mr. Allen replied that he had not “done the research.”

Other views: The Building Department may not have done it either. Michael Yanovitch, the chief building inspector, said that the plan did not call for any improvements on the “triangle,” so it had not been a consideration. The arguments about front yards were not relevant, he said, because the purpose of front yard requirements was to determine whether lots were buildable–not at issue in this case.

One of the Walnut Place owners spoke up, saying they cooperated in “landscaping along this road” and that the proposed garage access would involve “three-point turns [taking] all the ‘triangle’ and some of the way.” The plan, he said, treats Walnut Place owners “as second-class citizens…we’re entitled to equal protection.”

In rebuttal, Mr. Gladstone said there was no plan to alter the “triangle.” All its current uses could continue, he said, except perhaps “guest parking” that would block the proposed garage entrance. One reason for the plan was the difficulty of clearing snow on the current, 100-foot driveway. The applicants, he said, are “not the spring chickens they were.” One of them spoke from the audience, saying they would provide “another pair of hands” to help with Walnut Place in the future.

Reaching a decision: Concerning one of Mr. Allen’s issues, general requirements for a special permit in Section 9.05 of the zoning bylaw, Mr. Yanovitch said, “We don’t know.” Those matters involve judgment calls. The Zoning Board of Appeals functions as a local judicial body to make them. Members of the panel focused on two of the requirements:

• The use as developed will not adversely affect the neighborhood.
• There will be no nuisance or serious hazard to vehicles or pedestrians.

Panel members decided to continue the case. They plan to visit the site at 8 am on Thursday, September 4, then reconvene at 7 pm in Town Hall to discuss the issues and reach a decision.

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

Correction: Thanks to a reader for pointing out that Walnut Place owners were represented by Jeffrey Allen, not another well-known Mr. Allen who is also experienced with Brookline property cases.

Board of Selectmen: celebrations, personnel, programs, licenses

A triweekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, August 12, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. Meetings of the board have slipped from weekly to biweekly to triweekly during high summer.

Announcements: There will be no meeting Tuesday, August 19, or probably Tuesday, August 26. The latter might be scheduled if needed. Notices appear on the Calendar page of Brookline’s municipal Web site. There would be a notice by close of business Friday, August 22.

Weekly meetings of the Board of Selectmen resume Tuesday, September 2. A fall, 2014, town meeting is scheduled to begin Tuesday, November 18, at 7 pm in the High School Auditorium. The warrant opened Thursday, August 7, and it closes at noon Thursday, September 4.

Board member Neil Wishinsky will be Brookline’s representative to the Logan Airport Community Advisory Committee. The board appointed a building committee for renovations and improvements to fire stations 5 on Babcock St. and 6 on Hammond St.: board member Ben Franco, Building Commissioners Janet Fierman, George Cole and Ken Kaplan, Fire Chief Paul Ford and Deputy Chiefs Robert Ward and Mark Jefferson.

Board member Betsy DeWitt announced a neighborhood meeting scheduled for Wednesday, August 20, in the Harrison St., Kent St., Aspinwall Ave. and Kent Sq. area about a proposed 400-seat pavilion for Parson’s field. If interested, call the Brookline Planning Department for information, 617-730-2130.

Ken Goldstein, the chair, responded to a Boston Globe story saying that Kevin Fisher, the applicant for a medical marijuana dispensary in the Brookline Bank building at the corner of Washington and Boylston Sts., had falsely claimed on a state permit application to be a graduate of Youngstown State University in Ohio. Mr. Goldstein read a statement and said Brookline would conduct a thorough review of the local applications.

Celebrations and donations: The board celebrated the hundredth birthdays of Brookline resident Ethel Weiss of Harvard St. and former Brookline resident Roslyn London. Apparently the board did not know that Mrs. London had died just a day earlier.

Ethel Weiss has operated Irving’s Toy and Card Shop since 1938. She continues to tend the shop every weekday. She came to the meeting with Nancy Heller, one of her Precinct 8 town meeting members. Ms. Weiss thanked the board for good wishes. She said, “I’ve always found the people in this town to be helpful and kind.”

Ruthann Dobek, director of the Senior Center, said the number of centarians in Brookline is growing. In 2002 there were 26, she said, but the number is “now much larger.” The board accepted a donation of $500 from HC Studio of Station St. to support the Brookline Commission for the Arts.

Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, proposed a use for the Penny Savings Fund, created in 1948 by a former school principal and recently holding around $7,000, but inactive for many years. The purpose of the fund, he said, was to help poor people. Mr. Cirillo said he learned the background from former assistant treasurer and current Precinct 4 town meeting member John Mulhane. He proposed the fund be closed out and its proceeds donated to the safety net fund maintained by the Brookline Community Foundation, for similar purposes. The board agreed.

Personnel: Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, won approval to promote Michael Raskin to sergeant. Mr. Raskin joined the force in 1986, he said, and was formerly a sergeant in the patrol division. He lost the rank when he left in 2009 to join the National Emergency Management Association. He returned after about a year and a half to join the detective division, where he will now serve as a sergeant.

Anne Reed, the assistant library director for administration, got hiring approval to replace a reference librarian who recently died. Mr. Goldstein revived his typical request to “seek a diverse pool of candidates,” saying the library should “work with town personnel staff” on diversity. Mr. Cirillo received hiring approval to replace an office assistant who had taken a position in another town office. Lisa Paradis, the recreation director, got approval to hire a replacement for a recreation teacher who left for a job elsewhere.

Programs and contracts: Ms. Dobek and Gary McCabe, Brookline’s chief assessor, asked to raise the income limit on Brookline’s tax relief program for older property owners from $40.0 to $47.5 thousand. Participants can get up to $1,000 per year in tax reductions in return for up to 125 hours per year of work in town offices. The board agreed. A new program, funded by a $5,000 grant from Hamilton Realty, is to offer similar temporary employment to older residents who rent. The board approved.

Joe Viola, assistant director for community planning, received final authorization to process agreements for this year’s federal Community Development Block Grant, the federal FY2014 and the local FY2015 program. Brookline receives about $1.3 million as a legacy from the activities of the former Brookline Redevelopment Authority between 1958 and 1985.

Using block grant funds, the board also approved agreements for $0.05 million in Senior Center and $0.35 million in Housing Authority programs. The biggest elements in those are the Elder Taxi program and health and safety projects for public housing. Owing to sharp cutbacks in federal housing support, Brookline’s federal block grant has become a mainstay of Housing Authority maintenance.

The largest of several contracts up for review was $3.11 million with GVW of East Boston, to add classrooms at Lawrence School. The board approved the contract. According to the attorney general’s office, in 2009 George V. Wattendorf, the owner of GVW, was sentenced to fines, restitutions and probation for violating prevailing wage laws during school and public safety projects in Haverhill, Reading, Lunenberg, Lynn, Amesbury and Natick. GVW was barred for one year from working on public construction in the state.

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, got approval to increase contracts with Touloukian of Boston and Edith Netter of Waltham related to reviews of the proposed Hancock Village 40B housing development. Little of what Ms. Netter did is on the public record, but so far it cost about $40,000. Ms. Steinfeld said it was “helpful,” and the board approved a request for $26,000 from the Reserve Fund, sent to the Advisory Committee. A budget showed $0.25 million allocated for outside services so far, with $0.026 million reimbursed by the developer.

Chief O’Leary received approval to accept a state grant of $0.02 million for computer storage upgrades. Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval of $0.14 million for contract road repairs and for $0.12 million in reimbursement requests to the state. Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, got approval for $0.013 million to correct concealed drainage defects as part of the Town Hall garage renovation. The board approved an agreement with Patrick Farmer, a Shady Hill School teacher and Meredith Ruhl, a Simmons instructor, to occupy the historic Widow Harris house on Newton St. in return for rent, housekeeping and educational programs.

With little comment and no apparent consultation with the Climate Action Committee, the board approved agreements with Cadmus Group of Waltham and BlueWave Capital of Boston, related to potential solar electricity projects. Those firms had been promoted to Brookline town departments by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which previously promoted the now-shuttered Broadway Electric solar division. Luckily, Brookline did not try to do business with Broadway.

Jennifer Gilbert, former town counsel and a special counsel for Cleveland Circle Cinema redevelopment, proposed warrant articles for the fall town meeting to discontinue easements for long unused sewer connections that run through the site. The board voted to file one of these. As at a program review in July, Ms. Gilbert apparently sent documents late the same day, and copies of the article in the form being filed were not distributed to the public at the meeting.

Appointments: The board interviewed Anthony Schlaff for reappointment to the Advisory Council on Public Health. Responding to a question from board member Ben Franco, Dr. Schlaff said substance abuse remains a significant problem in Brookline and a concern of the council.

Nancy O’Connor, vice chair of the Park and Recreation Commission, was also interviewed for reappointment. She started saying by she didn’t “have anything exciting to talk about,” but the board became engaged. Ms. DeWitt asked about the recent design for the Ward Playground on Brook St. Ms. O’Connor described it as a “creative use of a very small space,” where the commission had to “hold back” on what to install. Mr. Wishinsky complimented the commission on “spectacular success” with the recently renovated Clark Playground on Cypress St. Ms. O’Connor said a key ingredient was balance, “It’s a dance.”

Permits and licenses: Haim Cohen applied for a common victualler (restaurant) license to open The Place Next Door on Harvard St. His family has run Rami’s, where he works now, for over 24 years, and the vacant, former Beauty Supply is what they called the place next door. He said he plans a kosher dairy restaurant–a rare bird outside New York City–where the menu is vegetarian. Mysteriously, he said it will be “glatt kosher.” As far as we’ve heard, ordinary vegetables don’t have glands. The project will take new construction and equipment. The board approved.

Rafael Pieretti of Newton applied for license transfers to operate Olea Cafe on Washington St. He plans modern Italian fare, with several varieties of bruschetta, panini and pasta plus wines and beers. There will be quite a bit of renovation. The board was skeptical that the proposed liquor manager had no previous experience, but she described the training she had taken and readily answered questions about procedures. The board approved.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 13, 2014

Committee on Taxi Medallions: bank loans and unsold medallions

The Committee on Taxi Medallions met Monday, August 11, starting at 7:00 pm in the third-floor lounge at Town Hall. Committee chair Josh Safer was absent; Amid El-Khoury had resigned from the committee, and he joined the fairly large audience. Committee member Michael Sandman chaired the meeting.

Two Brookline Bank representatives described experience with loans for Boston and Cambridge taxi medallions: William Mackenzie, Senior Vice President for Commercial Lending, and Timothy Steiner, Vice President for Commercial Lending. So far there has not been a loan in default, they said. They attribute the record to a strong work ethic among the borrowers. If a loan were to fail, they said, they would seize the medallion used as collateral and sell it. They claimed to be unaware of any decline in medallion market values.

That could be a bit behind the times. The owner of Hello Taxi said there are currently 235 medallions available for sale in Boston, and apparently there are no buyers. A year ago, he said, the unsold inventory was near zero. He believes that mobile technology deployed by Uber, Hailo, Lyft and Sidecar has undercut the market for taxi medallions, at least in Boston.

Betsy DeWitt, a member of the Board of Selectmen, spoke somewhat skeptically about medallions for Brookline taxis. She described circumstances in Washington, DC, which houses a large, regulated fleet of taxis but does not use a system of permanent, transferrable medallions.

As at the recent hearing held by the committee, Bay State Taxi owner Joe Bethoney said the town should sell taxi medallions to current, long-term taxi operators and drivers for nominal fees and earn revenues when the medallions are subsequently resold.

At least one and possibly more articles are being prepared for the fall town meeting, now scheduled to start on November 18. It is not yet clear whether the committee will be able to sort out the issues and arrive as a coherent and workable approach to recommend this fall to the Transportation Board, to the Board of Selectmen and possibly to town meeting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 12, 2014

Mike Beggs, Hailo’s black car service like ‘stabbing taxi drivers in the back’, Taxi News (Toronto, ON), July, 2014

Geoffrey Fowler, Testing UberX, Lyft and Sidecar against a cab in six cities, Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2014

Bicycle Advisory Committee: street markings, safety and priorities

Brookline’s Bicycle Advisory Committee met Monday, August 11, at 7:00 pm in the fourth-floor conference room at Town Hall. It focused on priorities for bicycle facilities next year, drawing several visitors. The committee did not meet at Devotion School, as before. Meeting dates, times, places and agendas can be found on the Calendar page of Brookline’s municipal Web site.

Committee members appeared to expect an allocation for bicycle facilities in Brookline’s capital improvement program. However, the current program shows only $30,000 for this fiscal year and nothing for future years, under the heading “public works infrastructure.” The committee worked with a large paper map of the town’s bicycle facilities. A corresponding map could not be found on Brookline’s municipal Web site, where most bicycle documents appear stale, the latest bicycle map is from 2011 and no link appears to the Web site operated by the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Bicycle markings: The committee considered whether to propose a “bike box” for next year. To the committee, that means painted markings at or near a street intersection–not a bicycle carrying case. The U.S. Department of Transportation does not currently provide a standard for augmenting bicycle markings at street intersections in its Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Brookline currently has no such markings. Boston has some augmented markings at a few Commonwealth Ave. intersections in B.U. neighborhoods but currently lacks evidence about whether they improve safety.

The committee also considered which streets to propose for new lane markings. The committee maintains a Green Routes Bicycle Network Plan that began with Beacon St. and has expanded to Harvard, Washington and other streets in urban Brookline and to Clyde, Lee and other streets in suburban Brookline. There is a path for pedestrians and bicycles in Riverway Park, but there are no physically separated lanes on streets.

For visitor Anne Lusk, that was a critical issue. She urged the committee to propose at least one separated bicycle lane, calling it a “cycle track.” She also proposed a bicycle training area to be constructed at Robinson Playground on Cypress St. Cynthia Snow, the chair, said she would to put the items on the agenda for a meeting this fall.

Safety and priorities: There was discussion of safety impacts of bicycle lanes. So far there has not been a detailed analysis, but the committee has a police report of bicycle crashes for 2013 and some data for earlier years. For 2013, on the two miles of Beacon St. there were 15 reported incidents. At a rate of about 7 incidents per mile per year, Beacon St. might be safer than B.U. neighborhoods of Commonwealth Ave., where the Boston Globe recently found about 30 incidents per mile per year. Amounts of bicycle traffic on the two streets have not been reported.

As proposed by committee member Tommy Vitolo, the committee decided to request four bicycle improvements for next year: (1) some route to connect bicycle lanes on Clyde St. to Larz Anderson Park, (2) one or more “bike box” markings at street intersections, (3) a bicycle lane on St. Paul St. between Beacon St. and Commonwealth Ave. and (4) one or more additional bicycle racks.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 12, 2014

Brookline Green Routes Bicycle Network, map, Bicycle Advisory Committee, 2014

Bicycle lanes and paths, map, Brookline Information Technology Department, 2011

Housing Authority: renovations, programs and project development

The Brookline Housing Authority board met Tuesday, July 15, at 4:30 pm in the community room at 55 Egmont St. Commissioners David Trietsch, chair, Barbara Dugan and Joanne Sullivan joined director Patrick Dober and other staff. BHA currently operates 893 public housing units, administers about 580 federal voucher units and provides 31 rooms for special needs housing, separately administered.

Maintenance and renovation: Mr. Dober reported some repair and renovation projects complete, including safety curbs and trees at several sites, accessibility improvements at Col. Floyd and masonry repairs and low-flow toilet installations at High St. Veterans. With renovations recently completed at Morse and Kickham, he said, the only large, near-term project remaining is at Sussman.

George Lalli, the maintenance director, reported start of construction for an apartment building on the Trustman parking lot, including three meetings so far with Trustman residents about concerns during the project. There will be 32 units at 86 Dummer St., between St. Paul and Amory Sts. The last BHA development on a similar scale was Kickham, 39 units at 190 Harvard St., built with federal funds and opened in 1978.

Management issues: There was discussion about conversion of subsidized units at the Village in Brookline development to market rate. It is Brookline’s last large Chapter 121A project from the first half of the 1970s. Mr. Dober said the town negotiated for 100 of the 307 units to remain permanently available to low-income and moderate-income tenants. Brookline will lose 207 units from its “affordable units inventory,” bringing the total that can be estimated for the fall of next year to about 1,830–only about seven percent of the housing stock.

There was also discussion about the housing bill pending in the General Court. Mr. Dober said the governor’s plan announced last year–to replace all local housing authorities with six state authorities–would not be included. He recounted some problems in Chelsea and Quincy that factored in the proposal.

Community Foundation programs: A presentation from the Brookline Community Foundation was led by Jenny Amory, its director, and by Frank Steinfield, the board chair. They were introduced by commissioner Joanne Sullivan, who is a board member. The foundation’s major focus, Mr. Steinfield said, was “alleviating poverty.” It is involved in the Next Steps program at BHA, helping low-income residents find employment and providing “financial education.”

The foundation also operates a “safety net” that has assisted BHA tenants. Ms. Amory said the budget for this year was $120,000. Mr. Dober said a “big goal” for BHA was keeping tenants, who sometimes struggle to pay rents. David Trietsch, chair of the commissioners, thanked representatives of the foundation, saying it has been a major help to BHA tenants.

Finances: Mr. Dober described “rooftop leasing” to provide sites for commercial communications facilities. He said SteepleCom of Ashby, MA, has been designated as program manager. BHA is limited by regulations to 3-year contracts, as compared with 30-year contracts common in the industry, but Mr. Dober said SteepleCom agreed to work with BHA. Their agreement includes provisions for liability insurance and for roof repairs in case of damage.

No accounting for 86 Dummer St. could be found on the Web site for the Housing Authority or on the municipal Web site. However, minutes of the Board of Selectmen show substantial town contributions. Toward $12.3 million in estimated construction costs, Brookline committed about $3.2 million from its Affordable Housing Trust. In October, 2013, Brookline waived about $0.24 million in permit fees. So far, Brookline has also committed about $1.1 million from federal allocations. There may have been exchanges between the Affordable Housing Trust funds and federal allocations not shown in minutes of the Board of Selectmen. Brookline loaned BHA about $0.54 million to support planning and design.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 11, 2014

Sean P. Murphy, Governor Patrick plans ambitious overhaul of state’s troubled public housing, Boston Globe, January 9, 2013

Brookline Board of Selectmen, Minutes for April 26, 2011, $1.7 million for 86 Dummer St.

Brookline Board of Selectmen, Minutes for February 11, 2014, $2.6 million for 86 Dummer St.

Brookline Board of Selectmen, Minutes for June 24, 2014, $1.1 million federal for 86 Dummer St.

Open meetings in government: groping toward transparency

Before the late 1950s, the Brookline, MA, Board of Selectmen would often meet behind closed doors during weekday afternoons, served refreshments on fine bone china and crystal. They were not an unusual board. In 1957, the Worcester Telegram reported on 27 communities in central Massachusetts and northern Connecticut, finding ten where all government meetings were closed to the public. [Harvard Law Review, 1962, p. 1199]

Open meeting traditions: Contrary to common impressions, open meetings of government bodies are relatively recent in the United States. Aside from New England town meetings, they are not longstanding traditions. Like the “voter rights” of referendum, initiative and recall, most come from twentieth-century reforms. Voter rights laws surged early in the century, while “open meeting” laws surged in mid-century.

Two Massachusetts laws, the Open Meeting Law and the Public Records Law, regulate public information from government organizations. Since the nineteenth century, newspapers had sought government meetings open to the press and the public, but the idea did not gain force until after World War II. Then, during the postwar era of the television and automobile, it engaged “modern thinking” of the day.

At the time, Massachusetts was not engulfed in strong controversy over corruption. At a mention of official corruption, people might have recalled a former mayor of Boston, James Michael Curley, by then out of office and in fading days. Scandals over MDC contracting, embezzlement at the Boston Common garage and bribery at the State House lay in the future. Strong controversies of the day involved the witch-hunt for Communists, the McCarthy scandal and rights to equal education–seen as a Southern issue, notably in Little Rock, AR.

Open meeting law continues to evolve. In Massachusetts, there have been several versions–the latest so far coming about 50 years after the original. Each law has been more complex. The Massachusetts laws applied to cities and towns in 1958, in 1978 and in 2009 amount to about two, five and eleven printed pages.

Original open meeting law: The Massachusetts Newspaper Information Service, an industry alliance, tried to get an open meeting law passed in 1957 but failed. The next year, two influential state senators, Silvio O. Conte, Republican of Pittsfield, and John E. Powers, Democrat of South Boston, took up the cause, sponsored a similar bill and got it through. [Legislative Research Council, 1959]

The original Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, enacted via Chapter 626 of the Acts of 1958, would be regarded as a weak law today. However, it was pathbreaking for its era. It provided separate requirements and sections of the General Laws for state, county and municipal arms of government. One key to getting the law passed can be found in a blanket exemption for the General Court–then and now hierarchical and secretive.

Massachusetts residents still have no rights to meeting notices, open meetings and meeting records from their state legislature. Those elements remain primary features of open meeting laws–now found in all states and the District of Columbia, although in widely varying forms. In 1958, the laws governing Massachusetts city, town and regional district organizations appeared in Chapter 39 of the General Laws, Sections 23A and 23B.

The original Massachusetts Open Meeting Law required only 24 hours notice of a meeting and counted all days of the week, including days when offices were closed and notices could not be read. It provided no penalty for violating the law, while Michigan now stipulates up to one year and Arkansas up to 30 days in jail. A citizen’s only recourse then was to pursue a lawsuit. The only remedies might be nullifications of particular actions and injunctions against future violations. Those were expensive remedies, rarely obtained.

The 1958 law required “accurate records” of meetings, but it did not say what information the records had to contain. Indeed, it did not define what a “meeting” meant, leaving a potential for boards to hold official meetings under the law but also to hold other, unofficial gatherings, not labeled as “meetings.” There was no provision to inform officials about the open meeting law, leaving ignorance of the law as a convenient excuse for violating it.

Nevertheless, in some respects the original Massachusetts Open Meeting Law proved potent and visionary. For example–unlike laws of many other states–advisory groups such as the Commission for the Disabled, the 2007 Override Study Committee and the Advisory Committee of town meeting have been subject to the law. Unlike Maryland’s law, for example, the 1958 Massachusetts law contained no catch-all exemptions, such as closed meetings “for compelling reasons.” [now repealed, Pupillo, pp. 1169, 1181] The 1958 law made “all meetings” subject to requirements. That was vague but potentially included informal meetings and official “events.”

Open meeting law changes: In the wake of corruption scandals–including favoritism in MDC contracting during the late 1950s, embezzlement at the Boston Common garage in the early 1960s and bribery at the State House in the 1960s and 1970s–among other measures, the General Court strengthened the Open Meeting Law. By 1978, many features of the current law were in place. The 1978 Open Meeting Law defined critical terms and narrowed the justifications for executive sessions.

A reform, by 1978, extended the required period of meeting notice to 48 hours, “including Saturdays but not Sundays and legal holidays.” Records of a meeting were required to include “the date, time, place, members present or absent and action taken”–although not topics discussed. New members of local boards were to be supplied with copies of the law. Members of the public were authorized to operate tape recorders. District attorneys were authorized to investigate complaints. Orders could be issued by judges invalidating actions taken at meetings violating the law and requiring future compliance.

The 1978 law excluded a “chance meeting or a social meeting” from coverage, provided “no final agreement is reached” on “official business.” That was eagerly sought by some of the more regressive boards. It opened a loophole at least as big as Maryland’s closed meetings “for compelling reasons.” Rogue boards could do all their reviews and wrangling at private “social” gatherings, merely formalizing actions in public.

Current open meeting law: The Open Meeting Law of 2009 provides several reforms. A notice for a meeting is now required to include an agenda, “topics that the chair reasonably anticipates will be discussed at the meeting.” A notice must be “visible to the public at all hours.” Members of the public are authorized to operate video as well as audio recorders and to “transmit [a] meeting through any medium.”

Minutes of a meeting must now include “a summary of the discussions on each subject.” Meeting records now include “documents and other exhibits.” Those could be charts, diagrams, drawings, sketches, renderings, maps, photographs, computer files, film-slide or computerized presentations, and video or sound recordings. Furthermore, “No vote taken at an open session shall be by secret ballot. Any vote taken at an executive session shall be recorded by roll call and entered into the minutes.”

The required notice period now excludes Saturdays. The loophole for “social” and other private meetings in the 1978 open meeting law is much narrowed. They are now exempt from requirements only when “members do not deliberate,” defined in the law to include “oral or written communication through any medium, including electronic mail, between or among a quorum of a public body.” Distribution of documents is allowed, without opinions, for discussion at future meetings.

Enforcement of the Open Meeting Law has shifted from district attorneys to the state attorney general, who is required to operate a “division of open government” and to prepare an annual report on enforcement. The attorney general is also authorized to “promulgate rules and regulations,” to “interpret the open meeting law,” to “issue written letter rulings or advisory opinions,” to “create and distribute educational materials” and to “provide training to public bodies.”

The 2009 Open Meeting Law requires a complaint to be pressed with the body alleged to have violated the law “at least 30 days prior to the filing of a complaint with the attorney general.” There was formerly no such restriction on filing a complaint with a district attorney. The attorney general may also act independently, upon “reasonable cause to believe that [someone] has violated the open meeting law.” In cases responding to complaints, the attorney general can “impose a civil penalty” up to $1,000 for “each intentional violation.”

The Office of the Attorney General issued initial regulations, effective in July, 2010, and updated regulations, effective in September, 2012. The open meeting regulations resolve some ambiguities in the law. For an agenda required in a meeting notice, they require that the “list of topics shall have sufficient specificity to reasonably advise the public of the issues to be discussed at the meeting.”

The regulations take account of electronic communication. They provide for electronic posting of notices and govern remote participation at meetings, requiring roll-call votes. For a meeting notice to be valid, they say, “The date and time that the notice is posted shall be conspicuously recorded thereon or therewith.” The regulations also detail procedures for filing and resolving complaints, for performing investigations that are initiated by the attorney general and for issuing advisory opinions.

Missing reforms: The Massachusetts Open Meeting Law remains hobbled by complex and weak enforcement. Members of boards, committees, commissions and councils can and do violate the law often and with impunity. In the rare event of a “civil penalty,” the city, town or district that houses the faulty organization is on the hook, not the people who actually violated the law.

Antonio Cabral, a New Bedford state representative who formerly co-chaired the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight and who was a chief author of the 2009 Open Meeting Law, proposed a small but useful reform, starting in 2006. H.2786 for the 2013-2014 session would have authorized fines of up to $200 for people who violate the law–still far short of sanctions in Michigan and Arkansas.

People who attend public meetings will often be mystified by documents exchanged among members of boards, committees, commissions and councils. There remains no requirement for those to be disclosed to the public at or in advance of a meeting. The Brookline, MA, Board of Selectmen does so voluntarily, through “packets” available on paper at meetings and in electronic form on the municipal Web site. Missing requirements for draft minutes and a missing deadline for minutes to be available remain as barriers to public information.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 10, 2014

Open meeting statutes: the press fights for the “right to know,” Harvard Law Review 75(6):1199-1221, April, 1962 (unsigned)

Teresa Dale Pupillo, The changing weather forecast: government in the sunshine in the 1990s–an analysis of state sunshine laws, Washington University Law Review 71(4):1165-1187, 1993

Rebecca Fater, Legislation would overhaul state’s Open Meeting Law, Lowell (MA) Sun, March 14, 2006

Suzanne J. Piotrowski and Erin Borry, An analytic framework for open meetings and transparency, Public Administration and Management 15(1):138-176, 2010

Massachusetts Open Meeting Law of 1958, as applied to cities and towns, in General Laws Chapter 39, Sections 23A and 23B

Massachusetts Open Meeting Law of 1978, as applied to cities and towns, in General Laws Chapter 39, Sections 23A through 23C

Massachusetts Open Meeting Law of 2009, consolidated, in General Laws Chapter 30A, Sections 18 through 25

Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General, Open Meetings, 940 CMR 29 regulations, current

Massachusetts General Court, Fourth annual report of the Legislative Research Council and Legislative Research Bureau, Report 1599, January, 1959

Massachusetts General Court, Public officers of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1957-1958

Override Study Committee: Open Meeting Law problems

Open Meeting Law: Meetings and meeting records of government organizations in Massachusetts are currently regulated by the Open Meeting Law of 2009 and by corresponding state regulations. [G.L.C. 30A, Secs. 18-25, and 940 CMR 29] They require every organization to hold all meetings in public–except for ten strict exceptions–and to prepare, keep and distribute accurate records of meetings.

Since 2008, Article 3.21 of the Brookline Bylaws has also regulated meetings of government organizations in the community, It requires posting meeting notices and records on Brookline’s municipal Web site and provides for distribution of information by e-mail.

State law requires a notice for a meeting to be posted 48 hours before the start of the meeting, “excluding Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays.” [G.L.C. 30A, Sec. 20(b)] A notice must include an agenda: the “list of topics shall have sufficient specificity to reasonably advise the public of the issues to be discussed.” [940 CMR 29.03(b)]

Notices on the Web site cannot satisfy state regulations now, because they fail to provide for “the date and time that the notice is posted [to] be conspicuously recorded thereon.” [940 CMR 29.03(1)(b)] Notices at the town clerk’s office cannot satisfy state law, because they are not “conspicuously visible to the public at all hours.” [G.L.C. 30A, Sec. 20(c)] Brookline organizations post notices both on paper at the town clerk’s office, where they are time-stamped, and on the Web site, where they are visible at all hours.

State law also requires a government organization to “create and maintain accurate minutes of all meetings.” [G.L.C. 30A, Sec. 22(a)] In addition to minutes, state law provides that meeting records include “documents and other exhibits.” [G.L.C. 30A, Sec. 22(d)] Those could be charts, diagrams, drawings, sketches, renderings, maps, photographs, computer files, film-slide or computerized presentations, and video or sound recordings. Brookline’s bylaw requires records of meetings to be posted on the municipal Web site. [Sec. 3.21.4]

The Massachusetts Open Meeting Law requires all members of government organizations participating in meetings to certify receipt of copies of the law, the regulations and instructions from the attorney general. [G.L.C. 30A, Sec. 20(g)] It will not be easy to claim ignorance of the law. Violations are punishable by fines of up to “$1,000 for each intentional violation.” [G.L.C. 30A, Sec. 23(d)(4)] The attorney general can “nullify in whole or in part any action taken” in violation of state law or regulations. [G.L.C. 30A, Sec. 23(d)(3)]

Patterns in Brookline: Brookline boards, committees, commissions and councils have varied patterns of compliance with the laws and of making information available to the public. A few–including the Board of Selectmen–distribute both on paper and via the Web timely and detailed meeting notices, punctual and thorough minutes, and supporting documents including contracts and reports.

Other organizations provide the public with spotty or unusable information. For example, some PDF files distributed by the Planning Department are internally scrambled. They can be viewed but not searched. If one tries to mark and copy a segment for reference, when pasted into a document one gets gibberish. This will not happen by accident; Planning Department staff must configure documents to cause the behaviors. The practices are not currently forbidden by law, but they violate the spirit of so-called “open government” to which Brookline says it is committed.

Actions of the Override Study Committee: Actions of the Override Study Committee of 2013 illustrate some of the serious and typical problems. That committee was appointed on August 13, 2013, and voted its recommendations on July 30, 2014. It has yet to distribute a final report. The organization is neither at the best nor at the worst of Brookline’s Open Meeting Law compliance.

During the year from August, 2013 through July, 2014, the Override Study Committee formed nine subcommittees. The combined groups held a total of 174 meetings. Problems began early. As of August 1, 2014, minutes for two of the 12 meetings held in October, 2013, still could not be found on the Brookline municipal Web site. One group was diligent with minutes, but the others were not. Three posted minutes for only about 20 percent of their meetings.

Organization Meetings Minutes Percent
Override Study Committee 37 21 57%
Benefits subcommittee 4 4 100%
Capital subcommittee 20 4 20%
Demographic subcommittee 32 17 53%
Fiscal subcommittee 9 2 22%
Municipal subcommittee 18 11 61%
Populations subcommittee 17 3 18%
Revenue subcommittee 12 8 67%
School program task force 19 11 58%
Schools subcommittee 6 5 83%
All combined 174 86 49%

Overall, minutes for less than half the 174 total meetings had been posted by August 1. Compliance with Open Meeting Law requirements for minutes collapsed after April. As of August 1, minutes had been posted for only one of the 43 meetings held in May, June and July. Without spending hundreds of hours at meetings, the public had almost no way to know what the committee had been doing.

Year Month Meetings Minutes Percent
2014 Jul 16 0 0%
2014 Jun 15 1 7%
2014 May 12 0 0%
2014 Apr 14 9 64%
2014 Mar 18 13 72%
2014 Feb 11 8 73%
2014 Jan 28 15 54%
2013 Dec 24 12 50%
2013 Nov 22 16 73%
2013 Oct 12 10 83%
2013 Sep 2 2 100%
2013 Aug 0 0 N/A
Total 174 86 49%

The committee and its subcommittees have entertained exhibits of statistical spreadsheets, budget models and computerized presentations at their meetings. So far, despite the requirements of state Open Meeting Law and Brookline law, those have not been posted on the municipal Web site. The committee is currently trying to use information withheld from the public. Since the information was openly conveyed in public sessions, it does not qualify for any of the exceptions in the state Open Meeting Law.

A vote by the full committee taken July 29 did not use a roll call, although one member was connected by telephone–contrary to state regulations, which require roll call votes when any member is participating remotely. [940 CMR 29.10(7)(c)] No exception is obtained by calling something a “straw vote,” as one committee member tried to do. The motion failed on a tie vote, treated as disposative. If a vote matters, then it’s a vote.

The seven full committee meetings this July were described to the public only through opaque and generic notices, saying the committee might do any or many of various things it is authorized to do. Without inside information, the public had no reasonable notice that on July 30–unlike the other days–the committee would vote a recommendation on a permanent, general tax override.

State open meeting regulations require, on a meeting notice, that “topics must be sufficiently specific to reasonably inform the public.” [940 CMR 29.03(b)] They were not, yet insiders clearly knew. A quorum of the School Committee was present at that July 30 meeting but not the others.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 7, 2014

Attorney General of Massachusetts, Open Meeting Law Guide, August 1, 2013

Office of the Attorney General, Open meetings, Massachusetts Regulations 940 CMR 29

Article 3.21, Readily accessible electronic meeting notices, agendas and records, Brookline Bylaws

Retirement Board: seeking to improve asset earnings

The Brookline Retirement Board met Tuesday, June 24, at 4:30 pm, and Monday, July 28, at 2:00 pm, in the basement conference room at the Health Center. Both meetings focused on performance of Brookline’s retirement assets. Brookline began appropriating toward a long-term retirement fund in the early 1970s and increased its appropriations in the 1980s, when the state began to regulate retirement systems more strictly.

Brookline continues to maintain a locally managed retirement fund, while a majority of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns, plus several counties and other jurisdictions, have placed all their retirement assets in state-managed Pension Reserve Investment Trust (PRIT) funds. Counting state agency and employee funds, there are now only 106 retirement funds for public employees in the state that are managed outside PRIT. Long-term returns for PRIT funds have rarely been beaten by those for the other retirement systems.

Considering cumulative returns since the start of the state-managed fund in 1985, only seven of the current 106 independently managed funds have done better than the PRIT average: Haverhill, Malden, Needham, North Adams, Taunton, Wellesley and Weymouth. The cumulative average return for PRIT was 9.84 percent. Those for the top seven communities ranged from 9.90 to 10.35 percent. Brookline’s fund ranked 46th in this long-term comparison, just above the middle, with a cumulative return of 8.90 percent over 28 years.

Recently, Brookline’s retirement fund fared poorly, with a return of 12.13 percent for 2013, ranking 103rd among 106 funds. Other retirement funds ranged from 11.36 to 21.82 percent. Brookline’s lower performance will be made up by more contributions from its budget in the future, resulting in higher taxes, less services or both.

After seeing disappointing results early this year, the Retirement Board brought in a new asset manager: Russell Investments of Seattle, WA, a subsidiary of Northwestern Mutual. Near three-quarters of Brookline’s fund assets, totaling about $250 million, are now in funds managed by Russell. Their client representative for Brookline, Steve Flynn, reviewed performance and strategies on June 24.

The board has also recently hired Raymond Depelteau, who serves as chief investment officer for Holyoke and for Westfield, to provide strategic advice about other assets. Attending his first Brookline meeting on July 28, Mr. Depelteau presented options to improve Brookline’s asset performance.

Westfield and Holyoke retirement funds have been performing better than the Brookline fund recently, ranking sixth and eleventh among the 106 Massachusetts funds as measured by the 2013 returns: 20.27 and 19.64 percent. If Brookline had matched performance of Westfield and Holyoke, it would have had earned nearly $20 million more for 2013.

The state’s Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission publishes profiles of the Massachusetts retirement systems for public employees. Assets of all independently managed systems totaled about 60 percent of long-term liabilities, as of the first of this year. Brookline assets totaled about 56 percent of long-term liabilities.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 5, 2014

Annual Report for 2013, Massachusetts Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission

Independently managed Massachusetts retirement funds, 2014, information from Massachusetts Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission

Bicycle markings: unsuccessful in B.U. neighborhoods

Writing in the Boston Globe of Saturday, August 2, Martine Powers reported that bicycle signs and painted street markings in B.U. neighborhoods have failed to prevent fatal crashes. She reviewed police reports for Commonwealth Ave. between the B.U. Bridge and Packard Corner, where Commonwealth Ave. bends and Brighton Ave. begins. Along most of this part of Commonwealth Ave., Brookline takes up on the inbound side of the street at the building doors, so the street is part of Brookline as well as Boston neighborhoods.

That segment of Commonwealth Ave. has elaborate bicycle markings, including signs, green-painted lanes and many safety warnings. A showcase for the late Menino administration, it may be the most developed example of a major, bicycle-oriented urban street in New England. However, it has no physical barriers between bicycles and motor vehicles, it has no traffic signals for bicycles and there is little enforcement of bicycle laws.

According to Ms. Powers, over the three years from 2010 through 2012, on just that 3/4 mile of Commonwealth Ave., 68 bicycle crashes were reported to Boston police–including a fatal incident in 2012. Ms. Powers does not seem to know much about the neighborhoods. If she did, she might have heard about one of our fellow bicyclists who was run over at the same location in nearly the same way forty years earlier–before there was a Paul Dudley White bicycle path and long before almost anyone in New England heard of bicycle markings. Although in the hospital for weeks, our friend survived.

A typically disjointed Boston administration is now about to reconstruct that stretch of Commonwealth Ave., according to the Globe. That part of the street was recently repaved, got new sidewalks and trees and is just fine, but the Walsh administration apparently has federal money burning a hole in its pocket and no better use for it. A pressure group called Boston Cyclists Union decided to campaign for physically separated bicycle lanes.

As Bill Smith of Brookline’s Engineering staff found out several years ago, when planning a Beacon St. reconstruction, even a more spacious street with a generous center median has only a finite amount of width in which to fit pedestrians, trolleys, trees, shrubs, motor vehicles, parking and bicycles. In the end, Mr. Smith did not design physically separated bicycle lanes for Beacon St.

Eventually Transportation staff added a few bicycle markings–more recently amended with green-painted lanes and signs. Some markings were in place a few years ago but failed to prevent a fatal incident on Beacon St., similar to the Boston incident of 2012, in which a bicyclist was run over by a truck making a turn.

The Commonwealth Ave. design is being rushed to beat a grant deadline. It’s easy to see the Walsh administration making an even bigger mess than the myopic Menino administration–in each of three major projects over about 20 years. Like Brookline on Beacon St., Boston is brushing off bicycle riders, recently suggesting special signals for them. Nearly all of today’s bicyclists on Commonwealth Ave. ignore the traffic signals they already have.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 3, 2014

Martine Powers, Bicycle advocates seek safety changes for Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue, Boston Globe, August 2, 2014

Bicycle facilities and the manual on uniform traffic control devices, U.S. Department of Transportation, 2014

Brookline government: public information and the committee forest

Brookline’s revised municipal Web site, appearing in June, displays pretty pictures and generally has more functional organization than the original site, which grew over several years. However, some former content has disappeared. On the Calendar page, for example, the entire archive of meetings earlier than June, 2014, has gone missing. Displays are empty. Previously, the archive went back to at least 2010.

Records of meetings: On the Agendas and Minutes page, content is spotty and can prove confusing. The page opens by showing all known meetings of all known organizations during the current year–usually an enormous display that would be hard to use. The key to using the page is a button labeled “Select a Category.” What the button actually does is display a checkbox-style list of known organizations.

The secret is to click on an item labeled “All Calendars” at the upper left–removing not only the checkmark on that item but checkmarks on all the others as well. Then one clicks on checkboxes for one or more organizations, to select them. Next, one clicks again on the button labeled “Select a Category.” The list of organizations goes away, exposing the selection of a year.

One can click on 2014, 2013, 2012 and “View More.” Clicking on “View More” brings up 2011 and 2010, which can be selected with a click. Finally, at the upper right of the list, one clicks on a button showing a circle with a short radial bar. Whatever that might suggest, it displays known meetings of selected organizations during a selected year.

Government organizations: As of August 1, there were 69 organizations in the Agendas and Minutes list. The site also has a Boards and Commissions page, listing 74 organizations as of August 1. Several in each list did not appear on the other list. Two of those organizations are the well known Board of Selectmen and School Committee, which have the major management duties. Others are appointed by those two, and still others are subcommittees. The Override Study Committee of 2013, for example, lists nine subcommittees, but the Override Study Committee of 2007 did not appear at all.

The Advisory Committee of Brookline’s representative town meeting, functioning for nearly a century, now has seven standing subcommittees and also forms temporary “ad hoc” subcommittees. None of those subcommittees appear in the Agendas and Minutes list. However, a display of Advisory Committee meetings includes some but clearly not all subcommittee meetings. They are particularly significant, because it is the Advisory subcommittees that usually hold public hearings. There is apparently no online access to minutes of many Advisory subcommittee meetings.

The Transportation Board has several subcommittees. Those active recently include at least Bicycle Advisory, Public Transportation, Traffic Calming and Taxi Medallion Conversion. Bicycle Advisory appears in the Agendas and Minutes list of organizations, but the others do not. A display of Transportation Board meetings includes some subcommittee meetings, including Bicycle Advisory. However, a display of Bicycle Advisory meetings is empty. There is apparently no online access to minutes of most Transportation subcommittee meetings.

The display of Transportation Board meetings also included one meeting of the moderator’s Committee on Taxi Medallions. However, that committee is freestanding. It is not a subcommittee of the Transportation Board. In addition to the Transportation subcommittee called Bicycle Advisory, there is a Bicycle Sharing Committee. It was appointed by the Board of Selectmen; no meetings are displayed for it.

There is a building committee for each major construction project. Those currently include the Runkle School, Heath School and Devotion School building committees. Members of older committees were Brookline employees and members of the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee. With the Heath and Devotion projects, they have also come to include members of other local government organizations and citizens at large. There are usually agendas and minutes for meetings. The Devotion committee appears to be the most diverse. Although still in early planning, it has already held more meetings than the Heath and Runkle committees combined.

The School Committee has currently organized itself into five standing subcommittees, with overlapping membership. Notices for both School Committee and subcommittee meetings have been appearing on the Calendar page of the municipal Web site, and agendas but not minutes appear on the Agendas and Minutes page. The school Web site displays minutes for full School Committee meetings, but none could be found for the more numerous subcommittee meetings.

The School Department has organized a council at each school. Their meetings were formerly announced on the Calendar page of the municipal Web site but have not been appearing on the revised Web site. No school councils appear in the Agendas and Minutes list of organizations. Notices and records for school councils were not found on the Web site maintained by Public Schools of Brookline, either. They are official groups that take positions on public issues. How they are satisfying responsibilities under the state Open Meeting Law remains unclear.

The Planning Board has appointed several design advisory teams. Some recently active ones focus on the Brookline Place and Cleveland Circle redevelopments, the hotel development at the former Red Cab site on Boylston St. and the Coolidge Corner commercial areas. None of them are shown in the Agendas and Minutes list of organizations or on the Boards and Commissions page. How they are satisfying responsibilities under the state Open Meeting Law remains unclear. One design advisory meeting was found under Planning Board meetings, but many others did not appear.

There are project committees for Brookline Place, Gateway East, Hancock Village, Olmsted Hill a/k/a Fisher Hill and “Waldo Street Area” in Coolidge Corner. Brookline’s municipal Web site has a page for each, listing members but not saying when the committee was set up, who appoints members and what they are supposed to do. Only Brookline Place and “Waldo Street Area” appear in the Agendas and Minutes list, so there is apparently no way to find agendas and minutes for the three others. Brookline Place has held 12 meetings in 2013 and 2014. “Waldo Street Area” has held 20 meetings in 2012 and early 2013. All have minutes.

Planning and project committees seem to overlap. There are apparently no Web pages for any of the design advisory teams, and Brookline’s municipal Web site does not appear to provide names or backgrounds of members. The standing Climate Action Committee (CAC) and Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) are different Each has its own page linked to the Planning Department’s pages. That might suggest they are Planning Board subcommittees. Instead, they are appointed by the Board of Selectmen.

CAC and EDAB make a study in contrasts. EDAB has been quite active and successful; it has a roster of 12 citizen members and gets staff support from Brookline’s economic development director in the Planning Department. CAC holds regular meetings and also gets Planning Department support, but overall it has been less active. It has three independent citizen members. The remaining 12 are designees of organizations. That is an approach much more often seen in state government, where it has tended to encourage lethargy.

Missing records: Many meeting records are missing. On a display of meetings, the “Download” buttons at the right produce empty windows. Clicking on the dates of meetings at the left is the way to display agendas. When an agenda is missing, one gets an otherwise empty window saying “No Agenda Available.” When minutes are available, toward the right there will be green icons showing checkmarks.

Minutes are missing for a large number of the meetings displayed. For example, no minutes were found for six Advisory Committee meetings from May 7 through July 7, 2014. No minutes were found for seven Planning Board meetings from June 18 through July 24, 2014. No minutes were found for any of the 16 meetings of the current Override Study Committee from May 7 through July 30, 2014. No minutes were found for any of the 23 meetings held by the Transportation Board and its subcommittees between January 1 and July 31, 2014.

Board of Selectmen: Records for the Board of Selectmen do not appear on the Agendas and Minutes page. There is a separate page just for them. On that page there are search tools not available for records of other boards, commissions and committees. The syntax of search text is not explained, but it appears similar to a Google search and does recognize a phrase enclosed by quotation marks.

In addition to agendas and minutes, records for the Board of Selectmen also include “packets”–displaying the contents of information made available to the public in packets of papers at meetings of the board. This is provided through a mix of original text pages and scanned image pages. The search tools look through only agendas and minutes; they will not find information in packets, even though it may be text.

Records for the Board of Selectmen appear fairly complete from September, 2011, through the present. However, they do not include a meeting held August 13, 2013, at which members of the current Override Study Committee were appointed. A paper notice for that meeting–obtained at the town clerk’s office–included a fairly full, normal meeting agenda, specifying appointment of those committee members.

The committee forest: If all the officially sanctioned organizations in Brookline’s local government could be listed, including subcommittees and temporary organizations during just the past few years, there might be around a hundred of them. News reports rarely mention most of them and almost never report their meetings or events–except for a few, particularly the Board of Selectmen, that have broad management duties.

Even the elected Library trustees and Housing Authority board get little attention, as do the Planning and Transportation boards. All four have substantial regulation and management duties. As a result, newcomers to Brookline are unlikely to know about the extensive, citizen-supervised government the town provides. Long-term residents are more likely to be aware of at least some of the organizations, but they too get sparse information about what the organizations are doing.

For those who use them, the municipal and school Web sites help to bridge some of the gaps. However, lack of current information from some organizations creates problems. In recent years, there have been occasional sentiments that the committee forest has grown too dense. Some committees may seem unengaged at times. However, there are also good examples–such as the Public Transportation Advisory Committee–showing renewed energy.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 1, 2014