Monthly Archives: October 2014

Advisory Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries

The Advisory Committee met Thursday, October 30, starting at 7:00 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall–conducting the last major set of reviews for the season. Brookline’s fall town meeting starts at 7:00 pm Tuesday, November 18, in the High School auditorium, reached via the side entrance at 91 Tappan St.

On the agenda were Articles 12, 13 and 19–restricting locations for medical marijuana dispensaries, sending zoning appeals notices to town meeting members and opposing by resolution a natural gas pipeline. The last two no longer seemed controversial. For notices, the Planning Department has instituted changes that satisfied the petitioners, and no action is expected at town meeting. The resolution seems likely to pass.

The proposed zoning change for medical marijuana dispensaries previously got seven full-dress reviews by five boards and committees. All but the Advisory Subcommittee for Planning and Regulation recommended thumbs down. Nevertheless, the full Advisory Committee gave it an eighth review with 28 of the 30 committee members present, lasting over two hours. Only committee members Sumner Chertok and Pamela Lodish were not on hand. An audience of more than 30 listened, clearly divided between support and opposition.

Proponents: In November of last year, after voter approval the previous year of a state law to allow marijuana distribution for medical use, Brookline adopted zoning to allow state-regulated dispensaries in general business, office and industrial zones. They require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The boundary of a site must be at least 500 feet from the boundary of any school property. A building proposed for a dispensary may not contain a day-care center. Section 4.12 of Brookline’s zoning bylaw contains several other general restrictions and some procedural requirements.

As at the other reviews, Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave. and the other petitioners for Article 12 argued that those restrictions are not enough. They claim a basis for their proposal in a regulation of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, although it was clear to all that the state regulation does not apply to Brookline, because Brookline adopted its own regulations, as specifically allowed.

Opponents: Opponents have argued that tightening zoning restrictions for locations as the article proposes would leave no site available in Brookline. A map from the Planning Department agrees. A divided subcommittee proposed excluding dispensaries from sites within “100 feet from a day-care center or 500 feet from any playground or park that includes a play structure.” At the Thursday review, however, subcommittee member Kelly Hardebeck of Precinct 7 backed away, saying she no longer supported additional zoning restrictions and leaving a 2 to 3 majority of subcommittee opposing the article.

Review: The petitioners for Article 12 went through their now-familiar arguments, adding nothing new. Again, Dr. Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St., a physician, said she, along with other physicians belonging to the practice groups of the major Boston medical centers, would refuse to prescribe marijuana.

Dr. Bruce Cohen, a physician, described a review of Article 12 from the Advisory Council on Public Health, which he chairs. He said medical marijuana is now a variety of products, used in a variety of ways. Some do not contain trans-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main compound producing euphoria. The council, he said, “found no public health benefit from changing the [zoning] regulations.”

Steven Kanes, a new Advisory Committee member this season, appeared troubled by the whole issue of medical marijuana. If federal law prohibits it, he asked, “should the town be passing a zoning law?” Committee chair Harry Bohrs reviewed development of the issue in the state and the town, saying, “Zoning legislation…is not the only thing. The [Board of] Selectmen have powers to promulgate regulations.”

Polly Selkoe, the assistant director of regulatory planning, said the board “can specify delivery conditions in a license.” In Newton, the City Council was said to be requiring amounts of more than an ounce to be delivered by courier rather than purchased over the counter.

Sean Lynn-Jones of Precinct 1, one of the subcommittee members opposing Article 12, objected to the drift of the arguments, saying, “We haven’t talked about the interests of patients…balancing benefits and costs.” The other boards reviewing the article, he said, “feel that Brookline has an interest in making medical marijuana available to patients.”

Several committee members described experiences of people whose ailments did not respond to conventional treatments but who obtained relief from some form of marijuana. A lawyer representing New England Treatment Access, seeking to open a dispensary at the former Brookline Bank site–located at the intersection of Boylston and Washington Sts.–said the firm will offer a comprehensive variety of medical marijuana products.

The committee voted on two motions: a slightly revised proposal from the petitioners for Article 12 and the proposal generated by the subcommittee. Both lost by large majorities. The only committee members supporting any further zoning restrictions were Angela Hyatt of Precinct 5, Amy Hummel of Precinct 12 and Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13. Mr. Kanes abstained. The fall town meeting will hear from at least five boards and committees, all now on record opposing Article 12.

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


Zoning Bylaw Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, October 28, 2014

Board of Selectmen: Muddy River project, school construction and warrant articles, Brookline Beacon, October 29, 2014

An Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, St. 2012 C. 369, Massachusetts General Court, November, 2012 (enacted by voters through a ballot initiative)

Implementation of an Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, 105 CMR 725, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, May 24, 2013

Zoning bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, June 2, 2014

Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant explanations, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA


Editor’s note: price claims

A fantasy from the sponsors of Article 12 focused on arbitrage. Customers for medical marijuana, they claimed at several meetings, will buy it for $300 an ounce and sell it on the black market for $400 an ounce. No one challenged self-anointed “experts,” just as happened years ago with “Reefer Madness” promotions (1936) and a few decades of less charming successors.

Since medical marijuana has to be grown and processed under controls and incurs taxes and overhead, a sensible person would expect it to settle in at higher prices than street goods. Legalization of marijuana by the states of Washington and Colorado provides above-ground comparison markets. A recent price survey by Philip Ross documents some effects, published by International Business Times–an Internet news site based in New York City.

According to Mr. Ross, street marijuana sells in the U.S. at an average price of around $350 an ounce, but the price has fallen to about $240 in Washington and Colorado, where it competes with over-the-counter recreational and medical sales. Medical marijuana costs more there, he reports–around $300 an ounce. Where underground sales compete with above-ground markets, competition appears to have induced differential pricing.

According to Mr. Ross, most medical grades are less potent in euphoric effects than street goods, while they cost more. Contrary to the claims from Article 12 sponsors, evidence from this source shows little arbitrage potential in medical marijuana. Instead, the products look more likely to remain specialties of interest to people with ailments that do not respond to other treatments.


Philip Ross, Marijuana costs in the U.S., International Business Times, July, 2014

Board of Selectmen: Muddy River project, school construction and warrant articles

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 28, started at 6:25 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. In an earlier session, closed to the public, the board had agreed on a contract with the Teamsters local representing the police and fire dispatchers. There were two major reports about ongoing issues. There were public comments, reviews and recommendations for ten of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18. An ambitious agenda produced a session lasting nearly until midnight.

Announcements, contracts and interviews: The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 29, November 9 and December 4 at Baker and Devotion schools and at the Health Center. The first day for a winter farmers market in the Arcade Building at 318 Harvard St. is Sunday, November 2, starting at 2 pm.

On Wednesday, November 12, the Brookline Neighborhood Association and League of Women Voters host a forum for the November 18 town meeting. It begins at 7 pm in community television studios on the third floor at 46 Tappan St., the Unified Arts Building of Brookline High School. Topics are for Articles 8, 12, 13, 15 and 16: revising the disorderly conduct bylaw, restricting locations for medical marijuana dispensaries, sending zoning appeals notices to town meeting members and managing taxi medallions (that is, permanent licenses).

Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning, got approval to extend the duration of a contract with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown for design of a road improvement project for lower Washington St. Planning began about nine years ago as part of a so-called “Gateway East” effort. Erin Gallentine, director of parks and open space, got approval to add $0.015 million to a masonry repair project at the Old Burying Ground on Walnut St., using funds already appropriated.

The board interviewed candidates for appointments: one for Tree Planting, one for Economic Development and one for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations–created at this year’s annual town meeting to replace the former Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission. Twelve commissioners are authorized but none appointed yet, with some positions still awaiting applicants according to board member Nancy Daly. The board also decided to appoint a Noise Control Bylaw Committee, to be charged with proposing revisions to related town laws.

Projects, licenses and permits At the request of Ms. Gallentine and the Dukakis Recognition Committee, established in 2011 through a town meeting resolution, the board approved a plaque dedicating the Riverway Park to Brookline residents Michael and Kitty Dukakis, the former 3-term governor and his wife. It will be stationed near the Longwood stop on the D branch of the Green Line, where Mr. Dukakis often boards.

Hsiu-Lan Chang, who operates Fast Frame on Beacon St. in Washington Square, asked for permission to install a plaque on the Washington Sq. clock–a donation to the town about 20 years ago from Washington Sq. merchants–in honor of William T. Bonomi, a key supporter of efforts to install and maintain the clock. The board approved. A major maintenance effort is expected before year’s end by Electric Time of Medford, funded by area merchants.

The board reviewed and approved alternate managers for alcoholic beverage sales at two locations, temporary licenses for two events and a 10 am Sunday starting hour for alcoholic beverage sales at six locations. The last, according to board member Betsy DeWitt, is an obligation under a recent state law when a license-holder requests it.

Chen-Hui Chi of Chelmsford appeared to apply for a food vendor (take-out) license to continue operations for Hong Kong Cafe at 1391 Beacon St., which currently has a different owner. He was represented by a bilingual lawyer who translated the board’s questions to Chinese. The board wanted to make sure the applicant understood that the license did not authorize table service. Board members were satisfied and approved.

Managers of Herb Chambers appeared for continued review of an inflammables permit for the Audi dealership at 308 Boylston St. A review on August 29 had left several matters to be settled. As before, the organization 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.

Mr. Allen told the board that the waste oil storage tank had been moved to a different location and would no longer be serviced via East Milton Rd., a previous source of neighborhood opposition. He said former underground tanks have been removed. KPA Environmental and Safety of Colorado is now overseeing environmental compliance. Mark Jefferson, deputy chief of the Fire Department, confirmed the progress but said the new tank installation was not finished. This time, despite some neighborhood objections, the board was satisfied that Herb Chambers was on track for a safe workplace and granted an annually renewed permit.

Representatives of the VFW and American Legion post on Washington St. appeared again, seeking a club license for alcoholic beverages. They were represented by Roger Lipson, a Brookline-based lawyer and Precinct 14 town meeting member. The post held such a license from 1977 through 2010 but let it lapse by mistake, when a manager became ill. About two years ago, Elmon Hendrickson, a Brookline resident, took over as post manager.

Mr. Hendrickson has been successful in building a clientele who use the post for events, including weddings and other celebrations, but this has caused friction with neighbors–evident at a previous hearing October 2 on the license application. This time, both Mr. Hendrickson and the board were more prepared. The board wanted some firm conditions on the license, to which Mr. Hendrickson agreed.

There will be police details for events with over 50 participants, and there will be four post members on hand for events: two for service and two for security. The club will not operate past 11 pm. Video cameras and sound meters have been installed and will be monitored during events. Doors near abutters will be used during events only for emergencies. The parking lot will be used only by caterers. With these and other conditions, the board approved a new club license for the post, to be reviewed annually.

Muddy River project: The board heard a report on the Muddy River Restoration Project from Thomas Brady, the conservation director, and Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director. The project began after a major storm in October, 1996, flooded the Kenmore Sq. transit station and many houses and buildings in Brookline and Boston. A disastrous 1958 decision by the Hynes administration in Boston to divert the river into relatively small culverts is now being reversed by excavation and by construction of large channels under Park Drive and Brookline Avenue crossings, near the former Sears now called Landmark Center.

As Mr. Brady and Mr. Pappastergion explained, the current effort will correct only one blockage to river flow, although it is probably the worst one. A century-long buildup of silt and invasive plants obstructs many other parts of the riverway, from Ward’s Pond through the Fenway area. They said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, manager of the current project, is now willing to extend the project–provided it receives a Presidential order and Congressional funding.

Board member Ben Franco said the Muddy River project was what got him involved in town government. Betsy Shure Gross, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, urged pressure on Congress for funding. “If we don’t maintain this river,” she said, “it will continue to be a significant threat.” The board agreed to participate in a campaign of letters from Boston, Brookline and several organizations. They will send a letter to the President.

School construction: The board entertained a long report from Planning Board member Sergio Modigliani on the need for school construction. Mr. Modigliani felt that the needs were overstated, and he brought along a spreadsheet report trying to show why. According to his report, for kindergarten through eighth grade, the Brookline schools have, by different criteria, between about 600 and 850 unfilled seats. Class sizes this year range from 17 to 26 (Baker seventh grade).

As has become well known, while school enrollments rose over the past several years, so did class sizes. William Lupini, the school superintendent, made similar points in a presentation to the board on October 7. However, Dr. Lupini’s view appears to be that maintaining high-quality schools is going to take more space, perhaps another elementary school plus some kind of high-school expansion.

Mr. Modigliani, an architect, sought to discourage the board from supporting that approach, claiming that the unfilled seats in elementary schools will make more space unnecessary for at least several more years. However, he could not explain how to make use of the capacity, which is scattered through all eight schools and across all nine elementary grades, except by ordering students to transfer abruptly from one school to another.

Board members seemed skeptical. Betsy DeWitt pointed out that several current classrooms have been squeezed into small spaces, labeled “suboptimal.” Mr. Modigliani agreed that was possible but said he had not been able to inspect any of them. Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, challenged Mr. Modigliani’s approach, saying it would force schools to split siblings between schools.

Board member Nancy Daly recalled events of years ago, saying, “My son was in a first grade of 27 kids. He didn’t learn how to read. That’s what catapulted me into town politics.” Mr. Modigliani seemed to focus on counting noses. The value of a seat in a classroom, he claimed, was about $100,000, but it turned out that he meant only costs of construction. He did not seem to have given much attention to the effects of increasing class sizes on the quality of teaching and learning.

Warrant articles: The board voted to recommend no action on Article 1, unpaid bills, since there are none. For Article 2, collective bargaining, the board voted to recommend approval of the collective bargaining agreements reached with police officers earlier and with dispatchers the same evening. For Article 3, budget amendments, the board voted to recommend the Advisory Committee’s plan to use about 60 percent of an additional $0.04 million in state aid for the new diversity department, as proposed by Advisory member Stanley Spiegel and agreed to by the School Committee.

The board voted to recommend approval of Article 7, bylaw amendments prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education. The board had worked through these topics last August 29 with the participation of citizen petitioners for the article.

As negotiated with the petitioner for Article 9, noise control bylaw amendments, the board voted to recommend referral to the Noise Control Bylaw Committee it will be appointing. For Article 10, commercial recycling, the board expressed support. However, board member Nancy Daly observed, “The business community is pretty unaware of this.” She asked petitioner Alan Christ, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, “Have you reached out to them?” Apparently unsatisfied with the answers, the board decided to wait for an analysis by the town administrator, Mel Kleckner, and did not vote a recommendation.

The board gave the petitioners for Article 12, restrictions on locating marijuana dispensaries, another big bite of the apple, after spending almost two hours on the topic at a previous meeting. Not much was new. The issues had been hashed over the previous evening, at a meeting of the Zoning Bylaw Committee. Once again, George Vien of Davis Ave. tried to scare board members with vague threats of federal prosecution.

Mr. Goldstein wasn’t buying any of that, saying, “I don’t think the federal government is going to hold the Board of Selectmen liable for voting no-action on a warrant article.” He then moved to recommend no action on Article 12. Board member Neil Wishinsky agreed, saying, “We can handle the concerns that people have through the licensing and appeals process.” The board voted unanimously to oppose Article 12.

For Article 13, zoning appeals notices to town meeting members, the board also voted to recommend no action, after the Planning Department instituted changes that satisfied the petitioners. For resolution articles 18 and 19, support for domestic workers and opposition to a gas pipeline, the board voted to recommend approval, with amendments proposed by the Advisory Committee.

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


Jana Kasperkevic, Medical marijuana in New York: barriers high for small businesses, Manchester Guardian (UK), October 29, 2014

Conservation Commission: will Muddy River flooding be controlled?, Brookline Beacon, July 16, 2014

Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant explanations, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Zoning Bylaw Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries

The Zoning Bylaw Committee met to review proposed new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries Monday, October 27, starting at 7:30 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall. Article 12 for the November 18 town meeting proposes to exclude these facilities within five hundred feet of day-care centers and places where “children commonly congregate.” The committee had held a public hearing on the article September 22.

Proponents: In November of last year, after voter approval the previous year of a state law to allow marijuana distribution for medical use, Brookline adopted zoning amendments to allow state-regulated dispensaries in general business, office and industrial zones. The use requires a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, the property boundary must be at least 500 feet from the boundary of any school property and the building may not contain a day-care center. Section 4.12 of Brookline’s zoning bylaw contains several other general restrictions and some procedural requirements.

Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave. and the other petitioners for Article 12 argue that those restrictions are not enough. They claim a basis for the specifics of their proposal in a regulation of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, presumably meaning 105 CMR 725, titled “Implementation of an Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana.”

At the committee’s hearing and at several other recent meetings, Mr. Bennett claimed Brookline should have followed regulations from the state’s public health department–adding exclusion zones around day-care centers and places where “children commonly congregate.” However, the petitioners for Article 12 quote selectively from state regulations.

Crumbling claims: The state regulation at issue, 105 CMR 725.110(A)(14), can be found in a section titled “Security Requirements.” It provides (in full):

“An RMD [registered marijuana dispensary] shall comply with all local requirements regarding siting, provided however that if no local requirements exist, an RMD shall not be sited within a radius of 50 feet [sic] of a school, daycare center or any facility in which children commonly congregate. The 500 foot distance [sic] under this section is measured in a straight line from the nearest point of the facility in question to the nearest point of the proposed RMD.”

The regulation is only a default. It applies “if no local requirements exist.” Last year, Brookline enacted its own local requirements in Section 4.12 of its zoning bylaw. The regulation does not apply to Brookline. Since it was the keystone of Mr. Bennett’s claims, they appear to crumble. He and the other petitioners for Article 12 are left with general arguments about “protecting children” but not with the hard-edged specifics such as a “radius of 50 feet” or a “500 foot distance.”

Opponents: The petitioners for Article 12 claimed that in Colorado half the prescriptions for medical marijuana had been written by a dozen physicians. One of the petitioners, Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St., showed how that might happen. Ironically, the statement from Dr. Childs, a physician, became an argument in opposition.

Dr. Childs said she, along with other physicians belonging to the practice groups of the major Boston medical centers, would refuse to prescribe marijuana. That is likely to leave a small number of independent physicians as sole resources for patients interested in treatment. As in Colorado, a small number of physicians is then likely to write a large fraction of prescriptions, because of rigid attitudes adopted by other physicians.

Eddie Benjamin of Brookline objected that petitioners for Article 12 wanted to ban marijuana dispensaries by leaving no place for one to locate. Maps prepared by the Planning Department confirmed that locations of parks, playgrounds and child-care facilities in Brookline were so numerous and widely dispersed that no part of a general business, office or industrial zone would remain as an eligible site.

New England Treatment Access (NETA), now headed by Arnon Vered of Swampscott, proposes to use the former Brookline Bank building at the intersection of Boylston and Washington Sts. Mr. Vered argued that it is one of the few suitable sites in Brookline: an isolated, single-use building in a general business zone, on a state highway with on-site parking, close to a transit stop on Station St.

According to Polly Selkoe, the assistant director of regulatory planning, the Brookline Bank location is an eligible site under current zoning, and NETA has filed a plot plan that freezes the zoning for its site. Under those conditions, even if town meeting were to pass Article 12 as submitted, NETA would be able to use the site as long as it began operations within three years from filing the plot plan.

Review: Committee members found claims advanced for Article 12 unconvincing. Linda Hamlin, who chairs the Planning Board, said there was “no evidence day cares are put in jeopardy.” Kenneth Goldstein, who chairs the committee and the Board of Selectmen, said, “Voters in Brookline have spoken clearly…The bank is about as good a location as we could find in this town.” The committee voted unanimously to oppose Article 12.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 28, 2014


Marijuana dispensary zoning, currently allowed, Town of Brookline, October, 2014

Marijuana dispensary zoning, proposed Article 12, Town of Brookline, October, 2014

An Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, St. 2012 C. 369, Massachusetts General Court, November, 2012 (enacted by voters through a ballot initiative)

Implementation of an Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, 105 CMR 725, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, May 24, 2013

Zoning bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, June 2, 2014

Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant explanations, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Forum: regimented testing in Brookline public schools

On Saturday, October 25, the Brookline Educators Union (BEU) and Citizens for Public Schools (CPS) of Boston jointly sponsored a forum on regimented school testing, starting at 10 am in the Unified Arts Building at Brookline High. The forum featured live experiences with some of the PARCC tests proposed for use in Brookline schools. Participants included Brookline students, parents and teachers and Boston teachers. For this school year, after reviews and public comment, the Brookline School Committee decided against PARCC tests.

Resistance movements: Citizens for Public Schools, founded in 1982, is participating in some resistance movements against charter schools and regimented testing in public schools. Board member Alain Jehlen represented CPS at the Brookline forum. Earlier in the year, he helped organize a forum on charter schools at Madison Park High School in Boston and a forum on high-stakes testing in Northampton.

This year has been a watershed for resistance to regimented testing in public schools. A national movement has been organized by United Opt Out of Miami, FL, and it is starting to have effects. Over half the students recently refused testing at several schools in cities of New York, which has switched to PARCC tests.

Last year Minnesota repealed its testing program for high-school graduation. According to the FairTest organization in Cambridge, this year Alaska and South Carolina repealed their programs and awarded diplomas to students who would have graduated in previous years except for test scores. Indiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma repealed federally promoted Common Core standards and related testing. Rhode Island enacted a 3-year moratorium on test scores as a graduation requirement. CPS is calling for a similar moratorium in Massachusetts.

PARCC tests: At the recent Brookline forum, most participants investigated PARCC tests using computers in one of the teaching centers, led by Jessica Wender-Shubow, president of the Brookline Educators Union. They can also be investigated with practice tests on the Web.

Dr. Jehlen described regimented tests as a source of revenue for test publishers and equipment makers. PARCC is fundamentally computer-based. Many schools, he said, will “buy machines that will fit the test,” whether or not they are otherwise useful. However, he went on, “there’s been so much push-back that Massachusetts may stay with MCAS,” as Brookline chose to do this year.

Reactions: After the session with PARCC tests, Jennifer Rose-Wood, a BEU board member, led a discussion. According to several participants, the PARCC user interface was awkward for experienced users of both Windows and Macintosh computers. It does not follow familiar patterns of either operating system.

A Devotion parent who introduced herself as Hillary said the third-grade language test was “really hard.” She criticized an “infantile story” shown as a basis for questions and said if PARCC tests are used in Brookline schools, she wants to opt out.

A Brookline High student who introduced herself as Camille said she is currently taking calculus and tried the PARCC test for third-grade math. “It was hard,” she said. “The computations are adding and subtracting, but the way you have to get to it is not easy.”

Will, who teaches geometry at Brookline High, said the PARCC geometry test involved “chained problems, much harder than the SAT,” and the “level of language was pretty sophisticated.” Despite a background as a former textbook editor at Houghton-Mifflin, he found could not disentangle problems without using graph paper.

Eric, who teaches English at Brookline High, had similar reactions to the PARCC ninth-grade language test. The SAT questions, he said, “are of much higher quality.” He was “concerned with the resources being spent on these tests” and said, “We need fewer of them.”

The chair of the English department at Brookline High described the PARCC tenth-grade English test as “very difficult in terms of language…difficult to keep focus.” Her biggest concern, she said, was “asking students to write an essay about [language] style…To graduate high school you need to be able to describe style?”

A Brookline High senior who introduced himself as Khaled had tried the PARCC eleventh-grade English test and said he “failed miserably…The questions were just too close–compare and contrast two very similar themes.” By comparison, he said, “MCAS answers were very concise; PARCC answers were misleading.”

Fallout: Ms. Rose-Wood said that state testing was driving Brookline toward “test-centered education…training people to work in call centers.” More colleges are not requiring test scores, she said. “They’re realizing that high scores don’t mean the best students.”

Barbara Scotto, a School Committee member who formerly taught fifth and sixth grade at Driscoll, described how she had been confused by the PARCC user interface. “My goal is to get testing that is fair for the students, that doesn’t take up huge portions of time,” she said. “It concerns me that a state official is on the board of PARCC…that is hugely concerning.” She was obviously referring to Mitchell Chester, the commissioner of education, who chairs the PARCC board–an apparent conflict of responsibility.

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


Colleen Quinn, Education official says schools too focused on test preparation, Boston Globe, September 23, 2014

Lisa Guisbond, Testing reform victories, the first wave, National Center for Fair and Open Testing, 2014

Joe Nathan, Different standards may have increased Minnesota’s high school graduation rate, Morrison County (MN) Record, February 27, 2014

Caitlin Emma, Mary Fallin signs bill repealing the Common Core in Oklahoma, Politico, June 5, 2014

School Committee: celebrations, programs, policies and test scores, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2014

School Committee: Driscoll plans, policies, technology and testing, Brookline Beacon, May 27, 2014

Craig Bolon, Dr. Lupini moves to Brookline, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2014

Massachusetts bridges: getting there from here

Massachusetts highway bridges, sometimes reported as worst in the U.S. during the 1980s, have been improving slowly. About 10 percent are now reported structurally deficient, compared with an average of about 11 percent for states across the country. Pennsylvania has become the most problem-ridden state, with about 23 percent of its bridges structurally deficient.

Trends: Massachusetts bridge improvements have been a bipartisan effort. Progress occurred during the Weld, Cellucci, Swift, Romney and Patrick administrations. The number of bridges rated structurally deficient has dropped from around 800 in the late 1980s to a little over 400 now. The state’s Executive Office of Transportation publishes information for 1996 through 2013 on its Web site.

MassachusettsDeficientBridgeCounts1996to2013

Most improvements before the Patrick administration occurred on the cheap, renovating many smaller and simpler bridges but deferring work on bigger, more complicated ones: the Tobin, Longfellow, Fore River and Braga. One of the few ambitious efforts from 1991 through 2006 was renovation of the double-deck O’Reilly Bridge over the Merrimack River on I-495 in Lawrence and North Andover, multiple projects lasting about 8 years at a cost of over $50 million.

A leap forward: In 2008, the Patrick administration launched an 8-year “accelerated bridge replacement” program, with $3 billion authorized in bond funding. Through first quarter, 2014, about $2.3 billion in contracts was completed, awarded or advertised. The Patrick administration addressed several very large projects that the previous four Republican administrations dodged. They include these major bridges:

Mega-projects Number Location Cost Completion
Whittier 601096 Amesbury $292 million 2016-Q3
Longfellow 604361 Cambridge $255 milliion 2016-Q3
Fore River 604382 Weymouth $245 million 2017-Q1
Braga 605223 Fall River $197 million 2017-Q2
Quinsigamond 604729 Worcester $89 million 2016-Q1
I-93 north 606255 Medford $74 million 2012-Q3

A few of the recent bridge projects have used so-called “rapid bridge replacement” technology–notably 14 bridges along I-93 in Medford, all replaced in the summer of 2012. Unfortunately, no such technology is now available for the Tobin or most other steel-truss bridges. Antique bridges, built before Interstate standards of the late 1960s, are often budget-busters and projects that seem to take “forever.”

Among the rare exceptions to scandalous costs of antique bridge renovation was the 1888-1891 Harvard Bridge for Massachusetts Route 2A across the Charles River, Massachusetts Ave. between Boston and Cambridge. In the 1980s, a major renovation project cost about $16 million, on-time and on-budget. As compared with other renovations of antique bridges, the advantage–around tenfold in cost for the size of the bridge–was robust engineering and reliable construction, both when built and when renovated.

Restoring a fragile antique: The Longfellow Bridge was structurally deficient the day it opened. That’s what often happens with public works primarily designed by architects rather than engineers. The pretentious ten granite piers and eleven steel-arch spans, extending for 1,800 feet, were designed around 1897 to carry trains as well as horse-drawn vehicles and emerging motor vehicles. The four cigar-stub towers were never anything but fake Victorian ornaments.

At the time, although the Back Bay had been filled, the lower Charles River had tidal mudflats and garbage dumps. Shortly after the bridge opened in 1907, what is now known as the Science Park dam turned this part of the river into a catch basin for raw municipal sewage and industrial waste. Near the bridge, a bed of infectious and toxic river-bottom sludge has accumulated, up to six feet thick. However, the greatest misfortune of the Longfellow was that the complex, badly engineered structure came under custody of the former Metropolitan District Commission.

The MDC proved an even worse steward of the Longfellow than the Port Authority became of the Tobin. Unlike the Harvard Bridge, the Longfellow had not been designed to withstand careless management. In 1959, the bridge got a first overhaul under the MDC, by then a patronage-ridden agency in decline. The job was botched, failing to address complexities of the structure, and after several years the Longfellow again fell into severe disrepair.

The Longfellow was an obvious candidate for demolition and replacement. However, in 2003, the Longfellow went to an unprepared Department of Conservation and Recreation. The DCR had been taken over by antiquarians, who became determined to preserve not only the shapes of the elements but also the structurally inadequate, badly corroded and fractured original materials. Haggling over design added ten years of delay to a project only starting in 2013. A new bridge, perhaps a modern design like the Zakim, might have cost half as much and would be likely to last at least twice as long.

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


Chris Palmer, Report lists Pennsylvania with most unsound bridges in U.S., Philadelphia Inquirer, April 26, 2014

Katheleen Conti, State’s bridges deemed deficient, Boston Globe, June 26, 2013

Longfellow Bridge rehabilitation, Massachusetts Highway Department, 2013

Sean P. Murphy, Big Dig’s red ink engulfs state, Boston Globe, July 17, 2008

O’Reilly Bridge on I-495, Boston Roads, 2006

Longfellow Bridge rehabilitation, Massachusetts Highway Department, 2006

Robert F. Breault, Kevin R. Reisig, Lora K. Barlow and Peter K. Weiskel, Distribution and potential for adverse biological effects of inorganic elements and organic compounds in bottom sediment, lower Charles River, Massachusetts, Report 00-4180, U.S. Geological Survey, 2000, figures with searchable but not copyable text from Hathi Trust Digital Library

Board of Selectmen: hearings on tax overrides

The Board of Selectmen held two October hearings on potential tax overrides for next year, both in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. The first was Thursday evening, October 9, starting at 7:30 pm, and the second was Monday morning, October 20, starting at 9:00 am. Each hearing drew about 80 participants and listeners. Perhaps the board expected differences between morning and evening, but views expressed proved similar.

Public schools: The key problem is costs of Brookline public schools. That is driven mostly by enrollment, which has increased for at least six years. On August 13, 2013, the board appointed an override study committee to review the issues and make recommendations. The committee divided into 9 subgroups, holding 174 officially posted meetings over almost a year. It voted recommendations last July 30.

At the final meeting, committee member Sergio Modigliani moved to recommend $5.0 million per year in additional property taxes to support town operations and a one-time exclusion from the tax limit for $23.0 million in debt to renovate and expand Devotion School. Committee member Kevin Lang moved to amend: $7.9 million additional per year for operations and a $58.8 million debt exclusion for school construction.

The committee decided to vote the matters separately. Prof. Lang’s amendments failed, 7 to 8. Mr. Modigliani’s motions passed, 9 to 6. They became the committee’s recommendations to the Board of Selectmen. The Brookline TAB did not send a reporter to that meeting and failed to describe committee actions as they happened, saying instead there was “no consensus.” Indeed there was no consensus, but there were votes.

Factions: Recently, some members of the Board of Selectmen have begun mentioning “group 1″ proposals–meaning the committee’s recommendations from June 30–and “group 2″ proposals–meaning ones for higher amounts that the committee rejected. Of the nine committee members in the majority, five spoke at the hearings: Clifford Brown, Chad Ellis, Janet Gelbart, Carol Levin and Lee Selwyn, supported by co-chair Richard Benka. Of the six members in the minority, only Beth Stram spoke.

At risk of adding fuel to a fire, William Lupini, the school superintendent, spoke at an October 7 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, seeking more money than “group 2″ proposals. If the Board of Selectmen proposes a tax override, Brookline voters will decide. Current plans would place a question on the town election ballot next spring. Views expressed at the two hearings clustered around five override options and five other concerns:

• Maximum override, as sought by Dr. Lupini
• High override, the “group 2″ proposals
• Low override, the “group 1″ proposals
• Some override, amounts and purposes unstated
• No override for any purpose
• Support for METCO and employee programs
• Opposition to METCO and employee programs
• Devotion School expansion and renovation plans
• A new, ninth elementary school
• High school expansion

Many speakers described affiliations, including Brookline High School (BHS), an elementary school–Baker, Devotion, Driscoll, Heath, Lawrence, Lincoln, Pierce or Runkle–service as town meeting members (TMM) or on the override study committee (OSC), and the Brookline Educators Union (BEU).

Maximum override: Dr. Lupini has outlined a spending plan he says would require an additional $12.29 million in tax revenue for fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018 combined. He did not make clear his base of comparison, but apparently he is somehow calling for more than $15.38 million in added revenue that the override study committee recommends for those years, including 2.5 percent increases for 2017 and 2018.

At the hearings, Dr. Lupini’s plan was generally supported by Jessica Wender-Shubow, BEU president and a BHS teacher, by Dominique Aumiller, BEU vice president, a BHS teacher and a Devotion parent, by Emily England, a Baker parent, by Keira Flynn-Carson, a BHS teacher, and by Mike Toeffel, a Devotion parent.

Ms. Wender-Shubow said that under current management, “60 to 90 students can be in a room with a single educator.” Ms. Flynn-Carson maintained that “essential intangibles [were] neglected by committee.” Ms. Aumiller described the difference between “intense discussions with 15 students” and, last year, a class of 28 students, saying, “Half…never talked.”

High override: Last June 30, a minority of the override committee proposed higher amounts than those the override study committee recommends: $7.9 million per year for school operations, plus debt exclusion of $58.8 million for school building projects. Some members of the Board of Selectmen have been referring to those as “group 2″ proposals although they were rejected. They have no status as recommendations.

At the hearings, the high override was generally supported by Lauren Bernard of John St., a Devotion parent and Precinct 8 TMM, by Sarah Boehs of Aspinwall Ave., a Lawrence parent, by Jack Hall of Washington St., a Driscoll parent, by Brian Hochleutner of Elm St., a Pierce parent and Precinct 6 TMM, by Hai-ying Peng of Bradford Terrace, a Devotion parent, by Pamela Roberts, a Devotion parent, by David Root of Longwood Ave., a Lawrence parent, by Andrew Shalit of Griggs Terrace, a Pierce parent, by Beth Stram, a BHS parent and an OSC member, by Jillian Webster of Naples Rd., a Devotion parent, and by Charla Whitlay, a Devotion parent.

Ms. Bernard said, “Past experiences at Devotion were more enriching…Adequate staffing is the issue.” The school has lost most of its former special-purpose rooms and is now subdivided into warrens of small rooms and cubicles. However, Ms. Stram said, “Devotion cannot be the only solution.” She was supported by several others concerned about school-space needs. Mr. Hochleutner maintained, “The OSC assumptions were wrong…We need a buffer, a safety zone.”

Low override: A compromise approach is the lower override that was recommended by the committee on June 30: $5 million per year for school operations plus debt exclusion of $23 million for expansion and renovation of Devotion School. The committee acknowledges, if enrollment continues to increase, that more funding may be needed in future years.

At the hearings, the low override was generally supported by Richard Benka of Circuit Rd., co-chair of OSC, by Clifford Brown of Hyslop Rd, a Precinct 13 TMM and an OSC member, by Chad Ellis of Chesham Rd., a Runkle parent, a Precinct 12 TMM and an OSC member, by Janet Gelbart of St. Paul St., an OSC member, by Carol Levin, a Runkle parent and an OSC member, by Linda Olsen Pehlke of Browne St, a Precinct 2 TMM, by Dr. Nadhave Prakash of Bradford Terrace, by Lee Selwyn of Reservoir Rd., an OSC member, by Dr. Stanley Spiegel of Stetson St., a Precinct 2 TMM, by Dr. Sundar Srinivasan of Salisbury Rd., a Driscoll parent, and by Megan Zorn, a Driscoll parent.

Mr. Benka asserted that “schools want substantial additional programs…We have to avoid overstatement.” Mr. Ellis quoted Susan Ditkoff, School Committee chair and co-chair of OSC, as stating that if the low override were adopted, the school “enrichment and challenge support program would be dropped.” Ms. Zorn claimed that “fear-mongering [is being] used to quell dissent.” In a more practical tone, Ms. Gelbart said the Board of Selectmen should “pass what is needed at a level the town can afford.” Dr. Spiegel advised caution, saying, “There’s opposition gearing up for this override…The number zero will be on the ballot as well.”

Some override: Some speakers at the hearings voiced support for an override without saying which option or what amounts they favored. They included Cina Doctoroff of Williston Rd., a Runkle parent, Craig Hagen of Colbourne Crescent, a Runkle parent, Pamela Katz of Columbia St., a Devotion parent and Precinct 9 TMM, Ellen Messing of Kilsyth Rd., a Driscoll parent, and Carrie Staff of Stedman St., a Devotion parent.

Ms. Katz claimed there was “not a single [Devotion] classroom that has not had some kind of compromise.” Ms. Staff said, “Devotion cannot be the only solution.” Ms. Messing asserted, “OSC significantly overstates the costs of METCO.”

No override: Although a distinct minority, some at the hearings questioned the need for an override. Perhaps most vehement was Saralynn Allaire of Bellingham Rd., a Precinct 16 TMM. She seemed not to favor Dr. Lupini, the school superintendent, saying, “He of course does not pay taxes here and presumably does not care about the town overall.” She proposed a solution to more students from Hancock Village, if a Chapter 40B housing project goes through: “Bus them up to the Heath School.”

Regina Frawley of Russett Rd., a Precinct 16 TMM, acknowledged Brookline was a “liberal” town, saying, “You can’t name a social program we’re not supporting.” She urged the Board of Selectmen to have concern for people “in single-family houses, on fixed incomes…We’re looking at pushing seniors out.” Pamela Lodish of Fisher Ave., a Precinct 14 TMM, questioned continuation of METCO and school employee programs, saying, “We don’t have the space.” She is “not in favor of a huge tax increase when these points are not being addressed.”

Support for METCO and employee programs: Starting in December of last year, Mr. Selwyn and Mr. Benka of the override study committee began singling out METCO and the student program for town employees as villains of school spending. Mr. Selwyn introduced the issues at a meeting attended by Jessica Wender-Shubow, a native of Brookline who now heads the Brookline Educators Union. Word quickly got around that Brookline had a committee with members hostile to two of the community’s longstanding social programs.

METCO was organized in 1965. An initial effort was led by Prof. Leon Trilling of M.I.T., then chairman of the Brookline School Committee. Key participants included Dr. Robert Sperber, then Brookline superintendent of schools, and the superintendents in Newton and Lexington. When METCO started sending students to seven founding communities in 1966, the program was described as filling “available seats” in classrooms.

In the 1970s, a similar approach was taken to a student program for town employees, who have been allowed to enroll their children in Brookline schools, paying a so-called “materials fee” to compensate for direct costs. Students in these programs do not get their choices of school. Instead, they are assigned where space is most available. Because of the approach, school administrators have always maintained that the main costs are not financial but social, increasing some class sizes.

At the hearings, Brookline’s longstanding social programs in the schools were generally supported by Joanna Baker of Beacon St., a Precinct 13 TMM, by Suzanne Farman of Centre St., a Devotion parent, by Eana Meng, a BHS student and founder of Brookline Friends of METCO, by Ellen Messing of Kilsyth Rd., a Driscoll parent, by Danielle Rabbina, a BHS teacher, by Joseph Segel of Beacon St, by Dr. Min Song of Bradford Terrace, a Devotion parent, by Suzanna Stern, a Runkle parent, by Henry Varon, a BHS student, by Ms. Wender-Shubow and by Catherine Wolf, a BHS teacher.

Ms. Baker suggested that some in Brookline “may have forgotten the value METCO brings to the Boston area, [addressing] unequal access to education.” Mr. Varon said, “METCO offers the most diversity of any program in the schools.” According to Ms. Meng, “Race becomes something we appreciate rather than something that separates us.” Ms. Messing called METCO “an amazing and inspiring experience for my kids.” Mr. Segel emphasized the value of METCO in helping Brookline students learn how to interact well with people from different backgrounds. In the work world, he said, “a diverse work force is one of the most valuable assets a company has.”

Speaking about the employee student or so-called “materials fee” program, Ms. Miller said it “encourages and retains high-quality teachers.” Ms. Rabbina, a 14-year veteran in Brookline schools, said that if the program were compromised, she “would look elsewhere.” According to Ms. Wender-Shubow, “teachers are demoralized” from the committee’s attack against the employee program. “You are talking about sustaining middle-class families,” she said.

Opposition to METCO and employee programs: Richard Benka of Circuit Rd., co-chair of OSC, kept up attacks on the METCO program, claiming it represents “a 6-1/2 million dollar annual subsidy to Boston. Lee Selwyn of Reservoir Rd., an OSC member, asserted that “these programs are not free.” If they were to be ended, he claimed, school “expansion would not be required…An override could be avoided.”

Linda Olsen Pehlke of Browne St., a Precinct 2 TMM, did not seem to have read much about the 1960s in Boston. She asked, “What were the conditions when [METCO] was established?” Chad Ellis of Chesham Rd., a Runkle parent, Precinct 12 TMM and OSC member, asked, “Is that the best way that we could support diversity?” Dr. Stanley Spiegel of Stetson St., a Precinct 2 TMM, asked, “Why should we have to pay more taxes to educate non-resident students, whose own families pay their taxes elsewhere?” Pamela Lodish of Fisher Ave., a Precinct 14 TMM, said, “We don’t have the space.”

Devotion School plans: The current plan for Devotion School made three residents of Bradford Terrace unhappy. That is an apartment building on Babcock St. without the side and rear setbacks now required by zoning. Maya French complained that the Devotion School Building Committee chose “the most expensive plan for Devotion.” However, the committee obtained two sets of cost estimates. While the option they chose was the most expensive of three according to one estimate, it was the middle of three according to the other estimate.

Since no one but residents of Bradford Terrace was complaining about Devotion School plans, the real issue looked to be something else. An initial plan for a proposed new south wing is closer to Babcock St. than the current building. From Table 5.01 of the zoning bylaw, the minimum setback appears to be around 50 ft–about the current amount. The initial plan showed a new south building set back about half as much. Under a special permit, which might be needed, the Zoning Board of Appeals can modify setback requirements.

Manny Howard of Bradford Terrace complained that the proposed building “will prevent the warmth of the sun from reaching our property.” However, sunlight comes mainly from the south, while the new building is mainly to the north of Bradford Terrace. Dr. Min Song of Bradford Terrace wanted to scrap the existing school and build an entirely new one, calling the current plan “a suburban school in an urban lot.” Jillian Webster of Naples Rd., a Devotion parent, contended that the other options considered by the Devotion School Building Committee, but rejected, “won’t provide the quality of experiences parents expect from their schools.”

New, ninth elementary school: Some parents had concerns about plans for school expansion, to accommodate increasing enrollment. A few years ago, Brookline engaged in a tedious examination of the issue, resulting in an “expand-in-place” strategy for which the current Lawrence School project and the planned Devotion School project are the first outcomes. These fail to meet even current needs for elementary schools, accommodating at most a few hundred more students, and they do nothing for the high school.

Contending that “expand-in-place” was a failure were Sarah Kitterman of Kenwood St., a Devotion parent, Dr. Min Song of Bradford Terrace, a Devotion parent, Dr. Sundar Srinivasan of Salisbury Rd., a Driscoll parent, and Pelly Stoll of Evans Rd., a Driscoll parent. Dr. Srinivasan asserted, “We do not have sufficient backup plans.” He cited a project in Newton expected to add “24 new classrooms for $40 million,” including land. Mr. Stoll said Brookline’s current efforts amount to “a shrug of a plan.”

High school expansion: Lack of plans to address overcrowding at the high school, expected as the current, large elementary classes move up, concerned several parents. They included Emily England, a Baker parent, Robert Liao, a Heath parent, Dr. Min Song, a Devotion parent, Beth Stram, a BHS parent and an OSC member, and Megan Zorn, a Driscoll parent.

Ms. England said it was “shameful not to look at solutions for the high school now.” Ms. Zorn recalled that Dr. Luipini had said that “the high school might run 5 am to 7 pm…This suggestion is outrageous.” Mr. Liao claimed, “Six years is enough to plan for the high school…[Planning] should start now.”

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


School Committee: budget crisis evaporates for this year, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Annual town meeting: budgets and a larger Driscoll school, Brookline Beacon, May 29, 2014

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

Board of Selectmen: appointments, warrant articles, school spending, Brookline Beacon, October 8, 2014

March of Ebola: in numbers

The Ebola virus epidemic in west Africa presents a complex picture in early fall, 2014. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone remain in crisis. There is also a smaller epidemic in Democratic Republic of Congo, and several cases have been reported in Nigeria and Senegal. A few cases were imported into the U.S. and Europe, and the disease has been transmitted to health-care workers there.

The World Health Organization (WHO), an arm of the United Nations based in Geneva, published most of the data available. It has offices in all the countries and operates longstanding efforts to report and combat chronic and epidemic diseases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based in Atlanta, has been issuing reports trying to estimate trends in WHO data but has only a little information of its own.

Through late summer, WHO published data about the 2014 west Africa outbreak of Ebola virus via its Global Alert and Response (GAR) reports. This year GAR also described outbreaks of avian flu, MERS and polio and announced a recent outbreak in Uganda of Marburg–a virus closely related to Ebola. At the end of August, WHO began a series of Situation Reports focused on the 2014 Ebola crisis countries.

Chart of case counts: The development of Ebola in the 2014 crisis countries of west Africa can be most clearly described with a semilogarithmic chart, an ordinary tool for research scientists.

WhoEbolaWestAfricaCaseCounts20141019

Source: World Health Organization, United Nations

The chart shows total Ebola cases reported, by day of 2014, for the three countries in crisis. Counts of cases are measured through base-2 logarithms. An increase of one unit in a base-2 logarithm represents doubling of a count. The number of days for such an increase is the doubling time. When a logarithmic series of total cases climbs steadily, an outbreak is uncontrolled. When a trend levels, an outbreak is usually being controlled.

Reports from west Africa began late, only after at least 50 to 80 cases per country had accumulated. It looks likely that the first cases occurred several months before the first WHO reports. According to CDC, the first confirmed case from the current epidemic can be traced to Guinea, in December, 2013.

Crisis countries: Guinea reported Ebola cases first, on March 22. It acted with some success to control the outbreak through isolation of victims in care centers and supportive treatments. However, as the blue-colored series in the chart shows, Guinea has suffered successive waves of Ebola virus disease. In early August, a new wave began in and near Conakry, the capital, which has yet to be controlled.

Sierra Leone began to report Ebola cases June 1. Extending the case-count trend back to logarithm zero–that is, to one case–suggests the epidemic there really started in early February. Sierra Leone has been less successful than Guinea with control efforts. The green-colored series indicates a shorter doubling time.

Liberia began to report Ebola cases June 16. Extending its case-count trend suggests the epidemic there really started in early April. Liberia has shown the least success controlling the epidemic. Through July and August, the magenta-colored series indicated a doubling time of less than 20 days.

Trends: Since August, the trend in Liberia from WHO reports looks to have leveled, but its crisis is not really being addressed, and those reports acknowledge that current data are not reliable. Instead, Liberia’s health-care and reporting resources have failed. In early August, news reports showed dead Ebola victims lying in streets. In early September, Liberia’s government admitted victims were being turned away from care centers, after that had been reported for weeks.

The trend line for Liberia from July and August predicts more than ten thousand Ebola cases by now, while the latest WHO report shows a little over four thousand. So far, trends indicate no crisis country has brought the epidemic under control. The three differ in rates of increase: the most unfavorable is Liberia, with a doubling time probably still less than 20 days; the least unfavorable is Guinea, with a doubling time around 45 days.

Responses: So far, only the United States government has begun substantial assistance. President Obama requested and Congress approved over $1 billion in assistance, using funds already appropriated. At last report, the U.S. Army had over 500 troops in Liberia of about 4,000 committed, was training more for service at a rate of about 500 per week and had committed equipment and materials to build and supply 17 treatment centers there.

Other significant international efforts as of mid-October:
France, Guinea, about $100 million appropriated, one treatment center being built
Britain, Sierra Leone, no funds yet appropriated, one treatment center being built
Germany, no presence, about $130 million appropriated, airlifts operating via Senegal
• Cuba, Sierra Leone, about 160 health-care workers, about 300 more preparing for Liberia and Guinea
• Russia, no presence, no funds appropriated, one mobile test laboratory supplied

– Craig Bolon, October 19, 2014


Ebola response, Situation Report 8 Update, World Health Organization, October 17, 2014

Ebola response, Situation Report 8, World Health Organization, October 15, 2014

Sarah Boseley, World Health Organization admits botching response to Ebola outbreak, Manchester Guardian (UK), October 17, 2014

Felicia Schwartz, U.S. military effort to combat Ebola in Africa to enter new stage, Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2014

Craig Bolon, Ebola: health-care crisis in west Africa, Brookline Beacon, September 15, 2014


Note: Staff of the World Health Organization gathered and published data referenced for this article, but apparently they did not chart their data, or they ignored what a chart should have shown.

Gateway East: an idea whose time has gone

Springtime came in 2005. Today, a once ambitious “Gateway East” project has an odor of stale cabbage. The idle, pie-in-the-sky program aimed to turn traffic-ridden Route 9, near the Brookline border with a poverty-stricken Mission Hill area of Boston, into a so-called “gateway.”

Nearly forgotten dreams called for the foot of Washington St. to become a “boulevard.” A launch plan compared it with Commonwealth Ave. in the Back Bay and with Brattle St. in Cambridge. Imagine. [Creating Gateway East, April, 2005, p. 3]

Route9BrooklineGasStation

Source: Town of Brookline, MA

Actually, the area looks like a highway. It sounds like a highway, and it smells like a highway. It is a 6-lane state highway. The businesses actually located on the foot of Washington St.–then and now–consist of a Gulf station and a vacant restaurant, formerly Skipjack’s.

Even the name of the project begged a question: to what might the industrial foot of Washington St. be a gateway? To a gas station? To a Boston ghetto? Not to a fish restaurant. Skipjack’s sagged with the dot-com boom, and the once lively Brookline site closed, soon followed by nearby, former Village Fish.

Scarce goods: Ingredients for success went missing from the start and were never found: the “why” and the “what.” The launch plan merely outlined an area–centered on the segment of Route 9 along the foot of Washington St. It connects with a dilapidated stretch of Huntington Ave. in Boston, past the Riverway.

In April of 2005, a citizen committee was assembled by a former town administrator, Richard Kelliher, and a former all-male Board of Selectmen–Robert Allen, Jr., Joseph Geller, Gilbert Hoy, Michael Merrill and Michael Sher. According to Brookline’s municipal Web site, the committee is still on the books, but it has no spot on the Agendas and Minutes page, covering meetings during 2010 through 2014.

If wishes were horses: The committee set up for the project always looked somewhat like an advertisement, because the launch plan vested all actions in government employees: Jeff Levine and Catherine Cagle in the Planning Department–no longer with the town–plus administrators and staff in Public Works. [Creating Gateway East, April, 2005, p. 15]

Lacking a “why” and a “what,” the launch plan focused on “how”–that is, on meeting after meeting:
• Initial meeting
• Follow-up meeting
• Interdepartmental meeting
• Meetings with regional stakeholders
• Public meetings
• Committee meetings
• and more meetings
[Creating Gateway East, April, 2005, p. 14]

Time rolls on: With miracles in short supply, a practical Engineering division of Public Works eventually reverted the project to core elements: repaving a quarter mile of Route 9 and intersections, adding a touch of landscaping, building concrete traffic islands and modernizing signals and controls with pedestrian buttons, vehicle detection and emergency pre-emption. It’s a road plan, with no bicycles currently in view.

As prepared by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown and submitted to the state highway department January 18, 2012, project 605110 is strictly highway-issue. Travel lanes are mostly 11 feet, sidewalks are 6 feet, There is granite curbing and a little brick edging. An “existing pedestrian bridge” is called out, to be “removed by others.” Site-edge improvements in the Pearl St. vicinity are called out, to be “redevelopment by others.” Other than a couple of benches perhaps, there is no “boulevard” currently in view.

Declare victory: Owing nothing to “gateway” dreams, Planning staff soldiered on with practical aims too, and fortune was with them. Children’s Hospital had bought out the 1990s Pearl St. development put up by Harvard Pilgrim and was interested in building offices next door.

Brookline had sought developers since the 1960s, but the area to the north of the foot of Washington St. did not gel. Hearthstone Plaza went up in the early 1970s, then 1 Brookline Place in the middle 1990s, leaving a gap between, in Brookline’s former industrial zone. Learning of Children’s interest, the Board of Selectmen set up a Brookline Place Advisory Committee in October, 2013, and this time pieces began to fall into place.

After the Brookline Place committee negotiated a scale of development and helped enact zoning at this year’s annual town meeting, the Planning Board recruited committee members for a design advisory team, following Brookline’s zoning process for design review. The team started work with the developers in August.

Developers for 2 Brookline Place / Children’s Hospital have been making steady progress. Several objectives sought with the now-antiquated “gateway” plan will be achieved by the combination of the office development at 2 Brookline Place and the highway plan for Route 9:
• Completion of the 1960s Marsh Project with 2 Brookline Place
• Removal of a hazardous Route 9 pedestrian overpass, closed since 1978
• Improvements to the Pearl St. public infrastructure
• A public pathway across the new Brookline Place development
• Improved traffic management for Route 9 and its intersections
• A demand-cycled pedestrian crossing on Route 9 near Pearl St.
Beautification, bicycles and a “boulevard” will have to wait.

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


Craig Bolon, Brookline legacies: Olmsted and coal ash, Brookline Beacon, June 6, 2014

Robert Duffy, Jeff Levine, Catherine Cagle and Donald Giard, Creating Gateway East, Goody Clancy, April, 2005

Gateway East Committee, Brookline Gateway East Final Plan, Von Grossman, October, 2006

Massachusetts Highway Division, Project 605110, Intersection improvement project for Washington St. (Route 9) and Walnut St. in the town of Brookline, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, January, 2012 (13 MB)

Planning Board: offices and parking at Brookline Place, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Brookline Place project: three concept plans, Brookline Beacon, September 16, 2014

Board of Selectmen: interviews and warrant articles

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 14, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. There were reviews, public hearings and recommendations for 10 of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18.

Announcements, contracts and interviews: The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 28 and 29, November 9 and December 4 at the Senior Center, Baker and Devotion schools, and the Health Center. Public Works and Planning administrators got approvals for a total of $0.05 million in contracts, the largest of them with Robicheau of Roslindale for work at Waldstein Park.

The board interviewed several candidates for appointments: two for Arts, one for Public Health Advisory, one for Naming and three for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations–created at this year’s annual town meeting to replace the former Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission and recently approved by the state’s attorney general. Twelve commissioners are authorized, none appointed yet.

Warrant article, disorderly conduct: Article 8 for the November 18 town meeting, submitted by Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, seeks to revise Brookline’s bylaw on disorderly conduct. An earlier review September 30 left unanswered questions from members of the board. This time Mr. O’Leary was assisted by Patricia Correa, an associate town counsel, and by town meeting members long interested in the issues.

Ms. Correa had distributed a 6-page memorandum outlining state and federal court decisions from 1967 to the present that indicated revisions to town bylaws were needed. One clarification would remove the term “quiet enjoyment” but retain and define “disturbing the peace” in line with the decision in Commonwealth v. Orlando. [373 Mass 732, 1977]

Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen, represented defendant David Orlando of Norfolk County in the 1977 case, which he lost at the state supreme court. The court found the statute being challenged constitutional, holding that it provided reasonable notice about forbidden conduct. The 1977 decision refers to “activities which…most people would find to be unreasonably disruptive and…did…infringe someone’s right to be undisturbed.”

Mr. Rosenthal recalled the circumstances of the 1977 case and recommended to the board that the proposed bylaw would be effective and defensible. He was supported by Nancy Heller, a Precinct 8 town meeting member who had raised issues during a 2013 town meeting debate over the bylaw. This time the board seemed satisfied that lingering issues had been addressed and voted unanimously to recommend Article 8.

Warrant article, noise control: The board heard from Fred Lebow, a former town meeting member, about Article 9, in which he proposes revisions to Brookline’s noise control bylaw. It is the same proposal that was rejected at this year’s annual town meeting in a unanimous vote of No on a main motion–a very rare event.

Mr. Lebow, an acoustic engineer, still wants to make life easier for fellow engineers by exempting them from night-time work–instead, estimating night-time noise by adjusting the amount of noise measured during the day. Mr. Lebow tried to convince the board about his approach by showing that the bylaw already uses a similar approach when measuring noise from “fixed equipment,” but it sounded like a tough sell.

Mr. Lebow’s article would completely exempt any leafblower from regulation that is not handheld or carried in a backpack. Board member Betsy DeWitt did not seem to favor weakening standards. She said, “My neighbors come to me with complaints: leafblowers used out-of-season…The torture moves around during the day…Two operating together is pretty painful.”

Mr. Lebow also wants to allow noise meters that are calibrated to European (IEC) standards rather than to U.S. (ANSI) standards. He claimed they are “the same,” but they are not. According to Pulsar Instruments, a dealer in precision sound equipment, “USA standards…are usually VERY different…[from] IEC standards and are often incompatible.” It came out that one of Mr. Lebow’s problems is that he happens to own a European meter.

For whatever reasons, Mr. Lebow’s proposals appear likely to weaken or undermine Brookline’s noise standards and make them difficult to apply accurately. Andrew Fischer, a Precinct 13 town meeting member, objected to the proposed changes, saying, “We don’t want loud leafblowers…We want effective noise enforcement…This pokes holes through the ability to enforce.”

Warrant article, commercial recycling: Alan Christ, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, came to argue for support of Article 10. It proposes that businesses in Brookline be required to recycle in the same ways as residences. Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, objected that most businesses are tenants and that requirements should apply to property owners, saying, “You should be talking about the landlords.”

Mr. Christ did not seem to understand the distinction, but Andrew Pappastergion, the Public Works director, clearly did. Most commercial properties, he explained, are being served by private waste haulers, who do not provide recycling now. “We do offer it,” he said, “but we offer only one pickup per week.” He maintained that the issues were complicated. “DPW supports the intent of the article, [but]…just adding the word ‘commercial’ [to a Brookline bylaw] does not provide proper enforcement.”

Celinda Shannon, who became executive director of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce about a year ago, spoke in support of commercial recycling. However, she said she was “concerned with practical and financial issues.” Board member Betsy DeWitt recalled, at the time of the “plastic bag ban…[last year], discussions about implementation plans.” “That’s right,” responded Ms. Shannon.

Mr. Pappastergion said he was wary of trying to take on too many solid-waste issues in short order. As he put it, “We’re going to be requiring a very large culture-change in the community.” Last May 14, at the complaint session DPW holds before an annual town meeting, Mr. Pappastergion had announced a trash metering proposal, which he also described at a June 10 meeting of the Board of Selectmen.

Warrant article, Zoning Appeals notices: Bobbie Knable, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, spoke for Article 13, on Zoning Appeals notifications, which she and Ruthann Sneider, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, had filed. She recounted a case in her neighborhood when abutters could not learn of continuances for a case or learn about an applicant’s withdrawal. Her article would require notices sent to town meeting members,

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, said some problems had already been addressed. If an Appeals panel now grants a continuance, it is to a “date certain” announced at the hearing where the continuance is granted. She said “minutes” of Appeals sessions were being made available online. When board member Betsy DeWitt looked up a recent case on the spot, using a portable computer, she found no such thing.

Ms. Steinfeld seemed to back away, saying there was “a summary of the prior night’s meeting on the Web site.” There are no minutes online now. The online records just say, in general, what type of development was being proposed–such as “basement expansion” or “house addition”–and whether an appeal was granted or denied.

The online records do not say who sat on an Appeals panel, who spoke at a hearing or what they said. They do not even describe special permit and variance requests–such as 3 feet less rear setback than required under Table 5.01 for an accessory structure in an S-7 zone. If conditions are imposed, they do not tell what the conditions are. Ms. Steinfeld promised improvements.

Warrant articles, naming and resolutions: The board voted to recommend no action on Article 14, naming part of Cypress Playground as Hennessey Fields, and instead to recommend an alternative filed for a “special-special” town meeting, also scheduled for November 18. The board voted to support Article 17, a resolution asking the town to select health-conscious LED lamps for its lighting programs. It had heard arguments at a public hearing October 7.

Stephen Vogel of Walnut St. spoke for Article 18, proposing a resolution in support of the rights of domestic workers. He previously described it at length to an Advisory subcommittee. Edward Loechler, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, and Carol Oldham, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, spoke for Article 19, proposing a resolution against natural gas pipelines and explorations in Massachusetts.

Article 19 has oddities. Natural gas, it claims, “is a non-renewable fossil fuel which generates significant carbon emissions.” The proponents cited no renewable fossil fuels nor any ordinary substance that does not produce carbon [dioxide] emissions when burned. They appeared unfamiliar with recent research showing the U.S. distribution of atmospheric methane spiking in the Southwest but very low in New England.

UsMethaneEmissionPhoto2006

Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Board member Ben Franco seemed skeptical. Without natural gas, he asked, “Can renewable energy fill the gap?” Dr. Loechner maintained there was unused capacity in existing gas pipelines but did not distinguish between average and peak demands. Ms. Oldman mentioned transport of liquefied natural gas on ocean-going ships but did not explain that much energy has to be spent on liquefaction. The article sounded in need of study.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 16, 2014


Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant explanations, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Craig Bolon, Household workers: not just respect, Brookline Beacon, October 1, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Eric Holthaus, Desert Southwest is burping methane, VNV Advisory (Slate), October 10, 2014

Advisory subcommittee on taxi medallions: another turn of the churn

A special Advisory subcommittee met for a public hearing Tuesday, October 14, starting at 5:30 pm in the Denny Room at the Health Center. It was assembled by Advisory chair Harry Bohrs to review two articles about taxi medallions filed for the town meeting starting November 18. The subcommittee consists of Advisory members Amy Hummel, Sytske Humphrey, Fred Levitan and Michael Sandman, with Mr. Sandman as chair.

The topic became a renewed controversy when John Harris, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, filed Article 26 for this year’s annual town meeting, proposing to ask the General Court to repeal sections of state laws allowing Brookline to sell taxi medallions: in Chapter 51 of the Acts of 2010 and in Chapter 52 of the Acts of 2012. The town meeting voted to refer his article to a committee to be appointed by the moderator.

Medallions are permanent taxi licenses that are owned as property and can be resold. Like most towns, Brookline has annually renewed licenses. The Transportation Board began to consider a medallion system several years ago. A November, 2008, town meeting voted to ask for state legislation authorizing such a system. It took four years to get satisfactory legislation and two more years to develop plans and regulations. If Mr. Harris had not filed Article 26 or it had been rejected, a medallion system would have been implemented by this past summer.

The moderator’s committee on taxi medallions met over the summer. It consists of Mr. Sandman along with Chad Ellis, a Precinct 12 town meeting member, Jeffrey Kushner, a Brookline resident, and Joshua Safer, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and current Transportation Board chair. Thus the moderator’s committee and the Advisory subcommittee share one member, and both are being steered toward Transportation Board viewpoints.

Mr. Harris refiled the article seeking repeal of taxi medallions, now Article 15 for the fall town meeting. Like all business coming before a town meeting, it will be reviewed by the Advisory Committee, who first send it to a subcommittee. Mr. Sandman and Mr. Levitan of the subcommittee are former Transportation Board members.

David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, filed Article 16 for this fall’s town meeting, proposing a resolution on how Brookline should handle taxi issues. Oddly, it takes no direct position on taxi medallions. Instead, it supports “actions to enhance driver retention and recruitment” and says Brookline should “increase staffing devoted to taxicab regulation.”

In an explanation filed with his article, Mr. Lescohier complains that plans for taxi medallions approved by the Board of Selectmen have “practically earmarked medallion sales only to established companies,” ignoring “disgraceful, deteriorating working conditions” for taxi drivers and providing no “realistic opportunity for [them to become]…owners” of medallions.

At a public hearing last July, several taxi drivers spoke in favor of a medallion system that could allow them to become medallion owners. The owner and manager of Bay State Taxi, Brookline’s largest service, said he had a program ready to go that would finance medallion purchases by Bay State drivers, if they were sold to the drivers at reasonable prices. Mr. Lescohier denounced current medallion plans at the hearing, saying they focused on maximizing town revenues, “chasing the fantasy of windfall dreams.”

Mr. Kushner of the moderator’s committee said the current medallion plan “is not good public policy.” It “raises future costs of operating taxis,” he claimed. From a social perspective, he said, selling medallions “is like using nuclear weapons to kill ants.” Mr. Ellis was even more blunt, saying, “We’re not going to do medallions.”

Veterans of the Transportation Board would have none of that. Mr. Levitan said he “could not conceive of voting for [Mr. Harris's] article. It has no merit whatever.” Mr. Sandman, apparently unmoved by the social justice arguments, reminded others, “We are a subcommittee of the finance committee.” Ms. Hummel and Ms. Humphrey, who had not followed the long, complicated disputes, sounded uncertain. Ms. Hummel said “value judgments come into play as well,” but she did not “know what other alternatives make sense.”

Capt. Michael Gropman, head of the Brookline police traffic division, spoke in favor of implementing the current medallion plan. “Eleven years…[of] analysis,” he said, have been “destroying the industry…It has been an insult watching [one of the taxi owners] suffer through this…We cannot continue to do this any more…It’s impossible to get a cab on a Saturday night…You folks have to make a decision.”

Mr. Levitan moved to recommend no action on Article 15, seeking to repeal taxi medallions, which won unanimous support. Mr. Sandman moved to recommend approval of Article 16, the resolution, but Ms. Humphrey sought to amend, recommending it be referred to the moderator’s committee. After some discussion, the amendment won unanimously.

The Advisory Committee may or may not support its subcommittee’s approach. In any event, decisive actions that Mr. Ellis, Mr. Kushner and Capt. Gropman urged were not getting through this subcommittee, who recommended yet another turn of the churn.

– Beacon staff, October 15, 2014


Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant explanations, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Brookline taxis: can you afford a “medallion” taxi?, Brookline Beacon, July 20, 2014

Fluorescent lighting: the household market

Fluorescent lamps were introduced to U.S. industrial markets by GE in 1938 to provide efficient lighting. They used about a third the electricity used by incandescent bulbs providing the same amounts of light and could last several times as long. At first, reliability was marginal, but improvements during the World War II years led to rapid expansion of use afterward. In 1950, fluorescents provided about half of U.S. commercial lighting.

At four and eight feet long, with 1-1/2 inch diameter, early fluorescents were too big for household uses, and green-tinged light proved unacceptable. Shorter and thinner tubes, circular tubes and better-balanced light won some household use in the 1950s–including kitchen, laundry, garage and undercounter lighting. However, the lamps could not be used in common household fixtures.

Slow growth: High-efficiency household lighting grew slowly for about 50 years. After the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, at a time of rapidly rising electricity prices, small fluorescent lamps became available. They had thin, U-shaped “biax” tubes about 7 to 10 inches long with contact pins, required separate transformers, could be found only at electrical supply houses and cost about $30 in current value. With expensive electricity, however, they could save at least twice their prices over average lifetimes, earning some uses for stairs and hallways.

Starting in 1980, what we now call “compact fluorescent” lamps became available from Sylvania in the U.S., Philips in the Netherlands and Osram in Germany. These had two or three shorter U-shaped tubes protruding from a base containing a transformer and providing a screw contact matching conventional lamp sockets. They would fit some fixtures made for incandescent lamps, provided there was enough room. Lengths of tubes and diameters of bases were too much for others.

Innovations: By the mid-1990s, three innovations had transformed the market. Integrated electronics provided rapid starting, low-temperature operation and little flicker. Improved phosphors provided “warm white” light. Small bases and spiral tubes allowed low-power units, up to about 15 W, to fit most fixtures designed for incandescent bulbs. The lighting efficiencies of low-power units grew to over four times those of the incandescent bulbs replaced, and the typical rated lifetimes reached about ten times those of the incandescents.

Financial value from small and compact fluorescents had always been satisfactory, but most people resisted prices ten to forty times those of incandescent bulbs, ignoring the long-term savings. Through the 1980s, few grocery and hardware stores sold compact fluorescents. The growth of home improvement chains during the 1990s made a difference. Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menards and others stocked the lamps in depth and offered them at discount prices, often no more than five times incandescent prices.

Maturity and acceptance: In the late 1990s, grocery and hardware stores also began to stock compact fluorescents near their displays of incandescent bulbs, reinforcing awareness of and confidence in the products. Two decades after they had been introduced, sales of compact fluorescents accelerated. In its most recent report, the U.S. Department of Energy found a sales ratio of one compact fluorescent lamp to about five incandescents. Since compact fluorescents last about ten times as long, they may be producing about two-thirds of household lighting in the U.S.

Excitement about newer light-emitting diode (LED) lamps trimmed interest in compact fluorescents. However, current LED lamps are around 20 years behind in product maturity. Premature failure remains a problem. Shapes, light quality and power ratings have yet to be standardized for LED lamps. Most units are too large to fit in common fixtures. Prices remain high. Vendors and enthusiasts try to compare LED lamps with incandescents, but that game is over. Fluorescent lamps are now the U.S. standard household lighting.

Competition: Comparisons with compact fluorescents showed previous LED lamps as marginal or inferior, except where high costs of lamp replacement provided an advantage to long lifetimes–notably roads, bridges and high ceilings. Despite claims, LED lamps did not offer any clear environmental advantage. Instead of hazardous mercury, they contain hazardous arsenic and gallium. Both lamp types include electronic circuits, and they need controlled disposal.

In 2014, comparisons changed with the introduction of a new generation of low-cost, high-efficiency LED lamps, comparable in many ways to compact fluorescents. Lamps most common in households have outputs of about 900 lumens and color temperatures of about 2,700 K, similar to 60 W incandescents. Home Depot began to offer an 800-lumen LED lamp from Cree at about $10.00 each, competing with its Ecosmart 900-lumen compact fluorescent at about $1.50 each.

Better mousetrap: The compact fluorescent cited has a rated efficiency of about 64 lumens per watt and rated lifetime of 10,000 hours, while the LED lamp cited has a rated efficiency of about 84 lumens per watt and rated lifetime of 25,000 hours. Relatively high Massachusetts electricity rates lead to the recovery of the cost difference from electricity savings over about 4 years, when lamps are used about 3 hours a day. Savings will continue to build over a lifetime of about 25 years for the LED lamp.

Factoring in historical trends of Massachusetts electricity prices over the most recent 23 years, from federal data, a set of 9 LED lamps, equal in rated output to a set of 8 compact fluorescent lamps, would save about one dollar per year per LED lamp over 25 years of rated life at 1,000 hours per year–combining lamp and electricity costs and adjusting to present values by a 6 percent per year discount factor.

If favorable efficiencies and pricing can be maintained with high quality, replacement of compact fluorescent by LED lamps now looks likely. A remaining disadvantage of many current household LED lamps is unsatisfactory guarantees. Guarantees on compact fluorescents began at a year or less, but the one cited currently has a 9-year guarantee.

Growing pains: The LED lamp cited currently has a guarantee from the manufacturer of only 3 years–approximately its rated life when turned on all the time. Many early failures were reported on-line this spring–suggesting quality-control problems. It might be best to wait a year or two until issues with this generation of LED lamps are resolved and similarly efficient lamps are available from several manufacturers.

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


Energy Star compact fluorescent market profile, U.S. Department of Energy, 2010

Compact fluorescent lamp market effects, California Public Utilities Commission, 2009

L.J. Sandahl, et al., Compact fluorescent lighting in America, U.S. Department of Energy, 2006

New generation of compact fluorescent lamps, Environmental Building News, 1994

Ashok J. Gadgil and Arthur H. Rosenfeld, Conserving energy with compact fluorescent lamps, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 1990

Eric A. Taub, Industry looks to LED bulbs for the home, New York Times, May 12, 2009

Solid-state lighting, U.S. Department of Energy, 2014

Craig Bolon, Full operating cost comparison: compact fluorescent versus LED lamps, October, 2014

Board of Selectmen: appointments, warrant articles, school spending

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 7, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. There were reviews and hearings for two of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18.

Announcements: The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 28 and 29, November 9 and December 4 at the Senior Center, Baker and Devotion schools, and the Health Center. The planned Olea Cafe at 195 Washington St., which was allowed permits on August 12, will not be opening. The Coolidge House assisted care facility at 30 Webster St. is closing. Genesis Health Care, of Kennett Square, PA, operates other facilities in Medford and Chelsea. Hunneman Hall at the main library is hosting a commemorative, Remembering the Tam, this Thursday, October 9, at 7 pm. The Tam O’Shanter pub and music hall operated at 1648 Beacon St. between about 1972 and 1995.

Contracts and appointments: Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval for a $0.17 million contract with Susi of Dorchester for street repair on Englewood Ave and at two intersections. The work had been planned for later but was moved ahead because of deteriorating conditions. Greer Hardwicke of the Preservation Commission got approval for a $0.02 million state-funded contract with Wendy Frontiero of Beverly for historical surveys in northern parts of Brookline.

The board voted appointments to the Council on Aging: Peter Ames, Doris Toby Axelrod, Phyllis Bram, Jean Doherty, Harry Johnson, Barbara Kean, Celia Lascarides, Helen Lew, Claire Lurie, Yolanda Rodriguez, Evelyn Roll, Vera Shama, William Wong and Jackie Wright. The board interviewed two candidates for appointments: one for Conservation and one for Tree Planting.

Diversity director: Lloyd Gellineau was appointed Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Human Relations under a bylaw voted at this year’s annual town meeting. That bylaw replaced the former Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission with a new Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. Dr. Gellineau is the first African-American in many years to become a Brookline department head. He is also to be Brookline’s chief diversity officer.

The new commission has yet to be appointed, and so far no candidates have been interviewed. The Board of Selectmen had waited for approval of town meeting actions by the state attorney general. It was received on September 23–two days before a 90-day deadline. Several people came to speak in support of Dr. Gellineau. He has worked in Brookline’s Department of Health and Human Services for eight years.

Supporters included Michael Sandman, an Advisory Committee member, Rita McNally, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, Betsy Shure Gross, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, and Cheryl Snyder, a constable. Others contended Brookline should set up a screening committee and conduct a broad-based search for a director. They included Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Joanna Baker, a Precinct 13 town meeting member and Dr. Alex Coleman of Tappan St.

Board member Nancy Daly spoke in favor of Dr. Gellineau, saying, “We have someone who’s highly qualified.” She had chaired a committee appointed by the board to review Brookline’s efforts toward diversity. It turned out to be a complicated effort, taking more than a year. Since the commission has to be consulted about a director, Ms. Daly proposed Dr. Gellineau’s appointment as a provisional director. The board agreed in a unanimous vote.

Warrant articles: Claire Stampfer, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, and Heather Hamilton, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, spoke to the board about Article 17 at the November town meeting. It proposes a resolution asking the town to select health-conscious LED lamps for its lighting programs. The lamps differ mainly in brightness and in color temperature, a measure of how much they tend toward red or blue light.

Incandescent and “warm white” fluorescent lamps have color temperatures rated around 2,700 K, “cool white” fluorescent lamps are around 4,200 K and “daylight” halide lamps are around 5,500 K. LED lamps can be made over a wide range; those for street lighting commonly come with 4,000 K or 5,700 K ratings. After an initial review of options, Dr. Stampfer said Public Works chose a 4,000 K rating for its current street-lighting program. She and Ms. Hamilton said color temperature has health effects. Used at night, higher numbered ratings can cause sleep disturbances.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy, lower numbers for LED-lamp color temperature are associated with lower efficiency, usually measured in lumens per watt. At a 3,000 K color temperature, as compared to 6,000 K, it typically found 20 percent lower efficiency. For the same amount of lighting, the cost of electricity would increase about 25 percent–nearly cancelling the electrical-efficiency benefits of LED lamps as replacements for fluorescent and high-pressure sodium vapor.

School spending: An audience of more than 30 gathered as William Lupini, the school superintendent, reviewed school spending, in the light of a potential tax override to support operations. Dr. Lupini distinguished priorities for schools, which he called “core values” and “beliefs,” as compared with priorities from the recent Override Study Committee, whose report referred to “levers.” Much of that committee’s long sessions were conducted in code, nearly opaque to ordinary Brookline residents. Some of that code, like “levers,” factored in Dr. Lupini’s presentation, too.

Dr. Lupini’s presentation was detailed in a 58-page document titled Preliminary Look at Budget Implications. Although not found that evening via a “Packet” link for October 7, 2014, at Meeting Central on the municipal Web site, two days later a link appeared on the Override Central page. The core of Dr. Lupini’s financial presentation was an estimate of operating cost growth to maintain services.

Key elements of school priorities, as described by Dr. Lupini, are neighborhood schools, small classes and commitments to diversity–all involving significant costs. He emphasized that school spending per student, when adjusted for inflation, has been held level over the past five years. The override study report agreed. Most new financial needs come from trying to maintain services during increasing enrollment.

Over the past ten years, Dr. Lupini showed, class sizes have grown. For the 2005 school year, they ranged from 14 to 25 students, with 19 the most common. For the 2015 school year, they are 15 to 26 students, with 22 the most common. The number of K-8 students increased 41 percent, the number of K-8 home rooms increased 29 percent and the average home-room student count increased from 19.3 to 21.2. Although not shown as part of the presentation except for school nurses, numbers of students per support staff member have also been growing, along with numbers of students per teaching staff member.

BrooklineClassSizes2005and2015

Source: Public Schools of Brookline, October, 2014

In code words, on page 13 of his presentation, Dr. Lupini estimated that school operations need a total of $12.29 million in additional revenue for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 fiscal years combined. It was not clear how much allowance had been made for salary increases and other sources of budget inflation. It was also not clear how much of that amount was to maintain services and how much was for new services. There was no explanation of what so-called “catch up,” “enhancement” and “structural deficit” actually meant.

Members of the board seemed to take Dr. Lupini’s word on school priorities, but they had concerns about timing and transparency. Board member Nancy Daly asked for a budget projection. Susan Ditkoff, chair of the School Committee, described a process extending into next spring. Board members said it had to be much faster and said the budget must tell what an override buys. As board member Neil Wishinsky put it, “We have to give the voters a reason to pay more money.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 8, 2014


Dr. William Lupini, Superintendent of Schools, Brookline, MA, Preliminary Look at Budget Implications, October 7, 2014

Energy efficiency of LEDs, U.S. Department of Energy, March, 2013

Economic Development Advisory: skeptical about proposals

Two proposals for commercial development drew some skepticism from the Economic Development Advisory Board on Monday, October 6. An audience of over 30 gathered in the first floor north meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7 pm. Local business operator and real estate investor Raj Dhanda described the projects, each with its own set of architects and advisors.

Offices in Chestnut Hill: The more developed of the projects aims to place a four-story office building at 1180 Boylston, on the southeast corner where Hammond St. intersects Route 9. For many years, the site housed a large Exxon service station, now gone, diagonally opposite the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center. The proposed development would provide retail space on the first floor.

As described by Haril A. Pandya of CBT Architects, Boston, the structure would have about 36,000 sf of gross floor area for office space and 12,000 sf for retail space, with two levels of underground parking and around 50 spaces. Located on a plot of about 14,600 sf, that yields a floor area ratio of 3.3. For over 50 years, the parcel has been zoned G-1.0, general business with a maximum floor area ratio of 1.0.

Nearby commercial property is low-rise, mixed among a few older 3-decker houses. The proposed development would be far more dense. Brookline has only two types of zoning that could allow it: G-1.75(LSH), designed for the Marriott hotel site at 40 Webster St. in Coolidge Corner, and GMR-2.0, designed for the 2 Brookline Place site now under development by Children’s Hospital, near the intersection of Washington St. with Route 9. Economic Development Advisory was involved in both projects, whose planning and rezoning each took several years.

Unanswered questions: Board member Robert Sperber, who organized Economic Development Advisory over 20 years ago, asked for the projections of Brookline tax revenue from the development, always the board’s prime concern. Astoundingly, Mr. Dhanda and his advisors said they had none. “It would be a lot,” one claimed. Board members asked about the prospective retail and office tenants and about traffic and environmental studies. Again, there were no clear answers. As to financial potential, Mr. Dhanda simply said, “It’s good.”

Board members Kenneth Lewis and Donald Warner questioned plans to site vehicle access on the heavily congested Hammond St. side. Mr. Lewis called the parking ratio “extreme,” only about one space per 1,000 sf. The offices might house more than 300 people but provide parking for fewer than 50. Mr. Panya of CBT said the area was “well served” by public transportation. MBTA bus 60, between Kenmore Sq. and Newton, stops about twice an hour on average. A station for the D branch of the Green Line is about four blocks away, with about 100 parking spaces. Pedestrian facilities are spartan. It is a suburban location, dominated by cars.

A 10-story hotel at Coolidge Corner: Mr. Dhanda next proposed to build a 10-story hotel at 1299 Beacon St., currently occupied by his lamp store, Neena’s. To the east is the one-story Brookline post office. To the west is the 1986, three-story Center Place office building, with Trader Joe’s on the ground floor. The proposed development would be self-contained, providing no retail, office or public spaces and no landscaping.

As described by Harold F. Wheeler of Group One Partners, architects in South Boston, the structure would house about 160 hotel rooms, 60 parking spaces on two underground levels, a lobby, a food service, meeting rooms, a small swimming pool and an exercise room. The plot has less than 60 ft of Beacon St. frontage, making the proposed building narrow, stretching over a current, small parking lot to Sewall Ave. in back.

Neighboring commercial buildings all have one, two or three stories. The 1924 Pelham Hall, across Beacon Street, has eight stories, and the wider area within several blocks has other residential buildings up to 13 stories. A crude outline of a looming, narrow tower suggested window walls facing east and west, looking up and down Beacon St. The proposed building was described as 140,000 sf gross floor area for hotel uses, plus parking.

Located on a plot of about 18,600 sf, the proposed hotel space yields a floor area ratio of 7.5. Numbers do not seem to be a strong suit for Mr. Dhanda and his advisers, who claimed that the floor area ratio would be about 6. For many years, the parcel has been zoned G-1.75(CC), general business with a maximum floor area ratio of 1.75. Developers of large lots in the zone who support community facilities are eligible for up to a 15 percent bonus in floor area, but the lot at 1299 Beacon St. is too small to qualify.

Brookline has no current type of zoning that would allow the proposed development. Window walls on the sides of a building in a G zone sound unwise and might not be allowed. Properties in those zones can be built to the lot lines. In the future, one or more of Mr. Dhanda’s commercial neighbors might also build to the lot lines, wiping out window views.

More unanswered questions: Dr. Sperber again asked for the projections of Brookline tax revenue from the development, including local taxes on hotel rooms. All Mr. Dhanda offered was that Brookline would receive more than the current property taxes of about $60,000 a year. Several members of the board and the audience questioned traffic plans. Mr. Wheeler said parking would operate with valet service, using large elevators. He did not address frequent, heavy congestion on Sewall Ave.

As with Mr. Dhanda’s other proposal, there had been no traffic or environmental study. Board member Donald Warner said that while economics for a hotel were likely to be strong, “the key is making the numbers work. That [10-story] height isn’t going to happen.” David-Marc Goldstein, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, recalled that the height and density allowed for Coolidge Corner commercial properties had been reduced. To carry out the proposal, he said, “you would have to change the zoning in town meeting, which you won’t have the votes for.”

Variances: Unlike developers of Brookline Place and of hotels on Webster St. and at the former Red Cab site on Boylston St., Mr. Dhanda and his architects and advisors turned confrontational. Rather than negotiate and work cooperatively with Brookline on zoning, economics and environment, they said they planned to seek variances, under Chapter 40A of Massachusetts General Laws.

Variances can be approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals, but requirements are difficult to satisfy, and they have become increasingly rare. Instead, Brookline has developed an extensive system of special permits in its zoning, through which additional building height and density can be approved when developers agree to provide specific public benefits. Mr. Dhanda did not seem familiar with town’s approach to planning and development.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 7, 2014


Zoning Bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, June 2, 2014

Planning and Appeals boards: difficult zoning cases

The Zoning Board of Appeals met Thursday, October 2, and Tuesday, September 23, to consider two zoning cases that turned out difficult to resolve. The Planning Board had reviewed the cases September 18 and September 4. One appeal was allowed, and the other one was denied.

A two-family house in a single-family zone: Neighborhood residents protested a proposal to convert a single-family house at 227 Tappan St. to a two-family house. The house is in an SC-10 zone. That is mainly a single-family zone, but some such conversions are allowed, in the words of the zoning bylaw, “provided there is no external evidence of occupancy by more than one family.” [Section 4.07, Table of use regulations, use 2]

The SC type of zone was defined in 1962, during a major restructuring of Brookline zoning. It aimed to address some issues with maintaining large houses during an era of shrinking family sizes. The allowed conversions have been performed by rearranging interiors of large houses into two apartments, while maintaining a single front door and a single rear door. Mailboxes and doorbells have often been placed inside front vestibules.

Such a conversion might not be feasible with some houses. For example, there might not be enough space for a hallway or a stairwell wide enough to satisfy building codes. In such cases, conversion to a two-family is possible with a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, when “external evidence of conversion is required to conform to other codes.” [Section 4.07, Table of use regulations, use 3]

The ordinary two-family houses that are allowed in T (two-family) zones are not allowed in SC (single-family and converted) zones. The zoning bylaw says, “No.” It does not allow them either “as of right” or with a special permit. [Section 4.07, Table of use regulations, use 4] The developer of 227 Tappan had applied for a special permit under use 3.

A house trying to eat a hill: At 227 Tappan, the developer proposed to attach a large new house onto the rear of an existing single-family house–thus creating an ordinary two-family house with two separate front and rear doors and a wide driveway, for separate parking. Section 4.07 of the zoning bylaw does not allow that in SC zones. That is use 4, for which the zoning bylaw says, “No.” The only available avenue for such a project would seem to be a zoning variance, under Chapter 40A of Massachusetts General Laws.

The lot at 227 Tappan extends up the steep south side of Addington Hill. Part of the hill was excavated and leveled when a row of six houses was built over 75 years ago. There is already a high retaining wall to keep the heavily forested part of the hill above the houses from eroding and collapsing. To add a large new house behind the current house, the developer needs to carve out more of the hill and build a still higher wall. Such an intrusion is part of what looks to have triggered strong neighborhood opposition.

Arguing for a right to build: Applicants in these cases were represented by Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen. He argued that the 227 Tappan St. developer could build what he wanted “as of right”–focusing attention on the floor area being proposed, which was indeed within zoning limits.

In his arguments, Mr. Allen largely ignored “external evidence of occupancy by more than one family.” Obviously there would be some. He presented no evidence that this was “required to conform to other codes,” when clearly it was not. The developer was not trying to fit two living spaces inside a structure built for one. Instead, he proposed to add a whole new structure onto the back of an existing one, thus transforming it into an ordinary two-family house. That is not allowed in an SC zone; the bylaw says, “No.”

The Planning Board, the Appeals board and the staffs of both the Planning and Building departments somehow let themselves be persuaded that Mr. Allen had a case–contrary to straightforward reading of the zoning bylaw. The Planning Board had objected for other reasons. According to board member Robert Cook, “It’s way too big.” Board chair Linda Hamlin said she didn’t “think it meets community standards.”

A group of about 30 neighbors opposing the project did not hire a lawyer to represent them, leaving them at a disadvantage. Like the Planning Board, they focused on the intrusions rather than on the zoning bylaw. The proposed house was too big, they said. The hillside would be threatened. Other houses might be flooded. The new driveway would be dangerous. After extended haggling among them, Appeals board members bought into Mr. Allen’s arguments, allowing a special permit and not considering whether the developer needed a variance.

Mending a fence: After a fence between two properties along Dudley St. was recently altered, neighbors on the other side objected. It was much too high, they said. A Brookline building inspector had checked it and agreed, measuring the maximum height as 8-1/2 feet. Brookline’s zoning limits fence height in side and rear yards to 7 feet–without a special permit because of noise, “detrimental impact” or safety.

The builders of the fence applied for a special permit, arguing “detrimental impact.” That didn’t clearly apply, because the only example offered in the bylaw is “when a property is bounded by active train tracks.” Representing the fence owners, Mr. Allen had not been able to convince the Planning Board, who accepted the building inspector’s measurement and did not find the conditions for a special permit.

Into swales: At the Appeals board, Mr. Allen explained that the applicants’ neighbors had removed a swath of vegetation between the properties, “eliminating privacy” of their patio and back yard. He said that the fence height was complicated by contours of the land, going over rises and into swales. On the applicant’s side, he said, the height was not more than 7 feet. He maintained that removal of vegetation on the neighbors’ side had lowered the grade there.

According to the applicants’ landscaper, attempts to grow a plant barrier failed because of dense shade. They then tried to temper “detrimental impact” from removing vegetation by adding height to an existing chain-link fence and weaving it with an artificial textile–a “shrub-like substance.” Close to the houses, fence height was 6 feet, he said. In other places, height was adjusted to maintain privacy of the applicants’ patio.

Natural grade: Responding to questions from board members, Mike Yanovitch, the chief building inspector, said fence height had to be measured from “natural grade.” The issue, he said, was the meaning of “natural grade.” Brookline’s zoning bylaw invokes “natural grade” in requirements for building heights, fence heights and underground structures but does not define the phrase. Mr. Yanovitch explained that the practice of the Building Department had been to measure fence heights from the low points of land on either side.

There are varying interpretations of “natural grade” in case law, but there is no reliable common definition. Attempts to interpret the phrase sometimes mention “undisturbed” elevation of land. In Brookline, however, as in most other places with extensive habitation and development, there is probably no substantial area of land unaltered by the hand of man, and there is no way to know elevations accurately before they were altered.

One of the neighbors who had complained to the Building Department spoke up, adamantly maintaining that the fence was too high. Measured from his side, he said, it rose to 10 feet. His landscaper told the board, “No vegetation was taken down that was healthy…we’re concerned about a 3-1/2-ft diameter sugar maple.”

The neighbor’s landscaper said he also had tried planting along the fence, in deep shade. “It’s hard, we’ve had plants die, we’ll keep doing it.” The extended fence, he said, “is not an amenity. It is not suitable, nor is it appropriate for this area; it’s a real intrusion…[a planted barrier] can’t be restored in short order.”

Appeals board members wrestled with the issues of measuring fence height. Mr Yanovitch said, “We’ve always taken the lowest unmodified grade,” but he conceded, “It’s almost a case-by-case basis.” They reviewed the general conditions for a special permit. Finally, board member Jonathan Book told the others, “I can make this very easy. It’s not an appropriate location”–one of the general conditions–”because it looms over the abutters’ yard.” The other board members accepted that argument, denying a special permit.

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

Board of Selectmen: bicycles, warrant articles, neighborhood issues

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, September 30, started at 6:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations, but the unusually busy meeting ran almost five hours. There were reviews and hearings for five of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18.

Announcements: This coming Sunday, October 5, the National Park Service is guiding a “Walk along the Emerald Necklace,” visiting sites of Brookline and Boston parks developed in the late 1800s by Brookline resident Frederick Olmsted, Sr. If interested, call 617-566-1689 ext 221. The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 28 and 29, November 9 and December 4 at the Senior Center, Baker and Devotion schools, and the Health Center.

Contracts and programs: Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, got approval for $0.1 million for geotechnical analysis at Lawrence School, a $3.1 million project to add four classrooms. That is likely to be about a quarter of the contingency budget, although Mr. Guigli did not say. He said levels of contamination, mainly ash, proved low enough that most of the problem soil could be reused on-site.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got contract approval for the fifth major round of bicycle markings on Brookline streets, totaling $0.06 million. This round will install new markings on Cypress and School Sts. near Town Hall and replace or install markings along all of Beacon St. Mr. Ditto was not able to describe the standards that will govern the formats of these markings. In response to a question from board member Nancy Daly, he said Brookline was not planning any fully separated bicycle lanes, sometimes called “cycle tracks.”

Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning, got approval to extend the current contract with the state transportation department for a bicycle sharing program known as Hubway. About 60 percent of $0.11 million in state funding has been spent, mostly on equipment and installation. The program operator is apparently still losing money. The board approved a 3-year sponsorship agreement with New Balance of Boston to brand bicycles stationed in Brookline, in return for $0.03 million to support program expansion to more locations.

Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, got approval to accept three state and federal grants totaling $0.06 million. The smallest of them, $0.01 million for a program to combat underage drinking and drunk driving, started a long discussion that recalled public disturbances earlier this year–a topic revisited later in the evening, when the board heard a liquor license application for the American Legion and VFW post on Washington St.

Personnel and diversity: Candidates for the Conservation Commission and Commission on Women appeared for interviews. The Board approved three Climate Action appointments: Precinct 15 town meeting member Michael Berger of Wolcott Rd., Crystal Johnson of Harvard Ave. and Precinct 11 town meeting member David Lescohier of Winchester St.

Several hirings were approved to replace former employees at the library and in the Public Works Department. Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, made his usual request to seek a diverse pool of candidates and consult with the personnel office.

In an item not on the original agenda, the board questioned Sandra DeBow, director of the Human Resources Office, and Lloyd Gellineau, human relations and human services director, about efforts to increase diversity of the work force. Ms. DeBow said that, when posting job openings, her office had begun to employ a variety of social media popular among minority groups. Dr. Gellineau described what he called a “blueprint” for outreach. The two said they expected to report survey results next summer.

Warrant articles: During review of Article 2 for the fall town meeting, about collective bargaining agreements, Ms. DeBow announced a long-awaited, multi-year agreement with police officers. She and Mr. O’Leary said the agreement would replace police captains with deputy superintendents who will be non-union and exempt from civil service. That will evidently reduce the department’s roster of sworn officers. Mr. O’Leary said the new agreement will couple educational requirements with senior ranks. The board supported the agreement.

Although the board had announced hearings on warrant articles, only three members of the public spoke, fairly briefly–all town meeting members. The board’s review of Articles 4, 5 and 6, related to development of the former Cleveland Circle Cinema site, turned up no controversy. However, the board questioned Mr. O’Leary at length over Article 8, which he had submitted, seeking to revise Brookline’s bylaw on disorderly behavior.

The disorderly behavior law is an inheritance from colonial times. The version enacted in 1922 and effective until a change last year said, “No person shall behave in a rude, disorderly, insolent or insulting manner, or…shall use any indecent, profane, insolent or insulting language…in any public way” or near any dwelling. Civil liberties challenges to such laws began to accumulate in the 1960s. Mr. O’Leary has been trying to reconcile the law with court rulings. A key problem is distinguishing between free speech and abusive speech.

Mr. Goldstein, a lawyer, recalled the citation about “shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater” that paraphrases an historic opinion of former Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in 1919, holding that speaking in opposition to the draft during World War I was not constitutionally protected. While memorable, it addresses few of the disturbances to which police are called.

Town meeting member Rita McNally of Precinct 2 objected to proposed deletion of provisions against threats and offensive language in public places. Town meeting member Regina Frawley of Precinct 16 noted that abuse of women and of older people included intimidation–not covered by either the current or the proposed law. Mr. O’Leary argued that under case law, police need a witness. “Our word is not good enough,” he said. Members of the board turned wary. They decided to continue the hearing and ask town counsel to advise them.

Licenses and permits: Most common victualler (restaurant), alcoholic beverage service and package-store licenses turned up little controversy. However, a proposed restaurant called Society of Grownups at 1653 Beacon St. drew sharp questions. That was the site of B&D Deli from 1927 to 2005 and then, for short times, of Jimmy’s Italian and Starbucks. Board member Betsy DeWitt noted that Society was a subsidiary of Mass Mutual. She asked about the relationship between a restaurant and a financial services organization.

Nondini Naqui, the manager for Society, accompanied by a lawyer for Mass Mutual, said the purpose of Society was “financial literacy and education” for young adults; food service was ancillary. Ms. DeWitt said she was concerned about potential for deception and asked “how much of Mass Mutual’s services” will be sold at the location. Douglas Moran, the chief financial officer of Mass Mutual, responded, “We won’t sell financial products at that location.” He said Mass Mutual “will not try to hide the relationship.” The board approved a restaurant license for Society.

Neighborhood issues: An application to replace a lapsed liquor service license for the American Legion and VFW post on Washington St. was clouded by controversies. According to neighbors, last spring saw problems with noise from events at the post and apparently drunken participants nearby. Board member Nancy Daly recalled “inebriated people outside the hall.” About 15 interested residents came to the hearing.

John Tynan, post commander and a former Brookline fire lieutenant, spoke for the post, saying there had been a “disconcerting” delay of nine months since submitting an application. “We’re trying to get this place up and running.” Ms. DeWitt noted that under the club type of application pending, service can only be provided to club members.

The post manager, Elmon Hendrickson, a Brookline resident, responded, “Every time we have an event, we apply for a one-day license.” The club license is intended for the post’s routine operation to serve members and not for events. Problems noted by neighbors had occurred during events. Mr. Hendrickson said the post has installed surveillance cameras and begun monitoring events.

A neighbor on School St. described “concerns with noise in front of the building.” She said, “We need a direct number to the manager…a schedule of events. We don’t want to call the police.” Another neighbor said there had been “problems with commercial exploitation…two disturbances in last six months: loud music, screaming, marijuana, urinating in public, cigarette butts.”

Ms. Daly noted that Mr. O’Leary, the chief of police, advised “that you do call the police, let them work on this for you.” Mr. Goldstein said the post “may need police details for events.” He said there also needed to be “standards for the size of events.” The neighbor who described disturbances asked the board to limit club license operations to 11 pm Fridays and Saturdays and 10 pm other nights. The board decided to hold the application for further investigation.

An application for a permit to store flammables at the Audi dealership on Boylston St, recently taken over by Herb Chambers, also brought controversies. Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, represented the dealership. He said it had a permit issued in 1948, which it proposed to replace with a conventional, annually renewed permit.

As at the review last month of the dealership’s transfer of ownership, neighbors raised concerns. A resident of East Milton Rd. objected to the dealership’s using it, when hauling used motor oil, for about the past year and said that some employees have been parking on the private way. Another neighbor, who said he had lived on East Milton Rd. for 60 years, made similar objections.

For Marcus Quigley, chair of the Conservation Commission, who lives nearby on Walnut St., fire protection was a major issue. He said used motor oil was being stored close to neighboring properties and asked for a setback of 20 feet to reduce hazards. Responding to a question from Mr. Goldstein, he said he did not know whether used motor oil was a worse hazard than fuel oil.

Mr. Allen contended that “other properties have similar licenses without big controversies.” However, the need to hire a hazardous waste handler indicates used motor oil is not a benign substance. Board members considered whether to require conditions on a flammables permit but concluded they did not have enough information. They decided to continue the hearing to a future date.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 2, 2014

Board of Library Trustees: improving the cafe

A special committee of the Board of Library Trustees met again Wednesday, October 1, investigating ways to improve the cafe at the main library. Kookoo’s Nest is currently open between about 10 am and 3:30 pm Monday through Thursday. Cafe space was added during library renovations completed in 2003. It is located on the ground floor at the bottom of the main stairs, near the periodicals room and the teen center. The cafe serves sandwiches, soup, salad, muffins, scones, cookies, juices, soft drinks, espresso and other coffees.

At the meeting, cafe operators Ali Mohajerani and Elizabeth “Elie” Dunford said business has been slow this year, leading them to trim operating hours. They and the committee have considered closing the cafe. So far there has been no action on a pending renewal of the cafe’s operating agreement. Sara Slymon, the library director, said that the agreement is between the operators and the town. According to Michael Burstein, chair of the library trustees, the agreement remains active in the opinion of town counsel.

Reviewing the situation, library trustees have decided they could not help the cafe financially but expressed willingness to help in other ways. Committee member and library trustee Regina Healy said the basement location “doomed” the cafe, but Ms. Slymon contended locating it near the teen room had been an advantage. The operating agreement calls for the cafe to be open when the library is open. Mr. Mohajerani said that had not worked in practice, because business had been brisk for only a few hours a day.

According to Mr. Mohajerani, the cafe would benefit from better signage, letting library patrons know where it is located. He is annoyed when people bring their own food and take up table space. The cafe is not distinctly separated; instead its space spans a corridor connecting to ordinary library services. Library administration has maintained that they provide a public service and cannot restrict where patrons sit.

Kookoo’s runs a popular cafe on Station St. a few blocks away. Comparing the two operations in a memorandum, Ms. Dunford wrote, “the population we serve [at the library] is…different than our main cafe, and we can’t always serve the same things there without losing money.” That might become the kernel of a new approach: adapting to the library setting and patrons.

Mr. Mohajerani, Ms. Dunford and committee members agreed to try some changes. The operators will send proposals to Ms. Slymon within about a week. The committee will recommend to the trustees allowing the operators to experiment with changes. The committee and the cafe operators planned to review the situation in a few weeks, hoping for a turn-around.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 2, 2014

Household workers: not just respect

At a small meeting Monday evening, September 29, the personnel subcommittee of Advisory began investigating a proposed resolution filed as Article 18 for this fall’s town meeting. Present for the subcommittee were Nancy Heller of Precinct 8, the chair, Charles “Chuck” Swartz of Precinct 9, Sumner Chertok of Precinct 10 and Christine Westphal. Steve Vogel of the Boston Workmen’s Circle spoke to the subcommittee and an audience of three, supporting the resolution.

Mr. Vogel described the purpose of Article 18 as “educational,” seeking “respect and dignity” for household workers. However, the subcommittee focused on the last sentence of the proposed resolution, saying Brookline “will collaborate with worker-led committees.” Resolutions at town meetings often influence boards and agencies but do not pretend to commit them to particular actions. That takes a law, an appropriation or both.

Not just respect: As the subcommittee soon found, Mr. Vogel’s issues extend to much more than “respect and dignity.” He wants Brookline to help publicize a state law enacted last June. The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights law, Chapter 148 of the Acts of 2014, extends most of the state’s fair labor practices statutes to household workers. Fifty years ago, household help was fairly rare in urban Brookline, but now it is common throughout town. Many Brookline residents are likely to be surprised at complex new requirements.

People who employ individuals for household help, rather than contract with companies, are being regulated under labor and industries laws, specifically Chapters 149, 151, 151A and 151B of the General Laws. New Sections 190 and 191 have been added to Chapter 149 by the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights law. Most new requirements take effect April 1 next year, but ones related to unemployment insurance and discrimination took effect September 24.

There will no longer be an exemption from the prohibitions of discrimination or restrictions against summary discharge for workers employed less than 16 hours a week. Any individual worker, even someone employed just once for an hour or less, will have the same rights as a worker regularly employed full-time. People will now have to pay at least the minimum wage, keep careful track of hours and pay overtime rates–generally for Sunday or holiday work and for more than 40 hours a week.

Kid next door: One of the few exemptions remaining says unemployment insurance is not required for temporary services “in case of fire, storm, snow” and other emergencies. [General Laws Chapter 151A, Section 6A(5)] You can still pay the kid next door to shovel a sidewalk without setting up an unemployment insurance policy. However, you can no longer pay the kid so simply to mow your lawn. You will need, at least, to maintain records of wages and hours.

There are many more new requirements when employing individuals for household work. They become complex if the worker receives lodging, meals or other benefits. For example, live-in workers are entitled to 30 days written notice of termination without cause or two weeks severance pay–similar to employment-at-will in most other circumstances. After three months, household workers are entitled to written performance evaluations.

Doing business: Parental leave is now required for regular household employees. Many forms of discrimination become unlawful. Sexual harassment is explicitly included among them. A household employee has a right to file claims at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Massachusetts residents will now need to plan carefully before they employ individuals for almost any household task, including baby-sitting, dog-walking and lawn-mowing. In most respects, state laws and regulations are going to treat them in the same ways that they treat business employers.

Opportunities for workers to act as “independent contractors” were undermined by Section 1706 of the federal Tax Reform Act of 1986, secretly inserted by the late Sen. Moynihan of New York. As a practical matter, they may need to incorporate a business and work for that business. Householders should not try paying workers as independent contractors without checking whether they can satisfy requirements of state law and federal law.

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


Beth Healy, Governor Patrick signs Domestic Workers Bill of Rights into law, Boston Globe, July 2, 2014

Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant explanations, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA