Monthly Archives: November 2014

2014 fall town meeting: electronic voting

The 2014 fall town meeting held four electronic votes: two at the first session November 18 and two at the second and final session November 19. Problems previously cropped up at the 2014 annual town meeting in May and June. There were more discrepancies in records from the 2014 fall town meeting in November.

This time there were no attempts to use the voting system for “informal” counting. However, despite commitments to provide results the day following a session, no results were posted on Brookline’s municipal Web site until the afternoon of November 24, five days after the second and final session.

Comparisons of records: Electronic voting results were displayed at town meeting on a large projection screen. They were captured on video recordings of both the first session and second session by Brookline Interactive Group, along with declarations of results for official records by the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby. The video recordings are available to the public from the Web site of Brookline Interactive.

At the first session, Mr. Gadsby declared the vote on a referral motion proposed under Article 12: 65 yes and 138 no, agreeing with totals displayed to town meeting on the large projection screen. The totals from results posted on the municipal Web site were instead: 65 yes and 141 no.

At the first session, Mr. Gadsby declared the vote on a zoning change proposed under Article 12 (the main motion): 60 yes and 146 no, agreeing with totals displayed to town meeting on the large projection screen. The totals from results posted on the municipal Web site were instead: 60 yes and 147 no.

At the second session, Mr. Gadsby declared the vote on a resolution proposed under Article 15: 110 yes and 83 no, agreeing with totals displayed to town meeting on the large projection screen. The totals from results posted on the municipal Web site were instead: 111 yes and 83 no.

At the second session, Mr. Gadsby declared the vote on an alternative resolution proposed by the Advisory Committee under Article 19: 20 yes and 145 no. So far, records of this vote have not appeared on the municipal Web site at all.

Article and motion As it was Declared As it was Posted
  Yes No Yes No
Article 12, referral 65 138 65 141
Article 12, main vote 60 146 60 147
Article 15, resolution 110 83 111 83
Article 19, alternative 20 145 unknown unknown

Unreliable results: After practice with the current electronic voting system at four previous town meetings, at the 2014 fall town meeting Brookline again failed to achieve reliable results. Discrepancies are clear on each of the three electronic votes reported. Unexplained changes to records had apparently been made, after town meeting, in computer files purporting to represent town meeting results. Those might have been connected with unexplained delays of five and six days in posting records on the municipal Web site.

None of the discrepancies was large enough to affect an action at the recent town meeting. That may be luck. Close votes at past town meetings could have been clouded. At a town meeting in 1972, for example, the late Sumner Kaplan–a former chair of the Board of Selectmen, state representative and district judge–proposed to combine the police and fire departments into a public safety department. The controversial proposal failed on a tie vote. A single-vote discrepancy could have clouded that result.

If Brookline had a reliable electronic voting system, allowing town meeting members to change recorded positions after a vote has been declared would be a highly dubious practice. It opens an avenue through which town meeting results can become clouded after a town meeting is over, with potentials for protracted disputes or lawsuits over close votes. Brookline does not have a reliable electronic voting system. A week after the 2014 fall town meeting, one of the four electronic votes has not even been reported, and the results for the three reported votes disagree with the moderator’s declarations at town meeting.

Votes shown as “absent”: Of 744 individual votes tallied, 115 were “absent.” Some could be town meeting members who had checked in but did not cast votes. The average number of “absent” votes was about 7 per precinct. Absentees were most prevalent in Precinct 14, with 13 “absent” votes, and in Precinct 15, with 16 “absent” votes.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 27, 2014

Town of Brookline, November 18, 2014, electronic vote results, dated November 24, 2014

Brookline Interactive Group, 2014 fall town meeting, second session, November 19, 2014

Brookline Interactive Group, 2014 fall town meeting, first session, November 18, 2014

Fall town meeting: tobacco controls, resolution derby, Brookline Beacon, November 20, 2014

Fall town meeting: bylaw changes, no new limits on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, November 18, 2014

2014 annual town meeting: electronic voting issues, Brookline Beacon, June 17, 2014

Brookline 2014 fall town meeting, electronic votes posted as of November 24, 2014

Vote Day Article Question voted
1 11/18 12 Zoning for medical marijuana dispensaries, referral
2 11/18 12 Zoning for medical marijuana dispensaries, restrict eligible areas
3 11/19 15 Repeal of taxi medallions, adopt resolution instead

Y yes, N no, P present, A absent

Pct. Given name Family name Street address 1 2 3
01 Cathleen Cavell 27 Monmouth Ct A N Y
01 Ernest Cook 4 Euston St A A A
01 Jonathan Cutler 12 Churchill St A A A
01 Elijah Ercolino 2 Euston St N N Y
01 James Franco 126 Amory St N N N
01 Richard Garver 23 Monmouth Ct N N Y
01 Neil Gordon 87 Ivy St N N Y
01 Helen Herman 1126 Beacon St Y N Y
01 Carol Hillman 287 Kent St N N Y
01 Sean Lynn-Jones 53 Monmouth St Y N N
01 Alexandra Metral 42 Beech Rd Y Y Y
01 Paul Moghtader 16 Chilton St A A A
01 Bettina Neuefeind 20 Amory St Y Y N
01 Robert Schram 47 Monmouth St N N N
01 Katharine Silbaugh 68 Amory St Y Y N
02 Livia Kahl 200 Saint Paul St A Y A
02 Judith Kidd 76 Parkman St N N Y
02 Lisa Liss 74 Parkman St N N Y
02 Rita McNally 230 Saint Paul St N N A
02 Adam Mitchell 87 Browne St N N Y
02 Barbara O’Brien 81 Egmont St P A A
02 Gwen Ossenfort 87 Browne St N N N
02 Linda Pehlke 48 Browne St N N Y
02 Susan Roberts 69 Green St Y Y N
02 Diana Spiegel 39 Stetson St N N N
02 Stanley Spiegel 39 Stetson St N N N
02 Eunice White 135 Pleasant St N N Y
02 Bruce Wolff 50 Pleasant St N Y N
02 Ana Vera Wynne 60 Browne St Y Y Y
02 Richard Wynne 60 Browne St Y N Y
03 Harry Bohrs 97 Toxteth St N N N
03 Patricia Connors 80 Francis St N N Y
03 Mary Dewart 90 Toxteth St Y P Y
03 Murray Dewart 90 Toxteth St Y Y Y
03 Dennis Doughty 57 Perry St N N Y
03 Kathe Geist 551 Brookline Ave N Y Y
03 Jane Gilman 140A Sewall Ave Y Y Y
03 Heather Hamilton 75 Longwood Ave A A Y
03 Gary Jones 70 Francis St N N A
03 Laurence Koff 20 Harrison St Y N N
03 Donald Leka 140A Sewall Ave N N Y
03 Kathleen Scanlon 71 Francis St N Y N
03 Frank Steinfield 160 Aspiwall Ave N N N
03 Rebecca Stone 71 Toxteth St N N N
03 Jean Stringham 50 Longwood Ave Y Y Y
04 Sarah Axelrod 41 Bowker St N N Y
04 Eric Berke 77 Pond Ave Y N Y
04 Edith Brickman 33 Pond Ave N N A
04 Alan Christ 117 Kent St N N N
04 Ingrid Cooper 30 Brook St N N P
04 Anne Covert 33 Pond Ave N N N
04 Frank Farlow 8 Bowker St N N Y
04 Martha Farlow 8 Bowker St N N Y
04 Nadine Gerdts 56 Linden Pl Y Y Y
04 John Mulhane 45 Brook St N N N
04 Mariah Nobrega 33 Bowker St Y Y Y
04 Joseph Robinson 41 Brook St N N Y
04 Marjorie Siegel 59 Linden St Y Y P
04 Virginia Smith 12 Linden St N N Y
04 Robert Volk 45 Linden St N N Y
05 Richard Allen 158 Cypress St N Y N
05 Robert Daves 9 Upland Rd N N Y
05 Dennis DeWitt 94 Upland Rd N N Y
05 Michael Gunnuscio 302 Walnut St N N Y
05 Angela Hyatt 87 Walnut St Y Y Y
05 David Knight 5 Maple St Y Y N
05 Hugh Mattison 209 Pond Ave A N Y
05 Puja Mehta 50 Jamaica Rd Y N P
05 Randolph Meiklejohn 161 Cypress St Y Y A
05 Phyllis O’Leary 16 Jamaica Rd A A A
05 Andrew Olins 242 Walnut St Y Y A
05 William Reyelt 121 Chestnut St N N Y
05 Betsy Shure Gross 25 Edgehill Rd Y Y A
05 Claire Stampfer 50 Sargent Crossway Y Y Y
05 Lenore von Krusenstiern 302 Walnut St A A Y
06 Catherine Anderson 106 Davis Ave N N N
06 John Bassett 26 Searle Ave N N N
06 Jocina Becker 18 Elm St N N Y
06 Christopher Dempsey 43 Brington Rd N N Y
06 Brian Hochleutner 35 Elm St Y Y N
06 Sytske Humphrey 46 Gardner Rd N N N
06 Virginia LaPlante 58 Welland Rd N N Y
06 Merelice 22 White Pl Y Y Y
06 Ian Polumbaum 17 Blake Rd N N Y
06 Clinton Richmond 3 Greenough Cir N N Y
06 Ian Roffman 20 Searle Ave Y Y Y
06 Kim Smith 22 Brington Rd Y N Y
06 Ruthann Sneider 30 Perry St Y Y Y
06 Robert Sperber 21 Lowell Rd N N N
06 Thomas Vitolo 153 University Rd N N Y
07 Ellen Ball 441 Washington St A A A
07 Susan Cohen 23 Littell Rd Y Y Y
07 Susan Ellis 431 Washington St N N N
07 Ernest Frey 423 Washington St N N N
07 Phyllis Giller 69 Park St N N A
07 Elizabeth Goldstein 1501 Beacon St N N Y
07 Mark Gray 31 Harris St N N Y
07 Bernard Greene 25 Alton Ct N N N
07 Kelly Hardebeck 18 Littell Rd A A A
07 Jonathan Lewis 104 Harvard St N N A
07 Jonathan Margolis 49 Harvard Ave Y N Y
07 Christopher Oates 42 Saint Paul St N N Y
07 Sloan Sable 50 Harris St N N A
07 Rita Shon-Baker 10 Alton Ct Y Y Y
07 James Slayton 4 Auburn St N N N
08 Lauren Bernard 20 John St N Y A
08 Abigail Cox 18 Osborne Rd P N Y
08 Gina Crandell 117 Stedman St N N A
08 Franklin Friedman 71 Crowninshield Rd N N Y
08 David-Marc Goldstein 22 Osborne Rd N N Y
08 John Harris 41 Osborne Rd Y Y Y
08 Nancy Heller 40 Abbottsford Rd N N N
08 Anita Johnson 41 Osborne Rd N N Y
08 Edward Loechler 106 Beals St Y N Y
08 Jeanne Mansfield 43 Beals St N N Y
08 Robert Miller 19 Copley St N N Y
08 Barbara Scotto 26 Crowninshield Rd N N N
08 Lisamarie Sears 137 Fuller St N N N
08 Sara Stock 19 Abbottsford Rd A A A
08 Maura Toomey 102 Crowninshield Rd N N Y
09 Liza Brooks 36 Russell St N N A
09 Joseph Geller 221 Winchester St A A N
09 Paul Harris 111-B Centre St N P Y
09 Nathaniel Hinchey 19 Winchester St N N Y
09 Barr Jozwicki 183 Winchester St N N N
09 Joyce Jozwicki 183 Winchester St N N N
09 Pamela Katz 29 Columbia St N N Y
09 Julius Levine 40 Williams St A A A
09 Stanley Rabinovitz 117 Thorndike St Y N Y
09 Harriet Rosenstein 53 Centre St N N A
09 Martin Rosenthal 62 Columbia St N N Y
09 Charles Swartz 69 Centre St N N N
09 Dwaign Tyndal 60 Columbia St A A P
09 Judith Vanderkay 16 Columbia St N N Y
09 George White 143 Winchester St N N N
10 Carol Caro 1264 Beacon St N N Y
10 Francis Caro 1264 Beacon St N N Y
10 Sumner Chertok 80 Park St N N A
10 Jonathan Davis 125 Park St Y N Y
10 Linda Davis 125 Park St Y Y Y
10 Holly Deak 124 Park St N Y N
10 Stephan Gaehde 7 Griggs Ter A Y Y
10 Beth Jones 24 Griggs Rd A A A
10 David Micley 675 Washington St N N Y
10 Sharon Sandalow 1272 Beacon St N N N
10 Rachel Sandalow-Ash 1272 Beacon St A A A
10 Stanley Shuman 80 Park St N N N
10 Finn Skagestad 24 Griggs Ter A A Y
10 Alexandra Spingarn 40 Griggs Ter A A N
10 Naomi Sweitzer 14 Griggs Ter N N Y
11 Carrie Benedon 32 Summit Ave P P Y
11 Joseph Ditkoff 145 Mason Ter Y N Y
11 Shira Fischer 50 Summit Ave A A Y
11 Shanna Giora-Gorfajn 66 Winchester St Y N N
11 Jennifer Goldsmith 148 Jordan Rd Y Y N
11 Martha Gray 113 Summit Ave N N Y
11 Bobbie Knable 243 Mason Ter N N A
11 David Lescohier 50 Winchester St Y N N
11 Kenneth Lewis 232 Summit Ave Y N N
11 David Lowe 177 Mason Ter N N Y
11 Rebecca Mautner 12 York Ter Y Y A
11 Maryellen Moran 100 Winchester St N Y A
11 Carol Oldham 1496 Beacon St Y N Y
11 Brian Sheehan 296 Mason Ter Y Y Y
11 Karen Wenc 84 Summit Ave N N Y
12 Michael Burstein 50 Garrison Rd N N Y
12 Bruce Cohen 289 Tappan St N N Y
12 Lee Cooke-Childs 136 Rawson Rd N N Y
12 Chad Ellis 26 Chesham Rd Y Y Y
12 Harry Friedman 27 Claflin Rd Y Y Y
12 Jonathan Grand 120 Beaconsfield Rd N N N
12 Stefanie Greenfield 154 University Rd Y N N
12 Casey Hatchett 84 University Rd Y Y A
12 Amy Hummel 226 Clark Rd Y Y N
12 Jonathan Karon 124 Winthrop Rd A A A
12 David Klafter 63 Winthrop Rd N N Y
12 Mark Lowenstein 158 Winthrop Rd N N Y
12 Judy Meyers 75 Clinton Rd Y Y N
12 William Slotnick 118 Gardner Rd Y P A
12 Donald Weitzman 123 Buckminster Rd N N Y
13 Joanna Baker 1824 Beacon St Y N Y
13 Carla Benka 26 Circuit Rd N N N
13 Roger Blood 69 Cleveland Rd Y Y Y
13 Chris Chanyasulkit 16 Corey Rd A A P
13 John Doggett 8 Penniman Rd N N N
13 Jonathan Fine 57 Willow Cres N N Y
13 Andrew Fischer 21 Bartlett Cres N N Y
13 John Freeman 530 Clinton Rd N N Y
13 Francis Hoy 295 Reservoir Rd N N N
13 Ruth Kaplan 24 Spooner Rd A A A
13 Werner Lohe 25 Salisbury Rd N N Y
13 Paul Saner 462 Chestnut Hill Ave A A N
13 Lee Selwyn 285 Reservoir Rd N Y N
13 Barbara Senecal 345 Clinton Rd Y Y N
13 John VanScoyoc 307 Reservoir Rd N N N
14 Robert Basile 333 Heath St A A A
14 Clifford Brown 9 Hyslop Rd N N N
14 Linda Carlisle 233 Fisher Ave Y Y N
14 Gill Fishman 79 Holland Rd N Y A
14 Paula Friedman 170 Hyslop Rd N Y N
14 Deborah Goldberg 37 Hyslop Rd A A N
14 Georgia Johnson 80 Seaver St A A A
14 Fred Levitan 1731 Beacon St N N N
14 Roger Lipson 622 Chestnut Hill Ave A N N
14 Pamela Lodish 195 Fisher Ave N N N
14 Shaari Mittel 309 Buckminster Rd N N N
14 Kathleen O’Connell 59 Ackers Ave N N Y
14 Benjamin Rich 130 Buckminster Rd A A A
14 Lynda Roseman 49 Ackers Ave N N N
14 Sharon Schoffmann 6 Eliot St N N Y
15 Edwin Alexanderian 945 Hammond St A A A
15 Mariela Ames 25 Whitney St N Y A
15 Eileen Berger 112 Wolcott Rd Y Y Y
15 Michael Berger 112 Wolcott Rd N Y Y
15 Abby Coffin 255 Woodland Rd A A N
15 Jane Flanagan 854 Hammond St N N N
15 John Hall 85 Sears Rd A A A
15 Benedicte Hallowell 96 Sears Rd A A A
15 Janice Kahn 63 Craftsland Rd Y Y N
15 Ira Krepchin 63 Craftsland Rd N N N
15 Richard Nangle 854 Hammond St N Y A
15 David Pearlman 25 Goddard Cir N Y Y
15 James Rourke 679 Hammond St A A A
15 Ab Sadeghi-Nejad 125 Arlington Rd N N N
15 Cornelia van der Ziel 100 Wolcott Rd N N N
16 Saralynn Allaire 157 Bellingham Rd N Y Y
16 Robert Allen 296 Russett Rd N N N
16 Beverly Basile 902 W Roxbury Pkwy Y P A
16 John Basile 1040 W Roxdbury Pkwy A A A
16 Stephen Chiumenti 262 Russett Rd Y P N
16 Regina Frawley 366 Russett Rd N Y Y
16 Thomas Gallitano 146 Bonad Rd Y Y N
16 Scott Gladstone 383 Russett Rd N N N
16 Alisa Jonas 333 Russett Rd P Y Y
16 Judith Leichtner 121 Beverly Rd Y P N
16 William Pu 249 Beverly Rd N Y N
16 Joshua Safer 223 Bonad Rd Y Y N
16 Irene Scharf 250 Russett Rd N N A
16 Arthur Sneider 223 Beverly Rd N N N
16 Joyce Stavis-Zak 44 Intervale Rd Y N Y
AL Nancy Daly 161 Rawson Rd Y N N
AL Betsy DeWitt 94 Upland Rd N N N
AL Benjamin Franco 275 Cypress St N N Y
AL Edward Gadsby 60 Glen Rd P P P
AL Kenneth Goldstein 111 Holland Rd N N N
AL Hon. Frank Smizik 42 Russell St N N A
AL Patrick Ward 12 Edwin St P P P
AL Neil Wishinsky 20 Henry St N N N
      Yes 65 60 111
      No 141 147 83
      Present 6 9 7
      Absent 36 32 47

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, parking and traffic

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a continued hearing on Monday, November 24, over a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. An audience of around 20 came to this session, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. Developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Kathy Murphy of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Best and final plan: The developer presented what appeared to be a best and final plan. As compared to the plan of November 12, it removes three units from the fourth floor of apartments of the proposed large apartment building, making it look like a somewhat bulky 3-story building when viewed from the property line across Asheville Rd. near Russett Rd. As revised, the large building would have 99 apartments.

The total proposed development becomes one large and eleven smaller buildings with 161 apartments, 333 bedrooms and 323 new parking spaces. There are no longer any lofts. Board member Christopher Hussey, an architect, repeated his previous objections to the amount of new parking. Grouping the large building with two smaller ones at the southeast extreme of the development, Mr. Hussey counted 209 parking spaces and 125 apartments to be reached via Asheville Rd.

Too much development: Mr. Hussey said that the amount of new development was too much to be accessed by Asheville Rd., but he did not compare it with the current site. Around 65 of the Hancock Village apartments built in the 1940s are now usually reached via Asheville Rd. The plan presented at the Monday session would nearly triple that number of dwellings and would more than triple the number of parking spaces serving them.

Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, cited an informal study presented to a 2010 town meeting, estimating that Hancock Village has about 1.1 parking spaces per apartment. [Article explanations, November 16, 2010, town meeting, p. 20] He called the proposed ratio of 2.0 for new development excessive, saying it will increase costs and reduce open space. The Appeals board, he said, should set a maximum on parking spaces as a permit condition.

Street and fire safety: Ben Franco, a member of the Board of Selectmen, recalled testimony at the previous session by Paul Ford, the fire chief, saying the development will “exacerbate emergency response problems.” According to Maria Morelli, the Planning Department’s consultant for the project, Mr. Ford will be sending in a written evaluation. Deborah Kilday, an Ogden Rd. resident, said current traffic on the streets crossed by Asheville Rd. was already a major hazard. She said children “can’t walk to school safely on a normal day.”

Precinct 16 town meeting member Scott Gladstone, a neighbor of the proposed development who lives on Russett Rd., contended that adequate traffic and fire safety for the dense, southeast part of the project will need street access from VFW Parkway, which runs along the south side of Hancock Village. Several nearby Brookline streets laid out in the 1930s intersect VFW Parkway, including South St. and Bonad and Russett Rds.

Only South St. has two-way access. The others connect with westbound lanes of the parkway, going toward Dedham, which would be favorable for Brookline fire trucks. The developer would likely encounter resistance trying to get approval for a street connection. VFW Parkway was formerly a segment of U.S. Route 1, although the highway designation was discontinued toward the end of the last Dukakis administration. The parkway is now under supervision of the highway-hostile Department of Conservation and Recreation. The incoming Baker administration might make some changes to this insular agency.

With no one else wanting to comment after about a half hour, the board engaged in discussion for the next hour and a half. Much discussion this time concerned parking and traffic. Their legal counsel, Ms. Netter and Ms. Murphy, advised the board that school crowding and loads on other public services were not eligible concerns with a 40B project but safety issues were. A discussion about street and fire safety ensued.

Parking standards: Board chair Jesse Geller objected to “arbitrary” standards for parking. Board members had trouble recalling the development of Brookline’s zoning requirements but were aware that minimum parking had been increased since residential parking was first required in 1949, with 1.0 spaces per apartment in 1964.

By 1980, Brookline parking requirements varied according to type of zone, with 1.3 spaces per apartment for the M-0.5 zone of Hancock Village. In 2000, town meeting made parking requirements nearly uniform across types of zones, raising them to 2.0 spaces per dwelling unit in most cases. In multiple-apartment zones, like Hancock Village, 2.3 spaces per apartment were required for 3-bedroom and larger apartments. Recent town meetings rejected reducing the parking standards (Article 10 at the November 16, 2010, town meeting, referred to a study committee, and Article 10 at the November 19, 2013, town meeting, defeated).

Mr. Levin of Chestnut Hill Realty claimed that the current project plan follows Brookline zoning requirements for parking, but it clearly does not. The plan includes about 45 3-bedroom and 4-bedroom units. Zoning would require about 15 more parking spaces than the plan presented November 24, calling for 369 spaces. Mr. Hussey’s interest in less parking is not supported by access to rapid transit, like recent projects around Brookline Village and recent proposals along Beacon St.

Shrinking a project: The latest plan, at 161 apartments, is significantly smaller than the original proposal for 192 apartments about a year ago. That, in turn, was far smaller than a plan for 466 units described in 2010 but never taken through the 40B permitting process. Since 2010, Edward Zuker, head of Chestnut Hill Realty, has kept a distance, sending Mr. Levin to represent the firm’s interests in the current project.

Additional hearing sessions were scheduled for December 1, 8 and 15–also starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. Mr. Levin committed to supply a set of detailed plans and descriptions by December 8. Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, said his department could review the plans for departures from zoning in a few days. The Appeals board is inviting the fire chief to return on December 1. The board is expected to settle its decision at the December 15 session.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 25, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, safety concerns, Brookline Beacon, November 13, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, getting to Yes, Brookline Beacon, November 4, 2014

Comprehensive permit regulations, 760 CMR 56, Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, 2008

Perry Stoll, Portable modular classrooms at Baker School, Driscoll Action, November 24, 2014

Brock Parker, Developer gets green light to pursue a 40B project in Brookline, Boston Globe, October 18, 2013

Andreae Downs, Housing plan would get major review, Boston Globe, October 6, 2010

Fall town meeting: taxi masala

A fair contender with the curry as great cuisine of India is the masala: a mixture with mainly “sweet” rather than “strong” seasonings. Unlike a curry, a masala does not abide mistakes. Leave out an ingredient or use the right ingredients in the wrong proportions, and a masala can become strange, spiky, flat or even disagreeable.

A regulated taxi fleet behaves similarly; a healthy fleet comes only with the right regulations in the right proportions. With numbers of taxis too few or too many, fares too high or too low, requirements too lax or too stringent a fleet suffers. Cabs may be unavailable when wanted, drivers surly, vehicles shabby.

Medallion plans: Brookline’s model of citizen-run boards is stressed by the amount of work needed in trying to regulate a taxi fleet. Before the current Transportation Board, originating at a town meeting in 1973, Brookline operated with three other approaches to traffic and taxi regulation. None coped well with the intensity of automobiles after World War II. In the work of taxi regulation, the current system may be treading on limits.

This year, town meeting intervention interrupted about eight years of work to introduce so-called “medallion” licensing: permanent, transferrable licenses rather than annually reviewed ones. Medallion systems began in large cities during the 1920s, as a way to reduce congestion and conflict from an oversupply of taxis. They remain uncommon outside large cities. Some–including Washington, DC–do not have such a system now.

Brookline’s interest in medallions looks always to have been inspired more by money than by good regulation. It first cropped up in 1994, when the town was planning its first Proposition 2-1/2 tax override, and it gathered steam in 2006, when a second tax override was in the wings. Historically, money from sale of taxi medallions has not been a dominant factor. Boston’s original system in the 1930s sold medallions for less than $100, in today’s values. Classic medallion systems focused on regulating sizes of taxi fleets, not on local revenues.

Professional advice: Brookline was professionally advised to focus on good regulation by Schaller Consulting of New York City. In 2006, the town hired Bruce Schaller to evaluate the potential of medallion licensing. Mr. Schaller had 25 years of experience analyzing taxi operations, including New York City, San Francisco, San Diego, Alexandria, VA, Anaheim, CA, Laredo, TX, and Montgomery County, MD. His “Brookline taxi study” counseled moderation.

The Schaller report of June, 2007, presented a plan to introduce medallions gradually, over about 16 years, and to focus on selling them to experienced taxi drivers. Under those conditions, Mr. Schaller predicted a market value of around $40,000, recommending a fee of $600 per month paid over seven years. [p. 3] That would have brought in an average of under $0.5 million a year–far less than Brookline officials hoped.

Delays and intervention: Efforts to get a state law authorizing taxi medallions bogged down, taking from 2007 to 2012. Toward the end of that period, the Board of Selectmen and the Transportation Board revisited medallion planning. By then, Mr. Schaller had left consulting to take an executive position in New York City government.

The town hired Richard LaCapra to develop a plan. Although experienced as a financial analyst, Mr. LaCapra had no background in taxi licensing. The LaCapra plan of March, 2012, called for much more rapid transition to a system with all-medallion taxis and predicted selling medallions at much higher prices. It had no provisions for selling to drivers except to a few who already held one or a small number of annually reviewed licenses.

After getting the LaCapra plan, Brookline’s efforts again bogged down, taking more than two years to reach an initial implementation that was most recently expected in summer, 2014–according to Todd Kirrane, Brookline’s transportation administrator. That allowed opportunities for intervention, seized by Precinct 8 town meeting member John Harris, who filed Article 26 for the 2014 annual town meeting last spring. It sought to repeal state authorization for taxi medallions.

Medallion shock: Article 26 sent medallion efforts into shock. Although initially somewhat skeptical about medallions, over time, all the taxi company owners and some taxi drivers had become advocates. The LaCapra plan included special help for current holders of annually reviewed licenses–big discounts on an initial set of medallions. Veterans of the Brookline taxi business who could buy medallions early at low prices were likely to prosper. Those buying medallions later, at higher prices, would be exposed to more risk.

The annual town meeting sent Article 26 to a study committee to be appointed by the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby. The committee met many times over the summer, submitting its report a day before the fall, 2014, town meeting began. In the meantime, Mr. Harris again proposed repeal, in Article 15 for the fall town meeting.

Precinct 11 town meeting member David Lescohier proposed a resolution under Article 16. Its key element, as summarized by the Advisory Committee, advocated that Brookline seek to “provide drivers with improved working conditions, a more secure future and an opportunity to own a stake in the taxicab business.”

Most reviews by town boards and committees, including the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee, opposed Article 15 but supported Article 16. Apparently fearing Article 15 was headed for defeat, shortly before the town meeting Mr. Harris opted to drop repeal of state authorization and substitute a resolution. Its key element asks that Brookline “not sell, lease, rent or otherwise make available or require taxi medallions as a condition of any taxicab owner doing business….”

Town meeting review: At the second session of town meeting on Wednesday, November 19, some speakers tried to “spin” the resolution from Mr. Harris, as though it said “no taxi medallions,” but that was not what it said. Although a resolution is not binding on town officials and agencies, they could follow this one by setting up a hybrid system, in which some annually reviewed taxi licenses remained and medallions were not the only way to run a taxi business.

Precinct 6 town meeting member Chris Dempsey, a former assistant director of transportation for the state, launched the session’s main attack on taxi medallions, saying, “The sole benefit of a medallion scheme is a one-time financial windfall.” While Mr. Dempsey made it sound simple, that’s not necessarily so. To the disappointment of some town officials, the Schaller plan of 2007 would not have produced a windfall. Instead, it mainly aimed to encourage long-term service from experienced taxi drivers.

Donfred Gilles, a Brookline taxi driver for 25 years, described his fears and longings. Like several other Brookline drivers, Mr. Gilles is of Haitian descent. “In 2007,” he said, “when the town started the process of reforming the taxi industry, the town sided with us. We thought finally our time was coming. We are still holding on to the hope that it will happen.” He pleaded, “I’m here to speak on behalf of the drivers. I’m asking you to give [us] a chance.”

Michael Sandman, an Advisory Committee and Taxi Medallion Committee member and a former Transportation Board member, took issue with prejudice he has heard against drivers who support medallions, characterizing those views: “Drivers are immigrants; they don’t understand the risk of loans…Baloney: three of the four taxi companies are owned by immigrants. More than 40 experienced drivers are in line to buy medallions.”

Mr. Lescohier, speaking for Article 16, described his concerns, saying, “Working conditions are deteriorating. Many drivers work twelve hours a day. The job can be dangerous. There are no benefits, no paid sick time, no paid vacation, no workers compensation, no health insurance…At the end of the day, there’s less and less money…We need to give taxi drivers hope, give taxi businesses stability.”

Debate on the articles took about an hour and 50 minutes, with many more speakers and several questions. Precinct 14 town meeting member Clifford Brown asked how a medallion system could be more restrictive than the current closed system of annually reviewed licenses. Chad Ellis, a Precinct 12 town meeting member and member of the Taxi Medallion Committee, responded. The main difference was permanent medallions, he said. “It’s almost impossible to reduce the number of [medallion] licenses.”

In the end, town meeting adopted the resolution from Mr. Harris, proposed under Article 15, by 110-83, using an electronically recorded vote. A hand vote on Article 16 adopted Mr. Lescohier’s resolution by a very large majority, possibly 10 to 1.

Reconciling outcomes: It is far from clear what Brookline officials might do about the outcomes. The two resolutions are in partial conflict. Under Article 15, the town should not “require taxi medallions as a condition of any taxicab owner doing business.” Under Article 16, passed by a much larger majority, the town should allow taxi drivers an “opportunity to own a stake in the taxicab business.” A Transportation Division draft of taxi regulations, last updated in February, will need attention.

There is no apparent way for the town to honor the spirit of Article 16 without medallions, but Article 15 insists that the town not “require taxi medallions as a condition” of doing business. A review of the 2007 Schaller report could help. Taken together, the two resolutions seem to call for an even more complex “taxi masala”–a spicy mixture of ingredients that need to be maintained in careful balance in order to work.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 22, 2014

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

Fall town meeting: tobacco controls, resolution derby, Brookline Beacon, November 20, 2014

Craig Bolon, Risking a taxi revolt: business survival in Brookline, Brookline Beacon, July 26, 2014

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

Brookline taxis: long-term “medallion” licenses, Brookline Beacon, July 19, 2014

Unattributed (apparently Richard LaCapra), Final report on the Brookline taxi industry, undated (apparently March, 2012)

Bruce Schaller, Brookline taxi study, Schaller Consulting, June, 2007

Kate Eaton, Checkered past, Chicago Tribune, October 26, 1997

Fall town meeting: tobacco controls, resolution derby

Brookline’s 2014 fall town meeting held its second and final session Wednesday, November 19, working through the 8 remaining of 20 articles. A summary of actions at the November 19 session, by article number, follows:

11. tobacco controls–amended and approved
13. zoning case notifications–no action needed
15. legislation, taxi medallions–resolution adopted
16. resolution, taxi medallions–amended and adopted
17. resolution, health effects of town lighting–adopted
18. resolution, domestic workers–amended and adopted
19. resolution, natural gas projects–adopted
20. reports–Taxi Medallions Committee report presented

Taxi medallions were challenged at the 2014 annual town meeting this spring by an article calling for repeal of the state legislation authorizing Brookline to issue them. The 2014 fall town meeting returned to those issues in Articles 15 and 16. Much activity at the second session focused on resolutions, including two resolutions that were adopted about taxi medallions.

Tobacco controls: Under Article 11, Precinct 6 town meeting member Tommy Vitolo and other petitioners sought to strengthen Brookline’s tobacco controls [Article 8.23 of town bylaws]–adding controls on so-called “e-cigarettes” in the same ways as ordinary cigarettes, forbidding self-service displays of tobacco products, forbidding smoking in all hotel and lodging rooms, rewording some definitions and increasing fines for bylaw violations. Petitioners also proposed to remove the qualification “knowingly” on tobacco violations.

The article received favorable reviews from the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee, with the board amending the prohibition on self-service displays to make it slightly clearer. The Advisory Committee found that hotels and motels in Brookline already operate with entirely smoke-free rooms. Town meeting approved.

Taxi medallions: Articles 15 and 16 were presented to town meeting together, because they concerned the same topics. At Brookline’s 2014 annual town meeting in the spring, Precinct 8 town meeting member John Harris and other petitioners submitted Article 26, proposing home-rule legislation to repeal the previous home-rule legislation from 2010 and 2012 that permits the Board of Selectmen to sell and issue so-called “taxi medallions”–meaning permanent, transferrable taxi licenses. Article 26 was referred to a special committee to be appointed by the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby.

At the 2014 fall town meeting, Mr. Harris and other petitioners returned with the same repeal proposal, under Article 15. Precinct 11 town meeting member David Lescohier and other petitioners filed a proposed resolution on taxi medallions as Article 16. It called for review of taxi licensing, adding another objective to those Brookline must consider. That was summarized by the Advisory Committee: “Provide drivers with improved working conditions, a more secure future and an opportunity to own a stake in the taxicab business.”

The Advisory Committee opposed Article 15 as filed–that is, as calling for repeal. It supported Article 16, with amendments that removed some potentially vague and redundant phrases. The Board of Selectmen decided to agree with the Advisory Committee rather than attempt more surgery.

Late in the day, the Article 15 petitioners–finding their repeal proposal disfavored–decided to abandon what they had proposed and to substitute a resolution of their own. It asked the Board of Selectmen and the Transportation Board not to “require taxi medallions as a condition of any taxicab owner doing business in Brookline.” Town meeting had problems sorting through apparently competing resolutions, finally voting to adopt both of them.

Other resolutions: The Department of Public Works is now in the second year of a 4-year program to replace high-pressure sodium streetlamps with LED streetlamps. Under Article 17, Precinct 5 town meeting member Claire Stampfer and other petitioners proposed a resolution asking Brookline departments to select “appropriate lighting,” taking into account “public health effects of light.”

DPW has already considered potential health effects, rejecting so-called “daylight white” (about 5,500 K color temperature) in favor of so-called “neutral white” (4,000 K) LED streetlamps. Compact fluorescent lamps now common inside Brookline buildings are mostly so-called “warm white” (2,700 K). The Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee both supported Article 17, and town meeting voted to adopt the resolution as proposed.

Under Article 18, Stephen Vogel of Walnut St. and other petitioners proposed a resolution described as seeking “respect and dignity” for household workers. As submitted it also called for Brookline to “collaborate with domestic worker-led committees.” The Advisory Committee amended the resolution, dropping that phrase and saying that the town “supports efforts to inform Brookline’s domestic workers and their employers of…rights and responsibilities” under the state’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights law, enacted this year. [St. 2014, C. 148] The Board of Selectmen agreed, and town meeting voted to adopt the resolution as amended.

Under Article 19, Precinct 8 town meeting member Edward Loechler and other petitioners proposed a resolution “opposing the expansion of natural gas through pipelines and hydraulic fracturing in Massachusetts.” There is no hydraulic fracturing in Massachusetts, nor are there known natural gas-bearing formations. There are five pipeline projects now proposed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for New England, all serving parts of Massachusetts, although the petitioners appeared to know about only one of them. The Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee raised no objections, and town meeting voted to adopt the resolution as proposed.

– Beacon Staff, Brookline, MA, November 20, 2014

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

Fall town meeting: bylaw changes, no new limits on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, November 18, 2014

Public Works: question time and complaints, Brookline Beacon, May 15, 2014

Annual town meeting: Brookline Place, taxi medallions and resolutions, Brookline Beacon, June 3, 2014

Craig Bolon, New pipeline across Massachusetts: gas produces hot air, Brookline Beacon, July 11, 2014

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

Advisory subcommittee on taxi medallions: another turn of the churn, Brookline Beacon, October 15, 2014

Board of Selectmen: interviews and warrant articles, Brookline Beacon, October 16, 2014

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

Fall town meeting: bylaw changes, no new limits on marijuana dispensaries

Brookline’s 2014 fall town meeting held its first session Tuesday, November 18, working through 12 of 20 articles. A second session looks likely to complete the agenda. It starts at 7:00 pm Wednesday, November 19, in the High School auditorium, reached via the side entrance at 91 Tappan St. A summary of actions at the November 18 session, by article number, follows:

  1. unpaid bills–none, no action
  2. collective bargaining–two contracts approved
  3. budget amendments–$0.04 million allocated
  4. Cleveland Circle sewer abandonment–approved
  5. Cleveland Circle sewer rights releases–approved
  6. Cleveland Circle authorizations–approved
  7. gender identity and expression–bylaw amendments approved
  8. disorderly conduct–bylaw amendments approved
  9. noise control–referral rejected–no action
10. commercial recycling–bylaw amendments approved
12. marijuana dispensary zoning–referral rejected–article defeated
14. naming for Hennessey Field–approved through a substitute article

The high point of the evening was rejection of all three motions on Article 12, after a long and vigorous debate about new limits on locations for medical marijuana dispensaries. Sponsors failed to get even one-third support for their zoning amendment, which needed two-thirds to pass. Because of the defeat, they will be unable to take the issue back to town meeting for two years.

Medical marijuana: Under Article 12, Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave. and other petitioners proposed more limits on locations of licensed dispensaries for medical marijuana–adding 500-foot exclusion zones around day-care centers and places where “children commonly congregate.” The Planning Department had analyzed the proposal and prepared a map for the effects of Article 12. [Supplement No. 1, pp. 8 ff.]

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.

Mainly because of the large number and wide dispersal of day-care centers, the Planning Department found no eligible location left in Brookline with Article 12. Currently there are four: along Commonwealth Ave. near Pleasant St., in the Coolidge Corner area on and near Beacon St., in Brookline Village near the intersection of Washington and Boylston Sts. and in the Chestnut Hill area near the intersection of Boylston and Hammond Sts.

Starting with the Zoning Bylaw Committee, six boards and committees reviewed Article 12, all coming out in opposition. Seeing that, some supporters of further limits, led by Precinct 11 town meeting member Jennifer Goldsmith, proposed to refer the article to a special committee to be appointed by the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby. That would have prevented defeat, keeping the issues in play for future actions.

Led by Precinct 5 town meeting member Angela Hyatt, other supporters of Article 12 moved to add to the referral motion a moratorium on dispensary licensing, for about six months. That was fairly clearly outside the scope of the article, which concerns itself only with zoning. However, Mr. Gadsby allowed it to be debated and voted on, saying only that it was of “doubtful legality.”

Arguments at town meeting largely repeated those at nine full-dress reviews held by boards and committees. One new element came from Mr. Bennett, who revealed that his mother had benefitted from treatment with medical marijuana during a long illness–supplied by “a friend.” Town meeting was not persuaded. After an hour and a half of debate, Ms. Hyatt’s amendment was defeated by a large majority in a show of hands. The referral motion went down by 65-138 and the main motion on the article by 60-146, both using electronically recorded votes.

Noise control: Under Article 9, former town meeting member Fred Lebow tried to weaken Brookline’s noise control bylaw. It was exactly the same article that was rejected at this year’s annual town meeting in a unanimous vote of No on a main motion–a very rare event. Nevertheless, the Board of Selectmen proposed to refer Article 9 to a new Noise Control Bylaw Committee. They had previously appointed Mr. Lebow to the Naming Committee, which he chaired this year.

Mr. Lebow, an acoustic engineer, has wanted 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’s article would also have completely exempted any leafblower from noise regulation that is not handheld or carried in a backpack. It would have legitimized use of European noise meters, which are calibrated to different standards from the meters that are now authorized and in common use in the U.S. Previously, Mr. Lebow had disclosed that he owns a European meter.

Precinct 6 town meeting member Tommy Vitolo, whose air-strikes sank Mr. Lebow’s article last spring, returned to the fray: “The article still stinks.” A referral proposal, said Dr. Vitolo, “won’t solve a problem.” Real problems with noise control, he said, don’t need “tinkering with language…Are there sightings of landscapers thumbing through town bylaws? I doubt it.”

Precinct 13 town meeting member Andrew Fischer seemed equally incensed. Article 9, he said, was an attempt to narrow the meaning of “leafblowers,” exempting some from regulation. Precinct 3 town meeting member Jane Gilman objected to both the article and the motion to refer it, saying, “This article is not worthy of our time…It is simply going to delay other business.” The motion to refer failed by a big majority, on a show of hands. No other motion was offered, leaving “no action” as the disposition of Article 9.

Hennessey Fields: Under Article 14, the town meeting was asked to designate the playing fields at Cypress Playground as Hennessey Fields. Because of objections to a 10-year duration specified in Article 14, the Board of Selectmen proposed a substitute article in a synchronous special town meeting warrant, making the designation permanent.

Precinct 2 town meeting member Stanley Spiegel and Precinct 6 town meeting member Robert Sperber reviewed the contributions to Brookline by the late Thomas P. Hennessey, the only person to have chaired both the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee–serving between 1969 and 1995. He had been a star athlete at Brookline High School. Both his father and his mother had also served on the School Committee.

Betsy DeWitt of the Board of Selectmen recalled chairing the Advisory Committee in 1994–while Mr. Hennessey chaired the Board of Selectmen–and working with him to organize Brookline’s first tax override. He was particularly effective, she said, handling conflicts and building coalitions. The naming article from the synchronous town meeting was approved 208-1, with only Precinct 12 town meeting member Harry Friedman opposed.

Union contracts: Under Article 2, town meeting reviewed union contracts with police officers and emergency dispatchers. Those involved over two years of negotiations, making significant changes but providing salary adjustments generally comparable to the ones for other employees. According to Sandra DeBow, the human resources director, Brookline is replacing the former state “Quinn” program for education incentives with a program that recognizes a much wider range of achievements.

Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, described the long negotiations, exchanging a 5-percent “senior step” in pay after 20 years service in return for “changing management.” The unionized, civil-service jobs of police captains are being abolished, as the four current captains retire. They are being replaced by management positions called “deputy superintendents.” Town meeting approved, in unanimous votes.

Cleveland Circle: Under Articles 4, 5 and 6, town meeting approved legal abandonment of long unused sewer connections through the development site at the former Circle Cinema in Cleveland Circle, and it authorized the Board of Selectmen to enter into tax and development agreements–all by unanimous votes.

Kara Brewton, the town’s economic development director, mentioned a partnership for this project that had been announced in business journals Monday, November 17. National Development of Newton Lower Falls will work on senior housing, while Boston Development Group will pursue hotel, office and retail at Cleveland Circle. Only the latter are planned on the part of the development in Brookline.

Other business: Sponsor Alex Coleman of Tappan St. described the topics of Article 7, adding gender identity and gender expression to Brookline’s protected classes. Responding to a question from Precinct 6 town meeting member John Bassett, Dr. Coleman said gender identity means “one’s sense of who one is,” and gender expression means “how you show the world what your identity is.” Town meeting unanimously approved the bylaw changes.

Under Article 8, town meeting approved changes to Brookline’s disorderly conduct bylaw proposed by Mr. O’Leary, the police chief, and Patricia Correa, an associate town counsel. They say the changes are needed to comply with state and federal court rulings. Their revisions seem to expect any would-be offenders will be experts in Constitutional law, saying “disorderly” will “only relate to activities that involve no lawful exercise of a First Amendment right.”

Under Article 10, Precinct 4 town meeting member Alan Christ had convinced the Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee to honor longstanding promises of commercial recycling. Mr. Christ came in next-to-last in the 2014 town election but got in for the year by caucus when another town meeting member resigned. Moving on swiftly, Mr. Christ salvaged his article from referral limbo. [Supplement No. 1, pp. 1 ff.]

In last-minute prestidigitation, the Board of Selectmen tweaked Mr. Christ’s proposal, providing a one-year delay, putting the onus on property owners rather than business operators and allowing “temporary waiver” of recycling “for cause”–whatever that might mean. Town meeting gave the amended article unanimous approval.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 18, 2014

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

Board of Selectmen: interviews and warrant articles, Brookline Beacon, October 16, 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

Advisory Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, October 31, 2014

Public schools: for sale by owners

All except four of the U.S. states and the major districts (District of Columbia, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Puerto Rico) have waivers from federal education standards or are under review (Wyoming, Iowa and Bureau of Indian Affairs). The exceptions are Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Vermont. Vermont’s waiver expired July 1 this year, North Dakota’s in 2012. Montana and Nebraska never applied. As with much federal information, the Education Department’s summary page is wrong about California: its waiver was granted this year.

Heavy weapons: Federal intrusion into education systems run by state and local jurisdictions has generated more friction during Obama years than before. However, current law–now called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act–dates from endorsements made by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, during the first year of the Walker Bush administration.

Former Sen. Kennedy made himself a champion of heavy weapons used against public schools. There are three main elements to the federal command and control regimes that Sen. Kennedy endorsed:
• Regimented curriculum
• Regimented teaching
• Regimented testing

Legalized graft: Artfully hidden within a maze of controversy is a longstanding network of legalized graft: companies that publish “educational” materials, effectively taking control of U.S. education and extracting tributes from it for using products that were often developed at taxpayer expense. So far, the Obama administration has ladled over $360 million into its pet project, so-called “common core.”

The “common core” effort is only the latest of many marketing campaigns to promote private interests feeding on taxpayer money. Sponsors of previous campaigns often hid behind prestige colleges and universities. Publishers involved with this one–notably Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt–found it convenient to hide behind supposedly nonprofit foundations and political figures, including state governors and Pres. Obama.

This year Pearson, with headquarters in London, won a big stake in the game as sole bidder on a potential $200 million a year for tests from PARCC–the Mercedes of common-core testing, based in Washington, DC. Plain-Jane competitor SBAC–the other name-brand test in the common-core arena, based in Olympia, WA–placed its bet for test development with CTB/McGraw Hill of Monterey, CA, at a first-year price of only about $19 million.

Regimented schools: Regimented testing is the main lever manipulating regimented curriculum and regimented teaching. At risk of exposure to low scores, jurisdictions buy into curriculum that matches the tests. At risk of cutting their pay or losing their jobs, teachers train students to perform on the tests. The federal law has been on life-support since 2007, when it expired under a “sunset” clause. The waiver system was the Obama administration’s latest gesture toward keeping it alive through regulations, starting in 2010. The waivers legitimize basing teacher pay and retention on regimented test scores.

The dirty secret of regimented testing has actually been known for decades: high incomes–high test scores, low incomes–low test scores. Starting in the 1940s, the College Board documented an extremely close relation with family incomes for its SAT scores. More recent work has shown that high-income communities are also closely associated with high scores on regimented state tests.

Hereditary advantage, passed along: Like Pres. Obama and the publisher of the Boston Globe, the promoters of regimented testing are usually high-income people–trying, in effect, to reserve rewards for their families and their friends by forcing regimented schools on everyone else. High on the income scale–like Pres. Obama, former Sens. Kennedy and Kerry, Gov. Deval Patrick and Gov.-elect Charlie Baker–the elite can afford private schools, exempt from the regimentation of public schools.

Children from elite families can get access to literature, languages, history, science, math and arts without the pressures of regimented testing and without the tedium of a regimented curriculum. Computers are at their sides, not in cubbies. Children from elite families routinely outperform those from lower-income families on college-entrance exams, helping an elite family pass along its advantage to another generation.

Signs of revolt: One might think, somewhere along the way, people would wake up and smell the coffee–realizing they’re being had. That is starting. A sign that it may be the real thing is watching much more tumult occur in poorer and generally conservative–even reactionary–states: Arizona, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Florida, where teachers are sometimes required to have an Associate’s degree.

Richer and usually more liberal states–New York, California and Massachusetts–are germinating seeds of protest, but they do not lead this movement. In the vanguard states, the Obama administration’s key effort to increase educational achievement is being called “Race to the Slop.” Folks who do not have children in public schools are looking over the materials, and many do not approve.

One irate commenter from a poor state writes, “I taught math and computer science at university level for several years. What I have seen in common-core math is not going to prepare children for college. If anything, these children will be in non-credit math courses when they enter the college.”

Another writes, “Common core is the takeover by the federal government of our entire education system–just like Obamacare was with health care. It doesn’t work. It is corrupt and dysfunctional. I don’t have kids in school, and my grandkids go to private school. Every state needs to get rid of every aspect of it. I’m so thankful to see parents protesting this takeover.”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 14, 2014

Adam Armstrong, ed., No Country Left Behind (NCLB) and The Race to the Slop, The Daily Censored (Sonoma, CA), June 10, 2014

ESEA flexibility: education waiver status by states, U.S. Department of Education, November, 2014

Michele McNeil, California wins NCLB testing waiver, Education Week, March 7, 2014

Catherine Rampell, SAT scores and family income, New York Times, August 27, 2009

Craig Bolon, Significance of test-based ratings for metropolitan Boston schools, Education Policy Analysis Archives 9(42), 2001

Valerie Strauss, Pearson, of course, wins huge common-core testing contract, Washington Post, May 5, 2014

Sean Cavanagh, American Institutes for Research fights Pearson common-core testing award, Education Week, May 6, 2014

Sean Cavanagh, Amplify Insight wins contract from SBAC for common-core testing, Education Week, March 14, 2013

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium selects CTB/McGraw-Hill to develop next-generation of assessments to help schools meet new common-core state standards, McGraw-Hill, April 16, 2012

Who is behind common core?, Arizonans against Common Core, 2013

Valerie Strauss, Two more states pull out of common core, Washington Post, June 5, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, safety concerns

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a continued hearing on Wednesday, November 12, over a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. Developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin and by Steven Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Kathy Murphy of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Key topics for this session were construction safety and fire safety, drawing a large audience of around 70, including several town officials and staff. At the most recent session on November 3, the developer jousted with the board over numbers of units in the project and visibility of the top floor of a large building proposed at an extension of Asheville Rd.

Plan changes: At this session, the developer was widely expected to present a best and final plan. What Mr. Levin described, however, were two minor changes to the previous configuration. A smaller building near Beverly Rd. was reduced to four rather than eight units, but three units were added to the fourth floor of the large building, which was reconfigured with sloping sides to give the impression of a hat-shaped roof from a distance.

The board did not seem much impressed by these changes. They leave the large building and 11 smaller buildings totalling 165 dwelling units, 338 bedrooms and 331 parking spaces. In discussions near the end of the meeting, members asked the developer to return with plans such that the large building’s fourth floor, if retained, is not visible from the property line across Asheville Rd. near Russett Rd. The next session is November 24.

Blasting: Brookline brought in a consultant on blasting, Andrew McKown of Beverly, a registered civil engineer. The plan for the large building places it over an outcrop of Roxbury puddingstone, of which the developer proposes to excavate up to about 20 feet by blasting. Mr. McKown said that could be carried out safely but made recommendations, including a review of plans, a 400-foot survey zone and crack-age monitoring for nearby structures. Mr. Levin said Chestnut Hill Realty would accept the recommendations.

Fire safety: Paul Ford, Brookline’s fire chief, reviewed fire safety concerns. He has already worked with the developer on roadway access for fire apparatus but remains concerned about the large building. Brookline does not have a ladder truck at a nearby station. The closest one, he said, is nearly four miles away. He said access from VFW Parkway, discussed at previous sessions, would be important for fire safety at the large building.

Robert Niso, a transportation consultant for the developer, would not commit to VFW Parkway access and claimed that the large building could be serviced by a ladder truck at a Boston station about a mile and a half away. Mr. Ford said the main issue was rapid response; Boston equipment would be called in only as backup. Brookline has not previously needed a ladder truck in the area because it currently has no tall buildings.

Opposition: The Appeals board opened the hearing to public comment, probably the last such opportunity, which went on for about an hour and a half. On September 16, the Board of Selectmen sent a letter opposing the project, and three of its members spoke up. Echoing the letter, board member Betsy DeWitt said, “The development is poorly conceived,” threatening the historic integrity of Hancock Village. Nancy Daly spoke to the need for fire access. Neil Wishinsky urged the Appeals board to challenge the developer’s assertions that reducing the large building to three floors of apartments would make the project infeasible.

James Batchelor, an architect who chairs the Preservation Commission, described development of Hancock Village in the 1940s. “It is historic,” he said. “The layout of the buildings and open space are carefully planned around the roadways. The current plan is turning that inside out.” Vehicles, he explained, “being fed in from the back…on small roads.” Emily England, a Bonad Rd. resident and president of Baker School PTO, agreed. “This is the worst year ever,” she said. “Cars are backed up ten and twenty on these little residential roads.”

Regulations: Precinct 16 town meeting members Stephen Chiumenti and William Pu reviewed the state’s comprehensive permit regulations for Chapter 40B projects, which were revised in 2008. They emphasized “local concerns” as decision criteria: “the need to protect the health or safety of the occupants of a proposed project or of the residents of the municipality, to protect the natural environment, to promote better site and building design in relation to the surroundings and municipal and regional planning, or to preserve open spaces.” [760 CMR 56.02]

A project application can be denied if the Appeals board shows that “local concerns” outweigh “housing need,” meaning “the regional need for low and moderate income housing considered with the number of low-income persons in the municipality affected.” [760 CMR 56.07] Mr. Chiumenti argued that Brookline has a relatively small number of such persons, most already living in publicly assisted housing. Mr. Pu argued that the developer is proposing to build on sites “needed to preserve open space…communal space in a natural setting.”

Jason Talerman of Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead represented several neighborhood residents at the Appeals session. “One area where towns have had success” in opposing 40B projects, he told the board, “is with respect to fire safety.” He urged the board to demand reductions in project scale and challenge resistance. “You can’t get there unless you ask for it,” he said. “You don’t get a second chance at it.”

Neighborhood concerns: Several neighbors of Hancock Village expressed concerns that blasting would damage gas or sewer pipes. William M. Varrell, III, of Asheville Rd., a structural engineer, described effects he had found during other construction projects. There are, he said, “utilities that go right through the parking lots,” but the project design “has ignored them.”

Alisa Jonas, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, seemed to express sentiments of the neighborhood, judging from the hearty applause. She told the board, “We feel that you are accommodating…an unworthy project…There is a beautiful green space…[It's] a breach of trust…I really would like you to think of us in the neighborhood…This is a ridiculous proposal!”

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

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, getting to Yes, Brookline Beacon, November 4, 2014

Comprehensive permit regulations, 760 CMR 56, Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, 2008

Important neighborhood meeting, South Brookline Neighborhood Association, January 9, 2014

School budget: candor needed in difficult times

William Lupini, Brookline’s school superintendent, is a gifted orator, an advocate for the disadvantaged and a vigorous administrator–clearly committed to providing the best services he can arrange for all the students in the public schools. It must have come at considerable pain for him to propose cancelling two popular programs in the elementary schools: so-called “world languages,” which Dr. Lupini enlarged, and “gifted & talented,” which Dr. Robert I. Sperber, a predecessor and current town meeting member, began in the 1970s.

Dr. Lupini seems nowhere near as skilled at budget presentations as at other aspects of school administration. His budget presentations have sometimes been seen as “evasive.” They are almost always phrased as increments from some uncertain starting points, not as real amounts. Brookline’s taxpayers have to send in real dollars to pay for real amounts, and they expect to find out what they are paying for.

Seeking to justify a tax override, Dr. Lupini’s most recent presentation for the Board of Selectmen Monday, November 10, took a few steps in the right direction by measuring most budget increments as people, not as abstractions: 18 elementary teachers to be hired, 5 high-school teachers to be fired. However, few members of the public are likely to know how many elementary and high-school teachers there are or how to find out.

Squirreled away on the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline, a “preliminary budget” document finally showed up earlier in the year, after the town meeting when a budget was voted. No final operating budget has appeared. The first 27 pages of the “preliminary budget” are mostly rhetoric. To some, it might be inspiring, but it does not tell how much is to be spent on what–as a real budget has to do.

About the closest one can get to budget truth is in so-called “program” listings. They do not provide any job descriptions and do not show numbers of staff at each elementary school. One finds the following teaching staff sizes and costs for Brookline’s academic programs (all numbers rounded, amounts in $millions):

Page Program Teachers Salaries
174 Kindergarten 30 $2.2
178 Elementary 164 $12.5
132 English language 31 $2.5
136 Mathematics 30 $2.4
162 Science 30 $2.4
166 Social studies 29 $2.4
120 World language 46 $3.5
128 Visual arts 15 $1.2
140 Performing arts 23 $1.7
—– Total academic K-12 398 $30.8

Brookline actually spends around $90 million a year and hires around 1,100 people to operate public schools. Only a little more than a third of the spending and staff provide the academic programs. Some of the spending, of course, provides supervision, supplies, and building and food services. Relatively small amounts go for substitute teachers and teaching aides.

The majorities of school spending and staff are found in heavy administrative overhead and in a large variety of special services. That is clearly the tail wagging the dog. Candor is needed in difficult times.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 12, 2014

School budget: cancel world languages, gifted & talented, Brookline Beacon, November 11, 2014

Advisory Committee: $87 million for Brookline schools, Brookline Beacon, April 18, 2014

Superintendent’s FY2015 Preliminary Budget, Town of Brookline, MA, undated (3 MB)

School budget: cancel world languages, gifted & talented

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 28, started at 6:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The highlight of the meeting was another school-budget discussion. Attendance was very light, mostly School Committee members and town staff. There is apparently no community organization now actively backing or opposing a tax override. Other business at the meeting will be reported separately.

School budget options: William Lupini, the school superintendent, presented his priorities for using school budget funds–sorted into options for a property tax override that the Board of Selectmen is considering for next spring. In previous reports, these school-budget options have been called:

Maximum override $8.8 million per year
High override $7.9 million per year
Low override $5.0 million per year
No override current school budget

Dr. Lupini favors “maximum override”–which he called “long-term budget.” He did not provide a dollar amount but called “high override” a “90 percent” approach. That would apparently make “maximum override” about $8.8 million. Dr. Lupini’s presentation ignored an obvious option: “no override.” He looked unprepared for a situation in which the Board of Selectmen or Brookline voters reject tax overrides. Both Dr. Lupini and members of the board seemed to assume any budget would increase 2.5 percent per year, as currently allowed under state law.

Background: At a previous school-budget review on October 7, board member Nancy Daly had 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. At this review, Dr. Lupini began to provide some answers. According to Barbara Scotto, vice chair of the School Committee, Dr. Lupini’s priorities had been described to the School Committee but not yet approved by them.

The Override Study Committee of 2013, which filed a final report August 14 of this year, recommends the “low override” of an additional $5 million per year in property taxes, mainly if not entirely for the school budget, plus a debt service exclusion for $23 million to renovate and enlarge Devotion School.

Tax increases: The study committee’s recommended operating-cost override would increase taxes about 2.7 percent. The recommended debt exclusion would add about 0.9 percent more in taxes for an estimated 25 years. When added to a usual 2.5 percent increase, allowed under state law, Brookline taxes would increase about 5 percent next year–but about 6 percent when debt service payments for the Devotion School project develop.

Based on amounts developed by the Override Study Committee, not including new funding for school buildings, beginning in July, 2015, Brookline property taxes would increase by approximately these percentages for the four operating-cost override options:

Maximum override 7.3 percent
High override 6.8 percent
Low override 5.2 percent
No override 2.5 percent

School programs: Dr. Lupini’s priorities for the school budget are in the following table. Amounts are rounded, Those shown as “$” are millions of dollars. Those shown as “xxx” were omitted from Dr. Lupini’s tables or were ambiguously stated.

Added / Override option None Low High Maximum
central administration xxx 3 3 4
high school admin. xxx 1 2 4
vice principals xxx 1 1 3
high school teachers xxx -5 11 16
elementary teachers xxx 18 22 xxx
world language xxx -15 3 3
gifted and talented xxx -4 4 xxx
second-grade assistants xxx 0 0 14
elementary guidance xxx 8 8 10
elementary nurses xxx 2 2 3
“steps to success” xxx 0 2 2
technology xxx $1.5 $1.5 $1.8
instructional supplies xxx $0.2 $0.2 $0.3
training programs xxx $0.1 $0.1 $0.3
—————— —– —– —– —–
literacy specialists xxx 8 8 8
math specialists xxx 8 8 8
disability therapists xxx 14 14 14

Priorities: With any override at all, Dr. Lupini plans to hire 5 to 11 new administrators. With “low override” or presumably “no override,” Dr. Lupini plans to cancel the world language program for sixth, seventh and eighth grades and cancel the gifted and talented program, currently called “enrichment and challenge support.”

With “low override” or presumably “no override,” at least 24 teachers and staff will be fired. In their places, if he can, Dr. Lupini plans to hire up to 40 nurses, guidance counselors and specialists in math, literacy and disabilities. However, it is not clear whether any would be hired with “no override.” Once the parents and the School Committee understand these changes, objections seem foreseeable.

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

Board of Selectmen: hearings on tax overrides, Brookline Beacon, October 21, 2014

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

Override Study Committee of 2013, Final Report, Town of Brookline, MA, August 14, 2014

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

Happiness index: the gasoline factor

The myth is that the U.S. is a nation of gasoline addicts. The fact is that people went on a diet about 35 years ago and have mostly stayed on the diet. From 1945 to 1978, gasoline use per person nearly tripled, from about 0.5 to about 1.4 gallons per day. Since 1980, use per person stayed in a range of 1.16 to 1.31 gallons per day. For 2013, the most recent year tallied, it was near the bottom of the range: 1.17 gallons per day.

Sources: U.S Energy Information Agency and Census Bureau

Nevertheless, trends in gasoline use seem to factor in a kind of national happiness index. Falling trends forecast changing politics: getting rid of Democrats in 1980, getting rid of Republicans in 1992. We look to be in another reversal, with vengeance already taken on Congress.

The happy-go-lucky years are long gone and not likely to return. If you happened to come along in the 1930s or 1940s, it was a wild ride; maybe you can tell your grandchildren.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 9, 2014