Monthly Archives: December 2014

Pre-kindergarten: parking disputes

Brookline has provided pre-kindergarten classes in much the current forms since the school year starting in 2001, on a voluntary basis. Although administered by Public Schools of Brookline, those classes are mainly paid for by parents through tuitions. Enrollment grew in stages from school and fiscal years 2002 through 2006. During school and fiscal years 2007 through 2015, enrollment has remained in a range of 250 to 280 students aged about 3 and 4.


Source: Massachusetts Department of Education

Ordinary enrollment in Brookline public schools is far larger. The current total for kindergarten through third grade is 2,635, as reported to the state last October 1. On average, only about 20 percent of those students could have attended Brookline’s pre-kindergarten classes for two years. The Brookline Early Education Program (sometimes abbreviated as BEEP) publishes no reference information online about student populations, such as proportions of students attending for one year or for two years.

Sites and trends: Pre-kindergarten has operated at twelve sites in Brookline, of which seven are currently active. There were never more than ten sites active during any one year. Of the twelve, eight are Brookline’s elementary schools, two are other public buildings and two are synagogues. During the Walsh administration, in 2001, the current era of Brookline pre-kindergarten began at eight elementary schools.

Small student populations at each school made 2001-2002 operations inefficient and hard to manage. For the next year, classes were consolidated into four elementary schools. Subsequently, other sites were gradually opened or reopened. Rooms at Brookline High School and at the Lynch Recreation Center–the historic Winthrop School–began to be used in 2003 and continue in use today. By 2006-2007, pre-kindergarten grew to about its current number of students and operated from ten sites, including eight elementary schools.

Brookline pre-kindergarten census, October 1, by fiscal years and sites

Site 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Total 36 210 207 208 242 253 260 249 255 262 277 276 259 264
Baker 7 45 17 15 17 16 16 14 16 15 16 16 0 0
Devotion 2 0 0 0 16 16 16 16 14 16 17 0 0 0
Driscoll 9 60 34 38 32 41 37 37 40 39 42 37 35 16
Heath 4 0 15 16 18 14 15 15 17 16 17 30 32 31
Lawrence 2 0 0 14 33 29 31 30 29 16 15 0 0 0
Lincoln 5 53 38 32 31 31 33 33 33 31 31 18 0 0
Pierce 2 0 0 0 0 15 16 13 14 16 17 17 0 0
Runkle 5 52 22 20 16 17 16 16 14 13 13 15 16 14
High School 0 0 15 11 15 15 16 17 16 34 31 34 30 14
Lynch 0 0 66 62 64 59 64 58 62 66 78 68 66 63
Beacon 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 41 52 62
Putterham 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 28 64

Source: Massachusetts Department of Education

Responding to the need for school space, because of steadily growing student populations, starting in 2012 Public Schools of Brookline began to move pre-kindergarten classes out of elementary schools and into leased space–first at Temple Ohabei Shalom on Beacon St. (the “Beacon” site) and then in 2013 at Temple Emeth on Grove St. (the “Putterham” site). Pre-kindergarten classes no longer operate at Baker, Devotion, Lawrence, Lincoln and Pierce Schools.

Parking permits: At its December 22 meeting, the Transportation Board considered a request from Brookline Early Education Program for about 50 special parking permits to be used near Temples Ohabei Shalom and Emeth by pre-kindergarten teachers, administrators and support staff. Two-thirds of those were for the Putterham site, where BEEP administrators and support staff have been relocated. That proved controversial.

Led by precinct 16 town meeting member Regina Frawley, residents living near Putterham Circle (also called Ryan Circle) protested the heavy daytime concentration of parking around the site. It emerged that seven permits had already been issued by Todd Kirrane, Brookline’s transportation administrator, without public notice or board approval. There had been no notice to town meeting members and no neighborhood review meetings.

Despite widely touted commitments to public transportation and to so-called “transportation demand management,” neither the Transportation Board nor Public Schools of Brookline had prepared plans to reduce parking demand through uses of public transportation, ride-sharing or shuttle services. Residents near the Beacon St. and Kent St. intersection were also incensed. There is an MBTA Green Line stop adjacent to Temple Ohabei Shalom.

By a majority vote, Transportation Board members approved permits on what they called a “trial” basis, to be reviewed when the permits expire next July. Board members Scott Englander and Pamela Zelnick were opposed.

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

School enrollment: no room in the inn, Brookline Beacon, December 26, 2014

Brookline school census reports for fiscal years 1994 through 2015, Massachusetts Department of Education, 2014

School enrollment: no room in the inn

This year’s 7,244 enrollment in Brookline public schools–kindergarten through high school–is the most ever, as reported to the state October 1. The previous peak of about 7,050 occurred in 1970. By the fall of 2010, enrollment growth was providing clear warnings that Brookline needed more school space.


Source: Massachusetts Department of Education

Those warnings were mostly ignored until 2013, when a committee formed by the Board of Selectmen produced a plan of sorts. Caught up in strong controversy after considering parks and playgrounds for school sites, that committee backed away, recommending an approach it called “expand in place”–meaning enlarging current schools. As some members knew, such an approach could prove extremely costly.

After falling gradually for over 15 years, Brookline’s student population had begun a steady rise in 2005. Between September, 2005, and September, 2014, the school census reported to the state for kindergarten through eighth grade rose from 3,896 to 5,353. The rate of increase for school years 2009 to 2011 was 3.8 percent per year. The rate declined to 2.7 percent per year for 2013 to 2015.

Growth might be slowing, but it will probably take at least two more years to know. For the past nine years, Brookline’s elementary-school population has been increasing by an average of about 160 students per year. At that rate, to maintain class sizes of no more than 25 students, the schools need about seven more classrooms each year. Once-surplus rooms and special-purpose rooms have been put in service as regular classrooms. Pre-kindergarten was moved to rented space, starting in 2012. There is almost nothing left.

Coping: At its meeting December 18, the School Committee heard from William Lupini, the school superintendent, about limits of using “expand in place.” A proposal for expanding Driscoll School had just been rejected by the state School Building Authority, leaving a small extension for Lawrence, now underway, and a major renovation for Devotion, recently endorsed by the state authority, as the works in progress.

The Devotion project has been described as adding about nine regular classrooms with about 30,000 square feet of new space. Much of the latter appears to be common and special-purpose space. The project cost is $110 to $120 million, as most recently estimated–in effect, about $13 million per new classroom. If Brookline were to add seven new classrooms a year in a similar fashion, through major renovations, it would be spending around $90 million a year on school construction–comparable to the budget for operating the public schools.

An “expand in place” approach, as implemented at Devotion, seems beyond what any community could afford. Dr. Lupini spoke about installing modular classrooms at Baker and about renting a commercial building to add space near Pierce. He said the Board of Selectmen had approved a consulting contract to search for privately owned land where another elementary school might be built (December 17, $60,825 with an outfit called Civic Moxie).

Perspective: Although School Committee members likely heard about these matters well before their December 18 meeting, they still looked a bit like starlings in a storm. Compared to some past committees, it is a fairly young and inexperienced one. Only Helen Charlupski has been involved with a major building project on a new school campus–the new Lincoln School on Kennard Rd., opened in 1994.

That type of experience is now rare. During the twentieth century, the only other such project was the Baker School on Beverly Rd., opened in 1939 and expanded in 1951 and 2000. Brookline had begun developing public schools in the 1840s, during the years of Horace Mann’s service. By the turn of the twentieth century, seven other large elementary school campuses and the current high school campus had already been built out.

A consultant’s review of Brookline schools from 1917 is revealing. It was performed by James H. Van Sickle, the superintendent of schools in Springfield, then well known as a former school superintendent in Denver and in Baltimore and as editor of Riverside Readers, distributed by Houghton-Mifflin. Mr. Van Sickle had consulted for Boston since 1901 and for Brookline since 1910; he also consulted for Bridgeport, CT.

At the time, Brookline taught nine grades of elementary school, starting at average age 5-1/2, four years of high school and voluntary half-day kindergartens. Students unable to pass a ninth-grade exit examination were turned over to the Manual Training School. Mr. Van Sickle documented class polarization in Brookline schools. He found strong student achievement at Driscoll, Runkle, Lawrence and Devotion Schools and weak achievement at Pierce, Lincoln and Heath.

Mr. Van Sickle found a cumulative dropout rate of 70 percent in 1916. starting in seventh grade. He correlated that with differential neglect of school buildings. The high school building, he warned, was also at high risk, because of a poorly protected heating plant. His key recommendation to reduce dropout, a junior high school, was never implemented. The former high school was largely destroyed in a 1936 fire.

Luxury schools: Brookline built the second Heath School and the second Devotion Primary School during the 1950s with fairly frugal plans. During the 1960s, under different administrations, the town began luxury spending. Misguided administrators seemed to think “open schooling” ideas then popular meant ways of designing classrooms, when they really meant ways of teaching students. Brookline’s tax rate rose as much as 20 percent a year during that era.

Adjusted for inflation, the third Pierce School–taking the site of the former Pierce Grammar School and two buildings on Harvard St.–cost more than twice as much per square foot as any previous Brookline elementary school. For that high price, Brookline bought misery. The leaky, noisy, uncomfortable building worked more like a factory than a school. Faulty construction led to years of repairs and lawsuits. Design errors led to years of changes, correcting some of the problems.

Brookline is once again spending heavily on a luxury school project–this time for Devotion School. The south wing is only about 60 years old, and the north wing is only about 40 years old. Nevertheless, the current plans are to demolish and replace both, although the north wing could be extended and both wings renovated for far less money. The center building will be retained and upgraded, even though it is about 100 years old. Spending for this project will likely crimp and cheapen Brookline’s other schools.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 26, 2014

Brookline school census reports for fiscal years 1994 through 2015, Massachusetts Department of Education, 2014

Craig Bolon, Devotion School: Option 0, a plan for a community, Brookline Beacon, September 14, 2014

Devotion School Building Committee: designs and controversies, Brookline Beacon, September 11, 2014

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

Final report, School Population and Capacity Expansion Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, 2013

Roland S. Barth, Open Education and the American School, Agathon Press, 1972

James H. Van Sickle, Educational Survey of the Public Schools of Brookline, Massachusetts, Brookline School Committee, 1917

Logan Airport: aircraft noise over Brookline

Recently, use of airspace over metropolitan Boston has been changing once again. Previous changes introduced over the past 25 years have directed flight paths over the ocean as much as possible. To the north of Logan Airport, those shifts also tended to move nearest parts of paths over Lynn and Revere. To the south, nearest parts of paths moved over Milton and Quincy.


Source: Massachusetts Port Authority, 2009

Brookline is fortunate. Angles of Logan Airport runways and locations of long-distance flight paths combined to create a “noise shadow” around the town. Some communities farther from the airport–including Lynn, Winchester, Belmont, Roslindale and Milton–have been exposed to louder aircraft noise.

Runway 33L: When west and northwest winds strengthen, as they typically do in colder months, for departing flights there may be no satisfactory alternative to runway 33L, pointing from East Boston toward Chelsea and Everett. Reducing noise from that departure path proved a challenge and took longer. In 2013, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) completed a 5-year review of environmental impacts.

At medium distances, around 50 miles, there are three flight corridors out of Logan to the west and southwest (PATSS, BLZZR and REVSS), one to the northwest (HYLND), one to the northeast (LBSTA), one to the east (CELTK) and two to the south and southeast (BRUWN and SSOXS). In May of 2013, FAA specified standard flight paths from runway 33L to each of those corridors.

Based on four years of measurements at over 30 locations, FAA estimated numbers of residents exposed to 45 dBA or more of aircraft noise from runway 33L departures. As compared with previous, partly unregulated paths, FAA found that its standard flight paths would reduce the number of residents so exposed by about 68,000. There are, however, some aircraft noise increases in Arlington, Belmont, Malden, Waltham, Watertown and Winchester.


Source: U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, 2013

Near the airport, the new standard flight paths pass over partly industrial areas along the Mystic River for about four miles, then begin to diverge. The branch going closest to Brookline is routed over Fresh Pond in Cambridge, then near the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and over West Roxbury and Canton. Flights using this path will often be headed for southern Europe, New York City, Philadelphia and the Atlantic coast of Florida.

Patterns: Currently, about half of Logan operations use the nearly north/south runway pair 4/22 R and L, with the nearly east/west runway 9/27 often in simultaneous use for departures over the ocean. A majority of these operations keep aircraft over the ocean while below 10,000 ft. Those flight patterns have reduced the operations using the southeast/northwest runway 15R/33L to below 20 percent.


Source: U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, 2013

Departures via runway 27, headed toward downtown Boston over the Inner Harbor, have become fewer, averaging about two an hour, and they usually turn and follow the Southeast Expressway rather than pass over downtown Boston and Brookline. Arrivals that would formerly have approached runway 22L from the north at low altitudes, over Revere and East Boston, are now often directed over the Outer Harbor and Squantum southward; then they circle back northward to runway 4R.

The loudest noises from the changes in patterns are heard in South Boston, the Ashmont sector of Dorchester, Milton, and communities to the south as far as Brockton. They receive many arrivals via runway 4R and departures via runway 22R, flying below 5,000 ft. Despite recent Watertown and Belmont complaints, those communities and nearby Hull and Quincy hear the loudest chronic aircraft noise south and west of Boston. By far the worst noise problems for the region continue in East Boston, Chelsea, Revere Beach and Winthrop.

The once controversial runway 14/32 along the Inner Harbor edge of Logan Airport, opened in 2006, turned out low in value for major airlines. A little over one percent of Logan jet arrivals use it–all landing from southeast to northwest. This year no Logan jet departures have used it. More than $100 million was spent on the project during the Romney and Walker Bush administrations. The runway “stub” 15L/33R, only a half mile long–intended during the 1960s glory years of former Massport chairman Ed King to become part of a second, major runway pair–has been nearly abandoned.

Rogues: Although the new standard flight paths tend to spare Brookline from aircraft noise, they do not prevent it. At least a few pilots a day behave like rogues, taking liberties with the rules. Alitalia pilots seem particularly prone, angling south as soon as they pass the Tobin Bridge and flying over North Brookline around JFK Crossing at 4,000 ft or less. It might save a minute on a flight to Rome.

Massport has adapted to PublicVue for live tracking instead of the now-antiquated WebTrak used at LAX, JFK and other very large airports. The Massport version of PublicVue tracks incoming flights out to about 500 miles and outgoing flights and overflights out to about 150 miles. It runs about 10 minutes behind the clock.

Rogue air traffic controllers at Logan could be detected early in the morning with help from PublicVue. United 236 from San Francisco was over Winchester and would normally have been sent over Revere, the Outer Harbor and Quincy to circle back and land on runway 4R. Instead, it headed south over Everett into Somerville and over B.U., passing over old Lincoln School around 5:30 am at about 4,000 ft. The shortcut may have saved two minutes.

If you hear an offensive overhead noise, you have 10 minutes to launch PublicVue and watch flights of the aircraft around Logan when you heard the noise. PublicVue provides an integrated tool to report noise complaints. FlightAware or another single-flight tracker will provide long-distance, equipment, schedule and fare information.

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

Logan Airport live flight monitor, Massachusetts Port Authority, 2014

Logan Airport statistics, Massachusetts Port Authority, 2014

Jaclyn Reiss, No quick fix for jet noise just west of Boston, Boston Globe, December 7, 2014

Noise and NextGen: Case study of Boston Logan runway 33L, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, May, 2013 (2 MB)

Record of decision, Logan Airport runway 33L area navigation, standard instrument departure, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, May, 2013 (19 MB)

Override schemes: lies, damned lies and budgets

Without some change in direction, Brookline’s tax override for 2015 looks to have set course for a donnybrook. The community endured a long committee review, lasting from the middle of last year to the middle of this one. For every mystery that the recent override committee managed to unravel, it seemed to weave a new one.

Playing games: To most of the public, budget reviews are likely to look and sound like playing games. The 800-pound gorilla in the room this year has been the one-sided approach: big new tax revenue for school programs–combined with cutbacks, more fees or both for everything else. The gorilla is so huge it can’t really be hidden. At Board of Selectmen, two weeks ago, member Nancy Daly started to worry, asking Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director, “What can we offer people who don’t have kids in the schools?”

Mr. Pappastergion, rarely at a loss for ways to spend more money, ventured, “Snow fighting…sidewalk plows…commercial areas.” He has been with Brookline long enough to remember, during the 1970s and before, when the town plowed most sidewalks every snowstorm. Sidewalk snowplowing suffered one of many sharp cutbacks in the early 1980s–after Proposition 2-1/2 trimmed town spending–along with about 20 out of 25 curriculum coordinators for Public Schools of Brookline.

Those are useful examples of both short-term and long-term budget games. Over three decades, only a little sidewalk snowplowing has been restored–mostly around schools. However, curriculum jobs are back. This time around, most are not bundled into a core staff–a ready and proven target–but instead are labeled and paid as supervisors, salted through the school budget. School administrators turned out to be more skilled at budget games than some of their municipal counterparts.

Mr. Pappastergion’s sally for snow plowing did not go far. At Board of Selectmen, talk soon verged into raising money: bigger fines, of course, for homeowners who neglect to shovel sidewalks, but also higher rates at parking meters and collections for this year’s fashion model of public works, trash metering.

Talking in code: A key part of playing budget games has become talking in code: saying something sounding harmless while meaning something else. The Override Study Committee of 2013 became mavens of the art. Toward the end of their season, many people could not have understood much more from one of their meetings than from the calls of seagulls at a beach.

A striking example of talking in code came from Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator, describing budget plans at Board of Selectmen this week on Wednesday, December 17–along with computer slides. The subtitle of his document, “What we’ve learned,” recalled the pro-forma apologies from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission after each disaster. “Lessons learned” is how they term it–a code-word meaning “how we messed up again.”


Source: Town of Brookline, MA

Structural deficit: Maybe we can forget the “options,” the “scenarios,” the “plans” and the “groups” from the endless reviews. Mr. Cronin gave us straight poop–if we could decipher all the code-words scattered on every line. “They say the best things in life are free. You can give them to the bird and the bee. I want money.”

Now, what would make a deficit “structural”–not a mere shortfall? It sounds like another code-word, maybe meaning: “more money next year and more money a year later and then more money the year after that too.” If we were willing to part with the money, what would it buy? Mr. Cronin never said. Suppose a shlemiel comes along: “I’ve got a ‘structural deficit,’ Marty. Can you help me out a little?”

What does it buy? A question for almost every line: what does it buy? “One-Time Funds.” “Catch-Up.” “Enhancement.” “Info Tech.” What does it buy? At Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, December 9, William Lupini, the school superintendent, did make it clear that “Enrollment” (upper case) does not mean “enrollment” (lower case). Instead, he said, it means “a teacher in a classroom.”

Dr. Lupini complained that when “the town gives the schools credit” for Enrollment (upper case), it counts only “a teacher in a classroom.” Public Schools of Brookline, he complained, has to provide guidance counselors, math specialists, reading specialists, special education, psychologists, teaching aides, nurses and–of course–administrators. All neglected in Enrollment (upper case). Such tsouris.

Mr. Cronin advised, in a footnote, that Enrollment (upper case) also included “$680K for OLS.” It sounded likely that “OLS” meant “old Lincoln School” and that “$680K” meant $680,000 each and every year–not just one time. It was not even slightly clear what $680,000 would actually buy. Again, suppose that shlemiel comes along: “I’ve got OLS, Marty. Can you help me out a little?”

The numbers: Maybe it’s all in the numbers. What do the numbers mean? They look to be mixing continuing costs, including “Structural Deficit,” with expenses that happen once, purchases including “Info Tech.” On December 9, Dr. Lupini described the latter as buying “plumbing.” Maybe even he doesn’t change out the kitchen sink every year.

In Mr. Cronin’s plan, the numbers at the bottom seem to add–more or less. Sharp-eyed folk will have noticed that $6.21 plus $3.51 plus $2.60 equals $12.32, not $12.33 (probably meaning millions of dollars). Well–what’s ten thousand more dollars among friends? As long as taxpayers are footing the bill, of course!

Weirdness with numbers continues in strange arithmetic: adding “One-Time Funds” and single-year purchases for “Info Tech” to “Structural Deficit” and the other items that appear to continue year after year. They aren’t compatible, and they won’t add in any simple way. After the December 17 meeting, one of the board members was unable to explain parts of the arithmetic too.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 18, 2014

Sean Cronin, Expenditure plan as of 12/9/14, Town of Brookline, MA, December 17, 2014

Board of Selectmen: taxes and budgets for “insiders,” Brookline Beacon, December 3, 2014

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

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

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

Berry Gordy, Janie Bradford and Barrett Strong, Money, Tamia (later Motown), 1959, as noted in New York Times, September 1, 2013

Health-care spending: under control

Once in a while we continue to read that the U.S. economy is being strangled by costs of health care. Recently, David Leonhardt wrote an opinion in the New York Times: a different view. “We’re in the midst of…historic slowdown in the growth of medical costs,” he claimed. Unfortunately, Mr. Leonhardt devoted most of his article to a political sideshow.

The springboard for Mr. Leonhardt was this year’s edition of National Health Expenditures, a survey begun during the Eisenhower administration and published annually–now by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Most people younger than around 70 won’t remember or perhaps never knew about scandalous spending increases for health care that took off in the 1950s, as the country experienced post-war prosperity.


The chart shows national health-care spending measured in 2013 dollars per person per year, from 1960 through 2013, as adjusted by the Consumer Price Index. In its economic index, the federal government measures total spending on health care, regardless of who pays for it. As Mr. Leonhardt points out, total spending has remained at about 17-1/2 percent of all U.S. output during the last five years of reports. Health care is no longer a growing sector.

Peculiar behavior: This economic index has peculiar behavior. The long-term trend is a nearly steady climb in absolute amounts–yearly increases averaging about $152, as expressed in 2013 dollars. There are wiggles: growth flattening during the recession of 1973 and the hyperinflation of 1979, receding in the 2007 recession and surging during the early, badly managed years of the Walker Bush administration.

The previous chart has a linear scale–more useful for documenting behaviors than for understanding them. A semi-logarithmic chart provides a different view, emphasizing relative changes over a time span. These charts are often used when describing epidemics, because the slope of a semi-logarithmic trend curve measures an exponential growth.


In the semi-logarithmic trend curve, one can see several distinct intervals of spending behaviors. There are four periods of fairly uniform but exponential growth and two periods of turbulence. The percentage growth rates for those fairly uniform periods fall with time. The earliest period, 1961 to 1972, shows an aggregate increase of about 6.5 percent per year in real-dollar spending on health care. The most recent period, 2009 to 2013, shows an aggregate increase of about 1.0 percent per year.

1961 to 1972      6.5%     initial spending surge, early years of Medicare
1973 to 1980      ——-     turbulence, Arab oil embargo, hyperinflation in late 1970s
1981 to 1992      4.8%     second-generation cost-control efforts
1993 to 2000     2.3%     third-generation cost-control efforts
2001 to 2008     ——-     turbulence, collapse of cost controls, 2007 great recession
2009 to 2013     1.0%     developing equilibrium, slower spending growth

Annual percentage growth, from 2009 to 2013
During the past five years, the growth rate has become comparable to growth in the national economy.

1.01%     per-capita U.S. gross domestic product, in 2013 dollars
1.02%     per-capita U.S. health-care spending, in 2013 dollars

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

David Leonhardt, The battle over Douglas Elmendorf, and the inability to see good news, New York Times, December 9, 2014

National Health Expenditure Accounts, U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, December, 2014

GDP per capita, World Bank, December, 2014

Alain Moren, et al., Graphs, charts and diagrams, in Field Epidemiology Manual, European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (Stockholm, Sweden), December, 2014

Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?

Article 12 at the November town meeting sought to exclude more Brookline territory from becoming sites for medical marijuana dispensaries, but the town meeting rejected all motions under that article. Zoning continues unchanged from a plan voted in November, 2013, and no new studies were authorized. As required under state laws, Brookline has left a few areas of the town outside its exclusion zones, providing potentially eligible sites under local laws.


Source: Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development

On the map, Brookline’s eligible areas in general business zones are colored black. There is also an industrial zone, shown as hatched, near the waste transfer station off Newton St. The map prepared by the planning staff marks excluded areas, within 500 feet of both public and private schools. They are colored gray.

Since Brookline has met its obligations through zoning, state regulations do not apply. However, the federal government, acting through district attorneys, may step in. In some of the later discussions over Article 12, proponents claimed the federal government would impose 1,000-foot exclusion zones around parks, playgrounds and public housing sites. The map shows a circle as an example, with a radius equivalent to 1,000 feet.

The only mention of those arguments in town meeting documents was a brief statement from the Advisory Committee in the final warrant report. [Article 12, supplement 1, pp. 5-6] It drew no conclusions and cited no documentation, describing federal regulations as a business risk for dispensary operators.

New exclusion zones: If the federal government were to act as the Article 12 proponents appear to hope it will, 1,000-foot exclusion zones might block all eligible sites under current Brookline zoning:

1. The zone along Commonwealth Ave. near St. Paul St. might be blocked from Knyvet Square, the Egmont St. veterans housing and Trustman Apartments.

2. The Coolidge Corner zone along Beacon and Harvard Sts. might be blocked from the Devotion School and its playgrounds, the Beth Zion Hebrew school, Griggs Park and St. Mark’s Park.

3. The Brookline Village zone along Washington and Boylston Sts. might be blocked from the old Lincoln School, Lynch Recreation Center, Emerson Park, Boylston St. Playground, Juniper St. Playground and Walnut St. Apartments.

4. The zone along Boylston and Hammond Sts. might be blocked from the Soule Recreation Center, Brimmer and May School, Beaver Country Day School and Pine Manor College.

5. The industrial zone near the waste transfer station might be blocked from Skyline Park and the Lost Pond Reservation.

Federal exclusions: As noted in a recent Boston Globe article, federal powers in these matters are exercised by the U.S. Department of Justice, acting through district attorneys. On August 29, 2013, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole issued a “guidance” memorandum to U.S. attorneys.

When there is a “tightly regulated market in which revenues are tracked,” wrote Mr. Cole, “state and local law enforcement and regulatory bodies” should govern. Where state laws authorized medical marijuana, “it was likely not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on seriously ill individuals or on their individual caregivers.”

“The primary question in all cases,” Mr. Cole stated, is to evaluate federal “enforcement priorities.” They aim at preventing:
• distribution of marijuana to minors
• revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises….
• diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal…to other states
• state-authorized…activity from being used [to] cover…illegal activity
• violence and the use of firearms….
• drugged driving and…other adverse public health consequences….
• growing of marijuana on public lands….
• marijuana possession or use on federal property.

Contrary to impressions left by Article 12 proponents, the 2013 “guidance” memorandum does not cite or refer to a so-called “schoolyard statute” or any other specific federal law, and it does not recommend any type of exclusion zone. Instead, it says jurisdictions with “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems” may “affirmatively address…priorities.”

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

Shelley Murphy, Kay Lazar and Andrew Ba Tran, U.S. asked to block cannabis clinics near Massachusetts schools, Boston Globe, November 21, 2014

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

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

James M. Cole, Memorandum for all United States attorneys, U.S. Department of Justice, August 29, 2013

Board of Selectmen: firefighter Gerald Alston, Jr., speaking

Gerald Alston, Jr., an inactive Brookline firefighter and an African-American, was a potential target of a racial slur which had been left on voice mail by a supervisor in 2010. After Mr. Alston complained, that supervisor was sanctioned by a temporary suspension. About three years later, the supervisor was promoted. Mr. Alston’s complaints against Brookline’s handling of his case have appeared in the news before, notably in a Boston Globe article from August, 2013.

According to the Globe article, Mr. Alston said, after he complained, that he had been “ostracized” by others in the fire department. The article reported that he had filed a lawsuit against the town. At a meeting of the Board of Selectmen Tuesday, December 2, Mr. Alston came with a group of supporters–including Precinct 15 town meeting member Mariela Ames, Precinct 3 town meeting member Patricia Connors and former Precinct 6 town meeting member Arthur Conquest. They distributed to members of the public a two-page letter from Mr. Alston addressed to Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, dated about a week earlier.

Neither Mr. Alston nor Brooks Ames, spouse of Mariela Ames and also present at the meeting, disclosed that Mr. Alston has not been active in the Brookline fire department, that his lawsuit has been dismissed at Norfolk Superior Court or that Mr. Ames has taken over as his legal representative–as the Boston Globe reported today.

During a “public comment” period, Mr. Alston spoke to the board. Board member Nancy Daly acted as chair, in the absence of Mr. Goldstein. Following is what Mr. Alston had to say, as best it could be understood from a video recording distributed by Brookline Interactive Group, leaving out only fillers and pauses in speech:

At Board of Selectmen, December 2, 2014, 6:30 pm, Town Hall, adapted from Brookline Interactive Group (with video timings)

6:42 pm (8.21) Gerald Alston: Let me…introduce myself. My name is Gerald Alston, Jr.–firefighter Gerald Alston, Jr. I’m coming before you, the board–first and foremost–to say that I have lost all respect, trust and anything whatsoever with your administration. I am coming before you to look at everything that I’ve presented and to ask that you bring in an independent contractor to…focus on the racism within the fire department–not the entire fire department, certain individuals–and how the town administration handled my situation.

(9.07) I’ve been on the job since 2002, and since 2002 I have not had any incidents until 2010. Since I spoke up and asked what the policies were in my case, I have been persecuted. I have been treated like trash. I have been disrespected by your administration–Sandra DeBow in particular–and I refuse to deal with her in any way, shape or form. [Sandra DeBow-Huang, the director of human resources]

(9.34) Nancy Daly: [I] asked people not to say [names]….

(9.37) Gerald Alston: OK.

(9.38) Nancy Daly: You can talk about the department.

(9.41) Gerald Alston: The department has a number of firefighters who are amazing and support everything that I’m saying, but there are a few in this department that are like cancer–who they are, I can’t point them out–because they’re cowards and hide behind a false smile and false respect. I’m asking you, as the town council, to bring in an independent entity to find out what’s going on and to fix it.

(10.16) I’m not the problem, but the town administration is making me the problem: making me have to jump through hoops just to keep my job, demanding that I take medication–because they feel I have some type of mental disorder or because I questioned what were they going to do about this situation. Now I have no faith in them anymore.

(10.42) The only…people I can deal with and request some kind of help [from] is you. This is as far as it’s going. I’m following…the necessary steps it takes. I’m not doing anything wrong. For this I think we need to find out what the problem is and to fix it. That’s all I’ve been asking, from day one…to just fix it. Thank you.

6:45 pm (11.11) Nancy Daly: OK, thank you.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 6, 2014

James H. Burnett, III, Brookline firefighter asks selectmen to review department’s racial climate, Boston Globe, released December 6, 2014

Brookline Interactive Group, Board of Selectmen, December 2, 2014

Gerald Alston, Jr., to Ken Goldstein, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, November 24, 2014 (two-page letter distributed to members of the public)

Brock Parker, Brookline firefighter sues town over alleged racial slur, Boston Globe, August 30, 2013

Brookline Public Library: December 10, local mystery writers (public event)

The Brookline Public Library is hosting a public event Wednesday, December 10, featuring four local writers of mystery novels. It begins at 7 pm in Hunneman Hall, upstairs at Brookline’s main library, 361 Washington St.

Hank Phillippi Ryan has been a radio and television reporter since 1971. Her first novel was Prime Time in 2000. Her seventh and most recent, Truth Be Told, appeared this year.

Hallie Ephron has published eight novels and three non-fiction books, including one on how to write a novel. Her most recent work, There Was an Old Woman, appeared in 2012.

Joseph Finder has been publishing mystery novels since 1983. His most recent book, Suspicion, is being produced as a video drama for ABC television.

Julia Spencer-Fleming published eight mystery novels between 2002 and last year. Her most recent is titled Through the Evil Days. She now lives in Portland, ME.

The event is billed as “Homicide for the Holidays,” but no weapons are allowed–only words. The event is also supported by the New England chapter of Mystery Writers of America and will serve as its December meeting. Following a panel discussion, audience members may ask questions.

According to Judith Vanderkay, a library trustee, attendance is free and open to all, but space is limited and early arrival is recommended. After the event, the authors will autograph copies of their books. Copies of each author’s most recent work are available at a 15 percent discount from Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard St., in Coolidge Corner. They will also be available for sale at the event on December 10.

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

Homicide for the Holidays, Public Library of Brookline, MA, December, 2014

Fall town meeting: pipe dreams

Article 19 at the November town meeting took a journey to northern Massachusetts and eastern New York, in the Albany area, where landowners and environmental interests are contesting a new pipeline proposed by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a branch of Kinder Morgan of Houston, TX. Another “pipe dream” might imagine that sounds of town meetings resolving would carry on to Washington, DC.

The pipeline proposed in northern Massachusetts has seen three versions, most recently called Northeast Energy Direct (NED). It starts near Susquehanna in northeast Pennsylvania, goes to a Tennessee Gas hub in Wright, NY, runs beside an existing Tennessee Gas line and under the Hudson River to Richmond, MA, then sets out across northern Massachusetts to a hub in Dracut–about 300 miles of large diameter, high pressure pipe.

Regulation: The key agency for new pipelines and power lines is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which acquired added powers in 2005, during the Walker Bush administration, to supersede state and local agencies in projects that cross state boundaries. Armed with a FERC certificate, a pipeline company can seize land for a project using powers of “eminent domain.” It must meet environmental standards, but FERC rather than the Environmental Protection Agency reviews those issues.


Source: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Despite a variety of protests, such as Article 19, FERC continues to approve new natural gas pipelines. This week, FERC approved a pipeline from northeast Pennsylvania to the hub in Wright, NY. Proposed by Williams Co. of Tulsa, OK, it has been called Constitution Pipeline. On the map, the route of Constitution is shown in red, existing Tennessee Gas lines are amber and the proposed NED segment in Massachusetts is dark blue. The map also shows routes of other large gas pipelines serving the region.

New England energy: The Algonquin line, now owned by Spectra of Houston, was built between 1949 and 1952–the first major supply of natural gas to New England. Algonquin remains a backbone of supply, but it and other lines now lack capacity to serve peak demands. Over the past 20 years, coal-fired and oil-fired generators that once provided most of the region’s electricity have been shut down.

The main replacements for coal and oil have been high-efficiency, “combined-cycle” gas-fired generators. In these, heat first powers a gas turbine, then powers a steam turbine. They usually cost less to operate, often replace imported with domestic fuel, drastically reduce pollution from sulfur and nitrogen oxides and from fine particles, and emit less than two-thirds the carbon dioxide, compared with the former mix of coal and oil.

With the approval of Constitution, FERC docket CP13-499, Tennessee Gas is less likely to gain approval for a similar segment of NED, docket PF14-22. Not shown on the map above, NED also includes a segment parallel to an existing Tennessee Gas line extending southeast from Wright, NY, and another extending southwest from Wright into Pennsylvania, nearly parallel to the recently approved Constitution line.

While the westernmost segment of NED may have become redundant, Tennessee Gas is likely to continue seeking the remainder. Until NED is in service, now expected for 2018, New England is likely to experience problems in peak periods. Those drive up prices and cause older generators to be reactivated with coal and oil, emitting more pollution.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 4, 2014

Katie Colaneri, Feds approve pipeline to bring Marcellus gas to New York, New England, National Public Radio, December 4, 2014

Long wait for natural gas seen over, New London (CT) Evening Day, July 17, 1953. p. 6

An interstate natural gas facility on my land?, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, August, 2013

Certificate, Constitution Pipeline, CP13-499, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, December 2, 2014

Northeast Energy Direct pre-filing, PF14-22, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, September 15, 2014 (97 MB)

Tennessee Gas Pipeline project log, Town of Berlin, MA, 2014

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

Board of Selectmen: taxes and budgets for “insiders”

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, December 2, started at 6:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. In the only large financial item, Frederick Russell, director of the water and sewer division, got approval for $0.11 million to fund emergency repair of a sewer main, completed in Washington Square last month. About three-quarters of the 3-1/2 hour meeting probably sounded like gibberish, except to “insiders.” Some presenters spoke in code and did not tell the public what they meant.

Tax classification: By far the longest but likely the least helpful presentation came from Gary McCabe, the chief assessor. Mr. McCabe had sent materials to board members. Despite announcement of a “public hearing,” he did not make them available in advance to the public, nor did he distribute any copies at what was called a “hearing.” Without examining those materials in advance, except to “insiders” they are apt to look like reams of arbitrary numbers. Not surprisingly, the public did not appear.

An issue before the board is setting a tax classification percentage for commercial property. When dividing up total taxes into tax bills, under powers of a 1978 state law the assessed values of commercial properties can be adjusted by a percentage–between 100 and 175 percent–set annually by the Board of Selectmen. Over the 35 years, the board has set that percentage between about 150 and 175. This year it is 172.

The adjustment has a big effect on commercial tax bills. Because value of commercial property in Brookline is only about a tenth of the total, it has a small effect on residential tax bills. At most, it can lower them by less than seven percent. The only member of the public to speak, a representative from the Chamber of Commerce, urged no increase in the classification percentage. The board did not reach a decision.

Budget trims: Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator, gave another presentation largely in code. He too had sent materials to the board and also did not make them available in advance to the public. Mr. Cronin was carrying water for the Override Study Committee of 2013, who gave recommendations to trim spending in their final report last August. No member of that committee spoke.

Word had gotten out to the “insiders.” Members of the Library Trustees and the School Committee, along with leaders of their staff, were on hand to defend budgets against surrogate attacks from the override committee, proxied through Mr. Cronin. He proposed reducing the library book budget next year by $50,000. That could lower next year’s average condominium tax bill of around $4,000 by somewhat less than a dollar.

Carol Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member and former director of the Minuteman Library Network, said that a cut in the book budget could produce disaccreditation of Brookline libraries and loss of state aid. As with other proposals, the override committee looked to have made a wild foray without a reasonable effort to find out true effects. Committee proposals could also close a fire station and a branch library. Mr. Cronin did not try to defend the committee, saying at one point he was just presenting “mathematics.”

Fee increases: Against an override committee recommendation to raise fees for using school facilities by over $600,000 a year, the School Committee has proposed about a third of that. William Lupini, the superintendent, explained that the override committee had wanted to charge “market rates” for all services and facilities. However, Public Schools of Brookline is not a profit-making company. Dr. Lupini said it has duties to charge no more than the cost of services.

Among the largest users of school facilities are early education, day-care and recreation programs. Dr. Lupini said recreation programs occupy about 80 percent of gymnasium operating hours outside normal school hours. Fees for those hours would amount to one town agency charging another. However, the privately operated Brookline Music School has agreed to a rent increase for its space adjacent to the new Lincoln School on Kennard Rd.

Parents at the Devotion School founded Brookline’s first after-school day-care program in the early 1970s. Similar programs are now operating at ten locations, including each elementary school, serving hundreds of students. According to Peter Villa, a Lawrence parent and head of BEDAC, the town-wide day-care coalition, the day-care programs have agreed to begin paying for use of school facilities next year. That will increase fees for day care by around 1-1/4 percent, from a current range of $500 to $560 per child per month.

Dr. Lupini opposed increasing financial burdens on early education, saying, “Research has shown that it saves money later on.” Board members tended to agree. Betsy DeWitt was vehement, “The notion of applying a commercial model to public education…is outrageous!” Neil Wishinsky said it is a “valid public policy to have affordable day care.”

A discussion about parking fees with Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director, emerged from a review of snow clearance. Board member Nancy Daly expressed skepticism about raising Brookline fees–already as much as those in Cambridge–saying, “We’re not downtown Boston.” However, Celinda Shannon, executive director of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is “not opposed to parking rates increasing.” She said there should not be a “double whammy of increased fines” at overdue meters.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 3, 2014

Tax classification, Town of Brookline, MA, December 3, 2014

Final override committee report, Town of Brookline, MA, August 14, 2014