Monthly Archives: July 2015

Advisory Committee: probing a disconnect

The Advisory Committee met Tuesday, July 28, starting at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall–mainly to understand a disconnect in budgeting before and during the May town meeting. Details had been reviewed by the Capital subcommittee at a meeting the previous Tuesday, July 21. While some events had become known, understandings of them remained murky.

Structural deficit: As adopted at the 2015 annual town meeting, the fiscal 2016 budget had a structural deficit, around $200,000, known to some Brookline employees but withheld from most or all members of boards and committees and from town meeting. At the point of the Advisory Committee’s review July 28, a timeline for some events of the disconnect had become clear:

Late April: Public Works gets only three bids for recycling
Late May: Public Works settles on best bid, $200,000 over budget
May 26: Annual town meeting adopts fiscal 2016 budget
May 28: Annual town meeting completes work and dissolves
June 23: Board of Selectmen approves $1.22 million FY2016 contract
June 23: Board of Selectmen applies for $200,000 from reserve fund
July 7: Advisory Committee approves $200,000 and starts investigation
July 14: Advisory Committee members lodge protest with Board of Selectmen
July 21: Advisory subcomittee conducts special hearing and drafts report
July 28: Advisory Committee holds special review meeting

By late April, at least Andrew Pappastergion, the commissioner of public works, Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, and Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, knew that a structural deficit in the fiscal 2016 budget was likely. Before the end of the annual town meeting, they knew the budget deficit was certain and would be about $200,000.

None of them told any member of the Advisory Committee, which has a legal duty to propose budgets to annual town meetings. Had they done that, the committee could have amended the budget proposed to town meeting, to bring it into balance, or it could have proposed to reconsider the budget, if notified after the budget had already been voted.

It has not been clear whether members of the Board of Selectmen had timely information. No member of the board told any member of the Advisory Committee or told town meeting about it before June. Treatment of protesting committee members at the board’s meeting July 14 looked and sounded disrespectful. However, on July 28 the committee skirted those issues, focusing on information received from town employees.

Explanations: As described in a subcommittee report prepared by Fred Levitan, a Precinct 14 town meeting member, during the May town meeting, Mr. Kleckner was also aware of about $190,000 in extra state aid for Brookline. He failed to inform Advisory Committee members and town meeting about those circumstances as well. Apparently he hoped to use the extra funds somehow to repair the structural deficit.

According to a 20-year “town-school partnership,” that would have been unrealistic. Revenues have to be reviewed by a standing committee and are typically divided between municipal and school accounts. So far, there has been no meeting of the partnership committee to consider changes in fiscal 2016 state aid.

According to Mr. Levitan, Mr. Klecker said not notifying the Advisory Committee was “a mistake.” To many observers, that might not appear likely. Mr. Klecker has about 20 years experience with work similar to his current position–serving four Massachusetts towns, most recently Winchester and Belmont. The same provisions of Massachusetts General Laws have applied to all the towns.

The committee discussed whether to reconsider the contentious $200,000 reserve fund transfer it had approved July 7. That had been an evening when the committee rejected a reserve fund request, the only rejection any member could recall in about ten years. The request approved came on a vote of 12 to 10 and one abstention. With just a single vote cast as No instead of Yes, the $200,000 request would have been rejected on a tie vote.

Following Advisory customs, reconsideration needed a motion from a member who had voted Yes on the $200,000 transfer. If the transfer were reconsidered, it might be voted down and withdrawn. When Sean Lynn-Jones, the committee chair, called for such a motion, there was no response. Most members seemed satisfied such a disconnect would not happen again.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 29, 2015


Report from Fred Levitan for Capital subcomittee to Advisory Committee, $200,000 DPW transfer request, Town of Brookline, MA, July 28, 2015

Memorandum from Melvin A. Kleckner, Town Administrator, to Sean Lynn-Jones, Chair, Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, July 13, 2015

Richard Kelliher and James Walsh, Memorandum of understanding: town/school budget partnership, Town of Brookline, MA, May 16, 1995

Board of Selectmen: two boards, changing colors, Brookline Beacon, July 18, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: reach for the reset button, Brookline Beacon, July 8, 2015

Board of Selectmen: water fees, snubbing the public, Brookline Beacon, June 24, 2015

Advisory Committee: budgets and reconsiderations, Brookline Beacon, May 1, 2015

Rhode Island: offshore wind-power, winning and losing

Upon lapse of the Patrick administration, the major electric utilities in Massachusetts quickly bailed out of contracts to buy costly offshore wind-power from Cape Wind, citing lack of agreed progress on the project. Barnstable, the largest town on the Cape, had joined with others, suing to quash agreements they said the Patrick administration coerced utilities into signing. That lawsuit may be moot, but only lawyers stood to profit. Last January, Cape Wind became a legal zombie.

Racing the wind: A national race for offshore wind-power is being won by Deepwater Wind in Rhode Island. This spring, Deepwater began building foundations three miles offshore from Mohegan Bluffs, on the south side of Block Island. Next summer, the company aims to install five turbines. Ironically, the state with the least wind-power capacity in New England looks to become the U.S. pioneer of offshore wind-power.

Wind turbines seen from Barlows Point, Block Island, simulated view

BlockIslandSimulatedViewBarlowsPoint
Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2013

Writing this spring in the Boston Globe, Derrick Jackson claimed that the apparent success of Deepwater Wind versus Cape Wind had sprung from “thinking smaller,” but he was not looking far beyond the end of his nose. From an initial base of five turbines, Deepwater has plans to install at least five more off Block Island and then to move out into Rhode Island Sound, where it holds federal leases on areas large enough for more than 200 similar turbines. Total power generation could be around three times recent estimates for Cape Wind.

The turbines being manufactured by Alstom of France also mean thinking big. They are nearly twice the size Cape Wind had planned, by peak power ratings, and about three times the size of any land-based turbine in Massachusetts. Rather than use the speed-increasing gearboxes needed with induction generators, they use direct-drive generators, removing a common source of high maintenance costs and turbine disasters. So far, however, offshore wind power has failed to demonstrate any useful economy of scale.

Politics, jobs and prices: Like Cape Wind, Deepwater carefully surveyed wind profiles before bidding on leases and building turbines. Unlike Cape Wind, Deepwater paid good attention to political as well as ocean winds. In contrast to Cape Cod, Block Island lacks a powerful corps of rich people inclined to hire expensive lawyers. Instead, Deepwater was able to appeal to lingering senses of inferiority, promising a leap into high technology.

The appeal that seized former Rhode Island Gov. Carcieri, however, was jobs–good-paying technology jobs in an economy savaged by the 2008 recession. Carcieri helped Deepwater with a land base for operations at Quonset Point, working to haul in over $23 million in federal money for the facility, and he helped to enlist state regulators, ushering Deepwater into the state’s wholesale electricity market.

His successor, former Gov. Chafee, helped to clear a path to permits for Deepwater through state and federal bureaucracies, making it advantageous for the company to build first in state-chartered waters off Block Island and to start the clock running on company operations. Unlike Cape Wind, which never produced any power, by the end of next year Deepwater will be delivering electricity, starting to satisfy contracts.

Deepwater claimed it would employ hundreds of workers from Rhode Island while building the Block Island wind farm. The fine print said something else. According to sworn testimony by a Deepwater representative, after the facility now in progress opened, there would be only six permanent jobs. The price for that employment was huge: nearly four times the average wholesale price for electricity in New England.

Deepwater’s agreement with National Grid calls for an initial wholesale price of $0.244 per kWh. Cape Wind had not been quite so greedy, settling on an initial wholesale price from National Grid of $0.188 per kWh. According to power-pool regulator ISO New England, the region’s average wholesale electricity price, at the busbars of power plants, was $0.0633 per kWh during calendar 2014–considered a fairly high-priced year.

Ripping off customers: Retail customers are paying transmission and distribution charges, too. The U.S. Energy Information Administration found that the average total price paid by New England residential customers during calendar 2014 was $0.179 per kWh. Transmission and distribution combined cost them on average $0.116 per kWh.

If New England residential customers had to buy all their wholesale electricity at Deepwater prices, they would have paid a total of $0.36 per kWh on average during 2014, more than twice the actual average total that year. All the New England states are requiring utilities to get increasing amounts of electricity from renewable sources, but so far utilities have been able to find much lower prices from land-based wind farms and hydroelectric generators.

Luckily for Brookline residents, Deepwater never extracted contracts from Eversource or its predecessors, NStar and Northeast Utilities. National Grid serves nearly all of Rhode Island, tending to make that company far more susceptible to political factors there. As Deepwater grows, its dead weight on Rhode Island customers and on other National Grid customers in northeast, central and southeast Massachusetts will grow apace.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 26, 2015


Diane Cardwell, Offshore wind farm raises hopes of U.S. clean-energy backers, New York Times, July 24, 2015

U.S. regional electricity prices, U.S. Energy Information Administration, July, 2015

Beth Winegarner, Cape Wind deadline halted while Massachusetts mulls extension, Law360 (New York, NY), May 28, 2015

New England’s wholesale electricity and capacity markets were competitive in 2014, ISO New England, May 20, 2015

Derrick Jackson, Wind power’s future depends on thinking smaller, Boston Globe, March 28, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Alex Elvin, NStar and National Grid sever contracts with Cape Wind, Vineyard Gazette, January 7, 2015

Deepwater Wind (Block Island Wind Farm) summary, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, 2014

Block Island wind farm permit, Deepwater Wind, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, September 4, 2014

Deepwater Wind project, Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council staff report, January 24, 2014

Memorandum for record, Block Island wind farm, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, October, 2013

Mark Drajem and Andrew Herndon, Deepwater wins first auction for U.S. offshore wind lease, Bloomberg News, July 31, 2013

Visual impact assessment, Block Island wind farm, Deepwater Wind, submitted to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, May, 2012

RI Supreme Count hears anti-Deepwater Wind arguments, Wind Power, May, 2011

National Grid, Power-purchase agreement with Deepwater Wind, June 30, 2010

Government records: continuing barriers to access

Government records are once again a focus of concerns in Massachusetts, notably problems getting access to records enforced. A bill pending in the General Court’s committees might have a chance to pass in the next two weeks. Otherwise, it is likely to remain shelved for another year or more.

Sunlight: In the memorable words of former Justice Brandeis, “Sunlight is…the best of disinfectants.” House 3665, now up for review in Ways and Means, would let more sunlight into some dim corners of state and local governments. However, this bill–from Rep. Kocot of Northampton and Sen. Lewis of Winchester–offers only limited progress toward lifting a chronic, statewide curtain of secrecy.

A few years ago, during Martha Coakley’s terms as state attorney general, her office said public records access was “not a top priority.” The public records supervisor in the secretary of state’s office soon said he was no longer referring violations to the attorney general. According to the Boston Globe, Secretary of State “Galvin’s office leaves it up to citizens to go to court to force agencies to comply with…rulings, something that can cost tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.”

In parts of the state, access to information became a luxury. Even the winner of a successful lawsuit could not be sure of cost reimbursement. Not all situations proved hostile. For example, during the past year the Brookline town government responded promptly to six public records requests–three to the Office of Town Clerk and three to other agencies–for the benefit of Brookline Beacon readers. Those agencies did not charge fees for copies of their records.

Proposed reforms: As reported out of the joint committee on state administration, H. 3665 recognizes electronic data and in Section 2 tries to regularize formats, a quest probably better left to regulations. Section 3 requires naming “records access officers.” The Massachusetts Municipal Association has tried to paint this as a cost burden, but government agencies are tasked to provide access to records anyway. They would simply have to say who handles requests.

Section 4 tries to improve enforcement. The supervisor of public records “shall” rather than “may” notify the attorney general of violations, and the attorney general “shall” rather than “may” pursue remedies. It would also rein in cost and legal barriers. A “reasonable fee” for a copy of a record must not “exceed the actual cost of reproducing the record…provided that no fee shall be charged unless at least two hours of employee time is needed.” When administrative remedies fail and a lawsuit follows, “the court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees and costs to the party seeking public records if that party has substantially prevailed.”

The proposed reforms leave untouched the worst barriers to public information. In Chapter 4 of the General Laws, Section 7(26) specifically excludes 20 categories of information from “public records.” Those include information about personnel rules and practices (item b), policies under development (item d) and contracts for medical services (item m). None of these exclusions contribute to “transparency” in government.

Origins, secrecy and arrogance: Records requirements began in Massachusetts law with Chapter 161 of the Acts of 1851: An act for the better preservation of municipal and other records. That and later laws required records “open for public inspection.” Public records laws were bound into the General Statutes of 1860 and reached their current organization in the General Laws as published in 1921.

In Chapter 4, Section 7(26) defining “public records” had no exclusions in 1921. Today’s curtain of secrecy is a web of devices largely unknown during the previous seven decades and mostly invented over the following five decades. Few of those have ever received open discussion and withstood scrutiny. In 1921, the sign of a black hand emerged in Section 18 of Chapter 66, “This chapter shall not apply to the records of the general court….” also excluding state assistance and pension information from “public records.”

The arrogance of the Massachusetts legislature in 1920, excluding its own records from public inspection, later extended to ethical and financial disclosures and to open meeting laws, when those began to be developed in the 1950s. It may take an initiative enacted by voters to extract the black hand from the General Court, long a corrupt body unwilling to inform the public because of being unable to reform itself.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 23, 2015


Dan Crowley, Massachusetts public records reform bill nears vote amid intense lobbying, Hampshire (MA) Gazette, July 22, 2015

An act to improve public records, House bill no. 3665 of the 189th Massachusetts General Court, 2015

Todd Wallack, Lobbying picks up on proposed public records law, Boston Globe, July 20, 2015

Allison Manning, Here’s how bad public records laws are in Massachusetts, Boston Globe, May 14, 2015

Editorial Board, With Mass. public records law in tatters, it’s time for reform, Boston Globe, March 13, 2015

Todd Wallack, Secretary of State regularly keeps government records secret, Boston Globe, September 13, 2014

An act for the better preservation of municipal and other records, Chapter 161 of the Acts of 1851

General Laws of Massachusetts, Vol. 1, 1921 (96 MB)

Craig Bolon, Override Study Committee: Open Meeting Law problems, Brookline Beacon, August 7, 2014

Board of Selectmen: two boards, changing colors

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, July 14, started at 6:45 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board has gone into semi-hibernation for the summer. However, the extra rest and vacations did not seem to help with what is striking some as crabby behavior, at least when dealing in public affairs. Like a chameleon, the board can seem to change colors when dealing with licenses, at least as seen by the general public, if not always as seen by the license applicants.

Discord: Nine Advisory Committee members gathered to witness a protest: vice chair Carla Benka, Janice S. Kahn, chair of the Public Safety subcommittee, Stanley Spiegel, chair of the Planning and Regulation subcommittee, Leonard Weiss, chair of the Administration and Finance subcommittee, Clifford M. Brown, Janet Gelbart, Fred Levitan, Neil R. Gordon and Steve Kanes.

Mr. Weiss spoke about lack of communication shortly before the annual town meeting this May. Not more than a day or two earlier, Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, had concluded negotiations starting in April for a new recycling collection and processing contract. He had settled a price about $200,000 per year above the budget the Advisory Committee published, which it was about to propose at the town meeting.

Since 1910, the Advisory Committee and its predecessor, the Warrant Committee, appointed by the moderator of town meeting, have served as Brookline’s finance committee. Under Section 16 of Chapter 39 of Massachusetts General Laws, the committee proposes budgets to annual town meetings. In between, it regulates use of the reserve fund. In Brookline, the same committee and its subcommittees also review, hold hearings on and make recommendations about all warrant articles for all town meetings.

Although Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, knew that the budget would go out of balance, he withheld information from the Advisory Committee and might have withheld it from the Board of Selectmen. As a result, the town meeting passed a budget with a major, structural deficit that likely could have been prevented. Mr. Kleckner admitted as much in a later exchange with Sean Lynn-Jones, chair of the Advisory Committee.

According to Mr. Weiss of the committee, that was a breach of trust. The committee, he said, “places great reliance on management representations…Some folks thought withholding information was a good idea…This experience has severely damaged my trust and respect in management.” Fallout included a hotly controversial reserve fund transfer, narrowly approved July 7, when another reserve fund request was denied.

Two members of the Board of Selectmen rushed to defend Mr. Kleckner, and none questioned him, even though all five current board members are Advisory graduates. Nancy Daly, the only board member not serving a first term in office, claimed, “This was not an attempt to hide information…A suggestion that we were trying to sweep something under the rug…was quite offensive.” She did not explain what that referred to.

Neil Wishinsky, chair of the board, made a long statement, concluding, “We try to act in good faith…use our best judgment…There was no bad faith.” In the message exchange, committee chair Lynn-Jones had asked Mr. Kleckner, “…did you consider letting the Advisory Committee know [in April]…budget recommendations might have to be revised?” Mr. Kleckner had responded, “Not at that time….”

Public affairs: Deborah Rivers of the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance described to the board proposed changes in the town’s “climate action plan.” However, from her descriptions alone, it was not clear what differed from the previous plan of December, 2012. An interactive form of the 2012 plan has vanished from the municipal Web site, but the conventional document for that plan remains available.

Comparing proposed actions in Appendix F from the 2012 plan with a new Appendix A of proposed changes showed a reduction in actions being considered. Gone, for example, was a 2012 proposal to “develop a program for replacement of…refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers” and a dozen other types of equipment. There are still no comparisons of costs with benefits, and there are no estimates for amounts of efforts involved.

Linda Hamlin and Steve Heikin from the Planning Board and Roger Blood from the Housing Advisory Board asked for authorization to file an application for a $15,000 state grant. Grant applications are routinely filed by town staff without authorization, and approval is sought only to accept grants. It was not clear why any such authorization was needed and why those members of other town boards had become involved.

Their presentation was mostly a replay from a recent meeting of the Housing Advisory Board. Without any explanation, however, the ante had gone up. Instead of less than $35,000–an amount intended to avoid public bidding requirements under state law–Ms. Hamlin, Mr. Heikin and Mr. Blood were now talking about a total of $50,000 or more–not saying why more money was needed or where a missing $35,000 or more might come from.

Although they used oblique language, the main strategy from Ms. Hamlin, Mr. Heikin and Mr. Blood was clearly to target Brookline neighborhoods for major development and to invite Chapter 40B developers whom they might prefer into Brookline to take over properties. Mr. Wishinsky, the board’s chair, seemed to catch on partly, saying such an approach would be “difficult”–involving “identifying specific sites” and “public processs.” However, he seemed to think the strategy involved zoning, when the intent of Chapter 40B is to override zoning, along with all other local permits.

Other board members were circumspect. Nancy Daly spoke about “a huge need in town for affordable senior housing.” Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, claimed Brookline could not focus on senior housing, apparently unaware such plans are authorized under federal law and had been recently announced for development at the Kehillath Israel site on Harvard St. With board member Bernard Greene not participating, the other four voted to approve filing a grant application.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, got approval to accept a $0.24 million state energy resources grant, intended to offset costs of energy-efficient lighting. Brookline is in the second year of street lighting improvements. In response to a question, Peter Ditto, the engineering director, said changes to street lighting are about 40 percent complete. The new grant, however, is to be used for other public facilities: the high school, the Tappan St. gym, the swimming pool and several parks.

Mr. Ditto got approval to accept $0.144 million in state funds for repairing winter storm damage to streets. He said all the work had been completed by June 30. At his request, the board also approved a $0.024 million contract with Superior Sealcoating of Andover for summer street maintenance.

Lisa Paradis, the recreation director, sought hiring approval for two lead teacher positions at the Soule Recreation Center. As board member Nancy Daly observed, there has been high turnover among the seven teaching jobs at the center. From participants, there have been some notes of morale issues. Responding to a question from board member Nancy Heller, Ms. Paradis said the average length of employment was 3 to 4 years. The board approved, with Mr. Wishinsky asking Ms. Paradis to “seek a diverse pool of candidates.”

Licenses and permits: After the board turned its attention to license applications, Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, left the hall. First up was Richard Nasr of Westwood, who operates the Ontrack Cafe there, seeking a food vendor license at 1633 Beacon St, to be called Square Deli. Such a license for prepared foods does not include restaurant seating or service.

Ms. Daly questioned the application for 2 am closing, calling that “pretty strange” for a sandwich and salad shop. However, as the application noted, the previous business at the site, a 7/11 market, had operated with 2 am closing hours. The board approved the new license with 2 am closing hours.

Adam Barnosky, a member of the law firm headed by Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., represented Peet’s, seeking approval for three outside tables and service for nine seats at 1154 Boylston St., formerly Starbuck’s. The board has become quite liberal about outside seating, even allowing it on some sidewalks. At this site, outdoor seating was planned on private space in a narrow strip adjacent to a sidewalk. The board approved, subject to another review of seating area dimensions by the Building Department.

A prime candidate for board attention this evening was a proposal for Waxy’s, a regional chain of restaurants with an Irish theme, to open at 1032 Beacon St. That had most recently been the site of a sometimes troubled Mission Cantina. Waxy’s submitted an ambitious proposal, asking for 122 indoor seats, 48 outdoor seats, up to 60 employees, full liquor service including a bar, 2 am closing hours all 7 days a week and recorded entertainment. It would become one of Brookline’s largest restaurants.

The chain was represented by Frank Spillane, a Foxborough lawyer. There turned out to be disconnects. The people named as managers on papers distributed for the license hearing were not actually expected to be the managers once the restaurant was open. The chain was still looking for someone. A main spokesperson at the hearing was a manager recently hired at another location who mumbled his name, although clearly it was not one of those names appearing on the license papers.

Members of the board had read a Brookline Police Department report calling attention to multiple problems at one of the chain’s current locations, in Foxborough. There had been a sale to a minor, drunken behavior by patrons and repeated license suspensions–at least one while that location was managed by one of the people named on license papers as a Brookline manager.

Lt. Hayes of the Brookline Police Department, who had investigated, recommended 1 am closing hours, security cameras and other license restrictions. Board members Nancy Daly and Ben Franco stated they would vote against the application as it stood. With Bernard Greene not participating, the application could not get a majority vote of approval. Mr. Wishinsky, the chair, called for public comment.

Steve Kanes of Carlton St., an Advisory Committee member, described widespread neighborhood concerns. They included noise, litter and smoking. A license, he said, should not allow outdoor entertainment. He mentioned late-night noise after closing, around the outdoor trash receptacle, asking for restrictions.

Joel Feingold of Beacon St., a next-door neighbor, said the former Mission Cantina had caused much more trouble for nearby residents than other business at the site: “a rude awakening” and “a difficult neighbor.” They ran until 2 am outdoors, he said, although licensed only until 11 pm. Outdoor litter and late-night noise had been chronic problems. He asked for no deliveries before 8 am if a license were granted.

James Franco of Amory St., a Precinct 1 town meeting member, asked for no outdoor service after 10 pm if a license were granted, intending that use of outdoor seating should end before 11 pm. Neil Gordon of Ivy St., also a Precinct 1 town meeting member, had similar concerns. Other neighbors recounted past problems and joined in asking for restrictions on any new license. The board was going nowhere with this application. Mr. Wishinsky announced the hearing would be continued to a future date.

Chickens: Brookline is not always so difficult for applicants. Illustrating the point, two evenings later the Zoning Board of Appeals considered an application at a location not far away, on Amory Street, asking for a permit to install a small chicken coop. There may not have been a similar application north of Route 9 during at least the past half century.

The applicants were the Gurock family, who opened the popular Magic Beans children’s store on Harvard St. in 2003, at the former site of Imaginarium. They now have five other locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The parents are seeking educational experiences for their children, said Sheri Gurock, describing measures the family plans to prevent odors and neighborhood disturbances (no roosters). Neighbors sent in letters of support, and there was no opposition. The board approved.

Located in the Cottage Farm historic district, the proposal also needed Preservation approval, which it had previously received. The district name was an 1850s invention of Amos Adams Lawrence (1814-1886), sponsor of the unusual development. It did not reflect any known historic farm that might also have raised chickens.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 18, 2015


Memorandum from Melvin A. Kleckner, Town Administrator, to Sean Lynn-Jones, Chair, Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, July 13, 2015

Climate action plan, Town of Brookline, MA, December, 2012

Revisions to climate action plan, Town of Brookline, MA, July, 2015

Planning assistance toward housing (PATH), Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, 2015

Kehillath Israel: renovation and Chapter 40B development, Brookline Beacon, July 9, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: reach for the reset button, Brookline Beacon, July 8, 2015

Housing Advisory Board: “smart growth,” $35,000 consultant, Brookline Beacon, June 25, 2015

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

Brookline finances: big promises, little performance

Often flush with self-promotion about its civic virtues, Brookline’s modern government remains about as laggard in civic performance, measured against other communities, as nineteenth-century predecessors. A recent example of claims versus realities comes from a meager source of online fiscal data found on the recently revised municipal Web site.

Tools for data: With conversion of its municipal site in early summer, 2014, to hosting by CivicPlus of Manhattan, KS, Brookline also provided an online component of Munis management software, from Tyler Technologies of Plano, TX.

A blurb on the Brookline site about “Open Checkbook” claims that the underlying software, Tyler Citizen Transparency, “…provides financial transparency to the public with easy access to the Town of Brookline’s expenditure information….” It you find both Brookline’s claims and its data pass a smell test, you might also regard unfiltered muck from the Charles River basin as “transparent.”

PIRG ratings: A little over two years ago, Governing States and Localities, a trade journal published in Washington, DC, called attention to a trend of junk data. Data editor Mike Maciag described a survey of online data portals performed by U.S. PIRG, the Public Interest Research Group founded by Ralph Nader. Governing Magazine reproduced the PIRG service rankings and grades for 30 large U.S. cities. The closest and most relevant to Brookline was Boston.

PIRG awarded grades of A to New York City and Chicago for transparency. In contrast, Boston got a grade of D- from PIRG and placed seventh from the bottom in ratings. Boston provides a wrapper, “Checkbook Explorer,” linking to data retrieval similar to what Brookline offers. Lacking the wrapper, Brookline’s service rating would probably be worse; its portal is harder to use.

In terms of software technology, Brookline’s data access suggests a dinosaur. PIRG classifies similar levels of service, in general, as “Transparency 1.0–Incomplete.” It offers the following description of such unhelpful municipal data portals that its staff surveyed:

“Residents have access to only limited information about public expenditures. Information about contracts, subsidies or tax expenditures is not disclosed online and often not collected at all. Determined residents who visit numerous agency Web sites or make public record requests may be able to gather information on government expenditures.”

Vendors: One of the ways in which mostly unhelpful financial data retrieval can sometimes be useful is searching by “vendor.” In the arcane language of municipal finance, that word does not have an ordinary meaning. Instead it means, “Who got paid?” One of the better paid people at Town Hall is the town administrator, Mel Kleckner. Searching fiscal 2015 by vendor for “kleckner” gets a span of items, including:

MELISSA LO…$1,695
MELVIN A KLECKNER…$1,427
MERCHANT CONSULTING GROUP LLC…$1,849

Expanding the MELVIN A KLECKNER item displays a table with three payments:

Payment Date…Account…Category
…Department…Fund…Vendor Payments

10/15/2014…EDUCATION/TRAINING/CONFERENCES…Other Expenses
…SELECTMEN…GENERAL FUND…$828

05/13/2015…SELECTMEN’S CONTINGENCY……Other Expenses
…UNCLASSIFIED…GENERAL FUND…$489

06/10/2015…SELECTMEN’S CONTINGENCY……Other Expenses
…UNCLASSIFIED…GENERAL FUND…$110

There is no more information underneath any data. In particular, one cannot find out what the “education, training or conferences” were about or when and where that took place. There is no explanation about what “other expenses” might actually have paid for.

The huge gap in junk data here is total omission of all major payments to MELVIN A KLECKNER. Brookline’s FY2015 municipal budget shows, on page IV-4, a budget for account 510101, “Permanent Full Time Salaries,” that includes an item for “Town Administrator…$179,099″ in the fiscal year just ended June 30. The town’s confusing budget omits most employee benefits from such displays.

Mr. Kleckner was also supposed to have an employment contract. If he did, it was not shown anywhere in the online municipal finance information. This information has a separate Payroll page, but that did not help either. As of July 11, it showed payments to KLECKNER, MELVIN A of only $3,500 during fiscal 2015, which ended June 30.

Big bucks: In Brookline’s financial picture, the big bucks are often going to contractors on town projects. A long-running one, just about to end, has been renovation of Warren Field. A major contractor has been New England Landscape and Masonry (NELM) of Massachusetts. This company did not turn up when searching by vendors under either “nelm” or “new england.”

A common issue with junk data is use of variant and cute names, known to local staff perhaps but not known to the public. NELM has its business office in Carver, MA, but the Brookline municipal Web site does not provide any way to search by a vendor other by name. There is also no way to search among the contractors that have been working on some specific project.

An obscure feature of the Vendors search page is the ability to sort vendors by total recorded payments. Click on the Vendor Payments heading at the top of the tabular display. Let the display settle, and click again. Vendors will be sorted in declining order of total payments. As of July 11, 2015, there were eight so-called “vendors” with total fiscal 2015 payments shown at more than $1 million, as follows:

BROOKLINE RETIREMENT SYSTEM…$21,740,098
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS…$12,616,236
US BANK…$9,389,800
TRANSCANADA POWER MARKETING LTD…$1,339,493
D’ALLESSANDRO CORP…$1,337,420
EVERSOURCE…$1,186,978
YCN TRANSPORTATION, INC…$1,076,504
WASTE MANAGEMENT OF MASSACHUSETTS INC…$1,049,912

Some of the so-called “vendors” such as U.S. Bank don’t even match the convention of “Who got paid?” The bank likely got cash deposits and not what most people would call “payments.” The biggest conventional vendors selling ordinary services to Brookline were D’Allessandro of Avon, the main contractor for snow clearance last winter, and two electricity suppliers, Eversource and TransCanada.

There are likely to have been service contracts with these large vendors. No contract information of any kind could be found on the fiscal data pages of Brookline’s municipal Web site.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 11, 2015


Benjamin Davis, Phineas Baxandall and Ryan Pierannunzi, Transparency in municipal spending, U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), 2013 (2 MB)

Mike Maciag, Report grades cities’ spending transparency Web sites, Governing States and Localities (Washington, DC), January 25, 2013

Departmental budgets, FY2015 Financial Plan, Town of Brookline, MA, February, 2014 (5 MB)

Board of Selectmen: Village Street Fair, trash metering, Brookline Beacon, June 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Public Works: snow removal, Brookline Beacon, March 9, 2015

Kehillath Israel: renovation and Chapter 40B development

On Wednesday evening, July 8, representatives of the Kehillath Israel congregation announced at a public meeting held at the site that they were starting real estate development, in two parts. Part 1 renovates the synagogue building, dedicated in 1925, and adds about 10,000 square feet of support space on the north side. Part 2 builds an undisclosed amount of partly subsidized new housing, replacing the community center opened in 1948 and using Chapter 40B of the General Laws to override Brookline zoning.

Rabbi William Hamilton opened the meeting, saying the congregation was planning for a next century. The membership has shrunk from a peak of around 1,200 families in the 1950s to around 400 now. He introduced Joseph Geller, a landscape architect and developer, member of the congregation, Precinct 9 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen, who led most of the discussions.

Mr. Geller introduced Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a local real estate lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen with whom Mr. Geller served. Mr. Allen is representing the congregation’s legal interests in development plans. Asked about potential disruptions from pursuing development while nearby Devotion School is being rebuilt, Mr. Allen merely said it could be “a problem.”

According to Alison Steinfeld, Brookline’s director of community planning and development, about a year ago Mr. Allen met with members of the department for an initial discussion. Ms. Steinfeld said she did not know the amounts of housing Kehillath Israel might have in mind. Such a discussion, as well as such a meeting as happened July 8, are among steps in Brookline’s design review process for any development on Harvard St.

Location, location: Stories about a potential large housing development have circulated around nearby neighborhoods for many months, with a wide range of speculation about locations, amounts, sizes and heights. The presentation on July 8 settled only location: space now occupied by the community center, which representatives of the congregation called the “Epstein building.”

The current community center’s building outline is about 120 by 65 feet, plus a depth of about 30 feet for front entry and steps. If there were to be no further incursions past those perimeters, that could provide a gross area near 10,000 square feet per floor. A modern 4-story building, similar in overall height to the community center, might house around 40 medium-size apartments.

North Brookline neighborhoods have had two previous experiences with 40B developments. A private developer near the synagogue substantially scaled back initial plans and built a double wood-frame quadruplex at 107A through 113B Centre St. in the late 1990s, replacing a large house. Occupancy of these condominium units has proven fairly transient, with turnovers every several years.

After about seven years of disputes and negotiations, the development arm of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston scaled back initial plans for the former St. Aidan’s Church by about 60 percent and put up mostly modern, fireproof new construction around 2008. However, adaptive reuse, unprecedented for the Archdiocese, placed several apartments inside the historic church structure and preserved the large courtyard at the corner of Pleasant and Freeman Sts. and its huge copper beech tree.

Senior housing: Mr. Geller said Kehillath Israel was planning “senior housing”–favorable for a community in which escalating costs of public schools have been driving up budgets, leading to tax overrides passed this year and in 2008. While age-restricted housing is clearly a form of discrimination, under some conditions it is allowed by laws and regulations.

Massachusetts has had antidiscrimination housing laws for many years. They were partly subsumed by the federal Fair Housing Act, Title 8 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (PL 90-284). The original version of the law prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin in the sale and rental of dwellings. Other protected categories have been added.

Section 4 of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B, “Unlawful Discrimination,” prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, age, ancestry, veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status, children, handicap and receipt of public assistance or housing subsidy in the selling, renting or leasing of housing accommodations, commercial space or land intended for those uses. Fines are up to $50,000 per violation. Massachusetts regulations in 804 CMR 02 implement the law.

One of the few general exceptions in housing discrimination laws has allowed, after 1988, qualified “senior housing” developments, as modified under the federal Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (PL 104–76). Such a qualification requires 80 percent of dwellings to be occupied by at least one person who is 55 years of age or older. The federal qualification can be lost if that operating status is not maintained.

The Kehillath Israel congregation would almost surely be able to qualify a development as “senior housing.” Asked how the congregation might guarantee that “senior housing” will continue to qualify and operate that way, Mr. Geller said he expected there would be a continuing agreement with the Town of Brookline. By contrast, the management at Hancock Village in south Brookline has been moving away from “senior housing,” actively marketing to mostly foreign families with children. They are not planning “senior housing” as a part of their current Chapter 40B housing project in Brookline.

When a religious organization sponsors housing, some assume members and affiliates of the organization will become occupants or may be favored. Occupants of new housing at the Kehillath Israel site need not be Jewish or otherwise share some background that might tend to exclude people protected against discrimination. During controversy over redevelopment of the former St. Aidan’s Church, at least some former parishioners seemed convinced they would be favored to occupy new apartments there. Since that did not agree with housing laws and regulations, it did not happen.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 9, 2015


Fair housing regulation, Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, 2015

Town elections: tax override for schools passes, Brookline Beacon, May 5, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Advisory Committee: reach for the reset button

Meeting on Tuesday, July 7, at Town Hall, starting at 6:15 pm, the Advisory Committee and its subcommittee on planning and regulation rejected a reserve fund transfer request from the Board of Selectmen and from Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, voting by 2 to 1 margins and more. Such outright rejections have been rare. This one seemed to surprise Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, and Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, who were on hand to make the case for the reserve fund transfer.

The request was for legal support related to potential taking of Hancock Village buffers in south Brookline as recreation land, proposed for study by a resolution from the annual town meeting this May under Article 18. The Board of Selectmen had been widely expected to set up an independent “blue ribbon panel” to consider the issue, since they are entangled in two lawsuits involving a Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, overriding Brookline zoning, which they strongly oppose.

To nearly everyone’s surprise, Mr. Kleckner and members of the Brookline Board of Selectmen recently seemed to ignore conflicts in those matters, angling toward involvement in the recreation land issues, including their recent request for a transfer from the reserve fund. In effect as well as in words from some of its members, the Advisory Committee called on the Board of Selectmen to reach for the reset button and recast a potentially troubled approach.

Conflicts and bad faith: A land taking under powers of eminent domain can be held valid in Massachusetts when the land is part of a proposed Chapter 40B housing development. However, Brookline would need to be able to show that such a taking was in “good faith”–that is, mainly for a claimed and legitimate public purpose and not mainly to restrict a Chapter 40B development.

Such a case began about 44 years ago in Chelmsford. Its town meeting voted to take a parcel of land for conservation that was also the site of a Chapter 40B project for partly subsidized housing. The Supreme Judicial Court reviewed the case in Chelmsford v. DiBiase [370 Mass. 90, 1976]. It found, in part:

“A taking of land by eminent domain by a town in good faith and for a public purpose was valid notwithstanding a pending application to the board of appeals for a comprehensive permit to build low and moderate income housing on the land pursuant to General Laws Chapter 40B, Sections 20-23….”

According to the opinion in Chelmsford v. DiBiase, there were no material disputes over whether the town had acted in good faith–that is, mainly to take land for conservation purposes and not mainly to restrict a Chapter 40B development. In a later case, Pheasant Ridge v. Burlington [399 Mass. 771, 1987], disputes over “good faith” arose and led to a different outcome.

The Burlington Board of Selectmen apparently concocted a hasty justification for taking land by eminent domain at the site of a proposed Chapter 40B development. Massachusetts courts were not convinced by claims that the public purpose was legitimate but also considered circumstances under which the justification for a taking had been asserted, The Supreme Judicial Court opinion held, in part:

“…a municipal land taking, proper on its face, may be invalid because undertaken in bad faith…the record in this case…required the inference that the town, acting through its town meeting, was concerned only with blocking the plaintiffs’ development….”

Recreation land: The Brookline proposal for recreation land stands in the balance. Two situations are almost never identical. A Chelmsford case showed that a taking for recreation could succeed, while a Burlington case showed that conflicts of purposes might undermine it. Just after the recent town meeting, the town administrator and members of the Board of Selectmen set out in a sensible direction, along lines of past precedents in Brookline, keeping some distance from a study of recreation land.

More recently, ignoring the request of town meeting to act “in good faith,” they swerved toward wrecking the potential for a significant project. Some observers are already tending toward an interpretation of the changes as sabotage. Maybe, they say, the town administrator and members of the Board of Selectmen mean to block the recreation land proposal by linking it with their lawsuits and making it impossible to defend.

Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and the principal petitioner for Article 18, told the full Advisory Committee, “The goal hasn’t changed…active recreation space in perpetuity.” The petitioners, she said, had been “very mindful to separate the fact the town had two law cases involving the property…the issue of bad faith versus good faith.” At town meeting, she recalled, “selectmen abstained from Article 18 so they would not contaminate the case…They had the power to create a ‘blue ribbon panel.’ After town meeting, they chose not to do that.”

According to Lee Selwyn, a member of the Advisory subcommittee, “The issues now are mainly factual…a citizen panel to develop a factual record is what the proponents of Article 18 had in mind.” At the recent town meeting, he said, “a clear majority” supported the article about recreation land. “It wasn’t close…a factual record supporting its legitimate use…would help to overcome a ‘bad faith’ claim.”

Len Weiss, an Advisory Committee member, contended, “We should vote against the reserve fund transfer. There’s money to be spent in the budget right now [and] no need to transfer money from the reserve fund.” Committee member Fred Levitan said that “in my tenth year [on the committee], I don’t recall reserve fund transfers in advance,” only seven days into a fiscal year.

In the end, the Advisory Committee denied the request for a reserve fund transfer by a vote of 16 to 7, with Alisa Jonas of Precinct 16 abstaining. Ms. Jonas has been described as a participant in a lawsuit brought by a group of south Brookline residents and linked with one of the lawsuits brought by the Board of Selectmen, opposing the Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 8, 2015


Chelmsford v. DiBiase, 370 Mass. 90, 1976

Pheasant Ridge v. Burlington, 399 Mass. 771, 1987

Warrant report with supplements, May 26, 2015, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Article 18, Brookline, MA, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, acted on May 28, 2015

Craig Bolon, Board of Selectmen: poisoning the well, Brookline Beacon, July 2, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Board of Selectmen: poisoning the well

On Tuesday, June 30, as recommended by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, the Board of Selectmen voted to ask the Advisory Committee for $15,000 from the reserve fund on July 7, “for expertise in the study of eminent domain,” to be expended by the Office of Town Counsel. The request was prompted by approval at the annual town meeting of a resolution under Article 18, calling for the following main activity:

“…Town Meeting asks the Board of Selectmen to study and consider in good faith the taking under the powers of eminent domain [of] the two buffer zones presently zoned S-7 within the Hancock Village property, abutting Russett and Beverly Roads, for a permanently publicly-accessible active recreational space….”

Entanglements: A key problem with this request has been that members of the Board of Selectmen are plaintiffs in two lawsuits involving the Hancock Village property. They are suing a state agency that authorized the owner to propose a project under Chapter 40B of the General Laws, overriding Brookline zoning and other permits. They are also suing the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals, for approving the project and granting a comprehensive permit.

If that were not enough, Nancy Heller, a newly elected member of the board, submitted Article 17 to the 2015 annual town meeting and argued it. It’s entitled, “Resolution in support of changes to the affordable housing law, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40B.” She and other petitioners explained, “…[We] have worded the resolution in a broad manner. The purpose is to give our legislators as much latitude as they need to work with other legislators to amend 40B….”

Thus members of the Board of Selectmen are entangled in attacks against both a controversial 40B project at Hancock Village and the key Massachusetts law enabling the project. This leaves high risks for any involvement they might have in proposals arising from Article 18, under which Brookline would consider taking currently vacant parts of Hancock Village by eminent domain, to be used as recreation land.

One of the common challenges against eminent domain is acting in “bad faith”–that is, for covert purposes other than those claimed. With the Hancock Village situation, the property owner could be expected to claim that members of the Board of Selectmen considered eminent domain in “bad faith”—mainly to restrict an unwelcome Chapter 40B development rather than mainly to acquire recreation land.

Anticipation and defenses: After the recent town meeting, many participants and observers anticipated the Board of Selectmen would appoint a study committee for Article 18, as they often do for other issues, and would then keep their distance from it.

It would need to become an independent “blue ribbon panel,” with no further involvement by members of the Board of Selectmen. Putting the issues in the hands of an independent panel could provide defenses against acting in “bad faith,” should a recreation land effort proceed and should eminent domain be used to acquire Hancock Village land.

For quite a few years, several iterations of the Board of Selectmen have swung the other way. Coached by ambitious town administrators, they have politicized almost every new board, commission, committee and council by installing one of their members on it, often naming that member as chair. Article 18 presented a situation where such a domineering brand of machine politics cannot work. It could obviously encourage claims of “bad faith” and could well destroy a project to acquire recreation land.

Precedents: After idling on Article 18 for a month and making a false start, Mr. Kleckner, who seems to know very little about Brookline history, tried to claim a committee was unlikely because the town no longer has a redevelopment authority to call on. The former Brookline Redevelopment Authority was indeed active in takings during the Farm Project and Marsh Project, but the Town of Brookline did similar work, too. Disputes focused on policies and costs; mechanics were not thought to be much of a stretch.

Under Article 25, the 1974 annual town meeting authorized taking land off Amory St. by eminent domain for conservation. The relatively new Conservation Commission had proposed the Hall’s Pond project and presented all the key evaluations and arguments to boards, committees and town meeting. Not long afterward, the commission did similar work for the conservation area now known as Amory Woods.

Like the Hancock Village buffers, the Hall’s Pond parcel was seen as threatened by development, yet it was intact and had never been built on. North of Route 9, Brookline had no conservation land then, and very little suitable land remained. At 3-1/2 acres, the site to the east of Amory Playground was about half the size of the Hancock Village buffers combined.

The Conservation Commission obtained advice from local lawyers, contracted for a land survey, commissioned independent appraisals, and prepared and submitted the 1974 town meeting article. Commissioners persuaded only two members of the Board of Selectmen, but they got help from the Planning Board and a unanimous endorsement from the Advisory Committee. Town meeting gave strong support, and a counted vote was not needed.

Poisoning the well: On June 30, Mr. Kleckner led members of the Board of Selectmen in an odd direction–at high risk of poisoning the well, though coupling them into “bad faith” maneuvers. They did not hold matters at arms length by appointing an independent committee. Instead, they voted to submit a reserve fund request for funds to be spent by the town counsel, who reports to them.

They expect to entertain discussions of the issues among the board–potentially some closed to the public, at which they may also be considering “litigation,” as their agendas often call out. According to Mr. Kleckner, they expect to couple investigations pertinent to recreation areas with those pertinent to potential school sites and possibly other town projects.

By failing to maintain a bright line of separation between recreation land proposed at Hancock Village and other town business, including lawsuits against Hancock Village development, recent actions by Mr. Kleckner and members of the Board of Selectmen stand at grave risk of poisoning the well. Ignoring the request of the town meeting to act “in good faith,” they are proceeding headlong toward wrecking the potential for a significant project. At least some will say that is what they meant to do.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 2, 2015


Warrant report with supplements, May 26, 2015, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Article 18, Brookline, MA, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, heard and acted on May 28, 2015

Board of Selectmen: back to the drawing board

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 30, rambled into unfamiliar territory, hearing an appeal from a decision of the Brookline Transportation Board. Arguments and discussions about the case took nearly half of a 4-1/2 hour meeting.

Last May 21, the Transportation Board had approved building a giant peninsula near the corner where Clinton Rd. branches away from Buckminster Rd. west of the High School. It would bloom out the sidewalk from the northeast sides of Clinton and Buckminster Rds. at the junction, pushing edges of those streets up to 35 feet away from their current alignments.

Peninsula at intersection of Clinton and Buckminster Rds.

BuckminsterClintonProposal20150630
Source: Transportation Division of Brookline DPW

The advertised purpose was to slow cars going westbound on Buckminster Rd. and bending onto Clinton Rd. Past the intersection, Clinton Rd. goes downhill, and cars sometimes reach 40 mph or higher. With the peninsula in place, cars would have to slow at the intersection and then turn right. However, no “traffic calming” had been planned for Clinton Rd., so speeds could rise quickly once past the intersection.

Most of the giant peninsula would sit in front of a house at 79 Buckminster Rd., obliterating its streetscape. Owners Michael and Tania Gray are less than pleased. On May 31, they called on the Transportation Board to cancel or radically shrink plans for the peninsula. When that board failed to act, they circulated a petition appealing the case to the Board of Selectmen.

Arguments: Although provided for in Brookline’s state enabling law since 1974, appeals from Transportation Board decisions to the Board of Selectmen have been rare. Neil Wishinsky, chair of the latter board, remarked, “We don’t have traditions for how these things are done.” He had decided to hear from the Transportation chair, then the house owners who brought the appeal, then more than 30 residents who came.

Joshua Safer, the Transportation chair, scoffed at the appeal, saying “I’m a little surprised to be here.” Perhaps he shouldn’t have been. Lack of concern for neighborhood impacts from Transportation initiatives has been raising hackles in other parts of town, too–a pattern for at least a few years. Dr. Safer made himself seem tone deaf, saying the dispute was only about “loss of a parking space or two.”

Mr. Gray painted a different picture, contending that a supposed safety benefit would become a safety hazard in winter, “a place for plows to deposit snow.” Blocked lines of sight could turn a difficult intersection into a dangerous one. On-street parking spaces that are “currently the safest parking on the street” would be replaced by “dangerous parking spaces” along the border of the proposed peninsula.

The house at 79 Buckminster Rd. shares a driveway with its neighbor at 3 Clinton Rd., including a sharp turn and a steep slope at the back. According to Mr. Gray, “The problems are now compensated by parking in front.” Those arrangements would be disrupted by the proposed peninsula. Mr. Gray, whose family has lived in the house for over 20 years, commented, “We would not have purchased the home with the Transportation plan in place.”

Since the May 21 Transportation meeting, Mr. Gray had examined conditions and regulations said to justify the Transportation proposal. He said they did not stand scrutiny. Fewer than half the federal standard of 20 peak pedestrians per hour, justifying a new crosswalk, had been tallied. Crash records showed less than a tenth the frequency of five or more per year needed to identify a “dangerous intersection.”

Comments: Roberta Winitzer of Beacon St., a former Library trustee, described herself as an aunt of Mr. Gray and a frequent visitor at 79 Buckminster Rd., calling the Transportation proposal “overkill.” Judy Meyers, a Precinct 12 town meeting member and former School Committee member, said it was “not fair to approve a plan that has such an adverse impact on the Grays.”

In a preview of comments to come, Ms. Meyers claimed, “The Transportation Board has a strong bias in favor of [altering] streetscapes, as opposed to [using] signs and paint.” The board “should have a comprehensive plan,” she said. Their current plan would not stop Clinton Rd. from being used as “a speedway.”

Not all neighbors sounded convinced. Andrea Bleichmar of 3 Clinton Rd., whose house shares a driveway with 79 Buckminster Rd., said she had “listened to the engineers.” Conditions near the intersection were “an accident looking for a place to happen,” she claimed. George Tolis, who lives two houses away, agreed. Dr. Tolis, a heart surgeon, said he had rearranged his operating schedule to be present. “Maybe,” he asserted, Brookline “should make Clinton Rd. one-way uphill.”

Residents farther down the hill on Clinton Rd. proved less supportive. Most remarks suggested that a pause in speeds at the intersection with Buckminster Rd. would not prevent their part of Clinton Rd. from continuing to be used as “a speedway.” Even Todd Kirrane, Brookline’s transportation administrator, seemed to back those views. He estimated the average speed entering Clinton Rd. at the intersection would be reduced from 23 to 15 mph by the proposed peninsula, not much of a difference.

Beth Epstein of 111 Clinton Rd. protested faulty public notice. She described herself as a resident for 20 years, bringing up five children on the street, saying “I was kind of appalled.” A notice came on a Saturday for a hearing the next week, she said. It provided “no drawings or plans.” For occupants of the many “houses beyond this intersection,” [the proposal] “will not solve their problems.”

Review and decision: During their review, members the Board of Selectmen sounded sympathetic to concerns of the Grays. Nancy Heller said the proposed peninsula was “harmful to a family.” Nancy Daly said, “I don’t know of any place in town where we’ve stuck something like this in front of somebody’s home.” She was also “convinced that there needs to be traffic calming” downhill along Clinton Rd.

Ben Franco called for Public Works to “delay the Buckminster [repaving] project,” which had started a process leading to the peninsula proposal. Peter Ditto, the engineering director, said, “We’ll do Buckminster this year but not the intersection.” Ms. Daly turned adamant, saying, “I’m not approving a [roadwork] contract unless we know that the current proposal is not part of it.”

In the end, members of the Board of Selectmen voted to “remand” the peninsula proposal to the Transportation Board, with instructions to “examine another solution for the intersection.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 1, 2015


Craig Bolon, Transportation Board: tone deaf, Brookline Beacon, June 19, 2015

Craig Bolon, Transportation: good intents, cloudy results and taxi rules, Brookline Beacon, May 23. 2015