Author Archives: Craig Bolon

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

2015 annual town meeting: how town meeting members voted

The 2015 annual town meeting held eleven electronically recorded votes, the same as the annual town meeting last year, even though this year’s town meeting considered only about half as many articles. As happened last year, there were discrepancies between votes reported by the town clerk, three days after the town meeting ended, and votes declared by the moderator when they were taken. This year there were no “straw” votes–supposedly just to get a count–and the biggest discrepancy was a difference of two votes–not enough to change any result.

Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, stepped out as captain of recorded votes. He would leap to a microphone and ask for a recorded vote. Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator, would call on supporters to stand, and he would count to see if there were at least 35. There always were. Soon Dr. Caro needed only to approach a microphone and didn’t have to say why. Perhaps because it needed less than two minutes, town meeting members took to the process.

With the table of recorded votes, two indices have been calculated for each town meeting member. One is an index of voting, measuring participation: 100% for voting Yes, No or Present at every opportunity, 0% for being absent or not voting at every opportunity. The other is an index of concurrence, measuring agreement with the town meeting results: 100% when voting Yes or No the same way as every result at town meeting, -100% when voting the opposite way as every result. Votes of Present (or Abstain), records of being absent and records of not voting were counted as neutral for an index of concurrence.

There were, in total, 266 records with no vote being cast by town meeting members who had checked in with tellers and taken out their assigned keypad transmitters. That was far more than the 75 vote records of Present (or Abstain). An average of 32 out of 248 town meeting members were absent at the two sessions–that is, they did not check in and take out their assigned keypad transmitters. There are no records of whether town meeting members stayed at the town meeting sessions after checking in.

The voting records designated as Precinct AL (at large) are those for the moderator, the town clerk, members of the Board of Selectmen and the single state representative who lives in Brookline. High indices of both voting and concurrence were recorded for Benjamin Franco and Nancy Heller, members of the Board of Selectmen, at 100% voting and 82% concurrence. Three town meeting members were recorded with both 100% voting and 100% concurrence: Virginia LaPlante of Precinct 6, Craig Bolon of Precinct 8 and Lee Cooke-Childs of Precinct 12.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 28, 2015


2015 annual town meeting: budgets, bylaws and resolutions, Brookline Beacon, May 30, 2015


Brookline 2015 annual town meeting, electronic votes as of May 31, 2015
Source: Town Clerk’s on-line records

No. Day Article Result Question voted
1 5/26 10 N Changes to Living Wage bylaw, motion to terminate debate
2 5/26 10 Y Changes to Living Wage bylaw, opposing changes to seasonal and temporary
3 5/26 10 Y Changes to Living Wage bylaw, main motion as amended
4 5/28 13 N New bylaw requiring tap water in restaurants, motion to refer
5 5/28 13 Y New bylaw requiring tap water in restaurants, main motion
6 5/28 14 N New bylaw for bottled water ban, motion to terminate debate
7 5/28 14 N New bylaw for bottled water ban, motion to refer
8 5/28 12 N Changes to snow shoveling bylaw, limit discretionary delay in enforcement
9 5/28 12 Y Changes to snow shoveling bylaw, fine on first violation rather than warning
10 5/28 18 N Resolution for study of eminent domain, motion to terminate debate
11 5/28 19 Y Resolution opposing Boston Olympics in 2024, main motion

Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
1 Cathleen Cavell N Y Y N Y N N Q Q Q Q 64% 64%
1 Jonathan Cutler N Y Y N N N Y Y Y Y Y 100% 27%
1 Elijah Ercolino N Q Y Y Q Y Y Y Y Q Q 64% -9%
1 James Franco Y N N Q Y Y N N Y Y N 91% -18%
1 Richard Garver Y Y N N N N Y P Y Y N 100% -18%
1 Neil Gordon N Y Y N Y Y N Y Y Y Y 100% 45%
1 Helen Herman N Y Y A A A A A A A A 27% 27%
1 Carol Hillman N Y N A A A A A A A A 27% 9%
1 Sean Lynn-Jones N Y Y N Y N N N Y N P 100% 91%
1 Alexandra Metral Y Y Q Y Y N N Y Y N N 91% 18%
1 Paul Moghtader Y N Y N Y Y N Y Y Y Q 91% 0%
1 Bettina Neuefeind Q Q Q N Y N N Y Y Q Q 55% 36%
1 Robert Schram Y Y Y N Y Y N N Y Y Y 100% 45%
1 Kate Silbaugh N Y N N Y N N Y Y Q Q 82% 45%
1 Robert Sloane Y Y Y N Y N N Y Y Y N 100% 27%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
2 Judith Kidd Y Y N N Y Y N N Y P Q 91% 27%
2 Lisa Liss Y Y Q N Y Y N Y N Y Q 82% -9%
2 Rita McNally A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
2 Adam Mitchell Y Y Y N N Y N Y Y Y N 100% -9%
2 Barbara O’Brien Y Y N Y N Y Y Y Y N N 100% -45%
2 Gwen Ossenfort Y Y Y N Y Y N Y Y Y N 100% 9%
2 Linda Pehlke A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
2 Susan Roberts Y N Y Y Y Q Y N N Q N 82% -27%
2 Livia Schachter-Kahl Q Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Q 82% -9%
2 Diana Spiegel N Y Y Y N Y Y N N N Q 91% 0%
2 Stanley Spiegel A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
2 Eunice White A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
2 Bruce Wolff A A A Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q 0% 0%
2 Ana Vera Wynne Y Y Y Y Y Q Y Y Y Y Y 91% 0%
2 Richard Wynne Y N Y A A A A A A A A 27% -9%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
3 David Aronson Y N Y Y N Y Y N N Y N 100% -64%
3 Harry Bohrs N Y Y N Y Q Q N Q P P 73% 55%
3 Patricia Connors Q Y Y Q Y N N Y Y N Q 73% 55%
3 Mary Dewart Y Y Y N Y Y N Y Y N Y 100% 45%
3 Murray Dewart Y Y Y N Y Y N Y Y N P 100% 36%
3 Dennis Doughty N N Q Y N N Y N Y N N 91% 0%
3 Jane Gilman Y Y Y N Y N N Y Y N Y 100% 64%
3 Heather Hamilton Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y P Y 100% 0%
3 Gary Jones Y Y Y Q Q Y Y N N Y Y 82% -9%
3 Laurence Koff Y N Y A A A A A A A A 27% -9%
3 Donald Leka Y Y Y N Y N N Y Y N Y 100% 64%
3 Kathleen Scanlon N Y Y Q Q N N Y Y N Y 82% 64%
3 Frank Steinfield N Y Y Y N Y N N Y N N 100% 27%
3 Rebecca Stone N N Y Y Y Y N Y Y P Y 100% 18%
3 Jean Stringham Y Y Y N Y Y N N N N Y 100% 45%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
4 Sarah Axelrod N Y Y Y Y N N N Y P N 100% 55%
4 Eric Berke N Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y Y N 100% -27%
4 Sarah Boehs N Y N N Y N N N Y Y Y 100% 64%
4 Alan Christ N Y N N Y Y N N Y P N 100% 36%
4 Ingrid Cooper N Y Y N Y N Y Y Y N N 100% 45%
4 Anne Covert N Y Y Y Y N N N N N Y 100% 64%
4 Frank Farlow N Y Y N Y N N Q Y N Y 91% 91%
4 Martha Farlow N Y Y N Y Y N Y Y N Y 100% 64%
4 Nadine Gerdts A A A N Y N N Q Y Y Q 55% 36%
4 John Mulhane Y Y Y Y N N Y N Y Y N 100% -9%
4 Mariah Nobrega N Y Y Y Y N Y N Y N Y 100% 64%
4 Joseph Robinson Y Q Q Y Y Y Q Y N Q Q 55% -36%
4 Marjorie Siegel Y Y Y Q Q Q Q Y Y N Y 64% 27%
4 Virginia Smith N Y Y A A A A A A A A 27% 27%
4 Robert Volk Y Y Y N Y Y Y N N Y N 100% -9%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
5 Richard Allen N N Y Y N Y Y N Y Y Q 91% -18%
5 Robert Daves N Y Y N N Y Y N Y Y N 100% 9%
5 Dennis DeWitt A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
5 Betsy Gross Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y Y Y 100% -27%
5 Michael Gunnuscio Y Y Y Q Q Y N Y Y Y N 82% -9%
5 Angela Hyatt Y N Y Y N Y Y N Y Y Y 100% -27%
5 David Knight Q Q Q A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
5 Hugh Mattison Y Y Y N Y Y N N Y N Y 100% 64%
5 Puja Mehta Q Q Q N Y N Y Q Q Q Q 36% 18%
5 Randolph Meiklejohn N Y Y N Y Y N N Y Y Y 100% 64%
5 Phyllis O’Leary Q Q Q N Y Y N Y N Q Q 55% 0%
5 Andrew Olins Y N Y N Y Y N N N Y Q 91% 0%
5 William Reyelt N Y Y N Y N N Y Y Y N 100% 45%
5 Claire Stampfer Y Y Y A A A A A A A A 27% 9%
5 Lenore von Krusenstiern P Y N Y N Y Y N Y Y Y 100% -18%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
6 Catherine Anderson N Y Y Q Q N Y Y Y N N 82% 27%
6 John Bassett N N N N Y Y N N N Y Y 100% 9%
6 Jocina Becker N Y Y Q Y Y Y N Q Y Y 82% 27%
6 Christopher Dempsey N N Y N Y Y N Y Y Y Y 100% 27%
6 Brian Hochleutner Y N Y Y Y N N N Y N N 100% 27%
6 Sytske Humphrey Y Y Y N N Y Y N Y N Y 100% 27%
6 Virginia LaPlante N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y 100% 100%
6 Merelice N Y N N Y N N Y Y N Y 100% 64%
6 Clinton Richmond Y Y Y N N N N Q Q Y Y 82% 27%
6 Ian Roffman N Y Y N Y N Y Y Y N P 100% 55%
6 Daniel Saltzman N Y Y Q Y N Y Y Y N N 91% 36%
6 Kim Smith N Y Q N Y N N Y Y N Y 91% 73%
6 Ruthann Sneider N Y N N Y N N Q Y N Y 91% 73%
6 Robert Sperber N N N A A A A A A A A 27% -9%
6 Thomas Vitolo N Y N N Y N N Y Y N Y 100% 64%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
7 Ellen Ball Y Y Y Q Q Y N Y Y Y N 82% -9%
7 Susan Cohen Y Y Y Y N Y Y N N N N 100% -27%
7 Keith Duclos Y Q Q N Y N Q Y Y N Y 73% 36%
7 Susan Ellis N Y Y N Y N N Y Y N Y 100% 82%
7 Ernest Frey N Y Y Y Y N Y N N N N 100% 27%
7 Phyllis Giller Y Y Y Q Q Y Y N N N N 82% -9%
7 Susan Granoff N Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y N 100% 9%
7 Mark Gray Y Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y N Y 100% 27%
7 Kelly Hardebeck Y N N Y Y Y Y Q Q Q Q 64% -45%
7 Jonathan Lewis Y Y Y A A A A A A A A 27% 9%
7 Jonathan Margolis A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
7 Christopher Oates N Y Y Y N Y Y N Y N Y 100% 27%
7 Stacey Provost P P P P Q Y Y P P Y Y 91% -18%
7 Rita Shon-Baker Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y N Y Y 100% -45%
7 James Slayton Y Y Y N Y Y N N Y Y Q 91% 36%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
8 (vacancy) (vacancy) A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
8 Lauren Bernard N Y Y Y P Y Y Y Y N Y 100% 18%
8 Craig Bolon N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y 100% 100%
8 Abigail Cox N Y Y Y Y Q N Y Y P Y 91% 45%
8 Gina Crandell Q Q Q A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
8 Franklin Friedman Y N Y N Y Y N Y Y Y Q 91% 0%
8 David-Marc Goldstein P P Y Y N Y Y N N N Y 100% -9%
8 John Harris N Y Y Y Y Y Y P Y N Y 100% 36%
8 Anita Johnson N Q Y Y N Y Y P Y Y Y 91% -9%
8 Edward Loechler Y Y Y N Y N N N Y Y Y 100% 64%
8 Robert Miller Y Y Y N Y Y N Y Y P Q 91% 27%
8 Barbara Scotto N Y Y A A A A A A A A 27% 27%
8 Lisamarie Sears A A A Q Q N N N N Q Q 36% 18%
8 Sara Stock A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
8 Maura Toomey Y Y Y N Y Y N Y Y Y Q 91% 18%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
9 Liza Brooks Y Q Q Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Q 73% -36%
9 Joseph Geller N N Y Q Q Y N N Q P Q 64% 18%
9 Paul Harris P Y N N Y Y N N Y P Y 100% 45%
9 Nathaniel Hinchey P Y Y N Y Y N N N Q Q 82% 36%
9 Barr Jozwicki A A A Y Y Y Y N N Y Y 73% -18%
9 Joyce Jozwicki Q Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 91% 0%
9 Pamela Katz Y Y Y N Y Y N Y Y Y Q 91% 18%
9 Julius Levine A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
9 Stanley Rabinovitz A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
9 Harriet Rosenstein Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y Q Q Q 73% 0%
9 Martin Rosenthal N Y Y N Y N N N N N Y 100% 82%
9 Charles Swartz N Y Y Y N N Y N N N N 100% 9%
9 Dwaign Tyndal A A A Q Q Y Q Q Q Q Q 9% -9%
9 Judith Vanderkay Y Y N N Y Y N N N Y Q 91% 0%
9 George White Y Y N Q Y Y Q Y Y Y Y 82% -9%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
10 Clifford Ananian N Y N N Y N N N Y Y N 100% 45%
10 Carol Caro N Y Y Y N N Y Y Y N Y 100% 27%
10 Francis Caro N Y N Y N N Y N Y N Y 100% 27%
10 Sumner Chertok A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
10 Jonathan Davis N Y Y Y N Y Y N N Y Y 100% -9%
10 Linda Davis A A A Q Q Y Y N N Y Y 55% -18%
10 Holly Deak Y Y Y N Y Y N Y Y Y Q 91% 18%
10 Stephan Gaehde Y Y Y N Y N N Y Y Y Y 100% 45%
10 Daniel La Y Y Y N Y Y N Y Y Y Q 91% 18%
10 Paul Lipson Y P Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y N 100% -18%
10 Sharon Sandalow A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
10 Theodore Scholnick Y N Y Y Y Y N N P Y N 100% -18%
10 Stanley Shuman Q Q Q N Q Q Y Q N N Y 45% 9%
10 Alexandra Spingarn Q Q Q Y N Y Y N Y Y Q 64% -27%
10 Naomi Sweitzer Y Y Q N Y N N Y Y Y Y 91% 36%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
11 Carrie Benedon Y Y Y N Q Y N Y Y Y N 91% 0%
11 Joseph Ditkoff N Y Y N Y N N Y Y N N 100% 64%
11 Shira Fischer Y Y Y Y Y N N N Y N Y 100% 64%
11 Shanna Giora-Gorfajn N Y Y Y Y N N N Y N Y 100% 82%
11 Jennifer Goldsmith N Y Y Y Y Y N Q Q Q Q 64% 27%
11 Martha Gray N Y Q N Y N N Y Y N Y 91% 73%
11 Bobbie Knable N N P Y Y N Y N Y N N 100% 18%
11 David Lescohier Y Y Y N Y Y N Y Y Y Y 100% 27%
11 Kenneth Lewis Y N N Y N Y Y Y Y Y Y 100% -64%
11 David Lowe N Y Y N Y N N Y Y N Y 100% 82%
11 Rebecca Mautner Q Y Y Q Y N N N Y Y Y 82% 64%
11 Maryellen Moran Q Q Q A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
11 Carol Oldham Y Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y 100% 82%
11 Brian Sheehan N Y Y Y N N Y Y Y N N 100% 9%
11 Karen Wenc N N N Y N Y Y Y N N Y 100% -45%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
12 Michael Burstein Y Y Y N Y Y N N Y Y Y 100% 45%
12 Bruce Cohen Y P N A A A A A A A A 27% -18%
12 Lee Cooke-Childs N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y 100% 100%
12 Chad Ellis Y N N N N Y Y N N Y Y 100% -45%
12 Harry Friedman Y N N N N Y Y N N Y Y 100% -45%
12 Jonathan Grand Y Y Y Y N Y Y N N Y Y 100% -27%
12 Stefanie Greenfield Y N N N Y N N Q Q Q Q 64% 9%
12 Casey Hatchett Q Q Y Q Q N Y N N Q Q 45% 9%
12 Amy Hummel P N N N N Y Y N N P Y 100% -27%
12 Jonathan Karon Y Y Y N Y Y Y N Y Y Y 100% 27%
12 David Klafter N Y N Q Q N N Y Y N Y 82% 45%
12 Mark Lowenstein N Y Y N Y Y N N Y Y N 100% 45%
12 Judy Meyers N N N N Y Y N N N P Y 100% 18%
12 William Slotnick N N N N Y N N N Y Y Y 100% 45%
12 Donald Weitzman N Y Y N Y N N N N Y Y 100% 64%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
13 Joanna Baker N Y Y N Y N N Y Y N Y 100% 82%
13 Carla Benka Y N N N N Y Y N N N Y 100% -27%
13 Roger Blood A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
13 Chris Chanyasulkit Y Y Y N Y N N N N N Y 100% 64%
13 John Doggett Y N Y N N Y Y N N Y N 100% -45%
13 Jonathan Fine Y N Y Y N Y Y N N P Y 100% -36%
13 Andrew Fischer N Y N N Y N N Y Y N Y 100% 64%
13 John Freeman Y N Q P Y Y Y N Y N Y 91% 9%
13 Francis Hoy A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
13 Ruth Kaplan A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
13 Werner Lohe Y Y Y N Y N N Y Y P Y 100% 55%
13 Paul Saner Y N N Q Q Q Q Y Y Y Y 64% -27%
13 Lee Selwyn Y N N Y N Y Y N N N Y 100% -45%
13 Barbara Senecal Y Q Q Y N Y Y N N Q Q 64% -45%
13 John VanScoyoc Y Y Y Q Q Y Y N N Y N 82% -27%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
14 Robert Basile Y N Y Y N Y Y Q Q Q Q 64% -45%
14 Clifford Brown Y N Q Y P Y Y Q Q Q Q 55% -45%
14 Gill Fishman Q Q Q Y N Y Y Q Q Q Q 36% -36%
14 Paula Friedman Y N N Y N Y Y N N N Y 100% -45%
14 Kenneth Goldstein N P P N Y Y Y N N Y N 100% -9%
14 Jeffrey Kushner Y N N N N Y Q N Y Y Y 91% -18%
14 Fred Levitan A A A Y N Y Y N N Q Q 55% -36%
14 Roger Lipson Y Y Y N Y Y Q N N Y Y 91% 18%
14 Pamela Lodish N N N Y N Y Y Y Y N Y 100% -27%
14 Shaari Mittel Y N Y Y N Y Y N N Y Y 100% -45%
14 Kathleen O’Connell Y Y Y N Y Y N N Y Y Q 91% 36%
14 Benjamin Rich A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
14 Lynda Roseman N P Y Y N Y Y N Y Y Y 100% 0%
14 Sharon Schoffmann Y Y Y N N Y Y Y Y Y Y 100% -9%
14 Jennifer Segel Y Y N Y Y Y N N Y Y Y 100% 9%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
15 Mariela Ames A A A Q N Q Q Q Q Q Q 9% -9%
15 Eileen Berger Y Q Q N Y Y N N N Q Q 64% 9%
15 Michael Berger A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
15 Abby Coffin A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
15 Jane Flanagan A A A Q Q Y Y Y Y Y Y 55% -18%
15 John Hall A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
15 Benedicte Hallowell Q Q Q N N N Y Y Y Q Q 55% 0%
15 Janice Kahn Y Y Y Y N Q Y N N N Y 91% 0%
15 Ira Krepchin Y Y Y Y N Y Y N N N N 100% -27%
15 Robert Liao Y Y Y Y N Y Y N Y Y Y 100% -9%
15 Richard Nangle A A A Q Q Y Q Y Y Y Y 45% -9%
15 David Pearlman Y N Y N Y N Y N N N N 100% 9%
15 James Rourke A A A A A A A A A A A 0% 0%
15 Ab Sadeghi-Nejad Q Q Q Y Y Q N Q Q Q Q 27% 9%
15 Cornelia van der Ziel N Y N N Y N N N N N Y 100% 64%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
16 Saralynn Allaire Y N Y N Y Y N N Y N Y 100% 45%
16 Robert Allen N N Y Y N Y Y N Y Y Q 91% -18%
16 Beverly Basile Y N Y N Y Y Y N N P Q 91% -9%
16 John Basile Y N Q Y N Y Y Q Q Q Q 55% -55%
16 Stephen Chiumenti P P Y Y P Y Y N Y Y Y 100% 0%
16 Regina Frawley N Y Y Y N Y Y Q Q N Y 82% 9%
16 Thomas Gallitano N Y Y A A A A A A A A 27% 27%
16 Scott Gladstone N Y N Y P N Y N Y Y Y 100% 18%
16 Alisa Jonas N P N Q Q Q Q Q Q N N 45% 0%
16 Judith Leichtner P Y Y Y Y Y Y N P N Y 100% 27%
16 William Pu Y N N Y Q Y Y Y Y N Y 91% -36%
16 Joshua Safer Y Y Y N Y Y N N Y N N 100% 45%
16 Irene Scharf Y Y Y Q Q Q Q Q Q N Y 45% 27%
16 Arthur Sneider N Y Y Q Q Y N Q Q Q Q 45% 27%
16 Joyce Stavis-Zak Y Y Y N Y Y Y N Y N N 100% 27%
                               
Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” A absent    
2015 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” Q not voting Index Index
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Voting Concur
  Vote Result N Y Y N Y N N N Y N Y    
AL Nancy Daly N N Y N Y Y N N Y Y Y 100% 45%
AL Benjamin Franco N Y Y N Y Y N N Y N Y 100% 82%
AL Edward Gadsby P P P P P P P P P P P 100% 0%
AL Bernard Greene N Y Y P P N Y N Y N Y 100% 64%
AL Nancy Heller N Y Y N Y N N Y Y N Y 100% 82%
AL Frank Smizik Q Y Y Q Q Y N N Y Y N 73% 18%
AL Patrick Ward P P P P P P P P P P P 100% 0%
AL Neil Wishinsky Y Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y 100% 9%

Housing Advisory Board: “smart growth,” $35,000 consultant

A meeting of Brookline’s Housing Advisory Board on Wednesday, June 24, started at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. All the current members except Kathy Spiegelman were on hand. Board members heard a presentation on Chapter 40R “smart growth” development and joined with Planning Board members in a continued review of Chapter 40B regulations, as asked at the town meeting in May. They are considering a consultant study estimated to cost $35,000.

Smart growth: Chapter 40R of Massachusetts General Laws and companion Chapter 40S are legacies from waning years of the Romney administration, trying to promote so-called “smart growth.” The catch-phrase mainly means development near public transit, reducing needs for automobiles. In the classic Massachusetts traditions, our hydra of state government grew a new tendril. It is currently headed by William E. “Bill” Reyelt, who is a Precinct 5 town meeting member in Brookline.

Mr. Reyelt illustrated his description of Chapter 40R to the housing board with computerized slides. The state is offering tiny incentives to communities that set up special “smart growth” zoning districts and approve housing development permits. They mainly amount to one-time payments of $1,000 to $3,000 per housing unit for each unit built beyond standard zoning.

Sergio Modigliani, a Planning Board member, observed that the cost of educating a student in Brookline schools averages around $18,000 a year. At that rate, state payments would be eaten up in at most a few months, while Brookline taxpayers would be exposed to uncompensated costs for at least a century. Maybe not so “smart.”

All Mr. Reyelt could offer was that Brookline might become “eligible” for partial compensation under a Chapter 40S program, but there is “no guarantee” of state funding. All the communities participating in Chapter 40R turned out to be smaller cities, far suburbs and rural towns. None are among the towns Brookline typically regards as peers, including Arlington, Belmont, Lexington and Winchester.

Chapter 40B regulations: As proposed by the Advisory Committee, last May’s annual town meeting referred a proposal to change Chapter 40B law and regulations to the Housing Advisory Board and the Planning Board, asking for a “plan for Brookline to work with other mature, built-out communities…to achieve a temporary ‘safe harbor’ status” from disruptive development, such as one proposed at Hancock Village. As the Advisory Committee wrote in its recommendation, that will take changes to state regulations.

Despite town meeting’s directions, the Housing Advisory Board looks to have taken off on a tangent. Instead of working on changing state regulations, members are considering a consultant study for a “housing production plan” to counter 40B development under current regulations.

Brookline already has such a plan, produced in 2005. Little of significance has changed since then. To satisfy current regulations, Brookline would have to develop more than 250 housing units a year that are subsidized to Chapter 40B levels. For the past 15 years, Brookline has averaged less than 10 such units a year.

Housing Advisory Board members estimated spending about $35,000 on a consultant study for a new housing production plan. However, they had not contacted any potential consultants. Instead, board member Karen Kepler, a lawyer, noted that a contract under $35,000 would be exempt from state public bidding requirements.

Virginia Bullock, one of the town’s housing project planners, said Brookline had a good chance of getting $15,000 from a new state grant called “planning assistance toward housing.” Board members speculated about how to wheedle money out of the Advisory Committee or how to bleed Housing Trust funds. Those are set aside to support subsidized housing units, not to stuff the pockets of consultants.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 25, 2015


Matthew J. Lawlor, Chapter 40R: a good law made better finally starts showing results, Congress of the New Urbanism, October, 2006

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

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

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2015

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

Board of Selectmen: water fees, snubbing the public

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 23, started at 6:50 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board had invited Frederick Russell, the director of the Public Works water and sewer division, to present a proposal for revising fees. Unlike practices of years ago, the board did not announce or conduct a hearing.

Public affairs: Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, announced another agreement with a nonprofit organization for payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT). It is with Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist organization at 303 Boylston St. Mr. Cirillo noted that it is the twentieth PILOT agreement he has negotiated, starting in 2006. The board approved.

Water and sewer fees: Mr. Russell’s proposal was presented with a computer display that, as of noon the following day, had not been made available to the public on the municipal Web site. According to him, the average bill will increase 4.6 percent, starting in July–far in excess of general inflation. Compared with other eastern Massachusetts communities, Brookline’s water and sewer fees are already high.

It was obvious to many that some of Mr. Russell’s data could not stand scrutiny. Board member Nancy Daly said that a back calculation indicated an average residential bill of over $9,000. The claim for average increase in dollars, divided by the claim for average increase in percent, shown on Mr. Russell’s displays, indicated an average quarterly bill of about $2,200. Mr. Russell could not explain clearly.

A severe problem with Brookline’s water and sewer fees has long been known. It stems from failure to adjust for the number of dwelling units served by a water line and meter. Brookline has mostly multifamily housing. Fewer than 20 percent of households are found in single-family houses.

Brookline has had information about numbers of dwelling units for decades. It has been available from computer databases for over 20 years. Mr. Russell said his division’s failure to bill on a fair and equitable basis was lessened by a scheme of base rates and block rates, but data he displayed showed substantial inequity.

Members of the public led by Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, and David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, came with information showing that Brookline was practicing unfair billing. Although the Board of Selectmen often accepts comments on public affairs topics at ordinary meetings, not just hearings, Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair and a former Advisory Committee member, pointedly snubbed Mr. Lescohier and his allies. The board approved the proposed fee changes after only brief discussion.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Ray Masak, a building project administrator, asked for approval of a $2.61 million contract with Contractors Network of East Providence, RI. It will rebuild and repair large parts of the 16-year-old municipal service center at 870 Hammond St. Design errors have led to expensive corrections, rivalled only by the Pierce School disasters of the early 1970s. Most members of the board seemed oblivious to Brookline’s costly history of mistakes. They approved the contract.

Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, won approval for two major contracts that begin a project to enlarge and renovate Devotion School. HMFH Architects of Cambridge gets $8.13 million for final plans, specifications and design coordination. Shawmut Design and Construction of Boston gets $10.55 million for its services as general contractor. The entire project has been costed at about $120 million–by far the most expensive in Brookline’s history.

Mr. Guigli also won approval for two much smaller contracts to complete school repairs. GWV of East Boston gets a $0.04 million change order, most of it to replace the main sewer connection at Lawrence School. Lambrian of Westwood gets $0.02 million more to complete work at old Lincoln School. Ms. Daly asked about science room casework removed by mistake. Mr. Guigli said that the change order included an adjustment for damages.

Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, won approval of $1.22 milllion for the first year of a five-year contract with Casella Waste Systems of Peabody, to collect and process recycled materials. A five-year contract with Waste Management of Houston, TX, which began Brookline’s single-stream recycling, is ending. Casella submitted a more favorable bid. The cost is significantly higher than the current contract. Mr. Pappastergion won approval for a $0.2 million reserve fund request, to be heard by Advisory on July 7.

Casella already operates solid waste transfer from the Brookline transfer station off Newton St. It takes town refuse collections, street sweepings and catch basin cleanings to a sanitary landfill in Southbridge that recovers methane and uses it to generate electricity. The company will take recycle collections to a largely automated separation plant in Charlestown. Unlike Waste Management, Casella does not plan to incinerate any materials but will bundle and sell them for reuse.

Licenses and permits: A representative for Teleport Communications applied for a permit to install an in-street conduit on Hammond St. Traffic in the area has been disturbed recently by work on gas mains. Teleport estimated five days for its job, committed to all-hours access for residents and promised to notify residents a week before commencing work. The board approved.

Two liquor license holders were brought in for revocation hearings. Vernissage, a restaurant in Washington Square, and GPS Wines and Spirits, across Boylston St. from the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center, have closed. Both were given about five more months to reactivate businesses or transfer licenses.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 24, 2015


Devotion School Building Committee: opting for a community school, Brookline Beacon, September 26, 2014

Climate Action: planning a home invasion

At its meeting Monday, June 22, our sometimes torpid Climate Action Committee started a new, invasive approach that, if carried through, promises to impact every Brookline household, business and institution. The name of the game is “community choice aggregation.” What’s that?

Utility restructuring: During the mid-1990s, ambitious state administrations–mostly run by Republicans–began to promote deregulation, particularly for energy. They were apparently taking cues from the deregulation of airline fares during the Carter administration. The federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 had proven mostly aspirational. State rather than federal government had most sway over utilities.

The United States has a cultural background of enthusiasms for apparently simple solutions to genuinely complex problems–for example, punitive public-school testing claimed as a solution to gaps in educational achievement, a poster child of the Reagan administration. That outlook has strongly influenced so-called “restructuring” of electric power and other utilities.

California conducted the first major experiment, starting in 1994 and descending into chaos in 2001, a year of blackouts and corruption–the Enron price manipulation crimes. Massachusetts started in 1996, during the troubled Cellucci administration. The following year, before the real Big Dig costs had been divulged to the public, the General Court was maneuvered into passing the Utility Restructuring Act of 1997.

Community choice aggregation: The main act of Massachusetts restructuring was to squeeze big electric companies, Boston Edison and New England Power, into selling their generating plants and focusing on local power distribution. A sleeper in the law was a provision for municipal cooperatives: not the traditional sort that own wires, transformers and meters–instead an offspring that engages in financial manipulation.

A widely advertised feature of the Restructuring Act allowed electricity customers to designate generating companies, from whom they would buy wholesale electricity carried to their locations and billed to them by distributing companies. A lengthy section of the act forbids distributing companies from switching customers’ generating companies. Only a voluntary action initiated by a customer can make a switch.

Another sleeper in the schizophrenic Restructuring Act, authorizing so-called “community choice aggregation,” stood those protections on their heads. For ten years, it remained little known and little used. By 2007, there were only five community choice aggregators–all but one a small town. Under the act, a town meeting can approve a program, and a board of selectmen can then contract with a distributing company.

A board of selectmen can also designate a combination of generating sources. Once that is done, local customers are automatically switched–without voluntary actions and without their permissions. They will get notices. They have a month to “opt out”–returning to generating sources of their own choosing. If they fail to act in a timely way, their suppliers are switched without permissions, in whatever way some board of selectmen chose, supposedly on their behalf.

Motives and side effects: For some communities, the main motive has been trying to lower the price of electricity, by combining purchasing and by bargaining for many customers. Success has been spotty at best. Stung by price reverses, in 2012 Ashland and Marlborough suspended their community choice aggregation (CCA), returning local customers either to “standard rate” plans or to generating companies they chose.

A 2013 report by researchers at Tufts University found that “savings reached through a CCA are modest and unpredictable.” In their conclusion, the researchers observe, “A purpose of [state] deregulation was to lower electricity rates through competition, but rates in deregulated states have increased more significantly than rates in regulated states.”

To long-term observers, that comes as no news. In 2006, David Cay Johnson had reported in the New York Times, “A decade after competition was introduced…the market has produced no [overall price] decline. Instead, more rate increase requests are pending now than ever before…Electric customers…are facing rude surprises….”

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


Joshua Laufer, Betsy McDonald, Brenda Pike and Mengmeng Zhou, Community choice aggregation: municipal bulk buying of electricity in Massachusetts, Tufts University, May 6, 2013 (36 MB)

Joe O’Connell, Ashland halts electric power program, MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, MA), December 27, 2012

David Cay Johnson, Competitive era fails to shrink electric bills, New York Times, October 15, 2006

An act relative to restructuring the electric utility industry in the Commonwealth, regulating the provision of electricity and other services, and promoting enhanced consumer protections therein, Massachusetts General Court, Chapter 164 of the Acts of 1997

Transportation Board: tone deaf

When the Transportation Board held a public review of a recent proposal to rip out all 66 of the public parking spaces on the east side of Babcock Street, between Fire Station No. 5 and Commonwealth Avenue, on Thursday, June 18, it held back. No action was taken, but the proposal from the Bicycle Advisory Committee, appointed by this board, remains on the books and could still be implemented.

Over 60 Brookline residents came to the meeting, despite the onset of summer vacations and the competing Devotion School “Carnivale”–the former spring fair on steroids–drawing hundreds from the school district plus many others town-wide. About 30 residents spoke at the Transportation meeting, even after board chair Joshua Safer tried to shoo them away–saying the board “got it.”

Threat and insult: So far, the board did not “get it.” Most of its members live in suburban settings. They obviously fail to understand the urban settings of North Brookline and Brookline Center, where nearly half the town’s population lives, and some apparently don’t care. They said nothing.

The board’s Bicycle Advisory Committee threatened and insulted the Babcock Street neighborhoods. On June 1, without consulting any neighborhood people or visiting the neighborhoods, they proposed a plan to remove all 66 public parking spaces on the east side of Babcock Street, between Fire Station No. 5 and Commonwealth Avenue, plus 16 potential spaces currently marked “no parking,” to install a bicycle lane.

One committee member, Tommy Vitolo, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, dissented. Dr. Vitolo argued against disruption of the Babcock Street neighborhoods. However, he was unable to persuade any other member of this neighborhood-hostile committee. The other members opted to invade Babcock Street neighborhoods with bulldozers, ordering people around and destroying key parts of the Babcock Street social and physical environments.

Remedies: Well in advance of the Transportation Board Meeting, Andrew Pappastergion, the commissioner of public works, agreed with Precinct 8 town meeting members to defer work on Babcock Street to next summer. However, no public participation is guaranteed, and so far none has been arranged. A Precinct 8 town meeting member has asked the Board of Selectmen to appoint a project review and monitoring committee.

The only long-term remedy likely to prevent a recurrence of this abuse is to dissolve the narrowly focused and irresponsible Bicycle Advisory Committee. Instead of a single-interest group, the community needs a Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee. It would represent the main, human-powered transportation alternatives that need protection from operators of motor vehicles.

On June 18, it was not clear that Transportation Board members heard the cadence or the melody. Instead, they appointed a person who came across as yet another bicycle “groupie” to the Bicycle Advisory Committee. The neighborhoods have been patient. They will wait months but not years. They are looking for clear and positive, decisive action. If that does not happen, people will likely say other adjustments are needed.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 19, 2015


Craig Bolon, Conflicts of interest: state treasurer and transportation board member, Brookline Beacon, June 10, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Village Street Fair, trash metering

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 9, started at 7:10 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board had invited Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, to present plans for a trash metering system, replacing Brookline’s partly unstructured, fixed-fee approach to collecting solid waste from households and businesses.

Some board members had attended a “visioning” session conducted at Town Hall the previous evening for the Economic Development Advisory Committee. According to Neil Wishinsky, the chair, it focused on “medium-scale commercial parcels.” Board member Nancy Daly commented that “most projects would require rezoning.” Zoning changes take two-thirds votes at town meetings and have become difficult to achieve. Ms. Daly said there would need to be “neighborhood involvement and dialog.” So far there has been none of either.

Public affairs: Andy Martineau, an economic development planner, reported on the Brookline Village Street Fair, a new event to occur on Harvard St. from noon to 4 pm Sunday, June 14 (not June 15 as in the meeting agenda). Best known among similar events nearby may be the annual Allston Village Street Fair, usually held on a September Sunday. Mr. Martineau’s plans sounded somewhat more commercial, with about 40 merchants involved. Performances are planned by Vanessa Trien and the Jumping Monkeys, a favorite of young children, Ten Tumbao, Afro-Latin-Caribbean music, and the Muddy River Ramblers, bluegrass.

Richard Segan, from the Brookline Sister City Project, asked the board to approve a proclamation for Brookline Sister City Week, to be October 18-24. Cornelia “Kea” van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, and Peter Moyer, a Brookline resident, had visited Quezalguaque, Nicaragua, the third week in May. Drs. van der Ziel and Moyer described their visit and future plans. The board approved the proclamation.

The two Brookline physicians have mainly been concerned with atypical chronic kidney disease, a longstanding and severe problem in Quezalguaque–also common in Costa Rica and El Salvador. Unlike similar maladies in the United States, mainly found in older people, in Central America the disease strikes people as early as their twenties. Every year thousands die. Although environmental and occupational factors are suspected, no cause is known. Those working with the Sister City Project plan to extend epidemiological efforts, hoping to associate the disease with locations, occupations, water supplies, agricultural chemicals and other potential influences.

Trash metering: Andrew Pappastergion, Brookline’s commissioner of public works, presented the first detailed plans for trash metering. Programs known by that trademarked term–coined by WasteZero of Raleigh, NC, a contractor for Brookline–aim to improve on antiquated and simplistic “pay as you throw” efforts through automation, public education and convenience.

The City of Gloucester achieved a 30 percent reduction in waste disposal costs during the first full year of such a program, according to the Gloucester Times of March 7, 2010. However, Gloucester previously had a poor recycling record, while Brookline began curbside recycling in 1973 and has operated an increasingly advanced program since 1990.

Six Massachusetts towns with populations above 30,000 have some form of solid waste limit: Plymouth, Taunton, Amherst, Shrewsbury, Dartmouth and Natick. None of them are among the more urbanized and sophisticated towns Brookline typically regards as peer communities–including Arlington, Belmont, Lexington and Winchester. There is strong evidence that in urbanized and sophisticated communities public education has been more effective than trash metering at reducing solid waste. Although Brookline has a Solid Waste Advisory Committee, so far its members have been passive, performing no public outreach. Those are hurdles for Mr. Pappastergion’s plans.

Mr. Pappastergion presented a slide show to the board. It included a review of Massachusetts information organized by the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. State officials remain focused on antiquated and simplistic “pay as you throw” efforts, so far found mostly in smaller rural or suburban towns.

Mr. Pappastergion presented data unavailable to the public: recycling rates for communities using municipally supplied bins. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has collected recycling rate data since 1997, but after 2008 state officials stopped releasing them to the public. It appeared that no Massachusetts town with a population above 30,000 operates a program comparable to the one Mr. Pappastergion proposes.

Mr. Pappastergion proposes that Brookline supply to each of about 13,000 customers now using municipal refuse services a 35-gallon bin with wheels, similar in construction to the 64-gallon bins already supplied for recycling. Brookline would reduce the number of collection trucks from six to four and equip those trucks with automated bin-handlers like the ones now used for recycling bins.

Households would continue to pay the current $200 per year fee to have one 35-gallon refuse bin and one 64-gallon recycling bin collected each week. Extra refuse bags would be available at stores and town offices. They would have 30-gallon capacity and cost $2.00 each. For fees yet to be stated, Brookline would supply extra bins collected each week. Mr. Pappastergion estimated that 35-gallon bins would hold, on average, 40 lb of refuse, while 30-gallon bags would hold 25 lb.

Based on his estimates, Mr. Pappastergion might be proposing that Brookline violate state law by charging more than the cost of service for refuse bags. He estimated a cost of container and disposal at $1.15, as compared with a $2.00 fee. However, he did not include costs of collection and transfer. He provided no estimates for likely quantities of bags or extra bins.

In the proposed program, current practices for collecting bulky items, yard waste and metals would not change. Combining personnel, supplies, contractual services and capital equipment, Mr. Pappastergion estimated savings of about $0.1 million for fiscal 2017, the first full operating year, rising to about $0.4 million per year for fiscal 2022 and later years–including allowances for inflation.

Members of the board reacted with a diffuse scatter of comments. Mr. Wishinsky said the refuse bin on display looked “awful small” and asked about 48-gallon bins. Mr. Pappastergion said 35-gallon bins were important “to achieve goals of this program.” Board member Bernard Greene, in contrast, said he was “surprised at how large” the 35-gallon bin was. “We’d have room to rent out space.” Ms. Daly asked whether people would use compactors to overstuff the bins. Mr. Pappastergion doubted that would occur.

There were several questions about storage space and handling, to which Mr. Pappastergion responded by citing four years’ experience with the larger, single-stream recycling bins. The introduction of those elements led to increasing Brookline’s recycling rate from 30 to 37 percent, he said, but during the past two years progress has stalled. The department has yet to stimulate recycling through public outreach. It is not clear whether the department has the talent or the willingness to try.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Sara Slymon, the library director, won approval to hire three librarians, turning current interim positions into permanent ones, thanks in part to the tax override passed by voters in May. Mr. Greene and board member Ben Franco asked how the positions would be advertised. Ms. Slymon replied that union contracts restricted the library to internal posting unless a qualified candidate could not be found. She said all the current employees were well qualified for their positions.

Linda Golburgh, the assistant town clerk, asked for approval to hire an administrative assistant. The position is becoming vacant because of a retirement. It marks the third recent change in personnel at a small agency. Ms. Daly remembered that the current employee previously worked in the office of the Board of Selectmen. The board approved, with Mr. Wishinsky asking Ms. Golburgh to seek help from Lloyd Gellineau, the chief diversity officer, and Sandra DeBow, the human resources director, to insure a diverse candidate pool.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, asked for approval of a $0.07 million increase in the contract to renovate Warren Field. The contractor is New England Landscape and Masonry (NELM) of Carver, MA. The board asked whether the project was staying within budget limits. Mr. Ditto said that it was and that the project was about to conclude. The board approved the change order.

Mr. Ditto also asked for approval of a $1.07 million contract with Newport Construction of Nashua, NH, to reconstruct Fisher Ave. It is this year’s largest street project. The other bidder, Mario Susi & Son of Dorchester, which is working on other Brookline projects, proposed a substantially higher price. The board approved the contract.

The board also approved several smaller financial transactions. Among them was accepting a $0.06 million state grant, using federal funds, to hire a transportation coordinator based at the Senior Center on Winchester St. Ruthann Dobek, director for the Council on Aging, described an innovative program aimed at helping older people adjust to living without automobiles. Board members asked how the program would operate in future years.

Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member and a member of the Age-Friendly Cities Committee, responded that such a program had already begun with volunteers and would continue that way if necessary. However, Dr. Caro said, the program needed planning and coordination. Even a year of staffing, he contended, would move the program to better levels of service.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 12, 2015


Celebrate Brookline Village, The Village Fair, 2015

Cause of CKD epidemic in Sister City remains a mystery, Brookline Sister City Project, 2010

Miguel Almaguer, Raúl Herrera and Carlos M. Orantes, Chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology in agricultural communities, MEDICC Review 16(2):9-15, Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba, 2014

Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership, Brookline Beacon, May 13, 2015

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

Trash metering, WasteZero (Raleigh, NC), 2010

Solid Waste Advisory Committee: recycling and trash metering, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2014

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

Conflicts of interest: state treasurer and transportation board member

Conflicts of interest abound in government: duties to represent citizens, as opposed to private interests. Few political officeholders are immune. Locally and recently, we have seen Brookline residents involved.

Deborah Goldberg, a former chair of the Brookline Board of Selectmen who is now the Massachusetts state treasurer, recently disclosed a potential conflict involving her husband, Michael Winter, a J.P. Morgan executive. His firm was awarded contracts to market $100 million in state bonds. Mr. Winter, however, does not work in the company division responsible for government bond marketing.

In a local context, Christopher Dempsey of 43 Brington Rd., a Transportation Board member, has an apparent personal interest in a proposal submitted to his board by the Bicycle Advisory Committee, on which his father, John P. Dempsey of 43 Brington Rd., now serves. At an evening meeting on Monday, July 1, the elder Mr. Dempsey argued and voted in favor of a proposal to remove all parking from the east side of Babcock St., from Fire Station No. 5 at 49 Babcock St. to the town line at 1010 Commonwealth Ave., in order to install a lane marked exclusively for bicycle use.

That part of Babcock St. now has a total of 66 available parking spaces along a street with many apartment buildings that have no parking. The Bicycle Advisory Committee proposal is scheduled to be reviewed by the Transportation Board at a June 18 meeting. On Monday, June 8, town meeting members from Precinct 8 agreed with Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, that work on Babcock St. would be deferred until 2016, avoiding near-term confrontations on the issue.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 10, 2015


Matt Stout, Treasurer hubby’s firm got $100M in bonds, Boston Herald, June 10, 2015

Brookline Transportation Board, Agenda for June 18, 2015, See item 7

2015 annual town meeting: budgets, bylaws and resolutions

Unlike last year, Brookline’s 2015 annual town meeting rolled along at a brisk pace and needed only two sessions–Tuesday, May 26, and Thursday, May 28–both starting at 7 pm in the High School auditorium. The generally progressive tones of Brookline civic engagement remained clear, and some of the musical theatre of years past returned for an encore. This is the one-hundredth year for Brookline’s elected town meeting.

Budgets: Disputes over budgets that roiled the winter workups to town meeting had evaporated after voter approval of a major tax override at the Tuesday, May 5, town election. Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator of town meeting, mentioned “controversy” over a three-word amendment to one special appropriation. The Advisory Committee proposed two changes to the “override” financial plan as proposed by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator.

In the traditional presentation of an annual budget, Sean Lynn-Jones, newly elected as chair of the Advisory Committee last winter, called 2015 “an interesting year.” He noted that new revenues were going to be involved in maintaining a stable budget, singling out parking meter and refuse fees. Mr. Lynn-Jones said he expects “fiscal challenges…another general override in three to five years…possibly a ninth elementary school…high school [expansion] at over $100 million, not $35 million,” as most recently estimated.

In the traditional response from the Board of Selectmen, Neil Wishinshy, recently elected as the new chair, said strongly contested elections, like those this year, “make our town and democracy stronger.” He spoke of new efficiencies contributing to a stable budget, singling out trash metering, which has been mentioned at official meetings but so far not detailed. Mr. Wishinsky called on town meeting members to “put aside narrow self-interest,” saying, “We live in the real world.”

Staff for preservation planning will increase from 1.8 to 2.0 full-time-equivalent positions, a budget hike of $14,119. It is expected to provide a full-time position for preservationist Greer Hardwicke. The Public Works budget for pavement markings got $2,673 more, to cope with after-effects from a harsh winter. Those had been wrapped into Advisory Committee motions. A $264 million spending plan sailed through, mostly on voice votes.

A three-word amendment to a $100,000 special appropriation had been proposed by Craig Bolon, a Precinct 8 town meeting member who edits the Brookline Beacon. Offered on behalf of Brookline PAX, it asked that a study of Coolidge Corner parking be done “with neighborhood input.” Town meeting agreed in a unanimous voice vote.

Instead of parochial concerns with Public Works, this year’s town meeting focused more on the Police budget. Lynda Roseman, a Precinct 14 town meeting member, asked about progress coping with mental health issues. Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, compared last year–when three members of the force were involved–to this year, when two grant-funded programs are underway. By the end of the year, he said, about a quarter of the force will have completed 40 hours of training.

A large municipal solar-power array, in effect a budget item, was approved out-of-line under Articles 15 and 16. Brookline is contracting with Blue Wave Capital, a company endorsed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which is to build and operate it, using part of the former landfill site near the waste transfer station off Newton St. Rated capacity is to be 1.4 MW, peak. Expected income is about $0.08 million per year.

Bylaw, Living Wage: Under Article 10, the Recreation Department proposed to gut much of the Living Wage bylaw enacted several years ago, by exempting from coverage several employee groups and by eliminating the Brookline minimum wage: a one-dollar premium over the state minimum. Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member who was the chief sponsor of the bylaw, had resisted the effort strongly.

Scott Gladstone, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, was entirely opposed to Article 10. “The bylaw is already a compromise,” he claimed. “Junior lifeguards,” whom it would remove from coverage, “are lifeguards…with the same Red Cross certifications as anybody else…What we’re trying to teach here…is work values…Should we teach them that they should not be demanding a living wage?”

Ms. Connors was supported by Brookline PAX. Co-chair Frank Farlow, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, stated, “PAX supports working people and fair wages.” Board member Andrew Fischer, a Precinct 13 town meeting member, called Article 10 “an assault on working people,” saying, “I wonder how many [town-funded] cars it would take to cover the wages of students with first-time jobs.”

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Precinct 16 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen, tried to deflect those arguments. saying that when the now-disbanded Living Wage Committee proposed the bylaw, “We were way out front.” He favored some compromises being sponsored by the Advisory Committee. Pamela Lodish, a Precinct 14 town meeting member who lost this year when running for the Board of Selectmen, agreed with Mr. Allen. “If we pass the [Connors] amendment,” she said, “we’ll be hiring college students instead of high-school students.”

Ms. Connors was proposing to maintain the current bylaw’s definitions of seasonal and temporary employment. It was not certain whether Mr. Allen or Ms. Lodish understood, but Merelice, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, clearly did. The current bylaw’s approach is not supported by the HR module of Munis, recently adopted for maintaining employment records by the Human Resources (HR) office. According to Merelice, the attitude of HR is “an example of being concerned about the dirt when we hold the broom.” She contended, “We can certainly find the technology.”

Town meeting members sided strongly with Ms. Connors, Merelice and Brookline PAX. In an electronically recorded vote, the Connors amendment passed 141 to 48, with 10 abstentions. The amended main motion on Article 10 passed 144 to 42, with 5 abstentions. Although the Brookline minimum wage premium is maintained, so-called “junior” employees in the Recreation Department will no longer be covered by the Living Wage, reverting to the Brookline minimum wage–currently $10.00 versus $13.19 per hour. Recreation claims to be able to support more positions.

Bylaw, snow clearance from sidewalks: Town meeting grappled with the latest edition of a snow-clearance bylaw under Article 12. For about 30 years a bylaw initially proposed by Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, has required property owners to clear adjacent sidewalks of snow. However, until a push last year from Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member who filed a resolution article, and from the Age-Friendly Cities Committee, enforcement proved erratic.

During the 1970s and before, Brookline plowed most of the sidewalks, but after budget trims in the aftermath of Proposition 2-1/2 it cut back to only a few, including ones near schools. Article 12 was proposed by a Sidewalk Snow Removal Task Force, appointed in the summer of 2014 by the Board of Selectmen to strengthen the town’s law and its enforcement. The group–including staff from Public Works, Health, Building and Police–acknowledged that a complaint-driven approach had worked poorly.

Last winter, the four departments contributing to the task force divided Brookline’s streets into four sectors and began proactive enforcement during weekdays, with Police assuming most duties at other times. Despite the unusually harsh winter, enforcement generally improved, as described to town meeting by Nancy Daly, speaking for the Board of Selectmen. However, Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, pointed out the lack of coordination in the current form of enforcement.

In its town-meeting article, the task force proposed to discontinue automatic warnings for first violations at residential properties, to raise fines and to institute a $250 fine for placing snow into a street–forbidden by Brookline’s general bylaws since the nineteenth century.

Compromises made as outcomes of several reviews had gutted most of the original proposal, leaving relatively weak enforcement, modest fines and no administrative appeals. Tommy Vitolo, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, offered two amendments intended to address some compromises. One would have limited a period of enforcement delay, at discretion of the public works commissioner, to no more than 30 hours after the end of a snowfall.

Amy Hummel of Precinct 12, speaking for the Advisory Committee, objected to an arbitrary time limit for the commissioner’s discretion. During the Blizzard of 1978, many streets remained impassible for several days, because Brookline then lacked much equipment capable of clearing them. That amendment was rejected through an electronically recorded vote, 78 to 108, with 6 abstentions.

Dr. Vitolo’s other amendment sought to restore the schedule of fines that the task force had proposed. Those called for a $50 fine on a first violation at a residential property, rather than an automatic warning, and a $100 fine for subsequent violations.

Dennis Doughty, a Precinct 3 town meeting member who served on the task force, supported the amendment on fines. He compared hazards of sidewalk snow with other hazards now sanctioned by $50 fines and no warnings, including putting refuse out for collection earlier than 4 pm the previous day. Town meeting members approved the amendment on fines through an electronically recorded vote, 135 to 52, with 5 abstentions.

Unfortunately, Dr. Vitolo’s amendment on fines for failure to clear sidewalk snow seems to leave the Brookline bylaws inconsistent. According to the main motion before town meeting, proposed by the Advisory committee on p. 5 of its supplemental report section and amended per Dr. Vitolo, the snow clearance bylaw was changed by town meeting to read, in part:

“The violation of any part of Section 7.7.3 [that is, the requirement to clear sidewalk snow at residential properties]…shall be noted with a $50 fine for the first violation and subject to a fine of $100.00 for the second and subsequent violations….”

However, according to the main motion, revised penalties are stated again in Article 10.3 of the bylaws, Table of Specific Penalties. What Dr. Vitolo’s amendment did was to revise penalties stated in the bylaw on snow clearance but not those stated in the Table of Specific Penalties. There will likely be no more snow before a fall town meeting, which might make the Brookline bylaws consistent.

Bylaws, tap water and bottled water: Articles 13 and 14, the two “water articles,” had been filed by Jane Gilman, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Clinton Richmond, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, and several other petitioners. Both were “watered down” during reviews before the town meeting, yet significant parts of each survived and won approval.

Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond are co-chairs of the “green caucus” in town meeting, which counts over fifty town meeting members as participants and has been effective at marshaling votes for some recent, environmentally oriented initiatives. Brookline PAX, with a somewhat overlapping base of support, was recommending voting for motions offered by the Board of Selectmen in favor of parts of the two articles.

Article 13 sought a bylaw requiring Brookline restaurants to offer tap water. They already do, said Sytske Humphrey of Precinct 6, speaking for the Advisory Committee. She called the proposed bylaw “unnecessary and ineffective.” However, the petitioners had found some sinners. An Indian restaurant in Washington Square did not offer tap water on its take-out menu, and one pizza place did not seem to offer it at all.

Differing from the Advisory position, the Board of Selectmen saw little objection to such a law but added a phrase, “upon request,” and removed a sentence: “Establishments may charge for this service item.” That might give an impression, they wrote, that charging for water “was a requirement.”

Diana Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, said the topic could be handled by conditions on restaurant licenses and moved to refer the article to the Board of Selectmen. In an electronically recorded vote, the referral motion failed 78 to 103, with 5 abstentions. The motion for a bylaw drafted by the Board of Selectmen passed 124 to 56, with 7 abstentions.

Article 14, seeking to ban sale and distribution of bottled water at town events and on town property, encountered stiffer headwinds at reviews before town meeting and quickly lost altitude. According to Mr. Richmond, the purpose was not banning water but banning the plastic bottles usually supplied. Hundreds of billions a year are sold. While they might be recycled, at least in part, they are mostly thrown away.

By town meeting, motions under the article had been trimmed back to a proposed ban on spending town funds to buy water in plastic bottles of one liter or less for use in offices. The Board of Selectmen proposed to refer the rest of the article to a study committee, to be appointed by the board. The Advisory Committee stuck with its original approach, recommending no action.

John Harris, a Precinct 8 town meeting member and a past participant in the “green caucus,” was not in line this time. The bylaw favored by the Board of Selectmen would have negligible impact, he claimed, and if widely emulated elsewhere, then companies selling bottled water would easily subvert it. Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly disagreed, saying the debates over Article 14 had “succeeded at least in educating me.”

The Advisory Committee remained unmoved. Robert Liao of Precinct 15 recommended voting for the Harris motion to refer, consistent with the Advisory position. There will be “adverse unintended consequences” from a bylaw, he claimed, saying, “Reusable bottles require planning and changes in behavior.”

Robert Miller, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, asked whether the town was spending money on either bottled water or bottled soda. The answers were yes as to both, according to Mel Kleckner, the town administrator. Echoing a topic heard often during reviews, Jonathan Davis, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, asked whether vending machines on town property would be affected. Mr. Richmond conceded they would not be, since “the machines are put out to bid” and do not involve spending town funds.

Mr. Gadsby, the moderator, took a motion for the question–that is, a motion to terminate debate. Not enough town meeting members were ready to do that. On an electronically recorded vote the motion failed 129 to 71, with 2 abstentions. Such a motion takes a two-thirds margin but got only 65 percent.

Susan Helms Daley of Chatham Circle and her son Jackson, a fourth-grader at Lawrence School, told town meeting members about an alternative that is catching on. For the past few years, the school has had a “green team” and tried “to discourage use of bottled water.” Ms. Daley asserted, “Bottled water is the same as cigarettes.” Jackson Daley said after the school installed “water bottle refill stations”–a PTO project–”more people brought water bottles” to school. So far, he said, “We have saved 10,129 plastic bottles. How cool is that?”

After hearing similar opinions from a junior at Brookline High School, Mr. Gadsby again accepted a motion for the question. He declared it had passed, on a show of hands. The motion from Mr. Harris to refer all of Article 14 failed on an electronically recorded vote, 97 to 102, with 2 abstentions. The motion from the Board of Selectmen for a bylaw banning some uses of town funds passed by a substantial majority, on a show of hands.

Resolution, recreation land: Article 18 proposed a resolution seeking a study of acquiring land in the Putterham neighborhoods of south Brookline for park and recreation uses–specifically, so-called “buffer” areas of Hancock Village near Beverly and Russett Rds. Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, and Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, prepared the article. Although not an abutter to Hancock Village, Ms. Frawley has lived nearby since 1968.

While it is possible that the current landowner, Chestnut Hill Realty, might agree to sell the land, a series of development plans, currently tapping powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws, have left the company at loggerheads with the Board of Selectmen. A purchase-and-sale agreement now looks unlikely, so that Ms. Frawley suggested the land would probably have to be taken by eminent domain.

In the Putterham neighborhoods, Ms. Frawley showed, there is little public open space. She described the current open spaces and showed that the Hancock Village buffers look to be the largest undeveloped areas likely to be suitable. The only sizable public spaces now are around Baker School. They are laid out for specialized uses and are unavailable to the public during school days. For over 70 years, neighborhood residents have often used the buffer areas for recreation instead, as tolerated by a succession of landowners.

Moderator Gadsby immediately took comments from Rebecca Plaut Mautner, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, ahead of normal order and before hearing from the Advisory Committee and town boards. He did not explain the unusual conduct. Ms. Mautner operates RPM Consulting, according to the Web site of Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association in Boston–providing “affordable housing development services” in New England.

Ms. Mautner delivered a broadside against Article 18, saying it “will be perceived by the outside world as an effort to undermine creation of affordable housing…a message that Brookline will stop at nothing to prevent affordable housing.” That did not seem to resonate well, broached in the first town in Massachusetts to build public housing, where inclusionary zoning has been active for over 20 years.

Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13, speaking for the Advisory Committee, recalled that the proposed “Hancock Village project did not start out as 40B…there was no affordable housing in the original plan.” The owner, he said, is “using 40B as a means to pressure the town.” He said Article 18 proposed “a reasonable public use” of land, and he noted that a parcel adjacent to Hancock Village had been “taken by the state by eminent domain to prevent an inappropriate development.” The Hancock Woods area was taken as conservation land about 20 years ago.

Janice Kahn of Precinct 15, also an Advisory Committee member, supported the study. She said it could teach the town about using eminent domain. There has been no substantial taking since the Hall’s Pond and Amory Woods conservation projects in the 1970s. Given the ongoing disputes with Chestnut Hill Realty, the Board of Selectmen had declined to take a position on Article 18. Members had said they would abstain from voting on it.

Mr. Mattison of Precinct 5, a suppporter, said the buffer “space has served as informal recreation space.” Some 1940s correspondence with the town, he said, describes “how the commitment would be binding” to maintain it as open space. However, that was not part of an agreement presented to a 1946 town meeting, when the bulk of Hancock Village was rezoned to allow apartments.

Lauren Bernard, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, asked whether a “prescriptive easement” would be possible, given the long history of public use, and whether that would be “mutually exclusive with eminent domain.” Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, said easement issues were “not considered yet,” but easement and eminent domain would probably “be mutually exclusive.”

Even though the hour was getting late, at 10:30 pm, town meeting was willing to hear more arguments. A motion for the question failed on an electronically recorded vote, 88 to 78, with 17 abstentions. Julie Jette of Payson Rd. spoke. She said she had been “very surprised” when moving there “that really the only fully accessible playground is in West Roxbury.”

Crossing the rotary and the VFW Parkway with young children seemed too dangerous, Ms. Jette said, and she had never tried. However, she said, “yards are not a substitute for social and community opportunities. It’s time to create a true neighborhood park in south Brookline…Time is of the essence, given Chestnut Hill Realty development plans.” After a few other comments, town meeting approved Article 18 on a show of hands, looking like a ten-to-one majority at least.

Resolution, Boston Olympics: Article 19 proposed a resolution, objecting to plans for holding the Olympic Games in Boston during 2024. The plans never gained traction in Brookline, where many people see heavy costs and slender benefits. The Board of Selectmen had nevertheless postponed making a recommendation, reaching out to the pressure group pushing for the Olympics, but no one from that group responded.

At the town meeting, Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, led off–speaking for Brookline PAX, of which he is co-chair. Unlike his fellow co-chair, Frank Farlow of Precinct 4, Mr. Rosenthal said he is a sports fan and “was excited at first.” However, he had realized “there might be some issues here…it was more for the benefit of non-Brookline people.” PAX opposes plans for 2024 Olympic Games in Boston.

Christopher Dempsey, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, was giving no quarter. He has co-founded a volunteer group, No Boston Olympics, and was on the warpath, armed with PowerPoint slides. The pressure group behind the Olympics plans, he said, is aiming to raid public funds. A long article published the previous day in the Boston Business Journal revealed much of that story to the public.

According to Business Journal staff, previously secret sections of the Olympics “bid book” said public money would be sought to “fund land acquisition and infrastructure costs.” The plans were also “relying on an expanded Boston Convention and Exhibition Center”–a deluxe Patrick administration venture that the Baker administration has canned.

Mr. Dempsey was having a field day, saying, “Boston 2024 is not going to fix the T…In London and Vancouver the Olympics Village financing was from public funds…Olympics budgets are guaranteed by taxpayers…The more you learn about 2024 Olympics, the less you like it.” Ben Franco spoke for the Board of Selectmen, simply stating that the board “urges favorable action” on Article 19.

Speaking for the Advisory Committee, Amy Hummel of Precinct 12 said that “the money and resources spent would benefit the Olympics shadow.” The current plans have “no real public accountability,” she contended, and “Brookline will be heavily impacted…The biggest concern [of the Advisory Committee] is the taxpayer guarantee…Lack of public process is unacceptable.”

Olympics boosters did have some friends. Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, advised caution, saying, “Who knows what will happen in Boston? We don’t have to make this decision now.” Susan Granoff of Precinct 7, attending her first town meeting, said, “Let’s give Boston 2024 more time.” The Olympics, she contended, “would create thousands of jobs and bring billions of dollars…It’s private money being donated.”

Most town meeting members were not convinced by such claims. They approved the resolution in an electronically recorded vote, 111 to 46, with 7 abstentions. Katherine Seelye’s story in the New York Times on Saturday, May 30, may have deep-sixed the Olympics plans. She included the Business Journal disclosures and cited the Brookline town-meeting resolution.

Other actions: Under Article 9, town meeting voted no action on a proposal to make holders of state and federal offices living in Brookline automatic town meeting members. After encountering opposition, Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, offered a “no action” motion on the article that he and other petitioners had submitted.

Article 17 proposed a resolution seeking changes to Sections 20-23 of Chapter 40B, the Comprehensive Permit Act of 1969 that was encouraged by the late Cardinal Cushing. Nancy Heller, the principal petitioner, now a member of the Board of Selectmen, had not seemed to recognize the complexity of the issues and soon agreed to refer the article to the Planning Board and Housing Advisory Board. That was the course taken by town meeting.

Under Article 11, town meeting voted to create a Crowninshield local historic district, on petition from the owners of about 85 percent of the houses on Crowninshield Rd., Adams St., Elba St. and Copley St. Speaking in favor were David King, chair of the Preservation Commission, Robert Miller, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, George White, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, John Sherman and Katherine Poverman, both residents of Adams St., Angela Hyatt of Precinct 5 for the Advisory Committee and Nancy Daly for the Board of Selectmen.

Dr. White recalled that the neighborhood had been home to well-known writers and artists. He mentioned novelist and short-story writer Edith Pearlman, an Elba St. resident for many years, and after a little prompting the novelist Saul Bellow, winner of a Nobel Prize in literature, who lived on Crowninshield Rd. in his later years. Only Clifford Ananian, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, took exception. He said preserving “single-family homes is a waste of a valuable resource,” although he lives in one of those homes. Despite the objection, the town meeting vote to create the district proved unanimous.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 30, 2015


Katherine Q. Seelye, Details uncovered in Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid may put it in jeopardy, New York Times, May 30, 2015

BBJ staff, Boston 2024 report highlights need for public funding, expanded BCEC, Boston Business Journal, May 28, 2015

Matt Stout, Gov. Baker puts brakes on $1 billion convention center plan, Boston Herald, April 29, 2015

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

Age-Friendly Cities: health fair, outreach, snow and parks, Brookline Beacon, May 25, 2015

Board of Selectmen: police awards, paying for snow, Brookline Beacon, May 20, 2015

Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership, Brookline Beacon, May 13, 2015

Craig Bolon, How we voted, costs of business, Brookline Beacon, May 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, Field of dreams: a Coolidge Corner parking garage, Brookline Beacon, May 4, 2015

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy, Brookline Beacon, April 22, 2015

Board of Selectmen: farmers’ market, promotions, golf and town meeting, Brookline Beacon, April 29, 2015

Advisory Committee: budgets, bylaws and lectures, Brookline Beacon, April 14, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on human services: tap water and bottled water, Brookline Beacon, April 12, 2015

Advisory Committee: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation: new historic district, Brookline Beacon, March 31, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 19, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

Solid Waste Advisory Committee: recycling and trash metering, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2014

2014 annual town meeting recap: fine points, Brookline Beacon, June 7, 2014

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

Age-Friendly Cities: health fair, outreach, snow and parks

A regular meeting of the Age-Friendly Cities Committee on Wednesday, May 20, started at 10:00 am in the fourth-floor conference room at Town Hall, with just over half the members on hand, joined by a few visitors. There have been three recent resignations, leaving seats open for new volunteers. The committee made Brookline the first New England community to become part of a U.N. World Health Organization network, in 2012.

Health fair: Nancy Daly, a member of the Board of Selectmen who co-chairs the committee with sociologist Frank Caro, reviewed the recent Senior Expo Health Fair, conducted at the Brookline Senior Center Thursday, May 14. Dennis Selkoe, a neurologist practicing at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, spoke about warning signs for Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Selkoe is the husband of Polly Selkoe, Brookline’s assistant director for regulatory planning.

Ms. Daly characterized the Alzheimer’s talk as a “down-to-earth style,” describing how to recognize signs of memory problems. A presentation on nutrition had been harder to follow, she said, with several descriptions of laboratory studies using mice. Members of the Police Department and Fire Department, who came to discuss emergency responses, “got stuck in the back,” according to Ms. Daly.

Outreach: Henry Winkelman, a committee member, described the panel discussion he recently helped to produce as a Brookline Interactive Group video. It features Ms. Daly, Dr. Caro and committee member Matthew Weiss, describing the committee’s missions. As Mr. Weiss put it, early in the panel discussion, “Why would an older person want to live in a retirement community, when a person can live in Brookline?”

The 28-minute video is available to the public at any time of day on the Web, from Brookline Interactive. It mentions recent Brookline efforts focused on health, safety, housing and transportation. Nearly all the discussion concerns needs of older adults, but on sidewalk snow clearance Mr. Weiss remarked, “What older adults want is what everybody needs and [doesn't] necessarily ask for.”

Dr. Caro observed, “When people get older, they’re willing to take a look at some very basic things we tend to take for granted…When we’re younger, we’re athletic enough so that we can compensate for…bumps in the road.” Participants seemed to see practical challenges. However, Dr. Caro mentioned one effort to begin soon, a senior transportation program “in collaboration with Newton.”

This video did not touch on any of the environmental issues that have gathered force in town meeting over the past several years, although Dr. Caro, formerly a Precinct 8 town meeting member and now a Precinct 10 town meeting member, has contributed to some of them. According to Mr. Weiss, the next video in the series, expected in early summer, will focus on Brookline’s parks and its recreation services.

Snow, sidewalks, streets and parks: As indicated in the recent video, snow clearance from sidewalks continues as a perennial concern for the committee. Members discussed Article 12 pending for the annual town meeting that starts Tuesday, May 26. Recently, the Board of Selectmen has backed away from some enforcement provisions of the bylaw changes they proposed, but Tommy Vitolo, a young Precinct 6 town meeting member, has offered amendments to revive those changes.

The discussion veered toward other street and sidewalk issues. Dr. Caro spoke about “some sidewalks that need repairs” and about “hazardous intersections.” Another committee member was concerned about involving the Transportation Board, saying it was an “invitation to alienation…Citizens…think that it’s hopeless to get something done there.”

Toward the close of the meeting, Dr. Caro described an “initiative with parks…a brochure on age-friendly features,” mentioning the Minot Rose Garden, Hall’s Pond, Freeman Square, the Brookline Reservoir, the Olmsted bicycle path and the new Fisher Hill Park. Saralynn Allaire, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, spoke about an effort to make the Putterham Library garden “ADA-compliant,” meaning accessible to people who use wheelchairs.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 25, 2015


Board of Selectmen: police awards, paying for snow, Brookline Beacon, May 20, 2015

Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership, Brookline Beacon, May 13, 2015

Board of Selectmen: new 40B project, town meeting reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 30, 2015

Matthew Weiss, Frank Caro and Nancy Daly, Age-Friendly Cities Committee background and missions, Brookline Age-Friendly Cities Committee, April 23, 2015 (28-minute video)

Matthew Weiss, First annual progress report of Brookline Age-Friendly Cities initiative, Brookline Age-Friendly Cities Committee, February, 2014

Frank Caro, Nancy Daly and Ruthann Dobek, Narrative supporting Brookline’s application for participation in the World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Cities Program, Brookline Age-Friendly Cities Committee, November, 2012 (1 MB)

Transportation: good intents, cloudy results and taxi rules

If you’re curious to see what suburban-oriented government looked like in the 1950s and before, visit the Transportation Board–where it can sometimes seem as though antique outlooks have been preserved in amber. Within the past week–at public meetings of two of the town’s many other boards, commissions, committees and councils–some members complained openly about unresponsive behavior. Complainers even included a member of the Board of Selectmen, which appoints members of the Transportation Board.

Launching a board: Oddly enough, the Transportation Board had been launched as a reform against arrogance, or so some people said at the time. Since the emergence of motor vehicles in the early twentieth century, Brookline struggled with regulation. Under Chapter 40, Section 22, of the General Laws, town meetings may enact bylaws and boards of selectmen may adopt “rules and orders” concerning traffic and parking.

The workload of regulating motor vehicles soon became too much for the Board of Selectmen in Brookline. During the 1920s, it delegated work to a Traffic Committee consisting of four department heads and the chairs of the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board. A surge in automobiles after World War II challenged that approach.

A 1968 town meeting scrapped the Traffic Committee and a later commission, seeking so-called “home rule” legislation to create a Department of Traffic and Parking, headed by a full-time director, and a volunteer Traffic Appeals Board. That approach also failed. A wave of neighborhood protests over traffic and parking grew stronger, fueled with accusations of arrogant behavior by the full-time “traffic czar.”

The fall town meeting of 1973 again petitioned for legislation: this time to create a Transportation Department–more recently the Transportation Division in the Department of Public Works–and a volunteer Transportation Board. So far, the arrangements under a 1974 law have held. Under that law, the Board of Selectmen acts as an appeals board, and appeals have been rare. One could be coming soon, though.

Building a peninsula: The intersection where Buckminster and Clinton Rds. join just west of the High School has often been seen as a safety issue. Drivers may careen through without seeming to look and sometimes without stopping at the single stop sign, found when coming into the intersection from Clinton Rd. Heading the other way, downhill on Clinton Rd., drivers can easily exceed the posted 30 mph speed limit.

One classic method to slow the speeds is a traffic island, making drivers dodge around. More modern, so-called “traffic calming” might use a raised intersection, “speed bumps” or “curb bulbs.” Apparently, none had looked to Brookline’s current engineers like the right approach. Instead, they had sold the Transportation Board a giant peninsula, blooming out the sidewalk from the northeast sides of Clinton and Buckminster Rds. at the junction. Daniel Martin, a Brookline engineer, called it a “curb extension”–clearly a highly extensible phrase.

Of course, any change to a residential street is also a change to someone’s home. The home nearest the giant peninsula is 79 Buckminster Rd. Its owners are not pleased, to say the least. From their viewpoint, the huge peninsula would leave their lot “landlocked” without street frontage. It might work technically only because they now have a garage beneath the back of the house, reached by a driveway shared with their neighbors at 3 Clinton Rd. Were they to install a conventional driveway, somehow it would have to invade the peninsula.

Good intents, cloudy results: As the rehearing on the peninsula plan Thursday, May 21, went on for more than an hour and a half, neighbors recalled street changes with bad side-effects. In a winter with heavy snow like the last one, parts of streets narrowed to calm traffic became dangerous or impassible. Judy Meyers, a Precinct 12 town meeting member who lives downhill at 75 Clinton Rd., said she was “very sympathetic” to the owners of 79 Buckminster. However, “Clinton Rd. has been a speedway…[and] I don’t love speed bumps.”

Compared with alternatives, the peninsula plan looks like costly efforts invested for cloudy results. Several years ago, similarly costly measures on Winchester St. slowed speeding only within around a hundred feet from obstacles. Unless something more is done, Ms. Meyers, who lives quite a bit farther than that from the intersection at issue, is not likely to see much improvement.

In the past, Transportation sometimes waxed less bureaucratic and became more effective. Instead of seeing roadblocks in its path–claiming you can’t do this and you can’t do that–it did the impossible anyway. In North Brookline, an alert observer can find 25 mph posted speed limits and intersections with stop signs on the wider street rather than the narrower one. Those were inexpensive, practical solutions to vexing problems.

On May 21, however, certifiable experts certified nothing more could be done, and the vote went 2 to 4 against reconsidering the peninsula plan. Only board members Ali Tali and Pamela Zelnick voted in favor. At other places and in other times, such events became subjects of land damage lawsuits, but Brookline offers a further course: administrative appeal.

If the owners of 79 Buckminster Rd. carry an appeal, they will be dealing with the Board of Selectmen. Its newly chosen chair, Neil Wishinsky, recently told another group, “My political thinking is to stay away from parking.” For much of the last 90 years, Mr. Wishinsky would have found kindred spirits on his board, but now such duties come with the job.

Taxi rules: After negotiations with taxi owners, Todd Kirrane, Brookline’s transportation administrator, brought in a substantially revised draft of new rules. The changes tend to lower the added costs to taxi companies but will also provide lower standards of service. A key point of dispute has been new requirements for vehicles with ramps for people who use wheelchairs.

The revised draft has vague and inconsistent language. In some places, it speaks of “ramped taxicabs,” saying they might also provide a “lift.” In others, it refers to “WAV taxicabs”–never defining that but apparently meaning “wheelchair-accessible vehicle.” It’s unclear whether a “ramped taxicab” will necessarily be a “WAV taxicab” or vice-versa. Possibly the regulations did not undergo legal reviews.

As first proposed, the rules required one “ramped taxicab” for every ten licensed vehicles. Operators objected to the extra costs, some saying they got no requests for such vehicles in as much as ten years and probably would never get any. Members of the Commission for the Disabled have called that a self-fulfilling prophecy, since word had gotten around that there were no such Brookline taxis.

Mr. Kirrane stated that Boston now has a standard of one “WAV taxicab” for every 18 licensed vehicles. In Brookline, the revised draft called for one “ramped taxicab” for every 25 licensed vehicles. Saralynn Allaire, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and a member of the Commission for the Disabled, asked how the rule would be implemented. Mr. Kirrane said the rule would come into effect July 1 of next year and would not apply to a company with fewer than 25 licensed vehicles.

The board reviewed a perennial controversy: a limit on the number of licensed taxis. At least two members of the board–Joshua Safer, the chair, and Ali Tali–seemed to favor what one called a “market system,” with no limit. The revised draft proposed a limit of two licensed taxis per 1,000 Brookline residents. Brookline’s population map, based on the 2010 federal census, shows 58,732 residents–indicating 117 taxi licenses.

Board member Christopher Dempsey criticized the limit, saying it was “picked out of the air” and that “a population metric is not a very effective one.” He offered no other approach. His motion to strike the metric failed on a 1-4-1 vote, with board member Scott Englander abstaining. The board adopted the revised taxi rules, effective July 1, by a unanimous vote. After the meeting, Joe Bethoney, owner of Bay State Taxi, Brookline’s largest company, confirmed that he planned to continue in business under the new rules.

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


Complete Streets: seeking better sidewalks and bicycle paths, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Changing the rules: new taxi regulations, Brookline Beacon, April 6, 2015

Craig Bolon, Brookline government: public information and the committee forest, Brookline Beacon, August 1, 2014

David J. Barron, Gerald E. Frug and Rick T. Su, Dispelling the myth of home rule, Rappaport Institute (Cambridge, MA), 2003

Craig Bolon, Vehicle parking in Brookline, Brookline Town Meeting Members Association, 2000

Board of Selectmen: police awards, paying for snow

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 19, started at 6:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Members of the police force came with families and friends for the annual presentation of awards. The board approved plans to cover large budget overruns for snow clearance from last winter.

Several board members had visited Public Works exhibits earlier in the day, at what has become the department’s annual “open house” mounted at the Municipal Service Center, 870 Hammond St. Among the more popular items was a giant “snow eater” machine that had marched around some of the most clogged streets last winter, tossing tall heaps of snow into dump trucks.

Police awards: Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, presented awards to several members of the force and introduced them to the board and the public. As he explained, those honored by Brookline had been nominated by fellow members of the department, following an approach Mr. O’Leary introduced several years ago.

Police Officer of the Year is David Wagner of the Detective Division. According to Mr. O’Leary, he has been a source of morale in the department–mentoring younger members of the force and taking on special patrol duties while maintaining the evidence archives as his main job. Detective Wagner and Sergeant Russell O’Neill received commendations for exceptional service, the fifth for each of them.

Andrew Lipson, recently promoted a deputy superintendent heading the Patrol Division, was awarded a medal of valor. According to the chief, while investigating a complaint he had been attacked by a suspect armed with a knife. He disabled the suspect with a shot from his service pistol–a rare instance of the use of arms in the Brookline department. The suspect was given first aid and was taken into custody. Mr. Lipson also received a commendation for another incident, his twentieth. According to the chief, that is the most received by a member of the force.

Mr. O’Leary introduced Julie McDonnell of the Detective Division. She had been honored on May 15 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Massachusetts. After starting an investigation in 2013, she broke a sex-trafficking racket based in the Boston area and in Rhode Island, freeing two juveniles who were being advertised for prostitution by a Boston street gang.

Personnel, contracts and finances: The board appointed Nathan Peck a member of the Building Commission and appointed David Pollack, Mary Ellen Dunn, Roberta Winitzer and Arden Reamer to the Devotion School Building Committee, filling vacancies. Mr. Pollack is a member of the School Committee and former member of the Building Commission. Ms. Dunn is the incoming Deputy Superintendent for Administration and Finance at Public Schools of Brookline. Ms. Winizer is a former member of the Board of Library Trustees.

Patrick Dober, director of the Brookline Housing Authority, asked for waivers of inspection fees. He said the authority expects to complete a new development at 86 Dummer St. by the end of the year. The authority wants to free up funds to support its service programs. The board agreed.

Stephen Cirillo, the town’s finance director, asked for approval of an agreement for payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for the Dummer St. project, which is partly owned by a private party. He said payments would start at about $0.012 million and rise to about $0.025 million in the second year. Mr. Cirillo also asked for approval of a PILOT agreement with Children’s Hospital for a house at 132 Carlton St., formerly owned by B.U., that is to become a family inn for patients. The board approved both agreements. Mr. Cirillo also got hiring approval to replace an office assistant who is retiring.

Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, presented a plan to pay large budget overruns for snow clearance from last winter. The board approved transfers totaling $0.34 million among Public Works accounts and requested a $1.4 million reserve fund transfer, approved by the Advisory Committee the same evening. Other funds are proposed under an article to be heard by the annual town meeting starting May 26.

Management and town meeting issues: The board had held open its position on Article 7, budget amendments, pending Ms. Goff’s reviews. They voted to recommend applying $1.1 million from overlay surplus against the snow removal deficit, leaving about $0.4 million to be made up. Ms. Goff anticipates that a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover that difference.

For the fourth time, board members again considered a recommendation on the Article 9, filed by Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, and other petitioners. It asked to make holders of state and federal offices living in Brookline automatic town meeting members. Mr. Frey has encountered widespread opposition and asked the board to join the opposition and recommend no action on his article. Board members agreed.

Board members also reconsidered a recommendation on Article 12, changes to the snow removal bylaw, which had been filed in their names. Again they backed away, supporting an Advisory Committee position that gutted most of the original proposal, leaving relatively weak enforcement, modest fines and no administrative appeals.

On Article 14, proposing bans on bottled water, petitioners Jane Gilman, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, and Clinton Richmond, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, asked for support of a bylaw much reduced in scope. Now it would ban only spending town funds on water in one liter or smaller plastic bottles for use in offices. The Board of Selectmen agreed to recommend that approach.

Licenses and permits: Owners of Trader Joe’s in Coolidge Corner got approval for a change in the alcoholic beverage manager, now to be Micah O’Malley. Three restaurants were allowed new outdoor seating: Giggling Rice at 1009A Beacon St., Starbucks at 473 Harvard St. and Sunny Boy at 1632 Beacon St. The Starbucks location and Lee’s Burger of 1331 Beacon St. were allowed increases in indoor seating.

A new restaurant license was approved for Steve Liu of Malden, to be called WOW Barbecue at 320 Washington St., across from Town Hall. Mr. Liu, originally from Beijing, has run a Malden restaurant under the same name since June, 2014, and runs a food truck under that name around Chinatown in Boston, B.U. and Northeastern. The best known dish is traditional Chinese lamb skewers with cumin.

At the hearing, Mr. Liu did not hire a lawyer but represented himself along with Yi Peng, to be an alternate manager. In an unusually generous grant, the board approved a full liquor license for a new restaurant, along with live entertainment and closing hours of midnight weekdays and 1 am weekends. There was resistance from board member Ben Franco, who said that the “history of late closings has led to some problems,” but in the end Mr. Liu’s applications won unanimous approvals.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 20, 2015


Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership, Brookline Beacon, May 13, 2015

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

Board of Selectmen: farmers’ market, promotions, golf and town meeting, Brookline Beacon, April 29, 2015

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

Planning Department: a grand plan for Village Square on a diet

Grand plans of 2005 for a “boulevard” along the foot of Washington St. near Brookline Village faded. More recently, instead of Goody, Clancy–the high-prestige Boston architecture and planning firm–Brookline hired Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown–engineers and highway designers. Working at a very slow and mostly quiet pace, they planned a highway renovation for part of Route 9. The project has been coordinated by Public Works and Planning staff, particularly Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning.

Last Wednesday, May 13, Mr. Viola organized a public presentation and hearing on a highway renovation plan, starting at 7 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Neil Wishinsky, recently chosen as chair of the Board of Selectmen, presided over the hearing. No committee of Brookline residents has a role in this project. A committee for the so-called “Gateway East” boulevard project has been inactive since 2006. A committee for a so-called “Walnut St. and Juniper St. Relocation” project has been inactive since 2010.

Background: The foot of Washington St., bending toward Mission Hill in Boston, became the commercial heart of Brookline during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Worcester Turnpike, opened to Natick in 1810, started westward at the bend of Washington St. That road is now Boylston St., part of Massachusetts Route 9, which continues along the foot of Washington St. across the Jamaicaway to Huntington Ave. in Boston.

The Punch Bowl Tavern was Brookline’s best known landmark during the 1700s. It was located across the foot of Washington St. from today’s site of the Village Square fire station, built of brick and limestone in early twentieth century. The area nearby was often called Punch Bowl Village. The 1830s street connecting to Beacon St. through what is now Kenmore Square was originally Punch Bowl Rd. Now it is Brookline Ave.

A railroad courses beside the Village Square area, begun in 1853 as the Charles River Branch Railroad, later the Brookline Branch of the Boston & Albany and now the Riverside (D) branch of the MBTA Green Line. During the 1920s, the bustle of Village Square attracted the Brookline Savings Bank’s handsome new headquarters to the bend of Washington St. Aside from the fire station, that is the only historic building left on the square.

Village Square was almost totally lost to redevelopment, starting in the late 1950s. Patterning its efforts on destruction of the West End in Boston by the Hynes administration, the former Brookline Redevelopment Authority took property by eminent domain for the so-called “Farm Project,” evicted all the former residents and businesses, ripped out the streets and tore down everything south of Route 9 but the fire station.

On the north side of Route 9, the so-called “Marsh Project” ran at a slower pace, but it was about as ruthless. Now there can be no genuine Village Square “boulevard,” because there is no longer a genuine Village Square–an extinct neighborhood–to lend it character. Although Village Square doesn’t yet house a suburban strip mall, like Chestnut Hill, the swath of destruction left a bleak highway junction, being filled in by large-scale new development.

Village Square, from the former site of Brookline Savings Bank

VillageSquareFromBrooklineBank
Source: Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development

Bicycle bonanza: The first public presentation Mr. Viola scheduled, last December 3, attracted around 50 bicycle promoters from Brookline and Boston. They were nearly all seeking protected bicycle lanes, sometimes called “cycle tracks.” If Brookline’s commercial areas were to be prioritized by amounts of bicycle traffic, Village Square would probably rank low. Today it has little business and only a modest population density nearby. For all but a few Brookline residents, it is neither a destination nor a waypoint.

Instead, what Village Square has is money, thanks to persistent efforts currying state support for highway renovation. It also holds some future promise from the expected 2 Brookline Place development, but bicycle promoters were likely drawn to the project by the scent of money. State money was squandered when renovating Beacon St. a few years ago, installing lots of new paving but little else of community value. Because of neglectful design, a majority of Beacon St. remains unsuitable for even painted bicycle lanes.

The cost of protected bicycle lanes in built-out urban areas runs to as much as $5 million a mile. When installed during roadway renovation, parts of the work will be common to the renovation, and the incremental cost can be less. At the May 13 presentation, a representative of the Massachusetts transportation agency estimated a 7 percent increase in costs for the Village Square project.

Plans: As described by Beth Eisler, an engineer from Toole Design Group in Boston, plans for protected bicycle lanes at Village Square are limited to the foot of Washington St. between the intersection with High St. on the south side and the intersection with Brookline Ave. on the north side. Anything more will await some future project and funding.

The main roadway change is to move the end of Walnut St. eastward, aligning the intersection of Walnut St. on the south side of Washington St. with the intersection of Pearl St. on the north side. Protected bicycle lanes on both sides of the foot of Washington St. extend just two blocks, about one-seventh of a mile.

Design for protected bicycle lanes at Village Square

VillageSquareCycleTracks
Source: Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development

The proposed designs place bicycle lanes at sidewalk level toward the curbs–the approach used on Vassar St. in Cambridge. At the bus stop near Pearl St., the bicycle lane is to curve away from the street, skirting an island for people entering and leaving a bus. Bicycle lanes are to have a color, texture or both that differs from walkways. No bicycle lane materials, signs or signals were described.

Desires: The May 13 presentation and hearing drew an audience of about 35. Most speakers supported plans but asked for changes in designs. Eric from Jamaica Plain described himself as riding through Village Square frequently. He doubted the proposed designs would draw riders to the area, because of hazardous intersections. Placing a painted bicycle lane in the middle of Washington St., descending from the overpass above the Green Line, would be “terrifying to many,” he said. “People will ride on the sidewalk.”

Mark from Roslindale, speaking for the Boston Cyclists Union, had similar observations. Stacy Thompson, representing the Livable Streets Alliance in Cambridge, had “concerns about a two-stage Washington St. crossing” for pedestrians. The long delays, she said, would provoke jaywalking. Crossing “seven lanes is really intimidating across lower Washington St.”

Scott Englander, a Transportation Board member who co-chairs the Complete Streets Study Committee, said the designs had been “hamstrung by the 2006 planning effort…an obsolete planning philosophy.” They have “weak links at several points,” he said, some of which he described. Much more obvious barriers were created by the 1950s philosophy, turning Village Square into part of a highway complex rather than part of a village network. That is how the foot of Washington St. became seven traffic lanes instead of four.

George Cole, a member of the Building Commission who has also been a spokesperson for Children’s Hospital, the owner and developer of 2 Brookline Place, said the hospital “supports bicycles” and asked about the schedule. Tracy Wu, the project manager at the state transportation agency, said the schedule currently calls for completing designs in September, 2016, and performing construction between the spring and fall of 2017.

According to Jane Gilman, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, “we are a multi-modal society,” turning to “sustainable practices.” She asked about bicycle lane signals, pervious pavement and trees. For each item, Ms. Eisler of Toole Design Group said nothing had yet been planned. Laura Costella of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin stated there will be “a significant landscape component to this project…replacing existing elements at least six to one.”

Several speakers sought to extend the designs for protected bicycle lanes to other parts of the streets. Tommy Vitolo, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, argued for extending them along Walnut St. to High St. That should not be very costly, he argued, saying, “It’s all new anyway.” Like other Brookline speakers, however, Dr. Vitolo seemed to have little knowledge of actual costs for protected bicycle lanes.

Mr. Viola said the next step for the plans would be to present them to the Transportation Board. Todd Kirrane, the transportation director, indicated that might occur at a June meeting. Given the many responses from Toole Design Group and Vanasse Hangen Brustlin that elements were “not planned yet” or “we’ll look into it,” it was not at all clear that plans were ready for prime time.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 16, 2015


Toole Design Group (Boston, MA), Gateway East bicycle facilities, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, May 13, 2015

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, Costs for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure improvements, U.S. Federal Highway Administration, 2015

Complete Streets: seeking better sidewalks and bicycle paths, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: zoning permit for a registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, April 25, 2015

Planning Board: Brookline Place redevelopment, Brookline Beacon, January 23, 2015

Craig Bolon, Gateway East: an idea whose time has gone, Brookline Beacon, October 17, 2014

Craig Bolon, Brookline bicycle crashes: patterns and factors, Brookline Beacon, August 16, 2014

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

Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 12, started at 7:15 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. New members are Bernard Greene, formerly a Precinct 7 town meeting member, and Nancy Heller, formerly a Precinct 8 town meeting member. Both were members of the Advisory Committee until earlier this year. The board chose Neil Wishinsky as chair. He had been elected to the board in 2013.

With retirements of long-serving members Betsy DeWitt and Kenneth Goldstein, the board now has four members who are in their first terms of office. Only Nancy Daly, first elected in 2005, is now a long-serving member. All current board members have Advisory Committee experience, reviving a Brookline tradition. Ms. Heller was previously a member and chair of the School Committee.

Public comment: Pamela Lodish, a Precinct 14 town meeting member and a former member of the Advisory Committee and School Committee, offered public comment. This year, she placed third of five candidates for the Board of Selectman. Mystifying many, she had omitted taking a public stand on the tax override ballot question, surely the issue of the year in Brookline, in her town-wide campaign mailing. Ms. Heller and Mr. Greene had supported it, and they won.

After a “contentious” election, Ms. Lodish said, “getting the town back together…is not so simple…[it was] a divisive campaign…[it was] alienating 40 percent of the voters…a campaign fueled by rhetoric and scare factors.” In thinly veiled language, she called members of the Board of Selectmen to account for “lack of transparency…failed leadership…a manufactured crisis.”

The 40 percent Ms. Lodish mentioned clearly alluded to No votes on this year’s Question 1. That can be compared with Question 1A of 2008, a similar tax override. Both questions were actively promoted and vigorously opposed. The No votes went from 37 percent in 2008 to 38 percent this year. Ms. Lodish did not explain why she considered override efforts in 2015 at fault but apparently not those in 2008, when she wasn’t running for office.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Dennis DeWitt, an architectural historian who has been an alternate on the Preservation Commission, was appointed as a regular member. Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, got approval to keep Betsy DeWitt, who just retired from the Board of Selectmen, as a member of the Devotion School building subcommittee on selecting a construction manager at risk. Mr. Bennett also won waiver of permit fees, about $0.01 million, for the third floor of 62 Harvard St., where the town plans to site four classrooms to relieve crowding at nearby Pierce School. He estimated about $0.35 million in work.

The board interviewed Nathan Peck of Philbrick Rd. for the Building Commission. A position once held by David Pollack, now a member of the School Committee, has been vacant for some time. Mr. Peck, who trained in civil engineering, has built a career as a building project manager and is currently president of Kaplan Construction on Harvard St. He mentioned that his father-in-law, Kenneth Kaplan, had gotten him interested in serving on the commission, of which Mr. Kaplan has been a member since 2001.

Lisa Paradis, the recreation director, got approval to hire a replacement for a teacher in the early education program at Soule. Ruthann Dobeck, director for the Council on Aging, got approval to hire a replacement for her program’s van driver, based at the Senior Center.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval for two contracts with Mario Susi & Son of Dorchester for roadway paving, totaling $0.2 million. Susi was low bidder for a 3-year contract cycle and has worked for Brookline in the past. The board accepted a $0.01 million grant from the Dolphins swim team parent council for swimming pool improvements and a $0.01 million grant from the Brookline Community Foundation to fund summer day-camp scholarships.

Management and town meeting issues: Maria Morelli, a Brookline planner who has worked on the town’s responses to the Chapter 40B housing development proposed at Hancock Village, asked the board to send letters about the proposal to the state’s environmental agency and historical commission. They ask for reviews of potential adverse effects. She said that while the reviews could not block the proposal, they could result in “mitigation.” The board approved.

Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning, presented the fiscal 2016 Community Development Block Grant program and objectives. After several prior reviews, the $1.35 million program has been loaded with administration at $0.5 million. Otherwise it benefits public and assisted housing most, $0.5 million. Public services are budgeted at $0.2 million and improvements to the Brookline Ave. playground at $0.15 million. No one appeared for the board’s public hearing. Board members approved.

In the wake of the successful tax override ballot proposal, board members were probably relieved not to resume disputes with the Advisory Committee, which had voted to restore about $0.5 million in budget cuts from the “no-override” budget, without ever determining where that money would come from.

The board voted to agree with a recent Advisory recommendation to accept the “override” budget proposed by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, with two small changes. With those revisions, the Planning budget would go up $0.014 million, to give a preservation planner a full-time position, and $0.003 million would be added to the Public Works budget for pavement markings. Deductions would be taken against energy accounts.

The board postponed reconsiderations for Articles 9 and 12 at the annual town meeting that starts May 26, changes to the town-meeting membership and snow-removal bylaws. Mr. Kleckner said he had heard Article 9 might be “withdrawn,” although that is not possible under town meeting procedures. Petitioners led by Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, have been described as aiming to provide a town meeting seat for Deborah Goldberg, a former Precinct 14 town meeting member and now state treasurer. In similar past circumstances, there has occasionally been an agreement to offer no motion on an article.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 13, 2015


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

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

Board of Selectmen: farmers’ market, promotions, golf and town meeting, Brookline Beacon, April 29, 2015

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy, Brookline Beacon, April 22, 2015

Advisory Committee: budgets, bylaws and lectures, Brookline Beacon, April 14, 2015

Board of Selectmen: personnel, policies and budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, April 3, 2015

Board of Selectmen: projects and budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 20, 2015

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

Complete Streets: seeking better sidewalks and bicycle paths

A meeting of Brookline’s Complete Streets Study Committee on Monday, May 11, started at 7:10 pm in the first-floor north meeting room at Town Hall. All the current members except Thomas Vitolo were on hand for the first full review of a policy statement.

Background: The somewhat vague phrase “complete streets” was adopted in 2005 by an eponymous coalition–mostly planners and architects–promoting facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit riders as effective as those for motorists. The national coalition since found some institutional housing inside a group called Smart Growth America based in Washington, DC.

Smart Growth America does not disclose its form of organization, finances or commercial sources of support. It offers consulting services for “policy development,” for “coalition building” and for organizing “specific populations: older adults, children, low-income, people with disabilities.” In Massachusetts, it lists as apparently dues-paying members the Conservation Law Foundation, Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance and Metropolitan Area Planning Council but not any individuals, businesses or trade groups.

Legislation:For the 2013 and 2014 sessions of the General Court, state Sen. Harriette L. Chandler of Worcester, a member of rules, ethics and housing committees recently named majority leader, sponsored S.68, “An act relative to active streets and healthy communities.” It sought to create a “complete streets program” in Massachusetts. Then-Rep. Jason M. Lewis of Winchester sponsored H.3091, a companion bill.

The Massachusetts Public Health Association took a lead role in promoting the bills. Health research had shown for years that people who regularly walk or bicycle enjoy significant health benefits. It was joined by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and by advocacy groups representing bicyclists and pedestrians.

Sen. Chandler’s bill defined “complete streets” to mean “streets that provide accommodations for users of all transportation modes, including but not limited to walking, cycling, public transportation, automobiles and freight.” S.68 died in the Ways and Means Committee, but Sen. Chandler prevailed on March 6, 2014, with a floor amendment to the transportation finance bill, then S.2023.

The S.2023 bill was carried into H.4046 and enacted April 18 as C. 79 of the Acts of 2014. That created Chapter 90I of the General Laws, “Complete streets program.” Its definitions are the same as those in Sen. Chandler’s original bill. The April 18, 2014, law provided $5.5 million in earmarked funds and $50 million in competitive grant funds.

Progress: On May 8, 2014, Mayor Curtatone and the Somerville Board of Aldermen enacted the first municipal Complete Streets program in the state. Other communities–including Framingham, Hudson and Newburyport–had adopted executive policies earlier. Since 2011, the Massachusetts Municipal Association has offered a model policy for such uses to its member communities, which include Brookline.

At least 20 Massachusetts communities have now enacted Complete Streets programs, following Somerville’s lead, and many others have adopted executive policies. A policy need not be complex. For example, last September the Transportation Commission for the City of Waltham adopted a policy consisting of only 207 words that fits on half a sheet of paper.

Brookline activity: In Brookline, a Complete Streets effort has been led by Scott Englander, a mechanical and energy engineer and a member of the Transportation Board. The approach he developed was to set up a committee to consider and propose a Complete Streets policy to a future town meeting. Implementation of the policy would be carried out mainly by the Transportation Board and Department.

The Board of Selectmen approved a charge to a new Complete Streets Study Committee on September 30, 2014, and appointed members of the committee on December 17. Board member Neil Wishinsky became liaison to the committee, and he and Mr. Englander serve as co-chairs.

In a few places, the committee has been called a “task force,” but unlike a typical task force it includes no members of town staff, and it has duties that continue beyond developing a policy. Those include confirming a baseline inventory of pedestrian and bicycle facilities, developing procedures for town projects involving streets and reviewing town standards for private development.

Policy proposal: At the Monday meeting, members reviewed a draft apparently prepared by Mr. Englander along with at least committee members Mitch Heineman and John Bowman. Several other members were said to have made changes through comments. The draft had been conveyed to the Board of Selectmen on March 31. Paper copies were available at the Monday meeting, but the document has not yet appeared on the municipal Web site.

In contrast to the 207-word Waltham policy, the Brookline draft was, as of Monday, five pages of single-spaced fine print, probably around 3,000 words. Committee members went through its six sections, one by one. The flavor might be suggested by one of the nine proposed “design guidance” elements from Section 4 (as numbered on May 11).

“B. Pedestrian requirements must be fully considered in the design of intersections, including taking into consideration the following concerns: crossings and pedestrian curb-cut ramp locations, minimizing curb radius at corners (or equivalent design to slow turning vehicles at intersections), walking speed, pedestrian flow capacity, crossing wait times, vehicle speeds, traffic control and yielding.”

Along with several other ideas, Waltham includes that idea in a short sentence: “All project proposals [must] make the existing street network safer and better for all motorists, transit users, bicyclists and pedestrians, regardless of age or abilities.”

The strongest dispute heard at the meeting concerned whether Brookline’s policy should include more specifics for implementation. Committee member Linda Olson Pehlke said it should. “If we don’t lay out a vision of how it can be implemented,” she said, there’s “no motivation to put it into practice.” Member Seth Rubin said, while he wanted “to have some stronger statements…the more specific stuff you put in, the more targets [there are for town meeting members] to shoot down.”

Mr. Wishinsky, representing the Board of Selectmen, observed, “My political thinking is to stay away from parking.” As to the many directives and prescriptions in the draft, he said that the “document needs to recognize some realities…each one of those things is quite an involved task.” The committee is to send comments to Mr. Englander and meet again in a week.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 12, 2015


Technical assistance for communities putting prevention to work, National Complete Streets Coalition, 2014

Advance health equity through transportation policy, Massachusetts Public Health Association, 2014

Fact sheet: An act relative to active streets and healthy communities, Massachusetts Public Health Association, 2013

Acts of 2014, C. 79, An act financing improvements to the Commonwealth’s transportation systems: in S. 2A $50,000,000 for grants under the C. 90I complete streets program

First Complete Streets ordinance in Massachusetts, City of Somerville, May 19, 2014

Complete Streets Policy, City of Waltham Transportation Commission, September 18, 2014

How we voted, costs of business

On Tuesday, May 5, we Brookline voters approved a major tax override, mainly to support our public schools, and we also approved a major school renovation and expansion project. Some had thought higher or lower voter turnout might mean better or worse chances for the override, but the results did not shape up that way.

HowWeVoted2015

How we voted
When the percentages who voted Yes are charted against voter turnouts, by precincts, there are no clear patterns. Statistical regression finds standard probabilities of 70 percent or more association by chance–insignificant patterns by usual standards. However, when the percentages who voted Yes for the Devotion School project are charted against the percentages who voted Yes for the tax override, a strong pattern appears. Statistical regression finds standard probability of less than 0.01 percent association by chance–highly significant.

The results show no linkages between voter turnouts and votes on the ballot questions. Strong linkage between the results from the two questions tends to indicate issue-oriented voting: specifically, voters favoring funding for public schools through property taxes–or not. Overall, at least 60 percent of Brookline voters appear to favor funding schools, even when facing the third-highest override to be approved in Massachusetts during our 34 years with Proposition 2-1/2 limits.

The chart comparing results for the two questions also shows precincts falling into three clusters. Four of them–Precincts 2, 6, 8 and 9–appear at the high end of support for school funding. One of them, Precinct 15, shows a much lower level of support. The other precincts are in a middle group, supporting the tax override by about 60 percent and the Devotion School project by about 80 percent. Precincts 2, 8 and 9 are North Brookline neighborhoods, essentially the Devotion School district. Precinct 6 is well south of Beacon St., clustered around the High School.

Costs of business: marijuana dispensaries
Marijuana dispensaries that mean to make money and stay in business will need to divide their enterprises, as New England Treatment Access (NETA) plans, between retail and production. Jack Healy recently wrote in the New York Times that federal tax laws treat marijuana production and wholesale as ordinary businesses, factoring expenses against revenue. Marijuana retailers are treated like burglars, who cannot legally deduct the costs of getaway cars against the fruits of theft, on federal tax filings.

While burglars probably rarely report undercover incomes and expenses, registered medical marijuana dispensaries are more likely to want to behave like good citizens. They need coping strategies. An obvious one–not reported by Mr. Healy–is to load expenses and incomes onto production and wholesale and to minimize retail operations for tax purposes. That might be possible for a vertically integrated business like NETA, when it might not be for a thinly capitalized retail shop.

At a public meeting in Brookline, NETA representatives said that over three-quarters of their costs of business are expected to be in production. That suggests they have already given the tax situation careful study and might be back-loading their business model. It is not against the law to organize financial affairs so as to reduce taxes. Their local transactions might, for example, be divided into fairly low prices and fairly high fees–routed to the production business. In such a way, high costs NETA claims for production might be offset by high revenues passing from consumer to manufacturer.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 10, 2015


Ballot question results, Brookline town election, 2015

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

Zoning Board of Appeals: zoning permit for a registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, April 25, 2015

Licensing Review Committee: registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, January 29, 2015

Jack Healy, Legal marijuana faces another federal hurdle: taxes, New York Times, May 10, 2015

Town elections: tax override for schools passes

At today’s town elections, Tuesday, May 5, Brookline voters approved both ballot questions: a $7.665 million per year tax override, above amounts allowed by the statewide Proposition 2-1/2 budget law, and a debt exclusion for funds to renovate and expand Devotion School, a project currently expected to cost about $120 million.

Support for the ballot questions proved strong across Brookline. The Devotion School question won in every precinct, and the tax override won in every precinct except 15. Voters also tended to favor candidates known to support a Yes vote on the tax override, intended primarily to benefit Brookline schools. The override is the third largest to be approved in state history.

Town-wide offices: Nancy S. Heller and Bernard W. Greene won three-year terms as members of the Board of Selectmen over Pamela C. Lodish, MK Merelice and Laurence M. Odie. Mr. Greene became the first African-American elected to Brookline’s municipal managing board. Candidate rankings were uniform across town, except that candidates did somewhat better in their home precincts and Ms. Lodish stood out in high-income Precincts 13, 14 and 15–where opponents of the tax override concentrated.

The Board of Selectmen hires the town administrator, currently Mel Kleckner, and appoints the members of most local boards, commissions, committees and councils–except the School Committee and Housing Authority board, which are elected, and the Advisory Committee and Committee on Town Organization and Structure, which are appointed by the moderator. There are more than 70 such appointed, volunteer groups–of which about 15 meet fairly often and supervise or advise on municipal services.

Barbara C. Scotto, Pen-Hau Ben Chang and Elizabeth Jackson Stram won three-year terms as members of the School Committee over Sandra L. Stotsky. Ms. Scotto and Mr. Chang were candidates for re-election. This committee hires the school superintendent, currently William Lupini. From 1939 through 1980, the School Committee was effectively a taxing authority. If an annual town meeting did not appropriate the full amount it requested for school services, any ten taxpayers could bring suit in a state court and compel the town to pay the difference. Massachusetts school committees lost taxing authority with Proposition 2-1/2.

There were no contests for three town-wide offices. Incumbent Patrick J. Ward got another three years as town clerk, now the only salaried office filled by election. Incumbent Edward (Sandy) Gadsby got another three years as the moderator of town meeting, and incumbent Barbara B. Dugan got another five years as a member of the Housing Authority board. Four incumbent members of the Board of Library Trustees got new, three-year terms, competing only to see who would receive the most votes. Brookine no longer elects a treasurer or members of the Walnut Hills Cemetery board, as it did only 30 years ago. Other elected offices disappeared in reforms of the 1950s and 1960s.

Town meeting: Voters elected one-third of the town meeting members by precincts, for regular terms of three years, and they filled a few town meeting seats left from vacancies, all for terms of one year. After operating with open town meetings since 1705, attended by the voters, in 1916 Brookline became the first Massachusetts town to elect town meeting members, modeling its approach after Newport, RI (now a city). In 1972, Brookline changed from 12 to 16 precincts. Each of those precincts has 15 elected members of town meeting, whose sole duties are to attend town meeting sessions and represent the voters of their precincts.

Several candidates who had filed nominations for town meeting member this year withdrew, leaving competition in only Precincts 1, 4, 5, 6 and 12. Each of these had six candidates for five terms of three years. No one filed a nomination for a 1-year term in Precinct 14; it was won by a write-in candidate. Out of 87 total candidates who filed nominations for town meeting member with the town clerk, and did not later withdraw them, 82 were elected this year.

In precinct 1, Peter J. Ames lost again after eight tries. In Precinct 4, Sarah T. Boehs won on her second try. In Precinct 5, Betsy DeWitt, retiring as a member of the Board of Selectmen, lost to the five incumbents. In Precinct 6, new candidate Daniel G. Saltzman replaced incumbent Ian Polumbaum. In Precinct 12, former town meeting member A. Joseph Ross lost to the five incumbents.

Yard signs, telephoning and mailings were strong elements in this year’s campaigns. In contrast to past years, canvassing and poll-standing for candidates were mostly confined to precincts with town-meeting competition, There was little presence in Coolidge Corner or in other commercial districts, not much leafletting and little voter contact at Green Line stops and markets.

–Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 5, 2015


Preliminary 2015 Town Election Results

Source: Brookline Town Clerk’s Office, May 5, 2015

  Question 1   Question 2    
Ballot Questions Tax override Devotion debt excl.  
  Yes No Yes No  
Town-wide 6308 3956 8173 1947  
Precinct 1 317 220 434 97  
Precinct 2 246 112 307 50  
Precinct 3 381 245 516 106  
Precinct 4 335 192 411 106  
Precinct 5 525 271 629 139  
Precinct 6 630 226 726 123  
Precinct 7 324 225 424 108  
Precinct 8 484 208 593 94  
Precinct 9 423 183 517 91  
Precinct 10 301 181 391 89  
Precinct 11 405 213 486 127  
Precinct 12 492 307 639 146  
Precinct 13 381 336 544 163  
Precinct 14 363 314 502 160  
Precinct 15 260 387 447 178  
Precinct 16 441 336 597 170  
           
  Nancy Bernard Pamela MK Laurence
Board of Selectmen Heller Greene Lodish Merelice Onie
Town-wide 5385 4867 3163 1677 624
Precinct 1 266 242 195 72 35
Precinct 2 215 187 86 53 22
Precinct 3 352 341 149 93 52
Precinct 4 280 254 114 123 32
Precinct 5 408 366 235 193 37
Precinct 6 497 392 194 249 39
Precinct 7 300 306 122 83 36
Precinct 8 473 362 122 91 29
Precinct 9 403 353 124 96 29
Precinct 10 253 260 142 70 36
Precinct 11 304 303 206 113 42
Precinct 12 440 389 276 104 53
Precinct 13 327 284 316 88 44
Precinct 14 267 280 306 75 52
Precinct 15 220 193 312 78 46
Precinct 16 380 355 264 96 40
           
  Barbara PH Ben Elizabeth Sandra  
School Committee Scotto Chang Stram Stotsky  
Town-wide 5620 5347 4944 3209  
Precinct 1 278 292 266 165  
Precinct 2 226 207 191 88  
Precinct 3 365 349 341 175  
Precinct 4 271 267 241- 137  
Precinct 5 442 388 367 225  
Precinct 6 462 448 410 272  
Precinct 7 298 293 270 167  
Precinct 8 433 388 402 130  
Precinct 9 377 362 379 158  
Precinct 10 288 276 233 154  
Precinct 11 397 337 328 192  
Precinct 12 439 450 395 283  
Precinct 13 348 339 295 279  
Precinct 14 315 317 274 258  
Precinct 15 275 242 205 273  
Precinct 16 406 392 347 253  
           
  Carol Regina Vivien Carol  
Library Trustees Axelrod Healy Goldman Lohe  
Town-wide 5674 5270 5266 5171  
Precinct 1 299 274 267 266  
Precinct 2 204 194 200 189  
Precinct 3 350 330 328 322  
Precinct 4 303 262 268 247  
Precinct 5 449 417 403 416  
Precinct 6 493 471 471 468  
Precinct 7 320 300 300 288  
Precinct 8 370 354 354 351  
Precinct 9 358 323 331 321  
Precinct 10 277 263 262 245  
Precinct 11 358 349 344 350  
Precinct 12 457 390 383 389  
Precinct 13 367 337 333 362  
Precinct 14 355 320 323 310  
Precinct 15 308 301 293 283  
Precinct 16 406 385 406 364  
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 1          
Cathleen C. Cavell 3 years 364      
Sean M. Lynn-Jones 3 years 347      
Neil R. Gordon- 3 years 333      
Carol B. Hillman 3 years 333      
Elijah Ercolino 3 years 308      
Peter J. Ames 3 years 120      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 2          
Linda Olson Pehlke 3 years 199      
Eunice White 3 years 198      
Barbara A. O’Brien 3 years 197      
Livia Schacter-Kahl 3 years 178      
Susan M. Roberts 3 years 169      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 3          
Dennis L. Doughty 3 years 381      
Jane C. Gilman 3 years 379      
David M. Aronson 3 years 363      
Donald Gene Leka 3 years 335      
Laurence Kragen Koff 3 years 287      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 4          
Sarah T. Axelrod 3 years 297      
John T. Mulhane 3 years 291      
Martha A. Farlow 3 years 267      
Frank W. Farlow 3 years 256      
Sarah T. Boehs 3 years 246      
Jeremy Michael Shaw 3 years 159      
Alan Christ 1 year 315      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 5          
William E. Reyelt 3 years 463      
Robert S. Daves 3 years 456      
Phyllis R. O’Leary 3 years 451      
Betsy Shure Gross 3 years 435      
Claire B. Stampfer 3 years 355      
Betsy DeWitt 3 years 334      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 6          
John Bassett 3 years 494      
Daniel Saltzman 3 years 483      
Robert I. Sperber 3 years 459      
Virginia W. LaPlante 3 years 421      
Christopher Dempsey 3 years 398      
Ian Polumbaum 3 years 327      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 7          
Jonathan J. Margolis 3 years 327      
Susan F. Cohen 3 years 322      
Susan P. Ellis 3 years 313      
Susan Granoff 3 years 312      
Keith A Duclos 3 years 256      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 8          
David-Marc Goldstein 3 years 386      
Anita L. Johnson 3 years 373      
Edward L. Loechler 3 years 358      
Craig Bolon 3 years 342      
Lisamarie J. Sears 3 years 302      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 9          
Martin R. Rosenthal 3 years 393      
Pamela C. Katz 3 years 389      
Joyce Jozwicki 3 years 370      
Judith A. Vanderkay 3 years 356      
George Abbott White 3 years 346      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 10          
Naomi Sweitzer 3 years 281      
Linda M. Davis 3 years 262      
Daniel La 3 years 258      
Clifford Scott Ananian 3 years 252      
Stanley Shuman 3 years 251      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 11          
Joseph M. Ditkoff 3 years 383      
Bobbie M. Knable 3 years 381      
Shira A. Fischer 3 years 374      
Carrie Benedon 3 years 369      
David C. Lescohier 3 years 356      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 12          
Amy Hummel 3 years 458      
Judy Meyers 3 years 449      
Mark J. Lowenstein 3 years 416      
Lee Cooke-Childs 3 years 387      
Chad S. Ellis 3 years 339      
A. Joseph Ross 3 years 219      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 13          
Carla Wyman Benka 3 years 386      
Chris Chanyasulkit 3 years 352      
Jonathan S. Fine 3 years 345      
John Doggett 3 years 340      
Paul A. Saner 3 years 328      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 14          
Pamela C. Lodish 3 years 368      
Kenneth M. Goldstein 3 years 337      
Clifford M. Brown 3 years 323      
Shaari S. Mittel 3 years 303      
Jeffrey Robert Kushner 3 years 284      
(write-ins) 1 year (75)      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 15          
Janice S. Kahn 3 years 335      
Eileen Connell Berger 3 years 310      
Benedicte J. Hallowell 3 years 293      
Ira P. Krepchin 3 years 274      
Ab Sadeghi-Nejad 3 years 258      
Robert Liao 1 year 354      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 16          
Scott C. Gladstone 3 years 444      
Thomas J. Gallitano 3 years 435      
William Pu 3 years 431      
Alisa G. Jonas 3 years 416      
Regina M. Frawley 3 years 415      

Field of dreams: a Coolidge Corner parking garage

At least half a dozen times since World War II, Coolidge Corner merchants and property owners pestered the town to build them some free parking–free to them, that is. So far, they landed two bonanzas: the Beacon St. median spaces in the 1940s and off-street, open-air parking lots in the 1960s. Brookline took properties by eminent domain and demolished houses to create and enlarge open-air parking. Recently, merchants and owners have been maneuvering again for a free parking garage–free to them, of course.

There are five off-street, open-air public parking lots close to Coolidge Corner: Centre St. east with 143 public spaces, Babcock St. with 65 spaces, Centre St. west with 56 spaces, John St. with 14 spaces and Webster St. with 13 spaces. A professional analysis in 2007 found 1,141 metered public spaces serving the Coolidge Corner business area. There are hundreds more unmetered public spaces on the smaller nearby streets.

Envelope: The only large and obvious location for a parking garage is the Centre St. east lot, behind the S.S. Pierce building, the Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Arcade building and 1-story buildings along Harvard St. It has a trapezoidal shape with wide connections to Centre St. and one-way connections to Harvard St. at each end. There are five herringbone rows of 25 to 30 angled spaces each. It is Brookline block 82, lot 14, with 81,912 sq ft, shown on page 16 of the 2010 Brookline Atlas.

S.S. Pierce block, Coolidge Corner

SsPierceBlockCoolidgeCorner
Source: Brookline Assessor’s Atlas

The Centre St. east parking lot is currently zoned G-1.75 (CC), a designation used only in the Coolidge Corner business area. The envelope for parking is set by Table 5.01 and Sections 5.06.4b, 5.21 and 6.02 of Brookline’s zoning bylaw. Stretched to the maximum, these appear to allow a 4-story garage measuring about 395 by 105 ft, positioned over the current, outer parking rows and leaving an open corridor about 50 ft wide at the narrowest, running between the garage and the existing Harvard St. buildings.

This approach uses the approximately triangular area at the end near Beacon St. as open space, counted as such for zoning purposes. The corridor would be eligible for use as open-air parking. At an efficiency of 320 sq ft per stall, typical of medium-size garages, the Centre St. east garage could house about 520 spaces. At 12-foot average intervals, the corridor could house about 30 more spaces, handicapped-accessible. That could provide about 550 public parking spaces in all, compared with the current 143.

One likely construction technique would use long-span girders and decks. At a spacing of about 11 ft per deck, even with a full roof the total height should be less than the 45 ft allowed under zoning. Such a plan would probably not need a zoning variance and might need only a special permit for design review–common at the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. At costs per stall for recent projects in dense, urban areas with union wages, construction might be priced somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million.

4-story parking garage in Boston, Post Office Square, 950 cars, 1954-1988

BostonParkingGarage1955
Source: Boston Redevelopment Authority

Urban blight: Parking garages have become icons of urban blight. The former 4-story garage in Post Office Square endured such a fate. Built by the Hynes administration–which also demolished the entire West End and buried the Muddy River in culverts under Park Drive–the ugly, concrete garage in Post Office Square was razed after less than 35 years and replaced by Leventhal Park.

There is no way to hide such a monster above ground. Make it only two stories or three stories, and it becomes more costly per space and merely a smaller monster. Put it underground, and the cost goes up 40 to 100 percent, depending on ground conditions. The successful sponsor of an urban parking garage is bidding to become a public enemy, loathed and vilified for generations.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 4, 2015


Neighborhoods: improvements for Coolidge Corner, Brookline Beacon, April 19, 2015

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

Assessor’s Atlas, Town of Brookline, MA, 2010, page 16

Traffic Solutions (Boston, MA), Coolidge Corner Transportation Analysis, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2007

Gary Cudney, P.E., Parking structure cost outlook for 2014, Carl Walker, Inc. (Pittsburgh, PA)

Jeffrey Spivak, From eyesore to icon: new parking garages, Planning 30(5):18-22, 2013

Advisory Committee: budgets and reconsiderations

The Advisory Committee met Thursday, April 30, starting at 7:00 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. Review season for this year’s annual town meeting is winding down, with work on most articles now complete for the town meeting starting Tuesday, May 26. The committee reconsidered three articles:
• Article 8. annual appropriations
• Article 9. town meeting membership, by petition
• Article 17. Chapter 40B resolution, by petition

Budgets: At the annual town election Tuesday, May 5, Brookline voters will decide whether or not to approve a permanent, general override that would increase total Brookline tax collections by $7.665 million per year above amounts allowed under Proposition 2-1/2, the statewide budget act passed by voters in 1980. So far the Advisory Committee, like the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee, has worked with so-called “base budgets” that will govern should voters reject the proposed override.

If required to proceed with base budgets, the committee will find itself backed into a financial corner by recommending, so far, about $0.5 million more in spending than the town has projected in revenue and other available funds. Hopes for a reprieve from balances in overlay accounts were recently dashed by the need to fund an overrun of about $3.4 million for snow clearance, the result of an historically severe winter.

While some committee members spoke about $2.5 million in “unallocated revenues”–account balances held against major unexpected needs–apparently none understood the mechanics for tapping those funds to solve an imbalance in their base budgets. Committee member Janet Gelbart, not a town meeting member, seemed to think growth in school enrollment, combined with extraordinary winter expenses, justified action. “The purpose of a reserve,” she said, “is so when you have an emergency you can pay for it.”

Partnership: There was discussion of the so-called “town-school partnership” that for 20 years has divided tax revenue between municipal and school programs. It was begun in 1995 by Richard Kelliher, then the town administrator, and James F. Walsh, then the superintendent of schools.

Since 1995, the partnership has been managed by a Town/School Partnership Committee with two representatives each from the Board of Selectmen, the School Committee and the Advisory Committee. The partnership committee is dormant. Its members from the Board of Selectmen, Ken Goldstein and Betsy DeWitt, did not run for re-election. One member from the Advisory Committee, Harry Bohrs, resigned this winter. The other, Leonard Weiss, moved from chairing the Advisory subcommittee on schools to the subcommittee on administration and finance.

Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, asked how the town-school revenue division could be changed. Mr. Weiss, the only Advisory member now delegated to the partnership committee, was not on hand to respond. David-Marc Goldstein of Precinct 8 said, “Town meeting does not feel part of that partnership.” Actually, the Advisory Committee plays a role representing town meeting–as on several other boards and committees, including Climate Action and the Devotion School Building Committee.

Automatic town meeting members: Elected Brookline town meetings have long included several members designated automatically because of offices they hold. In the 1970s, these were cut back to people who hold other, major elected offices: currently the moderator, the town clerk, the members of the Board of Selectmen and members of the General Court who live in Brookline.

Led by Ernest A. Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, a group of Brookline voters submitted Article 9 for the annual town meeting by petition. It seeks to add, as automatic town meeting members, elected federal and state officials who live in Brookline. Those are now Deborah Goldberg, the state treasurer, and Joseph P. Kennedy, III, who represents Brookline in the U.S. Congress.

The Board of Selectmen had supported Article 9, but thus far the Advisory Committee had opposed it. Dr. Spiegel, who chairs the Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation, proposed a compromise at this week’s meeting of the Board of Selectmen. It would designate elected federal and state officials who live in Brookline as “honorary town meeting members,” non-voting but welcome to participate in town meeting debates.

Amy Hummel of Precinct 12 seemed unconvinced. “It sounds like we’re talking about celebrities,” she said. Since any registered Brookline voter is eligible to run for town meeting, all current automatic town meeting members and all those proposed could run–and likely win–if they chose. Mr. Goldstein favored ending the designations. The committee voted to reject Dr. Spiegel’s proposed compromise and to recommend no action on Article 9.

Chapter 40B resolution: Led by Precinct 8 town meeting member Nancy Heller, a group of Brookline voters submitted Article 17 by petition: a resolution advocating changes in policy for Chapter 40B projects. As the subcommittee led by Dr. Spiegel proposed and the petitioners have agreed, the Advisory Committee voted to recommend referring the article to the Planning Board and the Housing Advisory Board.

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


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

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

Board of Selectmen: farmers’ market, promotions, golf and town meeting, Brookline Beacon, April 29, 2015

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy, Brookline Beacon, April 22, 2015

Advisory: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

Board of Selectmen: farmers’ market, promotions, golf and town meeting

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, April 28, started at 6:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. This was the last meeting for retiring board chair Ken Goldstein, first elected in 2009, and for retiring board member Betsy DeWitt, first elected in 2006 and chosen as board chair in 2010 through 2013.

On Tuesday, May 5, voters will elect two new board members among five candidates: town meeting members Merelice of Precinct 6, Bernard Greene of Precinct 7, Nancy Heller of Precinct 8 and Pam Lodish of Precinct 14, and Larry Onie, a Marshall St. resident. Mr. Greene, Ms. Heller and Ms. Lodish were members of the Advisory Committee until they decided to run. Ms. Heller and Ms. Lodish are also former members of the School Committee. Mr. Onie was a member of the former Human Relations and Youth Resources Commission.

Farmers’ Market: The board approved an agreement allowing the Brookline Farmers’ Market to use the smaller Centre St. parking lot Thursday afternoons from June 18 through October 29, 2015. Succeeding Arlene Flowers as market manager after 20 years are three co-managers: Abe Faber, an owner of Clear Flour Bread on Thorndike St., Kate Stillman, of Stillman’s Farm in Lunenberg and New Braintree, and Charlie Trombetta, of Trombetta’s Farm in Marlborough. The market association pays $2,500 a year to rent the space for 20 Thursdays.

Current sign for Brookline Farmers’ Market

CurrentFarmersMarketSign20150428
Source: Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development

Andy Martineau, an economic development planner, presented a concept proposed for Brookline wayfinding signs. It was developed by Favermann Design of Boston as part of a $0.02 million contract awarded by the Board of Selectmen last September. So far, the proposal has not appeared among the Planning Department’s economic development files on the municipal Web site.

Proposed sign for Brookline Farmers’ Market

ProposedFarmersMarketSign20150428
Source: Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development

As the example for Brookline Farmers’ Market shows, wayfinding signs would all become rust-colored with uniform lettering and no graphics. The proposal was released at a meeting of the Economic Development Advisory Board on March 2. Minutes say members of that group reacted to “monolithic appearance” and lack of “iconic” symbols for organizations such as Rotary. Members of the Board of Selectmen had concerns that lettering might be too small to read from a moving vehicle. Faint leaf outlines across the tops might look like graffiti to some.

Personnel, contracts and finances: After a long series of personnel reviews, Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, won approval to promote Andrew Lipson from lieutenant to deputy superintendent, Kevin Mealy from sergeant to lieutenant and Brian Sutherland, Russell O’Neill and Andrew Amendola from patrol officer to sergeant. Mr. Lipson will become head of the Patrol Division, sometimes a station to heading the department.

Brookline has an increasingly educated police department. Of those promoted this time, four have master’s degrees in criminal justice and other fields, and the fifth is currently in a master’s program. At least one member of the force has a PhD. This has not led to any lack of practical effectiveness. To the contrary, most crime counts have continued to fall, year by year, and the town has remained free of ugly incidents.

Paul Ford, the fire chief, got approval to hire seven firefighters to replace ones who have retired, left the department or died. Stephen Cirillo, the town’s finance director, was reappointed to the Retirement Board as a management representative for three years.

Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, got approval for $0.06 million in added improvements at old Lincoln School, preparing to house part of Devotion School during renovations and expansion. Although not in regular service as a school since 1994, old Lincoln has become temporary quarters for Town Hall, the main library, the health department and several other schools during renovations.

2022 U.S. Open in golf: The board considered negotiating with the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) about holding its 2022 U.S. Open at The Country Club, potentially using parts of Putterham Meadows and Larz Anderson in support. USGA of Far Hills, NJ, had contacted the town. The board’s chair, Ken Goldstein, who retires from the board after this meeting, is an avid golfer. Other board members were not as enthusiastic. “Right now I’m quite a skeptic,” said Nancy Daly.

The club hosted the U.S. Open in golf three times before: in 1913, 1963 and 1988. As board members recalled, the last comparable event was the Ryder Cup in 1999. David Chag, general manager of the club since 1987, said the club provided $0.5 million from that event to start a fund for Brookline youth programs and has been raising about $0.05 million a year for the fund since then.

Board members asked about any plans for 2024 Olympics. Mr. Chag said there had been a contact about a year ago but no follow-up. He was surprised, he said, to see the club described as a potential site this winter. The board voted 4-0-1 to set up a task force to negotiate with USGA, Ms. Daly abstaining. Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, promised to keep board members informed.

Lloyd Gellineau, Brookline’s chief diversity officer, asked to reconvene a memorial committee on the Holocaust, last an active project about 20 years ago. He has located recordings of about 90 hours of interviews with survivors, archived but never made available to the public. Harvey Bravman, a Newton resident, actor and media producer, has collaborated with Dr. Gellineau in investigating and indexing the archive. The board agreed to reconvene the inactive committee.

Town meeting issues: After budget controversies raised by the Advisory Committee, the board asked Melissa Goff, recently appointed deputy town administrator, for a review of financial reserves and of ways to meet costs of snow clearance last winter. Ms. Goff said the overrun against funds appropriated for snow clearance had reached about $3.4 million.

Current plans are to apply about $1.6 million from the general reserve fund and $1.1 million from balances in overlay funds from 2009 and prior years. That leaves about $0.7 million to be made up from other sources. Contrary to hopes of some Advisory Committee members, overlay balances will not be enough to help restore proposed cuts in municipal services. The board voted to reconsider Article 7 for the spring town meeting, on budget amendments, but did not propose new actions under the article at this meeting.

The board did review its recommendations on Article 8, the budget for the 2016 fiscal year starting in July. Members are continuing to support the financial plan presented by Mr. Kleckner February 17, with one change. They will recommend increasing the Health Department budget by $26,000 to support mental health, balancing that with $10,000 from estimated parking revenue and $16,000 from reduced estimates for energy spending.

The board also reconsidered its recommendation on Article 9, which would make elected federal and state officials living in Brookline automatic members of town meeting. Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member and a member of the Advisory Committee, proposed instead to make these officials “honorary town meeting members,” non-voting but welcome to participate in town meeting debates. Apparently hoping to head off another simmering dispute with the Advisory Committee, the board supported that approach.

A recommendation about Article 19 had been deferred. It proposes a resolution against Olympic games in Boston. No representatives of the pressure group pushing for the Olympics showed up last week, and the board decided to reach out to them, but no one came to this meeting either. The board voted to support Article 19.

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


Favermann Design, Wayfinding signs, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development. Not posted online as of April 29, 2015.

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy, Brookline Beacon, April 22, 2015

Advisory Committee: budgets, bylaws and lectures, Brookline Beacon, April 14, 2015

Town elections: contests town-wide and in precincts, Brookline Beacon, March 17, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2015

Board of Selectmen: celebrations, personnel, programs, licenses, Brookline Beacon, August 13, 2014

Neighborhood Conservation District Commission: policies and process

The Neighborhood Conservation District Commission met Monday, April 27, in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7:00 pm. The key item on the agenda was a draft of procedures and policies. Greer Hardwicke, a preservation planner who provides staff support, returned after an extended absence to warm welcomes.

With chair Paul Bell absent, commissioner Richard Garver, a Precinct 1 town meeting member, led the meeting. The small audience included Luis DiazGranados, whose property improvement on Perry St. has been the commission’s only full case so far. It took nearly a year to resolve, making Mr. DiazGranados interested in procedures that can simplify and shorten the work.

Public presence: Commissioners reviewed with Ms. Hardwicke descriptions of the commission’s functions on the municipal Web site. As a departmental mission, it is nearly invisible–buried three levels beneath the Planning Department’s main page: under Regulation, then under Preservation. As a commission of volunteers, the commission’s Web page can be found from its listing on the Boards and Commissions page.

In Brookline’s neighborhood conservation approach, each district has a section in Article 5.10 of Brookline’s general bylaws, found under 5.10.3.d “specific districts and guidelines.” Probably only a professional planner or a municipal lawyer could readily understand the complex structure.

There is no guidebook to advise citizens or neighborhoods about how to create or modify a district or how to work with an existing district and its requirements. As he recently did at a meeting of the Board of Selectmen, commissioner Dennis DeWitt suggested the commission develop a menu of options for districts, to make it easier for neighborhoods to create them.

There are currently two districts: Hancock Village, created at the fall, 2011, town meeting, and Greater Toxteth, created at the annual town meeting last year. The commission page on the municipal Web site currently links to a map for Greater Toxteth and to a narrative explaining that district’s background and its requirements for property improvements. There are no links to similar information for the Hancock Village district.

Procedures and policies: A committee has been working with Ms. Hardwicke and other staff of the Planning Department on procedures and policies. The property improvement case on Perry St. taught that neighborhood conservation cases are likely to involve zoning issues. Ms. Hardwicke described two new potential cases, at least one of which involves zoning issues.

Some confusion occurred over the draft procedures and policies, yet to be posted on the municipal Web site. It emerged that there have been multiple versions in circulation, and no one was sure which was the latest. Ms. Hardwicke is going to try to collect the ones developed during her absence and schedule a committee session to review them.

Part of the documentation of the Greater Toxteth district has yet to be completed, including pictures of existing houses and other structures. Ms. Hardwicke said warmer weather was rapidly bringing out leaves on trees and shrubs. She and district resident Larry Koff will try to complete the photography in the next few days–a race against spring!

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 28, 2015


Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, Town of Brookline, MA

Neighborhood conservation district study, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, September, 2005

Neighborhood Conservation District Bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, 2014

Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, Brookline Beacon, March 19, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: quests for parking and permits, Brookline Beacon, February 27, 2015

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

Zoning Board of Appeals: zoning permit for a registered marijuana dispensary

Discounting pleas from around Brookline Village to protect the neighborhoods, a unanimous panel of the Zoning Board of Appeals granted a special permit to New England Treatment Access (NETA), now headed by Arnon Vered of Swampscott. It allows the firm to locate a registered dispensary of medical marijuana on the former site of the Brookline Savings Bank at 160 Washington St. in Brookline Village.

The former bank building enjoys a regal view of historic Village Square, the intersection of Boylston, Washington, High and Walnut Sts. and the former Morss Ave. Built in Beaux Arts style, it has an exterior of gray sandstone and rose marble. The 20-ft high interior features mahogany panels and columns and a glass dome. The bank vaults remain in working condition.

When the Brookline Savings Bank moved in 1922 from its former location at 366 Washington St.–across from the main library–to new headquarters at 160 Washington St., Village Square was the commercial heart of Brookline. Streets were striped with trolley tracks in five directions–up Brookline Ave. into Boston, along the former Worcester Turnpike, now Route 9 connecting Boston with Newton, and up Washington St. through Harvard Sq. of Brookline to Washington Sq. and Brighton and through Coolidge Corner to the Allston Depot of the Boston & Albany Rail Road.

The bank property, as shown in a 1927 atlas, was one lot of 6,509 sq ft, with a few parking spaces in the back–located near what was then the Brookline Branch of the Boston & Albany Rail Road, now the Riverside (D) branch of the MBTA Green Line. Its neighbors were a bustling variety of businesses and residences, as well as industry and culture: Boston Consolidated Gas, Holtzer Cabot Electric, Metropolitan Coal and Lyceum Hall. Now most of that context has been lost to redevelopment. The Colonnade Buildings a block up Washington St. can remind one of a former age.

The hearing began at 7 pm Thursday, April 23, in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were several business representatives and lawyers, plus an audience of around 40. From the outset, opponents of the permit appeared to outnumber supporters. The background had been an election, two town meetings and more than 20 local board and committee hearings and reviews. Other steps remain ahead for the dispensary to operate.

Business plans: NETA was represented by Franklin Stearns from K&L Gates in Boston and by Norton Arbelaez, a lawyer who works with registered dispensaries of medical marijuana. According to Rick Bryant of Stantec in Boston, who advises NETA on transportation issues, the company expects to distribute about 4,000 pounds of marijuana products a year from the Brookline location.

At a typical price of $300 an ounce, reported from states where similar dispensaries now operate, that could provide gross revenue around $20 million a year from a Brookline operation. Company representatives confirmed that the company plans to operate from 10 am to 7 pm every day of the week. That could result in more than $50,000 a day in Brookline-based transactions.

According to Mr. Bryant, estimates derived from a dispensary in Colorado indicate a peak of about 30 customer visits to the site per hour. The former Brookline Savings Bank site now includes an adjacent lot to the north, 3,154 sq ft under common ownership, where a building present in 1927 has been removed. That provides most of the land for 11 parking spaces that were diagrammed in NETA plans. Mr. Bryant predicted peak usage of eight parking spaces, but all those on site are to be reserved for customer use.

NETA also showed two spaces sized for handicapped parking on an adjacent lot to the west, at 19 Boylston St. That property houses a Boston Edison electric substation, owned by a subsidiary of Eversource. According to Mr. Stearns of K&L Gates, NETA will open a production facility in Franklin, MA, and another registered dispensary in Northampton. All deliveries are to depart from the Franklin site, not from Brookline or Northampton.

Amanda Rossitano, a former aide to Brookline state representative Frank Smizik who works for NETA, said the company will have about a dozen employees on site. Jim Segel, a former Brookline state representative now living in Needham, spoke on behalf of NETA, saying that the company “is going to be a leader in doing things right…a good neighbor and citizen. It will enhance the neighborhood.”

Questions: The Appeals panel for this hearing consisted of Jesse Geller, a lawyer who is the board’s chair, Christopher Hussey, an architect, and Avi Liss, a lawyer. Mr. Hussey led questions, asking about security plans. Mr. Arbelaez described procedures and facilities, including a “secure vestibule” for entry to the service facilities, with a security officer and a parking attendant on duty during business hours.

Mr. Liss asked about other potential Brookline locations. Mr. Stearns said several had been investigated, one near the intersection of Beacon St. and Summit Ave. Some property owners, he said, would not lease or sell, while circumstances at other locations proved less suitable. Mr. Hussey asked about apparently recent changes to parking plans. Mr. Stearns said NETA had responded to comments from the Planning Board.

Arguments: When Mr. Geller asked for comments in favor of the permit, other than people known as working with NETA only Deborah Costolloe from Stanton Rd. spoke. “Many people are in favor of this business in the Village,” she said. She contrasted the potential for traffic with the operations of Trader Joe’s in Coolidge Corner. Trader Joe’s does “vastly more business,” she said, while it has only “a small amount of parking.” The real issue for the opponents, said Ms. Costolloe, “is the nature of the business, not parking.”

Over 20 spoke in opposition, many living or working within several blocks of the bank site or representing them. Art Krieger, of Anderson and Krieger in Cambridge, spoke on behalf of nearby business owners–including Puppet Showplace, Inner Space, Groovy Baby Music and Little Children Schoolhouse. Citing general requirements for a special permit, he said the site was not an appropriate location, that the business would adversely affect neighborhoods and that it would create a nuisance.

Mr. Krieger tried to invoke default regulations for a dispensary that apply when a community does not create its own. Brookline, he said, does not set minimum distances from “places where children congregate,” comparable to state defaults. Mr. Liss of the Appeals panel disagreed. “I read it differently,” he said, “because there’s a local bylaw.” Brookline’s bylaw prohibits dispensary locations in the same building as a day-care facility.

Mr. Krieger called reliance on traffic data from a dispensary in Colorado “faith-based permitting.” Parking at the former bank site, he claimed, “will cause safety problems for vehicles and pedestrians…much more traffic throughout the day than the bank.” Issues of traffic and parking were to recur several times in comments from opponents, as predicted by Ms. Costolloe.

Historic site: Merrill Diamond, a former Brookline resident and a real estate developer, took a different direction. Mr. Diamond is well known for historic preservation and adaptive reuse. Among his local projects have been the Chestnut Hill Waterworks and Kendall Crescent–repurposing the historic Sewall School and Town Garage along Cypress, Franklin and Kendall Sts.

Mr. Diamond regretted reuse of the former Brookline Savings Bank site for a dispensary, saying he had tried to start a more creative project combining residential and retail spaces. His bid on the property was rejected, he said, because it did not commit to an early closing date. If the proposed dispensary doesn’t open, he said he will submit another bid.

Betsy Shure Gross of Edgehill Rd., a Precinct 5 town meeting member, had similar outlooks. She recalled the Brookline Village Citizens Revitalization Committee from the 1970s, when parts of the neighborhoods looked bleak. “I voted for medical marijuana,” said Ms. Gross, but what happened “is bait and switch.” She criticized siting a dispensary in a major historical property, saying it will have “adverse and negative impacts.”

Crime: Introducing himself as a member of the criminal justice faculty at Northeastern, Prof. Simon Singer of Davis Ave. allowed he could not prove that a dispensary would increase crime, but he said such a facility “is known to have an adverse effect on crime.” According to Prof. Singer, the Appeals panel should “err on the side of those who are against it.”

George Vien of Davis Ave., a former federal prosecutor, tried last fall to change Brookline’s zoning standards for registered dispensaries of medical marijuana, bringing a petition article to town meeting. He argued vigorously against what he called “violating the schoolyard statute,” distributing marijuana “within 1,000 yards of a playground, school or public housing project.” Town meeting was told the arguments were questionable and that any risks applied to dispensary operators, not to the town. It declined to change zoning standards.

At the permit hearing, Mr. Vien continued his arguments. He described himself as familiar with Brookline’s public housing, saying, “I grew up in public housing…went to old Lincoln School in Brookline Village…You are creating a secondary drug market right in the housing project.” He urged the Appeals panel to deny the permit: “Err on the side of at-risk kids.”

Traffic and parking: Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave., a close ally of Mr. Vien in last fall’s town-meeting effort, spoke about traffic impacts from the proposed dispensary. An estimated “two percent of the population will use medical marijuana,” he said, and “right now there are no other [registered dispensaries] in the state…there will be a much larger increase in traffic than predicted.”

Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St., a physician who was also an outspoken dispensary opponent last fall, referred to the state limit on purchases, saying “ten ounces of marijuana is an incredible amount of product, a lot of cash too…10 am to 7 pm seven days a week is completely inappropriate.” With entry to and exit from the bank site’s parking only “going west on Route 9…traffic will be going through our neighborhood.” She urged the Appeals panel to “protect the neighborhood…deny the permit.”

Angela Hyatt of Walnut St., an architect who is a Precinct 5 town meeting member and a member of the Advisory Committee, lives about a block from the former bank site. She criticized the plans, particularly plans for parking, as “inaccurate and misleading.” She noted that slope and driveway width do not meet zoning standards. However, parking at the site reflects usage and designs that pre-date Brookline’s zoning requirements, so that they are “grandfathered” unless basic use of the site changes–for example, from retail to residential.

Claire Stampfer of Sargent Crossway, another Precinct 5 town meeting member, also objected to traffic impacts, saying, “The use as a bank is totally different…fewer hours, no holidays and weekends…It is an intrusion into Brookline Village.” NETA. she said, “should sell only by delivery…not on site.”

Virginia LaPlante, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, had similar reactions, calling it a “fantasy talking about cars parking there…We were misled in town meeting. I voted for medical marijuana.” Ms. LaPlante said NETA “could have an office in 2 Brookline Place” (a planned 8-story office building). “I’m sure Children’s Hospital would welcome them there.” At a meeting last year, a NETA representative said Children’s Hospital had rejected the firm as a potential tenant. Hospital physicians announced a policy against prescribing medical marijuana.

Reaching a decision: After more than two hours of discussion, finding no one else wanting to speak, Mr. Geller closed the hearing. The Appeals panel began to weigh the arguments. Mr. Liss said potential security issues were not a matter of zoning but of management. They would need to be reviewed with an application for an operating license, to be heard by the Board of Selectmen. Annual operating reviews would be able to consider problems and revoke a license or add conditions.

Mr. Geller said that when enacting zoning allowing a dispensary, town meeting “passed judgment on the risk level.” Traffic hazards were being mitigated by an approved transportation demand management plan. The site is appropriate, he said, “secure, contained…isolated by surroundings…This building could be used for a better purpose, but that’s not a standard under the [zoning] bylaw.” The panel agreed and approved the permit.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 25, 2015


Brookline Village walking tours: Washington Street at Route 9, High Street Hill Neighborhood Association, Brookline, MA, c. 2005

Atlas of the Town of Brookline, Massachusetts, G.W. Bromley & Co. (Philadelphia, PA), 1927 (71 MB)

Licensing Review Committee: registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, January 29, 2015

Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline Beacon, December 7, 2014

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

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

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

Registered marijuana dispensary regulations, Town of Brookline, MA, 2014

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

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

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, April 21, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board heard from applicants for permits and from petitioners for town meeting articles. It began with the several-years tradition of “announcements” from departing board member Betsy DeWitt. Key among them this week was celebration of a new landmark.

Landmarks: Ms. DeWitt, who has a longstanding interest in Brookline history, announced that a Brookline site had recently been named a national historic landmark, the town’s fourth. It is the Brookline Reservoir–located along the former Worcester Turnpike, now Boylston St. and MA Route 9, between Lee and Warren Sts.–along with the 14-mile Cochituate Aqueduct, connecting it with man-made Lake Cochituate in Natick.

The Brookline Reservoir and Cochituate Aqueduct were the first major expansion of the Boston-area water works, which later came to include the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and the Fisher Hill Reservoir. The Brookline Reservoir and Cochituate Aqueduct are the earliest intact example of a reliable, metropolitan water system for a major U.S. city. They operated in full service from 1848 through 1951.

In mid-nineteenth century, when the aqueduct and reservoir were built, Boston-to-be was a conglomerate of a growing small city and nearby towns–including Brighton, Charlestown, Dorchester, Roxbury and West Roxbury, which included Jamaica Plain after 1850. Between 1868 and 1873, these towns agreed to merge with Boston. An 1873 Brookline town meeting refused to join, putting an end to Boston expansion except for Hyde Park in 1912. The aqueduct and reservoir remained key elements of the city’s water supply until the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir, during the Great Depression, and of the Hultman Aqueduct, in the 1940s.

Two of Brookline’s three older national landmarks are well known: the birthplace of former Pres. Kennedy, at 83 Beals St., and the former home of Frederick Olmsted, Sr., the pioneering landscape architect, at 99 Warren St. For some obscure reason, Ms. DeWitt would not describe the other landmark site.

The third older landmark is the former residence of George R. Minot (1885-1950) of Harvard Medical School, for whom the Minot Rose Garden on St. Paul St. was named. Anyone with Internet access can easily locate the site at 71 Sears Rd., now occupied by unrelated private owners. Prof. Minot became the first winner of a Nobel prize to live in Brookline.

In the mid-1920s, Prof. Minot, George H. Whipple of the University of California Medical School and William P. Murphy of Harvard Medical School found that Addison’s disease, a fatal condition then called pernicious anemia, was associated with a dietary factor. They discovered it could often be controlled by adding a water-soluble extract from liver to the diet. The three were awarded the Nobel prize in medicine for 1934. In the late 1940s, the active dietary substance was isolated; it is cobalamin, also known as vitamin B-12.

Contracts, personnel and finances: The board approved $0.08 million in contract additions for storm-sewer repairs with Beta Group of Norwood, also the town’s consultant for storm-water issues during review of a proposed Chapter 40B development at Hancock Village. The contract is part of a continuing program to reduce infiltration and leakage. This year’s repairs affect Addington Rd., Summit Ave. and Winchester St. Peter Ditto, the director of engineering, said he expects the state to reimburse about 45 percent of the cost.

Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, got approval to hire an associate town counsel. The position became available after promotion of Patricia Correa to first assistant town counsel. Members of the board expressed appreciation for Ms. Correa, one of the few Brookline senior municipal staff fluent in Spanish. Ms. Murphy said she would be searching for expertise in construction and school law. Ken Goldstein, the board’s outgoing chair, omitted the usual request to seek a diverse pool of candidates.

Erin Gallentine, the director of parks and open space, presented a plan for improving the Olmsted park system shared with Boston, also called the “emerald necklace.” It is partly based on a survey of over 7,000 trees in about 1,000 acres of park land. Board member Nancy Daly asked what the plan would cost to implement. Ms. Gallentine estimated about $7.5 million for the total plan and $0.5 million for the Brookline portion, spread over several years.

Ms. Gallentine expects private fund-raising to cover a substantial part of costs. The board voted to approve an agreement with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy of Boston to begin work. The board has not published a statement of the work to be performed, which is supposed to become Exhibit A of the agreement, or evidence of insurance from the conservancy, which is supposed to become Exhibit B.

Permits and licenses: Hui Di Chen of Melrose, formerly involved with Sakura restaurant in Winchester and proposed as manager of Genki Ya restaurant, at 398 Harvard St., asked to transfer licenses held by the current manager. This had been continued from February 17, when Mr. Chen was not able to answer some of the board’s questions. Since then, he also applied for outdoor seating. This time he appeared well prepared. The board approved all five licenses requested. Board records continue to contain misspellings of names.

Andrew Gordon of Boston applied for a permit to operate an open-air parking lot at 295 Rawson Rd. The parking lot for 20 cars was created in 1977 under a special zoning permit. Located below Claflin Path and behind houses on Rawson Rd, it has access to Rawson Rd. through an easement between two houses. Mr. Gordon has agreed to buy it from the current owner.

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, had sent a memorandum saying the department “was not aware of any problems,” but neighbors and abutters said that they certainly were. About 20 of them came to the hearing, and several spoke. They described problems with access and snow clearance. This past winter, they said, problems became extreme, with access to the lot dangerous or blocked for weeks.

The current license, through June 30, requires the operator to “keep the entrance and parking spaces passable and clear of excess snow at all times.” Neighbors also objected to parkers using Claflin Path, a private way, for access to the lot. Board member Neil Wishinsky said that might constitute trespassing and said owners of Claflin Path might consider a fence. It was not clear whether a “doctrine of adverse possession” might apply.

Others described the lot as currently “striped for 30 cars.” Communications from the building and planning departments did not reflect knowledge of conditions. Through a spokesman, Mr. Gordon agreed to observe the 20-car capacity. With uncertainty over conditions, the board decided to continue the hearing on April 28.

Town meeting controversy: The board reviewed several articles for the annual town meeting starting May 26 and voted recommendations on some, including Article 9, which would make elected federal and state officials living in Brookline automatic members of town meeting. The Advisory Committee considered the article April 14 and voted unanimously to oppose it.

Town meetings are the legislative bodies of towns. In larger towns with representative town meetings, town meeting members are elected to represent voters, mostly on local issues. Holders of elected federal and state offices represent voters on different issues. U.S. senators and representatives–as well as the state’s governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and so on–are mostly elected by voters living somewhere other than in one particular town.

None of that seemed to matter to members of the Board of Selectmen, who spoke in terms of social relations and potential influence with officials who might qualify as Brookline town meeting members. They voted to support the article. Such thinking has long been common among members of the board, but over the years town meeting members have seen things differently, voting to trim back the number of automatic town meeting members.

Board members voted to support Article 10, excluding from living wage coverage some seasonal jobs in the recreation department but keeping a one-dollar premium over minimum wages. Disagreement with the Advisory Committee remains over which jobs would continue to be covered by Brookline’s living wage bylaw. As nearly everyone expected, board members voted to support Article 11, proposing a Crowninshield local historic district.

After a skeptical review by an Advisory subcommittee, petitioners for Article 17, a resolution advocating changes in policy for Chapter 40B projects, agreed to refer the article to the Planning Board and the Housing Advisory Board. An approach of further review now has support from both the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation, which takes up the article again April 23.

Article 18 proposes a resolution seeking a study of acquiring Hancock Village buffers, mostly behind houses on Beverly and Russett Rds., for park and recreation purposes. Members of the board expressed concern over involvement in lawsuits against Hancock Village owners over a proposed Chapter 40B housing development. Voting on a motion to support Article 18, Ken Goldstein, the chair, and board members Nancy Daly and Neil Wishinsky abstained. The motion failed for lack of a voting majority, leaving the Board of Selectmen taking no position on this article.

No Boston Olympics: Article 19 proposes a resolution against Olympic games in Boston. urging officials who represent Brookline to reject the proposal for 2024 Olympics. Christopher Dempsey, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, spoke for the article. He is co-chair of a group called No Boston Olympics working to defeat the proposal. The City Council of Cambridge has already passed a resolution similar to Article 19.

In his efforts, Mr. Dempsey has associated with Liam Kerr, a leader in an educationally extremist campaign known as Democrats for Education Reform–nationally typified by performances of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York and Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago. Demonstrating the durability of gross ignorance, that group maintains, “Standardized tests have shined a light on the real quality of education.”

Olympics opponents point to $50 billion for the Olympics in Japan–largely at government expense. They argue that a Boston Olympics would bleed state and local governments and usurp public roads and property for weeks to years. Some members of the Board of Selectmen appeared uninformed and wary of the issue, but Nancy Daly said, “I’m against the Olympics.” No representatives of the pressure group pushing for the Olympics showed up, and the board decided to reach out to them and defer voting a recommendation on the article.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 22, 2015


Ellen Ishkanian, Brookline Reservoir and gatehouse named national historic landmark, Boston Globe, April 16, 2015

William P. Marchione, Brookline’s 1873 rejection of Boston, Brighton-Allston Historical Society, c. 2000

Advisory: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2015

Adam Vaccaro, They just don’t want the Olympics, Boston Globe, April 2, 2015. A rambling, chatty account bloated with gossip.

Zeninjor Enwemeka, After WBUR poll, Boston 2024 says it won’t move forward without majority public support, WBUR (Boston, MA), March 23, 2015

Dan Primack, Chris Dempsey leaves Bain & Co., as Boston Olympics battle rages on, Fortune, March 20, 2015

Gintautas Dumcius, Deval Patrick will get $7,500 per day for Boston 2024 Olympics work, Springfield (MA) Republican, March 9, 2015

Neighborhoods: improvements for Coolidge Corner

The North Brookline Neighborhood Association (NBNA) held a public meeting starting at 7 pm Wednesday, April 15, in the Sussman House community room at 50 Pleasant St., focused on improvements for the Coolidge Corner area. Founded in 1972, NBNA is now one of Brookline’s older neighborhood associations. By population it is the largest, serving an area between Beacon St. and Commonwealth Ave. and between Winchester and Amory Sts.

The NBNA meeting drew an audience of near 30, more than half of them town meeting members from Precincts 2, 3 and 7-11. After an introduction by Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member and a member of the Advisory Committee, Kara Brewton, the economic development director in Brookline’s planning department, made a presentation and led discussion.

Waldo St.: Ms. Brewton described elements of what she called a “5-year plan” for Coolidge Corner improvements, mentioning a customer survey, gardening projects and interest in the future of the Waldo St. area. Waldo St. is a short, dead-end private way extending from Pleasant St. opposite Pelham Hall, the 8-story, 1920s, red brick apartment building at the corner of Beacon and Pleasant Sts.

Not recounted by Ms. Brewton at this particular meeting was the controversy several years ago when a would-be developer proposed to replace the now disused Waldo St. garage with a high-rise hotel. While a hotel might become a good neighbor and a significant source of town revenue, the garage property did not provide a safe site. Street access is constricted, and emergency vehicles might be blocked. Permits were not granted.

Also not recounted by Ms. Brewton at this meeting was current Waldo St. ownership, with the garage at the corner of Pleasant and John Sts. now in the hands of the owners of Hancock Village. They are involved in a protracted dispute with the Brookline Board of Selectmen, after applying to build a large, partly subsidized housing development, trying to override Brookline zoning using powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws.

These matters were well known to nearly all present. By skirting them, Ms. Brewton signaled that she preferred to avoid frank discussion of local conflicts. Her presentation was being observed by a member of the Economic Development Advisory Board, for whom she provides staff support. That left a constrained but still sizable clear space for group discussion.

Survey: Ms. Brewton described a 2014 consumer survey in Coolidge Corner, coordinated by the Department of Planning and Community Development. She said the survey had tallied “a few thousand responses,” that it showed who visits the area for what purposes, that a little over half of the respondents lived in Brookline and that their most frequent activity was buying food.

Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member and a member of the Advisory Committee, asked whether the survey had investigated lack of parking. Ms. Brewton said, “Customers find it hard to find parking.” She said the survey found about a third of respondents drove a car to Coolidge Corner and those who did tended to spend more money in the shops.

Ms. Brewton said that current priorities for her division, informed by the customer survey, were focused on three concerns: (1) the mix of business, (2) the public spaces and (3) parking. Asked what she meant by “the mix of business,” she mentioned that there was currently no “ordinary clothing store.” It was not obvious what that meant either, since The Gap has a Coolidge Corner location and several other shops also sell clothing.

Coolidge Corner has lacked a full-service clothing store since the former, 3-story Brown’s, at the corner of Harvard and Green Sts., burned in the 1960s. McDonald’s took over the property, building a one-story shop with distinctive arch windows that became a prototype for the company’s urban expansion. With McDonald’s gone since 2007, the shop with arch windows has been subdivided into spaces occupied by a pizza parlor and a branch bank.

A report from the survey contractor, FinePoint Associates of Brookline, is available on Brookline’s municipal Web site. According to that report, the survey tallied 1,740 responses. Data in the report indicate 29 percent of all respondents drove a car to Coolidge Corner and 62 percent of all respondents rated parking “average” or better. The report says, “Customers who walked or biked to Coolidge Corner were more likely to be very frequent customers (coming twice per week or more) than [other] customers.” [p. 10]

Parking: Ms. Brewton described plans underway to “improve” Coolidge Corner parking. The two lots on Centre St., she said, “are in bad shape,” with no major maintenance since 1965. That was when Brookline took property by eminent domain and tore down structures to build and enlarge current parking lots located off Centre, Babcock, John and Fuller Sts. David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, mentioned efforts to develop solar power canopies for the Centre St lots.

Her department, Ms. Brewton said, is “trying to get $100,000 for planning” parking improvements. However, alternatives for Centre St. parking lots have already been planned. A comprehensive study was performed for the planning department in 2007 by Traffic Solutions of Boston. An illustrated report is available on Brookline’s municipal Web site.

While she left an impression of some future fund-raising, what Ms. Brewton was talking about turned out to be Item 6 in Article 8 on the warrant for the 2015 annual town meeting, starting May 26. She showed a drawing of what she called a “parking deck” over the northwesterly three-quarters of the large Centre St. parking lot. That currently has five herringbone rows of 25 to 30 angled parking spaces each.

In the town meeting warrant, the department’s intents are vague, but they are detailed in the FY2016 Financial Plan, where item 10 under the capital improvements section says the $100,000 may be used to design a “decked parking structure” with one to three levels. A “3-level parking deck” is what most people would typically call a “4-story garage.”

A 4-story parking garage would probably become the largest building in the block and the tallest except for the S.S. Pierce clock tower. It would likely be constructed as a wall of masonry along Centre St., a half block from the house at the corner of Shailer St. where Mr. Swartz and his wife live. It could swell public parking off Centre St. from a current total of about 200 spaces to 500 or more spaces.

It is not clear how the Centre St. parking project Ms. Brewton described reconciles with a “5-year plan” dated March 5, 2012, currently available from the Brookline municipal Web site. That plan does not call for any new or expanded parking facilities, nor does it call for a “planning” effort focused on parking. The only parking improvements it anticipates are described as “signage for cultural institutions & parking lots,” a $46,000 estimated cost.

Gardening: Participants at the NBNA meeting were eager to hear about plans for landscaping and gardening. Many felt the area had been neglected in recent years. Unfavorable comparisons were noted with some commercial areas in Boston and Somerville. Ms. Brewton plans to coordinate a “gardening event” from 8 to 10 am on Saturday, May 16. She can be contacted at 617-730-2468.

Some of the town’s attempts at improvements didn’t impress. Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, referred to structures in the small triangle at the intersection of Pleasant and Beacon Sts. as “the volcano,” saying it was easy to trip over masonry edging. Rita McNally, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, was concerned about maintenance of plantings.

Jean Stringham, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, noted some shop or property owners had already set out flowers. She recalled daffodils near the Brookline Bank. Ms. Brewton said there were more near Pelham Hall. Mr. Swartz said lack of water faucets along the street could be a barrier to maintenance. There was mention of a water truck the town has sometimes provided.

Dr. Caro said results by neighbors with landscaping near the Coolidge Corner library were much improved after Public Works installed sprinklers. Carol Caro, also a Precinct 10 town meeting member, said she hoped for improvements to tree wells, mentioning a recently introduced protective material. Linda Olson Pehlke, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, expressed interest in working on the small park spaces along John St.

NBNA activists decided to focus on a small triangle at the northwest end of the large Centre St. parking lot. Currently, it is eroded and mostly barren. Ms. Brewton said she would see if Public Works could harrow and level the ground. Mr. Swartz agreed to coordinate NBNA efforts. Participants began making plans for mulching and planting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 19, 2015


FinePoint Associates (Brookline, MA), Coolidge Corner Consumer Survey, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2014 (3 MB)

Traffic Solutions (Boston, MA), Transportation Analysis for Coolidge Corner, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, March 22, 2007 (9 MB)

Item 6, Article 8, 2015 Annual Town Meeting Warrant, Town of Brookline, MA

Item 10, FY2016-2021 CIP Project Descriptions, Town of Brookline, MA

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

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

Irene Sege, In Brookline, McDonald’s was their kind of place, Boston Globe, February 3, 2007

Linda Olson Pehlke, Coolidge Corner’s future, Brookline Perspective, January 22, 2007

Advisory Committee: budgets, bylaws and lectures

The Advisory Committee met Tuesday, April 7, Thursday, April 9, and Monday, April 13, starting at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. Review season for this year’s annual town meeting is underway, with many committee members attending four or more meetings a week. According to the chair, Sean Lynn-Jones, a Precinct 1 town meeting member, the committee has begun to address a backlog of missing meeting records.

At these sessions, the committee reviewed budgets, to be proposed under Article 8 at the annual town meeting starting May 26, for Library, Town Clerk, Information Technology, Finance, Board of Selectmen, Advisory Committee, reserve accounts and miscellaneous. It heard lectures on fiscal policy from Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, from Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator and from Stephen Cirillo, the finance director. The committee also voted recommendations on three warrant articles:
• Article 12. snow bylaw amendments, from the Board of Selectmen
• Article 13. bylaw requiring tap water service in restaurants, by petition
• Article 14. bylaw banning bottled water on town property, by petition

Human services: The most recent Advisory session, on Monday, was human services night, reviewing the Library budget and the two “water” articles. With subcommittee chair Sytske Humphrey absent, subcommittee member David-Marc Goldstein, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, reviewed the library budget with Sara Slymon, the library director, and Michael Burstein, chair of the Library Trustees.

Lea Cohen of Beacon St., not a town meeting member, reviewed Article 13, about water service in Brookline restaurants. Robert Liao of Meadowbrook Rd., not a town meeting member, reviewed Article 14, seeking to ban bottled water on town property and in the town budget. Jane Gilman and Clinton Richmond, town meeting members from Precincts 3 and 6, responded for the petitioners who submitted those articles.

Water aerobics: The subcommittee on human services had reviewed the “water” articles the previous week and was recommending no action on both. With Mr. Lynn-Jones out-of-town, Carla Benka, vice chair of the committee, led the meeting. She allowed Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond another bite of the apple, rehashing most of their arguments and taking up nearly two hours.

After heavy weather the previous week, at the Board of Selectmen as well as the subcommittee, Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond tried a tactical retreat on Article 14. That would have removed about three-fourths of the proposed bylaw, including its key feature: generally banning the sale and distribution of bottled water on town property. What remained would have forbidden spending for bottled water and stocking it in vending machines, under most circumstances.

Alan Balsam, the public health director, opposed restricting water from vending machines. As at the Board of Selectmen, he called commercial plastic beverage bottles “nasty,” saying most of what they contained was also “nasty.” In his view, though, water is much less “nasty” than sugared beverages, and trying to keep it out of vending machines would likely encourage substitution–worsening risks of obesity and diabetes. “Why not get rid of vending machines?” asked Dr. Balsam. “That’s what I did at the Health Department.”

Committee members wrestled with alternatives, offering motions to chop still more out of the proposed bylaw and to refer it to a committee appointed by the Board of Selectmen. Ms. Benka struggled in parliamentary muddle. A motion for bylaw surgery from Alisa Jonas of Precinct 16 failed: 2 in favor, 15 opposed and 1 abstaining. A motion to refer from Michael Sandman of Sewall Ave., not a town meeting member, also failed: 4-13-1. A motion on behalf of the subcommittee for no action passed: 16-2-0. That became the Advisory Committee recommendation to town meeting.

Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 suggested the committee consider use of funds for bottled water when it reviews conditions of appropriations for town budgets. The committee had less trouble with Article 13, a proposed bylaw change requiring tap water to be available in Brookline restaurants. Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond still could not cite a Brookline restaurant that did not offer it. By a unanimous vote, the Advisory Committee is recommending no action on Article 13.

Lecture series: At its April 7 and 9 meetings, the committee heard lectures on fiscal rectitude from Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, from Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, and from Mel Kleckner, the town administrator. They were probably inspired by an unusual generous committee approach this year, boosting rather than cutting budgets.

The program budget presented by Mr. Kleckner and his staff last February showed $682,000 in cuts to municipal services within the base budget, without an override. School budgets would benefit from a corresponding boost, while observing “Proposition 2-1/2″ tax limits. School staff and the School Committee are hardly celebrating. Their base budget, without an override, involves cuts totaling $1.16 million from current school programs, despite a $0.68 million transfer from municipal accounts.

Some long-time observers say Advisory budget turbulence stems from a confluence of weather systems: traditional town liberalism mixing into traditional town conservatism that sees unwarranted trimming of municipal resources in order to enlarge school accounts. Practicing freedom of speech, some Advisory Committee members have taken to sporting campaign buttons advertising their factions on the budget override that the Board of Selectmen has proposed to voters at May 5 town elections.

At the April 9 meeting, Mr. Kleckner let a cat out of the bag. It was “very distressing,” he said, “to hear some of this disagreement.” The “elected officials” have a right “to make those judgments.” In the context, Mr. Kleckner was clearly referring to members of the Board of Selectmen, who hire and fire town administrators. He might know something about perils of town administrators, through past service to the fairly conservative Town of Winchester and Town of Belmont.

Somehow, Mr. Kleckner didn’t seem to appreciate at the moment that elected members of town meetings–and not members of boards of selectmen–appropriate all town funds. For the Advisory Committee of Brookline, charged by law with proposing annual appropriations to our elected representative town meeting, that is just Politics 101. Committee members welcomed Mr. Kleckner to Brookline with some choice remarks.

During the lecture series, the need advertised for fiscal probity was to protect the town’s credit rating, but at the April 7 meeting Gary McCabe, the chief assessor, had undercut some of those arguments. He revealed that about $1.1 million stands to be available from overlay accounts for 2009 and prior years. So far, the Advisory Committee’s budget votes would restore about $0.3 million of municipal base-budget cuts, well within amounts Mr. McCabe described as available, outside usual credit-rating factors.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 14, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on human services: tap water and bottled water, Brookline Beacon, April 12, 2015

Advisory Committee: missing records, more skeptical outlooks, Brookline Beacon, April 2, 2015

Support for the May 5 override, Yes for Brookline, Brookline, MA, April, 2015

Opposition to the May 5 override, Campaign for a Better Override, Brookline, MA, April, 2015

Advisory: a night at the opera, Brookline Beacon, March 27, 2015

Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 17, 2015

School Committee: budget bounties and woes, Brookline Beacon, March 13, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2015

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

Board of Selectmen: larger tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 14, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on human services: tap water and bottled water

The Advisory subcommittee on human services met at 5:30 pm Tuesday, April 7, in the third-floor employees’ room at Town Hall. The agenda was two articles for the spring town meeting intended to promote the use of tap water over bottled water, submitted by Jane Gilman and Clinton Richmond, town meeting members from Precincts 3 and 6. They have been active in the “green caucus” within Brookline town meeting and are currently co-chairs.

The hearings on these articles drew a large group for an Advisory subcommittee: six senior town staff and at least 15 town residents. All the subcommittee members were on hand: Sytske Humphrey of Precinct 6, the chair, Lea Cohen of Beacon St., not a town meeting member, David-Marc Goldstein of Precinct 8 and Robert Liao of Meadowbrook Rd., not a town meeting member.

Water service at restaurants: Article 13 for the 2015 annual town meeting, scheduled to start May 26, proposes to amend a Brookline bylaw by requiring tap water to be available to customers at restaurants located in the town. However, as the explanation for Article 13 says, “Tap water is already available….” Subcommittee members were puzzled why petitioners thought a bylaw change was needed.

Mr. Richmond mentioned a restaurant located in another community that offers only bottled water, but he could not cite any one in Brookline. Ms. Cohen asked how many Brookline businesses the petitioners had approached. “None,” said Ms. Gilman, adding that she did not “see a hardship.” Mr. Goldstein described the warrant article as “a solution looking for a non-existent problem.”

Alan Balsam, the public health director, called tap water service in Brookline restaurants “not much of a problem.” Owners of one restaurant, he said, “think they can charge for water.” Ms. Humphrey asked whether petitioners might be interested in substituting a resolution for the proposed bylaw change, in support of an “educational” effort to encourage use of tap water. Mr. Richmond said, “No.” Committee members were not persuaded of a need for a bylaw change and voted unanimously to recommend no action on Article 13.

Selling or distributing bottled water: Article 14 for the spring town meeting proposes a new bylaw making it illegal to “sell or distribute” bottled water at an “event” held on “town property,” including a street. If you were to take along a bottle of water to Brookline Day at Larz Anderson, for example, and you distributed some of it to friends, under this law you would apparently be liable for a fine of $50 to $100.

The proposed bylaw would also forbid spending town funds on bottled water, forbid vending machines located on town property from offering bottled water and forbid Brookline-licensed food trucks from selling bottled water. Exemptions would be allowed where the public health director finds them “necessary.” Dr. Balsam said, “The article is quite complicated.”

Petitioners defended their article, estimating waste generated in Brookline at around a million plastic bottles a year. Mr. Richmond ridiculed the brand Fiji Water, in particular–denouncing abuse of natural resources in “hauling water 8,000 miles” to Brookline. Although the water bottles, made of polyethylene terpthalate, can be recycled as Type 1 plastic, Mr. Richmond claimed less than 20 percent went into blue recycling bins. He may not have known that, because of low industrial materials prices, most or all of those have reportedly been burned in incinerators recently rather than recycled.

Potential problems: As an example of potential problems, Dr. Balsam brought up outdoor restaurant seating during warm weather. Some such seating is on privately owned property and would be exempt. Other seating is on town sidewalks and would be restricted. There may be no visible marks showing which is which. Dr. Balsam also warned about adverse consequences, including substitution of sugared beverages, which have been associated with increasing trends of obesity and diabetes.

Fred Russell, director of the Water Division in Public Works, said that while he supports use of public water rather than commercially bottled water, less than 20 percent of Brookline’s public park sites now have water fountains. David Geanakakis, the chief procurement officer, said it would not be difficult to exclude water from vending machines. Subcommittee member Lea Cohen asked whether the petitioners had approached Brookline agencies and businesses who would be affected. Ms. Gilman said, “No.”

John Harris, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, observed that bottled water sales now comprised about 15 percent of U.S. retail beverage sales. Saying he has been “working in special education for most of my career,” Mr. Harris claimed bottled water has helped students with learning disabilities, who he said tended to treat sugared beverages as “liquid candy.”

Donald Leka, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, said the growth in bottled water sales has been driven by aggressive advertising. He suggested an educational effort rather than a bylaw, to combat abuse of resources. Mr. Richmond had said he was “not a public health expert.” As he described it, the petitioners were putting forth ideas and would rely on town boards and staff to find and solve problems.

Ms. Humphrey, the subcommittee chair, read a letter from Mariah Nobrega, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, expressing concerns over conflicts with athletic events bringing teams from other communities to Brookline. She recommended referring Article 14 to a task force, in order to sort through problems and develop solutions, but Mr. Richmond and Ms. Gilman said they did not want a referral.

A troubled love affair: Recent town meetings eagerly endorsed some “green caucus” proposals. In this case, discussion found the subcommittee members concerned about the environmental issues advanced by the Article 14 petitioners but unconvinced that the proposed bylaw offered a workable solution. The subcommittee members voted unanimously to recommend no action on the article.

With back-to-back rejections from a subcommittee usually inclined to support its goals, the “green caucus” in town meeting looks to have tried “a bridge too far.” The strategy it used in previous efforts to ban plastic products may have reached a limit, with town boards and committees starting to expect proponents to do their homework and develop practical solutions, rather than simply write up ideas and look to others for the heavy lifting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 12, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Craig Bolon, Paper or plastic? The Devil’s work, Brookline Beacon, May 28, 2014

Cornelius Ryan, A Bridge Too Far, Simon & Schuster, 1974

Billy Baker, Brookline finds plastic bottle ban a thorny issue, Boston Globe, April 12, 2015. A grammatically and politically challenged Boston writer visits next door.

Advisory: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods

The Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation met at 6:00 pm on Thursday, April 9, in the third-floor employees’ room at Town Hall. All the current subcommittee members were on hand: Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2, the chair, Angela Hyatt of Precinct 5, Steven Kanes of Carlton St., not a town meeting member, and Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13. The agenda was resolution articles about changing Chapter 40B standards for housing projects [Article 17 in the spring warrant] and about a study of acquiring land for park and recreation uses in the Putterham neighborhoods of south Brookline [Article 18].

The subcommittee was unable to complete a review of Article 17 and will convene again after petitioners–led by Nancy Heller of Precinct 8, a former School Committee member and a candidate for Board of Selectmen–meet with members of the Housing Advisory Board about strategy for the topic. Article 18 was explored at length with its petitioners–led by Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member–and with town staff.

Article 18: Ms. Frawley and Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, made the case for Article 18. Responding to questions were Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, Gary McCabe, the chief assessor, and Alison Steinfeld, the planning director. The hearing attracted an audience of about ten, including Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Rebecca Plaut Mautner of Precinct 11, Fred Levitan of Precinct 14, Saralynn Allaire of Precinct 16, Stephen Chiumenti of Precinct 16, and Brookline residents Barbara Sherman, Perry Stoll and Jim Salverson.

Article 18 proposes a resolution asking the Board of Selectmen to conduct a study about acquiring so-called “buffer” parts of Hancock Village, in south Brookline, by eminent domain for park and recreation uses. Those are strips of land about 30 to 80 ft wide, bordering single-family houses mostly along Beverly Rd. and Russett Rd. They were configured when Hancock Village was rezoned and designed in the mid-1940s.

As Ms. Frawley described, Brookline has previously acquired park land by eminent domain, starting in 1871 with Cypress Playground, as it is known today. More recently, in the 1970s, Brookline acquired Hall’s Pond and an adjacent parcel off Amory St. by eminent domain, for conservation purposes. In between, there were other additions to the town’s open space–by bequest, agreement, purchase and eminent domain.

In the Putterham neighborhoods, Ms. Frawley argued, there is little public open space. During the years of the Great Depression, when much development in those neighborhoods was underway, Brookline did not acquire park and playground land, as it had done earlier in other parts of town. She reviewed the current public open spaces and showed that the Hancock Village buffers look to be the largest undeveloped areas likely to be eligible.

Hancock Village buffer in winter

HancockVillageBufferInWinter
Source: Brookline Advisory subcommittee on planning & regulation

Hancock Village buffers: The buffers can be identified from a Brookline atlas or zoning map as located in a single-family rather than a multiple-apartment zone. Brookline’s town meeting, following a 1946 zoning agreement between the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. and the Town of Brookline, rezoned adjacent areas toward the southwest, now built as garden-village style housing, to multifamily 4C and left the buffers zoned as single-family 7D, the same as the adjacent house lots along Beverly Rd. and Russett Rd.

Ms. Frawley argued that buffer zoning became nominal with the development of Hancock Village, because the buffers were not designed to be built on. She cited an article from the Brookline Chronicle-Citizen of August 29, 1946, saying that the Planning Board had approved a plan providing for the buffers to contain “a natural screen of small trees and other shrubbery.”

In 1962, Brookline changed from its classic to its modern zoning identifiers, making 7D into S-7 and making 4C at Hancock Village into M-0.5, with about the same restrictions. Before then and since, there have been actual and attempted incursions into Hancock Village buffers. The Russett-side buffer is penetrated by Thornton Rd., connecting with Grassmere Rd. Its northern tip skirts three houses addressed on Independence Dr., reducing the minimum width there to about 30 ft.

In the 1950s the John Hancock Co. applied to build parking lots on the buffers, and in the 1960s a subsequent owner, the Niles Co., applied similarly. Those would have been variance uses, not allowed under single-family zoning, and both were denied by Brookline’s Board of Zoning Appeals on grounds that a hardship to the owners had not been shown, as required by state law. Records of decision for those cases do not mention the 1946 zoning agreement, and that agreement does not mention the buffers.

Town-meeting proposal: Putting on their finance hats, subcommittee members asked about the potential cost to acquire the Hancock Village buffers. Mr. McCabe, the chief assessor, described a process for determining value, but the only number he could cite was the average land value currently assessed for all of Hancock Village, about $1.15 million per acre.

The 1946 agreement specified that Hancock Village is restricted to “high-grade garden village type” housing. How much more of such housing could be built on the buffers, if there were no other restrictions, is not known. That might provide an upper limit on their land value. Garden-village apartments at Hancock Village are arranged in spacious chains, with views of landscaping.

It is not clear whether any such housing could be situated in the relatively narrow buffers. Their land value could be minimal. Perhaps the town might do the owners of the land a favor by taking it off their hands, since they would not have to mow the grass any more. The subcommittee was favorably inclined to a study of the issues and voted unanimously to recommend approval of Article 18.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 10, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Advisory Committee: missing records, more skeptical outlooks, Brookline Beacon, April 2, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation: new historic district, Brookline Beacon, March 31, 2015

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

Brookline Assessor’s Atlas, page 108 (Russett-side buffer), 2010

Brookline Assessor’s Atlas, page 109 (Beverly-side buffer), 2010

Budgets and transit: parsing affairs of state

On March 4 and April 8, the Baker administration published financial waypaths, setting out in slightly different directions. The March release was a traditional H.R. 1 bill in the General Court: the governor’s proposed budget. As usual, snoring news writers and soundbite junkies managed to miss much of what might matter.

The April release began another mission to “save the trains”–variously known since early twentieth century as the Boston Elevated, the MTA and (after 1964) the MBTA. All swooned toward bankruptcy, yet all revived at a scent of public money. The title of the release, “Back on Track,” sounded like an echo from Patrick administration years: “Staying on Track” and “Keeping on Track.”

Transit stew: It should be unlikely for Baker years to achieve what a century of would-be reforms failed to get: a transit system becoming both reliable and affordable. Gov. Baker’s review panel was stuffed with shirts similar to ones staking out a dusty trail of failed reforms: politicians, bureaucrats and academics.

Substituting “Boston Elevated” for “MBTA,” much of the Baker panel’s report could have been written shortly after the super-inflation from World War I. Then, too, the region’s largest transit system could accurately be described in the same ways:
• Is in severe financial distress
• Lacks a viable maintenance and repair plan
• Lacks a culture of performance management
• Is governed ineffectively

Surprise…surprise. So how to fix the problems? Who will do the work? Apparent answers: “the Legislature” (most likely meaning the General Court, since we don’t have anything officially known as a Massachusetts “Legislature”). Ha ha ha ha–now, give us a break. Naming one of the major conspirators, the Baker panel proposes to put a fox in charge of a chicken barn.

A rare candid image of a transit system in distress came from Dan Ruppert, in a book called The Gravy Train. Mr. Ruppert is a mechanical engineer who worked nine years at a major maintenance shop of the Long Island Rail Road. That is one of the few agencies in the country whose record of cronyism and corruption might sink below elevations in eastern Massachusetts. The subtitle of his book tells much of his story: “Low productivity, over-compensation, nepotism, overstaffing, outdated work rules, ineffective management.”

The Baker motif appears to read, “We won’t pay.” An obvious response from MBTA regulars, “We won’t work.” How to keep the trains and buses going while squeezing out featherbedding, sleazebags and graft always proved the conundrum. Nothing looks different now, and the game has always operated “advantage inside.” So far as we know, Gov. Baker does not take the T and will always be somewhere else.

The recent review tried shock tactics: operating costs paid from bond funds! Surprise…surprise. That was a tactic deployed by the Republicans of the Weld and Cellucci administrations–to hide Big Dig spending from news hounds and the public. During the Patrick administration, Democrats claimed to have stopped it with a 2011 “transportation reform.” Well, “This isn’t Kansas any more.”

A sucker born every minute: Gov. Baker bids to apply “slash and burn” tactics he developed at Harvard Pilgrim to the Massachusetts state budget. His H.R. 1 bill would slash–that is, would zero out–100 of 785 master budget accounts for current fiscal year programs. It would add 18 new programs and burn taxpayers. The sum of the parts–lost on the spreadsheet-challenged news writers–is much bigger than advertised.

News media nearly all swallowed and parroted the official Baker line: a “sustainable 3% increase.” Do the math. The proposed total for next year: $38,863,754,342–plus unknown increases from employee benefits and collective bargaining. Reported spending for the current fiscal year: $37,403,286,027–estimated as of some time this February.

The minimum proposed tab for state government in fiscal 2016, from Gov. Baker’s financial tables: a 3.9 percent increase. The current rate of general inflation, from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: zero change. For February, 2015, during Gov. Baker’s budget artwork, BLS reported the Consumer Price Index as follows: “The all-items index was unchanged over the past 12 months.”

Into the weeds: Among the Baker slashees: account 7030-1002, Kindergarten Expansion Grants, $18,589,714 for the current fiscal year. Brookline’s share: about $250,000–expected to be gone as of next July. Another casualty: account 1595-6123, Community Preservation Act and Life Sciences, $22,779,000 for the current fiscal year. Stated reason: “Eliminated state subsidy.” Good luck to yokels who bought into labeling money through the Community Preservation Act. Brookline voters rejected it.

Gov. Baker’s beneficiaries in this round would include the following new items, not funded in the current year, found near the peak of the money pile:
• Other Post Employment Benefits Funding, $84,552,681
• Early Retirement Incentive Program Salary Reserve, $63,340,000
• Early Retirement Incentive Program Pension Contribution, $48,749,000
The total of $196,641,681 is “paying them forward.” It represents just a tiny portion of the enormous overhang in retirement costs for state employees that “Generous Curt”–the Great and General Court–has been ladling out for decades but has rarely set aside money to cover.

The Big Benny, though, is account 4000-0500, MassHealth Managed Care, $5,162,825,921 estimated for the current fiscal year and $5,931,539,597 proposed for the one starting in July. That is a 15 percent increase for the “Obama Care” type of program begun under Republican former Gov. Romney–in the name of cost control. It gets worse: account 1595-6369, Commonwealth Transportation Fund transfer to the MBTA, $122,552,622 estimated for the current fiscal year and $187,000,000 proposed for the one starting in July–a 53 percent boost. Who says, “We won’t pay”?

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 9, 2015


Gov. Charles Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Baker-Polito administration files fiscal year 2016 budget proposal (press release), March 4, 2015

Office of Gov. Charles Baker, Fiscal year 2016 budget proposal (H.R. 1), March 4, 2015

Office of Gov. Charles Baker, Line item summary, H.R. 1 for fiscal 2016, March 4, 2015

Office of Gov. Charles Baker, Back on Track: an action plan to transform the MBTA, April 8, 2015 (1 MB)

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer price index, February, 2015

School Committee: budget bounties and woes, Brookline Beacon, March 13, 2015

Office of Gov. Deval Patrick and Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, Transportation reform, 2012

Rafel Mares, Keeping on Track, 2014 (1 MB)

Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy, Staying on Track, 2012 (3 MB)

Dan Ruppert, The Gravy Train, Trafford Publishing, 2002. Cronyism and corruption at the Long Island Rail Road in New York.


References from “Back on Track” (April, 2015)
• Taking the T to the Next Level of Progress, MBTA Blue Ribbon Committee on Forward Funding, 2000
• MBTA Capital Spending: Derailed by Expansion?, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation/Pioneer Institute, 2002
• Transportation Finance in Massachusetts: An Unsustainable System, Massachusetts • Transportation Finance Commission, 2007
• T Approaching: Dire Financial Straits, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, 2008
• Born Broke, MBTA Advisory Board, 2009
• MBTA Review, David D’Alessandro, 2009
• Blue-Ribbon Summit on Financing the MBTA and RTAs, Northeastern University Dukakis Center/Conservation Law Foundation, 2010
• Maxed Out, Transportation for Massachusetts, 2011
• Transportation Governance and Finance, National Conference of State Legislatures, 2011
• Fare Hikes, Service Cuts and MBTA Mismanagement, Pioneer Institute, 2012
• Hub and Spoke Report, Urban Land Institute/Northeastern University Dukakis Center, 2012
• Staying on Track, Northeastern University Dukakis Center, 2012
• The MBTA’s Out-of-Control Bus Maintenance Costs, Pioneer Institute, 2013
• Keeping on Track, Progress Reports, Transportation for Massachusetts, 2014-2015
• The End of its Line, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, 2015

Changing the rules: new taxi regulations

At its meeting last March 19, the Brookline Transportation Board announced a draft of new taxi regulations. A public hearing about them has now been scheduled for 7:25 pm on Thursday, April 9, in the basement Denny Room at the Health Center, 11 Pierce St.

Medallions in retreat: Draft taxi regulations from March make no mention of permanent “medallion” licensing–as practiced in New York, Chicago, Boston and several other large cities. Apparently that has become a dead issue in Brookline.

At least nine years ago, Brookline began to investigate switching from its current, annually renewed taxi licenses to medallions, mainly in hope of a one-time windfall from selling medallions at high prices. After two studies, two town meetings and two “home rule” laws enacted by the General Court, the Transportation Board was planning to implement the change in July of last year.

The board’s plans were derailed at last year’s annual town meeting, as a consequence of an article filed by Precinct 8 town meeting member John Harris. Mr. Harris proposed that town meeting ask the General Court to rescind the authorizations it had enacted. His article was referred to a study committee. At the end of a long, contentious review, no action occurred, but the process may have produced the effect Mr. Harris was seeking.

Level fares but higher fees: The draft regulations leave the current fare structure unchanged. It is $1.50 for the first eighth mile or fraction plus $0.40 for each additional eighth mile and each minute of waiting time.

The draft regulations would lower the annual license fee from $300 to $200 per vehicle per year but add a $75 fee for each of two inspections per year–a net increase of $50 per year per taxi. The annual fee to renew a taxi driver license would rise from $25 to $50. The controversy over medallions brought out concerns that current license fees fail to cover Brookline’s costs of taxi regulation.

Stricter standards: The draft regulations propose stricter standards for vehicles and operations. Newly licensed vehicles would have to be no more than three years old. Currently they can be up to four years old. Instead of a maximum vehicle age of seven years, draft regulations require maximum operation of 300,000 miles.

Taxi vehicles with ramps for people who use wheelchairs would be required, starting in July of next year. Operators would have to provide one such vehicle for every ten taxis. As partial compensation, the $200-per-year license fees would be waived for those vehicles. Identified by “WAV” licenses, the vehicles would be required to meet capacity and safety standards.

Taxi meters would be required to be able to retain and print records of trips and to accept credit cards. Taxis would have to be equipped with EZpass transponders for use of the Turnpike, tunnels and bridges. Taxi drivers would required to attend driver training offered by Brookline’s police department and pass an exam. Taxi driver licenses would cease to be available to persons convicted of major offenses within the past seven years.

Relaxed standards: Taxi companies and drivers would be allowed to supply post office box addresses, provided they are at Brookline offices. It is not clear whether a private business providing mail collection or forwarding would qualify. Taxis would be allowed to operate via “e-hail” dispatch as well as telephone and street hail.

So far, neither the Transportation Board nor the Transportation Division in the Department of Public Works has distributed an explanation of the changes or of reasons for proposing them. A telephone call to Todd Kirrane, the transportation administrator, was not returned.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 6, 2015


Taxicab Regulations, Brookline Transportation Board, draft March 19, 2015

Taxicab Regulations, Brookline Transportation Board, effective July 25, 2013

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

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

Advisory: learning about spending on schools

The Advisory subcommittee on schools met at 6 pm Wednesday, April 1, in the first-floor north meeting room at Town Hall. All subcommittee members were on hand: new chair Michael Sandman of Sewall Ave., not a town meeting member, new subcommittee members Kelly Hardebeck of Precinct 7 and Amy Hummel of Precinct 12, and returning subcommittee members Bobbie Knable of Precinct 11 and Sharri Mittel of Precinct 14.

They met with Peter Rowe, the deputy school superintendent for administration and finance. Visitors at this meeting included Susan Wolf Ditkoff, chair of the School Committee, Barbara Scotto, vice chair of the School Committee, and Carla Benka, vice chair of the Advisory Committee. The Brookline School Committee had held its legally required annual budget hearing on March 26, with slim attendance–including no Advisory Committee members–and only one public comment.

School budgets: The schools subcommittee has traditionally been the most difficult Advisory assignment–partly because of size of and complexity in the budget and partly because of the limited influence of town meetings. Under Massachusetts laws from 1939 through 1980, school committees were effectively taxing authorities. If a town meeting did not appropriate at least as much as a school committee asked, a “ten taxpayer” lawsuit could compel the town to raise more taxes and provide the full amount.

The “Proposition 2-1/2″ law, enacted by voters [Chapter 580 of the Acts of 1980], ended the fiscal autonomy of Massachusetts school committees. However, while town meetings now regulate total amounts of money for schools, they can only recommend how money should be spent. [Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 71, Section 34] School committees allocate the funds appropriated among school programs. The role of the Advisory Committee remains, in part, finding opportunities for efficiency.

Special education: The Advisory subcommittee spent much of its meeting on costs of “special education”–really a misnomer here. Brookline began to provide compensatory services to students with learning disabilities in the 1960s, well before state and federal mandates. Mr. Rowe explained that Brookline has been managing costs during recent years by providing compensatory services directly to more students, within the current schools, rather than sending them to outside programs. However, all students remain eligible for individual evaluations, and some students are still sent outside.

It was not clear whether subcommittee members grasped that the “special education” services, as seen by the school administration, are part of a continuum. A greater variety of services is available today than fifty years ago, when former Superintendent Robert I. Sperber–still an active Brookline resident–began to develop “individualized education.” Mr. Sandman estimated current spending on special education, per student in these programs, as equivalent to about half the cost of a teacher, on average.

Information technology: Information technology has been a growth area in recent budgets, particularly for school programs. In 1979, Dr. Sperber proposed buying four specially configured minicomputers for classroom instruction but chose not to proceed after hearing arguments that microcomputers were about to produce a cost revolution, which would soon make it practical to serve far more students.

With handheld computers widely available, fruits of the revolution have ripened, leaving some now saying Brookline public schools are lagging behind. As the subcommittee saw, costs for equipment are now far outweighed by costs for personnel. Municipal and school organizations supposedly share an information technology department, but the whole picture is more complex and far more costly.

Information technology department, p. IV-14
1 chief information officer
1 applications director
1 network manager
1 Web developer
1 GIS developer
1 systems analyst
2 network administrators
1 database administrator
1 help-desk technician
1 senior programmer
1 administrative assistant
—————————–
12 employees
$1.06 million in salaries

Schools information services, p. 113
1 application manager
2 application support specialists
1 data management director
1 desktop services manager
4 technicians
—————————–
8 employees
$0.62 million in salaries

Schools education technology, pp. 98-99
1 curriculum coordinator
10 educational technologists
1 secretary
—————————–
12 employees
$0.88 million in salaries

There are, in effect, three Brookline information technology departments: the one given that name and budgeted as a municipal department, plus two with different names funded as internal school agencies. Spread among them are a total of about 32 employees, $2.6 million in salaries and $0.5 million in direct benefits–estimated at the average Brookline spending for direct benefits, or about $15,900 per employee proposed for FY2016.

Brookline’s information technology currently has a structure heavy with administration, similar to trends in educational institutions. For a staff count of just over 30, there are ten titles of “officer,” “director,” “manager,” “administrator” and “coordinator”–a management ratio of about 3. Technology industries are far more efficient, with typical professional management ratios of 8 to 12. A well organized staff of that size would need about three instead of ten managers and would have fewer overlapping jobs.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 5, 2015


School Committee: budget bounties and woes, Brookline Beacon, March 13, 2015

Craig Bolon, Brookline’s workforce: signs of strain, Brookline Beacon, January 9, 2015

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

FY2016 Superintendent’s budget message, Public Schools of Brookline, MA, March 12, 2015

FY2016 Program Budget (public schools), Town of Brookline, MA (39 MB)

FY2016 Program Budget (municipal agencies and departments), Town of Brookline, MA (16 MB)

Paul F. Campos, The real reason college tuition costs so much, New York Times, April 5, 2015

Board of Selectmen: personnel, policies and budget reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 31, started at 6:10 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board reviewed personnel changes, policies and budgets proposed for the fiscal year starting in July.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Peter Rowe, the deputy school superintendent for administration and finance, who will retire at the end of June, asked the board to submit a “statement of interest” to the state School Building Authority for expansion of Brookline High School. Such a project could easily dwarf spending on Devotion School expansion and renovation, recently estimated at up to $120 million. Board member Ben Franco mentioned “trying to keep the price tag down.” Then the board approved the submission.

As requested by Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, the board approved a reallocation of sources for the $0.65 million in support it approved last November 25 for the Beals St. subsidized housing project being carried out in collaboration with Pine St. Inn of Boston. About $0.03 million more will be spent from federal Community Development funds and correspondingly less from local Housing Trust funds. Brookline has yet to publish on its Web site a comprehensive description and full cost analysis for this project.

Paul Ford, the fire chief, presented three candidates for promotions. Long-serving Deputy Chief Mark Jefferson recently retired. Kyle McEachern was promoted from captain to deputy chief. Stephen Nelson was promoted from temporary captain to captain. Michael Kelleher was promoted from temporary lieutenant to lieutenant.

Melissa Battite, the assistant recreation director, got approval to hire for business manager replacing Jesse Myott, who took a new job. The Recreation Department recently activated a partly dysfunctional Web site, pointed to by but not integrated with the municipal site, that is costing taxpayers extra money while making it difficult or impossible to find information about personnel and internal operations.

Interviews and policies: The board interviewed Kathleen Scanlon for Climate Action, Frank Caro for Cable TV and Jennifer Goldsmith for Commission on Women. Scott Englander, who co-chairs “Complete Streets” with board member Neil Wishinsky, presented a draft policy and work plan. So far, the documents are unavailable on the municipal Web site.

As applied to Brookline, the cute catchphrase “Complete Streets” looks to mean, essentially, streets with bicycle paths. Brookline currently has none. It has only painted pavement markings and a few signs. The town blew away its biggest opportunity to install some when spending millions of dollars to reconstruct Beacon St. several years ago. Boston recently promoted bicycle paths when proposing to reconstruct Commonwealth Ave. between the B.U. Bridge and Packard Corner. No price tags, sources of funds or schedules have yet been disclosed.

Licenses and permits: Taverna DeHaro, on Beacon St., and Washington St. Tavern got board approval for alternate managers of alcoholic beverage sales. As is now usual board procedure, neither sent a representative to the board meeting.

Budget reviews: The board reviewed budgets proposed by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, for the Health Department, the new Diversity Department, Veterans’ Services and the Council on Aging. At the budget reviews so far, the board has been asking few questions about finances. The current Board of Selectmen has struck some as lacking interest in financial matters. Instead, community values and priorities have been emerging largely from the Advisory Committee.

Brookline Interactive continues to record meetings of the board on video, but the recordings may not appear on the Web until two or more weeks later. As of April 3, the most recent one available was from March 10. The Brookline channel, whose studios moved from privately owned space on Amory St. to the former Manual Training Building at the high school, now behaves as though it were an organ of the school dept. It currently features seven so-called “forums” with the superintendent that are more recent than the latest Board of Selectmen video.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 3, 2015


Scott Englander, Brookline Complete Streets Policy Development Overview, Complete Streets Study Committee, draft of March 23, 2015 Found as scans in a hidden file from the Board of Selectmen and converted to a text document.

Planning Board: review of Devotion School plans, Brookline Beacon, January 18, 2015

Housing Advisory Board: new assisted housing and expiring assistance programs, Brookline Beacon, November 9, 2014

Craig Bolon, Brookline bicycle crashes: patterns and factors, Brookline Beacon, August 16, 2014

Craig Bolon, Bicycle markings: unsuccessful in B.U. neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, November 9, 2014

Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 17, 2015

Advisory Committee: missing records, more skeptical outlooks

The Advisory Committee met Tuesday, March 31, starting at 7:30 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall–conducting FY2016 budget reviews for Legal Services and for Planning and Community Development. This time, the committee turned more skeptical about needs for added spending than at previous meetings this year.

Missing records of meetings: The Advisory Committee and its subcommittees are established organizations in Brookline’s government. As such, under state and local open meeting laws they have duties to hold meetings in public, to post advance notices of meetings on Brookline’s municipal Web site, to record minutes of meetings and to make minutes and other records available to the public. Since last July, the municipal Web site has provided a central archive of meetings on an Agendas and Minutes page. The Board of Selectmen maintains a separate archive that includes additional records for their meetings, called “packets.”

Typically, the Advisory Committee turns in exemplary performance at holding public meetings and posting meeting notices in advance. It has not done nearly as well with meeting records. Many minutes are missing for Advisory Committee and subcommittee meetings. During the first quarter of 2015, the municipal Web site showed eight full Advisory Committee meetings (one for subcommittee chairs), but as of April 2 it provided minutes for only five of those meetings.

For the first quarter of 2015, the municipal Web site shows four meetings for the administration & finance subcommittee, seven for capital, five for human services, two for personnel, two for planning & regulation and three for public safety. As of April 2, no minutes were available on the site of any of the 23 subcommittee meetings announced for January through March. That risks being seen as a disaster for public information, since it is usually Advisory subcommittees who review budget and warrant article issues in depth.

Subcommittees often describe their investigations on paper at full Advisory Committee meetings, and copies are usually made available to the public then. In at least some cases, they could serve as subcommittee meeting minutes. However, they have not appeared this year on Advisory Committee pages of the municipal Web site or in meeting records on the Agendas and Minutes page.

Budget for legal services: Committee member Angela Hyatt and Town Counsel Joslin Murphy described a proposed fiscal 2016 budget, starting in July, for Legal Services. The Office of Town Counsel provides most legal services for Brookline agencies and departments, excepting matters related to personnel and public school students. Ms. Murphy said the proposed budget was 1.1 percent more than the current budget, not counting costs that might increase from employee benefits and collective bargaining.

Committee member Christine Westphal asked if the proposed budget includes funds for an assistant town counsel, although a glance at page IV-27 of the FY2016 Program Budget would have shown it does. The position was created after Ms. Murphy was promoted from associate town counsel to town counsel last year. It has gone vacant for about nine months now. A more revealing question might have explored needs for an associate town counsel 1 (grade T-14), an associate town counsel 2 (grade D-5) and a first assistant town counsel (grade T-15).

Questions from committee member Alisa Jonas brought out a disclosure that the proposed Legal Services budget does not provide funds for the Nstar property tax lawsuit now underway, for two lawsuits involving the proposed Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village or for some widely publicized employee grievances. About the frequent uses of outside counsel, Ms. Murphy said, “It’s the [Board of Selectmen's] decision to seek outside counsel.”

The lawsuit recently filed by the Board of Selectmen against members of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) sparked several comments and questions. Ms. Jonas said spending for people “who worked with ZBA” had been a “waste of money.” The ZBA was advised by Edith Netter of Waltham and by Kathy Murphy and Samuel Nagler of Krokidas & Bluestein. Money came from reserve fund transfers approved by the Advisory Committee last year.

Apparently unknown to some Advisory Committee members, at a meeting on Thursday, March 26, the ZBA voted to request funds to hire defense counsel. Committee member Lee Selwyn, who had obviously found out, said that the town was “turning the heat and the air conditioning on at the same time.”

Committee member Fred Levitan asked the basis for suing ZBA members. Ms. Murphy said that, although the ZBA issued a comprehensive permit for the Hancock Village 40B project with “70 conditions,” members of the Board of Selectmen believe the action was “arbitrary and capricious,” in view of the “integrity of the site” and a 1946 zoning agreement between the Town of Brookline and the John Hancock Co., which built Hancock Village.

Committee members were clearly wary that unbudgeted legal expenses lay ahead. In the end, however, they voted to recommend the proposed Legal Services budget to town meeting without change.

Budget for planning: Ms. Hyatt, Mr. Selwyn and Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, presented a proposed fiscal 2016 budget for Planning and Community Development. Ms. Hyatt mentioned a “full room at the subcommittee hearing on this budget.” The occasion was to promote an increase in preservation planning. The subcommittee recommended an increase from the current 1.8 to 3.0 staff positions.

Ms. Steinfeld confirmed that early in the budget cycle she had asked for an increase to 2.0 staff positions in preservation planning, but she said Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, had not agreed. The FY2016 budget request for her department is 1.9 percent more than the current budget, not counting costs that might increase from employee benefits and collective bargaining. No changes were proposed in personnel, as shown on page IV-42 of the FY2016 Program Budget.

Several Advisory Committee members spoke skeptically about the need for a relatively large and rapid increase in staff for preservation planning. Christine Westphal said, “It makes a lot of sense to do 2.0, maybe not 3.0 [staff positions] right now.” Mr. Selwyn resisted, describing “tension between the Preservation Commission and the [planning] department.” The commission has begun meeting twice a month to cope with an increase in cases.

Committee member Stanley Spiegel said some neighborhoods have been hiring their own preservation planners, citing a recent report about a proposed Crowninshield historic district. Such an expense, said Dr. Spiegel, is “a luxury that not all significant neighborhoods can afford.”

After about an hour, the committee amended the subcommittee’s approach, supporting an increase in preservation planning staff from 1.8 to 2.0 positions with a split vote: 13 in favor and 9 opposed. The amended approach increases funding by about $14,000 plus some amount for employee benefits. It won approval by a vote of 20 to 2.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 2, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Agendas and Minutes, Town of Brookline, MA

FY2016 Program Budget (municipal agencies and departments), Town of Brookline, MA (16 MB)

FY2015 Program Budget (municipal agencies and departments), Town of Brookline, MA (16 MB)

Board of Selectmen: projects and budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 20, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

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

Zoning Board of Appeals: ready to approve Hancock Village 40B, Brookline Beacon, December 2, 2014

Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation: new historic district, Brookline Beacon, March 31, 2015

Jenkins v. Brookline, case 1:2013-cv-11347, United States District Court for Massachusetts, filed 2013

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 19, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: $0.17 million to fight employee actions, Brookline Beacon, February 13, 2015

Craig Bolon, Brookline’s workforce: signs of strain, Brookline Beacon, January 9, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation: new historic district

The Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation met at 7:00 pm Tuesday, March 30, in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. There was a large turnout for an Advisory subcommittee, 25 members of the public and two town staff: Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, and Jean Innamorati, a planning consultant and former Brookline preservation planner.

The topic was Article 11 for the annual town meeting starting May 26: a Crowninshield local historic district. Four of the five subcommittee members were on hand: Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2, the new chair, Angela Hyatt of Precinct 5, Steven Kanes, not a town meeting member, and Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13. Although submitted by the Preservation Commission, the article represents a neighborhood initiative. Dr. Spiegel called on John Sherman, a resident of Adams St.

Stimulus for preservation: Mr. Sherman explained, to no one’s surprise, that while a local historic district for the Crowninshield neighborhood had been talked about for years, the stimulus leading to action was an application late last year to demolish the house at 21 Crowninshield Rd., followed by stories that the new owners wanted to build multifamily housing, despite single-family zoning.

The map for the proposed local historic district includes all houses fronting on Crowninshield Rd. and on Adams, Elba and Copley Sts. except multifamily housing recently built over the former St. Aidan’s Church parking lot, at the corner of Crowninshield Rd. and Pleasant St.

Map of proposed Crowninshield Local Historic District

CrowninshieldHistoricDistrict
Source: Brookline Planning Dept.

Background: Ms. Innamorati and David King, chair of the Preservation Commission, described the historical background of the neighborhood. Once part of the large Sears estate, by mid-nineteenth century the area was owned by the Crowninshield family. In 1899, after the death of the last immediate family owner, it was subdivided into house lots.

The current houses were designed by several architects and built between about 1900 and 1930. Except for the nineteenth-century Crowninshield mansion, the original houses in the district remain intact. Several of them feature the “craftsman style” that was new to the U.S. and popular in the early twentieth century. The scales and setbacks of most houses are similar, despite the variety of styles, designers and builders.

Neighborhood support: Mr. Sherman said neighborhood organizers for the historic district had tried to contact every property owner in the proposed district by telephone, e-mail and first class mail and had found no opposition. There are 61 single-family and two 2-family houses. Residents from seven properties had not yet responded, he said, while of those responding all but the residents of three properties–that is, the residents of 53 properties–joined in a petition to establish the district. The residents not joining said they do not oppose the plan. Dr. Spiegel polled the audience and found no one opposed to the historic district.

The developers proposing multifamily housing at 21 Crowninshield Rd. are a local group calling themselves “21 Crown” and including Robert W. Basile, a Precinct 14 town meeting member. Using powers under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Laws, they expect to override Brookline zoning. No one from that group came to the Advisory hearing. So far, the developers have not publicly opposed the historic district.

Review: Subcommittee members asked about the effect of a local historic district on a Chapter 40B proposal. Ms. Steinfeld advised that the proposed district would not block such a development when it is considered by Brookline’s Zoning Board of Appeals. However, Kate Poverman, an Adams St. resident, said “town feedback suggests” the development was “not likely” to go ahead.

Barbara Scotto, a School Committee member, described herself as an Adams St. resident for 46 years. When she came, “it was a vulnerable neighborhood,” she said–zoned SC-7, allowing conversion by right to 2-family houses. At the neighborhood’s initiative, it was rezoned S-7, allowing only single-family houses. Recently, she said, “there have been houses bought by investors who are not living there.”

Subcommittee member Angela Hyatt, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, said it was “hard to imagine a better case for a local historic district” (LHD). Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13 said “the LHD approach has become more and more important in Brookline.” He mentioned needs for “enough staff in the Planning Department…to enforce” historic district regulations. Dr. Spiegel recommended a renewed effort to contact residents in the seven properties not yet heard from. The subcommittee voted unanimously to recommend approval.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 31, 2015


Board of Selectmen: new 40B project, town meeting reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 30, 2015

Application letter for 21 Crowninshield Road 40B project, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, March, 2015

Response to 21 Crowninshield Road application, Brookline Board of Selectmen, April 1, 2015 (8 MB)

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Board of Selectmen: new 40B project, town meeting reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 24, started at 6:55 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board reviewed a partly subsidized housing development at 21 Crowninshield Rd., which proposes to use powers under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Laws to override the single-family zoning.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Peter Ditto, the engineering director, described a report and request for reimbursement under the 2014 state-funded road program, authorized through Chapter 90 of the General Laws. Brookline is eligible for about $1.24 million; the board approved. Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, got approval to accept a $0.01 million state grant for a youth program. Alan Balsam, the health director, got approval to accept a $0.01 million state grant for a low-income nutrition program, cooperating with the Brookline Food Pantry.

Mr. O’Leary also received approval to replace a traffic supervisor who is retiring. Dr. Balsam got approval to replace a program coordinator who is leaving to become assistant health director in Belmont. As to both, Ken Goldstein, the board’s chair, made his usual request to seek a diverse pool of candidates and consult with the personnel office and the diversity department.

New 40B project: The board considered a recent proposal to develop partly subsidized housing at 21 Crowinshield Rd. in North Brookline. A response to a Mass. Housing agency application had apparently been drafted by Maria Morelli, recently hired as a planner, who as a consultant had coordinated the town’s professional efforts reviewing the proposed 40B project at Hancock Village.

The developers are a local group calling themselves “21 Crown” and including Robert W. Basile, a Precinct 14 town meeting member. Last year they bought the single-family house at 21 Crowninshield Rd. and an adjacent, undeveloped lot to the north. Then they cut down almost all the trees and plantings that had grown over about a century, leaving the house isolated and exposing to Crowninshield Rd. residents a stark view of the back of the Arbour-HRI Hospital, on Babcock St.

House21CrowninshieldRoad

Source: Brookline Planning Dept.

Instead of fireproof construction, the “21 Crown” developers are proposing a “4-decker” wood-frame building divided into 20 apartments with an elevator. Two are called “three bedroom” and the rest “one bedroom” units, but all would be fairly small–around a thousand square feet. The design recalls a “suburban hamster cage” concept that was previously seen in Cambridgeport starting in the 1960s.

FourDeck21CrowninshieldRoad

Source: Brookline Planning Dept.

No representative for the developers appeared at this meeting of the Board of Selectmen. Ms. Morelli said comments from reviewers had called the proposal “inappropriate for the site.” Developers, she said, “tried to cast the context as Commonwealth Avenue business.” Mr. Basile owns nearby property along Commonwealth Avenue now housing Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Firestone and Sullivan Tire.

Kate Poverman, a neighbor on Adams St., called attention to the large “concentration of affordable housing in our area” but said, “We’ll work with the developer.” Barbara Scotto, a member of the School Committee who lives diagonally opposite the site, described hazards, saying, “Traffic is already backed up frequently at Pleasant and Adams.” The board approved the response to be sent to Mass. Housing, with several revisions.

Budget reviews: The board reviewed proposed budgets presented by Patrick J. Ward, the town clerk, for the town clerk’s office, by Mr. O’Leary for the Police Department and by Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, for the Department of Public Works. Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, has proposed defunding one patrolman position in the Police budget, currently vacant. Mr. O’Leary said the Police Department would continue to function without the position if necessary.

The board reviewed two warrant articles for the spring town meeting: 4. Close-out of special appropriations and 12. Snow bylaw amendments. There are currently no special appropriations eligible for close-out. The bylaw changes had been drafted on behalf of the Board of Selectmen. They raise fines for failure to clear snow from sidewalks, specify new violations and fines, and eliminate a requirement to notify on a first offense instead of citing and fining. The public works commissioner would have increased discretion.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 30, 2015


Application letter for 21 Crowninshield Road 40B project, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, March, 2015

Response to 21 Crowninshield Road application, Brookline Board of Selectmen, April 1, 2015 (8 MB)

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Advisory: a night at the opera

The Advisory subcommittee on administration and finance met at 6:00 pm Thursday, March 26, in the fourth-floor conference room at Town Hall. Groucho, Chico and Harpo were away; Zeppo had left the troupe. New chair Leonard A. Weiss of Hawthorn Road, not a town meeting member, Clifford M. Brown of Precinct 14 and new member Dennis L. Doughty of Precinct 3 were on hand. Town Clerk Patrick J. Ward, whose budget comprised the 6:00 pm agenda, had gone missing.

That did not seem to bother subcommittee members, who immediately advanced to the agenda advertised for 6:30 pm. They briskly dispatched four warrant articles for the spring town meeting: 1. Measurers of wood and bark, 4. Close-out of special appropriations, 5. Unpaid bills and 7. Budget amendments. Following town bylaws, Advisory subcommittee meetings are docketed as public hearings at specific starting times. Members of the public who might have wanted to comment would not get a chance unless they came early.

Hobnobbing with mayors while stiffing selectmen: The subcommittee then turned to the budget for Board of Selectmen with Melissa Goff, the new deputy town administrator, and Item A: $10,000 to join the Massachusetts mayors club–even though Brookline is a town and has never elected a mayor. Town Administrator Mel Kleckner had opted to part with this luxury unless voters pass a tax override in May, but the subcommittee was not so disposed.

A majority of subcommittee members seemed to have their own sense of priorities, and hobnobbing with mayors made the cut. They voted to recommend the $10,000–with or without a tax override–Mr. Doughty dissenting. Maybe compensating for such largesse, they voted to zero out stipends for the Board of Selectmen–with or without a tax override and without consulting them–Mr. Doughty again dissenting.

Members of Brookline’s Board of Selectmen have historically received stipends for their work, dating from colonial times when they constituted the town government. This year the stipends are $4,500 per year for the chair and $3,500 for the other four members. Stipends have not kept up with inflation, going up $1,000 over the last 40 years. The subcommittee proposed to ax them once and for all, as an economy measure. The elected town officers “can be like the rest of us,” a member of the subcommittee remarked, in serving without pay.

With Mr. Ward still missing in action, the subcommittee turned to more than $3 million in the “unclassified” budgets proposed for fiscal 2016: reserve fund, liability fund, stabilization fund, affordable housing fund, contingency fund, out-of-state travel, printing fund and Massachusetts Municipal Association dues. The last of these, often a substantial benefit to Brookline, is to cost $12,278–just a little more than the price for hobnobbing with mayors. The whole $3 million was waved on after about ten minutes.

Summoning the clerk: With no more business at hand, Ms. Goff volunteered to search for the town clerk, whose office stays open Thursday evenings. She found Mr. Ward there. He began pleading ignorance, saying he had not yet caught up with Daylight Saving Time–which started March 8. Subcommittee members seemed unaware of unusual strains in his office during the past year.

Mr. Ward did not enlighten them much, mentioning only that he lost an employee in the previous budget cycle. Willingly or not, he has had the traditional duties of Advisory Committee and Board of Appeals reporting yanked away. Advisory now has its own paid assistant, and Board of Appeals moved in 2014 to the Planning Department. As reported in the Brookline Beacon, during the past year one other employee was fired, and one quit to take a different town job. There has been more turnover in the office than in about the last 20 years. The subcommittee did not wish on Mr. Ward any added grief and will recommend his proposed budget.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 27, 2015


Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

Craig Bolon, Brookline’s workforce: signs of strain, Brookline Beacon, January 9, 2015

Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx, A Night at the Opera, MGM, Sam Wood as director, 1935

Board of Selectmen: projects and budget reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 17, started at 6:45 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board began reviews of budgets and warrant articles for the 2015 annual town meeting in May. They will continue at least through April.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, got approval for a $0.01 million contract with Public Archaeology Laboratory of Pawtucket, RI, to complete a National Historic Register application for Hancock Village in south Brookline. If approved, Hancock Village would become the largest National Register site in Brookline.

A National Register application for Hancock Village has been under discussion for several years. Last summer, board member Betsy DeWitt said it should become an urgent priority, at a hearing of the Zoning Board of Appeals about a proposed housing development under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Laws, which can override zoning.

Lara Curtis Hayes, from the Department of Planning and Community Development, got authorization to apply for $0.25 million in state “green community” funding for energy-saving improvements. Most projects eligible are for town-owned buildings. Solar photovoltaic facilities and new vehicles are not eligible. Grant planning sounded murky at best. No description of Brookline’s projects had been released, yet the application deadline was only three days away.

In response to a question from board member Nancy Daly, Ms. Steinfeld said that Brookline’s ongoing program of installing LED street lighting could be an eligible activity. Board members Neil Wishinsky and Betsy DeWitt did not seem to gave read information distributed in advance and asked about solar photovoltaics and new vehicles.

Licenses and permits: Frank Shear of Framingham, former operator of Benny’s Crepes in Boston and Cambridge, applied for restaurant and entertainment licenses to operate Brick Wall Kitchen at 224 Cypress St., formerly Rita’s Cafe. Mr. Shear had operated the crepe cafe from a food truck. He said there were no plans to resume such a business and said that Brick Wall Kitchen will provide take-out service but not delivery. The board granted the licenses.

Owners of Holiday Inn at 1200 Beacon St. got board approval for a change in manager under their alcoholic beverage license. Stephen Bowman, operator of Fairsted Kitchen at 1704 Beacon St., spoke on behalf of an application for longer operating hours, closing at 2 am instead of 1 am Mondays through Thursdays. Board member Nancy Daly asked about outdoor service. Mr. Bowman said there would be no late-night service outdoors. The board allowed the extensions of hours.

Lisa and Daniel Wisel of Brookline, operators of Vine Ripe Grill at the Putterham Meadows public golf course, had applied for a seasonal license to serve alcoholic beverages, but neither was present at the meeting to support the application. Nevertheless, after waiting about 20 minutes, followed by cursory discussion, the board approved a license for the 2015 season.

Warrant articles: The board voted to approve and publish a warrant with 20 articles for the annual town meeting to start Tuesday, May 26. About half are routine each year. Others have been submitted by boards or through petitions, which require signatures of ten or more registered voters. The board also began reviewing the warrant articles and the budget appropriations for fiscal 2016, under Article 8.

Submitters usually include explanations for articles, published separately. At least two weeks before a town meeting, the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee will distribute a combined report with the text and explanations of articles plus their recommendations to the town meeting. Warrant article reviews, including budget reviews, are docketed as public hearings; members of the public are invited to comment.

Budget reviews: The board began reviewing so-called “base budgets” for fiscal 2016, starting in July. Prepared by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, and his staff, those budgets apply if voters do not approve a tax override proposed at the May 5 town election. They include cuts to be restored if the override passes.

The board reviewed a budget for the Fire Department as described by Paul Ford, the fire chief. Mr. Kleckner has proposed to defund one firefighter position, currently vacant. Ms. Daly asked how the department would cope. Mr. Ford said minimum manning requirements would lead to increased overtime, probably costing around a quarter of what would be spent on a full-time firefighter position.

In his few years as fire chief, Mr. Ford has led an initiative in training, increasing the number of fire personnel certifications from around ten to nearly a hundred. In addition to the familiar emergency medical technician certificates, those include firefighting specialties such as rescue and chemical fires. Ten members of the department have also qualified as instructors, allowing them to train others without outside expenses.

Sara Slymon, the library director, and Michael Burstein, who chairs the Board of Library Trustees, described a budget for town libraries. In that budget, Mr. Kleckner proposed to defund a part-time librarian. Ms. Slymon said there were no vacant positions, so that someone would have to be dismissed. She described library services as “dangerously understaffed,” down from 50 positions several years ago to 40 now, spread among the main library and the branch libraries at Coolidge Corner and Putterham Circle.

Planning and Community Development: Ms. Steinfeld described a budget for the Department of Planning and Community Development. It now serves many standing boards, including the Planning Board, Preservation Commission, Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Conservation Commission, Zoning Bylaw Committee, Economic Development Advisory Board, Housing Advisory Board, Community Development Block Grant Committee and Climate Action Committee. Fifty years ago, it served only the Planning Board, established in 1922.

Mr. Kleckner had not proposed any reduction in the Planning budget. Board member Betsy DeWitt spoke up for an increase, saying responsibilities for preservation planning have escalated in recent years, overloading current staff. She proposed to raise funding from 1.8 to 2.0 positions. James Batchelor, who chaired the Preservation Commission for six years, spoke in support, saying, “People in Brookline care about preservation…We have to stand up and give it more support.”

Bruce Genest of the Department of Planning and Community Development, who is president of AFSCME Local 1358, spoke about what he called a “staffing issue,” saying that in 2011 the department “eliminated a financial position.” Mr. Kleckner said the issue was “being litigated.” Mr. Genest said the town “took union work [and] distributed [it] to management people.” Otherwise, the background of the dispute was not clear.

The board did not vote recommendations on any of the budgets. Included on its agenda was an application from Christopher Hussey, an architect, for reappointment to the Zoning Board of Appeals, but the board did not act on it. The Board of Selectmen is suing the Zoning Board of Appeals, seeking to overturn a comprehensive permit the latter recently granted for a partially subsidized, Chapter 40B development at Hancock Village.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 20, 2015


Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

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

Zoning Board of Appeals: Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, Brookline Beacon, June 20, 2014

Advisory Committee: in a generous mood

Years ago, long-time Advisory Committee member Harry Marks would tour the tables at the opening session of budget reviews. He would present men chairing subcommittees with tie clips and women with pins, in the shapes of scissors, reminding each one, “The purpose of the Advisory Committee…is to cut.” Mr. Marks imported scissors.

Starting off this year, Advisory looks engaged in a role reversal. Increases have been proposed over budgets received from the town administrator and Board of Selectmen. On traditional St. Patrick’s Day, Tuesday, March 17, the full committee voted to add a firefighter position in the Fire budget. The next evening, its planning and regulation subcommittee voted to add 1.2 professional positions in the Planning budget.

Submitting budgets: Budgets remain a committee responsibility that is not simply “advisory.” By law, the Advisory Committee submits a town budget to an annual town meeting. Oddly, Town Administrator Mel Kleckner appears to treat the committee as a functionary, sending Melissa Goff, the new deputy administrator, while he attends mainly meetings of the Board of Selectmen. This year, that might prove shortsighted.

In a free-form discussion at the end of its Tuesday session, members of the committee considered how to “pay for the increases” through other budget maneuvers. Several members, sophisticated in municipal finance, offered a variety of options. Sean Lynn-Jones, the new committee chair elected that evening, and Carla Benka, the vice chair, said the committee would tackle the topic at its “omnibus” wrap-up session, once the individual budgets of agencies, departments and offices have been addressed.

Preservation planning: The most volatile budget issue to emerge so far concerns preservation planning. Over more than 40 years, Brookline has grown and expanded several functions in this area, starting in nineteenth century with a voluntary, still vital Brookline Historical Society. It developed a Preservation Commission, regulating local historic districts and also serving as a state historical commission, a new Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, and related functions of a Conservation Commission, a Zoning Bylaw Committee and the Planning Board.

A table of numbers, distributed at the Wednesday subcommittee session, measured preservation planning workload against professional staff:

Preservation planning workload

Year LHD Dem. NCD Staff
2001 50 28 0 1.33
2002 46 35 0 1.33
2003 46 10 0 1.53
2004 47 25 0 1.53
2005 53 34 0 1.53
2006 86 28 0 1.53
2007 88 25 0 1.53
2008 82 38 0 1.53
2009 109 31 0 1.53
2010 98 30 0 1.53
2011 103 45 0 1.53
2012 100 42 0 1.59
2013 102 40 0 1.80
2014 123 43 1 1.80

Source: Advisory planning and regulation subcommittee

In the table, “LHD” counts the number of property improvement cases in local historic districts, “Dem.” counts the number of demolition-delay cases and “NCD” counts neighborhood conservation district cases, which began last year. Since 2001, the workload appears to have more than doubled, while staff positions grew 35 percent.

Advocacy: When the Board of Selectmen held a public hearing for the Planning budget on Tuesday, board member Betsy DeWitt and former Preservation chair Jim Batchelor, an architect, made an appeal for more preservation staff. Advocates appeared in force at the subcommittee hearing the next evening, with over 20 people from several parts of town.

On Wednesday at the subcommittee, David King, current Preservation chair, argued that preservation cases have tended to become more complex over the years, needing more staff time per case. More of the demolition-delay cases involve historically significant structures. “The staff is overworked and exhausted,” he said. Many were aware that Dr. Hardwicke has been out recently with an illness and that Ms. Innamorati has resigned, coming in on special assignment about half-time.

Judith Selwyn, a long-time Preservation Commission member, described lack of coordination between zoning and preservation planning. It has become a particularly acute problem, she said, with new neighborhood conservation districts, contributing to delays in a recent case on Perry St.

Kate Poverman of Adams St. cited the pressures of Chapter 40B projects, threatening to override zoning, as a “catalyst for local historic districts.” Her neighborhood has organized to form a local historic district and performed volunteer efforts toward surveys and document preparation. Peggy Hogan of Toxteth St. recounted how her neighborhood worked to prepare a definition for a neighborhood conservation district. A new district, she said, involves town staff in “more communication, more meetings.”

Barbara Scotto, a School Committee member and neighbor of Ms. Poverman, argued for three full-time preservation planners instead of the 1.8 positions proposed by the town administrator. She was joined by Dennis DeWitt, an architectural historian and member of the Preservation Commission, who recounted the types of work performed by the planners, and by Mr. King, Mr. Batchelor, Ms. Selwyn, Ms. Hogan and several others. On motions from Lee Selwyn and Angela Hyatt, the subcommittee agreed and is making that recommendation to the full committee.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 19, 2015


Town elections: contests town-wide and in precincts, Brookline Beacon, March 17, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: quests for parking and permits, Brookline Beacon, February 27, 2015

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

Town elections: contests town-wide and in precincts

At the 5 pm filing deadline on March 17 for Brookline’s 2015 town elections, scheduled for Tuesday, May 5, contests emerged for Board of Selectmen and for School Committee–as well as for town meeting seats in six precincts. Candidates have until April 2 to withdraw their names.

Board of Selectmen: Current members of the Board of Selectmen Ken Goldstein and Betsy DeWitt, whose terms are expiring, had announced they would not run for re-election and did not file nomination papers with the town clerk. Five new candidates filed: town meeting members Merelice of Precinct 6, Bernard Greene of Precinct 7, Nancy Heller of Precinct 8 and Pam Lodish of Precinct 14, and Larry Onie, a Marshall St. resident.

Mr. Greene, Ms. Heller and Ms. Lodish were members of the Advisory Committee until they decided to run for Board of Selectmen and resigned, following policies set by the current moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, who is unopposed for re-election. Ms. Heller and Ms. Lodish are also former elected members of the School Committee. Mr. Onie was a member of the former Human Relations and Youth Resources Commission.

Other town-wide: Current member of the School Committee Abigail Schoenbaum Cox, whose term is expiring, did not file nomination papers with the town clerk. Elizabeth Jackson Stram, a Powell St. resident, and Sandra L. Stotsky, a Clark Rd. resident, filed for School Committee. Ms. Stotsky has been a member of the Democratic Town Committee.

Current School Committee members Pen-Hau Ben Chang and Barbara C. Scotto filed for re-election. Town Clerk Patrick J. Ward, Housing Authority board member Barbara B. Dugan, and Library Trustees Carol Axelrod, Vivien E. Goldman, Regina Healy and Carol Troyen Lohe are unopposed for re-election. Terms for Housing Authority are five years. Regular terms for other offices, not filling vacancies, are three years.

Town meeting members: There will be more candidates than available town meeting seats in Precincts 1, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 12. The other ten precincts have what political wags sometimes call “beauty contests,” with five candidates for five seats providing three-year terms. Candidates vie to see who can get the most votes. Owing to resignations, there are one-year terms up for election in Precincts 4, 14 and 15–with one candidate filing in Precincts 4 and 15. No one filed for a one-year seat in Precinct 14.

In Precinct 1, Peter J. Ames of Ivy St., an unsuccessful candidate in each town election from 2008 through 2014, is contesting with the five incumbent town meeting members: Cathleen C. Cavell, Elijah Ercolino, Neil R. Gordon, Carol B. Hillman and Sean M. Lynn-Jones. At Advisory Committee the evening of March 17, Mr. Lynn-Jones was elected chair. He replaces Harry K. Bohrs, from Precinct 3, who had recently resigned because of increased pressures of work at his law office.

In Precinct 4, incumbent Edith R. Brickman chose not to run, while new candidates Jeremy Michael Shaw of Washington St. and Sarah T. Boehs of Aspinwall Ave. filed. In Precinct 5, retiring member of the Board of Selectmen Betsy DeWitt is contesting with the five incumbent town meeting members: Robert S. Daves, Betsy Shure Gross, Phyllis R. O’Leary, William E. Reyelt and Claire B. Stampfer.

In Precinct 6, new candidate Daniel Saltzman of White Pl. is contesting with incumbents John Bassett, Christopher Dempsey, Virginia W. LaPlante, Ian Polumbaum and Robert I. Sperber. Dr. Sperber is a previous superintendent of Brookline public schools and founder of the Economic Development Advisory Board. This is a precinct noted for political activity and sometimes for sharp elbows.

In Precinct 7, incumbent Sloan K. Sable chose not to run, while new candidates Susan Granoff of Vernon St., Keith A Duclos of Vernon St., Crystal A. Johnson of Harvard Ave. and Stacey Zelbow Provost of Washburn Pl. filed. In Precinct 12, A. Joseph Ross of Washington St., a former town meeting member in another precinct, is contesting with the five incumbents: Lee Cooke-Childs, Chad S. Ellis, Amy Hummel, Mark J. Lowenstein and Judy Meyers.

A key element: One factor in the elections is likely to be candidates’ positions on May 5 ballot questions about a tax override and a debt exclusion, both intended mainly to benefit Brookline public schools. More than 80 percent of a $7.7 million permanent tax override is slated to be spent for schools. The proposed, temporary debt exclusion is to expand and renovate Devotion School, on Harvard St. near Coolidge Corner.

–Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015


Election information, Town Clerk of Brookline, MA, March, 2015

Precinct map, Information Technology Dept., Town of Brookline, MA, 2012

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

School Committee: budget bounties and woes

A regular meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, March 12, started at 6:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The main event was the FY2016 budget proposal from William Lupini and Peter Rowe, the school superintendent and the deputy superintendent for administration, which had been delayed twice. Also on the original agenda for March 12, but postponed for a fourth time, was a review of school administration, coordinated by the Collins Center for Public Management, from the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Others on hand from the School Department for the budget review were Jennifer Fischer-Mueller, the deputy superintendent for teaching, and Mary Ellen Dunn, the incoming deputy superintendent for administration after Mr. Rowe retires at the end of June. School Committee members Benjamin Chang, the chair of the finance subcommittee, and Michael Glover, newly elected last spring, missed the meeting. Jessica Wender-Shubow, president of the Brookline Educators Union, was there. The Advisory Committee blanked the meeting, instead scheduling three subcommittee hearings and a full Advisory review of the police budget. It could easily have scheduled those for the previous evening, when there were no meetings at Town Hall.

No member of the Board of Selectmen came, even though the board recently proposed a permanent, $7.665 million per year tax override, primarily to support the school budget. There were four members of the public, two of whom left midway through the budget presentations. One who stayed was Pamela Lodish, a former member of the School Committee and Advisory Committee who has taken out papers to run for a seat on the Board of Selectmen this spring, after announcing opposition to the tax override, along with a group of some well known residents.

Two budgets: The school budget for the fiscal year starting next July is complicated. As Dr. Lupini explained, it is really two budgets: one to be followed if voters pass the proposed override and the other to be followed if they do not. Under the no-override budget, Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, has proposed $0.68 million in municipal service cutbacks, allocating the money saved to help schools cope with increasing enrollment.

If the override passes, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Klecker have proposed to use only about $6.2 million of $7.7 million authorized during fiscal 2016, reducing the impact on taxes for that fiscal year. Dr. Lupini expressed concerns about state funding for education, saying Brookline now expects to lose about $0.25 million in support for full day kindergarten. He said Brookline stands at risk of higher increases in health-care costs than anticipated by current budget proposals.

Budget bounties, with a tax override: In recent years, Dr. Lupini claimed that although Public Schools of Brookline managed, for the most part, to hold back increases in class sizes during years of rising enrollment, it has not been able to maintain levels of support services. As summarized by Mr. Rowe, following is the added school spending proposed if Brookline voters pass the tax override:

• $1.11 million/year for more “interventional” coaching staff
• $0.79 million/year for additional salary increases
• $0.49 million/year for more nurses and counselors
• $0.40 million/year for more administrators
• $0.39 million/year for “technology” equipment and staff
• $0.31 million/year for more special education teachers
• $0.26 million/year for increased “contingency” funds
• $0.18 million/year for staff during Devotion construction
• $0.13 million/year for other items
$4.06 million/year total school spending added in FY2016

Of those amounts, only the $0.49 million for nurses and counselors was clearly associated with enrollment growth. That would add traditional school service staff Dr. Lupini says were needed but whom Public Schools of Brookline could not previously afford. The remainder of the added spending appears to create or substantially expand programs beyond traditional curriculum and beyond service levels currently offered.

Dr. Lupini argued, for example, that “interventional” coaching has been overstressed as a result of enrollment growth. At the Thursday meeting, Dr. Fisher-Mueller, the deputy superintendent for teaching, argued that the leveling off of test scores seen in recent years reflects shortfalls in school services. However, she did not provide data to substantiate the claim. It was also not clear whether spending more money to raise test scores would prove consistent with Brookline’s community values.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to investigate such claims with information readily available to the public. Unlike the municipal department budgets published on February 17 this year, Public Schools of Brookline has not published a timely and detailed annual financial plan describing a proposed budget, comparing it with past budgets and measuring spending amounts against documented performance factors and objectives.

Budget woes, without a tax override: If operating the schools without a tax override, even with the $0.682 million Mr. Kleckner proposes to contribute by cutting municipal services, Dr. Lupini will be faced with needs for cutbacks. As summarized by Mr. Rowe, following are the reductions in school spending he proposed if Brookline voters do not pass the tax override:

• $0.65 million/year saved with 10 fewer classroom teachers
• $0.31 million/year saved with no “gifted and talented” program
• $0.20 million/year saved by cutting other expenses
$1.16 million/year total school spending cuts in FY2016

Public Schools of Brookline now labels the “gifted and talented” program as “enrichment and challenge support.” It is part of the “interventional” coaching that Dr. Lupini would like to expand with a tax override. Dr. Lupini had previously said that expansions to the elementary school world languages program would have to be ended if there were no override this year, but on Thursday he did not propose to do that. However, he said it would probably happen the following year. Those were implemented after voters approved the previous tax override in 2008.

Sharp-eyed readers will surely notice that the sum of the extra spending proposed with an override and the cutbacks proposed without one, $4.06 plus $1.16 plus $0.68 million–or $5.9 million–is substantially less than the $6.2 million Dr. Lupini said would be used in FY2016 from a $7.7 million override. He did not explain the discrepancy.

Budget review: At first, School Committee members hesitated with questions. After the meeting, Mr. Rowe mentioned that they had received copies of the budget message by e-mail only that afternoon. Committee member Lisa Jackson wanted to know what would happen in the next two years without an override. Dr. Lupini said there were likely to be more cutbacks and larger class sizes.

Rather than questioning the substance of budget proposals, committee members seemed to be groping for ways to explain them. Committee member Rebecca Stone asked what a new “parent center” would do, if funded through the override. Dr. Lupini said that the main job was registering new students–done in past years at each of the schools. He said a centralized staff could provide a more “consistent message.”

With or without an override, Dr. Lupini proposed to spend $0.59 million more in the next fiscal year on elementary school teachers and support staff, to address rising enrollment, and to spend $0.50 million more on administration and support for Devotion School during construction, while students are divided among two or more sites. One might expect that any such extra spending for Devotion School would end when the new school opens, but Dr. Lupini did not say.

Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 13, 2015


William Lupini, Superintendent’s FY2016 budget message, Public Schools of Brookline, MA, March 12, 2015

Peter C. Rowe, FY2016 base budget, override vs. no override, Public Schools of Brookline, MA, March 12, 2015

Melvin Kleckner, Summary of Brookline FY2016 financial plan, Town of Brookline, MA, February 17, 2015

Financial Plan, FY2016, Town of Brookline, MA (15 MB)

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2015

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

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

U.S. energy for 2014: a year of gradual progress

With the initial release of federal energy data for 2014, we can see a year of gradual progress. Total U.S. energy use rose slightly, but without signs of resuming the long-term growth that appears to have peaked around 2005. The sharp drop in coal burning and sharp rise in gas burning during 2012 evened out. Coal use remained in long-term decline, an average reduction of 3.4 percent per year between 2008 and 2014. Natural gas use remained in long-term growth, an average increase of 4.5 percent per year over the same span of years. Renewable energy production remained stable, a plateau that began during 2011.

Net U.S. energy imports continued to fall rapidly, reaching the lowest levels since the mid-1990s, mainly because new domestic oil and gas from shale formations continued to displace imports. If the trend since 2005 were to continue, The United States would become energy-sufficient during 2018. However, averaged over the year, U.S. retail gasoline prices remained at inflation-adjusted highs, near peaks of the early 1980s–leading to rapid price declines in the last few months of the year as reactions to excess production.

Electricity generation: In recent years, electricity generation has become a dynamic U.S. energy sector with changes in energy sources, including the growth of renewables. Although promises during the late 1990s of nuclear power at much lower cost proved wildly optimistic, nuclear power remained a stable subsector. Capacity lost from five U.S. plant closures announced during 2014 will be replaced by four new plants to open during 2017 through 2019. The third-generation AP-1000 reactor design from Westinghouse and Toshiba is becoming a world standard. All four U.S. and all four Chinese third-generation nuclear units now under construction use that design.

UsElectricityBySource2004to2014

The major trends since 2005 have continued through 2014: replacement of coal-fired electricity with natural gas-fired electricity and electricity from renewable sources. Among the latter, federal agencies track wind, solar, biomass and geothermal. They count burning municipal waste for energy among many “other” sources of electricity generation.

Nuclear power, hydropower and petroleum-fired power remained fairly stable at about 19, 6 and 1 percent of generation, respectively. Between 2004 and 2014, natural gas-fired power grew from 18 to 27 percent of U.S. electricity, and all that EIA counts as renewable generation combined grew from 2 to 7 percent.

New England has often been ahead of most of the U.S. in adopting new energy sources for electricity. Recently, however, New England has been falling in electricity generation using natural gas and resorting to electricity imports from Canada and New York instead of generating its own power.

Domestic electricity generation

2014 data United States New England
Coal 39% 5%
Natural gas 27% 43%
Nuclear 19% 33%
Renewable 7% 9%
Hydro 6% 6%
Petroleum 1% 2%
Other (waste) 1% 2%

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, February, 2015

Renewable generation: Compared with the rest of the U.S., New England developed a peculiar approach to renewable generation. A majority of U.S. renewable generation, about 7 percent of the electricity supply, now comes from wind turbines, and most of the rest comes from solar. According to EIA, New England got only 1.6 percent of its 2014 electricity generation from wind and 0.4 percent from solar. It outperformed the U.S. in renewable generation by burning wood and municipal waste.

The big wood-fired New England power plants are in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The big municipal waste plants are in Massachusetts and Connecticut. For 2014, EIA reported, Maine produced 27 percent of its electricity generation through burning wood. Massachusetts produced 3 percent of its larger electricity generation through burning municipal waste. Those plants released much larger than average amounts of air pollution for the amounts of electricity they generated, and they are probably not what most people identify with “renewable energy.”

Natural gas in New England: Over the last 20 years, New England has replaced nearly all its coal-fired generation capacity with high-efficiency, combined-cycle natural gas-fired plants. Natural gas use for electricity generation has been crimped since 2013 by pipeline transmission limits. The new, low-pollution plants have often been idled for lack of gas supplies.

Only two major domestic gas transmission pipelines–the 1949 Algonquin and the 1992 Iroquois–cross the Hudson River. Lack of transmission pipeline capacity has cut off New England from plentiful, low-cost domestic gas supplies. During 2014, about 2 GW of New England’s gas-fired generating capacity was outfitted to burn fuel oil, even though oil costs more and pollutes more than gas.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 10, 2015


Monthly Energy Review, U.S. Energy Information Agency, February, 2015 (18 MB)

Electric Power Monthly, U.S. Energy Information Agency, February, 2015 (7 MB)

Board of Selectmen: bumper year for solar electricity, Brookline Beacon, January 22, 2015

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

Climate Action Committee: “green” schools and solar energy, Brookline Beacon, May 20, 2014

Public Works: snow removal

Since the first of four large snow storms during the 2015 winter, Public Works has been actively removing snow, first in commercial areas, then along major streets and later along some of the narrower and more heavily used residential streets. Early in the morning of Monday, March 9, a crew came to work on blocks of Fuller St. between Harvard St. and Commonwealth Ave.

Equipment: The key equipment for snow removal is industrial snow blowers, much larger and more powerful than those sold for home and commercial use. Brookline has been using models D65 and D60 from JA Larue of Quebec. They clear paths about 9 ft wide through snow banks up to about 4 ft and 6 ft high, respectively, powered by 200 to 400 hp diesel engines.

The blowers have been mounted on 4-wheel front-loaders from Volvo Construction Equipment, of about the L120 class, with tires over 4 ft in diameter. Large 10-wheel and 14-wheel dump trucks, with capacities about 10 to 16 cu yd, move along with the blowers, catch snow and cart it to disposal sites. Brookline has been storing snow near the waste transfer station off Newton St. and in some of the larger parks, including Emerson Garden.

Cost and productivity: On Fuller St., staffed with one blower, five trucks and a supervisor, the crew took about an hour to clear a 4 to 5-ft wide snow berm on the northeast side, 3 to 6 ft high, from the 800-ft block between Gibbs and Clarence Sts. At a nominal $150 per hour for each item of major equipment, that operation might have cost about $1,000–around $6,000 per mile.

Productivity was reduced by waiting for trucks, with the blower left idle about half the time. However, cost per mile was dominated by trucking and could not have been reduced by much. The supervisor and two of the trucks were Brookline-marked vehicles. The other trucks and possibly the blower were from D’Allessandro of Avon, the main contractor for snow clearance during the winter of 2015.

At a meeting of the Board of Selectmen Tuesday, March 10, Public Works is seeking a $1.5 million increase in the D’Allessandro contract. If board members are on their toes, we can expect to hear how much Brookline has spent for the season. The reported season snow total of 8-1/2 feet, so far, is way beyond the 3-1/2 feet of snow assumed for this year’s budget, and the snowfall concentration over less than three weeks, early in the season, led to much more snow removal than usual.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 9, 2015


Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 3, started at 6:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Prior to the public session, the board held a closed session about “litigation.”

Hancock Village lawsuit: As reported in the Brookline Beacon, the Board of Selectmen have an aggressive lawsuit in progress opposing a large, partly subsidized housing project proposed for Hancock Village in south Brookline. As part of this effort, they have been working with a group of south Brookline neighbors. The property owner and manager, Chestnut Hill Realty, has been trying to use powers under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts general laws to override Brookline zoning and has been trying to bypass a 1946 zoning agreement with Brookline.

About two weeks ago, after more than a year of reviews and hearings, the Zoning Board of Appeals granted a comprehensive permit for the Hancock Village project, with several conditions. During their closed session on March 3, confirmed through south Brookline participants, the Board of Selectmen voted to file a new lawsuit, contesting the decision of Zoning Board of Appeals members Jesse Geller, Jonathan Book and Christopher Hussey, whom the Board of Selectmen appointed. The proposed project, they claim, “is poorly designed [and] will destroy the historical integrity of Hancock Village….”

Brookline, like most other Massachusetts towns, does not maintain legal expertise in the specialized area of Chapter 40B projects. The Board of Selectmen is considering “hiring outside counsel to pursue the appeal.” According to south Brookline participants, Jason Talerman of Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead has made contributions to the current lawsuit opposing the project, known as Brookline v. Mass. Development, which is pending in the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, got approval to transfer $0.08 million from salaries to contractual services. Her office has an unfilled position and has been employing “outside counsel” on several cases since July. During a budget review, Ms. Murphy said she was confident about being able to hire a “talented attorney” into a T-15 slot, but she has already gone eight months without hiring anyone.

Melissa Goff, who recently advanced to the job of deputy town administrator, reviewed the budget for the offices of town administrator and board of selectmen. There is little change from the current year. Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, would like to spend an extra $0.01 million to join an association of Massachusetts mayors, even though he is not a mayor. He won’t spend it unless Brookline voters pass a tax override this May.

The board approved a policy change for spending allocated from the “Boston Marathon fund,” contributed by the Boston Athletic Association in compensation for Brookline’s expenses on Marathon Day. The new policy is less restrictive, allowing spending for “community purposes…including youth and recreation.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 4, 2015


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

Comprehensive permit for The Residences of South Brookline, LLC, on the site of Hancock Village, Zoning Board of Appeals, Town of Brookline, MA, February 20, 2015 (4 MB)

Town of Brookline and others v. Mass. Development Financing Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2014-P-1817, filed November 14, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: quests for parking and permits

The Zoning Board of Appeals held hearings on Thursday, February 26, for two complex property improvement cases involving off-street parking. Assigned to the hearings were board members Mark Zuroff, a lawyer serving as chair, Christopher Hussey, an architect, and Avi Liss, a lawyer.

Alley conflict: A proposed 4-car garage behind 1471 Beacon St. had wound through two Planning Board hearings and a previous Appeals hearing. The apartment building suffered a major fire a few years ago and has now been largely rebuilt. Previously it had only informal parking on an alley in the back. The developer, who is selling units as condominiums, wanted to create deeded parking in a small garage, adjacent to the alley.

He had originally proposed five spaces, but tight spacing and access led to criticism at Planning and Appeals, and he returned with a proposal for four spaces. Neighbors along Beacon St. seemed satisfied with the changes. Neighbors behind on Griggs Terrace–a private way–were definitely not happy, and they spoke in opposition.

The legal alley access is from the narrow, sloping Intervale Crosscut, connecting Beacon St. with Griggs Rd. about a tenth of a mile toward the west. Neighbors claimed the alley will often be blocked, and vehicles will trespass on drives connecting to Griggs Terrace.

Land adjacent to the row of apartments near 1471 Beacon forms a steep slope in back, descending around ten feet to about the elevation of Griggs Park. The terrain was created in late-nineteenth century as a part of historic Beacon St. apartment development. Dense vegetation, including large trees, has helped to control storm run-off and restrain the slope from erosion.

The developer proposed to excavate a wedge-shaped segment of the steep slope and install a concrete garage structure with thick supporting and retaining walls and a buried drywell to manage storm water. On top, he proposed to create a landscaped terrace, to compensate for removing trees. The floor of the garage was to be level with the alley.

The developer needed special permits for smaller setbacks than standard zoning and for design review of a structure along Beacon St. With four rather than five cars, the dimensions did not need a variance–usually much harder to justify. That such a complex and costly plan appeared practical indicates the high prices being paid for parking in urban areas of Brookline.

Neighbors said they had been alienated by the developer’s conduct during about three years of construction. The alley is a composite of small parcels, with mutual rights-of-way deeded to and used by many of the owners of adjacent property. During construction, they said, equipment and materials had been stationed in the alley, trespassing on their property and that of others and interfering with access.

Neighbors asked for an enforceable permit condition specifying that the alley would not be blocked again. After about an hour and a half of testimony and wrangling among board members, the Appeals panel voted to grant the permits needed for the garage, attaching several conditions, including provisions intended to help neighbors stop potential obstruction of the alley in the future.

Neighborhood conservation: Renovation and expansion of a house at 66 Perry St. has involved a wide range of issues, including parking. This has been the first Brookline property improvement proposed in a neighborhood conservation district, and the Appeals board is not the last stop on the line. By the time the case is finished, reviews will probably total almost a year.

After a six-year study, Brookline created its first neighborhood conservation district in the fall of 2011, for Hancock Village in south Brookline. So far, that has not generated any cases. In spring, 2014, another district was approved at town meeting, involving parts of Toxteth St., Perry St. and Aspinwall Ave. These districts are intended to extend property regulation beyond traditional zoning to help maintain neighborhood characteristics more complex than property uses and dimensions.

Boston enacted an “architectural conservation district” in 1975. Cambridge created its first “neighborhood conservation district” in 1984 and now has five districts. Other Massachusetts communities with similar regulation include North Andover, Amesbury, Lexington, Lincoln and Wellesley. There is no Massachusetts enabling law for this type of regulation. Each community using it has created its own ordinances or bylaws, justified under the general “police power” of cities and towns. Brookline’s approach creates a separate bylaw for each district.

Without an enabling law and an accumulation of case law, communities have to develop their own standards and procedures. One reason reviews of the proposed property improvements at 66 Perry St. have taken so long is that the boards involved have been working out the process–more or less on-the-fly. It looks likely to be a typical case in that both zoning and neighborhood conservation regulations apply.

The Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, established in the 1920s, review the zoning issues, while a new Neighborhood Conservation District Commission reviews issues for which it is named. There is considerable potential for overlap; that occurred with 66 Perry St. So far, the commission held two hearings, the Planning Board two and Zoning Board of Appeals one.

First commission case: After the property owner had settled on a design, following commission review, the Planning Board urged changes. The owner made those changes in plans and went to the Appeals board, seeking special permits for setbacks smaller than standard zoning. The need for the permits had been driven partly by trying to keep expansions from intruding into the front yard, in order to satisfy Neighborhood Conservation.

The Appeals board voted to approve the special permits, but now the owner must return to the Neighborhood Conservation District Commission. The plans approved by Planning and Appeals differ from those previously approved by the commission. With luck, that will be the last stop. Thanks to a cooperative owner, this project looks likely to reach a successful outcome.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 27, 2015


Neighborhood conservation district study, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, September, 2005

Hancock Village: development pressures

Chestnut Hill Realty, the owner and manager of Hancock Village in south Brookline and West Roxbury, has been pushing in recent years to build new, partly subsidized housing on currently unoccupied parts of the property that are located in Brookline–using powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws to override Brookline zoning. It has not sought similar development on parts of the property in West Roxbury.

Since more than 10 percent of Boston’s housing units qualify as “affordable” under 40B standards, Chestnut Hill Realty cannot force a 40B development on West Roxbury. However, it would be less likely to want to, since the potential value of Brookline apartments is greater because of the draw of Brookline public schools. The company is also trying to raise the value of existing apartments with major renovations.

Potential evictions: From appearances, Chestnut Hill Realty might be trying to replace older residents at Hancock Village with younger ones. Several long-term residents have received lease-cancellation notices delivered by constables, and some are terrified of being evicted.

One of the notices from Chestnut Hill Realty said that “you occupy one of [the] original type apartments we will be renovating…this is to inform you that our office will not be renewing your lease at the end of the current term, and that it our intent to terminate your tenancy…you are required to vacate the apartment…on or before June 30….”

The company offered the tenants who stand at risk of being evicted “a $1000 relocation benefit” and “special rental pricing” if they “sign a new contract [by] April 30,” and it also offered them “special financial incentives…to move out earlier.”

Capturing value: The drift of Chestnut Hill Realty’s management is to capture value for the company from Brookline’s support of public schools. If the occupancy of the currently proposed 40B development were to mirror Brookline’s average, the development might add around 50 students in Brookline schools. However, Chestnut Hill Realty has been targeting rental marketing to foreigners with school-age children.

Neighborhood residents fear the 40B development might bring in 200 or more students. Because many of them might have little English proficiency, they could also be unusually costly to educate. During the Board of Appeals hearings over the proposed 40B development, Chestnut Hill Realty did back away from some components of its plans, including lofts in low-rise units, but the plans still include many apartments with 3 and 4 bedrooms.

Meeting responsibilities: A longstanding complaint from residents of south Brookline, echoed by members of the Board of Selectmen and other town boards, is that Chestnut Hill Realty has been trying to bypass responsibilities under an agreement between the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Town of Brookline, shortly before the 1946 annual town meeting, which enacted zoning to allow Hancock Village.

The agreement was a critical element in persuading Brookline to change its zoning. If is reproduced in full in the 1946 town meeting records. John Hancock Co. agreed that any development would be “high-grade garden village type,” that no buildings would be over 2-1/2 stories, that the land area occupied by buildings would not be over 20 percent of the total and that no more than 25 percent of the housing units would be “horizontally divided.” The company agreed that those restrictions would become binding on “successors and assigns,” of which Chestnut Hill Realty and subsidiaries are the most recent.

With support from abutters and neighbors, in November, 2013, the Town of Brookline filed a lawsuit in Norfolk Superior Court, seeking a declaration that the Mass. Development Finance Agency had failed to follow state laws and regulations in certifying eligibility of the proposed development and also seeking a declaration that the restrictions of the 1946 agreement apply to the project.

Overcoming objections: The defendants in the 2013 superior court suit, Mass. Development and Residences of South Brookline, objected that Brookline had failed to exhaust administrative remedies before seeking judicial review and that the 1946 agreement was a “deed restriction,” expiring after 30 years under Chapter 183, Section 23, of the General Laws.

Judge Patrick F. Brady of Norfolk Superior Court dismissed the 2013 lawsuit on both grounds in September, 2014. Although he provided only a bare outline of reasons, he relied on an obsolete case, Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, in evaluating administrative remedies, and he did not appear to consider two recent cases in evaluating the 1946 contract: Killorin v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover and Samuelson v. Planning Board of Orleans. (All cases before the Massachusetts Court of Appeals)

In November, 2014, Brookline and the neighborhood parties filed in the Court of Appeals, seeking to reverse the dismissal on both its grounds. [case 2014-P-1817] The neighborhood participants include Judith Leichtner, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, who has appeared at many government meetings and volunteered as a contact.

The Town of Brookline and neighborhood participants argue that in 2008, after the Marion decision in 2007, the state changed its regulations for Chapter 40B developments, providing no administrative review after a project is found eligible. They also argue that the Killorin and Samuelson cases establish that restrictions resulting from zoning actions are not deed restrictions and do not expire under Chapter 183 in 30 years.

Going forward: Briefs from both sides have been filed for the Court of Appeals case, as of February 12, 2015, and the case looks ready for motions and arguments. However, as of February 21 it had not appeared on a docket. If the Court of Appeals reverses the dismissal of the original case, that case will be reactivated in Norfolk Superior Court for arguments on its merits.

Meanwhile, as expected for many weeks, the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals has granted a comprehensive permit for the proposed Hancock Village Chapter 40B development, filed with the town clerk February 20. At its most recent meeting, the Board of Selectmen suggested that they may challenge that permit, saying they will be considering it at their meeting on Tuesday, February 24. An executive session has been proposed for 5:30 pm on the agenda, about “litigation.”

Given the high potential values and costs involved, it is possible that the case may wind through more stages of review in court, no matter what the next outcome. If the 1946 agreement remains effective, then its land coverage restrictions are likely to be of much interest. Current zoning, enacted in 1962, allows a maximum floor-area ratio of 0.50 in the Hancock Village M-0.5 apartment zone and 0.35 in the S-7 “greenbelt” area near Russett and Beverly Rds.

The 1946 agreement’s restrictions–written before Brookline’s zoning bylaw regulated by floor-area ratio–may be equivalent to a maximum floor-area ratio lower than current Brookline zoning for Hancock Village. However, there appears to be no recent, systematic analysis of as-built dimensions in the Brookline parts of Hancock Village and no systematic comparison with the 1946 restrictions.

A so-called “density analysis” sent to Jesse Geller of the Zoning Board of Appeals in October last year by Alison Steinfeld, the director of planning and community development, uses an antiquated measure, “dwelling units per acre,” that does not accurately reflect town or neighborhood impacts and does not correspond either with current Brookline zoning or with restrictions contained in the 1946 agreement.

In a presentation to the Board of Appeals made in January, 2014, the Hancock Village developer claimed, “The current Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is only 0.29.” [p. 20 of 76] That document did not describe the basis for its claim. If the 1946 agreement is upheld, then no more development might be possible in the Brookline parts of Hancock Village.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 22, 2015


Comprehensive permit for The Residences of South Brookline, LLC, on the site of Hancock Village, Zoning Board of Appeals, Town of Brookline, MA, February 20, 2015 (4 MB)

Town of Brookline and others v. Mass. Development Financing Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2014-P-1817, filed November 14, 2014

Samuelson v. Planning Board of Orleans, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2013-P-1418, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 901, decided July 2, 2014

Killorin v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2010-P-1655, 80 Mass. App. Ct. 655, decided May 5, 2011

Town of Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2005-P-1848, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 208, decided February 12, 2007

Hancock Village 1946 Agreement, Article 23, Annual Town Meeting, March 19, 1946, from Brookline, MA, 1946 Annual Town Report, pp. 32-34

Hancock Village 40B project eligibility application, PreserveBrookline and South Brookline Neighborhood Association, August 28, 2013

Alison C. Steinfeld to Jesse Geller, Density analysis, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, October 20, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals Presentation, The Residences of South Brookline, January 16, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, parking and traffic, Brookline Beacon, November 25, 2014

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

Board of Selectmen: opposing Hancock Village 40B, defending METCO, Brookline Beacon, September 17, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: architecture for Hancock Village Chapter 40B, Brookline Beacon, September 9, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, Brookline Beacon, June 20, 2014

Setting the record straight: claims related to the development of Hancock Village, PreserveBrookline, undated

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, February 17, started at 7:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The agenda focused on the town administrator’s financial plan for the fiscal year starting next July.

Hancock Village Chapter 40B project: In public comment, Judith Leichtner, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, questioned the board’s commitment to resisting a large, partly subsidized housing development proposed at Hancock Village in south Brookline by subsidiaries of Chestnut Hill Realty, the owner and manager.

It has been obvious for weeks that the Zoning Board of Appeals will the allow the development, with a decision expected to be recorded in days. “Will you be appealing this terrible ZBA decision?” asked Ms. Leichtner. “Will you be hiring outside counsel with experience litigating 40B? What action will you be pursuing to…protect historic property?”

Ken Goldstein, the board’s chair, said that the board “will be discussing [litigation] next week in executive session…we have time…we are aware of the deadline.” Left unsaid: for a Board of Selectmen to sue the Board of Appeals that it appointed would appear to put the community in conflict with itself–a house divided.

Contracts, personnel and finances: David Geanakakis, the chief procurement officer, received approval for a $0.38 million lease-purchase agreement with TD Bank. It will fund a set of DPW equipment anticipated in the current capital improvement plan. Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, got the board to certify expected operating life of at least 10 years for a new fire engine, a bonding issue.

Licenses and permits:Hui Di Chen of Melrose, formerly involved with Sakura restaurant in Winchester and the proposed new manager of Genki Ya restaurant at 398 Harvard St., spoke for applications to transfer licenses held by the current manager. Mr. Chen seemed unprepared for some of the board’s questions. He had not sought out training provided by the Police Department on managing alcoholic beverage sales under the Brookline regulations. The board opted to hold the applications and reconsider them at a later date. Board records contain several misspellings of names.

Haim Cohen of Brookline received a license for a restaurant he plans to open on the former site of Beauty Supply, at 326 Harvard St. To be called Pure Cold Press, it was described as a “juice and salad bar.” He has a major shortfall of parking under Brookline zoning and will also need approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Financial plan: Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, presented a financial plan for the fiscal year starting next July, assisted by Sean Cronin, the outgoing deputy town administrator, and by his replacement in the position, Melissa Goff. The main outlines do not include revenue from a tax override of $7.665 million per year that the board proposed on February 10. However, Mr. Kleckner’s plan shows how municipal agencies would use a share of those funds, if voters approve the override.

Without funds from the proposed override, Mr. Kleckner had to propose substantial cutbacks in the municipal programs and agencies. Rental assistance from the Council on Aging would suffer a 25 percent cut, as would part-time Library assistants. Vacant positions in the Police Department and Fire Department would go unfilled. Park ranger, gardener and laborer positions in Public Works would be eliminated, reducing services. Several older vehicles would not be replaced. The Health Department would lose its day-care center inspectors and trim its contribution to Brookline Mental Health by 25 percent.

If voters approve the proposed tax override next May, these cuts would be restored, costing an estimated $0.682 million per year from the proposed $7.665 million per year in override funding. Left unsaid: Public Schools of Brookline has a more difficult problem to solve. If voters reject the proposed override, there will be $6.983 million per year less in funding that could support school programs and departments.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 21, 2015


Brookline municipal agency and program reductions, FY2016, without tax override, February 17, 2015

Melvin Kleckner, Summary of Brookline FY2016 financial plan, Town of Brookline, MA, February 17, 2015

Financial Plan, FY2016, Town of Brookline, MA (15 MB)

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Public schools: decoding a tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 7, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2015

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

Zoning Board of Appeals: architecture for Hancock Village Chapter 40B, Brookline Beacon, September 9, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, Brookline Beacon, June 20, 2014

Judith Leichtner, Comments to Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals on proposed chapter 40B development at Hancock Village, September 8, 2014

Brock Parker, Developer gets green light to pursue a 40B project in Brookline, Boston Globe, October 24, 2013

Advisory Committee: $0.17 million to fight employee actions

The Advisory Committee met Tuesday, February 10, starting at 7:30 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall–hearing requests for distributions from reserves. Contrary to usual procedures for warrant articles before town meetings, subcommittees had not been convened to investigate the requests. In at least one case, that might have helped.

The committee considered three requests: one from Public Works to the Board of Selectmen for emergency snow funds, one from the Board of Assessors, for legal help to contest property tax appeals by utilities, and one from Human Resources, to fight employee complaints and lawsuits. The Advisory Committee has no statutory role in authorizing emergency snow funds and could hardly deny assistance for a tax appeal.

Human Resources, legal services: With approval from the Board of Selectmen the preceding week, Sandra DeBow-Huang, the director of the Human Resources Office, asked for an additional $0.17 million in legal services to fight employee complaints and lawsuits. For the current fiscal year, her department has a budget of $0.20 million for contractual services. The request represents a large overrun: more than 80 percent.

Ms. DeBow-Huang distributed to the committee a list of current employee actions involving legal services, with ranges of potential costs for each case. There were 15 active cases on this list, with pending costs during the current fiscal year estimated at $0.11 to $0.21 million for the active cases.

Jenkins v. Brookline: The most expensive item on the list was a dispute starting in the fall of 2011, when a member of the Information Technology staff was dismissed after being unable to work a full-time schedule, following an auto accident. It is now Jenkins v. Brookline, pending in the federal district court for Massachusetts. In a public filing, Ms. Jenkins stated that she was pressured and harassed, that another I.T. staffer was fired around the same time for taking sick days and that Human Resources staff were made aware of those issues at the time.

Ms. Jenkins, who is being represented through the B.U. Law Civil Litigation Program, has claimed civil rights and employee rights discrimination, in violation of the federal Family Medical Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and Age Discrimination in Employment Act. She is seeking reinstatement with adjustment in seniority, compensation for lost income and benefits and for expenses, personal damages, legal costs and punitive damages. Potential costs to Brookline could be high.

Since January, 2014, the Jenkins case has been in “discovery,” with documents exchanged and depositions taken. A status hearing is currently scheduled for 11 am on April 3. Judge George A. O’Toole, Jr., took over the case from Judge Joseph L. Tauro last May. Since Judge O’Toole is also handling the high-profile case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, accused of the 2013 Marathon bombings, the Jenkins case might be further delayed.

Union actions: In a memorandum to the Board of Selectmen, Ms. DeBow-Huang accused the union that represents many municipal workers in general services of piling up costs, by filing complaints of unfair labor practices with the state Department of Labor Relations. However, her list of cases did not sustain the claim. There were only four such cases listed. with estimated maximum costs about a quarter of the total.

In oral statements at Advisory, Ms. DeBow-Huang went on at length. “Frank Moroney” [a Brookline resident], she said, “is happy to spend a lot of money litigating against us…He has an open checkbook…Some employees went directly to him.” She claimed that Mr. Moroney’s outlook was, “We’re going to throw everything at the town…We’re going to make them bleed.”

Mr. Moroney is executive director of Council 93, for New England, of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)–with over 35,000 members. He began his municipal career in the Water Division of Brookline’s Department of Public Works. In 1971, he became the president of AFSCME Local 1358, representing many Brookline workers in general services. He left the Water Division seven years ago and joined the staff of Council 93 full-time, becoming executive director in 2012. Bruce Genest of the Planning Department is now president of AFSCME Local 1358.

Despite accusations from Ms. DeBow-Huang, her list of legal actions includes more from Fire and Police, a smaller workforce, than from employees in general services. The list distributed at the Advisory Committee meeting might be incomplete. At least one recent termination dispute, one other union action and one widely reported potential civil rights lawsuit may not correspond with cases listed.

Years ago, legal disputes between Brookline and its mostly unionized employees were fairly rare, but after Ms. DeBow-Huang became the Human Resources director they appear to have become more frequent. According to union leaders, she tends to state a “position” and does not seem willing to negotiate. The state Department of Labor Relations (formerly the Division of Labor Relations) can arbitrate if negotiations fail or grievances remain unresolved.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 13, 2015


Active employee actions involving legal services, Human Resources Office, Town of Brookline, January 21, 2015

Jenkins v. Brookline, case 1:2013-cv-11347, United States District Court for Massachusetts, filed 2013

Board of Selectmen: snow removal, employee friction and marathons, Brookline Beacon, February 4, 2015

Craig Bolon, Brookline’s workforce: signs of strain, Brookline Beacon, January 9, 2015

Annual Report, Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations, 2014

Human Resources program budget, Financial Plan, FY2015, Town of Brookline, Section IV, pp. 5-8

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, February 10, started at 6:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Toward the end of its meeting, the board proposed a $7.665 million tax override to cope with increasing school enrollment and a debt exclusion to renovate and expand Devotion School. Those two questions will appear on ballots for town elections this spring.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Andrew Pappastergion, the town’s public works commissioner, described snow clearance for the extended storm that began on February 7. So far, he said, Brookline spent $0.28 million on it–the third major snow storm of the winter, with a total of 73 snow inches now recorded at the municipal service center for the season.

Mr. Pappastergion sought and received approval for $0.15 million in emergency funding to replace a sidewalk snow tractor. Two of the four that Brookline owns are about 20 years old, have been out of service during the recent storm and need frequent repairs. There has been only limited snow clearance in commercial centers, with sidewalks treacherous and parking lanes filled with snow several feet deep. Many drivers in Coolidge Corner have parked in bicycle lanes; few citations appear to have been issued.

Tax override: Shortly after 8 pm, the board began to debate proposals for a 2015 tax override. Ken Goldstein, the chair, proposed $7.993 million per year. Board member Neil Wishinsky proposed $7.665 million. Both amounts were much higher than $5 million per year recommended on July 30, 2014, by the Override Study Committee of 2013. However, all members of the board had publicly stated that they favored more money.

No cogent descriptions emerged for the amounts proposed. At the previous meeting on February 3, an unsigned, undated memo had called out an override of $7.664 million, but that also provided no cogent description of what the particular amount might accomplish. Predicting three or more years of future budgets to four significant digits is comparable to predicting the recent 20-inch snowfall to 1/64 of an inch, risking doubt rather than confidence.

Three board members–Nancy Daly, Betsy DeWitt and Ben Franco–said they supported Mr. Wishinsky’s proposal. At that, Mr. Goldstein withdrew his proposal and joined the others in voting to propose a $7.665 million per year general tax override. As long expected, the board also voted unanimously to propose a debt exclusion for the renovation and expansion of Devotion School.

Mr. Goldstein said he expected that the proposed override would suffice for five years. The board has not yet explained what the proposed override would buy or what would happen if voters reject it. Members of the School Committee present at the meeting would not speculate on what the override might accomplish or estimate how long the override might suffice with rising school enrollment.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 12, 2015


Unsigned, undated memo: $7.664 million override, Brookline Board of Selectmen, distributed February 3, 2015

Board of Selectmen: larger tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 14, 2015

Craig Bolon, Public schools: decoding a tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 7, 2015

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

Planning Board: review of Devotion School plans, Brookline Beacon, January 18, 2015

Board of Selectmen: snow removal, employee friction and marathons

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, February 3, started at 6:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The agenda was slim, considering that the previous week’s meeting had to be cancelled because of snow.

Board member Ken Goldstein announced that he will not be running for another term this spring. He has served on the board since 2009 and has been chair since May of last year. Before that, he was a Planning Board member for 15 years, chairing that board from 2004 to 2009. He was previously a member of the Housing Advisory Board, and he served as a town meeting member from Precinct 14. He practices law at a Brookline firm, Goldstein & Herndon.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator, has submitted a letter of resignation. Later this month he begins a position with the state Department of Revenue as Senior Deputy Commissioner for Local Affairs. Mr. Cronin has worked in the Brookline office of the town administrator for 17 years. He described Brookline management as a “team effort” and said he hopes to engage with state policy initiatives in the same spirit.

Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, got board approval to fill Mr. Cronin’s position and said he intends to promote Melissa Goff, the assistant town administrator for the past nine years. She came to Brookline from the Boston Office of Budget Management during the Menino administration. In Brookline, she has been in charge of annual budget preparation and has participated in the development of online services. Mr. Kleckner also has approval to fill Ms. Goff’s position and said he plans a broad-based search for candidates.

Ray Masak, a building project administrator, got approval for a $0.12 million contract with Eagle Point Builders of Belmont to restore doors and windows of the historic gatehouse at the Fisher Hill Reservoir, the lowest of several bids by a small margin. References said Eagle Point Builders did good work for other towns on restoration projects but warned that Mark Moroso, the owner, could be “tough” to deal with. The architect is Touloukian & Touloukian of Boston.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval for $0.02 million for a dam inspection at the Brookline Reservoir. He hopes to resolve issues with the growth of vines and bushes so that trees and landscaping can be maintained rather than cleared. The contractor, Tighe & Bond of Worcester, will prepare a tree management plan.

Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, got approval for $0.06 million in change orders for projects underway at Lawrence, Devotion and old Lincoln Schools. He reported that the Devotion project will not require indoor air sampling, because levels of soil contamination from oil tanks were below hazard thresholds, but there will be offsite soil disposal.

Snow removal budget: Andrew Pappastergion, the town’s public works commissioner, described snow removal for the two storms that began on January 27 and February 1. He said the municipal service center received a total of 46 inches of snow, none of which has melted so far, and he estimated costs of snow plowing and removal at $0.53 million for the first storm and at $0.23 million to date for the second one.

The town’s budget for snow was based on 43 inches over the season, in line with the historic average. That has been exhausted, with winter just half over. Mr. Pappastergion asked the board to authorize emergency snow funds under Chapter 44, Section 31D of the General Laws, and the board voted to do so. Those funds will later be made up by tapping the reserve fund, by cutting other budgets this year or by dipping into next year’s funds. There is no Proposition 2-1/2 exemption for emergency snow funds.

Mr. Pappastergion was also authorized to fill four vacant positions and to accept $0.006 million in state grants to support recycling. He said a state grant of $0.2 million is pending, to purchase waste bins for a trash metering program that he expects to implement later this year. He has been operating under priorities of the former Patrick administration and did not seem to have planned for potential changes in priorities under the new Baker administration.

Costs of job friction: As reported in the Beacon, Brookline has been experiencing increasing friction with employees. Sandra DeBow-Huang, the director of human resources, asked the Board of Selectmen to approve a $0.17 million reserve fund request, for legal services. She said unexpectedly high costs mainly came from two employee lawsuits and one employee complaint to the state Department of Labor Relations (DLR).

The request for legal services funds is historically large–around eight percent of the total reserve fund, which is already facing stress to pay high costs of snow clearance. It is likely to be scrutinized when it reaches the Advisory Committee, which controls the reserve fund. Ms. DeBow-Huang complained of “tight time frames” to respond to DLR proceedings.

DLR is a fairly new state agency assembled in 2007 from older agencies. Its investigators and its Commonwealth Employment Relations Board hear and rule on union issues when contracts do not include binding arbitration. The Board of Selectmen later interviewed a candidate for the Human Resources Board, without getting much insight on job friction from that interview.

Marathons: Josh Nemzer, representing Boston Athletic Association (BAA), sought and received a parade permit from the board for the 2015 Boston Marathon segment on Beacon St. He described road closing as lasting from 9:15 am to 5:30 pm next April 20. Board member Nancy Daly objected to repeated refusals by BAA personnel last year to let Brookline pedestrians cross Beacon St. and said BAA might want to consider using Commonwealth Ave. instead, if it could not accommodate community needs.

In another version of marathon, the board resumed its discussion of 2015 tax override proposals, once again without reaching a conclusion. School Committee chair Susan Ditkoff and member Rebecca Stone were present along with William Lupini, the superintendent of schools, Peter Rowe, the deputy superintendent for finance, and Jennifer Fischer-Mueller, the deputy superintendent for teaching.

The process began with appointment of the Override Study Committee of 2013 on August 20 of that year, almost a year and a half ago. The committee soon became embroiled in attacks on the METCO program and never seemed to regain full balance. All members of the Board of Selectmen publicly stated that they favor larger amounts of money than the committee recommended,

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 4, 2015


Craig Bolon, Brookline’s workforce: signs of strain, Brookline Beacon, January 9, 2015

Annual Report, Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations, 2014

Solid Waste Advisory Committee: recycling and trash metering, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2014

Board of Selectmen: vacation, town meeting, personnel, contracts, licenses and trash metering, Brookline Beacon, July 23, 2014

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

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

Board of Selectmen: larger tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 14, 2015

Craig Bolon, Public schools: decoding a tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 7, 2015

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

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

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

Transportation Board: Brookline Place parking and permit moratorium

A regular meeting of the Transportation Board on Tuesday, January 20, started at 7:00 pm in the first-floor north meeting room at Town Hall, with all board members except Ali Tali present. The board reviewed plans for taxi stands and for parking on Pearl St. and River Rd, near the forthcoming Brookline Place redevelopment, and it affirmed town-wide restrictions on special parking permits.

At this fairly well attended meeting were Todd Kirrane, the transportation administrator, chair Linda Hamlin and member Mark Zarrillo of the Planning Board, chair Cynthia Snow and member John Dempsey of the Bicycle Advisory Committee, John Bassett, Antonia Bellavista, Edith Brickman and Arlene Mattison, members of the Brookline Place design advisory team, Capt. Michael Gropman of the Police Department, and several residents and business owners near the Brookline Place area.

Parking near Brookline Place: George Cole of Stantec Consulting presented parking proposals for the Brookline Place Redevelopment on behalf of Boston Children’s Hospital, the developer. He was assisted by Robert “Robbie” Burgess of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown, transportation consultants, by Timothy “Tim” Talun of Elkus Manfredi Architects and by Brian Chou of Mikyoung Kim Design, landscape designers.

The project developers have proposed a parking reconfiguration that moves a taxi stand near the bend of Pearl St., opposite the Brookline Village Green Line stop, across the street and adjacent to the stop, leaving the part of the street that will be adjacent to a lawn unobstructed. To compensate for loss of spaces, they propose so-called “reverse angle parking” along part of Pearl St.–an unusual approach, backing in to park. They cited a few examples, the closest on Bow St. near Union Sq. in Somerville.

Some board members had not kept up with the development and were surprised at the proposal. Gustaaf Driessen asked, “We don’t get taxi space back as parking?” Yes, that’s right. However, Mr. Cole conceded, “The reaction to angle parking has not been wholly positive.” Mr. Burgess explained the “reverse angle parking” scheme, and board members asked whether Pearl St. would need to become one-way, like Bow St. in Somerville. The consensus seemed to be that Pearl St. should remain two-way.

The discussion veered into bicycle facilities. Some in the audience, including Ann Lusk of Hart St., called for a “cycle track” through the area–meaning a pair of fully separated bicycle paths. No cost was cited, but those can run more than a million dollars per roadway mile. Mr. Burgess said Pearl St. was not wide enough. One board member doubted the contribution to a transportation network, since Pearl St. is a loop that does not form part of a thoroughfare.

Capt. Gropman said the proposed plan for Pearl St. amounted to reducing on-street parking from 55 to 41 spaces and was likely to create problems. He asked about moving the taxi stand to Station St., on the other side of the MBTA stop. Mr. Kirrane objected that much of the demand for taxis would be coming from the new development. Ms. Hamlin said the Planning Board and its design advisory team favored the developer’s plan for the taxi stand, noting that the development’s new parking garage would offer short-term spaces to the public.

There was extended discussion about locations of stops for the three MBTA bus routes–Nos. 60, 65 and 66–that pass through the intersection of Route 9-Washington St. with Pearl St. Passengers of buses westbound on Route 9 have good access to the area from the bus stop just west of Pearl St. next to 10 Brookline Place, formerly Hearthstone Plaza. Passengers going the other direction encounter problems, especially for the No. 66 bus continuing onto Huntington Ave. The other two buses travel on Brookline Ave. There were no resolutions to the issues; the board took no votes.

River Road, bicycles and parking: Running about 40 minutes late, the board took up the topic of a bicycle path parallel to the Riverway Bridge across Route 9 at the Boston and Brookline border. Mr. Kirrane and Ms. Snow described the plan. It would connect paths in Riverway Park to the north, along the Muddy River, and in Olmsted Park to the south, toward Leverett Pond. Bicyclists must now cross at intersections with poor visibility and signage and with heavy traffic.

Board chair Joshua Safer noted that the plan was “rejiggering our priorities,” apparently meaning in favor of parkway bicycle paths instead of street-oriented bicycle lanes. Mr. Kirrane described a target of opportunity, saying that Erin Gallentine, Brookline’s director of parks and open space, “got a $1 million grant from DCR (the state Department of Conservation and Recreation) that includes the project this year, to construct it this summer.” Left unsaid: with a change from the Patrick to the Baker administration, the grant might be withdrawn if it were not promptly applied.

As submitted to DCR, the plan reconfigures some existing bicycle paths and some Riverway access ramps, adding colored bands marking bicycle crossings. A point of contention is that a bicycle path needs to be built along the southeast side of River Rd., where there is not enough space near the intersection with the Riverway access ramps. Mr. Kirrane said part of the River Road right-of-way was needed, removing up to ten parking spaces.

Neighbors and nearby business operators objected. Ms. Lusk of Hart St. was “bothered by the ‘fast track’ process, omitting public comment” and by “dangerous crossings across…ramps.” The owner of Brookline Foreign Motors said, “Our customers need the spaces.” Ashley Goodwin, the owner of Shambala Center on River Rd., said, “Parking is a struggle for all of us on that little island.”

Ms. Mattison of the Brookline Place design advisory team supported the plan, saying it was “reclaiming the area to the Emerald Necklace“–referring to a phrase from landscape architect Frederick Olmsted, Sr., for the 1,100-acre Boston park system bordering the Charles River and Muddy River. After extended discussion, the board voted to create a five-space no-parking zone on River Rd. to accommodate the proposed new bicycle path.

Parking permit moratorium: Revisiting special parking permits for School Department employees and programs, the Transportation Board affirmed a moratorium. Long-simmering controversies over the impacts on neighborhoods reignited after a recent application for about 50 new permits to be used near Temples Ohabei Shalom and Emeth by pre-kindergarten teachers, administrators and support staff.

The board voted to approve letters to be sent by the chair, Dr. Safer, to the chairs of the School Committee, Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, advising them of Transportation Board policy. Permits now in effect will continue through the current school year.

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


Sustainable parking and permit moratorium, Brookline Transportation Board, January 30, 2015

Planning Board: Brookline Place redevelopment, Brookline Beacon, January 23, 2015

Pre-kindergarten: parking disputes, Brookline Beacon, December 31, 2014

Reverse angle parking on Bow St., City of Somerville, MA, 2012

Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot, Map, Park System from Common to Franklin Park, City of Boston, MA, 1894

Licensing Review Committee: registered marijuana dispensary

A regular meeting of the Licensing Review Committee on Thursday, January 29, started at 8:30 am in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. This committee considers licensing policy and new types of licensing. The agenda was initial review of the proposed form of license for a registered marijuana dispensary. Patricia Corea, associate town counsel, is a member of the committee and described the proposed license conditions and the proposed form of a license application.

In addition to committee members, attending this meeting were Alan Balsam, the health director, Kara Brewton, the economic development director, Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, Todd Kirrane, the transportation administrator, Peter Ditto, the engineering director, Polly Selkoe and Lara Curtis Hayes of the Planning Department, Supt. Mark Moran and Lt. Philip Harrington of the Police Department and one member of the public. The town departments had presented their reviews at a previous meeting held on December 11.

Business plans: New England Treatment Access (NETA), now headed by Arnon Vered of Swampscott, proposes operating from the former Brookline Bank building at the intersection of Boylston and Washington Sts. The company is also planning a dispensary in Northampton and a production facility in Franklin. Present for the company were Mr. Vered, Norton Arbelaez, a lawyer, Amanda Rossitano and Jim Segel, a lawyer and a former state representative from Brookline. Mr. Arbelaez said the company hopes to open its production facility in March and be in full operation by fall.

The company is being reviewed for state certification. The Department of Public Health would act as primary regulator for the strength and purity of products. According to Mr. Vered, most sales are expected to be oil-based liquids, not solid or smokable marijuana. If the company receives state and local licenses, it will also need a special permit under Brookline zoning enacted in November, 2013, and maintained without change at the 2014 fall town meeting. The Board of Selectmen issued regulations for a registered marijuana dispensary last year.

Brookline requirements: Mr. Arbelaez, representing NETA, questioned a proposed requirement to report racial and income information about customers. He said the company would not have the information. Asking for it could be an invasion of privacy. Dr. Balsam of the Health Department said his department’s intents were to keep track of how many customers received health-care subsidies and to check for potential discrimination. There was no apparent resolution of the issues at this meeting.

Mr. Arbelaez questioned proposed requirements to avoid “illegal” conduct, noting that marijuana distribution is expected to remain illegal under federal law, even if the federal government does not enforce the law against a state-regulated operation. The committee agreed to modify the requirements. Mr. Arbelaez also questioned requirements not to create “nuisance conditions” from illegal parking, littering and other activities–noting lack of control over activities outside the place of business.

Kenneth Goldstein, a committee member and chair of the Board of Selectmen, explained that proposed requirements were modeled after other town licensing and that the Board of Selectmen, as the licensing authority, understood practical circumstances and could not be “arbitrary or capricious.” Mr. Arbelaez noted that the company had submitted a “transportation demand management” plan, intended to reduce traffic problems.

There was an extended discussion of home delivery. The state is requiring that home delivery be available, but Mr. Vered maintained that while it might reduce traffic issues, home delivery was probably less secure than a well protected and highly visible business location. Police representatives indicated that they preferred deliveries be made from NETA’s production facility. Mr. Vered said that was also the company’s preference.

The proposed license application includes financial information about Brookline operations. Mr. Arbelaez noted that the information would not meaningfully reflect the company’s operations, since over 80 percent of its costs were expected to be incurred in production, not distribution. The committee agreed that audited financial statements, already required as public information, would suffice. It will hold another review in mid-February.

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


Registered marijuana dispensary regulations, Town of Brookline, MA, 2014

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

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

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

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

Planning Board: Brookline Place redevelopment

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, January 22, started at 7:30 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The agenda was a two-family conversion on Babcock St. and the board’s formal review of plans for Brookline Place redevelopment, being proposed by Children’s Hospital, the property owner. Lara Curtis Hayes, a senior planner in the Department of Planning and Community Development, and Polly Selkoe, the assistant director for regulatory planning, presented the cases.

Children’s Hospital was represented by Charles Weinstein, vice president for planning and development, by Sam Norod and Tim Talun of Elkus Manfredi Architects, by Mikyoung Kim of Mikyoung Kim Design, landscape architects, by Skye Levin of Howard/Stein-Hudson, traffic engineers, and by George Cole of Stantec Consulting. Developers for Brookline Place had held a series of six meetings over last summer and fall with a design advisory team appointed by the Planning Board, including board member Mark Zarillo and Linda Hamlin, the board’s chair.

Members of the public–only four–were outnumbered by developer representatives and Brookline staff, including Kara Brewton, the economic development director. Rather than indicating lack of interest, slim attendance more likely reflected satisfaction with the project and its designs, negotiated with public input and participation.

BrooklinePlaceAerialFromNw20141212

Source: Town of Brookline, MA, from Children’s Hospital

Building a plan: The rendering shown is an aerial perspective from around 2,000 feet above Town Hall on Washington St. showing the Brook House in the background and the existing 10 Brookline Place, formerly Hearthstone Plaza, to the right. The 2-story former Water Department near Brookline Ave.–now an early-education and day-care center–is hidden in this view by offices at 1 Brookline Place.

While the main outlines of the project had been explained to town meeting last May, when it approved zoning changes, the building shapes and appearances and the landscaping developed during extended reviews. Plans call for removing two low-rise structures now at 2 Brookline Place and the adjacent 4 Brookline Place, replacing them with an 8-story office tower, and adding a 6-story wing, toward Washington St., to the existing two wings of 6-story offices at 1 Brookline Place. A 3-story garage is to be replaced by a larger, 5-story garage.

Current plans most nearly reflect a “boulevard concept” presented last summer. They feature a lawn across Pearl St. from the MBTA Green Line stop and many other landscaping elements. At the most recent meeting of the Transportation Board, those board members generally seemed to favor leaving views of the lawn unobstructed from Brookline Village by moving a taxi stand across the street, beside the Green Line stop.

Planning a building: Planning Board members took note of public improvements to be funded by Children’s Hospital under a development agreement with Brookline. They include removal of a long-disused pedestrian overpass across Route 9, built about 40 years ago and closed up after it harbored muggings and vandalism. Funds are to be contributed for street reconfigurations and improvements, including a traffic signal at Brookline Ave. and Pearl St. and signal coordination for Route 9 and nearby streets.

Planning Board members seemed as interested as Transportation Board members had been in traffic issues, but they were not able to make much headway during a meeting filled with other concerns. Ms. Hamlin noted that so far there had been little involvement by Station St. business operators, on the other side of the MBTA stop. The Planning Board is to revisit those issues soon, perhaps at its next meeting.

Screening along the Pearl St. face of the new garage and on the face adjacent to the lawn attracted interest. Mr. Norod, the architect, said that designs were preliminary and might change. The “framing” along Pearl St. and the “staircase” pattern adjacent to the lawn, he said, are intended to be “visually interesting.” The paths across the property will be open to the public and will be maintained by the building owner. The ground floor of the 8-story tower will house restaurants and retail shops.

Not shown in the rendering are large signs proposed for the roof of the 8-story tower and in other places, advertising Children’s Hospital. They were on the agenda to be considered for special zoning permits. Other permits are needed for parking, setbacks and projecting signage and for design review of a major-impact development. Participation by the design advisory team was an element of design review. Jonathan Simpson, a Planning Board member, asked about shadow studies. Ms. Kim said some studies had been done, but she spoke only about shadows inside the Brookline Place property and showed no studies at the meeting.

According to Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Norod, Children’s plans to develop in stages: first removing the low-rise buildings at and near 2 Brookline Place, then putting up 3-level, outdoor automobile stackers there to house vehicles temporarily that now use the current garage. Afterward, the current garage is to be removed and the new one built, and finally the new 8-story office tower at 2 Brookline Place and 6-story wing at 1 Brookline Place will go up. The Planning Board recommended approval of permits to the Zoning Board of Appeals but is seeking conditions, including review by Planning of final designs.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 23, 2015


Two Brookline Place / Children’s Hospital, Town of Brookline, MA, January, 2015

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

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

Craig Bolon, Gateway East: an idea whose time has gone, Brookline Beacon, October 17, 2014

Board of Selectmen: bumper year for solar electricity

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 20, started at 6:25 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Before it, the board met behind closed doors with the School Committee about a proposed property lease. Renting space for classrooms in a commercial building near Pierce School has been mentioned at recent public meetings.

Board member Betsy DeWitt announced that she will not be running for another term this spring. She has served on the board since 2006 and was chair from 2010 to 2014. Before that, she was a Precinct 5 town meeting member for 22 years and an Advisory Committee member for ten years, chairing the committee from 1994 to 1996, and she served as executive director of the Brookline Community Foundation.

Contracts, personnel and finances: The board accepted a donation from the Korean Church to benefit the Fire Department. The church has made several donations in past years to public safety services. Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, received approval to hire a planner, replacing one who recently left. The board interviewed a candidate for the Planning Board.

Kara Brewton, the director of economic development, provided an update on Cleveland Circle development at and near the site of the former Circle Cinema. She introduced Theodore Tye of National Development in Newton, which recently took the role of lead developer. Mr. Tye indicated that National would honor the agreements with Brookline, including tax arrangements, previously negotiated with Boston Development Group.

Plans for the Cleveland Circle site have changed only a little. The Brookline portion will still have a hotel with 162 rooms, the same as before, and the Boston portion will have housing. Plans for housing now focus on elderly but mobile tenants; there will be a ground-floor restaurant.

Solar electricity: Mary Dewart, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Michael Berger, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, and David Pantelone provided an update on Brookline’s solar electricity installations. The Climate Action Committee is planning a Climate Week event for February 2-10, 2015. It will feature TinySol, a small solar-powered house boat, to be exhibited in the Town Hall parking lot, 333 Washington St., on Saturday, February 7, between 9:00 am and 3:30 pm.

Calendar 2014 developed as a bumper year for solar electricity in Brookline, doubling the town’s total rated capacity. The Winchester St. condominium where Mr. Lescohier lives installed a rooftop unit rated at 47 peak DC kilowatts, becoming the town’s largest. There were 41 new systems installed, about three-quarters of them by SolarFlair of Ashland, which began an active marketing effort during the second half of 2013.

Brookline has had a fairly sleepy solar program, as shown in a database distributed by the state Department of Energy Resources. The rated capacity of Brookline solar installations is now about 9 peak DC watts per person. The state average is 130. In this measure, Brookline now ranks 328th of 351 Massachusetts cities and towns.

Some of the nearby communities are similar: Somerville: 7 peak DC watts per person, Watertown 9, Malden 11, Belmont 12, Cambridge 15. Four communities in the state have no solar systems. The town of Tolland ranks first–and energy-sufficient–at over 9,000 peak DC watts per person.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 22, 2015


Brookline solar electricity installations, 2008-2014, compiled from Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and U.S. Census Bureau data

Summary of Massachusetts solar electricity installations, 2008-2014, compiled from Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and U.S. Census Bureau data

Climate Action Committee: “green” schools and solar energy, Brookline Beacon, May 20, 2014

Planning Board: review of Devotion School plans

The Planning Board convened a special meeting Wednesday, January 14, starting at 8:15 am in the first-floor north meeting room at Town Hall, to review preliminary plans for Devotion School expansion and renovation. Present for HMFH Architects of Cambridge were Philip “Pip” Lewis, architect for the project, and Deborah Kahn.

The previous evening, the Building Commission had reviewed the plans in a meeting starting at 6:00 pm in the fourth-floor conference room at Town Hall, with Mr. Lewis and George Metzger of HMFH. Attendance was slim, with four members of the public and three members of town staff at Planning and with two members of the School Committee and three members of town staff at Building. Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, was at both.

Site plans: Preliminary plans for Devotion School are being developed from Option 1 of concept plans, presented at a public hearing in September and subsequently chosen by the Devotion School Building Committee. The historic center building, opened in 1915, is to be preserved. The south wing toward Babcock St. and the gymnasium areas, opened in 1955, and the north wing along Stedman St. and the library areas, opened in 1976, are both to be replaced.

As compared with last September’s concept plans, the new north and south wings are narrower and longer. They remain mostly two stories, with a ground floor of accessory space along Stedman St. away from Harvard St. and an underground parking structure along Stedman St. toward Harvard St. While there are greater setbacks than shown in September from Stedman St. and from adjacent properties along Babcock St., the new wings now extend farther into the front and rear of the schoolyard.

Site plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolSitePlan2015
Source: HMFH Architects for Town of Brookline

Plans for the school site do not affect the Town of Brookline tennis courts adjoining at the rear, nestled between properties on Babcock St., Devotion St. and Stedman St. They do reduce the hardtop basketball area in the back, along Stedman St., from three full courts to two, and they replace the junior-size baseball field, between the current building and the basketball area, with a full-size soccer field. Both the new soccer field and the new basketball courts are next to landscaped areas along Stedman St. that could include seating.

As compared with the current site, the preliminary plans move most children’s play areas behind the building, away from Harvard St. The wings of the new building extend about 50 ft toward Harvard St. beyond the historic Devotion House–dating from 1686–on both sides. By comparison, the Harvard St. face of the current north wing is set back from the front of the Devotion House about 60 ft, with a concrete plaza over underground parking, and the Harvard St. face of the current south wing extends about 20 ft past the Devotion House.

Landscape plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolLandscape2015
Source: Carol Johnson Landscape Architects for Town of Brookline

A children’s play area, intended for community use, remains near Harvard St. on the south side, but it is only about half the size of the current one. A sitting area, also intended for community use, remains near Harvard St. on the north side, at the corner of Stedman St. It is about the same size as the one installed during the 1990s. The front lawn between the Devotion House and Harvard St. remains unchanged.

Entrances and interiors: On the site plan, one sees fewer building entrances. It shows no equivalent to the current, community-friendly front entrance from the plaza on the north side and no equivalent to the current, child-friendly entrance at the Harvard St. end of the current south wing. A rear entrance from the play fields is maintained. An oddly located new entrance appears on Stedman St., at the ground level below the main interior levels, where now there is just a brick wall.

The formal front stairs entering the historic 1915 center building are to remain, but the building stands at risk of being disfigured through adding ramps. The current plaza entrance, at the corner between the center building and the current north wing, has provided front handicapped access in a way more respectful of nearby neighborhoods and of community history than the new plans. A so-called “urban room” near the historic front entrance proved a non-starter with members of the Planning Board and the Building Commission. No one stood up for it.

First floor plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolFirstFloor2015
Source: HMFH Architects for Town of Brookline

The preliminary plan for the first floor shows kindergarten through second grade in the new north wing, along Stedman St., moved from the historic site in the south wing. That had replaced the original Devotion Primary School, opened in 1892. The new rooms are the ones closest to the new entrance planned along Stedman St. Rooms for third through fifth grade appear in the new south wing, toward Babcock St., which lacks an entrance.

A central corridor is shown extending from the front of the first floor of the historic central building, to be double-height between the new library and main gymnasium spaces, reaching a stairwell at the rear to the ground floor and to an entrance off the rear play fields. Rooms for pre-kindergarten, a cafeteria and gymnasium spaces are located on the ground floor.

Like the current library, gymnasium and cafeteria spaces, those for new ones are behind the central building. The new library extends from the first floor, while new gymnasium and cafeteria spaces extend from the ground floor. Those areas are to be double-height with large windows, facing mostly toward the geographic northeast.

Second floor plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolSecondFloor2015
Source: HMFH Architects for Town of Brookline

The preliminary plan for the second floor shows sixth, seventh and eighth grade classrooms in the new south wing, toward Babcock St.–displaced out of their historic sites in the original Devotion Grammar School, opened in 1898, extending down Stedman St. from the corner of Harvard and Stedman Sts. Atop new gymnasium space are extra-height spaces for a “multipurpose room” with a raised stage. (Under state protocols, politically incorrect to call them an “auditorium,” gratis ex-Gov. Patrick.)

Above the rooms for kindergarten through second grade in the new north wing are to be special-purpose rooms for science, languages, art and music. Many former, special-purpose areas for these activities have recently been lost in a cascade of compression to provide classrooms for increased enrollment.

Unlike the current north wing, opened in 1976, the new one shows no provisions for woodshop or home economics. Those longstanding parts of the elementary school curriculum vanished during the 1980s, after enactment of Proposition 2-1/2 led to major budget cuts. There are, however, plans for “technology classrooms” adjacent to the new library on both the first and second floors–having no counterparts in the former curriculum.

Exterior: Plans for the building exterior remain in flux. Three options have been presented to the Planning Board, the Building Commission and the Devotion School Building Committee. Members of the Planning Board and the Building Commission called for changes. Linda Hamlin, an architect who chairs the Planning Board, found none of the options satisfactory. George Cole, a member of the Building Commission, questioned the fairly narrow entrance from Stedman St.–expected to become the most popular access route for students, staff and parents.

At both Planning and Building reviews, there were repeated calls from several participants to simplify the exterior designs and reduce or eliminate costly accessories, including large roof “monitors” above the art rooms and movable sunshades along Stedman St. Sergio Modigliani, an architect and a member of the Planning Board, said all options presented lacked a consistent “architectural vocabulary” for the exterior, instead showing a hodge-podge of materials and patterns.

The side and rear entrances are not well delineated in some options. Mr. Modigliani said HMFH ought to “celebrate” the rear entrance onto the play fields rather than hide it. When plans are marked up for public reviews, Planning Board members said they needed to be simplified–calling out administrative and support spaces, for example, rather than about 30 categories as they did at this week’s reviews.

Corners joining the historic central building with the new wings were criticized. Plans show ostentatious glass towers in the front, labeled as “outdoor classrooms.” No evidence was cited showing that substantial extra costs of those features have been justified by comparable educational values. Plans also show a rear “outdoor classroom,” essentially a deck over the roof of the cafeteria space and two kindergartens. Ms. Hamlin reacted to its appearance in one of the options, saying it could suggest a prison exercise yard.

Unlike the costly and trouble-prone designs for the third Pierce School in 1970, plans for the third Devotion School in 2015 do not call for air conditioning. As Mr. Lewis of HMFH put it at the Planning review, “We don’t want another Newton North.” He described “displacement ventilation with dehumidification” that he said would provide an economical and satisfactory building. Plans show penthouses toward the rear of the north and south wing roofs but leave large areas of roof space unobstructed for solar panels.

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


Devotion School Building Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

HMFH Architects, Preliminary plans for Devotion School, January 16, 2015, Town of Brookline, MA

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

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

HMFH Architects, Concept plans for Devotion School, September 10, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Advisory subcommittee on capital: school-building projects

On Wednesday, January 14, the Advisory subcommittee on capital met in the third-floor conference room at Town Hall, starting at 11:00 am. Four of the five subcommittee members were there–all except Amy Hummel–along with Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator. The meeting attracted another member of the Advisory Committee, three School Committee members, a Planning Board member, a Precinct 7 town meeting member and parents from the Baker and Driscoll School districts.

The unusually large turnout for an Advisory subcommittee meeting on a weekday morning suggested strong interest in plans for school expansion and renovation, heading the agenda. At the May 5 town election, the Board of Selectmen is now widely expected to propose a Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusion for Devotion School expansion and renovation, as well as a Proposition 2-1/2 “operating” tax override, mainly for public schools.

Past projects: So far, Brookline has performed two school-building projects using Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusions:

• New Lincoln School construction, December 1, 1990, by vote of 5,919 to 2,963
• High School renovation, December 12, 1995, by vote of 4,648 to 3,038

In different past elections, Brookline voters also approved two Proposition 2-1/2 “operating” tax overrides, partly to benefit public schools:

• $2.96 million per year, May 3, 1994, by vote of 5,958 to 5,072
• $6.20 million per year, May 6, 2008, by vote of 5,236 to 4,305

Future projects: Mr. Cronin told subcommittee members that a preliminary FY2016 capital improvements program he drafted for the Board of Selectmen already includes two additional school projects, beyond Devotion School, also likely to need Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusions. A High School addition, slated for 2019, is currently estimated at $56 million.

A major project for elementary school expansion and renovations, slated for 2022 or later, is estimated at $48 million. The project description suggests a new, ninth elementary school as an alternative. In addition, the preliminary capital improvement program includes $2.3 million spread over five years for “classroom capacity.” Mr. Cronin cautioned that estimated costs are based on past projects, not on specific plans.

Subcommittee member Clifford Brown asked Mr. Cronin how Brookline voters would know how much of Brookline’s normal capital funding is being used for the Devotion project and how much is covered by debt exclusion. The answer surprised most of the subcommittee and the audience. Mr. Cronin said a debt exclusion ballot question only names a project and gives no financial information. Mark Gray, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, asked if a ballot question could specify only part of a project. Mr. Cronin said he did not think so. School Committee member Helen Charlupski remembered that the 1990s debt exclusion questions included amounts of funding.

It turns out that our Great and General Court changed the law about fifteen years ago. The ballot questions formerly specified amounts of money, but now they read like blank checks. It is up to the Board of Selectmen to tell voters what they mean to do. There are limits on funds, however. They are set by the state Department of Revenue, based on appropriations and bonding authorizations voted by town meetings.

Subcommittee members worried that Brookline was embarking on uneconomic spending. School Committee member David Pollak said that was not the case. Modular classrooms being planned for Baker School and rental space planned for Pierce, he said, were far less expensive than constructing new buildings. Subcommittee chair Carla Benka was concerned about overruns. Fred Levitan, a subcommittee member, recalled that the Town Hall and new Lincoln School projects had been completed on-time and on-budget.

Predicting capital improvements: Brookline’s capital improvement planning has not provided reliable predictions for most types of projects. A study published in 1979 by the Advisory Committee found almost no agreement between projects and predictions five years earlier. Recent years provide the following comparisons for major projects–$1 million and more–funded for the current year.

FY2015 major projects, funds in $millions

Project Predicted Predicted Predicted Actual
Description as of 2009 as of 2011 as of 2013 in FY2015
street rehabilitation $1.55 $1.55 $1.55 $1.55
landfill closure $4.60 $4.60 $4.60 $4.60
wastewater system none $3.00 none none
Village traffic system none none none $1.20
Reservoir Park $1.40 none none none
Baldwin School $1.78 none none none
Devotion School none $48.75 none none
Driscoll School* none none none $1.00
school classrooms none none none $1.75

            * A proposed Driscoll School project was rejected by the state and cancelled.

Source: Financial Plan documents, Town of Brookline, MA

Only routine Public Works projects were predicted reliably during this time period.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 16, 2015


Board of Selectmen: larger tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 14, 2014

Sean Cronin, Preliminary FY2016-FY2021 Capital Improvement Program, Town of Brookline, MA, January 13, 2015

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

Financial Plan, FY2015 and previous years, Town of Brookline, MA

Board of Selectmen: larger tax override

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 13, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The regular business agenda was slim. Much of the meeting concerned proposals for tax overrides.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Erin Gallentine, director of the parks division of Public Works, won approval for a $0.03 million contract with J.F. Hennessey Co. to survey Larz Anderson Park, in preparation for repairs and improvements. Lisa Paradis, the Recreation director, got approval to hire a building custodian, replacing an employee who took a Library position. Contractors have been filling in temporarily.

Members interviewed a candidate for the Human Resource Board. They approved renewal of an agreement with Boston University for payments in lieu of taxes, totaling about $0.45 million this year. Payments were first negotiated in 2010 by Stephen Cirillo, the finance director. Members accepted annual reports from Powers and Sullivan of Wakefield, the town’s auditor, and from Segal Group of Boston, on retirement benefits.

There were no exceptions or adverse findings from this year’s audit. Funding for retirement benefits has reached $9.9 million this year. According to Segal, payments to a trust fund need to increase. The town has approved $3.3 million for the fund this year, and the board expects to increase that to $3.8 million next year. According to Segal, the town needs to reach $6.3 million per year to maintain the fund on a current basis.

Override proposals: Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, and Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator, summarized the tax override proposals thus far. The Board of Selectmen has sole jurisdiction over ballot questions to be proposed for an override. Mr. Cronin also presented an initial review of the town’s capital improvement program. Changes are to be proposed to the annual town meeting.

Since summer, it has looked likely that the board will propose a continuing “operating” override, to help Public Schools of Brookline cope with increasing enrollment, and will propose a temporary “debt exclusion” to meet part of the cost of renovating and enlarging Devotion School. Last August, the Override Study Committee of 2013 submitted its report, recommending an operating override of $5 million per year.

A minority of the override study committee, joined by members of the School Committee, have advocated a larger operating override. They say the schools have not been able to maintain levels of support staff during seven years of steady enrollment increases and need more than just funds for regular teachers.

Recently, William Lupini, the superintendent of schools, and Peter Rowe, the assistant superintendent for administration and finance, released details of school spending plans, including three options for how different amounts of override funding would be used.

At the January 13 meeting, the Board of Selectmen did not reach a firm decision, but a poll of the members showed that all favor a larger override. Amounts they discussed ranged up to around $9 million per year. According to Mr. Cronin, the average residential tax bill in Brookline this year is $8,434 per household. For each $1 million per year in an override, the average annual tax bill would increase by about $36.50.

Hearings, elections, town meeting: The Board of Selectmen will hold two public hearings next week on tax override proposals. The first is Tuesday morning, January 20, from 9:00 to 11:00 am. The second is Thursday evening, January 22, from 7:30 to 9:00 pm. Both are in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall, 333 Washington St. Override proposals and information are available from the Brookline, MA, municipal Web site.

The board voted to schedule the 2015 annual election for Tuesday, May 5. The annual town meeting will begin Tuesday, May 26. Four other dates are reserved for the town meeting: May 28, June 2, June 3 and June 4. The warrant for the annual town meeting opens on Thursday, February 12, and closes on Thursday, March 12. Instructions for preparing and submitting warrant articles are in the Town Meeting Handbook, available on the municipal Web site.

Meetings, lack of valid notice: The regular School Committee meeting on Thursday, January 22, is starting early–a public session at 5:00 pm, instead of 6:00 pm or later. For Tuesday, January 20, 2015, the municipal Web site calendar page noted a joint meeting of the School Committee with the Board of Selectmen starting at 5:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall, but the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline did not indicate such a meeting.

As of Saturday morning, January 17, there was also a notice for a Board of Selectmen meeting starting at 5:30 pm on January 20. No list of topics or other form of agenda for such a January 20 meeting or for a joint meeting on that day appeared on either the municipal or school Web site. Under state and local Open Meeting Laws, there was no valid notice for a January 20 meeting, nor was there enough remaining time to post a valid notice.

– Beacon staff, January 14, 2015, updated January 17, 2015


Sean Cronin, Tax override proposals for 2015, Town of Brookline, MA, January 16, 2015

Craig Bolon, Public schools: decoding a tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 7, 2015

Sean Cronin, Growth in the cost of government, Town of Brookline, MA, January 6, 2015

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

Sean Cronin, Override recommendations and review, Town of Brookline, MA, December 17, 2014

Craig Bolon, Open meetings in government: groping toward transparency, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2014

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

New England energy: wobbly progress

New England continues to outpace the U.S. in generating electricity from low-emissions energy. However, it is losing margins it held ten years ago, is falling behind in wind energy and is starting to regrow its uses of coal and fuel oil. Not well known: wood and waste burning remain steady energy sources.

Energy for electricity, 2013

Energy source U.S. N.E.
Coal 40% 6%
Natural gas 26% 44%
Nuclear 21% 34%
Hydro 7% 7%
Wind 4% 2%
Fuel oil 1% 1%
Wood 1% 3%
Waste 0% 2%
Solar 0% 0%
Other 0% 1%

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Energy sources and obstacles: Development of New England energy over the past 20 years has largely replaced coal and fuel oil with natural gas. The region has hardly any fossil fuel deposits but has substantial resources in wind and wood. Sources of energy providing its electricity are shown in a chart.

NewEnglandElectricity2001to2014

Sources: U.S. Energy Information Administration, ISO New England for 2014

People informed from newspapers and pop media might think wind and solar have become large energy sources. They remain small–as the chart shows–ninth and tenth out of ten sources on the chart, until last year. In 2014, for the first time, New England wind turbines provided more energy than New England waste burners–each a little under two percent of total electricity. There has been more growth in electricity from hydro–mostly imported from Canada–than from wind, wood, waste, waves, solar, landfill gas and geothermal combined.

Cold winters in 2013 and 2014 saw drops in the use of natural gas for electricity. Distributors were obliged to supply heating customers. They could meet less than 90 percent of yearly average demands. New England now has generating plants that can replace all use of coal and fuel oil, but they lack reliable access to natural gas.

Blockage of natural gas supply to New England–from lack of pipeline capacity–is leading to higher prices and emissions. Blockages of high-voltage transmission lines and wind farm installations are aggravating the price and pollution problems. Political maneuvers and local factions are responsible. None of the problems come from limits of technology or finances.

Closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant at the end of December, 2014, removed about five percent of New England’s average generation and cut the share of nuclear electricity in New England from about 34 to about 29 percent. As the chart shows, natural gas-fired generation squeezed out fuel oil, then coal; financial stress was building on nuclear. The former Vernon, VT, plant was the smallest nuclear plant operating in the region. Lacking access to ocean water for cooling, it became the most costly to run for the size.

Coping with obstacles: Until a new gas pipeline is completed, much of the deficit from closing Vermont Yankee will be filled by using coal and fuel oil. They can be transported by train, barge or truck, although at higher cost than moving gas by pipeline. The few remaining coal-fired plants are set for a brief bonanza and might provide 10 percent of the region’s electricity.

Last year, subsidized by all customers of the New England Power Pool, around 2,000 MW of the generating capacity was outfitted for “dual fuel”–meaning oil burners and oil tanks. During the winter of 2015, it might be enough to dampen the huge electricity price spikes from fuel hoarding and gouging that happened in 2014. However, it also means New England power producers have institutionalized a shift from natural gas and nuclear back to more costly and polluting coal and fuel oil: a reversal toward the 1950s.

New, renewable energy sources are starting to contribute: mainly land-based wind farms in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. However, after strong growth during 2009 through 2013, New England wind energy faltered last year. Local factions have blocked new sites, and transmission capacity has saturated. Collapse of the proposed Cape Wind project, offshore Nantucket, helps electricity customers and could stimulate land-based wind energy.

Cape Wind’s lapsed contracts with Northeast Utilities and National Grid featured average wholesale prices of about 24 cents per kWh over the lives of the contracts. That was more than four times the average wholesale price of electricity in New England, estimated at 5.6 cents per kWh for 2013. Effective prices to retail customers for Cape Wind electricity–including transmission and distribution–could have risen to over 40 cents per kWh, more than double today’s average retail price. Cape Wind was hardly a generous neighbor.

– Craig Bolon, January 12, 2015


New England electricity, amounts by energy sources, 2001-2014, U.S. Energy Information Administration and ISO New England (for 2014), January, 2015

Electricity data browser, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015

Daily generation by fuel type, Operations Reports, ISO New England, 2015

New England generation by fuel type, Natural Gas Weekly Update, U.S. Energy Information Administration, January 8, 2015

New England power grid forced to deploy oil units, Argus Energy News, January 8, 2015

High prices show stresses in New England natural gas delivery system, Natural Gas Issues and Trends, U.S. Energy Information Administration, February 7, 2014

2013 Wholesale electricity prices in New England rose on higher natural-gas prices, ISO New England, March 18, 2014

Eileen O’Grady, Entergy to shut controversial Vermont nuclear plant, Reuters, August 27, 2013

Shirley Leung, Northeast Utilities happy to get out of Cape Wind, Boston Globe, January 8, 2015

Craig Bolon, Some “green energy” reminds us of leprechauns, Brookline Beacon, April 8, 2014

Brookline’s workforce: signs of strain

As Brookline developed a management system, starting shortly after World War II, employee relations became steadily more complex and tension-prone. First the Board of Selectmen hired an executive secretary, a purchasing manager and a personnel manager. A volunteer Planning Board built a professional staff. A pre-war accumulation of independent departments and officials was consolidated in stages.

A much maligned traffic czar left, and a Transportation Board was created. The position of executive secretary gave way to a town administrator. The personnel manager was replaced by a human resources director, and a human resources board was organized. In more recent years, new missions have settled within a committee forest that has yet to be pruned. At each step, town functions tended to become more varied and complex.

A distant workforce: Even more profound changes have come from workforce unionization and abandonment of local residency, during the 1950s through the 1980s. Only fragments of the pre-war “family” of town workers remain. Safety services are probably the most conservative groups, still struggling with race relations–over 40 years after the town set up a Human Relations Commission.

To cope with issues raised by African-American firefighter Gerald Alston, Jr., the Board of Selectmen recently announced review by “an outside attorney.” So far, the board has not authorized hiring outside counsel in its weekly agendas of budget and contract items, yet the review is looking rushed.

Last December 17, the board met behind closed doors to discuss “potential litigation.” Two days later, its office distributed a press release about Mr. Alston and the “outside attorney.” For January 6, the board’s agenda listed another closed-door session, this one including Paul Ford, the fire chief, to consider “the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charge brought against a public officer, employee, staff member or individual”–whatever that might mean.

Some of the particulars in Mr. Alston’s case reached the public because Mr. Alston chose to make them public, but such an approach is unusual. Employees who encounter problems generally don’t make them public and won’t talk about them on the record. The playbook for Brookline officials remains constant. As the recent press release put it, “The town is limited by privacy laws from speaking publicly….”

Friction: Another Brookline employee who encountered workplace friction recently left: Timothy Richard, employed for over two years as a planner in the Department of Planning and Community Development. His recent duties included keeping records of Planning Board meetings and acting as liaison between the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals.

Mr. Richard is an urban planning graduate who intends to make a career in government service. His case does not appear to involve race, sex or ethnic elements or any of the so-called “protected classes” of people that might underpin a discrimination complaint. Instead, it focuses on a supervisor whose escalating pattern of complaints led Mr. Richard to seek medical help and also focuses on a recently hired department head who engaged mainly with the supervisors, not with the other employees. A previous employee in Mr. Richard’s position, a woman, appears to have encountered similar friction.

After receiving a three-day suspension, Mr. Richard filed a grievance through his union, choosing to make the hearing open to the public. Accounts of the hearing suggest a one-sided procedure that left Mr. Richard even more unsettled. Shortly afterward, he resigned. Mr. Richards did not conduct a media event, like Mr. Alston, but he met and corresponded with news writers.

Although Brookline has human resources staff, they do not look to have been very helpful in this case. Their correspondence is stiff and formal, with no public, written evidence that human resources staff sought to assist in a constructive way. Like many aspects of Brookline, the town’s zoning is complex and can take years to master. Mr. Richard had made considerable progress, but now Brookline has lost continued benefits from his knowledge.

Discord and churn: During the past year, the office of the town clerk, generally a quiet and predictable place, has had unusual turnover. A long-term staffer was abruptly dismissed. Another left to take a full-time position in the Department of Public Works, after that staffer’s former position was cut to half time. No reason for the dismissal has been posted in public information.

While stories say that a lawsuit is underway, as usual no one in a position to know what happened is likely to say, for the record. Other stories, also off-the-record, say that a female employee was recently the target of outrageous slurs from a male supervisor and that a complaint from her was brushed off by human resources staff. If an employee cannot get help from the human resources staff, the only significant alternative could be a grievance hearing–not necessarily helpful either, as Mr. Richard found.

In recent years, departments have lost key personnel to other communities. Last year, a skilled and experienced engineer left Public Works. According to comments made at a public meeting, Mike Yanovitch, formerly the chief inspector in the Building Department, left to take a job in Walpole. The average salary of elementary school teachers remains well below the level that would occur if teachers had an average 15 or more years seniority, as used to occur in stable times.

Municipal and school services share an information technology department, but they maintain separate human resources offices. Brookline pays for duplicate leadership and overhead, while neither office posts regular, public information about employee turnover or job satisfaction. Apparently increasing churn suggests that neither office may be particularly effective at employee retention or at maintenance of strong morale.

Budget cuts related to coping with increasing school enrollment may be a significant factor in discord and churn. However, the Override Study Committee of 2013 had little to say about those issues, instead focusing on its numerical models–all but ignoring morale and effectiveness of town services. The Board of Selectmen absconded from civic duty when appointing members of this key committee as a slate. Now they are reaping what they sowed.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 9, 2015


Outside attorney in personnel dispute, Brookline, MA, Board of Selectmen, undated press release received December 19, 2014

Board of Selectmen: firefighter Gerald Alston, Jr., speaking, Brookline Beacon, December 6, 2014

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

Brookline government: public information and the committee forest, Brookline Beacon, August 1, 2014

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

David R. Kerrigan, Are local residency requirements legal?, Kenney & Sams, Boston, MA, 2014

Public schools: decoding a tax override

Tuesday evening, January 6, leadership of Brookline public schools began to decode some mysteries of their tax override proposals–for those willing to stay through a 4-1/2-hour meeting of the Board of Selectmen to well past 10 pm. Elements of the newly decoded override can be found in a document on the municipal Web site.

Instead of “One-time funds,” “Catch-up,” “Enhancement” and “Info tech,” William Lupini, the superintendent, and Peter Rowe, the assistant superintendent for administration and finance, explained proposals mostly using typical school spending categories, helping to answer the question, “What does it buy?” Not surprisingly, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe ask Brookline voters to fund more teachers, support staff and administrators.

Options: As in past reviews, they continue to advertise three override options, calling them “65 percent,” “90 percent” and “100 percent”–begging the obvious question, “Percent of what?” Here these are called A, B and C–in the same order. The following Budget Table shows school spending categories, current budgets and proposed budget additions for three override options, as organized by Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe. Amounts are in millions of dollars. Those called “current” are fiscal year 2015 budgets for the categories. Those called options A, B and C represent budget additions over three years following an override.

Budget Table

Category Current A B C
K8 classroom teachers $22.69 $1.32 $1.60 $1.60
HS classroom teachers $10.63 -$0.36 $0.78 $0.78
Student services $3.20 $0.94 $0.94 $0.94
Elementary world language (K6) $1.04 -$1.04 $0.21 $0.21
Central administration $2.27 $0.32 $0.32 $0.32
Vice principals $1.07 $0.11 $0.11 $0.11
HS administration $0.74 $0.11 $0.21 $0.21
Steps to success $0.30 $0.00 $0.15 $0.15
ECS $0.39 -$0.31 $0.25 $0.25
Literacy specialists $1.55 $0.51 $0.51 $0.51
Math specialists $1.03 $0.55 $0.55 $0.55
2nd-grade paraprofessionals $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Professional learning/innovation $0.20 $0.12 $0.12 $0.12
Nurses $1.03 $0.15 $0.15 $0.15
ETF $1.08 $0.09 $0.09 $0.09
Social workers $0.38 $0.10 $0.10 $0.10
Custodial repair & maintenance $2.21 $0.17 $0.17 $0.17
Instructional materials & supplies $1.79 $0.22 $0.22 $0.22
Special education and ELL $8.74 $2.33 $2.33 $2.33
Educational technology $2.63 $1.54 $1.54 $1.54

Source: Public Schools of Brookline

Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe used abbreviations, perhaps known to school mavens:
K8    kindergarten through eighth grade
K6    kindergarten through sixth grade
HS    high school
ECS  enrichment and challenge support a/k/a gifted and talented program
ETF  educational team facilitator a/k/a special education supervisor
ELL  English language learners

Budget cuts: Although the Board of Selectmen previously asked Dr. Lupini for a budget to be used if there is no override, he did not provide one. However, option A–the smallest override–shows that budget cuts are likely if there is no override and tells what might be cut. It includes some budget cuts even when an override is passed.

In the table, amounts shown in bold are negative amounts–budget cuts–all in option A, the smallest override. That option would cancel the so-called “world language” program for elementary schools, which voters funded in the 2008 override, dismissing all 15 teachers. Option A would also dismiss all four teachers who staff the so-called “ECS” (gifted and talented) program and would dismiss four high school teachers.

In those proposed cuts, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe appear to value “educational technology”–whatever that might mean–as more important than 23 teachers. They would cut about $1.7 million in teaching salaries and spend about $1.5 million of that on “educational technology.” Although three members of the School Committee were present at the January 6 review, none spoke up. It was not clear whether the School Committee agreed with those priorities.

Fuzzy numbers: The numbers in the Budget Table can’t be added to get meaningful totals. According to Mr. Rowe, they don’t all mean the same thing. Some, like the amount for “educational technology,” mean total spending over three years.

Others, like the amount for “2nd-grade paraprofessionals,” look to mean spending in each year after an override. Many, like the amount for “Special education and ELL,” mean spending in the third year after an override, with less spending during the first and second years. According to Dr. Lupini, typical proportions are 0.5 of an indicated amount the first year, 0.8 of the amount the second year and the full amount the third year.

As an example of turning fuzzy numbers into meaningful ones, the following Spending Table estimates three years of spending for option C, the largest override proposed. It is based on an attempt to designate amounts for the Budget Table categories as total amounts (T), as level yearly amounts (L) or as growing amounts (G). From those designations, increases in spending under an option C override are then calculated for each of three years following the override. The latter will all be millions of dollars per year, and they can be totalled and averaged.

Spending Table

Category Type Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
K8 classroom teachers G $0.80 $1.28 $1.60
HS classroom teachers G $0.39 $0.62 $0.78
Student services G $0.47 $0.76 $0.94
Elementary world language (K6) L $0.21 $0.21 $0.21
Central administration L $0.43 $0.43 $0.43
Vice principals L $0.32 $0.32 $0.32
HS administration L $0.43 $0.43 $0.43
Steps to success L $0.15 $0.15 $0.15
ECS G $0.13 $0.20 $0.25
Literacy specialists G $0.26 $0.41 $0.51
Math specialists G $0.28 $0.44 $0.55
2nd-grade paraprofessionals L $0.53 $0.53 $0.53
Professional learning/innovation T $0.09 $0.09 $0.09
Nurses L $0.24 $0.24 $0.24
ETF L $0.09 $0.09 $0.09
Social workers L $0.11 $0.11 $0.11
Custodial repair & maintenance T $0.06 $0.06 $0.06
Instructional materials & supplies T $0.12 $0.12 $0.12
Special education and ELL G $1.16 $1.86 $2.33
Educational technology T $0.59 $0.59 $0.59
Totals (by year) $6.83 $8.92 $10.31

Source: spreadsheet analysis

Getting to Yes: Through their Budget Table, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe argued for an override of $12.6 million per year under option C, the largest proposed. Considerably less than that would actually be needed. Funding option C for three years takes an average of about $8.7 million per year, according to estimates in the Spending Table. If assumptions for that table needed changes, it would be an easy exercise to make them.

After such an override passed, there would be a revenue surplus the first year, a small deficit the second year and a larger deficit the third year. Public Schools of Brookline would need a stabilization fund, like the one municipal departments have long used, to match a flow of revenue with a different flow of spending. It becomes easier to persuade voters to support an override when the amount becomes smaller. Estimating spending year by year and using a stabilization fund provides a way to leverage programs from smaller overrides.

Of course, after an estimation period ends–three years in the example–then the revenue might not be enough to sustain programs, if the needs continue to increase. Brookline would have to review the situation again, but in the meantime the town would not be collecting more taxes than needed to provide services.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 7, 2015


William H. Lupini, Override budget scenarios, fiscal years 2016-2018, Public Schools of Brookline, January 6, 2015

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

Craig Bolon, Override schemes: lies, damned lies and budgets, Brookline Beacon, December 18, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a review on Monday, January 5, about a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. Like most previous reviews, this one took place in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7 pm. An audience of about 20 was present, including a member of the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly, plus six senior members of town staff.

Developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin, by Steven Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs and by landscape architect Joseph Geller of Stantec Consulting in Boston, a former chair of the Board of Selectmen. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Samuel Nagler of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Conditions: For weeks, it had seemed clear that the board intended to approve the project, despite a lawsuit pressed by the Board of Selectmen and nearly unanimous opposition from the community–aside from a few people whose employment or interests involve subsidized housing. The Web pages for the Department of Planning and Community Development have provided a draft comprehensive permit for the project, including 11 proposed findings and 68 proposed conditions.

Based on comments from Jesse Geller, the board’s chair, it appeared that the comprehensive permit had been drafted by Ms. Netter, in consultation with board members, Mr. Nagler and leaders of some town departments. There was no mention at the meeting or in the document of any inputs from elected officials or from the community at large.

Mr. Schwartz, on behalf of the developer, filed a memorandum of objections, available from the municipal Web site. He proposed to change many provisions, entirely removing one finding and three conditions. Jason Talerman of Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead, representing several neighborhood residents, also filed a memorandum, proposing two more findings and two more conditions.

Taking the pledge: A tangle of arguments ensued between board members and Mr. Schwartz over conditions that bear on long-term status of the subsidized apartments. As long as there are qualifying assisted rental units, under state regulations Brookline gets to count the entire project toward its assisted housing quota under the 40B law. Views of board members seemed to be that a “quid pro quo” for project approval would be preserving the project status in perpetuity–beyond potential future changes in project ownership and funding.

Starting from the late 1960s, Brookline set in motion and then endured hardships from previous subsidized housing–particularly federal Sections 202, 221 and 236 projects and state Chapter 121A projects. For about the past 20 years, the town has been trying to cope with expiring subsidies. Although there remained quibbles about the means to the goal, eventually Mr. Schwartz took the pledge, on behalf of the developer, and agreed to accept some approach to maintaining permanent project status for the Hancock Village development.

Another hurdle: Taking the pledge on permanent status will not likely end opposition to the project. Mr. Talerman’s memorandum asserts that a 1946 agreement between the Town of Brookline and the original developer, the John Hancock insurance company, “is expressly binding on the successors in title”–including Chestnut Hill Realty and its subsidiaries. Mr. Talerman contended that “the proposed project would not be possible” under “the terms and conditions contained in the 1946 agreement.”

A lawsuit being pursued by the Board of Selectmen was described as asserting claims similar to Mr. Talerman’s. While board member Jonathan Book did not favor adding Mr. Talerman’s proposed conditions to a permit, he said he “can’t imagine anyone would start building while this litigation was pending.” Board chair Geller seemed to agree. No one speculated about how long it might take to resolve the issues in court.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 6, 2015


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

Housing Advisory Board: new assisted housing and expiring assistance programs, Brookline Beacon, November 6, 2014

Perspective: the Longfellow Bridge between Boston and Cambridge

From an engineering perspective, the Longfellow Bridge was structurally deficient the day it opened. That’s what usually happens with public works designed by architects rather than engineers. To make matters worse, state agencies routinely underestimate the cost and time to renovate urban bridges, as they recently did with the BU Bridge and the Alford Street Bridge. As of mid-2013, they estimated about $250 million and 3-1/2 years to renovate the Longfellow, but their track record suggests at least $400 million and 5 years.

The Longfellow’s pretentious ten granite piers and eleven steel-arch spans, extending for 1,800 feet, were designed around 1897 to carry trains as well as horse-drawn vehicles and the emerging motor vehicles. The four cigar-stub towers were never anything but decorations. At the time, the lower Charles River was tidal mudflats. Shortly after the bridge opened in 1907, what is now known as the Science Park dam turned this part of the river into a catch basin for raw municipal sewage and industrial waste.

The former Union Railway had begun operating horse-drawn streetcars across the previous West Boston Bridge in 1856. Its successor, the West End Street Railway, began operating electrically powered streetcars across the previous bridge in 1889. The name Longfellow was merely a sentimental afterthought, attached about 30 years after the current bridge opened. By that time, the Charles River basin had already accumulated a bed of sewage and toxins up to a foot thick. They are now up to five feet thick.

From the beginning, the Longfellow and the Charles River basin were engineering disasters that never needed to happen. Just upriver, for example, is the Harvard Bridge–a longer bridge, about 15 years older. Unlike the Longfellow, it was built on-time and on-budget, even though originally it too had streetcar tracks and had a swing-section to accommodate barges traveling the Charles River. In the 1980s, major renovation cost about $16 million, again on-time and on-budget. The difference, well over tenfold, was sound engineering and reliable construction of the Harvard Bridge, both when built and when renovated.

The greatest misfortune of the Longfellow Bridge was that the complex, badly engineered structure came under custody of the former Metropolitan District Commission, an even worse steward than the Port Authority became of the Tobin Bridge. Unlike the Harvard Bridge, the Longfellow had not been designed to withstand careless management. In 1959, the Longfellow got a first overhaul under the MDC, by then a rotten, patronage-ridden agency in decline. The job was botched, failing to address complex features of the bridge, and after several years the Longfellow again fell into severe disrepair.

The Longfellow went to an unprepared Department of Conservation and Recreation in 2003. The state highway department planned an immediate overhaul, at an estimated cost of $125 million. Haggling over design with DCR added ten years of delay to a project only starting in 2013. Through 2013, the highway department had contracted for over $20 million in emergency repairs, to shore up the bridge against the nearly disastrous lack of maintenance under a former, corrupt MDC and a current, quarrelsome DCR.

The DCR has been taken over by antiquarians, determined to preserve not only the shape of the Longfellow but also its structurally deficient, badly corroded original materials. The Longfellow Bridge was an obvious candidate for demolition and replacement. By trying to overhaul rather than replace it, the cost of its bridge service, per lane-mile per year, could rise much higher than even the prodigal spending on a new Fore River Bridge between Quincy and Weymouth, and the bridge’s probable lifetime before another round of major maintenance is needed will not likely prove longer than 30 to 40 years.

(previously published in another venue)

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 4, 2015

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.

BrooklinePreSchoolCensus2001to2015

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.

BrooklineK8SchoolCensus1994to2015

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.

LoganAircraftNoiseLevels2009

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.

LoganRunway33DeparturePaths2013

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.

LoganAirportDiagram2013

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.”

CroninPlan20141217b

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.

HealthCareSpendingLinear

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.

HealthCareSpendingLogarithmicNotes

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.

BrooklineExclusionZones

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.

Ferc2014ConstitutionPipeline2

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

Zoning Board of Appeals: ready to approve Hancock Village 40B

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a continued hearing on Monday, December 1, over a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. Like most previous sessions, it took place in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7 pm. At this session, the board did not invite or hear comments from the public.

Ready to approve: After negotiating about a ten percent reduction from a previously proposed amount of parking, the three regular Appeals board members–Jesse Geller, Christopher Hussey and Jonathan Book–indicated they were ready to approve the project. Alternate member Mark Zuroff continued to oppose it. Another session scheduled for 7 pm at Town Hall on Monday, December 8, could become the final one.

Developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin, by Steven Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs and by landscape architect Joseph Geller of Stantec Consulting in Boston, a former chair of the Board of Selectmen. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Kathy Murphy of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Fire safety: Paul Ford, Brookline’s fire chief, again reviewed fire safety, repeating some of his previous concerns. He said Brookline could not provide “full first alarm” service to the project within eight minutes, as specified by national standards. At this session, he also focused on time needed to disengage equipment, in order to answer other calls. He said he still hoped to see a connection to VFW Parkway.

According to Mr. Ford, access to the proposed large building at an extension of Asheville Rd. is marginal but acceptable. However, without further changes, he said, it would still be difficult to disengage equipment from parts of the so-called “east side” of Hancock Village, between Independence Drive and VFW Parkway. Fire trucks would have to be backed out of blind locations near the proposed large building and some of the smaller new buildings. With access to VFW Parkway, Mr. Ford said, his concerns would be reduced.

The developer’s representatives agreed to improve access near an extension of Grassmere Rd. onto Thornton Rd., now interrupted by curbing. They will connect the roads, add a service gate and add a lane connecting with one of the new parking lots to the west of Russett Rd. Brookline firefighters will be able to open the service gate. They also committed to “work with the town” to obtain vehicle access to VFW Parkway west of Russett Rd.

According to Mr. Ford, commitments by the developer to install sprinklers in all the new buildings will help. Asked about safety in existing Hancock Village buildings, Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, said Brookline could not require changes unless those buildings were directly involved in a major construction or renovation project. Simply being adjacent to a major development would not trigger reviews.

Parking: Board members Christopher Hussey and Jonathan Book continued to object to 323 new parking spaces, proposed at the previous session, as “excessive.” Mr. Hussey continued to favor an average of 1.5 new parking spaces per new apartment in the area to be accessed via Asheville Rd. He said that would reduce new parking by 21 spaces.

Mr. Book sought to apply the 1.5 ratio to the entire project. He said that would reduce new parking by 57 spaces. Speaking for the developer, Mr. Geller of Stantec objected that reducing on-site parking would impact nearby neighborhoods, saying, “Cars will find other places to go.” Mr. Levin continued to object that providing less new parking than anticipated new demand could compromise the project. He said board members did not seem to have considered about 25 spaces to be reserved for visitors and about 15 spaces for disability access.

Mr. Levin said parking appropriate in urban Brookline, with its Green Line rapid transit, did not suit the suburban areas around Hancock Village. Mr. Schwartz said the proposed amount of new parking was in line with Brookline’s zoning requirements. (It was actually somewhat less.) He recalled that a town meeting last year had considered reducing zoning standards for parking but rejected the proposal.

Negotiations ensued among Appeals board members and between them and the developer’s representatives. During the discussion, Mr. Hussey again voiced resistance to retaining any of the fourth floor of apartments in the proposed large building, but then he backed away, saying, “My brothers have squeezed me in.” Mr. Book continued to press for reduction of new parking by more than 21 spaces.

Making a deal: After about an hour and a half of discussion, Mr. Book proposed a further reduction of 10 more spaces, beyond the 21 sought by Mr. Hussey, with a condition that those spaces could be included in the project if the developer obtained full access to VFW Parkway. After a few minutes more discussion, the developer’s representatives agreed to that change.

Mr. Schwartz said Chestnut Hill Realty would return to the next session with a full plan for 12 new buildings with 161 apartments, 333 bedrooms and 292 new parking spaces. This session of the Appeals hearing gave no consideration to numbers of new residents or potential impacts on town services–particularly 200 or more added students atttending Brookline schools.

With a recently reported 824 students, the nearby Baker School now has the largest population of Brookline’s elementary schools and is well beyond rated capacity. Brookline has no plan to cope with 200 or more added students coming from Hancock Village. Among its few obvious options might be a major addition to Baker School or some use of the former Baldwin School or its ten unrestricted acres of grounds on Heath St. at Woodland Rd.

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


Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, parking and traffic, Brookline Beacon, November 25, 2014

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

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

2014 fall town meeting: electronic voting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Y yes, N no, P present, A absent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Fall town meeting: taxi masala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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