Category Archives: Business

Brookline businesses and business people

Power-plant toxics: no longer a political trinket

By appointing Scott Pruitt, former Oklahoma attorney general, as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the cockroach President signaled another warp in the long struggle against emissions from U.S. power-plants. During his former service, Pruitt garnered large political contributions from managers in poultry industries, who wanted to scuttle rules for waste disposal at chicken farms. Pandering to their causes against public interests, Pruitt became Chief Chicken Shit of the Southwest.

If the cockroach were to fall to a heart attack tomorrow, the environment could become even more threatened. Vice President Pence was a promoter of Pruitt. Writing in the Huffington Post, John Halstead described Pence as an environmental racist. While Indiana governor, Pence responded quickly to lead found in the water supply for Greentown, a community that is 97 percent white. He ignored problems in East Chicago, where a majority-black neighborhood suffers from the worst soil concentration of lead ever reported in the U.S.

Industrial waste: At an auto-industry event on March 15, 2017, the cockroach promised, “My administration will work tirelessly to eliminate…industry-killing regulations.” The context was fuel efficiency. The cockroach promoted lower efficiency: that is, more fuel waste, more emissions and a retreat from U.S. energy independence. Some applause came from locals but not from the Detroit Free Press, whose business reporter said the push would undermine “innovation we need to see more of in the Michigan economy.”

On March 28, the cockroach President staged a fantasy act with coal miners in the Oval Office, signing Executive Order 19, an unhinged and antisocial maneuver. It directs that federal “agencies immediately review…regulations that potentially burden…use of domestically produced energy…[where] ‘burden’ means significant costs [for]…utilization…of energy resources.” Climate issues got nearly all the media attention then, but regulations on toxic power-plant emissions also loomed as likely targets.

Pruitt was Oklahoma’s supervising counsel for White Stallion Energy v. EPA, the DC Appeals Court case on toxic power-plant emissions that led to Michigan v. EPA, decided in 2015 by the Supreme Court. That proved to be the last attack on the public interest from clever, antisocial former Justice Scalia, who had managed to bend the ear of Justice Kennedy. Against precedent, Scalia’s opinion said the EPA had to consider costs when regulating toxic power-plant emissions.

According to Coral Davenport, writing in the New York Times, “Pruitt, [then] attorney general of Oklahoma…sued the EPA at least 14 times [in only six years], often in concert with the nation’s largest fossil-fuel companies, to block major environmental regulations.” Fortunately for the environment, he was rarely as successful as he was in Michigan v. EPA, and fortunately that case will have little direct impact.

Contrasts: Residents of the Boston area for more than 50 years will likely remember days when smoke darkened the sky. Before the 1960s there were few air quality rules. Power-plants, factories, offices and homes belched smoke from coal, oil and wastes. “Efficient” cars meant ones getting more than about 12 miles to the gallon. Cities, towns, institutions and businesses burned trash in open incinerators.

Smoke-blackened Washington Street, Boston, 1915

SmokeBlackenedWashingtonStreet1915
Source: Boston Public Library Archives

In November, 2013, a survey of large U.S. cities found that “Boston tops the list as the city with the cleanest air and boasts the lowest Air Quality Index score possible. Boston’s accessible public transportation system…the Air Pollution Control Commission…[and] annual precipitation…are good indicators that Bostonians are breathing easy.” Quite a change from the grimy Boston environment between about 50 and 150 years earlier.

Progress and mischief: Before 1970, most efforts to reduce air pollution were state initiatives. The federal 1970 Clean Air Act amendments [Public Law 88-206] became a watershed, aiming at uniform requirements that states would refine and enforce rather than initiate. The 1970 law authorized national “air quality” standards and regional “performance” standards for pollution emitters.

Coal has long been the most harmful fuel. In recent years, activists became concerned that it produces the most carbon dioxide. However, there are longstanding concerns over emissions of sulfur dioxide, mercury, arsenic and particles of toxic metals from burning coal. The U.S. EPA moved extremely slowly to regulate sulfur dioxide, finally spurred by 1990 Clear Air Act amendments [Public Law 91-604] requiring actions to combat acid rain. Until the Obama era, the agency failed to restrict other toxic components of coal smoke.

The Walker Bush administration tried to gut regulation of power-plant emissions through its proposed Clean Air Mercury Rule and Delisting Rule. The music stopped when the DC Appeals Court denounced those two shabby attempts in its decision for New Jersey v. EPA. [517 F.3d 574, 2008] A dramatic sequence of seven federal court rulings overturned much of the environmental mischief oozing from the Walker Bush administration.

*** New York v. Environmental Protection Agency (2005) vacated the New Source Review Rule.
*** New York v. Environmental Protection Agency (2006) vacated the Equipment Replacement Provision Rule.
*** Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (2007) vacated the refusal to regulate carbon dioxide.
*** Environmental Defense, v. Duke Energy (2007) affirmed the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Rule.
*** New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated the Clean Air Mercury Rule.
*** North Carolina v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated the Clean Air Interstate Rule.
*** Sierra Club v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated 2006 Clean Air Act emission limits.

Obama-era progress: The Obama administrations issued two major air-quality regulations: the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) in 2011 and the Clean Power Plan in 2015. When reporting about lawsuits attacking them, news media sometimes failed to distinguish the two regulations clearly. MATS is directed toward the toxic pollutants that have been longstanding concerns of the U.S. EPA. The Clean Power Plan is a climate initiative, intended to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions.

The cockroach President was able to suspend the Clean Power Plan, but the great majority of fossil-fueled power is now produced by plants that comply with MATS. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that as of April, 2016, nearly all coal-fired plants had installed equipment. According to Paul Ciampoli, writing in Power Plant Daily, plants representing about 2 GW out of about 276 GW total–less than a percent of industry capacity–were still operating on MATS waivers. The cockroach mashed by feet on the ground.

Good news for the U.S. is that economics blocked obscene politics. When power-plant emissions are filtered enough to bring down ordinary chemical pollution, costs of coal-fired power rise too high for new plants and are shuttering many old ones. Brayton Point in Somerset, MA–once among the filthiest in New England–was outfitted with pollution controls. Recently it has operated less than a quarter of the time, and it is scheduled to close permanently in May, 2017–no longer competitive.

Power from natural gas-fired plants, not government policy, has been the main agent evicting coal-fired power. In plains areas of the Middle West and in giant river valleys of the Pacific Northwest, wind turbines also provide advantages along with very low emissions. There, where winds tend to be stronger and steadier than in other places and where installation costs tend to be lower, one major form of renewable energy no longer needs new subsidies to prosper. Again, the cockroach mashed by feet on the ground.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 16, 2017


Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, Court freezes Clean Power Plan lawsuit, signaling likely end to Obama’s signature climate policy, Washington Post, April 28, 2017

Sonal Patel, Trump’s EPA signals changes for power-plant mercury rule, Power Magazine, April 20, 2017

Jonathan Mattise, Associated Press, Federal utility CEO: coal plants not reopening under Trump, WTOP (Washington, DC), April 18, 2017

Michael Biesecker and Sam Hananel, Associated Press, EPA seeks to derail cleanup of coal power-plant pollution, WTOP (Washington, DC), April 18, 2017

Eric Lipton, Ben Protess and Andrew W. Lehren, With Trump appointees, a raft of potential conflicts and no transparency, New York Times, April 15, 2017

Coral Davenport, Coal is on the way out at electric utilities, no matter what Trump says, New York Times, April 5, 2017

Emily Hammond, President Trump’s executive order on “energy independence,” Vox Media (Washington, DC), March 29, 2017

On promoting energy independence and economic growth, Executive order 19, White House, March 28, 2017

Matthew Daly and Jill Colvin, Associated Press, Trump takes aim at Obama’s efforts to curb global warming, Boston Globe, March 27, 2017

Jill Colvin, Associated Press, Trump announces challenge to Obama-era fuel standards, Boston Globe, March 15, 2017

John Gallagher, Why Trump’s rollback of tailpipe emissions rules is a bad idea, Detroit Free Press, March 15, 2017

John Flesher, Matthew Daly and Catherine Lucey, Associated Press, Climate and other programs get deep cuts in EPA budget proposal, WTOP (Washington, DC), March 3, 2017

Coral Davenport, EPA workers try to block Pruitt in show of defiance, New York Times, February 16, 2017

Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner, Scott Pruitt, EPA designee, expresses doubts on climate, defends oil industry funding, Reuters (UK), January 18, 2017

Alex Formuzis, EPA pick Pruitt stymied cleanup of scenic river fouled by factory chicken-farm waste, Environmental Working Group (Washington, DC), January 14, 2017

John Halstead, Mike Pence’s environmental racism, Huffington Post (Washington, DC), January 14, 2017

Eric Lipton and Coral Davenport, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA pick, backed industry donors over regulators, New York Times, January 14, 2017

Inside the Clean Air Act, US Legal (Jackson, MS), 2017

Edward Wong, Trump calls climate change a Chinese hoax, New York Times, November 19, 2016

Ryan H. Wiser and Mark Bolinger, Wind technologies market report, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, August, 2016

EIA electricity generator data show power industry response to EPA mercury limits, U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 7, 2016

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Consideration of cost in the “appropriate and necessary” finding for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants, 81 FR 24420-24452, April 25, 2016

Keith Goldberg, High court won’t halt EPA mercury rule, Law360 (New York, NY), March 3, 2016

Laura Barron-Lopez, Supreme Court stays Obama’s carbon emissions plan, Huffington Post, February 9, 2016

Elena Craft, Graham McCahan and Mandy Warner, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, Environmental Defense Fund (New York, NY), 2016

Rachel Cleetus, Steve Clemmer, Jeff Deyette, Brenda Ekwurzel, Julie McNamara, Jeremy Richardson and John Rogers, The Clean Power Plan: a climate game-changer, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2016

Michael B. Gerrard, Supreme Court ruling on mercury shows little deference to EPA, New York Law Journal 254(49), September 10, 2015

Michigan v. EPA, case no. 2014-46, U.S. Supreme Court, 576 U.S. (2015) June 29, 2015

Samuel Worth, Why EPA should have prohibited cost considerations in White Stallion, Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 42(2):593-606, April 10, 2015

White Stallion Energy v. Environmental Protection Agency, case no. 2012-1100, U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, 748 F.3d 1222, April 15, 2014

Erin Ailworth, Owner reaffirms 2017 closing of Brayton Point plant, Boston Globe, January 27, 2014

Tracey Jones, Ten cities with the best air quality, CreditDonkey (Pasadena, CA), 2013

Nicholas Morales, New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency, Harvard Environmental Law Review 33(1):263-282, 2009

New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency, case no. 2005-1097, U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, 517 F.3d 574, February 8, 2008

George A. Gonzales, The Politics of Air Pollution, State University of New York Press, 2005

James J. MacKenzie. Boston’s sufferance of sulfur dioxide, Science 172(3985):792-793, 1971

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

Craig Bolon, Fall town meeting: pipe dreams, Brookline Beacon, December 4, 2014

Craig Bolon, Coal-fired and oil-fired electricity in New England, Energy and Environment, October 17, 2013

Craig Bolon, Tangle of air pollution regulations affecting energy, Energy and Environment, 2008

UMass Boston: hoop dreams

Ten years of Dr. Keith Motley leading UMass Boston bent toward a close last month with an announcement of his departure by the end of June. Something like that seemed likely, since it was known that his contract had not been renewed. Motley came to UMass from Northeastern, where he began on a basketball scholarship in the early 1970s. He became a protégé of Northeastern administrator John Curry, president from 1989 to 1996, and had worked at Northeastern as an admissions reviewer, athletics coach and sports recruiter.

To further a long-range ambition of becoming a college president, in 1999 Motley earned a PhD from the Boston College School of Religion and Education, whose best known graduates have become Roman Catholic bishops and administrators at Catholic-led colleges. Four years later he took a UMass Boston job as an administrator for student affairs.

During the short tenure of Dr. Michael Collins as the UMass Boston campus president–called “chancellor” there–Motley took a detour as a marketing administrator in the statewide university office. In 2007, Collins moved out to lead the medical school at the Worcester campus, and Motley got the nod to lead the Boston campus.

Poor relatives: Public colleges in New England are mostly poor relatives of the private colleges that comprised higher education in the region for three centuries: from the mid-1600s through the mid-1900s. Land-grant colleges common in the Midwest and Southwest were latecomers in New England. Of the few founded in the region, only MIT emerged as a first-tier institution; it has remained privately run.

Together with the Dartmouth campus, UMass Boston has long been a poor relative of a poor relative. The better-off members of the UMass family are the founding Amherst campus, the medical school and–more recently–the technologically driven Lowell campus. UMass Boston opened in 1965, then housed in a 12-story building fronting on Arlington Street. It looked like an office building because it was one: the 1927 Art Deco headquarters for Boston Gas. Better things were supposed to await UMass Boston at the city dump.

UMass Boston at Arlington Street, 1965

UMassBostonArlingtonStreet1965
Source: Massachusetts Department of Higher Education

At the wishfully named Columbia Point, bordering the ocean, the UMass staff and students and the state’s taxpayers were victimized by massive graft in public construction that was commonplace during the 1950s through the 1970s. Recalling unusable floors at the Middlesex County Courthouse in Cambridge, condemned before completion, the central garage at Columbia Point proved structurally unsound the day it opened. It and adjacent buildings–McCormack Hall, Wheatley Hall, the Science Center, Healey Library and Quinn Administration–were plagued with leaks, crumbling masonry, failing ventilation and mold.

The original UMass buildings at Columbia Point shared an architect with the central Chicago prison. In 1977, state Sens. Joe DiCarlo (D, Revere) and Ron MacKenzie (R, Burlington) were convicted and jailed for extorting $40,000 in bribes from McKee, Berger and Mansueto of New York–the firm hired to oversee the UMass construction. Punishing corrupt politicians did not cure the evils visited on UMass Boston.

UMass Boston at Columbia Point, 1974

UMassBostonColumbiaPoint1974
Source: Massachusetts Department of Higher Education

According to Laura Krantz, writing in the Boston Globe, during 43 years at Columbia Point more than $40 million has been spent on stabilizing the original UMass Boston buildings, but that has only postponed disasters. Now the garage and at least McCormack Hall, Wheatley Hall and the Science Center are likely to be demolished and somehow replaced.

Marty Meehan, current president of the statewide university system, has been quoted as claiming that UMass Boston should come up with the funds for such a project–maybe a quarter billion dollars. For a campus with a total yearly budget of only $19 million for all asset depreciation, that would clearly be far beyond its capacity. Ten years ago, when the Amherst campus needed around $2 billion for building repairs–including a failing underground garage–no one suggested that the UMass Amherst budget should bear the whole cost.

Hands on the throttle: UMass Boston needed steady hands on the throttle. Built entirely as a commuter college, it serves large low-income and moderate-income populations ambitious to succeed in the world of work. Between 1965 and 2007, the former campus presidents (“chancellors”)–John Ryan, Francis Broderick, Carlo Golino, Robert Corrigan, Sherry Penney, Jo Ann Gora and Michael Collins–provided steady hands. They achieved stable management despite rapid growth.

During 1965 until 2007, UMass Boston enrollment grew from about 1,230 to 13,400 students at the starts of academic years–a compound growth rate of about 6.0 percent per year. The pace slowed with Keith Motley as the campus president (“chancellor”) of UMass Boston. During 2007 until 2017, enrollment grew from about 13,400 to 16,800 at the starts of academic years, a compound growth rate of only about 3.1 percent per year.

UMass Boston enrollments, 2008-2016

UMassBostonEnrollments2008-2016
Source: U.S. Department of Education

After continuing historic rising trends at first, during the Motley regime the in-state undergraduate enrollment flattened, and the in-state graduate enrollment fell. The breakpoint year was 2010, making it look likely that changes in goals and policies from Motley’s planning “vision” at UMass Boston were the causes–not, as some might have thought, the deep recession that began in early 2008.

Vision: Dr. Motley became the organizer of a so-called “vision” for the future of UMass Boston. As with many other such institutional schemes, concrete in 2009 preceded concepts in 2011. The concrete was the product of architects Chan Krieger Sieniewicz–then in Cambridge, MA–later merged with Naramore, Bain, Brady, Johanson of Seattle, WA, now NBBJ headquartered in Boston.

Unlike Harvard, MIT, Wellesley, Northeastern, Tufts, Brandeis, and a few other institutions in the region, UMass Boston has an historic mission as an affordable teaching university, not as a research university. In 2007, when the Motley regime began, UMass Boston remained a teaching university. However, spiraling student charges for tuition and fees had been eroding the UMass Boston mission of community service.

UMass Boston student charges, 1988-2016

UMassBostonStudentCharges1988-2016
Source: U.S. Department of Education

As described in the “vision” released in 2011, concepts for the future of UMass Boston reflected Motley’s background at Northeastern more closely than they did the needs and goals of UMass Boston students and their families. Motley described his focus as the “research university that we are and continue to become.” [App. B, p. 1] To most who have followed campus development, the falsehood and pretension would be obvious.

Rubber meets road: During the planning blitz for a future UMass Boston, Dr. Motley got blunt warnings from his finance staff that costs could easily spiral out-of-control. However, Motley likes to be liked. Results show him an easy touch for campus entrepreneurs who conjure up new programs. UMass Boston currently offers more than 200 academic programs to about 17,000 students.

Many degree-granting programs at UMass Boston lack sustainable enrollments. Of about 70 undergraduate majors available for at least ten years, only half have awarded ten or more degrees per year. The faltering yet longstanding programs include chemistry, physics, music, African studies, women’s studies, French, Italian, operations management, history and public policy.

Rather than trim back that unstable mix, the Motley regime has allowed several new programs a year. Most of the newer programs have awarded few degrees. Regardless of enrollment, all programs generate costs–mostly for teaching and support staff. Costs of less popular ones are not being offset much by revenues.

Dr. Motley does not seem to care very deeply about the impact of his research university “vision” on the Boston-area students and their families. He planned pay the bills by drawing in more out-of-state and foreign students. Early in his regime, he hired an expanded staff of very high-paid administrators who predicted, around a year ago, that there would be little or no deficit at this time.

Over the past year, rubber finally met the road. Not enough of those out-of-state and foreign students came. Recent reports estimate a $30 million annual deficit. The high-paid administrators were clearly wrong, but apparently either Motley had no contrary advice, or he chose to ignore it. His background as a basketball coach and sports recruiter left him personally unprepared to cope with storms of institutional finance.

In early March, state officials announced they had hired former Bowdoin College president Barry Mills to provide oversight but not to replace Motley. Early this April, Motley turned in his papers. The buzz coming out of UMass Boston signals desperate dodges to cut spending: classes cancelled without warning, part-time faculty laid off, library subscriptions dropped, copy machines unplugged. Hoop dreams.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 10, 2017


Laura Krantz, UMass Boston community fears cuts will erode its mission, Boston Globe, May 6, 2017

Laura Krantz, UMass Boston’s biggest challenge? Its own Big Dig, Boston Globe, April 22, 2017

Joan Vennochi, UMass Boston needs a reality check, Boston Globe, April 11, 2017

Michael P. Norton, State House News Service, Stoughton’s Keith Motley to step down as UMass-Boston chancellor, Quincy (MA) Patriot Ledger, April 6, 2017

Peter Lucas, Beacon Hill silent on UMass Boston’s fiscal fiasco, Lowell (MA) Sun, March 28, 2017

Laura Krantz, UMass Boston was warned of financial crisis years earlier, Boston Globe, March 23, 2017

Laura Krantz, Growth spree has the UMass Boston campus in a bind, Boston Globe, March 18, 2017

Facts and Figures 2016-2017, University of Massachusetts at Boston

Statistical Portrait for 2916, Office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning, University of Massachusetts at Boston

Annual Financial Report for 2016, University of Massachusetts, for Boston campus, see page 5-6

Chancellors and provosts, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 1965 to 2016

Emily Sweeney, The evolution of Columbia Point from calf pasture to UMass home, Boston Globe, March 29, 2015

Gabriel Baumgaertner, Hoop Dreams: where are the main figures now?, Manchester Guardian (UK), February 18, 2015

UMass Boston at 50, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2015

Edwin Khoo, How did MIT become a private university?, Quora, June, 2013

Tracy Jan, When good enough is simply not enough, Boston Globe, February 27, 2011

History of UMass Boston, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2011

A Blueprint for UMass Boston, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2011

Fulfilling the Promise, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2011

Vision statement, University of Massachusetts at Boston, dated 2010, published 2011

25-Year Campus Master Plan, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2009

Chan Krieger Sieniewicz (Cambridge, MA), Campus Master Plan, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2009

James Vaznis, UMass facing a daunting repair bill, report says Amherst needs an extra $1.8 billion, Boston Globe, May 9, 2007

Collins and Motley to assume top posts, Media office, UMass Lowell, May, 2007

Facts 2006-2007, University of Massachusetts (all campuses)

Lisa Prevost, Is UMass pricing out kids like Joe Drury?, Boston Globe, December 11, 2005

Richard A. Hogarty, Massachusetts Politics and Public Policy: Studies in Power and Leadership, University of Massachusetts Press, 2002

Michael Knight, Massachusetts told of wide corruption, New York Times, January 1, 1981

John W. Ward (Special Commission chair), Final Report to the General Court of the Special Commission concerning State and County Buildings, 1980

Associated Press, Massachusetts state senators are convicted in extortion case, New York Times, February 26, 1977

Wendell H. Woodman, Let me call you sweetheart, New England News Service, 1976

Bermuda explosion: medical racketeering

On February 14 of this year, Bermuda filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for Massachusetts, seeking damages and legal costs from the Lahey medical organization of Burlington, MA. Bermuda claims that Lahey, aided by Dr. Ewart Brown, former prime minister of Bermuda, cost the country millions of dollars by engaging in a “pattern of racketeering activity.”

Bermuda v. Lahey is likely to prove complex. It seeks to apply the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970 to a civil dispute. Congress aimed RICO at “organized crime.” RICO helped reduce the New England Mob from subverters of mainstream business through violence and threats to exploiters of some peep shows and massage parlors. However, little known to most people, RICO also includes a section authorizing civil lawsuits.

When a “pattern of racketeering activity” by an “interstate enterprise” has been proven in court, triple damages plus legal costs can be awarded in a civil RICO lawsuit. As an early example, civil RICO was used successfully against anti-abortion activists who harassed and trashed a Philadelphia clinic during 1984, resulting in awards of about $45,000 for damages and $90,000 for legal costs.

Bermuda’s claims: According to the recent lawsuit, Lahey “accept[ed] fees for medically unnecessary…services…using those fees to pay Brown increasing bribes…to promote its interests in Bermuda.” [Bermuda v. Lahey complaint, paragraph 121] The “actions have caused [Bermuda] to…increase the rate at which it pays for certain health benefits, and to pay for overseas services in the United States….” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 132]

That is the essence of Bermuda’s arguments that it is owed damages under the RICO Act, in 18 USC 96.1962(a). Bermuda has also made claims under RICO Sections 1962(b), 1962(c) and 1962(d), using similar arguments. Its complaint says that fraud continued over more than ten years, that fraud cost Bermuda millions of dollars and that “bribes” and “kickbacks” were key elements in the “racketeering activity.”

“Lahey and Brown concocted a scheme built upon bribery and greed and carried out with complete disregard for Brown’s position of public trust or for the physiological and psychological impact on patients–who were subjected to excessive, medically unnecessary and frankly dangerous scans so that Brown and Lahey could obtain greater reimbursements….” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 3]

“Between 2006 and 2016, Bermudian public healthcare insurers paid Lahey over $40 million for services…To induce patient referrals for diagnostic scanning at the Brown clinics, Brown…offered and paid kickbacks, which he dubbed and disguised as ‘commissions.’…” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 92]

Dr. Brown is a bystander to Bermuda v. Lahey, not a defendant. If damages and legal costs were awarded under the lawsuit as filed, Lahey would have to pay. However, Dr. Brown’s activities would be key elements in showing a “pattern of racketeering activity” by an “interstate enterprise.”

A key issue for Bermuda will be proving that Lahey knew services in which it participated were “medically unnecessary.” If they were medically necessary or if Lahey did not know otherwise, then Lahey would not likely be seen as a party to fraud. According to the complaint in the lawsuit, patients were often referred to the Brown clinics in Bermuda, who would perform scans and send images to Lahey in the U.S. for interpretation. In such a sequence, Lahey acted as a third-party provider.

Conflicts: According to Bermuda’s complaint, “By 2001, Brown…was…serving as Bermuda’s minster of transport. At this time, [Lahey] entered into the first of many consulting agreements…whereby Lahey agreed to pay Brown and [his company Bermuda Healthcare Services] substantial sums of money in exchange [for] their promotion of Lahey’s interests on the island. [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 28]

The complaint continues, saying “agreements called for Lahey’s payment of ‘consulting fees’ to Brown…in exchange, Brown…would ‘promote healthcare opportunities (for Lahey) in Bermuda and elsewhere in the West Indies.’…Brown’s use and exploitation of his role as a government minister to promote Lahey’s interests in Bermuda [was] a clear conflict of interest….” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 31]

According to the complaint, what looks to have been a problem developed into a threat: “Increasing the rate of Lahey’s payments was important to Brown because he was reliant on the payments to fund his clinics, which had to operate at capacity each month for him to stay…solvent.” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 38]

Bermuda’s complaint says Lahey had helped Brown make arrangements to buy a CT scanner for his clinics and later buy an MRI scanner–very costly and risky moves for an individual physician. In addition to paying off debt for equipment, he was also paying Lahey directly for interpreting scans, rather than their trying to bill Bermuda’s national health program, and he tended to fall behind on payments.

Bermuda’s complaint continues by saying that “Brown routinely used his role as premier…to ensure that Lahey got the access for which it paid him…on February 5, 2007, [the chief operating officer at Lahey] mailed Brown to thank him ‘for offering Lahey the opportunity to meet with your minister of health…to participate in the development of a future urgent care center’…Brown responded, ‘You didn’t know you were in the in-crowd? (Smile)’.” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 50]

As of 2007, an outside survey found that Bermuda did not require a government certificate of need to operate CT and MRI scanners. Its national health-care program did not require preauthorizations for scans. In Massachusetts, certificates of need for scanners began in 1976, and most health-care insurance plans required preauthorizations for scans in the 1980s. In its complaint, Bermuda notes that Dr. Ewart Brown successfully opposed a preauthorization requirement proposed in 2013. [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 99]

Prospects: Clearly set out in Bermuda’s complaint initiating the recent lawsuit are issues that might have been obvious to Lahey executives: conflicts of interest between Dr. Brown’s efforts in Bermuda for Lahey and Dr. Brown’s duties in government, plus financial pressures created by Dr. Brown’s debt payments for medical equipment and Dr. Brown’s payments for medical services provided by Lahey.

Bermuda’s complaint has benefited from unexplained disclosures, such as messages cited between Dr. Brown and an executive at Lahey. However, Bermuda probably has more to learn about Lahey’s activities. Unless the case is dismissed on preliminary motions, it will enter discovery, providing Bermuda with opportunities to obtain information.

Bermuda’s complaint says that “no one was better positioned than Lahey, which read all scans conducted at the Brown clinics, to detect medically unnecessary scans.” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 81] However, Lahey did not necessarily know what medical indications had prompted scans, since it was reportedly Dr. Brown’s clinics that performed them. Whether scans were or were not “medically necessary” and how much Lahey knew about that are issues likely to develop at a trial.

Bermuda has accused Lahey of paying Dr. Brown for favors and accused Dr. Brown of paying other physicians to refer patients to his clinics. It will surely try to obtain documents and testimony strengthening those claims. If successful in the efforts, Bermuda might be able to prove at a federal trial what it now alleges–that the cooperation between Lahey and Dr. Brown comprised a “fraudulent enterprise,” subject to sanctions under the RICO Act. [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 70]

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 15, 2017


Complaint, Bermuda v. Lahey, case 1:17-cv-10242, U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, February 14, 2017

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, Lahey fights back against Bermuda bribery allegations, Boston Globe, April 14, 2017

Unattributed, Brown braced for chance of arrest, Royal Gazette (Bermuda), February 24, 2017

Shelley Murphy and Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, Former Bermuda premier defends his ties to Lahey, Boston Globe, February 22, 2017

Shelley Murphy and Danny McDonald, Bermuda’s ex-premier calls claims Lahey bribed him a litany of lies, Boston Globe, February 16, 2017

Sam Strangeways, Lawsuit slams Brown and Lahey, Royal Gazette (Bermuda), February 16, 2017

Janelle Lawrence, Bermuda files lawsuit accusing a U.S. hospital group of costly, unnecessary medical-imaging tests, Bloomberg News, February 15, 2017

Mark Arsenault, Former Bermuda leader with ties to Lahey was educated in US, Boston Globe, February 15, 2017

Jo Anne Pool, Northeast Women’s Center v. McMonagle: a message to poltical activists, Akron Law Review 23(2):251-267, 2015

John J. Hamill, Brian H. Rowe, Kaija K. Hupila and Emily Burke Buckley, A guide to civil RICO litigation, Jenner & Block, 2014

Bermuda Hospitals Board: Estate Master Plan review, Johns Hopkins, 2007

Seeking the bialy: a Jewish gift

The bialy shares only a few features with its distant cousin, the bagel. Both are round and low, and both came into the world from Jewish bakers. A good and genuine bialy, however, has a thin, crisp crust with a soft, fragrant texture inside. If it seems slightly sweet, that taste comes entirely from partly caramelized fresh onions. There will be no malt, no sugars, no starches and no enzymes added to a good and genuine bialy. There is only flour, water, yeast and salt–plus toppings made from vegetables, seeds and oils. The classic bialy, originally from the city of Bialystock while it was part of czarist Russia, has lots of poppy seeds.

A good and genuine bialy takes some special care. There are many ways to cut corners, and they probably have all been found by some source one might encounter. There are always the traps of poor ingredients, sloppy technique and stale product. Beyond those, for example, attempts to produce a bialy from bagel dough simply make an inferior bagel–usually firm and heavy. Reducing water in the dough may make it easier to shape but yields a tough texture. Adding sugar or malt to speed rising or cutting out an overnight build produces bland flavor, somewhat like mass-produced bread. Adding eggs, milk or fats makes an inauthentic product. A topping made with dried instead of fresh onions will have an odd, medicinal taste, maybe suggesting a bargain-price pizza-sauce.

There are still a few small bakeries that will turn out a good and genuine bialy, often at special points of days and weeks or on special order. However, it is a difficult product to handle all the time, with a short shelf-life. The well known bakeries located in New York City are all deep into product changes that tend to help profits but pare quality. Fortunately, one can make a good and genuine bialy at home. It does not need unusual equipment or ingredients that are hard to find. If it did, neighborhoods of mostly poor Jews once living in czarist Russia would probably never have developed the bialy.

A recipe: The bialy recipe presented here uses only vegetable ingredients, so it is vegan (purely vegetarian). With kashrut, as observed in an Orthodox kitchen, and proper selection of ingredients, it can be kosher and pareve. The recipe uses techniques familiar to artisan bakers and lists all ingredients by weight, where an ounce is 28.35 grams. Measuring by weight is the method of nearly all bakeries: the only way to achieve reliable results. If one does not already have it, a digital kitchen scale that measures from 1 to 2,000 or more grams can be found for about $15 to $40 at most department and many discount stores.

To make 16 about 10 cm (4 in) diameter, 65 g (2-1/4 oz) as baked
– for the dough –
720 g unbleached strong AP flour, 4 cups unsifted
500 g water, 2 cups + 2 tsp, room temperature
12 g fine kosher salt or sea salt, 1-3/4 tsp
4 g instant yeast, 1-1/4 tsp
– for the toppings –
180 g onion, minced, 3/4 cup
10 g olive oil, 2 tsp
2 g fine kosher salt or sea salt, 5/16 tsp
10 g poppy seed, whole, 1 tbsp
– for supplies –
semolina flour for work surfaces, as needed
vegetable oil such as canola, as needed

We usually use King Arthur unbleached, all-purpose flour: kosher certified and readily available in markets throughout the northeastern United States. Made with hard winter wheat, it provides good flavor and texture. We found little if any improvement in either flavor or texture from using “bread flour” or other extra-high-gluten flours. For kneading, we use a Varimixer appliance made by Wodschow in Copenhagen. It is a labor-saver and has proven useful and reliable when baking often. When baking occasionally, however, kneading by hand works just as well. The recipe gives directions for both approaches.

Preparing a build: Flavor is improved by preparing an overnight build–also called a sponge, a pre-ferment, a “biga” for Italian bakers or a “poolish” for French bakers. During the second half of the nineteenth century, that reduced the use of baker’s yeast, a new and expensive ingredient for the period. The bialy seems to have originated as a “sweet yeast” bread. No nineteenth-century descriptions have appeared that mention “sour yeast”–wild yeast cultures widely used for breads before development in Europe of baker’s yeast from beer brewer’s yeast, between about 1750 and 1850.

In a small bowl, combine 240 g of the flour (1-1/3 cup unsifted) with 240 g of the water (1 cup) and 0.2 g of the instant yeast (1/16 tsp). Cover the bowl, and allow the build to rise about 12 to 18 hours at 20 to 21 C (68 to 70 F). Stir the build at about halfway. Use or refrigerate the build when about doubled in volume or when any shrinkage is noticed. Temperature affects rising time; a lower temperature takes longer.

Mixing, kneading, rising, shaping and proofing: Varimixer technique. Lightly oil the Varimixer bowl and hook tool and a large bowl for bulk rising. Blend the remaining 480 g flour, the remaining 260 g water and the entire build at Varimixer 0.5 for about 1-1/2 minutes until well combined and smooth. Cover the Varimixer bowl tightly, and let stand about 20 minutes. Knead at Varimixer 1.0 for 12 minutes, clearing dough off the hook at least once. Add the remaining nearly 4 g instant yeast and the salt, and blend at Varimixer 0.5 for 1 minute. Place the dough in the bowl used for rising, form it into a flattened ball and cover the bowl.

Hand technique. Lightly oil a mixing and rising bowl. Place the remaining 260 g water, the remaining nearly 4 g instant yeast and the entire build into the bowl and blend them. In stages, add the remaining 480 g flour, and mix gently with a spatula until smooth. Cover the bowl and let stand about 20 minutes. On a work surface lightly dusted with semolina flour, knead the mixed dough by folding it in half and pushing and stretching, then rotating a quarter turn and repeating. At around 20-30 cycles, taking about 10-15 minutes, the dough will become elastic and resist kneading. Gather it into a ball, put it back in the bowl and let it rest about 5 minutes. Smooth it across the work surface, sprinkle the salt evenly and knead for about 10 more cycles. Place the dough in the bowl again, form it into a flattened ball and cover the bowl.

Allow about 2 hours for bulk rise at about 25 C (77 F), folding twice at intervals of about 40 minutes. After bulk rise, working on a surface lightly dusted with semolina flour, form the dough into an even roll. Divide in half 4 times, making 16 equal rounds of about 75 g (2-5/8 oz) each. Shape each round into a disk about 6 cm (2-1/2 in) diameter. Stretch the bialy disks to about 10 cm (4 in) diameter with thin middles and thick rims, about 2 cm (3/4 in) apart on nonstick baking surfaces. Proof about 1-1/4 hour at about 25 C (77 F).

Adding toppings, baking and serving: Preheat the baking oven to 220 C (425 F). That is the maximum rated temperature for high-performance, nonstick baking trays; results are just as good as with higher temperatures. A baking stone low in the oven will help to maintain an even temperature. Cook the minced onion in the olive oil over medium heat about 15 minutes, stirring often, until translucent and lightly browned. About half the original weight of onion should remain. Blend in salt, and set aside to cool. Place poppy seeds in a small bowl or a spice dredge for dispensing.

After proofing, dock the hollows in the middles of bialy disks around their edges with a plastic fork. Spread about 6 g (1/2 tbsp) of onion mix on each bialy, mostly in the hollow but a little toward the rim. Using more onion mix or leaving onions wetter than described can make a bialy blow up and become a lump. Brush each bialy rim lightly with water, then sprinkle about 0.6 g (1/4 tsp) of poppy seeds across the top, including the hollow. Bake about 15 minutes at about 220 C (425 F) until golden brown with crisp crusts. Allow to cool about 5 minutes on an open rack, and if possible serve within a half hour. Best while warm.

Can be frozen for storage, best in a sealed plastic bag about 10 minutes after baking. Can be kept frozen for up to about a month. When ready to serve, thaw and crisp in a toaster oven about 2 minutes, or thaw about 20 seconds each in a microwave oven and crisp about 2 minutes under a broiler. Traditionally consumed whole, not sliced, often spread with butter, cream cheese or whitefish salad. Also eaten with a variety of other foods.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 1, 2017


Rebecca Kobrin, Bialystok, YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe (Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut, founded in 1925 at Wilno, Poland now Vilnius, Lithuania, today the Institute for Jewish Research, since 1940 at New York, NY), 2010

Leo Melamed (CME Group, former chair, Chicago Mercantile Exchange), There are no Jews in Bialystok, 2000

Barry Harmon, Bialy photos fresh from the oven, Artisan Bread Baking (West Valley City, UT), 2013

Bialys, pp. 262-263, in Jeffrey Hamelman, Bread, Wiley, 2004

Sarah Smith, Well-travelled food: the story of the bialy, The Garden Deli (Yorkshire, UK), April, 2015

Sylvia Carter, For many, a bialy is the bread of a lifetime, Newsday, September 6, 2000

Florence Fabricant, Kossar’s is sold and kosher, in Food Stuff, New York Times, March 11, 1998

Dylan Schaffer, Life, Death & Bialys: A Father/Son Baking Story, Bloomsbury, 2006

Mimi Sheraton, The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World, Random House, 2000

Elections in 2016: trends from Massachusetts cities and towns

In 2016 general elections, Massachusetts voters extended a record of support for progressive causes and candidates. Voters strongly supported Clinton and Kaine for President and Vice President, and they returned a delegation of mostly progressive Democrats to Congress. On four statewide ballot questions, voters opposed another slot-machine casino, opposed lifting limits on charter schools, favored protective measures for farm animals and annulled former state laws against marijuana use and sale.

Votes for President and Vice President: Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine won majorities in 257 Massachusetts cities and towns, losing in 94 of them. Populations in the cities and towns that Clinton won ranged up to 618 thousand (Boston), averaging 22 thousand. Populations in the cities and towns that she lost ranged up to 41 thousand (Westfield), averaging 10 thousand. Opposition came mostly from small towns. The ten communities with the strongest opposition were Blandford, Chester, Douglas, East Brookfield, Granville, Holland, North Brookfield, Russell, Southwick and Tolland–all with populations of less than 10 thousand.

Clinton support for President in Massachusetts

clintonsupportquintiles2016
Source: Secretary of the Commonwealth, preliminary

Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau

Contrary to speculation that higher-income communities were more likely to support Clinton and Kaine, the votes of Massachusetts communities did not show a clear trend of that type. Instead, communities with larger populations voted more strongly for Clinton and Kaine. When Massachusetts communities were divided into quintiles according to support for Clinton, with quintile 1 the strongest support, there was a clear, uniform trend of increasing support with increasing community population.

Votes on charter schools: Sponsors of Question 2, trying to abolish limits on charter schools, spent $24 million. At around $20 for every vote they attracted, it was by far the most costly campaign ever on a ballot question. They won majorities in only 15 of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns.

Under current laws and regulations, up to 120 charter schools are allowed statewide. Six cities have reached their local limits: Boston, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Springfield and Worchester. As of November, 2016, 88 charter schools had been designated in Massachusetts, located in 36 communities–one school in each of the following communities except as noted:

Adams, Boston (27), Cambridge (3), Chelsea (2), Chicopee, Devens, Easthampton, Everett, Fall River (3), Fitchburg, Foxborough, Framingham, Franklin, Greenfield, Hadley, Harwich, Haverhill, Holyoke (2), Hyannis (2), Lawrence (8), Lowell (3), Lynn, Marblehead, Marlborough, New Bedford (3), Newburyport, Norwell, Plymouth (2), Salem, Saugus, Somerville (2), South Hadley, Springfield (6), Tyngsboro, West Tisbury and Worcester (2).

No Massachusetts community that has a charter school supported Question 2. No city in the state and no town with a population over 28 thousand supported Question 2. Instead, high household incomes correlated with support for Question 2. When Massachusetts communities were divided into quintiles according to support for Question 2, with quintile 1 the strongest support, there was a clear, uniform trend of increasing support with increasing household income.

Support for Question 2 in Massachusetts

question2supportquintiles2016
Source: Secretary of the Commonwealth, preliminary

Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau

The ten communities voting the strongest support for Question 2 were Aquinnah (on Martha’s Vineyard), Chilmark, Dover, Gosnold, Lincoln, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Nantucket, Sherborn, Wellesley and Weston. They include four of the six highest-income Massachusetts towns: Sherborn, Wellesley, Carlisle, Sudbury, Dover and Weston. None of the Massachusetts communities that supported Question 2 has a charter school.

Meanings of trends: Measured trends of support for Clinton and for Question 2 run cross-current to some popular political lore. In a graphical analysis, New York Times writers speculated that lower-income voters turned against Clinton, while higher-income voters did the reverse. Results from Massachusetts communities show no clear trend connected with incomes but instead show a trend involving sizes of the communities where voters live. The more urbanized voters tended to support Clinton.

In contrast, results for Question 2 from Massachusetts communities do show a clear trend connected with household incomes. Sponsors of Question 2 and their apologists claimed that the charter schools are hugely popular with low-income households. If that were true, then there might have been a trend linking stronger support for Question 2 with lower household incomes. However, the actual trend from Massachusetts communities went in the opposite direction.

Promotions for Question 2 appeared to have sophisticated authors, but perhaps the sponsors of Question 2 fooled themselves about the appeal of their products. Bystanders in communities hosting charter schools are much more numerous than participants–a factor that sponsors of Question 2 might not have weighed accurately.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 22, 2016


Massachusetts 2016 election results by cities and towns, plus demographics, Brookline Beacon, December, 2016

Massachusetts elections statistics, Secretary of the Commonwealth, December, 2016

American Community Survey, U.S Census Bureau, 2009-2013 ACS 5-year data release

Names and locations of charter schools, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, December, 2016

Robert Weintraub, Massachusetts should vote No on more charter schools, BU Today (Boston, MA), October 17, 2016

Michael Altman, Charter schools: an issue of civil rights, WGBH (Boston, MA), October 25, 2016

Paul Crookston, Massachusetts charter school measure backed by Republicans, National Review, October 27, 2016

Editorial, Vote Yes on Question 2, Boston Globe, October 29, 2016

Jim Hand, White House says Obama neutral on charter schools ballot question, Attleboro (MA) Sun Chronicle, October 31, 2016

Editorial, Vote Yes on Question 2, Harvard Crimson (Cambridge, MA), November 3, 2016

Katharine Q. Seelye and Jess Bidgood, Charter schools are the big issue on Massachusetts ballot, New York Times, November 6, 2016

Felicia Gans, Donors spent big on Massachusetts ballot questions, Lowell (MA) Sun, November 7, 2016

K.K. Rebecca Lai, Alicia Parlapiano, Julia Preston and Karen Yourish, How Trump won the election according to exit polls, New York Times, November 8, 2016

Phil Demers, Fiercest Question 2 opponents often from communities with existing charter schools, Springfield (MA) Republican, November 13, 2016

Joan Vennochi, With Question 2 defeat, voters ignored the elites, Boston Globe, November 14, 2016

Samantha Winslow, Massachusetts teachers defeat charter school expansion, In These Times, November 14, 2016

Frank Phillips, Moody’s calls charter school rejection credit positive, Boston Globe, November 16, 2016

Lisa Guisbond, People power trounces big, dark money, as charter expansion suffers decisive defeat, Network for Public Eduction (Kew Gardens, NY), November 21, 2016

Dan French and Diana Lebeaux, Question 2 was defeated: now what?, Center for Collaborative Education (Boston, MA), November 21, 2016

How soon will Zika disease spread to New England?

Zika disease, at epidemic levels in Brazil for more than a year, has come to Miami, FL. Although often described as a “tropical disease,” it has escaped the tropics, and people are keeping a greater distance. This month, the Miami Herald quoted the operator of a Florida travel business, saying, “I had to cancel eight out of my 12 weekly summer season tours.” In recent days, several locally transmitted Zika cases were reported in Miami Beach, and the danger zone was expanded from 1-1/2 square miles to most of the community.

Origin of the threat: Zika is not a new threat. It was first found almost 70 years ago as a disease of rhesus monkeys in the Ziika Forest–for which the disease was named–located near Lake Victoria in Uganda. The cause is a flavivirus (“yellow virus”). That virus family and genus includes the agents of yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya and West Nile fever. The diseases have mostly been transmitted by aggressive species of mosquitos common in the tropics. Some of the diseases have migrated to temperate regions, and some infect wild and domesticated animals–including goats, sheep and mice–as well as humans.

The flaviviruses are single-strand RNA viruses, like the virus that causes AIDS. Lacking stabilizing effects of DNA-based genetics, they mutate relatively often, sometimes producing new, persistent strains. Research shows that happened in recent years with Zika. The original strain found in Africa caused mostly mild, brief illness in humans. The common symptoms were low fever, sometimes with skin rash or joint pain, that lasted up to a week.

The disease spread from Africa into south and southeast Asia. A 2007 outbreak on Yap and nearby islands of Micronesia drew attention because it seemed very widespread, even though it caused no deaths or long-term health problems. A survey using immunology tests suggested that about three-quarters of the population had been infected. Those tests encounter cross-reactions among the flaviviruses. A previous infection by dengue or chikungunya may produce a positive result. Since dengue is often present where Zika strikes, estimates of infections using immunology tests can be clouded by errors.

Growth of the threat: Starting in 2013, another flavivirus epidemic occurred in Tahiti and nearby islands of French Polynesia. This time health centers had genetics tests available when live virus could be sampled. They distinguish more clearly among viruses, and Zika was soon identified as a main cause of the epidemic. However, the virus had mutated, producing new strains. Some victims had more severe symptoms than previously reported for Zika disease. A small fraction of the victims developed long-term problems including profound muscle weakness, known as Guillain-Barré syndrome.

After the epidemic in French Polynesia, unusual problems began to be found in newborns: smaller heads than normal, called microcephaly. While such symptoms occur without Zika, they occurred more often in births from pregnancies during the epidemic. Other severe problems began to be found, including defects in the brain, eyes and spinal cord. Immunology tests associated a high proportion of newborn victims with Zika exposure.

During 2014, newer strains of Zika spread eastward, appearing in other Pacific islands and then in South America. During 2015, the disease spread through most of Brazil, then appeared in neighboring countries and Central America, including the Caribbean. Windblown mosquitos helped spread the disease, but epidemiologists also attribute the spread to infected people traveling to places where aggressive species of mosquitos are common. Cabo Verde, near the west coast of Africa, recently reported cases involving newer strains of Zika.

As of 2012, only five strains of Zika had been reported. By early spring, 2016, about 60 Zika strains had been identified by gene sequencing. Comparisons found two main groups: one common in Africa, the other common in south and southeast Asia. Strains responsible for the 2013 outbreak in French Polynesia and the recent outbreaks in South and Central America had developed from previous Asian strains. As with older strains, many people apparently infected by newer strains did not seek care for relatively mild symptoms, while the virus was infecting cells and multiplying.

During the past year, publications surged. By mid-September, 2016, gene sequences for almost 100 strains had been reported. Compared with other diseases, however, research on Zika immunology and therapeutics remains poorly developed. According to a recent review of the science, researchers “currently lack major basic tools for [Zika vaccine] development, including reliable animal models, reference reagents and assays.” In Congress, for months Republicans driven by reactionary agendas failed to act on President Obama’s request of February, 2016, seeking $1.9 billion in emergency funds for applied research on Zika.

Dangers and precautions: Soon after an infection has taken hold, Zika has been found in many body tissues and fluids. It may persist for months after symptoms of an infection–if there were any–have gone away. Laboratory measurements found that newer Zika strains are highly infectious; just a few copies of the virus may be needed to transmit the disease. Although apparently not contagious, the disease is transmitted by intimate contact, including sex. Since current genetics tests cannot insure that levels of Zika virus are below an infectious threshold, major health organizations have been recommending long delays between potential Zika exposure and pregnancy.

It is not yet known whether antibodies produced during infection by one Zika strain can prevent infection by other strains. A pattern from the closely related dengue virus is troubling. A previous infection involving one class of dengue virus does not prevent infection by strains belonging to another class and may worsen health hazards. Early indications, still controversial, suggest Zika infections might behave similarly.

There is no approved vaccine against Zika. One candidate vaccine recently began the first of three stages in clinical trials: testing for safety. The first vaccine approved against dengue began marketing just this year, after over 80 years of experiments, and already it has been clouded with safety issues–potentially worsening health hazards, including those from Zika.

Spreading disease: Mosquitos, notably those in the Aedes genus, have been the main vectors for Zika and other flaviviruses. The Aedes aegypti species is adapted to humans and their habitats. Other Aedes species are also frequent carriers, helping to infect wild and domesticated animals as well as humans. Although often called “tropical,” Aedes mosquitos live throughout the southern half of the United States. They are also key vectors for yellow fever virus, which became a scourge of East Coast and Mississippi River cities during the late 1600s through the late 1800s. New England is already visited by dengue fever, the flavivirus most closely related to Zika.

New England dengue fever cases

denguefevercasesnewengland2009
Source: Natural Resources Defense Council, 2009

The Aedes aegypti mosquito range extends into New England, including at least the western seacoasts of Connecticut. However, laboratory experiments show that mosquitos in the Culex genus can also carry Zika. They are common back-yard and house mosquitos throughout New England, with ranges extending well into Canada. During the last few decades, they have become vectors in the region for West Nile virus, and they may be vectors for dengue virus. Although the region is not likely to see Zika epidemics as widespread as those in the tropics, New England remains under threat.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 20, 2016


Roni Caryn Rabin, Zika test not easy to obtain, New York Times, September 20, 2016

Brendan O’Brien, Florida expands Zika zone in Miami Beach after five new cases, Reuters (UK), September 17, 2016

Lizette Alvarez, Pregnant women anxious as Florida’s Zika test results take weeks, New York Times, September 13, 2016

Chabeli Herrera, Nancy Dahlberg and Nicholas Nehamas, Zika takes bite out of Miami-Dade economy, Miami Herald, September 9, 2016

Maggie Fox, Zika funding fails again in Congress, NBC News, September 6, 2016

WHO expands Zika sexual transmission advice, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, September 6, 2016

Wanwisa Dejnirattisai, et al., Dengue virus sero-cross-reactivity drives antibody-dependent enhancement of infection with Zika virus, Nature Immunology 17(9):1102-1108, September, 2016

Raj K. Singh, et al., Zika virus: emergence, evolution, pathology, diagnosis and control, Veterinary Quarterly 36(3):150-175, September, 2016

Rafael A. Larocca, et al., Vaccine protection against Zika virus from Brazil, Nature 536(7617):474–478, August 25, 2016

Luisa Barzon, et al., Infection dynamics in a traveler with persistent shedding of Zika virus, Eurosurveillance 21(32) online, August 11, 2016

Paulo Prada, Brazilian scientists find Zika traces in Culex mosquitoes in wild, Reuters (UK), July 21, 2016

Jesse J. Waggoner, et al., Single-reaction multiplex reverse transcription PCR for detection of Zika, chikungunya and dengue viruses, Emerging Infectious Diseases 22(7):1295-1297, July, 2016

Didier Mussoa and Duane J. Gublerb, Zika virus, Clinical Microbiology Reviews 29(3):487-524, July, 2016

Contrary dengue vaccine response hints at possible problems with Zika, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, July, 2016

Amanda B. Keener, Zika and dengue immunity: a complex relationship, The Scientist (Canada), June 28, 2016

Ingrid B. Rabe, et al., Guidance for interpretation of Zika virus antibody test results, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 3, 2016

Charlotte J. Haug, et al., The Zika challenge, New England Journal of Medicine 374(19):1801-1803, May 12, 2016

Van-Mai Cao-Lormeau, et al., Guillain-Barré syndrome outbreak associated with Zika virus infection in French Polynesia, Lancet 387(10027):1531-1548, April 9, 2016

Estimated U.S. ranges of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 1, 2016

Lauren M. Paul, et al., Dengue virus antibodies enhance Zika virus infection, Florida Gulf Coast University (not yet published), April, 2016

New CDC laboratory test for Zika virus authorized for emergency use by FDA, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 26, 2016

Jason Beaubien, Zika in French Polynesia, (U.S.) National Public Radio, February 9, 2016

Jon Cohen, Zika’s long, strange trip into the limelight, Science (online edition), February 8, 2016

Andrew D. Haddow, et al., Genetic characterization of Zika virus strains, Neglected Tropical Diseases 6(2) online, Public Library of Science, February, 2012

Mark R. Duffy, et al., Zika virus outbreak on Yap island, New England Journal of Medicine 360(24):2536-2543, June 11, 2009

Kim Knowlton, Gina Solomon and Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, Mosquito-borne dengue fever, Natural Resources Defense Council, 2009

Andrea Ryan and Melissa Lee Smith, Major American epidemics of yellow fever 1793-1905, (U.S.) Public Broadcasting Service, 2006

Laura B. Goddard, et al., Vector competence of California mosquitos for West Nile virus, Emerging Infectious Diseases 8(12):1385-1391, December, 2002

China’s influence on nuclear power

Over the next several years, China is likely to influence “third generation” nuclear power more than any other country. That is partly because China already is and will likely continue to be the largest market. It is also because China has the most active efforts at nuclear design, manufacturing and construction.

China’s nuclear fleet: Before 1994, no nuclear power operated in China. China never built “first generation” nuclear-power plants or any power plants with “boiling water” reactors. During 2016, 34 “second generation” nuclear-power units are or will be in full, normal operations at 11 power plants in China. Organizations primarily responsible for construction have been China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) of Beijing–5 plants and 15 units–and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) of Shenzhen–6 plants and 19 units.

Nuclear-power units operating in China during 2016

Click Here for a table of China’s nuclear power-plant units in full operation during 2016: plant and province, unit number, rated net MW, equipment type and source, year and month in full operation, builder organization.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency, 2016

CNNC worked with several types and sources of equipment designs. CGN concentrated on a single type, first sourced from France. After building four units, CGN localized the type to China, with increased output, as the CPR-1000 design. That became the major nuclear-power design in China, built by CNNC as well as by CGN and representing 19 of the 34 units operating in 2016. The first CPR-1000 unit at Ling Ao in Guangdong province took 6-1/2 years to build. More recent CPR-1000 units have been completed in a little over 4 years, with about 90 percent of the value sourced from China.

Responses to disaster: After the Japanese nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in March, 2011, the government of China briefly halted nuclear plant and unit authorizations and began a review of China’s nuclear-power programs. A so-called “white paper” from October, 2012–officially a statement of “energy policy”–provided the following:

“Since the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster in 2011, China has launched comprehensive safety inspections at all nuclear-power plants. The inspection results show that nuclear security is guaranteed in China…China’s installed capacity of nuclear power is expected to reach 40 GW by 2015.” [Information Office of the State Council, China’s Energy Policy 2012, as released in English October 24, 2012, pp. 12-13 of 25]

The capacity goal was silently ignored. China’s net rated nuclear generation capacity at the start of 2015 totaled only 20 GW–half the claimed goal. No clear public statement came from China’s government reflecting the nuclear safety review. There was little chance of a candid assessment amid a command economy and regimes long arrogant toward the people of China. Because disclosing information outside official channels is harshly punished, China’s regulation of its nuclear industry is far less effective than even United States regulation in 1974, before dissolving the former Atomic Energy Commission and starting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Some changes began with retirement of Hu Jintao as general secretary in the fall of 2012 and succession of Xi Jinping. During the Hu regime, China promoted pell-mell industrial growth at the expense of infrastructure and environment. Energy production gorged on China’s coal and led to large coal imports. Motor vehicle traffic grew apace, combining exhaust fumes with coal smoke to produce intense storms of air pollution–sometimes worse than Pittsburgh in the 1940s but enormously larger.

Regime change: Near the start of the Xi regime, the Chinese government lifted the moratorium on nuclear authorizations and quickly moved to consolidate and spur activities of nuclear organizations. Owing to needs for large sources of capital, these are all effectively arms of government–regardless of charters. A modest growth in nuclear-power capacity became a surge. More than half the nuclear generation capacity at the end of 2016 will have begun normal operations within the latest three years.

Nuclear generation capacity in China by years

chinanuclearpower2003to2016
Source: International Atomic Energy Agency, 2016

A practical effect in China of the nuclear catastrophe in Japan was to accelerate “third generation” nuclear-power technology, in hopes it would deliver on claims of safety yet to be proven through operating experience. Plans for “second generation” units were cut back and new plans for “third generation” units pushed forward. China had already contracted to build four AP-1000 units at Sanmen and Haiyang, mostly designed at Westinghouse in the United States, and two EPR units at Taishan, mostly designed at Areva in France. China had licensed Rev. 15 of AP-1000 designs from Toshiba of Japan–omitting aircraft impact resistance and rejected for U.S. plants, which use Rev. 19 of AP-1000 designs. Chinese organizations apparently saw EPR technology as less promising and had not licensed it from Areva of France.

In a reversal of usual behaviors, typically more proactive CGN had taken responsibility for EPR technology, while CNNC took responsibility for AP-1000 technology. Nevertheless, CGN moved rapidly toward a Chinese localization of “third generation” nuclear-power technology using AP-1000 rather than EPR as a model. The overall approach appears to wrap protective AP-1000 “third generation” elements around CPR-1000 “second generation” designs–the latter adapted and promoted by CGN but also utilized by CNNC.

For a time, CNNC and CGN elaborated separate, competitive approaches to integrating AP-1000 “third generation” nuclear technologies into Chinese “second generation” designs. Both organizations had built locally sourced “second generation” nuclear units at multiple power plants. In early 2014, China’s government directed the two organizations to produce a single design. They soon began to refer to the object of the joint effort as the 华龙 Hualong (grand China dragon) design.

Disputes over still separate elements of plans were resolved by reviewers assembled by Hualong International Nuclear Power Technology Company, a 50-50 joint venture of CNNC and CGN begun in March, 2016. Bloomberg News reported in early August, 2016, that CNNC elements were chosen over those from CGN. The organization will seek overseas business. Its 1.09 GW nuclear-power design has been designated HPR-1000. Geographic regions were separated for CNNC versus CGN activity. CGN, now focused on Guangxi, Guangdong and parts of Fujian provinces, will pursue opportunities in Europe. CNNC will seek overseas business in South America.

CNNC asserts that the HPR-1000 “design concept and technologies…have been verified” by “natural science.” That sounds like an appeal to magic. By comparison with the United States and the European Union, regulatory review in China has been, at best, extremely hasty. News sourced from China shows foundations being built for the first HPR-1000 unit in May, 2015, before organizing joint management and more than a year before resolving design issues. In telling contrast, U.S. regulatory review for the AP-1000 design took from March, 2002–when the first complete design was submitted–through December, 2011. No construction occurred during that interval.

Developing technology: The HPR-1000 design is not a knockoff of the AP-1000 design, although it uses similar approaches and has nearly the same external ratings. Obvious differences include these five. (1) AP-1000 has a water reservoir for passive cooling on the roof of its containment building; HPR-1000 has a water reservoir inside its building. (2) AP-1000 has two “loops”–steam generators; HPR-1000 has three. (3) AP-1000 has four coolant pumps moving reactor water through its steam generators; HPR-1000 has three. (4) AP-1000 has a core with 157 fuel assemblies, each 264 rods that are 15.0 ft long; HPR-1000 has a core with 177 fuel assemblies, each 264 rods that are 12.7 ft long. (5) AP-1000 has a vessel with 13.3 ft diameter around the core; HPR-1000 has a vessel with 14.4 ft diameter around the core.

Nuclear “third generation” designs in China

Characteristic AP-1000 HPR-1000
rated net MWe 1110 1090
heat transfer 2-loop 3-loop
coolant pumps 4 3
fuel assemblies 157 177
rods per assembly 264 264
fuel rod length 15.0 ft 12.7 ft
vessel diameter 13.3 ft 14.4 ft
water reservoir on roof inside
passive survival 72 hr 72 hr
ground acceleration 0.3 g 0.3 g
seamless vessel on core yes yes
bottom cap solid solid
double containment yes yes
load following yes yes
refueling cycle 18 mo 18 mo
design life 60 yr 60 yr

Source: China National Nuclear Corporation, 2016

The HPR-1000 design leverages China’s infrastructure built around the CPR-1000 design, by far its most widely applied nuclear-power technologies. Chinese type AFA3G fuel assemblies have become its high-volume nuclear fuel, required by the CPR-1000 units. Type CF3 fuel rods for HPR-1000 assemblies are slightly (15.9 mm) shorter than type AFA3G rods for CPR-1000 assemblies and use a double-welding process. Dimensions of reactor vessels and steam generators nearly match, assuring that current manufacturers will be able to build them.

China’s nuclear industries remain plagued by lack of consistent standards for dimensioning, measuring, testing, inspection and qualification. Instead of adopting or developing a comprehensive set of standards, China continues to apply multiple standards copied from the countries that have been sources for equipment. Those include France, Russia, Canada, the United States, Japan and Spain. A document from China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration suggests that the French RCC-M code (Règles de Conception et de Construction des Matériels Mécaniques) may be the most common standard, because it was used for the CPR-1000 design. When foreign standards are revised–a frequent occurence–it is unlikely that the forest of Chinese copies can be kept synchronized. Over time, that can become a potential source of equipment failures.

According to CNNC in 2015, longstanding Chinese official policy of a “closed nuclear fuel cycle” remains unchanged. A presentation at a meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil stated, “China has been adopting the closed nuclear fuel cycle, i.e., the spent fuel shall be reprocessed to recycled uranium, plutonium and other elements to enhance the fuel utilization.” [text in English, figure legends in Chinese] However, locations in the general area of a reprocessing facility proposed near Jiayuguan in Gansu, near a military outpost since the 1950s, currently provide only storage, despite a claim by CNNC about plans for “big commercial reprocessing.”

Energy context: During 2015, China’s nuclear-power fleet produced about three percent of China’s net electricity. So far, growth in nuclear electricity is far outpaced by growth in coal-fired electricity. Between 2014 and 2015, a rated 6 GW of nuclear capacity was added, while a rated 72 GW in coal-fired capacity was added. At recent rates of change, China might never achieve the current world average of about 11 percent nuclear electricity.

Quoting from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, Energy Post–produced in the Netherlands–finds that renewable electricity has been growing faster. Between 2014 and 2015, China reported adding about 33 GW, peak in wind capacity and adding about 18 GW, peak in solar capacity. Discounted by typical capacity factors of 90 percent for nuclear, 25 percent for wind and 12 percent for solar, China reported adding about 5.4 GW in average nuclear capacity and about 10.3 GW in average renewable capacity. There has been no information on China’s internal energy development costs that is generally regarded as reliable.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 9, 2016


Nuclear power-plants in China, International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna), September, 2016

Nuclear power in China, World Nuclear Association (London), August, 2016

Tom Holland, Why Britain’s Hinkley nuclear reactor is a horror show, South China Morning Post, August 29, 2016

Edward Wong, Coal burning causes the most air pollution deaths in China, New York Times, August 18, 2016

Chris Buckley, Chinese city backs down on proposed nuclear fuel plant after protests, New York Times, August 11, 2016

Aibing Guo, CNNC says its plan to merge ‘Hualong One’ reactor designs favored, Bloomberg News, August 3, 2016

David Dalton, China nuclear companies form joint venture to export ‘Hualong One’ reactor, NucNet Newsletter (Brussels), March 17, 2016

‘Hualong One’ joint venture officially launched by China, World Nuclear News (UK), March 17, 2016

China’s electricity mix, Energy Post (Netherlands), March 1, 2016

China to build more ‘Hualong One’ reactors, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), February 25, 2016

Nuclear fuel industry in China, China National Nuclear Corporation (Beijing, in English), October, 2015

Chinese reprocessing plant to start up in 2030, World Nuclear News (UK), September 24, 2015

Haiyang Wang, China’s nuclear power development and ‘Hualong One’ (HPR-1000) pressurized water reactor technology, China National Nuclear Corporation (Beijing, in English), September, 2015

Emma Graham-Harrison, China warned over plans for new nuclear power plants, Manchester Guardian (UK), May 25, 2015

Fuqing-5 foundation in place, World Nuclear News (UK), May 12, 2015

Tang Bo, Use of mechanical code and standard in Chinese nuclear-power plants, National Nuclear Safety Administration (Beijing, in English), c. 2015

Ian Hore-Lacy, China’s new nuclear baby, World Nuclear News (UK), September 2, 2014

Caroline Peachey, Chinese reactor design evolution, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), May 22, 2014

Jane Nakano, The United States and China: making nuclear energy safer, Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution (Washington, DC), February 6, 2014

Matthew L. Wald, Approval of reactor design clears path for new plants, New York Times, December 23, 2011

Craig Bolon, Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress, Brookline Beacon, September 6, 2016

Craig Bolon, Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2016

Craig Bolon, Will New England revive nuclear power?, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2016

Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress

The AP-1000 nuclear power-plant design from the U.S. Westinghouse division of Toshiba in Japan may become the major and perhaps sole survivor of competition in “third generation” nuclear. Eight units are currently under construction in the United States and China. The European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) from Areva of France has four units under construction in Finland, France and China. However, it is currently on life-support, owing to design and testing scandals and to major manufacturing defects.

“Third generation” nuclear from Rosatom in Russia, Kepco in South Korea and Hitachi in Japan gained little traction outside countries of origin. No plants are under construction, and no financing has been announced for deals reported with governments in Egypt, Abu Dhabi, Poland and India. A former barrier to manufacturing–as of 2009 only one plant, located in Japan, able to produce critical components–has been overcome by large, new steel forging facilities in several countries, including China, Korea, India and the United States.

There are other claimants to “third generation” technology–not credited by international business. In Japan, Hitachi completed four ABWR units in the 1990s. All remain idle in the aftermath of the March, 2011, nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Using French technology, China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) in Guangdong province developed the CPR-1000 design. Like the Hitachi ABWR, it produces a slightly improved “second generation” nuclear power-plant. More recently, possibly using technology from the AP-1000, CGN announced another cheapened design called ACC1000 at first and more recently 华龙一 Hualong One, couched in Chlingish, or HPR-1000. A prototype has been announced for the Fuqing plant in Fujian province, which currently has two CPR-1000 units.

Schedules and costs: There are currently four AP-1000 nuclear units under construction in the United States, using the Rev. 19 design–providing aircraft impact resistance–approved in 2011 by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There are four units under construction in China using the Rev. 15 design, documented in 2006 by the U.S. but lacking aircraft impact resistance. A nationalized company in China licensed the Rev. 15 design and announced plans to build 10 or more additional units. Rev. 19 of the AP-1000 received “interim” approval by the UK in 2011. Currently, UK officials remain conflicted about whether to build EPR units. The Office for Nuclear Regulation has registered slow movement toward final AP-1000 approval.

An AP-1000 unit in Sanmen, China looks likely to become the first “third generation” nuclear unit to operate. Chinese industry got a head start by adopting the Rev. 15 design, rejected for U.S. plants. However, all AP-1000 projects world-wide are around three years behind schedule. The worst delays were caused by test failures of coolant pumps built by Curtis-Wright of Cheswick, PA. Those were controversial elements, based on technology developed for U.S. nuclear-powered submarines. Each AP-1000 unit has four of the pumps, using an innovative, sealed design unproven in industrial applications. After delivery delays of up to about two years, revised pumps have been installed at four of the eight AP-1000 units currently under construction. The revised pump designs are apparently not part of the Rev. 15 technology licensed to Chinese industry.

Fully burdened costs of AP-1000 units in the U.S. were recently reported more than $7 a watt, nearly a factor of two cost overrun. Full cost of the EPR unit at Flamanville, France is also reported at over $7 a watt–and still growing. Both European EPR projects are around ten years behind schedule, with cost overruns at least a factor of three. Schedules for the two EPR units in Taishan, China leaped ahead of the two in Europe, under a less demanding regime of regulation. However, schedules for all EPR projects are now in question from recent threats of catastrophic failure, owing to major manufacturing defects that remain under review in Europe.

Safety concerns: Safety concerns are always relative. Fatalities in automobile crashes per miles of vehicle travel probably peaked in the United States during 1900 through 1920, years before the U.S. government compiled records. Since 24.1 deaths per 100 million vehicle-miles for 1921, official tallies fell almost continuously to a low of 1.08 for 2014. For decades, however, the lures of automobile travel distracted U.S. attention from the dangers, while enthusiasm surged.

Lures of nuclear power in China and several other countries will more likely be weighed against hazards of alternatives rather than against hazards of nuclear power-plants. Hazards in those countries are dominated by large-scale burning of coal. Chinese steel, smelting and cement plants have been expanding rapidly, most of them burning coal. Over the past ten years, China added more than 800 coal-fired power units averaging 600 MW capacity. Academic research published in the summer of 2015 attributed more than a million and a half deaths per year in China to air pollution.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 6, 2016


First two AP1000s move closer to commissioning in China, World Nuclear News (UK), May 26, 2016

Scott Judy, U.S. contractor shake-up stirs nuclear project’s acceleration, Engineering News Record (Troy, MI), March 31, 2016

‘Hualong One’ joint venture officially launched by China, World Nuclear News (UK), March 17, 2016

Heavy manufacturing of power plants, World Nuclear Association (UK), 2016

Fatality analysis reporting system, U.S. National Highway Safety Administration, 2016

Jim Green, EPR fiasco unraveling in France and the UK, Nuclear Monitor (WISE International, Amsterdam), October 15, 2015

Rod Adams, Reactor coolant pumps for AP-1000 still a problem, Atomic Insights (Crystal City, VA), August 29, 2015

Dan Levin, Study links polluted air in China to 1.6 million deaths a year, New York Times, August 14, 2015

As U.S. shutters coal plants, China and Japan are building them, Institute for Energy Research (Washington, DC), April 23, 2015

UK assessment of AP-1000 design advances, World Nuclear News (UK), March 12, 2015

Robert Ladefian, The world’s largest canned motor pump, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), January 1, 2013

AP-1000 overview (Westinghouse), International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna), 2011

Sven Baumgarten, Bernhard Brecht, Uwe Bruhns and Pete Fehring, Reactor coolant pump type RUV for Westinghouse reactor AP-1000, American Nuclear Society, Paper 10339, Proceedings of the International Congress on Advances in Nuclear Power Plants, June 13-17, 2010

Stephen V. Mladineo and Charles D. Ferguson, On the Westinghouse AP-1000 sale to China and its possible military implications, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (Arlington, VA), March 29, 2008

Craig Bolon, Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2016

Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects

Recent reports show hidden risks of catastrophic failure at dozens of nuclear power-plants, world wide. Those include the Millstone plant in Waterford, CT. They arise from previously unreported manufacturing defects and potential defects in large mechanical components produced at Creusot Forge in France. That manufacturer–soon to be controlled by Électricité de France (EDF), the French power utility–has been in operation since the eighteenth century.

A foundry at Le Creusot, in the highlands of central France, opened in 1782 to make cannons for the kings of France. It has produced steel forgings since 1876. As of 2010, it had the third-largest forging equipment in Europe, featuring a 17 million pound-force press, built in 1956, and a 25 million pound-force press, built in 2008. Its heaviest press can produce thick-wall metal cylinders up to 19 ft in diameter.

Areva–the French nuclear conglomerate once known as Framatome and soon to join with EDF–bought the Creusot factory in 2006 from the Schneider enterprises, its operators since 1835. Areva and predecessors have employed the factory since the 1950s to design and produce large mechanical components of nuclear power-plants: reactor vessels, steam generator shells and pressurizer shells.

Creusot Forge has supplied hundreds of large components for many industrial plants now operating in Europe, Asia, the United States, South America and Africa. Faulty components went to three European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) nuclear units that are under construction in Flamanville, France, and in Taishan, China. Others were produced for two EPR units proposed at Hinkley Point in the UK. Faulty components have already been installed in France and China.

Nature of defects: Yves Marignac of World Information Service on Energy in Paris has supplied a detailed description of the EPR defects. They affect the heads and bottom caps of reactor vessels. Such a vessel is made from large forged parts: a “head,” a cylinder segment with ports for cooling water, two plain cylinder segments and a bottom cap. The last four are welded together, and the head is bolted on top.

Heads and bottom caps have been reported to have major defects caused by improper forging performed at the Creusot Forge factory. According to Mr. Marignac, portions of those thick metal parts have too much carbon in the steel, tending to make them less resistant to thermal shock than they need to be. In the event of a rapid cooldown to recover from an equipment problem, they would be prone to rupture, leading to catastrophic failure.

According to Mr. Marignac, the forging problem leading to “carbon segregation” is an issue known in industry that can be controlled by manufacturing techniques. When Creusot Forge made the EPR parts, starting in 2006, one of each type was supposed to be tested for the “carbon segregation” issue. That requires drilling into a part, extracting solid samples and analyzing them–destroying the part. However, the run of EPR parts, six of each type, was completed without such testing.

Eventually the French nuclear regulatory agency required testing, performed in the fall of 2014. Test failures were soon found. However, by that time three EPR reactor vessels had been completed. They had been delivered to one reactor under construction in Flamanville, France and two under construction in Taishan, China. There they had been installed and connected to other equipment. Reactor vessels and possibly other major components at those sites may have to be removed and scrapped, causing long delays and huge added costs. The Flamanville project is already many years behind schedule, and it has suffered at least a factor of three cost overrun.

Hidden defects: After learning about the defects in EPR reactor vessels, the French nuclear regulatory agency required an audit of nuclear-part manufacturing performed at the Creusot Forge factory. That uncovered potential defects in more than 400 large parts, going back to 1965. The agency has suspended the operating license for one French nuclear-power unit (Fessenheim Unit 2), found to have a defective part. At least 18 French nuclear-power units are being investigated for defects.

Based on the audit in France, at least 17 U.S. nuclear-power units are at risk from potentially defective parts made at the Creusot Forge factory. For example, Millstone Unit 2 in Waterford, CT, has a potentially defective replacement pressurizer. Some units have more than one potential defect. Kerri Kavanagh, a division head at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, released a statement last June, committing to “appropriate regulatory and enforcement action if we find issues of safety significance.”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 3, 2016


Benjamin Leveau, EDF reactor may remain shut after regulator suspends certificate, Nucleonics Week (Platts, UK), July 19, 2016

French regulator investigating components in 18 reactors, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), June 29, 2016

Kerri Kavanagh, Quality assurance issues in France: implications for U.S. plants, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, June 20, 2016

Quentin Philippe, Is the EPR nuclear reactor fit for the current market?, Energy Post (Amsterdam), June 20, 2016

Anomalies and suspected falsifications at Areva’s Creusot Forge site, Greenpeace France, June 13, 2016

Nick Butler, EDF’s real problem is Flamanville not Hinkley Point, Financial Times (UK), May 14, 2016

Yves Marignac, Defauts de fabrication sur la cuve du reacteur EPR de Flamanville-3, [in English at GreenWorld] Fabrication flaws in the pressure vessel of the EPR Flamanville-3, International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna), April 13, 2016

Creusot Forge and Creusot Mécanique, Areva Group (France, in English), 2016

Heavy manufacturing of power plants, World Nuclear Association, 2016

Jim Green, EPR fiasco unravelling in France and the UK, Nuclear Monitor (WISE International, Amsterdam), October 15, 2015

Oliver Tickell, Flamanville nuclear safety fail sounds death knell for Hinkley C, The Ecologist (UK), October 2, 2015

Henry Samuel, Areva aware ‘as early as 2006′ of serious fault in nuclear reactor destined for UK, London Telegraph (UK), July 9, 2015

Ernest Kao, Hong Kong experts flag fresh concern over Guangdong nuclear plant, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), April 19, 2015

John Lichfield, UK nuclear strategy faces meltdown as faults are found in identical French project, Independent (London), April 17, 2015

Peter Thornton and Vito J. Colangelo, Variation of mechanical properties in large steel forgings, Watervliet Arsenal, U.S. Army, 1975

Craig Bolon, Will New England revive nuclear power?, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2016

Labor rights for U.S. domestic workers

Labor standards–wages, hours, benefits and age limits–were a thin patchwork in the U.S. until the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. The Franklin Roosevelt administration considered FLSA its most significant social legislation after the Social Security Act of 1935. In its initial form, FLSA provided a 25-cent-an-hour minimum wage, a 44-hour straight-time work week, time-and-a-half pay for overtime and a minimum working age of 16. However, there were exceptions and exclusions.

The Roosevelt administration was opposed by an unreconstructed Supreme Court, losing the issues in a 1935 case [Schechter Poultry] and losing in its “court packing” efforts of 1937. To resolve Constitutional issues, FLSA focused on occupations related to interstate commerce–notably manufacturing–generally omitting coverage for agriculture, construction and many services: transportation, retail trade, government, health care, education, publishing, machinery repair and domestic work.

The 1938 law also excluded coverage for union shops, as endorsed by both AFL and CIO out of fears that a wage floor might presage a wage ceiling. It survived two Supreme Court challenges in 1941. [Darby and Opp Cotton] By then, former Pres. Roosevelt was serving a third term and had appointed a majority of the Court: Justices Hugo Black, Stanley Reed, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas and Frank Murphy.

Strengthening standards: Since World War II, labor standards have gradually been strengthened through four main channels:
• FLSA regulations, expanding coverage and increasing requirements
• FLSA amendments, removing and modifying exceptions and exclusions
• state and local standards, expanding coverage and increasing requirements
• interpretations, policies and lawsuits sometimes expanding coverage

Trends in federal minimum wage

FederalMinimumHourlyWage1938to2016
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, 2016

There have been three notable eras in federal minimum wage. The Franklin Roosevelt through the Lyndon Johnson administrations substantially increased the wage level, starting around $4 an hour and growing to around $10 an hour–in 2016 dollars–during 1938 through 1968. The Nixon through the Reagan administrations substantially shrank the wage level, from around $10 to around $6, during 1968 through 1988. The Herbert Bush through the Obama administrations maintained a stagnant wage level between about $6 and $8, during 1988 through 2016.

Labor standards in retail trade made progress through state initiatives–notably in setting minimum wages. Every state now has laws that benefit some workers outside the initial FSLA focus. Even in the “at will,” “right to work,” wage-and-hours-free state of Mississippi, employers can’t fire a worker because of jury service, if a worker provides “reasonable notice.” As of the start of 2016, more than half the states had a statewide minimum wage higher than the federal standard: 29 states plus the District of Columbia.

Currently the District is highest at $11.50 an hour, while California and Massachusetts are next at $10.00–to be compared with the $7.25 federal standard since July, 2009. Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee have no state minimum wage. Georgia and Wyoming wage levels are below the federal minimum. The Deep South was the region most hostile to FLSA in the 1930s and remains the region most hostile to labor today.

Coverage struggles: Since early years of labor standards, starting with the first laws enacted in 1912 by Massachusetts, many groups of workers did not benefit. The U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, in both initial and current forms, begins by stating a focus on “industries engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce.” [P.L. 75-718, Sec. 2(a) and 29 USC 202(a)] “Commerce” under FLSA has been limited, both initially and now, to mean “trade…among the several States….” [P.L. 75-718, Sec. 3(b) and 29 USC 203(b)]

FLSA allows states and cities to enact stronger requirements. During the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, some states and cities began to close gaps in wage and hour coverage left in 1938. So far, no labor scholar has published an inventory of those initiatives, but sectors often involved appear to be retail trade, construction and transportation.

At the same time, business interests began to promote anti-union, “right to work” laws, authorized under the 1947 federal Taft-Hartley Act. The earliest of them, predating the act, was an amendment to the Arkansas constitution. Statewide laws are currently found in 25 states that are generally hostile to labor.

“Right to work” states

RightToWorkStated2016
Source: AFL-CIO, 2016

The Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations began to expand FLSA coverage beyond narrow views of interstate commerce dating from the Great Depression and earlier. FLSA amendments enacted in 1961 included employees of retail trade firms with at least $1 million in annual revenue. Amendments enacted in 1966 included employees of schools, nursing homes, construction firms, commercial laundries and large farms.

Domestic workers: Sustaining work performed inside and near homes–care for children, the elderly, sick and disabled, cleaning, cooking, pet and plant care, laundry and other household services–had not been a focus of federal and state standards, in contrast with work performed away from homes. Domestic work currently remains at the far reaches of labor standards in most states.

A pioneering effort in Massachusetts–coordinated by Melnea Cass, the legendary Boston activist for civil rights and housing–resulted in the first state labor standards law covering most domestic workers. Chapter 760 of the Acts of 1970 provided coverage under the state’s wage and hours law: minimum wage, maximum weekly straight-time hours, overtime pay and contributions to Social Security and Medicare. For workers employed more than 16 hours per week, the 1970 law required workers compensation and unemployment insurance. These were all standards that had applied to most other jobs in Massachusetts.

FLSA amendments enacted in 1974 set federal standards for some domestic workers but specifically excluded workers providing “companionship services for individuals who…are unable to care for themselves.” It also excluded all live-in workers from overtime pay benefits. [29 USC 213] Intermittent and varying work hours and direct employment by householders have proven to be areas of difficulty. Some observers estimate that two-thirds or more of U.S. employers subject to FLSA fail to comply fully with the law.

In 2013, the Obama administration revised regulations to extend FLSA coverage to all domestic workers employed by agencies, regardless of duties, effective at the start of 2015. However, some workers without specialized training may not be eligible for overtime pay, and workers directly employed by householders remained excluded from coverage. These and other gaps are slowly being addressed by state laws specific to domestic workers.

As of August, 2016, seven states had enacted some form of enhanced labor standards for domestic workers, and in six states those had come into effect. The first new law was in New York, enacted in 2010, followed by Hawaii and California in 2013, Massachusetts in 2014, Oregon and Connecticut in 2015 and Illinois in 2016. None of these states have enacted anti-union, right to work laws. While provisions of the recent laws about domestic workers vary greatly, most take into account special situations of live-in workers.

Connecticut has the weakest of the new laws, providing only a guard against harassment. Massachusetts and Hawaii probably have the strongest. Only Massachusetts requires sick leave and parenting leave. Only Hawaii requires disability and health care insurance. Most states require time-and-a-half overtime pay, workers compensation insurance and unemployment insurance. Massachusetts had already required those benefits, since 1970. Most new laws require at least a day per week off-duty and some amount of paid personal leave. Some of the new requirements are stronger than those of federal labor laws and regulations.

Information and compliance: Elusive elements affecting standards for domestic work remain information and compliance. That generally takes organization. NAACP chapters were involved during pioneering efforts in Massachusetts, in the 1970s. More recently, National Domestic Workers Alliance, first located in New York City but now in Chicago, was organized in 2007 from experience with Domestic Workers United, founded in 2000 in New York City. Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers was founded in 2010 and is located in Boston.

During the last few years, the domestic worker organizations and their academic partners have surveyed many domestic workers and employers in several U.S. cities. They provide unique information about work experiences and direct employment by householders. So far, however, most publications do not measure a shadow economy of unreported wages and undocumented workers that are sometimes mentioned in general media but rarely surveyed. A UCLA survey of about 500 direct employer households reported 14 percent paying “out of pocket.”

As anyone who has run an above-ground small business knows, complying accurately with labor law is complex. So far, no state has set up a clearing house to provide simple and centralized access to required record-keeping, reporting and payments. Large payroll services–PayChex and ADP–do not provide all the services needed to comply with state laws and are tedious to use. Concierge services, mostly available from accounting firms, can be very costly. The domestic worker organizations have not seen these issues as parts of their missions. A barrier their reports rarely acknowledge is that there is no method to report wages or to pay Social Security and Medicare contributions for undocumented workers.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 25, 2016


Enhanced state labor standards for domestic workers, Brookline Beacon, as of August, 2016

Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers (founded 2010), 197 Friend St., Boston, MA, 617-603-1540

National Domestic Workers Alliance (founded 2007), Chicago, IL, 872-216-3684

Saba Waheed, Lucero Herrera, Reyna Orellana, Blake Valenta and Tia Koonse, Profile, practices and needs of California’s domestic work employers, UCLA Labor Center, May, 2016

Minimum wage laws in the states, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, 2016

Natalicia Tracy, Tim Sieber and Susan Moir, Invisible no more: domestic workers organizing in Massachusetts and beyond, ScholarWorks, University of Massachusetts Boston, October, 2014

Benjamin Collins, Right to work laws: legislative background and empirical research, Congressional Research Service, January 6, 2014

Minimum wage, overtime protections extended to direct care workers by Labor Department, U.S. Department of Labor, December 17, 2013

Rachel Homer, What’s happening with domestic workers’ rights?, On Labor (Cambridge, MA), November 6, 2013

Gerald Mayer, Benjamin Collins and David H. Bradley, The Fair Labor Standards Act: an overview, Congressional Research Service, June 4, 2013

Karen Michael, Labor law: the Supreme Court and the Fair Labor Standards Act, Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, April 28, 2013

Nik Theodore, Beth Gutelius and Linda Burnham, Home truths: domestic workers in California, National Domestic Workers Alliance (New York, NY), 2013

Linda Burnham and Nik Theodore, Home economics: the invisible and unregulated world of domestic work, National Domestic Workers Alliance (New York, NY), 2012

History of changes to the minimum wage law, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, 2007

Howard D. Samuel, Troubled passage: the labor movement and the Fair Labor Standards Act, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review 123(12):32-37, 2000

Dora L. Costa, Hours of work and the Fair Labor Standards Act: a study of retail and wholesale trade, 1938-1950, National Bureau of Economic Research, Industrial and Labor Relations Review 53(4):648-664, 2000

Jonathan Grossman, Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938: maximum struggle for a minimum wage, U.S. Department of Labor, 1978

Peyton Elder, The 1974 amendments to the federal minimum wage law, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review 97(7):33-37, 1974

Leon H. Wallace, The Fair Labor Standards Act, Indiana Law Journal 22(2):113-149, 1947

Opp Cotton Mills, Inc. v. Administrator, U.S. Supreme Court, 312 U.S. 126, 1941

United States v. Darby, U.S. Supreme Court, 312 U.S. 100, 1941

U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, in original form as Public Law 75-718, 1938

Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, 295 U.S. 495, 1935

New gas pipelines spurned: no subsidies from electricity rates

If operators of interstate natural gas pipelines succeed in getting permits for expansions in Massachusetts, they will have to raise their own funds to install new lines. On Wednesday, August 17, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled out schemes that would have subsidized new gas pipelines from Massachusetts electricity bills.

Utility companies Eversource and National Grid had proposed to acquire interests in new gas pipelines and load costs upfront onto electricity rates. The Baker administration and its Energy secretary, Matthew Beaton, had supported the schemes–similar in effect to construction-work-in-progress tariffs used to force electricity customers in Georgia and South Carolina to pay for new nuclear power-plants while they are being built.

Corrupt schemes: Attorney General Maura Healey and state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D, Amherst), the senate president, opposed the corrupt schemes. They were joined by the Conservation Law Foundation in responding to a lawsuit filed by interests in natural gas import terminals. Imports of liquefied natural gas, while more expensive than domestic pipeline gas, have helped to reduce and prevent wintertime price spikes. As documented in 2015 by Analysis Group of Boston, that approach costs less overall than installing new interstate gas pipelines.

In what looks to be his last opinion, Justice Robert Cordy wrote for a unanimous court, finding that the Baker administration’s regulation, allowing pipeline construction tariffs, was “invalid in light of the statutory language and purpose” of the Electricity Restructuring Act. [Chapter 164 of the Acts of 1997] Specifically, Justice Cordy wrote, the Baker administration’s regulation “would undermine the main objectives of the act and re-expose ratepayers to the types of financial risks from which the legislature sought to protect them.”

It was a conclusive decision, putting paid to the corrupt schemes engineered by the pipeline companies and to the corrupt regulations adopted by their Republican sweethearts in state government.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 17, 2016


ENGIE Gas & LNG LLC v. Department of Public Utilities, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case Nos. SJC-12051 and SJC-12052, August 17, 2016

Jon Chesto, SJC rejects Baker’s plan to impose fee for gas pipelines, Boston Globe, August 17, 2016

Naureen Malik, The U.S. has more gas than it needs and Boston’s importing, Bloomberg News, April 13, 2016

Craig Bolon, Will New England revive nuclear power?, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2016

Craig Bolon, Little need for new gas pipelines, Brookline Beacon, July 20, 2016

Will New England revive nuclear power?

Many New England people became enthusiasts for nuclear power after World War II. Nuclear research reactors, nuclear equipment and service firms and one small nuclear power-plant emerged. Yankee Rowe, located in the Berkshire foothills of Massachusetts–the second commercial plant in the U.S.–closed in 1992. As of 2007 it had been disassembled and taken away, its buildings had been razed and the grounds had been cleared.

Yankee Rowe site in 1986 and 2006

YankeeRoweSite2006
Source: Vermont Public Service Board

All that is left now at the former Yankee Rowe site are 16 steel and concrete casks, weighing more than 100 tons each and guarded at all times, holding spent but highly radioactive nuclear fuel. One small research reactor remains–at M.I.T. in Cambridge, just southwest of Massachusetts Ave. between Vassar and Albany Sts. beside historic tracks of the former Grand Junction Railroad, now operated by the MBTA. Little known to the public, the M.I.T. reactor long ran on weapons-grade enriched uranium. Students and staff called the former Warner Calvary’s, next to the service entrance, the “nuclear diner”–zapped while you ate, no extra charge.

M.I.T. nuclear reactor, Cambridge, MA

Looking southeast toward Metropolitan Storage

MitResearchReactor2012
Source: Cambridge City Council, 2012

Nuclear eclipse: With closure of Vermont Yankee in Vernon, at the end of 2014, New England was left with four operating nuclear-power units. One of those four, the unit at the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, MA, is now scheduled to close on May 31, 2019.

New England nuclear-power units

167 MW Yankee Rowe Rowe, MA opened 1963 closed 1992
641 MW Millstone 1 Waterford, CT opened 1970 closed 1985
860 MW Maine Yankee Wiscasset, ME opened 1972 closed 1996
620 MW Vermont Yankee Vernon, VT opened 1972 closed 2014
680 MW Pilgrim Plymouth, MA opened 1972 to close 2019
1130 MW Seabrook 2 Portsmouth, NH begun 1976 abandoned 1988
882 MW Millstone 2 Waterford, CT opened 1975
1155 MW Millstone 3 Waterford, CT opened 1986
1194 MW Seabrook 1 Portsmouth, NH opened 1990

Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

From peak nuclear generating capacity of 5.6 GW in mid-1991, New England will be left with 3.2 GW in mid-2019, a decrease of 42 percent over 28 years–with six of nine commercial nuclear-power units out-of-service. (Unit 2 at Seabrook was abandoned during construction and never operated.) Little of those losses can be made up from wind or solar sources, since they will stop when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining. Instead, the deficits are mostly being filled from newer combined-cycle power-plants fired by natural gas. The latest one, being built by Footprint Power at the site of the former coal-fired Salem Station, has about the capacity of the Pilgrim nuclear plant, soon to close.

Survivors: Although not well known to most of the public, after mid-2019 New England will no longer have any operating nuclear units with relatively hazardous Mark 1 “boiling water” containment designs–like those that exploded in March, 2011, at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan. Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim plants used those designs. The three nuclear units to remain in New England used “pressurized water” designs, with more stable characteristics. Unit 2 at Millstone, with two secondary loops, will then become the region’s least stable. It was developed by Combustion Engineering–a high flyer of the 1960s that built 15 of the 119 completed U.S. utility-scale nuclear-power units, wound down operations during the 1980s and was sold in 1990.

Millstone Unit 3 and Seabrook Unit 1 both use Westinghouse 4-loop “pressurized water” designs. They were both completed after the major upgrades to safety requirements that followed the Three Mile island nuclear meltdown in 1979, under supervision of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Three Mile island has “pressurized water” units designed by Babcock & Wilcox, with only two secondary loops. Nevertheless, margins of stability were enough that the meltdown of Unit 2 was almost entirely contained. In contrast, Mark 1 “boiling water” containment designs had been strongly criticized during the 1960s for inadequate margins, but an industry-dominated Atomic Energy Commission, which was disbanded in 1975, had failed to intervene.

Survival of current nuclear power-plants is hardly guaranteed. Heat exchangers, which industry calls “steam generator loops,” are major sources of added stability for “pressurized water” designs. They are also among the worst sources of failures. The reason that Maine Yankee was shut down after only 24 years service was impending failures of those devices. More recently, operators of the San Onofre plant in California squandered nearly a billion dollars on steam-generator replacements–botching the jobs, getting only about another year of service and starting disputes and chicanery after the San Onofre shutdown that could take a decade to resolve.

New thinking: In the late 1990s, manufacturers of nuclear-power equipment, encouraged by academics at M.I.T. and other schools of engineering, began to work up plans for a so-called “third generation” of nuclear power-plants. It was, perhaps timely, an era of “millennial thinking.” The initial goals, in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island meltdown and the Chernobyl disaster, were to make nuclear power far safer. Rather soon, however, came notions that nuclear power-plants might also be much cheaper than they had been for some 20 years. The two concerns reflected widely perceived problems of the industry.

In 1954, Lewis Strauss, then chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, spoke at the National Association of Science Writers annual meeting, saying nuclear power would become “too cheap to meter.” He was soon countered by industry spokespersons, but the phrase stuck in memory, and notions that nuclear power should be low in cost became widespread expectations. If such notions ever had merit, they were demolished by long delays and steep cost increases to meet U.S. safety requirements added after the Three Mile Island meltdown. During the 1980s, the Vogtle plant in Georgia became a poster child for schedule and budget overruns. Its two units came on line in 1987 and 1989, more than 10 years late and at over 25 times the cost budgeted in 1971.

Alvin Weinberg, a former director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory–who had enthusiastically endorsed the “too cheap to meter” claim of the 1950s–re-emerged years later to make a claim for everlasting equipment. “If nuclear reactors receive normal maintenance,” he wrote, “they will never wear out, and this will profoundly affect the economic performance of the reactors.” Dr. Weinberg was not an engineer; he had never worked in industry. Still, trained as a physicist, he should have known better. He dismissed out-of-hand embrittlement and build-up of radioactivity, and he likely did not even think about structures and control systems. Such a cavalier approach reflected “millennial thinking” that remained common in public views for about a decade.

Rubber meets road, gives way: The U.S. economic recovery from 2002 through 2007 began to stimulate utility interest. During the Walker Bush administration, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission proposed a one-step process for utilities, to expedite approval of nuclear plants using standard designs. Four contenders vied for design approval: Westinghouse Nuclear, by then a division of Toshiba in Japan, General Electric Nuclear, by then a division of Hitachi in Japan, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan and Areva, the French nuclear conglomerate. No application came from Rosatom in Russia or Kepco in Korea, despite both announcing plans. Toward the end of 2007, Nuclear Street, a trade publication, reported 34 letters of intent to build new U.S. nuclear-power units. Of the 28 naming a design, 14 proposed to use the AP-1000 from Westinghouse.

By the late 1990s, academics and consultants were enjoying great sport as market speculators, projecting ever lower costs based on supposed economies of scale. In order to exhibit the lowest possible amounts, they touted so-called “overnight” costs–omitting interest, infrastructure, land and site preparation. “Overnight” estimates ranged as low as about $1 a watt, although some plants from the 1980s had cost around $4 a watt, before factoring inflation. After glory days of a so-called “nuclear renaissance”–around 1997 through 2007–both everyday and episodic factors intervened. The rubber was to meet the road when the equipment builders proposed prices and their potential utility customers had to figure out whether they could afford the tabs.

Starting in 2008, along with a sharp recession, the tabs came in high: at least $4 a watt, maybe more. The outgoing Walker Bush administration assembled $18.5 billion in a loan-guarantee program, likely supporting less than 5 GW of capacity and perhaps four nuclear-power units. Soon the incoming Obama administration faced huge economic stress to reverse the Walker Bush recession, the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was eager to identify fast-growth opportunities, and it offered nothing more toward slow-growth nuclear power. Then came the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in March, 2011, and financial losses threatened by the January, 2012, shutdowns of both San Onofre units near San Diego. Those episodes capped off a would-be “nuclear renaissance.” U.S. support for investments in nuclear power collapsed.

Active applications to build third-generation nuclear-power units in the U.S. dropped rapidly. In states with deregulated electricity markets, none survive. Utilities operating as unregulated merchant power generators proved unwilling to accept financial risks at prices being proposed–with or without loan guarantees. Only utilities continuing to function as government-backed monopolies maintained interest. Of 34 proposed new nuclear-power units, as named in 2007, only four units are now active–all using the Westinghouse AP-1000 design. Two are under construction at the Summer plant in South Carolina, and two are at the Vogtle plant in Georgia–the 1980s poster child for cost overruns. These projects took the federal loan guarantees, emptying the pot.

Propping up survivors: Odd as it might sound, Andrew Cuomo (D, New Castle), the New York governor opposed to the Indian Point nuclear power-plant in Buchanan, NY, has arranged subsidies funded by electricity customers to prop up four other nuclear-power units in the state. Estimated only a few months ago at perhaps $200 million over about ten years, the subsidies are now widely reported as likely to cost $8 billion or more. Within days Exelon, which already owned three of the units, announced a plan to buy the fourth from Entergy. Exelon is able to economize by sharing personnel, now the main expense of running nuclear plants fully depreciated years ago.

Operating New York nuclear-power units

610 MW Ginna Ontario, NY opened 1970
838 MW FitzPatrick Scriba, NY opened 1975
621 MW 9-Mile Point 1 Scriba, NY opened 1974
1140 MW 9-Mile Point 2 Scriba, NY opened 1987
1032 MW Indian Point 2 Buchanan, NY opened 1974
1051 MW Indian Point 3 Buchanan, NY opened 1976

Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

FitzPatrick and 9-Mile Point 1 used the Mark 1 “boiling water” containment design, the same as Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim and the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi units in Japan. If the two plants in New England deserved to be shuttered, then so do FitzPatrick and 9-Mile Point 1. However, unlike the many, longstanding critics of nuclear power in southern Vermont and eastern Massachusetts, in upstate New York very few people are demanding action on hazards their region faces. There are no signs that the Cuomo administration has genuine concerns about such hazards either, aside from personally and politically motivated attention to the Indian Point plant, located less than 15 miles from the governor’s home.

News from New York government sources has been the usual, opaque OCA blarney–officials covering arses–but obviously money spoke. A tiny fraction of $8 billion could fund a huge legacy of political campaigns. However, despite long entrenched corruption, Illinois governments rebuffed Exelon solicitations this year. Mr. Cuomo invoked environmental saviors to buttress his cause–notably James Hansen, a Columbia professor. Joined by three less well known partners, Dr. Hansen occupied a New York Times pulpit in November, 2013, to present a prayer for nuclear power. It was, the four then claimed, “the only viable path forward on climate change.”

Others disagreed. As the late Michael Mariotte of Nuclear Information and Research Service wrote, “No environmental organization took the bait. Instead, NRDC, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club decry nuclear power….” According to Morningstar, in an investment newsletter issued a week after the Hansen prayer, “Enormous costs, political and popular opposition, and regulatory uncertainty” render new reactors infeasible [as recounted in Forbes]. Low costs for nuclear power occurred only before nuclear disasters of the 1970s and 1980s, leading to stringent and costly safety regulations, and under repressive oligarchies, ignoring lessons from the disasters. Outside command economies of Russia, China and South Korea, only two of several “third generation” nuclear designs are being implemented: the AP-1000 in the U.S. and the EPR in Europe.

Practical developments: The European [or "evolutionary"] pressurized reactor (EPR), designed by Areva in France, took a partly conventional approach to reliability: increasing steam generator “loops” for a “pressurized water” reactor to four instead of two or three. That was adapted from a proven design: the Westinghouse 4-loop “pressurized water” units built in the U.S. during the 1980s. The EPR specifications have been disrupted by several surges of changes, leaving the first unit in Olkiluoto, Finland, more than ten years late, with at least a factor of three in cost overrun. Last year, the government of Finland cancelled another EPR unit, but the former Cameron and Osborne regime in Britain signed up for two EPR units at Hinkley Point in Somerset, on the Bristol Channel. Recently the successor British regime, headed by Theresa May, put those plans on hold, questioning Chinese involvement in the project.

The AP-1000, designed by Westinghouse in the U.S. and by Toshiba in Japan, mainly took a structural approach to reliability: providing a very large volume of passive cooling to manage a thermal spike. While the EPR design tends to increase complexity, working against reliability, the AP-1000 design tends to reduce complexity, at least in some respects. Four units are under construction in the U.S. as noted before, and four are being built in China at Sanmen and Haiyang. China has also licensed the technology, and it has developed a much-cheapened system, the CPR-1000, omitting most of the major improvements in safety and reliability. AP-1000 units in China use a cheapened design of that type, omitting protection against aircraft impacts required in the U.S.

All AP-1000 projects are running years behind schedules. Those in the U.S. suffer from major cost overruns, but there is no reliable information from China, since anyone providing it would probably be jailed or killed. Last year Chicago Bridge & Iron, one major contractor for the U.S. projects, sold out to Westinghouse, the other major contractor, creating an effective U.S. monopoly in nuclear power-plant construction. U.S. utility sponsors are protected by CWIP regulations–construction work in progress–enacted by politically captive state governments in Georgia and South Carolina and allowing the utilities to charge customers increased rates before the plants are operating.

New England opportunities: So far, there are few signs that New England will respond to what parts of the nuclear-power industry might cast as opportunities. New England nuclear generation capacity has been falling for about a quarter century. Once Pilgrim in Plymouth, MA, closes in 2019, only New Hampshire and Connecticut will have nuclear power-plants operating. No utility is likely to propose any new nuclear facility for the region until the “third generation” units under construction in Georgia and South Carolina have been operating for quite a few years and unless their safety and economic performance has lived up to claims.

Dominion Power, the operator of Millstone in Waterford, CT, since 2000, tried to put a squeeze on Connecticut government, similar to what Exelon has pulled off in New York. They frightened the state senate into passing a subsidy bill in April, 2016, but after that their momentum stalled. Dannel Malloy (D, Stamford), the state’s governor, could prove as susceptible as Andrew Cuomo became in New York. Last March, Malloy reportedly met privately with Dominion lobbyists and executives. Typical shell-game tactics are showing up. One news report quotes a state senator, Paul Doyle (D, Wethersfield), saying, “It’s not a subsidy.” Maybe, but it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck….

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 10, 2016


Karen DeWitt, Nuclear part of New York’s energy future, WRVO (Oswego, NY), August 10, 2016

Leonard Hyman and William Tilles, New York nuclear plants deemed a ‘public necessity’, Oil Price (London, UK), August 6, 2016

Tim Knauss, New York board approves ratepayer subsidy to save upstate nukes, Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, August 1, 2016

Kate Holton and William James, UK’s May worried by China investment, intervened to delay Hinkley, Reuters (UK), July 30, 2016

Vivian Yee, Nuclear subsidies are key part of New York’s clean-energy plan, New York Times, July 21, 2016

John O’Connor, Exelon to close two nuclear plants in Illinois, still seeking subsidies, Associated Press, June 2, 2016

Michael Steinberg, Nuclear shutdown ripped off California ratepayers, San Diego Free Press, June 2, 2016

Walter C. Jones, Who will pay for Vogtle construction costs?, Augusta (GA) Chronicle, May 1, 2016

Mark Pazniokas, Connecticut senate passes bill to stabilize revenues in nuclear industry, Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, CT), April 30, 2016

Carol Matlack, French plans for a nuclear plant begin to look like a bad deal for Britain, Bloomberg News, April 29, 2016

David Abel and John R. Ellement, Closing date set for Pilgrim nuclear power plant, Boston Globe, April 14, 2016

Steve Daniels, Exelon’s Crane beats the drum again for nuke subsidies, Chicago Business, February 3, 2016

Jeff McDonald, It’s not just the steam generators that failed, San Diego Tribune, January 30, 2016

Linda A. DeStefano, Oswego County leaders short-sighted in backing nuclear energy, Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, December 23, 2015

Aaron Larson, CB&I out, Fluor in at Vogtle and V.C. Summer nuclear power plant construction projects, Power Magazine, October 28, 2015

John Lichfield, UK nuclear strategy faces meltdown as faults are found in identical French project, Independent (London, UK), April 17, 2015

List of power reactor units, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2015

Jack Newsham, Vermont Yankee nuclear plant shutdown complete, Boston Globe, December 29, 2014

Rinaldo Brutoco, Nuclear power: totally unqualified to combat climate change, Safe Energy Project (Santa Barbara, CA), September 14, 2014

Jusen Asa, et al., Nuclear power is not the answer to climate change mitigation, Tohoku University (Japan), January 31, 2014

Michael Mariotte, Letter by Hansen et al. misses the mark on nuclear power and renewables, Nuclear Information and Research Service, November, 2013

Jeff McMahon, Morningstar calls nuclear renaissance fiction and fantasy, Forbes, November 10, 2013

Andrew C. Revkin, James Hansen, et al., To those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power, New York Times, November 3, 2013

Michael R. Blood, Associated Press, Federal regulators say design led to nuclear plant problems, Boston Globe, June 18, 2012

John S. Quarterman, Original Plant Vogtle cost overruns, Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (Valdosta, GA), 2012

David E. Moncton, MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory, Cambridge (MA) City Council, 2012

Fred Contrada, Casks holding spent fuel assemblies all that’s left of Yankee Rowe, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 17, 2011

Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press, History of bungles and cover-ups in Japan’s nuclear industry, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), March 17, 2011

Nuclear Reactor Characteristics and Operational History, Nuclear Reactor Operational Status Tables, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2011

Adriaan Buijs, Too cheap to meter?, Canadian Nuclear Society, 2009

Loan guarantee applications for nuclear power plant construction, U.S. Department of Energy, 2008

David Schlissel and Bruce Biewald, Nuclear power plant construction cost, Synapse Energy Economics, 2008

Proposed new nuclear power plants, Nuclear Street, 2007

Tyson Slocum, The failure of electricity deregulation, Public Citizen, 2007

Yankee Rowe site closure plan, Rev. 4, Vermont Public Service Board, 2006

Alvin M. Weinberg, New life for nuclear power, Issues in Science and Technology 19(4), online, Summer 2003

John Deutch, Ernest J. Moniz, et al., The future of nuclear power, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003

Brandon Haddock, Morris News Service, Nuclear power plant not drawing same attention as before, Athens (GA) Banner-Herald, May 18, 1999

Igor Kudrik, Russian nuclear power for the next century (in English), Bellona Foundation (Norway), 1998

Jim Riccio and Michael Grynberg, NRC’s efforts to renew nuclear reactor licenses, Public Citizen, 1995

Dan Adams, Conversion of MIT reactor to safer fuel pushed to 2027, Boston Globe, September 2, 2016

Craig Bolon, Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants, Brookline Beacon, September 27, 2015

Craig Bolon, U.S. energy for 2014: a year of gradual progress, Brookline Beacon, March 10, 2015

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

Civil rights lawsuit: New York Times and its officers charged

In news reported cautiously in the U.S. but strongly in Britain, on Thursday, April 28, the New York Times and two of its senior officers were charged with discrimination by age, sex and race, in a class-action lawsuit filed by a distinguished New York City law firm: Wigdor LLP, specializing in employment law. The clearest early news article appeared in the Guardian newspaper the same day: Rupert Neate, New York Times boss sued over alleged ageist, racist and sexist hiring practices.

Douglas H. Wigdor, lead counsel, is a former founding partner of Thompson Wigdor & Gilly. The recently filed case–Grant, et al. v. The New York Times Company, et al., no. 2016-cv-03175–is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The 61-page complaint document is available on the Web from a free archive of documents.

The senior New York Times officers cited as defendants are Mark Thompson, named chief executive officer in 2012, and Meredith Levien, named chief revenue officer the following year. They are both named as defendants in their “individual and professional capacities,” and a jury trial is demanded.

In support of discovery, Wigdor’s federal court filing seeks “a list of all members of the Age, Race and Gender Classes, including all last known addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of each such person, so Plaintiffs can give such persons notice of this action and an opportunity to make an informed decision about whether to participate in it.” The Guardian estimated a “multimillion-dollar” potential in penalties.

The Times has denied allegations in the lawsuit. Eileen Murphy, a spokesperson, reportedly said the complaint contains “recycled, scurrilous and unjustified attacks” on the news organization and its leaders. She claimed that the “suit is entirely without merit, and we intend to fight it vigorously in court.”

Plaintiffs in a “hostile work environment”: The initial plaintiffs are Ernestine Grant and Marjorie Walker, who have worked for a combined 25 years in the advertising department at the Times. Both are described as black women, aged 62 and 61 respectively. In the complaint document, Wigdor says new patterns of discrimination took hold after Mark Thompson, former head of the BBC in Britain, became chief executive at the Times in 2012.

According to the complaint, Ms. Walker encountered a “hostile work environment” with Amanda Smith, a new supervisor hired by Meredith Levien, the company’s “chief revenue officer”–a newly created position–hired by Mr. Thompson, the new chief executive. Formerly an account manager on the “high-revenue Fashion and Jewelry team,” Ms. Walker was transferred to the Help Wanted sector–”a clear demotion.” WPIX in New York City interviewed Ms. Grant and Ms. Walker, quoting Ms. Walker as saying, “We have relationships and a track record of sales, which I am an example of…[the work environment] said to us we were not wanted and we would be pushed out.”

Previous patterns of discrimination: The lawsuit alleges current patterns of discrimination said to resemble previous ones reported at the BBC while Mr. Thompson led that organization.

• “Mr. Thompson was involved in a highly publicized BBC scandal regarding a decision to bury an expose of child sex abuse allegedly committed by one of the BBC’s most well-known personalities, Jimmy Savile.”

• “Following a slew of allegations of age and gender discrimination at the BBC, Mr. Thompson admitted that during his tenure, the BBC had problems with the way it treated older women.”

According to the complaint, “Mr. Thompson…was embroiled in a scandal that saw the [BBC] squash an important piece of investigative journalism. That piece would have revealed one of the network’s most well-known former personalities, Jimmy Savile, to be a serial pedophile.”

The complaint cites several examples of gender discrimination at the BBC under Mr. Thompson. It says that he “acknowledged that these incidents had served as a ‘wake up call’ and admitted that his company had an institutional problem regarding the treatment of senior and experienced women.”

• “In November, 2008, four female BBC presenters of the…show Countryfile–Michaela Strachan, Charlotte Smith, Miriam O’Reilly and Juliet Morris–all in their 40s and 50s, were dismissed from the program while male hosts John Craven and Adam Henson were kept on.”

• “In July 2009, then 66-year-old Arlene Phillips, a former theater choreographer, was replaced on the Strictly Come Dancing panel by Alesha Dixon, a 30-year-old pop star. The male judges, whose ages ranged from 44 to 81, were all retained.”

A report of abusive treatment: The complaint alleges that at the BBC, “Mr. Thompson was nothing short of an abusive supervisor.” One item describes an encounter with staffer Anthony Massey, who “approached Mr. Thompson to discuss a pending story,” saying that “before Mr. Massey could say a word, Mr. Thompson ‘suddenly turned, snarled and sank his teeth into [Mr. Massey's] left upper arm.’…” The item quotes a newspaper description of the incident: Richard Kay, The day I was bitten by BBC boss, London Evening Standard (UK), March 24, 2005.

Passing the torch: The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Thompson has sought to embed discrimination at the New York Times by hiring managers who support and encourage it, saying, “Mr. Thompson used his sway as CEO to hire in and reward managers who would carry out his vision of the ideal workforce.” Co-defendant Meredith Levien is cited as a prime example, “Mr. Thompson’s first major appointment of a business-side executive.”

According to the complaint document, “At the beginning of her tenure at the Times in 2013, Ms. Levien made it very clear that she was looking for a very particular workforce, one that was filled with ‘fresh faces,’ i.e., younger employees without families…who were white. Ms. Levien’s speech to various Times personnel also was shockingly rife with racially charged innuendos, such as references to the need for employees to be ‘people who look like the people we are selling to.’ Ms. Levien’s remarks gave cover to and outright endorsed increasing disparate treatment against older, female and/or nonwhite employees….”

The recent class-action lawsuit follows at least two other individual lawsuits charging discrimination at business departments of the Times, begun during Mr. Thompson’s leadership.

• “Tracy Quitasol, a 51-year-old Asian-American woman and Executive Director who worked at the Times for nine years, alleged in her federal discrimination complaint against the Times that soon after Ms. Levien became her supervisor, the ‘vast majority’ of the around 30 older (and generally racial/ethnic minority) employees were targeted by Ms. Levien….”

• “Arielle Davies, a Director in the Advertising division of the Times, also came under the supervision of Defendant Levien in or around August, 2013. Ms. Levien…in her first conversation with Ms. Davies, asked whether Ms. Davies had children and, upon learning that Ms. Davies did not, remarked, ‘Good, you should wait.’…[Ms. Davies] was terminated, purportedly in connection with a reduction-in-force…she was the only employee in her department affected….”

According to the recent lawsuit, discrimination at the Times has included “the unlawful denial of promotions, compensation commensurate with younger white employees and equality with respect to the terms and conditions of their employment, including, in many cases, the termination of such employment…generally refusing to provide equal terms and conditions of employment for older, Black and/or female employees.”

Enforcement process: In the federal court filing, Wigdor describes other enforcement process underway against alleged discriminatory practices at the New York Times. A complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is alleging violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The New York City Commission on Human Rights and the Office of Corporation Counsel of the City of New York are also involved.

The complaint against the New York Times says that “diversity has been subverted at every turn throughout the organization….” It cites the abrupt terminations of Janet Robinson as chief executive in 2011 and of Jill Abramson as executive editor in 2014, the first women to hold either position. Both were replaced by men. In 2013, it says Ms. Levien “evaluated” about 30 employees, claiming that “nearly all of those who were over the age of 40 and were people of color soon left their employment with the Times.”

Pursuit of class actions greatly increases potential penalties for the New York Times. Illegal practices of racial discrimination alleged include “paying Black employees…less than similarly situated white employees, failing to promote Black employees…in favor of similarly or less-qualified white employees and failure to prevent, address, properly investigate and/or take remedial action regarding discrimination against Black employees.”

Illegal practices of age discrimination alleged include paying older employees…less than similarly situated young employees, failing to promote older employees…in favor of similarly or less-qualified younger employees and failure to prevent, address, properly investigate and/or take remedial action regarding discrimination against older employees.

Illegal practices of gender discrimination alleged include paying female employees…less than similarly situated male employees, failing to promote female employees…in favor of similarly or less-qualified male employees and failure to prevent, address, properly investigate and/or take remedial action regarding discrimination against female employees.

Wigdor and the plaintiffs are seeking remedies for violations of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1866, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Fair Labor Standards Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Equal Pay Act, as well as the state Equal Pay Law and Human Rights Law. The lawsuit alleges that some “actions were intentional, done with malice and/or showed a deliberate, willful, wanton and reckless indifference to Plaintiffs”–seeking additional “awards of punitive damages.” The recent federal complaint also asks for “an injunction and order permanently restraining Defendants from engaging in such unlawful conduct.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 29, 2016


Sydney Ember, Suit accuses New York Times executives of bias, New York Times, April 29, 2016

Complaint, Grant, et al. v. The New York Times Company, et al., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Case no. 2016-cv-03175, filed April 28, 2016

Rupert Neate, New York Times boss sued over alleged ageist, racist and sexist hiring practices, Manchester Guardian (UK), April 28, 2016

Mario Diaz, Current New York Times employees speak with PIX11 regarding discrimination they filed against paper, WPIX (New York, NY), April 28, 2016

Emma Whitford, New York Times executives sued for alleged race, gender, age discrimination, The Gothamist (New York, NY), April 28, 2016

Terrence McCoy, How BBC star Jimmy Savile allegedly got away with abusing 500 children and sex with dead bodies, Washington Post, June 27, 2014

Steven Swinford, Former BBC boss Mark Thompson ‘lied’ over Savile evidence, Nick Pollard claims, London Telegraph (UK), December 11, 2013

Tom McCarthy, Mark Thompson spared heavy criticism in BBC Jimmy Savile report, Manchester Guardian (UK), December 19, 2012

Richard Kay, The day I was bitten by BBC boss, London Evening Standard (UK), March 24, 2005

Software magic: epic bungling of healthcare.gov

In October, 2013, New York Times reporters Robert Pear, Sharon LaFraniere and Ian Austen first reported gross conflicts and disorganization among contractors developing the major U.S. health-care Web site, healthcare.gov, and their supervisors who were federal government employees. While the Times described problems soon after a crisis became public, its reporters did not explain how the problems developed.

Three weeks later, Washington Post reporters Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin traced them to blunders committed by lawyers who were serving as government officials but had no significant operations backgrounds, technical competence or business experience–their authority underwritten directly by Pres. Obama.

Protracted failures of the U.S. healthcare.gov Web site became a classic case of the “software runaway,” memorialized about 20 years ago in the like-named book by Robert L. Glass. Recently, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided a legal-eye view of this epic disaster.

Within the industry, a disease had been recognized by the late 1960s, with crashes of early airline reservation systems as the major, public danger signs. After a few years, remedies were known, and software professionals were addressing issues when clients and employers allowed them the time and responsibility to do that. The Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie-Mellon University gradually created a new profession: “software architect.”

However, the lure of “coding” as a source of instant magic remained amazingly seductive and has continued to undermine efforts. Project failures remain common, although few become as dramatic as the one that almost capsized the federal Affordable Health Care program. The root causes are usually the same: muddlers in charge of projects–lacking strong skills and strong character. Muddlers can be pleasant to work with and are often successful in some roles. Developing new software is not one of those, nor is designing a new bridge.

Assigning blame: As Daniel Levinson, inspector general for Health and Human Services, wrote, core elements in the recent disaster were:
Poor leadership: “HealthCare.gov lacked clear project leadership to give direction and unity of purpose, responsiveness in execution and a comprehensive view of progress.”
Poor management: “[The office] mismanaged the key…development contract, with frequent changes, problematic technological decisions and limited oversight of contractor performance.”

The software, coordinating transactions between millions of users and hundreds of back-office systems, would have been a nightmare on a sunny day. As usual, the foul-ups began at the beginning: writing requirements. The approach in nearly all durable efforts has been to start modestly and build out in steps. Disregarding readily found advice, spun from a long history of painful failures, government nitwits bought into the aptly named “big bang” approach: launch everything–all at once–and make it slick and shiny, and thus very complicated.

Chief Muddler at Health and Human Services was Marilyn Tavenner, the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services–not a “dear, sweet woman” but by training a nurse and street-wise organizer. Trying to direct technology, she was out of her depth. She lacked the sense to find and hire someone who could do the job.

While manufacturing a disaster, she had plenty of help from White House nitwits. They had only dreams of sharing limelight in a splendid performance. They had no industry backgrounds and no role in making anything actually work. Up against those would-be luminaries, Ms. Tavenner lacked the character to say “No,” and she lacked the skills to see she was merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Remedies and wreckers: Mr. Levinson, the inspector general, seems to think remedies are obvious. He calls for “clear leadership.” However, his approach of “project leaders” would not help when designated leaders were also nitwits or muddlers. He is on sounder ground seeking “factors of organizational culture” that might help. However, as a career bureaucrat and a lawyer, Mr. Levinson does not seem to understand just what those factors might be or how to get them.

No major news source has yet described how a senior Administration official behind the blunders, Nancy-Ann Min DeParle–former director of the Office of Health Reform at the White House and from 2011 to 2013 Pres. Obama’s deputy chief of staff for policy–was allowed to quit the government before the health-care reform program began operating.

An ambitious person, regarded as a health-care policy expert, Ms. DeParle had served in prominent positions in the federal government and the state government of Tennessee, where she spent much of her youth and graduated from college. Her most obvious blunder, failing to set and then freeze program requirements, allowed a stream of changes ordered when efforts were already gravely behind schedule.

By failing to name key perpetrators in the healthcare.gov collapse and failing to state plainly what they did wrong, Mr. Levinson, the inspector general, emulates ancient Tibetan lamas. He is spinning prayer-wheels. His report will be shelved and forgotten, as federal government lurches toward its next appointment with disaster.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 23, 2016


Daniel R. Levinson, U.S. HHS inspector general, CMMS management of the federal marketplace: case study, February, 2016

Amy Goldstein, HHS failed to heed many warnings that HealthCare.gov was in trouble, Washington Post, February 22, 2016

Robert Pear, Sharon LaFraniere and Ian Austen, From the start, signs of trouble in federal project, New York Times, October 13, 2013

Sharon LaFraniere, Ian Austen and Robert Pear, Specialists see weeks of work ahead on federal health-care exchange, New York Times, October 21, 2013

Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin, HealthCare.gov: How political fear was pitted against technical needs, Washington Post, November 2, 2013

Robert L. Glass, Software Runaways: Monumental Software Disasters, Prentice Hall, 1997

Education: looking back, the “coding” wave

Illustrating the proverb that schooling means teaching the children to meet the challenges of the grandparents’ generation, President Obama has advertised a new initiative: teach “coding.” The President, who has many admirable qualities, is leaving a shabby heritage as an educational fool. His Department of Education proved, quite remarkably, coarser and meaner than the one butchered by his predecessor.

Teaching “coding” today has even less promise than teaching “auto mechanics” and “new math” in the 1960s or teaching “leather working” and “machine shop” in the 1940s. It is an invitation to become a victim of outsourcing. For most, it would be more helpful to teach the durable skills of plumbing and carpentry. The President invites comparison with Mao’s Great Leap Backward.

Arts of “coding” became highly valued in the 1960s and 1970s, during the second-generation of mainframe computers–with transistor logic and magnetic core memory–and the first generation of minicomputers. Over the next decade, ordinary “coding”–writing lines of programs–soon took a back seat to the higher arts of project management, software organization and reliability testing. That was an age when complex products of mere “coding” began to crash and burn on an epic scale. Now “coding”–within the industry–has become a low-level skill.

During the late 1970s, Brookline was romanced by “coding” visionaries–including disciples of the late Marvin Minsky at MIT–to buy into long-forgotten “Logo” technology. They promised to teach youngsters computational thinking by having them move around “turtles” on a display screen. The Advisory Commmittee discovered that more than a million dollars, in today’s money, would at best instruct a few dozen students. A potential for public embarrassment erased “Logo” from the budget.

Today, even the higher and practical arts of software development provide good jobs for only small numbers of industrial workers. The vast majority who work with computer technology engage with intermediates: software and Internet sites that are dedicated to specific tasks. A tiny population writes the software for Excel or other spreadsheets, but millions use spreadsheet technology to solve or manage business problems. Applied skills, rather than “coding,” remain broadly useful job qualifications.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 31, 2016


Valerie Strauss, All students should learn to code. Right? Not so fast, Washington Post, January 30, 2016

Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg News, Obama: Every child must learn to code, Bangkok Post, January 30, 2016

Tania Branigan, China’s great famine: the true story, Manchester Guardian (UK), January 1, 2013

Robert L. Glass, Software Runaways: Monumental Software Disasters, Prentice Hall, 1997

Board of Selectmen: complaints of racial mistreatment

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 26, started at 7:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, read a statement about complaints of racial mistreatment lodged by staff of the fire and police departments. While expressing concerns over the issues, Mr. Wishinsky’s statement did not mention new efforts to address them.

Civil rights lawsuit: In a document filed at the federal court in Boston on the day of the meeting, the civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of firefighter Gerald Alston was joined by police officers Prentice Pilot and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun. Five other Brookline workers and residents–all alleging racial mistreatment–also joined: Cruz Sanabria, Juana Baez, Rogelio Rodas, Demetrius Oviedo and Deon Fincher.

The Brookline police officers rejected an offer of mediation made by Daniel O’Leary, Brookline’s chief of police, writing that “Racism cannot be mediated.” According to the officers, “The Chief and the Selectmen made promises regarding ‘zero tolerance’ for racism on the force, but we have experienced two separate occasions already where we reported these incidents and the perpetrators remain on the job, without consequence.”

The amended complaint in the lawsuit now names several Brookline staff alleged to have engaged in racial mistreatment, although it does not add them to the list of defendants. A central issue raised in the lawsuit remains an alleged “racist and unconstitutional policy” claimed to be “longstanding” in town government. Brookline’s Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission testified to the board on January 5 that the town government has “a culture of institutional racism” which “the Board of Selectmen…allowed.”

Some allegations can grow more chilling as one understands them better. For example, “Other police officers referred to [Mr. Zerai-Misgun] repeatedly as an FI, the police designation for a suspicious individual….” [Amended complaint, paragraph 18, p. 8] The abbreviation means a target of “field interrogation”–suggesting that an African-American may be targeted by race.

Complaints of racial mistreatment: An African-American member of the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission has described, at a public meeting of the commission on December 16, how he was personally targeted. The commission meeting was attended by Bernard Greene, a member of the Board of Selectmen who is African-American. The amended complaint also recounts other incidents involving Mr. Greene.

“Following the meeting, Selectman Bernard Greene met with the Police Chief and other town officials to formulate a plan to discredit the officers’ allegations. Selectman Greene later executed that plan by sending a confidential e-mail to selected town residents…Selectman Greene intended for his e-mail to be confidentially distributed among a select group of politically active residents as part of a broader whispering campaign to discredit and smear the officers and their supporters.” [Amended complaint, paragraph 31, p. 13, and paragraph 38, p. 15]

These allegations sound at least as serious as ones directed at Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit. However, Mr. Greene has not been named as a defendant. The Brookline Department of Public Works and Office of Human Resources are implicated in other incidents described in the amended complaint.

“Deon Fincher was hired by the Town of Brookline as a laborer in 2009…Mr. Fincher was the only Black worker in [the] sanitation division…All the teams alternated between driving and collecting trash, except for one…On Mr. Fincher’s team, Mr. Fincher threw trash full time…In 2010, he injured his shoulder and required an operation…Mr. Fincher complained that the repetitive throwing motion was damaging his shoulder…The Town’s Human Resources director refused to assign Mr. Fincher another job…The head of the division…was hostile to Mr. Fincher when he attempted to assert his contractual rights. Mr. Johnson yelled at Mr. Fincher for requesting a union representative. White employees did not receive the same hostility.” [Amended complaint, paragraphs 87-96, pp. 29-31]

Sandra DeBow-Huang, director of the Office of Human Resources, has been named as a defendant in the civil rights lawsuit. Kevin Johnson, the highway, sanitation and fleet maintenance director in the Department of Public Works, has not been named as a defendant.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 27, 2016


Prentice Pilot and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun, Racism cannot be mediated, statement to Brookline Board of Selectmen, January 26, 2016

Amended complaint and jury demand, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed January 26, 2016

Memorandum in support of partial motion to dismiss, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed January 12, 2016

Complaint and jury demand, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed December 1, 2015

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2016

Civil rights lawsuit: town and individuals accused, Brookline Beacon, December 14, 2015

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 5, started at 7:05 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. While North Korea was testing its first thermonuclear bomb, the board conducted a public hearing about what it called “diversity issues involving the town”–also an explosive catastrophe, at least on a local scale.

A standing-room-only audience of around 200 gathered in a hearing room with only about 100 seats. For many Brookline residents it was an evening of despair–airing incident after incident of racial discrimination, targeting and harassment–lasting more than two hours.

Commission statement: At its meeting the previous evening, the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission had reviewed testimony and reports it received about racial issues affecting the Brookline work force. Alex Coleman, chair of the commission, read a statement to the Board of Selectmen that the commission had authorized.

Dr. Coleman said the commission, which began in January, 2015, “spent the last year trying to move forward.” Hopes for progress had been dashed at a December 16 meeting, when two Brookline police officers testified in open session that their department was afflicted with racial tensions, from which they personally suffered. Town government, according to the commission statement, has “a culture of institutional racism” that “the Board of Selectmen…allowed.”

The statement read by Dr. Coleman called on the Board of Selectmen, “as the elected leaders of the town, to exercise your responsibilities and duties, as commissioners of the Police and Fire Departments…to stamp out this culture. This is a matter of extreme urgency, which the Board of Selectmen needs to address with actions, not words, now.” Members of the board listened but did not comment.

Police testimony: Prentice Pilot, one of the two African-American police officers who spoke out on December 16, told the Board of Selectmen he had worked on the force for 17 years. He recalled another minority police officer who “went to the chief about racial incidents” a year ago, apparently joining Officers Pilot and Zerai-Misgun then, but got no action. In response to his recent complaint about a racial insult, he said, “the chief had a preliminary investigation” but called it “inconclusive.”

After his recent testimony to the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission, Officer Pilot said, the commission “asked Selectman Greene to get more of the story…I haven’t heard anything from him.” Mr. Greene, the first African-American ever elected to the Board of Selectmen, became the board’s delegate to the commission and was present when Mr. Pilot testified on December 16.

Officer Pilot said a recent report on the racial climate in the Police and Fire Departments, sent to commission members, offers “insights from the Police Department leadership: no major incidents” in the department. “The chief,” he said, “had a free diversity report when the three of us went to him in December of 2014.” Applause from the audience lasted most of a minute.

Estifanos Zerai-Misgun, the other African-American police officer who spoke out on December 16, described “the chief’s assurance” of respect in the department. “He gave me his assurance a year ago,” said Officer Zerai-Misgun. “Nothing has changed…All you say is that you’re waiting…Nobody has contacted me.” He told the Board of Selectmen, “It is not a safe environment there. The chief failed me last year…Now you’re failing me today.”

Lee Smith, an African-American former police officer in Brookline, told the board about experiences starting in April, 1998. He also left a much longer version of his remarks in writing. As a beginning Brookline officer, he said, after he wrote a parking ticket a superior officer “chewed me up,” telling Mr. Smith, “That ticket belongs to a friend of mine.” Mr. Smith explained that there was a covert system of marking tickets to indicate they were supposed to be discarded and ignored, which he had not followed.

At a “diversity meeting” held more than 15 years ago, Mr. Smith said, fellow officers ridiculed the training, “complaining, ‘why do we have to be here for this?’” Written materials were distributed at the training, according to Mr. Smith. “I saw guys ripping it up, tossing it in the trash.”

Harassment complaints: Leslie Epps, who operates Finesse Florist on Washington St., told about experiences as an African-American living in Brookline and running a retail business. “I’ve experienced such racism,” said Ms. Epps. “I have filed complaints. These complaints have disappeared. There has been intimidation: ticketing my vehicle falsely, targeting my shop.”

Ms. Epps described herself as “keynote speaker” at the most recent Martin Luther King Day event in Brookline. Now, she said, “I have stress disorder…at the hands of Brookline police.” Not one to give up. Ms. Epps told the Board of Selectmen, “This is my country. I will not be moved…I am looking for restorative justice.”

Cruz Sanabria of Rice Street, a Marine veteran and a public school teacher in Boston, who was a member of the former Human Relations Commission, described harassment from neighbors and antagonism from Brookline police officers. In one incident, he said, he was falsely cited for a crime.

According to Mr. Sanabria, he was charged with “assault with a dangerous weapon…It was dismissed.” Mr. Sanabria told the Board of Selectmen, “The horror I went through is worse than anything else I have had in my life…You put me in a position that I shouldn’t have been in. Why? Because I’m Puerto Rican.”

Reactions: Brookline residents who are not members of a minority had strong reactions. Bob Miller of Copley St., a Precinct 8 town meeting member and a teacher at Heath School, told the Board of Selectmen, “I’ve heard talk about racism in Brookline,” calling it “an issue that can destroy the town that I love.” He urged “the strongest possible actions to let it be known that this will not be tolerated.”

Pat Bartels of Wolcott Rd. said her family “moved to Brookline because we believed it was going to be a caring and liberal community.” Her two children, she said, are graduates of Brookline High School. “Their friends were from Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Korea…from all over the world…Those are the values they shared.”

Shifra-Lilith Freewoman of Longwood Ave. was less forgiving. In Leslie Epps’s shop, she said, “She treated me like gold…It breaks my heart. Everybody black that I know has encounters with police in this town.” The problem, according to Ms. Freewoman, has been that “words don’t translate into clear action.” She told the Board of Selectmen, “If this board can’t do it, then let’s elect another board.”

Years ago: Andrew Leong of Marion Terrace described his experiences inside the Brookline Police Department many years ago. He is a professor of law at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “We are sick and tired of more studies, more training,” said Prof. Leong. “I did that training 27 years ago.”

At the time, he said, “a black officer told me, ‘I’m so glad you came and spoke…All those racist things [are] happening to me on this police force.’” Referring to Officers Pilot and Zerai-Misgun, Prof. Leong said, “They are risking their jobs. What do we want? We want them to be on paid administrative leave.” Applause from the audience again lasted for most of a minute.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 6, 2016


James Pearson and Tony Munroe, North Korea says successfully conducts first H-bomb test, Reuters (UK), January 6, 2016

Statement to the Board of Selectmen on institutional racism in the Brookline work force, Commission for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations, Town of Brookline, MA, January 4, 2016

Lee Smith, Statement at Brookline Board of Selectmen hearing, January 5, 2016

Diversity Commission: police and fire department report, Brookline Beacon, December 20, 2015

Net metering for electricity: fair practices

Among climate activists, so-called “net metering” has become a popular cause. Allowing operators of small, nonpolluting generators to export surplus power into local power networks and earn credits at the same rates as the usual electricity prices will help promote those generators, they contend. However, such a practice will also help enrich the owners of those generators.

Costs of service: If retail electricity were priced in the same way Brookline prices water, there might be few problems with net metering. Brookline’s water rates apply combinations of demand charges and usage charges. Demand charges vary with the capacities of connections to the water network and pay costs to maintain the network. Usage charges vary with the metered uses of water and wholesale water prices.

If retail electricity were priced similarly, operators of small, nonpolluting generators would pay demand charges based on capacities of their connections and could use the connections either to import or to export power. When they import power, they would accrue charges that depend on amounts used and on wholesale costs of power at points of use. When they export power, they would accrue credits at the same rates.

Such a practice could allocate costs of service fairly. Customers would pay to maintain local power networks in proportion to capacities of their connections, whether used for import or export. Customers who operate small, nonpolluting generators and export electricity to other customers would earn credits at the same rates as prices of conventionally generated power they displace, as figured at the points of use.

Retail billing: Many industrial and some commercial electricity customers are already covered by billing divided into demand and usage charges, but most residential customers are not. Instead, residential electricity rates usually lump costs of maintaining local power networks together with costs of wholesale electricity and long-distance electricity transport.

A residential electricity customer typically sees a single, composite billing rate applied to amounts of electricity used. If residential customers are allowed to export electricity at the same composite billing rate, credits they receive offset not only costs of electricity but also costs to maintain local power networks. Over time, such an approach to billing means that their shares of costs to maintain local networks will be paid by other customers attached to the networks.

Fair practices: Most subsidies to small, nonpolluting generators flow from the general economy through tax collections, which distribute the burdens partly on the basis of ability to pay. Burdens produced by net metering flow against those principles and tend to benefit people with higher incomes at the expense of people with lower incomes. The small, nonpolluting generators are largely owned by people with higher incomes, who can better afford major investments that they require.

As long as amounts of electricity generated by small, nonpolluting generators remain relatively minor, burdens of unfair billing from net metering also remain minor. As these generators become more common, unfair burdens grow apace. The more fortunate few, with higher incomes, tax the many less fortunate, with lower incomes, forcing them to pay excess shares of maintaining local power networks.

If net metering of electricity is to be expanded–while defending a just society–then fair practices need to be applied in retail billing for electricity. Residential electricity bills need to be separated into accurately assessed demand charges and usage charges, as Brookline water billing now does. Net metering needs to apply the rates for usage charges. Climate action can support social justice.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 21, 2015


Eddie Ahn, ed., Social justice groups advocate expansion of solar through net metering, Brightline Defense Project (San Francisco, CA), March 9, 2015

Matthew C. Whitaker (professor of history, Arizona State University), Net metering and its potential impact on low-income consumers, Atlanta Blackstar (Atlanta, GA), July 2, 2014

Board of Selectmen: marijuana dispensary license

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, December 8, started at 6:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The early start left ample time for a final hearing on the registered medical marijuana dispensary being proposed at 160 Washington St. in Brookline Village–the intersection with Boylston St. (Route 9).

Minutes: Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, announced that minutes of closed sessions that were held this year on January 20, May 12, June 9 and September 8 will be released. They all concerned “real property,” a lawful topic for a closed session. The session on January 20 was described as reviewing a “lease agreement.” The ones on June 9 and September 8 were held jointly with the School Committee.

The four sets of minutes were not online as of December 12 but are available on request. Under the state’s open meeting law and regulations, the board must release minutes of closed sessions when the matters are finished and the reasons for confidentiality no longer apply. In practice, the board has reviewed and released minutes of closed sessions only on request. There are hundreds of closed meetings with unreleased minutes.

Marijuana dispensary: A long review of a registered dispensary for medical marijuana is nearing an end. Voters approved medical marijuana in the fall of 2012. A town meeting authorized zoning and local licensing in the fall of 2013. The next year, New England Treatment Access (NETA) filed for a zoning permit, reviewed by the Zoning Board of Appeals, and a local license, reviewed by the Board of Selectmen.

After exploring a potential site near the corner of Beacon St. and Summit Ave., NETA negotiated an agreement for the currently proposed site in Brookline Village. In December, 2014, the town’s Licensing Review Committee began a series of five public meetings and one public hearing. The Zoning Board of Appeals held a hearing April 23 of this year and granted a zoning permit.

The NETA proposal to use the former Brookline Savings Bank building at 160 Washington St. attracted strong neighborhood protest. Opponents filed an article for the fall town meeting last year, seeking zoning changes that would have struck out the former Savings Bank building as a potential site. They lost 60-146, in an electronically recorded vote.

The Licensing Review Committee developed a fairly stringent set of recommended license conditions, completed last April. On April 25, the Board of Selectmen adopted general regulations for registered marijuana dispensaries, based on those committee recommendations.

Until May, the committee was headed by Betsy DeWitt and Kenneth Goldstein, former members of the Board of Selectmen. They did not run for new terms and were replaced by Nancy Heller and Bernard Greene. The Licensing Review Committee’s findings are advisory; the Board of Selectmen is not obliged to follow them.

Headwinds: Signs of dissent emerged last month. As a regular meeting Tuesday, November 3, the Board of Selectmen was to discuss “the process for reviewing the application” from NETA for a local license. As minutes of the meeting show, the discussion soon veered from process into substance. Mr. Wishinsky suggested that any license be for a “trial period.” Board member Ben Franco questioned sales of edible products containing marijuana.

Nancy Daly, now in her tenth year on the board, called for monitoring “excessive prescriptions.” She did not say how that might be achieved but did propose several added conditions on a license for the proposed medical marijuana dispensary. They included:
• No walk-in business, service by appointment only
• A maximum number of appointments per hour
• On-site dispensing limited to 20 percent of state limits
• Home deliveries for balances of sales above local limits
• Hours of operation 10 am to 7 pm except noon to 5 pm Sunday

So far, the board is not known to have proposed similar limits on local businesses that sell other medical products. Although medical marijuana has not been identified as a significant cause of death in the United States, most pharmacies stock prescription drugs involved in a long, horrible trend of U.S. drug deaths.

U.S. drug deaths, 1999 through 2014

CdcDrugDeathDate1999to2014
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Contrary to many, uninformed news reports, rapidly rising deaths from drug use are not a recent trend. Data from the federal government that span 15 years show major growth in drug deaths of U.S. residents over that entire period. Prescription drugs–not black-market drugs–caused an average of about two-thirds of those drug deaths. Currently, the U.S. rate of drug deaths exceeds the U.S. rate of deaths from motor vehicles. Prescription drugs are responsible for about 60 percent of current U.S. drug deaths.

Public hearing: The board’s public hearing on a local license continued for over two hours but produced little that had not previously emerged from several related hearings held this year and last year. Those occurred at the Licensing Review Committee, the Advisory Committee on Public Health, the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Zoning Bylaw Committee and the Advisory Committee and its subcommittees.

Following its November 3 meeting, the Board of Selectmen released an unsigned document titled “Proposed conditions for a registered marijuana dispensary license (2015-11-20 Draft)”. Footnotes tell who on the board proposed some of the conditions but give no explanations. At the hearing, Amanda Rossitano, who has been named manager of NETA’s Brookline dispensary, objected.

The NETA dispensary now operating in Northampton, Ms. Rossitano contended, has had no problems that might justify added license restrictions. She objected to proposals for business by appointment only, for an on-site sales limit lower than the state limit and for home delivery requirements applied to larger sales.

Mr. Wishinsky, the board’s chair, asked for a police report. Mark Morgan, a deputy superintendent, responded: “No traffic or police issues experienced in Salem, Brockton or Northampton”–three of the four communities with dispensaries now operating. The board spent substantial time questioning pharmaceutical properties and testing of products, although it lacks jurisdiction in those areas.

Frank Smizik, state representative for Precincts 2-4 and 6-13, testified in support of a local license. “NETA is a competent company,” he said. “Amanda Rossitano helped lead my office for several years.” Mr. Smizik stated he “does not support additional purchase limits” as license conditions.

Several other Brookline residents and former residents supported a license for NETA, with some objecting to added license restrictions. They included Anne Braudy of Linden Ct., Richard Brauley of Pond Ave., Fred Levitan of Beacon St., Linda Olson Pehlke of Browne St., Ronna Benjamin of Newton, Dr. Peter Moyer of Walnut St., Dr. Jordan Tishler of Loveland Rd. and Dr. Mark Eisenberg of Monmouth St.

Brookline opponents included Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave., Andrew Olins of Walnut St., George Vien of Davis Ave. and Dr. Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St. Some supported added restrictions, and all opposed the proposed site on Washington St. However, Dr. Cornelia “Kea” van der Ziel of Wolcott Rd. said the location is “as good a site as we can get in the town” and pointed out that “home delivery is not an option for some people.” The Board of Selectmen will review the hearing and reach a decision at a later meeting.

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


Causes of drug deaths, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February, 2015

Tracey Michienzi, Draft conditions from Licensing Review Committee, April 8, 2015

Regulations, registered marijuana dispensary, Town of Brookline, MA, April 24, 2015

Minutes, Board of Selectmen, Town of Brookline, MA, November 3, 2015

Unsigned, Draft conditions, from current Board of Selectmen, November 20, 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

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

2014 fall town meeting: electronic voting, Brookline Beacon, November 27, 2014

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

Craig Bolon, Open meetings in government: groping toward transparency, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2014

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

New England gas pipelines: attorney general weighs in

In New England, there are now six natural gas pipeline projects active, in review or announced. They would increase total pipeline capacity into the region by about 75 percent. There is no foreseeable market in the region for that amount of new gas. Instead, pipeline companies appear to be speculating on exporting U.S. natural gas through New England into international markets. However, they want New England utility customers to pay for their pipelines, and they have been working to sign up utility companies as business partners.

Northern route: The biggest project remains Northeast Direct, proposed by the Tennessee Gas division of Kinder Morgan, headquartered in Houston, TX. It is intended to connect between a major pipeline hub in Schoharie County, NY, just south of the Adirondacks, and a major hub in Dracut, MA. Most of it was originally routed across northern Massachusetts, carrying hydrofractured shale gas from eastern Pennsylvania into east central New England, with a design capacity of 2.2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d).

The original Tennessee Gas proposal would have increased total gas pipeline capacity into New England by more than half, passing through conservation lands and close to many homes. It has been in state reviews and is in “pre-filing” status at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). It sparked intense protests in Massachusetts, with hundreds of residents turning out at each of several public hearings.

Tennessee Gas recently scaled back capacity to 1.3 Bcf/d, after rerouting much of the line through southern New Hampshire. The “pre-filing” comment period ended October 16. That day, Maura Healey–elected last year as Massachusetts attorney general–sent “scoping comments” to FERC about the Tennessee Gas proposal. The comments recommended measures to organize federal reviews:

• Rather than analyze isolated projects, FERC should prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that forecasts regional needs for new natural gas pipeline capacity in New England and considers the combined impacts of all six current pipeline projects.

• The EIS should review potential impacts on both the region’s environment and the global environment. In particular, it should consider protected conservation lands, global warming and human health and safety.

Arguments: The attorney general clearly saw that piecemeal reviews were likely to lead to excess pipeline capacity, costs and environmental risks. However, in order to prevail, the attorney general needs to prepare for federal lawsuits, challenging a hidebound federal agency, and will need to break a logjam of legal barriers.

The attorney general cited Kleppe v. Sierra Club. [427 U.S. 390, 1976] In that case, early in the development of Powder River Basin coal in the Mountain West, the Supreme Court found that a regional review of proposals for coal mines was not required under federal law, but its opinion said regional reviews would be necessary in other circumstances.

The 1976 opinion held, “…when several proposals…that will have cumulative or synergistic environmental impact upon a region are pending concurrently before an agency, their environmental consequences must be considered together.” The Kleppe case has rarely been useful. Its range of conditions is so narrow that few practical circumstances qualify. As typically happens, New England gas pipeline projects that the attorney general cited are not now “pending concurrently before an agency.” Instead, they are at different stages:

Spectra, Algonquin Incremental Markets 0.342 Bcf/d under construction
Tennessee Gas, Connecticut Expansion 0.072 Bcf/d final FERC review
Tennessee Gas, Northeast Energy Direct 1.3 Bcf/d FERC pre-filing
Spectra, Atlantic Bridge 0.13 Bcf/d FERC pre-filing
Spectra, Access Northeast to 1.0 Bcf/d open season ended
Portland Natural Gas, Continent to Coast to 0.13 Bcf/d open season ended

As tallied by the attorney general, the projects total up to 2.974 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of new gas pipeline capacity, compared with 3.951 Bcf/d of current gas pipeline capacity.

The attorney general also cited some marginal cases and statutes: Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency [549 U.S. 497], decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007, and the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act and Global Warming Solutions Act. [St. 1990, C. 408, and St. 2008, C. 298] The Supreme Court case required new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for greenhouse gas emissions but said nothing about FERC projects. State laws might apply to state reviews of pipeline projects, but they do not govern FERC.

Regulations: Potentially stronger arguments from the attorney general are based on federal regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970. Under rules for scope of review [40 CFR 1508.25], federal agencies must consider “cumulative actions, which when viewed with other proposed actions have cumulatively significant impacts,” as well as “similar actions, which when viewed with other reasonably foreseeable or proposed agency actions, have similarities that provide a basis for evaluating their environmental consequences.”

Gas pipeline projects in New England certainly “have similarities.” They are all “reasonably foreseeable,” and they look likely to have “cumulatively significant impacts.” Beyond those strong suits, environmental objections from the attorney general might be overstated. They cite provisions of “guidance” documents, construing them as “requirements.” Section IV.B, third paragraph, asks for compliance with a draft document, “2014 CEQ Climate Impact Guidance,” which is also mentioned in Section IV.D of the comments.

Need versus greed: The attorney general’s comments said FERC is brushing off analyzing needs for more gas pipeline capacity as part of an environmental review. “FERC has indicated that this inquiry will not be part of the EIS.” [Detailed comments, first paragraph] Moving proactively, the attorney general arranged a professional review of those issues, described as follows:

“The Attorney General’s Office will soon release a study it commissioned…that examines the extent of New England’s need for additional energy supplies to ensure electric system reliability through the year 2030 and analyzes alternative solutions to meeting any such need, including costs to ratepayers and effects on greenhouse gas emissions.” [Introduction and summary of comments, sixth paragraph]

When first announced in early July, the study by Analysis Group of Boston was to be “completed by October, 2015.” Since then, its release has been postponed at least twice and was most recently promised for some time in November. It is to consider, in particular, the ocean import terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG) now serving New England, specifically: “whether [needed] gas can by supplied by LNG or additional pipeline capacity is needed.”

New England is served by four ocean import terminals for LNG, with total capacity about 3.2 Bcf/d. However, because of high prices in overseas markets, during 2011 through 2014 only the Distrigas terminal in Everett, adjacent to Boston Harbor, received deliveries. The operator, GDF Suez, had long-term contracts at favorable prices. This past winter, price spikes in New England gas and electricity appear to have been trimmed by reactivation of the Northeast Gateway terminal off Gloucester.

Nearly doubling gas pipeline capacity into New England, as originally proposed, never made financial sense, if it were intended to meet needs of New England. The motive behind the giant proposals from the pipeline companies always looked like speculation on shipping hydrofractured shale gas coming from the Appalachians, particularly Pennsylvania, into Canada.

From Canada, the pipeline companies would export gas as LNG, coupling U.S. natural gas into international markets and expecting to raise prices. There are now permits for two Canadian terminals to export a total of about 1.5 BCf/d. From the viewpoints of the pipeline companies, New England has become a shipping route.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 1, 2015


Attorney General Healey calls on FERC to weigh gas needs and pending projects as part of review of Kinder Morgan pipeline, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, October 19, 2015

Scoping comments for the Northeast Energy Direct project, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, October 16, 2015 (edited for internal consistency)

Office to lead regional gas capacity study, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, July 6, 2015

Tux Turkel, Deliveries of liquefied natural gas, Portland (ME) Press Herald, February 1, 2015

Mary Serreze, Gas pipeline foes form three-state coalition, Springfield (MA) Republican, January 30, 2015

Joe Mahoney, Pipeline plan crosses archaeological site, sparks feud with FERC, Oneonta (NY) Daily Star, September 21, 2015

Alvin L. Alm, National Environmental Policy Act: past, present and future, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1988

Scope of environmental review, Federal Regulations 40 CFR 1508.25, Cornell University Law School, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England gas pipelines: need versus greed, Brookline Beacon, August 29, 2015

Advisory subcommittee: new crews needed to right ships

Gathering in the large, first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall starting at 7:30 pm Wednesday, October 14, the Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation heard two articles for the fall town meeting, scheduled for November 17.

Subcommittee members found that Article 12, offered by member Lee Selwyn to revise the meaning of “habitable space” under zoning, needed substantial review. They proposed referring the article to a committee to be appointed by Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator of town meeting, and Mr. Selwyn agreed.

Park land for Putterham neighborhoods: The subcommittee took a similar approach to Article 15, from petitioners led by Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member. However, circumstances are different. Convening a special review committee is actually what Article 15 asks for. It represents a long detour, starting from an article approved at the May 26, 2015, annual town meeting.

In Putterham neighborhoods–the southernmost parts of Brookline–as Ms. Frawley argued last spring, there is little public open space. During 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. The only sizable areas remaining as potential recreation space are the so-called “buffers” on the north side of Hancock Village.

Following development concepts worked out with the Brookline Planning Board during 1945 and 1946, when the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. developed Hancock Village, it left unbuilt land adjacent to single-family houses along Beverly and Russett Rds. Since then, that land has often served informally as recreation space for residents of Hancock Village, as well as those of nearby streets.

The Hancock Village buffers soon came under attack. First the Hancock Co., in the 1950s, and then the next owner–the Niles Co.–in the 1960s, applied to turn the buffers into parking lots. The apartment zoning approved at the 1946 annual town meeting had left the buffers part of the large single-family zone to the north, which does not allow parking lots. The Zoning Board of Appeals turned down the applications.

Recent perils: More recently, the current owner–a subsidiary of Chestnut Hill Realty–has proposed to build both parking lots and more apartments on the buffers. The proposal, approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals last February, draws on provisions of Chapter 40B of the General Laws to override zoning in return for partly subsidized housing.

The current Board of Selectmen and its predecessor opposed the Hancock Village 40B project, although neither has been successful so far. The predecessor board–including Kenneth Goldstein and Betsy DeWitt–sued the Massachusetts Development Financing Agency for issuing a “project eligibility letter,” allowing the project application to proceed. That lawsuit has been dismissed at both superior court and the Court of Appeals.

While considering further appeal of the first case, the Board of Selectmen–now including Nancy Heller and Bernard Greene–is suing members of the Brookline zoning board in Land Court for approving the Hancock Village 40B project. A hostile motion to dismiss is pending in that case, building on the loss by the Board of Selectmen at the Court of Appeals.

The Board of Selectmen now looks mired in conflicts around a proposal to use land at Hancock Village for recreation. Besides the two lawsuits, at this year’s annual town meeting, recently elected board member Nancy Heller filed Article 17, promoting changes to the 40B law that would authorize “local elected officials” to make “binding recommendations” on 40B projects.

Reviewing recreation land: When this year’s annual town meeting approved Article 18, asking the Board of Selectmen to “study and consider in good faith” taking the Hancock Village buffers as permanent recreation land, almost everyone assumed the board would appoint an independent, expert review committee. However, nothing like that has happened so far.

Instead, about a month later, the board sent the Advisory Committee a $15 thousand reserve fund request to hire a consultant, who would work with town staff reporting to the board. The Advisory Committee took note of Massachusetts cases involving conflicts between 40B projects and land takings for other purposes, when refusing to fund a consultant interacting with the Board of Selectmen.

While land taking for community uses is possible, even though a 40B project has claims, it must occur in “good faith” and not mainly to block a project. Involvement by the Board of Selectmen in a proposal for Hancock Village land, given their conflicts, looks to risk poisoning the well and defeating an attempt to acquire land for recreation.

Seeing a Board of Selectmen seemingly frozen on recreation land issues, doing nothing constructive, Ms. Frawley and co-petitioners filed Article 15 for the November town meeting. It calls for a special review committee, to be appointed by the Advisory Committee and the moderator of town meeting. That could separate the recreation land issues from the Board of Selectmen and allow them to be reviewed in “good faith.”

Recommendation: For the subcommittee, Ms. Frawley briefly reviewed activities related to recreation land at Hancock Village since May. According to her, Melvin Kleckner, the town administrator, opposed an independent committee to review the issues–at first claiming to be “too busy” to meet with her and then, two weeks later, saying he intended to hire a consultant.

Mr. Kleckner is a town employee who lives elsewhere, not an elected official of Brookline. Since he was apparently involved in withholding information about a $200 thousand cost overrun during the May town meeting, his relations with the Advisory Committee have become rocky at best. One long-term committee member, reportedly fed up with disrespectful treatment, has resigned from the committee.

According to Ms. Frawley, Mr. Kleckner said the issues of recreation land are “too challenging” for mere citizens. Somehow though, over the years, Brookline citizens managed acquisitions of Hall’s Pond, Amory Woods and the Blakely Hoar Sanctuary, plus more than 100 park and playground parcels, without need for Mr. Kleckner’s consultants.

Subcommittee member Lee Selwyn recalled the $15 thousand reserve fund request for a consultant that had been rejected, suggesting that a committee may need “paid expertise.” Ms. Frawley said the committee could assess its needs. Stanley Spiegel, the subcommittee chair, said nine messages in support of Article 15 and one opposing it were on record so far. The subcommittee favored Article 15 and recommended approval, in a unanimous vote.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 16, 2015


Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 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)

Board of Selectmen to Land Court: you win, Brookline Beacon, October 5, 2015

Hancock Village lawsuit: Brookline’s appeal dismissed, Brookline Beacon, September 29, 2015

Advisory Committee: probing a disconnect, Brookline Beacon, July 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

Advisory Committee: return of the leafblowers

On Thursday, October 8, the Advisory Committee got off to an uncertain start at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. With Sean Lynn-Jones away, Carla Benka, the vice chair, led a session that focused mainly on leafblowers.

Beginning in 2000 with a petition article from Jerome Sadow, unsuccessful on first try, this is the fourth visit by leafblowers to town meeting. Article 10 for the fall town meeting, starting November 17, calls for a total ban on the machines–however powered and however used. Article 11 calls, on the other hand, for extensions to seasons of allowed use. Noise remains the most common complaint.

Sound and noise levels: Ordinary conversations typically involve sound levels around 60 decibels A-weighted (dBA), at a distance of 3 ft. Perceived loudness doubles with each 6 dBA increase. Federal noise exposure limits, intended to prevent hearing damage, have long been 85 dBA for an 8-hour workday. At that intensity, conversation is almost impossible. The noise would sound around 20 times louder than ordinary conversation.

Introduced in the 1970s, small leafblowers have long been loathed because of noise, although performance has gradually become more tolerable. Some of the earliest machines emitted literally earsplitting noise: as loud as 95 dBA, measured at a distance of 50 ft. Unprotected operators, who work much closer to machines, experienced up to 115 dBA, comparable to peak noise from a 737 jet on takeoff, measured about 200 ft from a runway.

Demographic shifts: As Brookline’s populations changed, more people tended to be working longer hours. They tended to have less free time and more surplus income. Rather than do their own lawn care and gardening, they turned increasingly to landscapers, who brought increasing amounts of power equipment, including leafblowers.

By the middle 1990s, Brookline had a noise bylaw limiting lawn and garden equipment to a maximum noise level of 80 dBA at a distance of 50 ft. Many leafblowers then in use were noisier than permitted, but there was little enforcement. In 2000, that situation prompted Mr. Sadow to propose limiting leafblower noise to 72 dBA. However, only a few leafblowers then available could meet such a standard.

Leafblower limits: After a long review by a moderator’s committee, the fall town meeting of 2001 voted to limit leafblower noise to 72 dBA for units manufactured in 2002 or later and to limit hours of operation: 8 am to 6 pm on weekdays and 9 am to 6 pm on weekends. The Police Department got more sound level meters, and enforcement became somewhat more attentive.

The slow phase-out of older, noisier leafblowers and the continued increases in use left many residents unsatisfied. At the fall town meeting of 2008, a package of revisions to Brookline’s noise control bylaw, introduced by the Board of Selectmen, lowered the maximum allowed noise level for leafblowers manufactured in 2009 and later to 67 dBA, measured at 50 ft. However, hours of permitted use were extended: 7 am to 7 pm weekdays and 8:30 am to 6 pm weekends and holidays. Those standards remain in effect today.

After seeking stronger measures from the 2008 fall town meeting and leaving empty-handed, Andrew Fischer, a Precinct 13 town meeting member, returned at the 2011 fall town meeting proposing restrictions specific to leafblowers in a new bylaw. It set seasons of allowed use: between March 15 and May 15 and between September 15 and December 15, allowing emergency uses out-of-season by town workers. It also set penalties: from a warning on a first offense to a $200 fine on a third or later offense.

For his efforts, Mr. Fischer was rewarded by opposition from all members of the Board of Selectmen and from all but one member of the Advisory Committee. They tried to shoo him away with a resolution, merely asking residents and contractors to be “considerate…sensitive…[and] reasonable.” Mr. Fischer argued that lapses from those fine sentiments had been at the heart of continuing problems with leafblowers. He won the day.

Another round of review: This fall, Richard Nangle, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, with other petitioners, is seeking a total ban on leafblower use in Brookline, under Article 10. At Advisory, Mr. Nangle argued that enforcement of Mr. Fisher’s leafblower law has not worked. Leafblowers continue in use out-of-season, landscapers sometimes claim they are “exempt” from laws and police are rarely able to catch violators. Only ten percent of complaints logged over three years resulted in citations.

Local landscapers led by Faith Michaels and Peter Gately, who are behind Article 11 seeking to extend the leafblower seasons, spent most of their efforts opposing Article 10. They claimed leafblowers have been key elements in making money as landscapers. Erin Gallentine, the director of Parks and Open Space, was equally emphatic, citing time and motion studies. Under Article 11, landscapers want to end the spring season on June 15, not May 15, and want to end the fall season on December 31, not December 15.

Leafblowers, they all said, do a better and more efficient job than rakes and brooms. However, Ms. Michaels and Ms. Gallentine were unable to explain why total clearance of leaves should be critical today, when 40 years ago and earlier–before leafblowers came to Brookline–it wasn’t. Somehow, previous generations had managed to live safely and happily despite some stray leaves.

After 20 minutes into a stem-winding report from the subcommittee on public safety, Janice Kahn, the chair, disclosed that it had no position on Article 10, seeking a ban–despite two sessions of public hearings. Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, sought to send Article 10 to a committee, when it had already arrived at a committee: the Advisory Committee.

Subcommittee member David-Marc Goldstein described regulations in Cambridge and Arlington. Unlike Brookline, those communities limit numbers of leafblowers in simultaneous use, according to sizes of lots. It did not seem to occur to subcommittee members that anything between the status quo and a total ban might come within the scope of Article 10, and they did not propose such limits for Brookline.

Alan Balsam, the health director, undercut one argument against leafblowers: debris they blow into the air along with leaves. Dr. Balsam said the Advisory Council on Public Health had “found no compelling health threat.” Ms. Michaels dealt with another concern, worker exposure to noise. Units her company and others said they now use, rated for 65 dBA noise at 50 feet, expose workers to 83 dBA, below the federal limit for 8-hour industrial exposure.

Recommendations: Slogging through a total of six motions from Advisory Committee members, Ms. Benka organized recommendations. The committee opposed a leafblower ban under Article 10. That got only three votes. Under Article 11, the committee supported a minor change authorizing the public works commissioner to allow leafblower use in emergencies, but it opposed extending regular leafblower seasons.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 11, 2015


Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Records of town meetings since 2000, Town of Brookline, MA, 2015

Leaf blower information, Town of Brookline, MA, 2012

Leaf blower study group, Town of Lincoln, MA, 2015

Leaf blowing, Department of Public Works, City of Cambridge, MA, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling: from wartime campaigns to secular religions, Brookline Beacon, October 6, 2015

Recycling: from wartime campaigns to secular religions

As John Tierney recently wrote in the NY Times, today recycling is being “promoted as a goal in and of itself”–turning away from traditional grounding in environmental and financial concerns. No local activists involved with solid waste are known to have career experience in process management, industry economics, mechanical engineering or manufacturing. While goals might sound civic-minded, backgrounds do not suggest skills to develop policies for waste handling.

Recycling generations: Municipal recycling emerged in the 1940s with “paper drives” to support World War II efforts, collecting telephone books and newspapers. Those could often be converted into low-strength containers and excelsior, or “wood wool”–with financial gains realized mainly through unpaid, volunteer labor.

A wider scope of efforts took off in the 1960s–involving multiple materials and paid curbside pickup. While they made inspiring news copy, within a few years financial and environmental inventories showed efforts to be counterproductive. More petroleum and other nonrenewable resources were being consumed than saved.

Third-generation efforts, taking off in the 1990s, tended to evade criticism. Sponsors announced internal rather than external goals: simply aiming to divert tonnages in waste streams rather than trying to justify programs through either environmental or financial benefits. Somewhat like bake sales: “just because.”

Modern times: So-called “single-stream”–a recycling poster-child for the past several years–involves less effort for households and for collection crews. Otherwise, it has become a financial and environmental disaster. Once-plentiful streams of old newspapers and telephone books are largely gone, thanks to an Internet age when few people want information on paper.

Mixing rather than separating materials causes everything to be smeared with food waste, mashed and broken. Retrieving anything useful from the rubble takes more effort and yields materials that are either ruined by soilage, including paper, or that need expensive washing, including plastics and metals. Net returns from recycled materials have plummeted. However, some ordinary recycling has survived.

Take leaves–for example–or rather, “rake leaves.” That’s what we’ve been doing for over 40 years. A small plot in back holds most of a year’s leaf-fall. By the next year, rain has packed it into a dense layer, and we can add another year’s harvest. After about 20 years, there was enough well-digested leaf compost to start enriching gardens and flowerbeds.

Besides providing fall exercise, the habits save town labor and fuel. They slow, but they do not eliminate, air pollution. Decomposing leaves release some methane, a greenhouse gas. Commercial composters have started trapping methane and using it to generate electricity. Burning leaves, as people used to do, would release large amounts of carbon dioxide and pollute the air with smoke, including partly burned compounds.

We, the town and the state all fail to inventory recycling and publish results on environmental life cycles and overall finances. While we are aware of general directions in which some efforts are leading, we know little about amounts or balances.

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


John Tierney, The reign of recycling, New York Times, October 4, 2015

Peter Thorsheim, Waste into Weapons: Recycling in Britain during the Second World War, Cambridge University Press, 2015

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

Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants

The Pilgrim nuclear power-plant in Plymouth may be the next casualty from the Fukushima, Japan disaster in 2011. Safety director David Noyes has warned that Entergy may close the plant if it can’t see a way to make money. Many South Shore neighbors would say, “Good riddance.”

Nuclear shutdowns: At the end of 2014, Entergy closed the Vermont Yankee nuclear power-plant in Vernon, near Brattleboro. Both the Plymouth and the Vernon reactors are close relatives of the wrecked nuclear reactors in Japan. All use BWR-3 and BWR-4 “Mark I” designs by General Electric, dating from the middle and late 1960s.

Those so-called “boiling water” reactors were cheaper to build than the “pressurized water” reactors from Westinghouse, Babcock & Wilcox and Combustion Engineering. They send steam directly from reactor cores into power turbines, rather than through heat exchangers that isolate radioactively contaminated core water.

For decades, the industry-dominated U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) dismissed potential problems with “boiling water” reactors as unlikely. Then came the simultaneous collapse of three of those reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, challenged by an earthquake and a tsunami. The three reactor enclosures failed, along with the spent-fuel enclosure of a fourth reactor, releasing clouds and streams of enormously radioactive materials into the countryside and the ocean.

Despite major alarms from the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania, its “pressurized water” reactor resisted a partial collapse. Unlike gross failures of the “boiling water” reactors in Japan, nearly all the damage at Three Mile Island was contained inside a reactor enclosure.

Compared with their initially more costly relatives, “boiling water” reactors have narrower ranges of stability, making them more likely to overheat and collapse when challenged by problems. Among their problems, extra monitoring and maintenance has tended to make them more costly to operate. Quoting an unpublished report from UBS (formerly Union Bank of Switzerland), David Abel and Beth Healy of the Boston Globe claim the nuclear plant in Plymouth is losing more than $2 million a month.

Closing barn doors: NRC trundled out a set of “safety enhancements” that require costly retrofits. In traditional nuke-speak, institutional NRC flacks call those “lessons learned”–making themselves sound like sleazebags. Many lessons about hazards of boiling-water reactors were taught 40 years ago, after a near-disaster at the Browns Ferry nuclear power-plant in Alabama, but those lessons were not really learned.

A March, 1975, fire under the unit 1 control room at the Browns Ferry plant, ignited by careless workers, disabled safety systems and came within about an hour of collapsing the “boiling water” reactor. After that incident, General Electric assigned three senior engineering managers to investigate the safety of the plant’s three reactors. They reported that the reactors could not survive a major challenge.

The company largely disregarded their analysis. In February, 1976, Dale G. Bridenbaugh, manager of product service for the nuclear division of General Electric, and two other GE nuclear engineers, Richard Hubbard and Gregory Minor, resigned and tried to publicize the hazards. NRC commissioned a safety review, sometimes known as the Rasmussen Report (WASH-1400).

In a 1986 conference with industry executives, held at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Harold Denton, then director of the NRC Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, referred to the Rasmussen Report, saying it showed “something like a 90 percent probability of a containment failing” in a “boiling water” reactor using the General Electric “Mark I” designs.

Pilgrim’s progress: During the 1980s, Boston Edison, then the owner and operator of the Pilgrim plant, was plagued by safety citations. In 1982, NRC imposed its largest fine ever, $550,000, for safety failures. Boston Edison spent about $300 million on upgrades, but the failures continued. From 1986 to 1989, NRC closed Pilgrim, mainly for extensive worker retraining.

Trying to curry favor with NRC, in 1987 Boston Edison proposed a “direct torus vent system” intended to reduce hazards, also known as a “hard vent” system. NRC did not certify the system but allowed it to be installed. Although the “hard vent” system at Pilgrim was never given realistic testing, eventually most reactors of its type were retrofitted with similar “hard vents,” including ones in Japan.

The “hard vents” of the three Japanese reactors that collapsed all failed, and then the enclosures of those reactors exploded. NRC staff responded to the unreliability of “hard vents,” first designed for Pilgrim, in their highest-priority recommendations for new regulations in 2011. The required retrofits are very expensive, and they may not prevent disasters, because they do not address basic instabilities of the “Mark I” designs.

Nuclear losers: This year, Pilgrim is back in the federal doghouse. In March, it was downgraded to the lowest NRC safety rating short of impending closure. Entergy and Exelon are apparently pulling out. Exelon announced that it will close the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey by the end of 2019. That was built with an even earlier version of the “Mark I” reactor designs.

A parade of nuclear losers continues to lengthen. They are being ousted from business by poor operating economics of “boiling water” reactors, by high costs to recover from maintenance blunders and by high costs to retrofit unsafe designs. Those already ousted, over the past three years, have been:
* Crystal River 3, one reactor, Crystal Rver, FL, closed in 2013
* Kewaunee, one reactor, Carlton, WI, closed in 2013
* San Onofre, two reactors, San Diego County, CA, closed in 2013
* Vermont Yankee, one reactor, Vernon, VT, closed in 2014
* Oyster Creek, one reactor, Lacey Township, NJ, closing in 2019

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 27, 2015


Evan Allen, Pilgrim nuclear plant safety rating downgraded, Boston Globe, September 2, 2015

David Abel, Pilgrim nuclear plant says it may shut down, Boston Globe, September 17, 2015

David Abel and Beth Healy, No easy answers for Pilgrim nuclear power plant, Boston Globe, September 26, 2015

Market-driven reactor shutdowns threaten local economies, Nuclear Energy Institute, 2015

Jeff McMahon, Six nuclear plants that could be next to shut down, Forbes, November 7, 2013

Japan: lessons learned, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2015

Prioritization of recommended actions, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, SECY-11-0137, October 3, 2011

Craig Bolon (as AppDev), Will Japan’s nuclear disaster help make Pilgrim in Plymouth safer?, Boston Globe, October 31, 2011

Tom Zeller, Jr., Experts had long criticized potential weakness in reactor design, New York Times, March 15, 2011

Matthew Mosk, Nuclear reactor design caused GE scientist to quit in protest, ABC News, March 15, 2011

Pilgrim reactor restarted after 3-year shutdown, Associated Press, January 1, 1989

David Dinsmore Comey, Fire at the Browns Ferry nuclear power station, Friends of the Earth, 1976

Release of a song: Happy Birthday to You

On Tuesday, September 22, the Happy Birthday song was released from commercial prison. A chain of disputes over rights to the song, now stretching back more than 80 years, ended with a ruling in a federal case being heard in California. Judge George H. King, the chief judge for the Central District of California at Los Angeles, found that the company now claiming to own the song lacks a valid copyright.

The lawsuit was brought by Jenn Nelson, a video producer in New York who has been assembling a documentary about the song. A key, unresolved issue throughout long controversy has been lack of a clearly established author of the song’s lyrics. To careful observers, the outcome of the case had seemed likely. Without an author, there is no copyright interest. [See note, below.]

Copyright background and finding: Judge King found he did not need to resolve issues of authorship. Instead, he found no credible evidence that a potential author of the Happy Birthday lyrics had ever transferred rights to them to any publisher involved in current claims of ownership.

The song may have been created as early as 1890 by Mildred Jane Hill and Patty Smith Hill, two sisters who were writing songs for young children while Patty Hill worked as principal of the Louisville Experimental Kindergarten School. In 1893 the melody appeared with a different song, Good Morning to You, authored by the sisters and published and copyrighted by the Clayton F. Summy Co., then at 220 Wabash Ave. in Chicago.

The melody appeared with the Happy Birthday lyrics in unauthorized commercial publications at least as early as 1912. In his opinion, Judge King cited a 1911 church publication. Despite those sheet music publications, plus sound recordings and appearances in early sound films, no claims of authorship or copyright disputes emerged until more than 20 years later. What was then disputed was use of the melody in a Broadway play.

Warner/Chappell Music of Los Angeles and subsidiaries acquired purported rights to the Happy Birthday song, plus many other musical works, by purchasing a successor to the Clayton F. Summy Co. in 1988. According to news reports, since that time they could have collected as much as $50 million in royalties for use of the song in movies, recordings and commercial performances.

Ms. Nelson, later joined by co-plaintiffs in California, paid royalties to Warner/Chappell to use the Happy Birthday song in performances. They sued to recover payments plus legal costs and sought a judgment that Warner/Chappell lacked a valid copyright to the Happy Birthday lyrics. Copyright interests in the melody had expired in 1949, at the end of a copyright renewal for the original songbook published by the Summy Co.

Consequences: Legal consequences may take a few more years to conclude. At federal district court, hearings and rulings are expected on motions to certify class action status and to award damages and costs. The number of years for which royalties might have to be disgorged could be increased by precedents in the ninth federal circuit that are favorable to the plaintiffs. After that, appeals seem likely.

Circumstances of the Happy Birthday song are so unusual that rulings might never apply to another copyright case. Until this case, for more than 80 years all disputes over the song had been settled privately. People who want to use the song in commercial performances, recordings, videos and movies may start to feel free to do that, now that a federal court has finally ruled on the key element.

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


Note: “Without an author, there is no copyright interest.” Authorship and originality have been ingredients of copyrights since they were authorized by the U.S. Constitution in Article 1, Section 8. In Section 4, the Copyright Act of 1909 provided, “works for which copyright may be secured under this act shall include all the writings of an author.” Section 102 of the Copyright Act of 1976 narrowed the range somewhat, saying, “copyright protection subsists in original works of authorship.” A requirement of originality, expressed in case law, was made explicit under that statute.

Memorandum and order for cross-motions, Good Morning to You Productions Corp., et al., v. Warner Chappell Music, Inc., et al., case 2:13-cv-4460 in the Central District of California (Los Angeles), filed June 20, 2013 (originally filed as Rupa Marya v. Warner Chappell Music, Inc.), September 22, 2015

Christine Mai-Duc, All the ‘Happy Birthday’ song copyright claims are invalid, federal judge rules, Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2015

The Worker and His Work, eight volumes, Board of Sunday Schools, Methodist Episcopal Church (Washington, DC), 1911

Craig Bolon, Saga of a song: Happy Birthday to You, Brookline Beacon, August 8, 2015

Cable services: renewing Comcast in Brookline

On Wednesday, September 16, starting at 7 pm in Town Hall, members of the Board of Selectmen and its cable television committee conducted a public hearing on renewal of the Comcast license to operate in Brookline. What they heard was dominated by insiders, trying to extract more money for local programming efforts, now called Brookline Interactive, and for subsidies to low-income residents. Attendance was about 15 people.

Technology dreams: Boosters for Brookline Interactive seemed divided into two camps. One was looking mainly for better distribution of content, the other looking mainly for better technology to deliver it. Karen Katz of Pleasant St., president of Brookline Interactive, complained about “no delivery” of her organization’s content by Comcast, recently rebranded as Xfinity. Comcast does not display a schedule of Brookline Interactive programs. She wanted more Comcast money to support local programming efforts.

Albert Davis of James St., who described himself as a media producer, does productions at Brookline Interactive. He complained that Comcast “does not support an everyday medium”–meaning high-definition, wide-screen television–calling that “a huge mistake.” He wanted Comcast to “get involved” with Brookline Interactive, a “partnering opportunity.”

Kathy Bisbee of Gorham Ave., recently hired as Brookline Interactive director, mentioned “over the top” fees as a way to boost her organization’s take of Comcast revenue. Although she did not explain, that would be techno-speak for fee-based, Internet-distributed services such as Showtime, currently about $11 a month.

Limited incomes: At an opposite pole from Ms. Bisbee and Brookline Interactive technophiles was David Trietsch of Linden Pl., board chair of the Brookline Housing Authority. He complained that few public housing residents could afford any type of Internet service–and probably not $11 a month “over the top.” Recently, he said, RCN has offered “favorable terms” for service to the new Dummer St. project.

Frank Caro of Beacon St., a member of the cable television committee and a Precinct 10 town meeting member, spoke for retired residents. He said he found almost no “senior discounts” for telecommunication services in Brookline. He was “deeply disappointed” that Comcast offered only $2 a month off, only on “basic” service.

The sole Brookline residents to complain about the quality of Comcast services were Cathy Corman of Pleasant St. and her husband Mark Penzel. Their house had apparently been built after the neighborhood was wired and has no cable service. Comcast initially wanted over $20,000 to install a cable but then offered to do that for $2,300 if it could dig a trench beside a tree in a neighbor’s lawn.

High costs: What none of the earnest speakers mentioned but would surely be uppermost for a network operator are high costs of new technology. At an average cost per person estimated by Goldman Sachs, Comcast would need to invest around $30 million to replace its Brookline network. That looks unlikely for a business with annual revenue potential around $10 million: possibly a 10-year payback or worse.

Comcast is stuck with early 1980s cable technology: good for its day but well into old age. It was built for 1953 NTSC broadcast television, about 6 MHz per channel. HDTV in 1080p24 format–the newer “wide screen” broadcast standard since 1998–needs about three times the bandwidth, despite digital techniques. However, it can be fit into 6 MHz channels through digital compression, at loss of optical and temporal definition.

With its dated cable infrastructure, Comcast cannot achieve the level of services fiber-optic systems can provide, such as those installed by RCN and promised–some day–by FIOS technology from Verizon. However, by replacing its complex of signal-transmission electronics and requiring subscribers to install new set-top boxes and modems, Comcast could augment services.

Providing a degraded, 720i24 format of HDTV, while maintaining its repertoire of channels and continuing to use its 1980-era cables above and below the streets could be realistic. Even such a limited project might cost several million dollars to retrofit Comcast’s infrastructure in Brookline. The company would still retain a trouble-prone network of aging cables that has been irritating customers for years.

Silent voices: At the Wednesday hearing, no one spoke up for ordinary customers, surely the vast majority of those concerned about Comcast services in Brookline. The Board of Selectmen did not make any more than minimal, legally required efforts to publicize the hearing. Had they done so, the sixth-floor meeting room might have overflowed.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 17, 2015


Mark Biegert, High-definition television bandwidth, Math Encounters (Maple Grove, MN), 2012

Karl Bode, Google fiber build estimate: $140 billion, DSL Reports (New York, NY), 2012

Heather Bellini, et al., Clash of the titans, Goldman Sachs Group, December 7, 2012

Craig Bolon, Broadband telecommunications: Brookline-based services, Brookline Beacon, August 22, 2015

Housing Authority: renovations, programs and project development, Brookline Beacon, August 11, 2014

Court of Appeals: Brookline’s first lawsuit over Hancock Village

Proposed development at Hancock Village in south Brookline has led to two lawsuits filed in state courts on behalf of the Town of Brookline. News reports so far don’t explain much about the differences between them. The first case, begun in 2013, challenges actions of a state agency. The second case, begun in 2015, challenges actions of the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals. The first case is at the Massachusetts Court of Appeals in Boston on Monday, September 14 for a hearing on the merits.

Development plans: Between 2008 and 2011, executives at Chestnut Hill Realty (CHR) promoted plans for major development at Hancock Village, proposing up to 466 new housing units. Responses from nearby neighborhoods and Brookline government varied from concern to alarm. In November, 2011, Brookline enacted a neighborhood conservation law, making Hancock Village the first regulated district.

In 2012, CHR abandoned plans for conventional development under zoning, turning instead to Chapter 40B of the General Laws, Sections 20-23 and aiming to force through development in return for partly subsidized housing. To start such an approach, CHR needed sponsorship from a state agency. Rather than look to agencies mainly oriented to housing, CHR approached the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency (MDFA). Proposals were made through a CHR subsidiary called Residences of South Brookline, LLC.

In late 2012 and early 2013, MDFA reviewed a CHR proposal to add 271 housing units in 12 new buildings. This plan was similar to other CHR plans in its overall approach. There would be a high-rise structure over a rock outcrop, previously considered unbuildable: five stories of apartments above two stories of parking. There would also be 11 low-rise structures on unbuilt land near Russett and Beverly Roads that had been reserved as “buffers” following 1940s agreements with the Town of Brookline.

MDFA sought comments from Brookline and visited the site in December, 2012. In February, 2013, MDFA drafted a response, rejecting the CHR proposal because it was “not generally appropriate for the site.” The agency cited “complete elimination of the greenbelt buffer” and “massing of the…five-story building.” Possibly tipped off to impending rejection, CHR withdrew its proposal just before the response was to be sent.

The following June, CHR proposed to MDFA a revised project with 192 new housing units in 13 new buildings. Now, over the rock outcrop, there would be four stories of apartments above two stories of parking. Although the project still eliminated the greenbelt buffer and it still included a high-rise looming over the neighborhood, built over a rock outcrop, this time MDFA approved, sending a “project eligibility letter” in October, 2013.

Reversing its previously pending rejection, MDFA offered a sentence of justification. That said the project “is generally appropriate for the site taking into account factors such as proposed use, conceptual site plan and building massing, topography, environmental resources and integration into existing development patterns.”

Court of Appeals case: Within a few weeks, the Town of Brookline filed a case against MDFA in superior court, challenging validity of the project eligibility letter. As part of this first lawsuit over Hancock Village, the Town of Brookline also asserted rights under a 1946 agreement with the John Hancock Life Insurance Company, providing enduring restrictions on Hancock Village in return for the 1946 rezoning to allow construction of apartments.

In superior court, lawyers for CHR filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that claims by the Town of Brookline were inconsistent with prior cases and with state law. The circumstances are complex, but after a brief hearing on the motions, without considering circumstances in detail, Judge Patrick F. Brady of Norfolk Superior Court allowed the motions. Brookline appealed. On Monday, September 14, the circumstances will be reviewed in detail for the first time by a full panel at the Court of Appeals.

There are two main issues in the appeal:
(1) Did Judge Brady at Norfolk Superior Court make an error in dismissing claims by the Town of Brookline that the project eligibility letter was issued without adequate justification?
(2) Did Judge Brady make an error in dismissing Brookline claims about rights under a 1946 agreement with the John Hancock Life Insurance Company that led to rezoning Hancock Village for apartments?

Issue (2) might be of more interest to the second Brookline lawsuit–against the Zoning Board of Appeals, seeking to overturn the “comprehensive permit” the zoning appeals board granted this year. However, it was also cited in the first lawsuit–against MDFA. There it was opposed by CHR lawyers, through one of the summary judgment motions Judge Brady allowed–boosting the 1946 agreement into an early appellate orbit.

Project eligibility letter: Issue (1) arguments pressed by the Town of Brookline against MDFA claim the agency failed to follow state regulations. Under 760 CMR 56.04(4)(b), those require an agency reviewing a 40B project to consider whether a site is “generally appropriate for residential development” and whether a “conceptual project design is generally appropriate for the site.”

In both instances, state regulations require a “finding, with supporting reasoning, to be set forth in reasonable detail.” The Town of Brookline asserted that the agency merely recited, like cookbook exercises, the types of 760 CMR 56 findings it would need to make but did not explain them with “supporting reasoning” of any kind, much less with “reasonable detail.” [Plaintiff's initial brief, pp. 25-27]

The Town of Brookline asserted it has no useful remedy other than a lawsuit, because a change to state regulations in 2008–apparently made for the convenience of the state Housing Appeals Committee–relabeled agency findings for project eligibility letters “conclusive” and eliminated administrative reviews. [Plaintiff's initial brief, pp. 27-29]

For issue (1) MDFA owns the heavy lifting. Its response was bulked up with dozens of pages of regulations, case memoranda and official announcements. However, the gist of the defense came down to a bald assertion that a project eligibility letter is “merely an interim step” in project approval, quoting a Massachusetts case made obsolete by 2008 changes to state regulations. [Defendant's brief from MDFA, p. 1, quoting Town of Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Authority, Court of Appeals, 2007]

The brief filed for MDFA danced around Brookline’s arguments about lack of justification for a project eligibility letter. It tried to treat a summary judgment allowed in superior court, after a brief hearing during a motion session, as though it were a settled matter of law. Instead, the purpose of an appeals case is to examine reasoning applied by a lower court. [Defendant's brief from MDFA, p. 7] [Standard of review, in Plaintiff's initial brief, p. 13]

For this case, there is little reasoning from a lower court to be examined. At Norfolk Superior Court, Judge Brady merely stated that he “remain[ed] of the view that [the Marion case] applies,” without explaining why it should–over arguments from the Town of Brookline that changes in state regulations made it obsolete. [Plaintiff's initial brief, pp. 23, 27-29 and 31-33]

The brief filed for MDFA also claimed that the state provides for a “post-permit review”–apparently meaning administrative procedures after a “comprehensive permit” has been granted. However, post-permit procedures do not include comments, and they focus on “cost examination.” There is no process for an appellant to challenge whether a site is “appropriate for residential development” or whether a “conceptual project design” is “appropriate for the site.” [Massachusetts regulations 760 CMR 56.04(7), final approval]

As the Town of Brookline observed, without a court review “of project eligibility, abutters [including the Town of Brookline] are left without any meaningful recourse.” They might have a further opportunity for administrative review only if the developer were dissatisfied with Brookline zoning appeals board actions and sought relief from the state Housing Appeals Committee. However, CHR representatives stated at a public hearing that they were satisfied with outcomes from the zoning appeals board. [Plaintiff's reply brief, p. 6]

The brief filed for CHR also opposed court review of a project eligibility letter, ignoring 2008 revisions to state regulations that closed off administrative appeals and claiming project eligibility is not a “final agency action.” CHR accused the Town of Brookline of trying to subvert purposes of Chapter 40B, Sections 20-23 with “lengthy and expensive delays occasioned by court battles.” [Defendant's brief from CHR, p. 19]

In response, the Town of Brookline quoted the court opinion in the same case CHR referenced, “…interest in…affordable housing must be balanced against…protection of health and safety…and preservation of open space.” [Plaintiff's reply brief, p. 8, quoting Standerwick v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover, Supreme Judicial Court, 2006]

Like MDFA, CHR did not respond to the Town of Brookline’s argument that “post-permit review” leaves no process for an appellant to challenge whether a site is “appropriate for residential development” and whether a “conceptual project design” is “appropriate for the site.” [Defendant's brief from CHR, pp. 23-25] [Massachusetts regulations 760 CMR 56.04(7), final approval]

Contract zoning restrictions: Issue (2) arguments pressed by the Town of Brookline against MDFA and CHR claim the proposed project would violate terms of a 1946 agreement with the Town of Brookline by the John Hancock Life Insurance Company. For this issue CHR owns the heavy lifting, since its financial interests are at stake.

At Norfolk Superior Court, MDFA and CHR claimed that any requirements from the 1946 agreement had been extinguished after 30 years by Chapter 184, Section 23 of the General Laws. However, that law governs recorded deed restrictions. Previous Massachusetts cases held that it does not limit public agreements, including ones sometimes called “contract zoning.” [Plaintiff's initial brief, pp. 3-4 and 14-19, quoting Killorin v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover, Court of Appeals, 2011]

The Appeals Court may regard the Killorin case as particularly relevant, since two of the three judges who heard that case have been assigned to the current Brookline case: Elspeth B. Cypher and Sydney Hanlon. The Town of Brookline asserts that it has a continuing interest in the 1946 agreement, that the proposed project would violate the agreement and that at Norfolk Superior Court Judge Brady conducted a “myopic review,” finding the Killorin decision applied only to a special zoning permit. [Plaintiff's initial brief, p. 21]

The brief filed for CHR did not respond forthrightly to arguments from the Town of Brookline. Instead, CHR asserted, “It is settled…restrictions which burden land such as those contained in the 1946 agreement can only be enforced for a period of 30 years.” However, whether or not that may be true is a main dispute in the current Appeals Court case. Wishing won’t make it so. [Defendant's brief from CHR, p. 28]

The CHR brief repeated arguments offered at Norfolk Superior Court, saying that the Killorin case “involved conditions imposed on a property by a special zoning permit.” However, the court’s summary of its decision shows it regarded special permits as examples, writing that the law at issue “did not apply to conditions or restrictions set by a government agency such as a local zoning board of appeals as part of the process of granting a special permit. [Defendant's brief from CHR, p. 28] [Killorin v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover, Court of Appeals, 2011, emphasis added]

CHR based its brief on selected quotations from court opinions, trying to argue that exceptions to the law limiting deed restrictions to 30 years applied only to special zoning permits or subdivision control, topics under which cases arose. A recent Appeals Court decision expressed a broader view, as the Town of Brookline argued in its response. [Plaintiff's reply brief, pp. 10-11]

The recent decision said, “The holding of Killorin does not turn on the identify of the local board or on the particular nature of the regulatory decision at issue.” It explained that “the key distinction was…the discretionary grant…under the police power”–that is, the general regulatory powers of a municipality. [Samuelson v. Planning Board of Orleans, Court of Appeals, 2014]

Analysis: In its fairly aggressive reaction to the project eligibility letter issued by MDFA, the Town of Brookline appears to be pursuing a strong remedy, seeking early intervention by a superior court rather than waiting for a “comprehensive permit” and then asking for intervention from the Land Court, as Brookline now has also done.

The main argument for early intervention by a superior court has been a claim that 2008 revisions of state regulations closed off avenues for administrative appeals. MDFA and CHR objected that no right to early intervention is provided by state law, but they did not address an equity argument that administrative remedies formerly available have been withdrawn.

In bidding to sustain a 1946 contract zoning agreement, the Town of Brookline is also treading on unusual territory. So far, no one has cited another such agreement by a Massachusetts town that was brought to a town meeting rather than negotiated through a planning board or zoning appeals board. The extensions from circumstances of prior cases may seem obvious, but they are hardly foregone conclusions.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 12, 2015


Docket for case number 2014-P-1817, Town of Brookline and others v. Massachusetts Development Finance Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, filed November 14, 2014

Plaintiff’s initial brief, Case 2014-P-1817, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, January 12, 2015 (missing the preamble and table indexes)

Defendant’s brief from MDFA, Case 2014-P-1817, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, February 11, 2015 (11 MB, too large for the Brookline Beacon site, obtainable at Brookline Office of Town Counsel)

Defendant’s brief from CHR, Case 2014-P-1817, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, February 11, 2015 (10 MB, too large for the Brookline Beacon site, obtainable at Brookline Office of Town Counsel)

Plaintiff’s reply brief, Case 2014-P-1817, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, March 13, 2015 (4 MB)

Project eligibility letter, issued to Residences of South Brookline c/o Chestnut Hill Realty, Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, October 8, 2013

Draft denial of project eligibility, addressed to Residences of South Brookline c/o Chestnut Hill Realty, Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, February 13, 2013 (obtained by Town of Brookline via discovery)

Comprehensive permits [under Chapter 40B], Massachusetts regulations 760 CMR 56, Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, 2015 (current version)

Martha Samuelson and another v. Planning Board of Orleans and others, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 901, July 2, 2014

Eric H. Killorin and others v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover and another, 80 Mass.App.Ct. 665, October 14, 2011

Town of Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Authority, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 208, February 12, 2007

Eileen Standerwick and others v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover and another, 447 Mass. 20, June 16, 2006

Land Court: Dueling boards, Selectmen v. Zoning Appeals, Brookline Beacon, September 5, 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

Town boards: special tokes for “special” folks

Members of town boards, commissions, committees and councils may become “special municipal employees” when they are not performing paid duties as regular municipal employees. Such a classification is not automatic in most cases but must be established by a vote of a board of selectmen in a Massachusetts town. Such a vote will apply to all who hold a specified type of position and not to particular individuals.

The “special” people: A “special” designation allows lawyers on a regulatory board to hear and decide cases that are presented by other lawyers in the firm where they work, as long as they did not participate in those particular cases. The “special” people can work and be paid in arrangements for town business as long as their duties for town boards or agencies do not involve the particular arrangements. Those remain dubious practices–more understandable in a small rural town with few lawyers, professionals and businesses than in an large urban town with many of each.

Members of a board of selectmen in a large town are not eligible for “special” designation, whether or not they are paid for serving. Others who receive pay for municipal work are generally not eligible unless they perform 800 or fewer hours of paid municipal work a year.

The Brookline Board of Selectmen is known to have awarded the “special” designation to members of the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Housing Advisory Board. Participation in various matters that could be viewed as conflicts of interest suggest that Planning Board, Transportation Board and Building Commission members might also enjoy “special” status.

A list of organizations with “special” status is supposed to be “on file” in the town clerk’s office. During former years that some have come to regard as flirting with corruption, members of many town boards, commissions, committees and councils are said to have been designated as “special.” However, no list of Brookline’s “special” designations could be found on the municipal Web site.

Training on the laws: At this year’s fall town meeting, scheduled for November 17, Article 8 seeks to require training about laws on conflicts of interest for town meeting members. Some will have already received training because they are also members of town boards, commissions, committees and councils or because they volunteered for it.

Section 3.20.1 of Brookline’s general bylaws–enacted under Article 18 at the May 23, 2006, annual town meeting–applies to members of town boards, commissions, committees and councils. It requires attending training sessions about laws on conflicts of interest and open meeting requirements, organized by the Office of Town Counsel in Brookline.

Article 8 at this fall’s town meeting would allow watching an online lecture about laws on conflicts of interest and requires no training on open meeting requirements. Practical experience has shown that training sessions organized by the Office of Town Counsel proved more effective than lectures, because of questions and answers reflecting specific, local situations.

A list of members of town boards, commissions, committees and councils who have received required training is supposed to be “on file” in the town clerk’s office. However, no such list could be found on the municipal Web site.

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


Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Special town employees, in Minutes, Brookline, MA, Board of Selectmen, June 2, 2009, see pp. 6-7

Special municipal employees, Massachusetts State Ethics Commission, 1992

General bylaws, Town of Brookline, MA, November 18, 2014 (3 MB)

Special municipal employee, defined in Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 268A, Section 1, paragraph (n)

Craig Bolon, Open meetings in government: groping toward transparency, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2014

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

New England gas pipelines: need versus greed

Brookline residents may have heard about protests over a natural gas pipeline in a rural area or found a diatribe on the needs for or the evils of pipelines. As with many energy issues, information from state governments, industry sources and advocacy groups may be compromised: patronizing, frozen into agendas or blind to practical affairs.

New England gas pipelines: New England has no natural gas resources, and until 1953 it had no natural gas distribution. In Brookline and other urban areas, fuel gas was manufactured by heating coal with water, producing a flammable but poisonous mix of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and hydrocarbons–leaving toxic coal ash. The current New England land-based supply of natural gas, up to 3.6 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), is provided by five long-distance pipelines (listed with delivery capacity to New England):

Name of line Bcf/d Start Sources
Tennessee 1.26 1953 Gulf, Southwest
Algonquin 1.09 1953 Gulf, Southwest
Maritime & NE 0.83 1999 Canada east
Iroquois 0.22 1993 Canada west
Portland 0.15 1999 Canada west

 

Major New England gas pipelines

NewEnglandPipelines2000
Source: U.S. Department of Energy

In addition, New England is served by four ocean import terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG), with total capacity about 3.2 Bcf/d. However, because of high prices in overseas markets, during 2011 through 2014 only the Distrigas terminal in Everett, adjacent to Boston Harbor, received deliveries. The operator, GDF Suez, had long-term contracts at favorable prices.

A west-to-east pipeline entering through Connecticut was built by Algonquin Gas Transmission Co. of Boston, a partner with Texas Eastern Transmission Co., operating lines from the Gulf and Southwest. A west-to-east pipeline entering through Massachusetts was built by Northeastern Gas Transmission Co. of Springfield, MA, a partner with Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., also operating lines from the Gulf and Southwest.

Fierce competition over rights to New England territories was resolved in 1953. The former Federal Power Commission (since 1977 FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) allowed both companies to operate in separate territories. By that point, they had substantially completed the two pipelines.

The Northeastern line was later acquired by Tennessee Gas Pipeline, now a division of Kinder Morgan of Houston, TX. It is currently designated as part of the Tennessee pipeline system. The Algonquin line now operates as a division of Spectra Energy of Houston, TX. Since 1954, the two lines have been interconnected at Southington, CT, where they cross, tending to limit monopoly power of either company.

New gas pipeline capacity: In recent years, owners of the two largest New England pipelines began new competition, proposing major expansions. As Prof. Christopher Castaneda of California State at Sacramento described in his 1993 book, Regulated Enterprise, during the early 1950s Tennessee Gas Pipeline aimed not only to dominate New England markets but also to export natural gas to Canada.

Under Kinder Morgan management, the Tennessee pipeline company appears to have begun playing the same games again. Its current play, up to 2.2 Bcf/d, most recently called Northeast Direct, has been promoted for over three years to state and local governments and modified at least twice but still not formally proposed to FERC.

Northeast Direct needs major new rights of way. It was first proposed across northern Massachusetts. After strong protests, it was rerouted early this year, partly through southern New Hampshire. As of April, 2015, according to Northeast Gas Association, Northeast Direct had customers for only about 23 percent of the proposed capacity. Excess capacity appears useful mainly to reverse flows along the Maritime & Northeast line, sending U.S. gas northward into eastern Canada, where there are few current, underserved customers.

Proposed and current New England gas pipelines

NewEnglandPipelinesProposed2015
Source: U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Instead of one big play, Spectra developed three smaller ones, mostly using existing rights of way for the Algonquin line. Its Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) was approved by FERC in March, 2015, and is now underway. AIM will provide 0.34 Bcf/day increase in capacity, adding about 37 miles of pipeline and raising compressor power at stations in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Another Spectra play called Atlantic Bridge, not yet formally proposed to FERC, would add compressor power at two stations in Connecticut and at Weymouth, MA. The latter connects to Beverly, MA, and to the Maritime & Northeast line via the Hubline–completed under Boston Harbor in 2003. Apparently unable to attract enough customers, this spring Spectra reduced proposed capacity from 0.22 to 0.13 Bcf/d. The Hubline was built for north-to-south flow, supplied from Canada, but Atlantic Bridge appears intended to reverse the direction, sending U.S. gas northward, potentially into Canada.

The largest Spectra play is called Access Northeast, also not yet formally proposed to FERC. It would add up to 1.0 Bcf/d through changes along current Algonquin rights of way. New England’s largest two electricity distributors, Eversource (formerly NStar) and National Grid, recently proposed to invest in 60 percent of that project.

Involvement in a long-distance gas pipeline is outside the charters of Eversource and National Grid. They are local electricity distributors, not generation companies, transmission companies or long-distance pipeline operators. It would tend to put them into gross conflicts of interest, selling wholesale gas delivery to generating plants from which they buy wholesale electricity.

More natural gas capacity?: Does New England need more natural-gas pipeline capacity? The most prominent evidence from pipeline companies and their business allies has been electricity price spikes in mid-winter–strong during early 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Monthly electricity prices, Jan. 2010 through Jul. 2015

IsoNeMonthlyHubDayAhead2010to2015
Source: ISO New England data, August, 2015

Long-term contracts caused natural gas to be allocated to heating customers, limiting supplies at combined cycle, natural gas-fired plants that generate the largest share of New England electricity. During 2013 and 2014, ISO New England coordinated “winter reliability programs”–installing burners and filling tanks with refined fuel oil and liquefied petroleum gas at some generating plants.

The ISO New England pilot program in early 2014 was ineffective, but the next one in early 2015 appeared to moderate price spikes. That program was helped by a milder winter and by prices of crude oil falling since July, 2014, which lowered worldwide prices of natural gas and led to renewed ocean imports. The annual average wholesale electricity prices through March 31, from April 1 of the previous year, show the sway of the ISO New England price bulge in early 2014 and the more moderate average prices before and since.
Through March 31, 2011……..$0.051 per kWh
Through March 31, 2012……..$0.040 per kWh
Through March 31, 2013……..$0.050 per kWh
Through March 31, 2014……..$0.071 per kWh
Through March 31, 2015……..$0.050 per kWh

Pipeline promoters claim New England suffers from a shortage in natural gas delivery capacity of 2 Bcf/d or more. However, their estimates are for worst cases, they apply to only 5 to 7 weeks in deep winter and they assume no added ocean imports. Operators of natural-gas ocean import terminals say they have more than enough capacity to supply winter needs and say lower worldwide gas prices make that financially reasonable.

Since spring, Maura Healey, elected last year as attorney general of Massachusetts, has urged caution on gas pipeline projects. Assistant Attorney General Christina Belew of the Energy and Telecommunications Division called the proposed projects “an inefficient expense…units added would be minimally utilized.” Ms. Healey’s office contracted with Analysis Group of Boston for a comprehensive study of “energy resource options to meet [electrical] reliability needs” through 2030, now underway and to be completed by October.

Industry greed: For about 60 years, starting around 1950, New England natural gas prices remained higher than prices elsewhere in the U.S. In the 1970s and 1980s, imports of natural gas to Boston Harbor from Algeria and later from Jamaica proved favorable. Starting around 2010, gas from Appalachian shale began to reduce prices in the Northeast. Recent natural gas prices in New England and New York have often been lower than U.S. averages.

U.S. natural gas prices, September, 2014

NaturalGasSpotPricesFerc20140930
Source: U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

As oversupply emerged in Appalachian shale gas and prices started to fall, pipeline companies began to see opportunities. In 2013, FERC allowed Millenium Pipeline Co. a capacity enhancement for the Empire line into the New York City area. In December, 2014, FERC approved an application from the Williams Co. of Tulsa, OK, to build a new Constitution pipeline from the eastern Pennsylvania gas fields to Wright Township, Schoharie County, NY–a major pipeline interconnection junction.

In February of this year, Repsol, which has operated the Canaport ocean import terminal for LNG in New Brunswick since 2008, applied for a permit to build an export terminal, at 0.75 Bcf/d. The terminal is connected via the Brunswick pipeline to the Maritime & Northeast pipeline. Declining gas production in eastern Canada could not sustain Canaport exports. Instead, the recent proposal appears to be a year-round opportunity for the Spectra and Kinder Morgan projects to ship gas for international export.

In August of this year, the National Energy Board of Canada awarded a license to Pieridae Energy to export LNG from Goldboro, Nova Scotia. Like Canaport, Pieridae would lack a reliable supply of Canadian gas and need to draw on U.S. pipelines. The U.S. Department of Energy previously approved a permit allowing Pieridae to export 0.80 Bcf/d of U.S. natural gas through its Nova Scotia facility.

Traditionally, pipeline promoters tend to wrap themselves in patriotic garb and promise prosperity, but history indicates they have only been interested in profit. Low prices for Appalachian shale gas and high overseas prices obviously point toward setting up ocean exports from the East Coast. Such a process would couple Appalachian gas into international markets–likely raising prices for New England.

New England is unlikely to be well served by encouraging new natural gas pipelines, when it can probably manage demands for electricity through conservation, increased efficiency, added renewable sources, short-term fuel substitution and ocean imports of natural gas. Utility sponsorship of a pipeline project could be disastrous, loading ratepayers with year-long costs in exchange for only month-long benefits and enriching pipeline promoters through public subsidies–feeding industry greed instead of meeting public need.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 29, 2015


Natural gas in New England, New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission, 2015

Thomas Dukes, The expanding role of natural gas imports in meeting increased gas demand in New England, U.S. Department of Energy, 2000

Paul L. Joskow, Natural gas: from shortages to abundance in the U.S., American Economic Review, 103(3):338-343, 2013

Tux Turkel, Deliveries of liquefied natural gas, Portland (ME) Press Herald, February 1, 2015

New England spoils, in Christopher James Castaneda, Regulated Enterprise: Natural Gas Pipelines and Northeastern Markets, 1938-1954, Ohio State University Press, 1993, pp. 144-166

Tennessee Gas Pipeline div., Kinder Morgan, Natural gas delivery capacity, Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, June, 2015

Tom Kiley, Regional gas market update, Northeast Gas Association, April 22, 2015

Order issuing certificate (Spectra AIM project), U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, March 3, 2015

Kinder Morgan confirms anchor shippers for Northeast Energy Direct project, Kinder Morgan (Houston, TX), March 5, 2015

Atlantic Bridge project, Spectra Energy (Houston, TX), 2015

Access Northeast project, Spectra Energy (Houston, TX), 2015

2014 Annual Markets Report, ISO New England, May 20, 2015

Planned pipeline enhancements, Northeast Gas Association, July, 2015

Jon Chesto, Report disputes need for more gas pipelines, Boston Globe, August 23, 2015

Analysis of alternative winter reliability solutions for New England energy markets, Energyzt Advisors (Boston, MA), August, 2015

Winter reliability analysis of New England energy markets, Energyzt Advisors (Boston, MA), October, 2014

Andy Metzger, Attorney General Maura Healey urges caution on building new natural gas pipelines, Springfield (MA) Republican, June 17, 2015

Jay Fitzgerald, Distrigas says fuel deals should prevent future gas shortages, Boston Globe, May 10, 2015

Office to lead regional gas capacity study, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, July 6, 2015

Christina H. Belew to Mark D. Marini, Investigation by the Department of Public Utilities into the means by which new natural gas delivery capacity may be added to the New England market, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, July 6, 2015

Winter 2014-2015 energy market prediction, U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, October 16, 2014

Repsol subsidiary files application to import U.S. gas supplies for export as LNG from Canaport terminal, Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan (Washington, DC), February 13, 2015

U.S. DOE export decision moves Nova Scotia LNG project ahead, Platt’s Oilgram, May 26, 2015

J. Craig Anderson, Maine’s plan to lower energy costs too expensive, says consultant, Portland (ME) Press Herald, July 15, 2015

Craig Altemose, Emerging reality of gas infrastructure: destination export, Huffington Post, July 10, 2015

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

Craig Bolon, Fall town meeting: pipe dreams, Brookline Beacon, December 4, 2014

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

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

Broadband telecommunications: Brookline-based services

Brookline has had multiple telecommunications services for over 30 years, but they are so different in structure and focus that there has been far less competition than an outsider might expect. Once established, companies tend to march in place.

Resident companies: Resident telecommunications companies in Brookline–newest to oldest–are RCN beginning 1993, Comcast beginning 2006 (originally Times Mirror 1981, then Cox 1995) and Verizon beginning 2000 (originally New England Telephone 1883, then NYNEX 1984, then Bell Atlantic 1997). These companies all have cables under or above streets serving nearly all Brookline businesses and residences.

Each of the companies has a different base of technology and a different service focus. Verizon and its predecessors offered only analog telephones to the general public for more than 70 years. Eventually, the telephone services could be used for digital data by connecting them through modems, starting in the 1950s.

Comcast and its predecessors focused on cable television. The frequencies and bandwidth were much too great to be carried over Verizon’s copper wire pairs, or so it was thought at first, giving this succession of companies another type of natural monopoly for a time.

RCN focused on Internet services at first but also provided cable television. The bandwidth needed for thousands of broadband Internet channels was a step beyond that needed for tens of television channels, giving this company a natural monopoly for a time.

Technologies: Founding eras of the original companies led to different bases of technology. Verizon has a network of copper wire pairs, some over 100 years old, installed for analog telephone service. Comcast has foil-over-foam coaxial cables, a technology advance of the 1960s for video signals. RCN has fiber-optic cables, a fully digital technology practical on a municipal scale by the late 1980s.

For more than a decade, all three resident companies have offered a mix of similar services. All promote so-called “bundles” of telephone, television and Internet services but also sell separate services. A key element for Verizon is so-called DSL (digital subscriber line) technology, transmitting broadband signals over copper wire pairs for up to about 3 miles–thought impossible or impractical before the middle 1990s.

Since the middle 1990s, Comcast and its predecessors have encountered an increasing frequency of signal quality problems, according to Stephen Bressler, who was for many years telecommunications coordinator for Brookline. Their cable technologies are usually regarded as reliable for around 20 years, and cables are now well beyond that nominal service life.

Except in small patches, Comcast, recently rebranded as Xfinity, does not seem willing to renew its main infrastructure. Customer service personnel are described often as unresponsive and sometimes as worse. Of about 180 Yelp reviews for the Boston area as of August, 2015, all but three rated the Comcast (Xfinity) service at “one star,” the lowest rating–an astonishingly negative set of reviews.

RCN fares better with online reviews but hardly well. Many complaints concern erratic Internet and poor response to outages. Remember that with cable Internet one is sharing bandwidth with neighbors, predictably causing slower response at popular times of day. RCN will not install premise wiring. One will need to provide coaxial cable between the service connection and the point of use.

If trying RCN for Internet, it’s probably best to buy one’s own cable modem rather than rent from RCN. Complaints suggest that RCN tends to shrug off problems with cable modems, including those the company supplies. The cost will typically be recovered in about a year. Check with RCN to see that a prospective unit has been approved for use with their cable service.

Verizon experiences increasing problems maintaining broadband Internet over its aging copper wires. Every August, temporary installation crews come in to help with changes when large numbers of tenants typically move. Most are not familiar with Brookline wiring and equipment. They predictably create large numbers of problems that can sometimes take weeks to resolve. Paper-ribbon, 19 AWG wire-pairs from the 1920s and paper-pulp, 22 AWG improvements from the 1930s are fragile and suffer from humidity.

DSL can be a tricky service to use and maintain. Technologically skilled people can get considerable help from DSL Reports online. Verizon may have sold more DSL service in Brookline than it can reliably provide. The company cannot readily expand capacity, owing to decades of shortsighted practices. Newer cable segments jammed alongside older ones, without reorganizing wire pairs, have clogged the space in underground ducts. Some technicians say long-term records of wire-pair assignments by cable segment have become haphazard.

Competition: Obviously knowing that it operates the most capable technology, RCN resists offering price competition, although it now sells unbundled services. As of summer, 2015, its lowest performance Internet service is priced on a par with Verizon’s highest priced DSL but delivers about three times the bandwidth that Verizon usually provides, when Verizon DSL services are working well.

However, after the first year, RCN hikes the price of its lowest performance Internet service in steps until it costs about twice as much as Verizon’s highest priced DSL service. Comcast (Xfinity) does not look as though it intends to compete. Reliability of its service has been reported as so dim for so long that only unwitting prospects, who have not learned about problems, and those who find themselves locked in because of apartment wiring seem particularly likely to become new customers.

During leadership by Brookline resident Ivan Seidenberg, from 2000 through the end of 2011, Verizon promoted a fiber optic Internet service called FIOS. Verizon accepted billions of dollars in federal subsidies when committing to install that service. FIOS remains unavailable to nearly all locations in Brookline, and it might never become available. Equipment was reportedly installed in Brookline, but it has reached few if any homes and businesses. Nationwide, FIOS availability is very spotty, as shown in a coverage map prepared by an independent organization.

U.S. availability, Verizon and Frontier FIOS, 2014

FiosMap2014Techdirt
Source: adapted from Techdirt (Mike Masnick)

Unlike the original map, which tries to show “percentage” of coverage with shading, the above, reduced scale map has been altered to a uniform color where at least some coverage was reported. The “percentage” map was clearly missing actual conditions in areas of metropolitan Boston. The original, full scale map and information about how it was assembled are available from Fiber for All of Sarasota, FL.

AT&T claims to be developing a competitive fiber optic network to be called U-Verse, but no such Internet service has been reported as available anywhere in Massachusetts, only telephone and television services that may or may not be distributed by fiber optics.

Regulation: Brookline is now unable to monitor or investigate telecommunications services. After the retirement of Mr. Bressler last year, Brookline has effectively had no regulation. No one on town staff and no member of a standing board or committee has the needed combination of technical knowledge and business experience. Anyone able to perform such work competently would make an unlikely candidate to tolerate the political committee appointments and domineering practices of the current, technologically challenged Board of Selectmen.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 22, 2015


Raymond Bartnikas, Cables: a chronological perspective, in Bartnikas and Srivastava, eds., Power and Communication Cables: Theory and Applications, Wiley, 2003, pp. 1-75 (12 MB)

Sean Buckley, Frontier will expand FIOS in markets it purchased from Verizon, Fierce Telecom (Washington, DC), May 22, 2015

Phillip Dampier, In Massachusetts, Verizon FIOS arrives for some but not others, Stop the Cap (Rochester, NY), 2013

Hiawatha Bray, Cable provider RCN banks on better service to drive growth, Boston Globe, August 11, 2012

Compare Comcast in Brookline, DirecTV (El Segundo, CA), 2015

Renewable energy: New England experience

Budding environmentalists in urban New England mostly have yet to meet counterparts in the mountain areas of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. They have related concerns, but they also have far different outlooks. Some urbanites are lathered up over renewable energy, although few have practical experience producing any. Many northerners have come to regard urban energy campaigns as attacks on their living environments.

Costs of energy: For several years, the U.S. Department of Energy has published annual estimates of levelized costs for electricity from new plants of different types. They are independent of state subsidies, and they break out federal subsidies, making it possible to compare full, social costs of electrical energy–whether they are paid by private or public funding. The 2015 U.S. national estimates for unsubsidized wholesale electricity costs from the major types of new generation include:

National electricity source per kWh CF
Land-based wind farms $0.074 36%
Natural gas, combined cycle $0.075 87%
Third-generation nuclear $0.095 90%
Solar photovoltaic farms $0.125 25%
Petroleum peaking plants $0.142 30%
Ocean-based wind farms $0.197 38%

For wind and solar, a critical element that varies with location is capacity factor, CF: the actual average output divided by the peak rated output. National assumptions proved optimistic for wind and solar in New England, where the typical long-term average capacity factors have been documented at about 24% for land-based wind farms (in Maine) and at about 13% for solar farms (by DC ratings). Keep in mind that retail electricity rates add transmission and distribution charges, averaging about $0.12 per kWh for New England residential customers last year.

Major New England sources: Since costs of wind and solar power are dominated by capital, national costs per kWh need adjustment for New England. The region currently benefits from average natural gas prices lower than national averages, and experience with wholesale gas-fired electricity prices across New England has been more favorable than U.S. averages. As adjusted, unsubsidized wholesale electricity costs for the major types of new generation sources in New England become:

New England electricity source per kWh
Natural gas, combined cycle $0.06
Land-based wind farms $0.11
Solar photovoltaic farms $0.24

The full, social cost of wholesale electricity from land-based wind farms in New England, including public subsidies, is about twice the cost of wholesale electricity from the combined-cycle, natural gas-fired plants that produce the largest share of the region’s power. So far, there has been no New England experience with ocean-based wind farms.

Alternatives have not yet proven successful. New England generates much more energy burning wood and waste than it gets from wind and solar, but pollution around wood and waste plants is causing health hazards. The region is unlikely to accept more environmental burdens from wood and waste. Attempts to extract energy from ocean waves and geothermal sources have stalled because of equipment failures and high costs.

When we do commit to spend money in New England for renewable energy in order to provide environmental benefits, for the amount we spend we get about twice the benefits buying energy from land-based wind farms as we get buying energy from solar farms. However, state and federal subsidies have distorted finances, as seen by nearly all the public, tending to promote socially unsound investments.

Obstacles: In Massachusetts, former Gov. Patrick began service in 2007 with enthusiasm for building wind farms. However, most projects were small. During his two terms, 36 wind projects opened, but their total average output is only about 27 MW–about one part in 230 of the state’s average 6,310 MW electricity draw in 2013. Protests gathered over dangers, health hazards and conservation issues. Massachusetts offers few wind turbine locations that are a mile or more from homes and worksites.

Former Gov. Patrick’s second term pulled away from wind and began promoting solar projects with major subsidies. A large but hidden subsidy involves so-called “net metering.” That allows many projects to send electricity into the grid and get full credit at retail prices. The effect is to exempt owners of those projects from paying a fair share of costs to maintain the distribution network. All the other customers wind up paying those costs for them.

Starting in 2011, the Shumlin administration in Vermont soon copied the Patrick administration. After an early courtship of wind power, it backed away and began promoting solar farms. Vermont was left with three fairly large wind projects–Sheffield, Lowell Mountain and Georgia Mountain. Despite a far smaller population, it hosts more installed wind capacity than Massachusetts.

The major wind-power state in New England has long been Maine. It hosts about 52 percent of the region’s installed capacity. However, current Gov. LePage opposes expansion, saying wind is too expensive. Now that he has replaced nearly all appointees of his predecessor, former Gov. Baldacci, disapprovals of wind projects have multiplied. Boston-based First Wind, once the state’s leading developer, gave up and sold out to TerraForm of Maryland.

Comparisons: Contrary to some impressions, New England made a late start and achieved only slow growth in wind generation of electricity. The region’s track record in solar electricity has been even later and slower. Each of the leading wind states–Texas, California and Iowa–vastly outperformed all the New England states combined.

Installed wind capacities of states

StateWindCapacity1999to2014
Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Scaled by measures of state size, discrepancies between high-achieving states and New England states remain large. Measured by state populations, the installed wind capacities in peak watts per person for 2014:
Iowa………. 1831
Texas………. 523
California….. 152
New England….. 58
Installed wind capacity in New England is also well behind the national average of 132 peak watts per person.

New England’s largest untapped source of land-based wind power is among the Longfellow Mountains–as known since 1959–in the far northwest of Maine. Aside from strong winds, key advantages and key limitations are the same: remoteness and very sparse population. There are no major transmission lines. Nearly all the infrastructure would have to be built from scratch. For wind power, that is very costly.

Transmission lines have to be scaled by peak loads they service. A line serving large wind farms, running at only 25 percent capacity factor, costs much more than a line carrying the same average load serving a large gas-fired generator, running at 75 percent capacity factor. So far, no company has been willing to propose a transmission network for the Longfellow Mountains, so of course no wind farms are being built there.

By national standards, New England wind and solar power are rounding errors, only about one part in 50 of the region’s electricity. However, because they are so small they can be carried at nearly negligible costs by current infrastructure: transmission lines and natural gas-fired and nuclear generators. Were they more successful, costs of integration into the power grid would become far more than are currently included in the levelized cost estimates from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Imagination: Every New England state now has a “renewable portfolio” law. For 2015, these require that 8 to 19 percent of electricity be obtained from “renewable” sources. Averaged by electricity use, they set a combined requirement for 2015 of 12 percent “renewable” electricity. So far, the New England laws amount to a political joke. For 2014, New England obtained only 2.1 percent of electricity from wind and solar sources. So-called “requirements” of New England laws are met only through creative relabeling, exceptions, excuses and outright scams.

Some enthusiasts and political operators continue to imagine that people can somehow increase the supply of renewable energy merely by adding to the demand. They promote a variety of top-heavy schemes, including arbitrary escalators on “renewable portfolios” and community power-purchase programs. They ignore markets, which do what they will with supplies and demands. Demand for wind and solar power in New England already outpaces supply by about 6 to 1. When people run up demand without increasing supply, prices rise. Adam Smith told about that.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 15, 2015


Levelized cost of new generation, U.S. Energy Information Administration, April, 2015

U.S. wind capacity factors, National Wind Watch, March, 2013

Winter 2014-2015 energy market assessment, U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, October, 2014

Installed wind capacity, U.S. Department of Energy, 2015

Jon Black, Photovoltaic energy forecast update, ISO New England, September, 2014

Marley Jay, Maine governor: wind power is too expensive, Portsmouth (ME) Herald, April 4, 2015

Jon Chesto, Here’s why First Wind’s backers decided to sell, Boston Business Journal, November 19, 2014

State renewable portfolio standards and goals, National Conference of State Legislatures, July, 2015

Donald Bryson and Jeff Glendening, States are unplugging their renewable-energy mandates, Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2015

John Herrick, Electricity supplier won’t buy Vermont renewable energy credits, Vermont Digger, May 19, 2014

Ivy Main, Dominion Power’s wind and solar facade, Washington Post, December 29, 2011

George Taylor and Thomas Tanton, Hidden costs of wind electricity, American Tradition Institute, 2012

Craig Bolon, Rhode Island: offshore wind-power, winning and losing, Brookline Beacon, July 26, 2015

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

Saga of a song: Happy Birthday to You

A chain of disputes over rights to the Happy Birthday song–a controversy now stretching over more than 80 years–recently enjoyed a revival with a federal lawsuit being heard in California. It was brought by Jenn Nelson, a video producer in New York who has been assembling a documentary about the saga. A key, unresolved issue throughout long controversy has been lack of a clearly established author of the song.

Disputes: Ms. Nelson reluctantly paid a subsidiary of Warner/Chappell Music of Los Angeles, who claim to own interest in a copyright, a royalty of $1,500–so that her video could use the song without wrangling over an infringement lawsuit. After a slow burn, she found a New York lawyer, Randall S. Newman, who was willing to challenge the copyright claim. Mr. Newman filed suit in New York on June 13, 2013, joined by Mark C. Rifkin of Wolf, Haldenstein, Adler, Freeman and Herz. The venue proved questionable, and a new complaint was filed in California later that month.

Circumstances of the Happy Birthday song have been contentious. Disputes began in 1934 with a charge against producer Sam Harris and composer Irving Berlin, who included the song in a Broadway musical without an agreement. Robert Brauneis, a professor at George Washington University Law School, explored origins of the song and legal issues about it in a 92-page journal article published in 2009, plus supplements available from the law school.

Origins: While working at the Louisville Experimental Kindergarten School in the early 1890s, Mildred Jane Hill and Patty Smith Hill composed a song with the same melody and different lyrics. Mildred Hill was a professional pianist and organist who taught at the school. Her sister Patty Hill had trained as a teacher at the school and then become principal. A pioneer in early childhood education, she later became a professor at Columbia University. The sisters collaborated on songs to appeal to and be easily learned by young children.

In 1893, the two sisters submitted a manuscript for publication to the Clayton F. Summy Co., then at 220 Wabash Ave. in Chicago. Mr. Summy published the work in 1893, 1894 and 1896 as editions of Song Stories for the Kindergarten. The first song on the first page of music was titled Good-Morning to All. It had the melody of the Happy Birthday song, but the lyrics said “good morning” instead of “happy birthday.”

Subsequently, the Clayton F. Summy Co. republished Good-Morning to All in 1899 as part of Song Stories for the Sunday School and in 1907 as a free-standing composition. In each case of publication, according the original complaint in the recent lawsuit, Mr. Summy or the Summy company applied for copyright registration and asserted that Mr. Summy or the company was “proprietor” of the work. No Summy publication included the “happy birthday” lyrics, only the “good morning” lyrics.

Changes and infringement: The trail diverged in 1912, after a large, Chicago-area piano manufacturer, The Cable Company, published and began to sell The Beginners’ Book of Songs. For a song titled Good-Morning to You, alternatives to “good morning” were shown in subtitles as “good bye” and “happy birthday.” Key, melody, main lyrics and piano arrangement were the same as Good-Morning to All in Song Stories for the Kindergarten from the Clayton F. Summy Co., still under copyright.

The Beginners’ Book of Songs, cover

BeginnersBookOfSongs1912CableCover
Source: The Cable Company, Chicago, IL, 1912

As published in The Beginners’ Book of Songs, no authorship, permission or copyright was cited for Good-Morning to You. That looks like infringement. However, this 1912 publication also introduced into commercial circulation the “happy birthday” lyrics in combination with the “good morning” melody.

Any later attempt to claim original authorship of the “happy birthday” lyrics, alone or in combination with the “good morning” melody, could suggest plagiarism. So far as can be seen in records from the recent lawsuit, neither Mildred Hill nor Patty Hill claimed authorship or left unpublished manuscripts for the “happy birthday” lyrics or for their combination with the “good morning” melody.

According to Prof. Brauneis and as recited in the original complaint for the recent lawsuit, the Clayton F. Summy Co. did not seek copyright extension for the publication of the Good-Morning to All song occurring in 1893. Later publications notwithstanding, melody and lyrics of that song could have entered the public domain when their 1893 copyright term ended in 1921 without renewal action by the “proprietor,” Clayton F. Summy or the Summy company.

From 1922 to 1927, The Cable Company published the fourth to sixteenth editions of The Everyday Song Book. Song 16 in those editions was titled Good Morning and Birthday Song. It has the melody of Good-Morning to All, transcribed from G to A-flat, with no piano arrangement and with three sets of lyrics: two with “good morning” and one with “happy birthday.” No authorship or copyright was cited. However, a note below the title said, “Special permission through courtesy of the Clayton F. Summy Co.”

Lawsuits and arguments: That situation is now presented to a federal court in the Central District of California. Judge George H. King, the chief judge of the district, has something of a mess to clear, mainly because of lapse of time but also because of several actions during the previous 81 years to prosecute a claimed but vaguely justified copyright.

Supposed rights to the Happy Birthday song may never have been enforceable. No authorship for the “happy birthday” lyrics or for their combination with the “good morning” melody appears to have been claimed at or before publication in 1912. Without an author, there is no copyright interest. [See note, below.] However, arguments in the recent case became tangled–tending to obscure some elements of copyrights.

Judge King does not have a particularly strong record when dealing with intellectual property. In Alfred Mann Foundation v. Cochlear, a patent lawsuit beginning as Central California case no. 07-cv-8108, he was overruled by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in 2010 [case no. 2009-1447], which found faulty justification from Judge King for holding that plaintiffs in the district court case lacked standing to sue.

The Clayton F. Summy Co. was sold in 1930, into what became a succession of organizations. When lawsuits began in the mid-1930s, the Happy Birthday song had been published several times before, essentially in the form it is currently performed, without claims of authorship or copyright and without prior challenges for infringement. By at least 1922 it was a known work, published in full and combining the “happy birthday” lyrics with the “good morning” melody.

Aggressive copyright prosecutions look to have begun with efforts by Jessica Hill, youngest sister of Mildred and Patty Hill, after Mildred Hill died in 1916 and Jessica Hill, who played no role in creation of their songbook, inherited a potential interest in the songs. In a brief filed July 28, 2015, Warner/Chappell argued that Jessica Hill renewed the copyright to the songbook in 1921.

In an appendix to his journal article, Prof. Brauneis argued that, as a successor in interest, Jessica Hill was entitled to obtain and hold a renewal of copyright and would have held it in trust for other family members. As renewed in 1921, the 1893 copyright for Song Stories for the Kindergarten would have expired in 1949, and the enforceable copyright to the Happy Birthday melody would have expired with it.

After 1921, Mr. Summy and the original Clayton F. Summy Co. would no longer have been the “proprietors” of copyright for Good Morning to All. Instead, Jessica Hill would have become “proprietor.” According to that logic, the Happy Birthday melody, as published by The Cable Company in 1922 and later, would have been yet another pirate edition. Its “permission” was bogus. The “happy birthday” lyrics are a different story.

Neither the 1893 songbook nor later editions of it contained the “happy birthday” lyrics, alone or in combination with the “good morning” melody. So far, briefs for Warner/Chappell have apparently failed to acknowledge lack of documented authorship and copyright coverage for the “happy birthday” lyrics, alone or in combination with the “good morning” melody, between at least 1893 and 1933.

In the 1930s, successor management of the Clayton F. Summy Co. filed for copyrights involving the Happy Birthday song. However, they were for similar works with varying piano arrangements and additional lyrics. They did not address issues arising from combining the “happy birthday” lyrics with the “good morning” melody. At those times and since, there have been allegations of copyright infringement. So far, disputes over the Happy Birthday song have been settled privately, leaving legal issues of copyright unadjudicated.

Potential outcomes: It is possible Judge King will find there have been no enforceable rights to the “happy birthday” lyrics or their combination of with the “good morning” melody, because there has been no clear evidence of authorship for the lyrics or the combination. It is also possible the judge will find potential rights connected with the melody of the Happy Birthday song were abandoned or had expired by 1922 or by 1950, either through acts or through neglect.

If the judge somehow reaches the far side of those legal chasms, he will need to decide whether the 1930s copyright filings reflect rights of original authorship to the combination of the “happy birthday” lyrics with the “good morning” melody or whether instead they concern only rights to derivative works with different piano arrangements and additional lyrics. If inclined toward finding original authorship, the judge would also need to consider potential plagiarism in the filings.

The money involved makes at least a trip to the Court of Appeals and a try at the Supreme Court likely, no matter what Judge King finds. However, pitfalls ahead for Warner/Chappell Music suggest a fair chance that in a few years the Happy Birthday song may be recognized as public-domain. Warner/Chappell Music might have to disgorge years of unearned royalties, depending on findings of culpability.

Ms. Nelson’s lawsuit already has class action recognition. It seeks to restrict copyrights currently claimed for the Happy Birthday song from covering more than specific piano arrangements and additional lyrics, and in addition it seeks injunctive relief, royalty reimbursements with interest and costs. A victory by the plaintiffs would likely draw attention to other older copyright claims, including Sherlock Holmes stories, already public-domain in the UK.

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


Note: “Without an author, there is no copyright interest.” Authorship and originality have been ingredients of copyrights since they were authorized by the U.S. Constitution in Article 1, Section 8. In Section 4, the Copyright Act of 1909 provided, “works for which copyright may be secured under this act shall include all the writings of an author.” Section 102 of the Copyright Act of 1976 narrowed the range somewhat, saying, “copyright protection subsists in original works of authorship.” A requirement of originality, expressed in case law, was made explicit under that statute.

Susanna Kim, Why Happy Birthday to You should be copyright-free, lawyers say, ABC News, July 29, 2015

Zachary Crockett, Who owns the copyright to Happy Birthday?, Priceonomics, April 14, 2015

“Until there is a work of authorship, there is no copyright interest,” U.S. Copyright Office, 2014

Good Morning to You Productions Corp., et al., v. Warner Chappell Music, Inc., et al., case 2:13-cv-4460 in the Central District of California (Los Angeles), filed June 20, 2013
(originally filed as Rupa Marya v. Warner Chappell Music, Inc., first filed as case 1:13-cv-4040 in the Southern District of New York)

Class-action complaint, case 1:13-cv-4040 in the Southern District of New York, filed June 13, 2013

Robert Brauneis, Copyright and the world’s most popular song, Journal of the Copyright Society of the U.S.A. 59:335-426, 2009
Links to text and supplements, George Washington University
Formatted text of the article, George Washington University

Jason Mazzone, Copyfraud, New York University Law Review 81(3):1026-1100, 2006

Russ Versteeg, Defining “author” for purposes of copyright, American University Law Review 45(5):1323-1366, 1996

First Publications v. Rural Telephone Service Company, U.S. Supreme Court, case no. 89-1909, 499 U.S. 340, 1991

Geraldine Fabrikant, Sound of a $25 million deal: ‘Happy Birthday’ to Warner, New York Times, December 20, 1988

The Cable Co. (Chicago, IL), Everyday Song Book, 101 Best Songs and 101 Famous Poems (advertisement), Normal Instructor and Primary Plans 31(4):4, F.A. Owen Publishing Co. (Dansville, NY), February, 1922

Clayton Frick Summy, in John W. Leonard, ed., The Book of Chicagoans, A.N. Marquis & Company, Chicago, 1905, p. 558

Board of Selectmen: new saloon and funding gap

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, August 4, started at 5:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board has gone into semi-hibernation and probably won’t meet again in August. This rambling, sometimes cornball board often pushes the biggest problems far out into the night; maybe observers might give up and sign off. The last agenda item on this particular night was a zinger.

$4 million funding gap: The town looks to be around $4 million short of money to rebuild Devotion School. To town administration, that was obviously stale news. The state had sent a funding letter on June 10. The Board of Selectmen did not put the matter on their agenda and let the public know about the problem until almost two months later.

Last May 26, town meeting voted $118.4 million for the project, told by the board and the Advisory Committee to expect $27.8 million in state aid. Six weeks later, the state came back with only $25.9 million. Adding to a $1.9 million problem, the public schools still have no place for kindergarten through fourth grade students during the project. Old Lincoln School will be full with fifth through eighth grade students.

At a morning meeting on August 4, according to board member Nancy Daly, Suffolk Construction of Boston, the general contractor, proposed to install temporary classrooms over the asphalt basketball courts behind the school along Stedman Street. That would cost another, unplanned and unfunded $1.8 million. Where can it all come from? Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, thought it could not come from the debt exclusion approved at the May 5 town election, saying voters had been “promised” some particular amount. He was mistaken.

Mr. Wishinsky apparently forgot that voters approved a project–not an amount of funds. According to state law, that is how debt exclusion questions have to be worded. Up to the times of the town election and town meeting, Brookline had only estimates of total costs and of state funding. It was in no position to make promises to anybody about amounts of funds.

The May town meeting was advised differently by the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee. The board estimated debt exclusion would apply to $49.6 million in bond funding. [on page 8-25 of the warrant report] The committee estimated debt exclusion would apply to $44.6 million. [on page 8-69 if the warrant report] The town meeting endorsed neither estimate, and it appeared not to have authorized bond funding either.

Instead, the town meeting approved a project total of $118.4 million, by a vote recorded as 222-1. Prior to the vote, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator, did not say the motion included bonding, although the margin was more than required by law for bonding. So far, no one knows how much of the approved total might come from current revenue, how much if any from bonding and how much of the latter via debt exclusion. What looks nearly certain is that the total funds approved won’t cover the total costs.

Irish saloon: In another roundabout of the evening, the board approved a large Irish saloon amid lower Beacon Street neighborhoods. Known elsewhere as Waxy O’Connor’s, the Brookline site is to be only a Waxy’s–without beer pitchers and self-serve beer taps. Brookline is getting management from Woburn, at least for a while. In Woburn, according to an online review last month, “The people at the bar were screaming, swearing and running in and out of smoking cigarettes.”

Waxy’s put on a better show than three weeks ago. Frank Spillane, the Foxborough lawyer representing the chain seeking to open at 1032 Beacon St., had reviewed Brookline regulations. Ashok Patel, the Woburn site manager, was slated to manage the Brookline site–no more questions about who the manager would be. Mr. Spillane and Mr. Patel had settled potential problems with some neighborhood representatives.

Board members still proved wary. Although they approved licenses for a restaurant, full liquor service, entertainment and outdoor seating, they limited closing hours to 1 am and attached conditions, including outdoor service to end at 10:30 pm with clean-up completed by 11 pm, limits on noise, deliveries and smoking, little or no paper on the patio and multiple security cameras. Restrictions are still lighter than some at Chipotle on Commonwealth Avenue, where no alcoholic beverages can be served outside. As board member Nancy Heller observed, the ban on pitchers did not extend to sangria or margaritas.

Personnel, contracts and finances: In a little over half an hour, the board reviewed and approved hiring for 25 vacant positions, and it approved six miscellaneous contracts ranging from $3,000 to $25,000. It is unclear why, in a community that employs an expensive town administrator with a staff of six, the Board of Selectmen would not delegate such matters, which it always approves.

David Geanakais, the chief procurement officer, presented a contract to lease space on the third floor at 62 Harvard St. for classroom space. The contract distributed by the board was abridged to leave out the amount and cost of the space. Members of the board did not seem to think that important to tell the public about, but afterward Mr. Geanakakis said the first-year cost would be $129,000.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, won approval for two contracts with Susi and Sons of Dorchester for a total of $1.23 million, the main yearly contracts for street and sidewalk repairs. Susi was low bidder on the $0.95 million street repair contract but won the sidewalk contract only when another bidder failed to submit complete documents.

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


Annual town meeting, first session, Brookline Interactive Group, May 26, 2015 (video recording, vote on appropriation for Devotion School at about 01:40:10)

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

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

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

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

Internal Revenue Service call: 202-657-4430 phone scam

The would-be IRS agent identified herself as “Kelly Johnson,” ID no. IRM0156, and said there was a payment for back taxes pending from 2009 through 2013. A suit would be filed in federal court if not settled today, Monday, July 27. The amount claimed was several thousand dollars. Ms. “Johnson” said the particulars would not be available until after papers had been filed, but someone from “the high ministry” could help.

Thickening the plot: The Brookline Police Department has been warning for more than a year about telephone scams targeted at local residents. Since the U.S. IRS does not ask for quick payment over the phone, this sounded like one. The game would be to get some positive identification, if possible. Since we in the U.S. have agencies, offices, services and departments–not ministries–it sounded like a call from some parliamentary jurisdiction, although the potentially fake phone number had the Washington, DC, area code.

A would-be “Don Fort,” claiming to be the IRS deputy chief of criminal investigation, had an Indian accent, more likely to be a person named something like Suresh Patel than something like Don Fort. Clipped vowels suggested an urban origin, maybe Maharashtra. When asked how a caller might know that he really worked for the U.S. IRS, Mr. “Fort” suggested checking his name with Google. Although that checked out, he didn’t.

Mr. “Fort” seemed anxious for fast payment but said he could not accept a bank account or a credit card, as the U.S. IRS will do. Cash payment would have to be wired to an account, but he would not give the account number unless the cash were on hand and ready to wire. When asked, on an ordinary business day, for an IRS case identifier to check on the “claim,” Mr. “Fort” said he did not have one at hand. He was demurred with an excuse that we were responding from out-of-town and would have to call back.

Following up: The next call, of course, was to the Brookline Police Department, lodging a complaint about an apparent attempt at interstate telephone fraud. Checked out with Google, the phone number used by the would-be fraudsters turned out to be a well known scam-element:
“Contact Information–Jerk Call.
Stated to call IRS for lawsuit.
IRS does not call to warn about taking money.”

Officer Hunter at the Brookline Police front desk took down basic information and said someone else from the department would come by to check. About a half hour later, Patrol Officer Dana Inchierca rang the bell, and we spoke for a few minutes. He was not familiar with the signature of this particular scam but said similar activities had been occurring frequently.

Brookline Police lacked jurisdiction when no actual fraud or unwarranted disclosure of information occurred. Officer Inchierca said the FBI and the IRS might intervene. A call to the FBI Boston office got a referral to an IRS “hot line” number for telephone scams–impersonating an IRS agent–800-366-4484. That led, in turn, to a Web site for filing complaints. The site at http://www.tigta.gov offered a short form to list contact information and particulars. We filed a complaint. After five days, there had been no response.

Catching crooks: Without more timely actions, the federal government stands unlikely to catch crooks practicing this scam and similar ones. According to Officer Inchierca, would-be perpetrators might easily be at locations other than telephone numbers suggest and even in other countries. If warned of exposure, they would likely decamp.

As a result of Mr. Snowden’s recent disclosures, some federal officials are known to have real-time access to telephone traces. However, they will not catch many such crooks unless they are prepared to deploy tools promptly and unless they coordinate closely with local enforcement who can immediately visit premises, seize evidence and arrest suspects.

We have published our names, address and Brookline land-line telephone number for over 40 years, so anyone at all interested in reaching us could easily accomplish the task. While that is some amount of public exposure, we are not inclined to hide. If you are targeted by a potential scam, you might do as we did–which Officer Inchierca confirmed to be a useful approach.

Do not supply, verify or acknowledge any identifying information other than what you can be sure you already made public–including names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, bank, account or ID numbers, social security numbers, legal counsel, employment data, business data or identifications of relatives, friends or neighbors. Do not worry over asking blunt questions or over making challenging comments. If you are puzzled or scared, simply hang up. Start a complaint by calling the Brookline Police Department, 617-730-2222.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 1, 2015


IRS reiterates warning of pervasive telephone scams, U.S. Internal Revenue Service, April 14, 2014

Edward Snowden: leaks that exposed U.S. spy program, BBC (UK), January 17, 2014

Scam alerts, Brookline, MA, Police Department, December 20, 2013

Rhode Island: offshore wind-power, winning and losing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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: 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advisory Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Editor’s note: price claims

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managers of Herb Chambers appeared for continued review of an inflammables permit for the Audi dealership at 308 Boylston St. A review on August 29 had left several matters to be settled. As before, the organization was represented by Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Zoning Bylaw Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: interviews and warrant articles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UsMethaneEmissionPhoto2006

Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Advisory subcommittee on taxi medallions: another turn of the churn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Beacon staff, October 15, 2014


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

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

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

Economic Development Advisory: skeptical about proposals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Board of Selectmen: bicycles, warrant articles, neighborhood issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board of Library Trustees: improving the cafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Household workers: not just respect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Transportation Board: Coolidge Corner jitney to Boston and Cambridge

The Transportation Board held a public hearing on Thursday, September 11, about jitney service between Coolidge Corner and business areas in Boston and Cambridge, starting at 7:30 pm in the Denny Room at the Health Center. Five of the six board members heard from representatives of GroupZoom, operators of the Bridj jitney service, and from members of the public.

A rocky start: The Bridj jitney service was announced in Brookline May 21, when GroupZoom founder and president Matthew George met with the Public Transportation Advisory Committee. Mr. George planned to run commuter buses between Coolidge Corner and business areas in Boston and Cambridge. Passengers would be able to reserve seats via the Web and board with electronic ticketing operated from cell phones. The first route would be to Kendall Square in Cambridge, he said, where he works.

Mr. George got a temporary permit for the Bridj service from Todd Kirrane, the transportation director, and began operations the morning of June 2, picking up passengers on Centre St. At first, it may have been more of a “hit” to the neighborhood than a “hit” with the passengers. The service began with full-size, 54-passenger highway buses operated by Academy Bus, a Braintree charter company.

At a June 25 meeting of the Public Transportation Advisory Committee, Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, told the committee that the Centre St. neighborhood was “taken by surprise” around 8 am, when three full-size buses showed up. He and other neighbors complained that they blocked the street, could not navigate narrow cross-streets and were left idling for long times, emitting fumes.

At the June 25 meeting, Mike Izzo, who had been hired as operations manager for Bridj, promised to correct problems and offered telephone and e-mail contacts for anyone experiencing future problems. He said the service was starting to use smaller vehicles.

A state license: On July 8, Mr. Izzo represented Bridj at a Department of Public Utilities hearing, applying for a state license to operate a charter bus service. The Transportation Oversight Division is a non-communicative agency with a useless Web site. Brian E. Cristy, the director, claimed there had never been a reporter at a hearing but relented and let one stay. Your State Open Meeting Law at Work, perhaps.

At the state hearing, Mr. Izzo said GroupZoom was starting to use DPV Transportation as a contractor, operating from McClellan Highway in East Boston. He said the Bridj service would use quarter-size to full-size buses, with capacities of 13 to 54 passengers, and committed to use only state-certified carriers observing federal safety and maintenance standards. GroupZoom has received its state charter-bus license, according to Mr. Izzo.

Adapting the service: At the September 11 Transportation Board hearing, Mr. Izzo said that in Brookline the Bridj service now uses only 9-passenger limousines, operated from East Boston, and no longer uses either large or small buses. GroupZoom is working on jitney permits with Boston, Cambridge and Brookline. Mr. Izzo also said Bridj vehicles no longer use Centre St.

In Brookline, Mr. Izzo said Bridj vehicles now pick up passengers and drop them off on Harvard St. at the bus stops near Beacon St. and Coolidge St. Responding to a question from board member Ali Tali, he said the route out of Brookline is south on Harvard St., east on Longwood Ave., north on St. Paul St. and east on Beacon St. Using limousines, he said, stops are short and have not interfered with MBTA buses.

Linda Jason, representing the Public Transportation Advisory Committee, recounted earlier reviews of the Bridj service and mentioned problems reported in and near Centre St. She said the committee remains concerned about extended idling in winter and summer to provide heating and cooling and would encourage Bridj to explore underutilized parking lots to pick up and drop off passengers.

Mr. Swartz said that disturbances on Centre St. had stopped. He wondered whether Bridj would resume using large buses and resume using Centre St. Mr. Izzo said he did not anticipate using large buses again in Brookline but “will continue to explore sites” for stops. Pamela Zelnick, the board member chairing the hearing, said that other jitney licenses specified the routes and the locations of stops. Mr. Izzo asked for some flexibility.

Outstanding service: Nathaniel Hinchey, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, and his spouse Connor both said they are regular Bridj customers, in part because of direct access to the Seaport district. They said service was “awesome” and “fantastic” and contrasted it with slow speeds and frequent breakdowns on the Green Line.

Another Bridj regular, who works in downtown Boston, said service is on-time, vehicles are clean and comfortable, and reserved seats make trips easier. A Bridj customer who identified herself as a “working mom” said the time she saved using Bridj instead of the Green Line was “very important.” Others at the hearing echoed the compliments. Two said they do not own cars. No one had a complaint.

Mr. Izzo said Bridj is currently charging promotional fares: $3.00 each way at peak times and $1.00 off-peak. Last May, Mr. George estimated a regular fare of $6.00 to Kendall Square. Mr. Izzo said the service to Kendall Square has been saving about 30 minutes each way over MBTA travel times, close to 35 minutes that Mr. George estimated last May.

Ms. Jason asked whether a jitney permit would include conditions. Ms. Zelnick replied that conditions would be drafted and said there would be a review by the Transportation Board in October.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 12, 2014

Radio pollution: tangles and hazards in Brookline

Radio pollution is both an old and a new controversy here. The old controversy began in the early twentieth century, when AM broadcasting, as we know it now, took off after invention of the vacuum tube in 1906. Between the end of World War I and the end of World War II, it was the only commercially significant radio. There was then, of course, no television and no wireless communication serving the general population. A signature of a classic comics character, Dick Tracy, was the fantasy of a “two-way wrist radio.”

Golden-age service: The so-called “golden age of radio” starting about 1910 was tarnished by interference between stations using close frequencies. Like counterparts in the newspaper business, radio entrepreneurs treated broadcasting space at first as a free good, although it was not. Brookline once found that seemingly any number of news stands could occupy a corner. Any number of radio stations cannot. They may interfere, creating buzz and static. Government regulation started during World War I.

In 1922, a few AM stations were granted “clear channel” rights–prime use of a frequency at high power. WBZ of Boston at 1.03 MHz and WTIC of Hartford at 1.08 MHz are the only ones in New England. WTIC shares rights to its frequency. WBZ, however, broadcasts 24 hours every day at 50 kW from Brighton, with exclusive North American rights to appear at AM 1030. Initially broadcasting from Springfield, MA–the first commercially licensed U.S. radio station–WBZ can be tuned in nationwide, thousands of miles away.

Short-range services: At ultra-high frequencies (UHF) used during World War II for military radar and afterward for satellite, digital cellular and close-range services–around 1 GHz (1,000 MHz) and higher–earthbound transmission ranges are less than 100 miles, sometimes less than 100 feet. Signal energy is readily absorbed by soil, trees, buildings and body tissue. Signals do not travel far inside most buildings. That is why we cannot use GPS satellite location-finding indoors, except perhaps at a window.

At the low end of UHF, Verizon mounted its so-called “4G” cellular service on an LTE model, using carriers in 0.7 GHz bands–becoming popular across North America, Europe and Australia, plus large parts of South America and east and southeast Asia, including India and Japan. Because of lower frequencies, LTE is somewhat less attenuated by buildings than most UHF. However, lower frequencies also make LTE more vulnerable to crowding; there is less bandwidth to share among users.

During the past year, Verizon began expanding “4G” service using AWS spectrum, with carriers in 2.1 GHz bands. To sustain expansion, Verizon needs to increase the density and number of its cellular stations, while reducing power and limiting ranges. Those factors tend to make Verizon cellular services environmentally more friendly but more expensive. They also help to explain why Verizon is paying high-priced lawyers, trying to persuade Brookline to allow the company zoning variances for locating cellular base stations in residential areas.

Risks and benefits: Whether that is in the best interest of Brookline residents depends partly on how it might affect environmental risks. As we gradually learned from long controversies over nuclear power, there is probably no risk-free technology. Even spinning and weaving spread dust in the air that can cause lung disease and factory explosions. Risks from UHF radio became safety and health issues during the wartime 1940s, with the development of radar. Those concerns have continued.

UHF radio energy is more strongly absorbed by materials than lower frequency signals. An easily measured effect is heat. From the 1940s through the 1980s, heat was the main widely studied and well documented hazard. During the Reagan administration, a federal agency produced what has become the reference for nearly all current “environmental assessments” produced by or for industries. [Guy, et al., 1986] That was soon reflected in a so-called “consensus” standard, ANSI C95.1, updated but not basically changed since 1992.

During and before the early 1980s, most common household exposure to UHF radio came from occasional use of increasingly popular microwave ovens. There were few radar zones or microwave transmitters, no digital cell phones or base stations and no close-range emitters such as cordless telephones, WiFi, Bluetooth and “smart” meters and appliances. Few would deny economic benefits and conveniences of the more recent technologies. However, the commonplace uses and continuous exposures occurring today were not anticipated in research conducted before the mid-1980s.

Health and safety: It is unreasonable to expect that a 1986 evaluation of risks and hazards from UHF radio would reflect today’s environment. Nevertheless, that is what cellular service companies are encouraging. So-called “environmental assessments” rehash research before the mid-1980s, ignore about three decades of more recent discoveries and conceal shortcomings through technical jargon and numbers. Findings of “no significant impact” are all but guaranteed by lax standards based on obsolete research.

More recent research on health effects of UHF radio exposure–sometimes called “microwave exposure”–starting in the early 1990s, found associations with disturbances in humans, wildlife and laboratory animals. In 2011, documented risks of brain tumors persuaded a branch of the World Health Organization, a U.N. agency, to classify “radiofrequency electromagnetic fields” as a potential carcinogen. Other types of disturbances have involved biochemical, neurological, behavioral and developmental changes.

In 2012, an association of health researchers published a compendium of findings, calling for stronger standards. While other researchers criticized the effort as unfocused, it brought attention to neglected but potentially significant elements, including pulsed sources, common in telecommunications, and individual differences, with a few percent of the population who may be hypersensitive.

While industry groups commonly claim that allowed power levels are conservative by factors of 10 to 50, the association claims they are excessive by factors of 100 or more. Its findings are currently unassimilated. So far, no government-sponsored organization has sorted through the many reports, developed priorities, conducted well controlled research or performed regulatory analysis.

Investigation and regulation: Hazards from UHF radio exposure are not simple to investigate. Calibrated UHF survey meters with appropriate sensitivity cost around $20,000 or more. Some potential problems have been described as accumulating over long-term exposure, others as affecting a few percent of the population. Effective research may need large numbers of subjects and long durations. Mitigation measures have also received little attention so far, although UHF radio signals are readily blocked by even thin metal.

Zoning regulations, again at issue in Brookline, are not very flexible tools to address potential UHF radio hazards. However, a longstanding tradition in zoning, reacting to other uncertainties, has been to separate industrial activities from residential areas. That is currently the approach of Brookline’s zoning. As long as they do not prohibit telecommunication services, by leaving niches in which services can be located, zoning regulations are an obvious way we now have to reduce potential hazards that we cannot yet estimate well.

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


Arthur W. Guy, et al., Biological Effects and Exposure Criteria for Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields, Report 86, [U.S.] National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement, 1986

Barry Mishkind, WBZ and WBZA in Boston and Springfield, MA, Hammond Museum of Radio (Guelph, ON, Canada), 2004

Hammett and Edison, Statement re proposed base station site CA-SBR022, County of Santa Barbara, CA, 2007

Don Hayes, Petition Number 08-27 MetroPCS, Re 639 Granite St., Braintree, MA, Zoning Board of Appeals, 2008

Robert Baan, et al., Carcinogenicity of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, Lancet Oncology 12(7):624-625, 2011

Where did our RF standards come from? Hammett and Edison, Consulting engineers (Sonoma, CA), 2012

David O. Carpenter and Cindy Sage, Eds., BioInitiative Report: A Rationale for Biologically-based Public Exposure Standards for Electromagnetic Radiation, BioInitiative Group (Santa Barbara, CA), 2012 (25 MB)

Kevin Fitchard, Verizon quietly unleashes its LTE monster, tripling 4G capacity in major cities, Gigaom Tech News, December 5, 2013

Solid Waste Advisory Committee: recycling and trash metering

A monthly meeting of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee on Tuesday, September 2, started at 5:45 pm in the Denny Room at the Health Center. All six members attended, with an agenda including commercial recycling, a new set of waste bins in public areas, and changes in fees to implement trash metering.

Solid waste trends: Edward Gilbert, the director of solid waste and recycling, reported that Brookline’s solid waste collection tonnages continue to fall. Refuse is down about three percent from a year earlier. Recycle collection has fallen even more, down about six percent. No one described reasons for the trends or compared them with other communities.

After a flurry of activity early in the Patrick administration, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection seemed to doze off. Its latest solid waste data published on the Web stop with 2011. Trends in solid waste disposal fell around five percent per year for 2004 through 2009, mainly decreasing landfill and out-of-state disposal. After that, progress halted; statewide refuse disposal for 2011 was up three percent over 2009. Brookline appears to be bucking a disappointing recent trend in Massachusetts.

Brookline achieved its progress without implementing a plan for trash metering that was proposed last May 14 by Andrew Pappastergion, the town’s public works commissioner. However, progress did not seem to dim the enthusiasm of Mr. Gilbert and committee members for the plan. Mr. Gilbert pointed out that Brookline could start charging for disposal of household furnishings some landlords continue to dump on town sidewalks.

Solar-powered compactors: Within about two months, new solar-powered compactors from the Big Belly company of Newton should be installed in public areas, and the old litter baskets will then be removed. The replacements come in pairs: one bin for refuse and the other for recycling. Signs on recycling bins will list materials they accept. The new bins are lined and covered. They should reduce attacks from birds, squirrels and other animals.

Since 2006, the committee has organized two trash audits, sorting through random samples of waste collection to estimate the amounts of recyclables in refuse bins and the amounts of refuse in recycling bins. A further project of the type is not being planned, but the committee noted objections from one town resident, who apparently has privacy concerns. An opinion from town counsel had held materials put out for collection become town property. Residents should shred items that might be personally identifiable.

Foam recycling: Committee members agreed to plan another collection of polystyrene foam for sometime next winter, but they were not enthusiastic about it. Past collections proved ecologically unsound, they said–high inputs but slim results, costing more in non-renewable resources than they saved. Brookline does not currently have a plastic foam compressor, which might help the balance. Committee members may take a trip to Newton, to see how its program operates.

No consensus emerged on commercial recycling. Committee members had heard that Alan Christ, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, had worked on a warrant article about the topic. There was discussion about recycling in local restaurants. Few if any now separate out recyclable beverage cans and bottles. A similar discussion occurred at a spring meeting of the Climate Action Committee, with a focus on school cafeterias.

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

Zoning Board of Appeals: do cell phones deserve a zoning variance?

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a public hearing on Thursday, August 26, about a proposal from Verizon Wireless to install equipment for cellular telephone and data service on the roof of a Beacon St. apartment building, located between Coolidge Corner and Washington Square. Assigned to the hearing were the board’s chair Jesse Geller, a lawyer, joined by Mark Zuroff, a lawyer, and Christopher Hussey, an architect.

Zoning restrictions: Like many other communities, Brookline restricts cellular service equipment proposed for residential areas. Seeking an exception, Verizon was represented by Michael S. Giaimo, a lawyer from Robinson and Cole in Boston, and by Martin Lavin and George Evslik from the company’s technical staff. Also on hand were representatives from its contractors for this proposal: Daniel Hamm of Hudson Design in North Andover, a telecommunications engineer, and Eric Wainwright of Structure Consulting in Arlington, an installation manager.

Verizon’s representatives described a “coverage gap” along Beacon St. between Coolidge Corner and Washington Square. That and the nearby part of Washington St. are located in a valley between Corey Hill to the north and Addington Hill to the south. The two hills and some of the buildings block signals to and from existing Verizon equipment. The proposed installation, they said, would fill the “coverage gap.”

Section 4.09 of Brookline’s zoning bylaw regulates such installations, known in the bylaw as “wireless communications” and “wireless telecommunications” (WTc) antennas, facilities and equipment. As modified by town meeting in 2005 and 2010. this portion of the zoning bylaw currently reads, in part:

“[Section 4.09] 6. Use Regulations
“a. Wireless communications antennas and facilities shall not be located: (1) on any of the following structures: residences, public schools, hospitals, nursing homes or historical sites; (2) within 50 feet of any residence, nursing home or hospital; (3) within 50 feet of any historical site….”

Since Beacon St. in Brookline is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, at the proposed location WTc installations are apparently banned by all three subsections: on a residence, within 50 feet of a residence and within 50 feet of a historical site. The Building Department said a variance from Section 4.09.6.a would be needed. Much of the hearing was spent on whether circumstances justify a variance.

Searching for a site: The representatives of Verizon described searches for non-residential locations and said they had not found any suitable for the purpose. Potential locations were either on low-rise buildings, they said, or were too far away to help. Janice Kahn, a Precinct 15 town meeting member who has worked on WTc issues for many years, said Verizon should consider Brookline’s Fire Station 7, at 665 Washington St.

The Washington St. location Dr. Kahn pointed to is less than 300 ft from the location Verizon proposes to use. It is not subject to some of the restrictions for WTc equipment. Mr. Lavin of Verizon said the fire station had been investigated, but it has a steeply pitched roof with “no way to locate an antenna inside.” However, the fire station also has a hose-drying tower, about as tall as the building Verizon now proposes to use.

There are other alternatives. Dr. Kahn proposed distributed antenna systems, used in south Brookline to fill coverage gaps after many years of disputes over other approaches. Verizon representatives did not respond clearly to that proposal, suggesting that in high-density areas they were somehow impractical. Dr. Kahn objected, saying they are “ubiquitous in New York City [