Category Archives: Business

Brookline businesses and business people

Committee on Taxi Medallions: public hearing

The Committee on Taxi Medallions met Monday, July 28, starting at 7 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall: a public hearing on topics of concern to the committee. Only two of five committee members came: Chad Ellis, who chaired the hearing, and Amid El-Khoury. Checking in by telephone was Michael Sandman. Absent were Joshua Safer, the committee chair, and Jeremy Kushner.

A vote by the 2014 annual town meeting had referred Article 26, seeking to repeal the state authorization for sale of permanent taxi medallions, to a moderator’s committee. The referral took precedence over an amendment proposed by David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, to delay the submission of home-rule repeal legislation.

Echoes from town meeting: At the Monday hearing, Mr. Lescohier spoke first. He said that since a 2008 town-meeting vote to seek state legislation, Brookline had been “chasing the fantasy of windfall dreams” but failing to implement a program. Recent technology, he said, is leaving the taxi business “in a state of disruption and uncertainty.”

The current plan, Mr. Lescohier said, is “too risky and potentially unfair to the elderly and disabled, other Brookline taxi riders, the taxi companies and drivers, and environmental mitigation goals.” That reflects, he said, “an obsession to maximize…[a] medallion windfall, at all costs.”

For about a quarter of the current fleet of vehicles, Mr. Lescohier recommended “negotiations in good faith” leading to sale of “driver-owned medallions,” with payment “due at…[subsequent] sale or transfer…not at initial acquisition.” In line with recommendations of the 2007 Brookline Taxi Study prepared by Schaller Consulting, Mr. Lescohier said other taxis should continue to operate with annual licenses.

John Harris, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, was the main sponsor of Article 26, to repeal taxi medallions. Referring to “tiers” of fees now proposed for selling taxi medallions, he said the early years of the program would be “a temporary cornucopia, outsiders excluded.” Mr. Harris claimed medallions in Boston now sell for over $600 thousand, in Cambridge for over $500 thousand and in Somerville for over $300 thousand.

However, Mr. Harris asked, will “drivers get an opportunity to buy in? Once medallions hit the open market, the sky is the limit.” He expressed concern that high-priced medallions “would not create an opportunity for drivers [but] would actively thwart that.” A Harvard Business study found, he said, that in cities with taxi medallion systems fares average 11 to 25 percent higher than in cities without medallion systems.

Taxi company managers: Joe Bethoney, who owns and manages Bay State Taxi, the largest Brookline taxi company, said current competition was “unregulated and flush with cash.” Mr. Bethoney was obviously referring to mobile technology deployed by Uber, Hailo, Lyft and Sidecar. Medallions offered under reasonable conditions, he claimed, “will keep and attract quality drivers to Brookline.” He mentioned efforts to help drivers finance purchases of medallions and vehicles.

Mr. Bethoney emphasized special services that town-licensed taxis have been providing, notably the Brookline Elder Taxi System. That program is coordinated from the Brookline Senior Center and has strict income limits. According to Mr. Bethoney, it provides a few thousand rides a year at 50-percent discounts, for which the town reimburses half to taxi operators and taxi operators subsidize half.

Mr. Bethoney supports a medallion program but said the town’s current approach was “bad from the outset.” He contends the taxi business cannot afford high, up-front fees, such as Brookline now proposes. What he regards as a reasonable approach is for initial medallion owners to pay fees when medallions are subsequently sold. Potential revenue for the town would vary with the prosperity of the taxi business. That looks similar to what Mr. Lescohier supports. However, Mr. Bethoney proposes to cover at least 85 percent of the current taxi fleet, not 25 percent, and to maintain no annual licenses.

Matthew Mazzola, manager of Red Cab, said the Brookline taxi business has “been put on hold” by the long, drawn out discussions over taxi medallions–now seven years since the Schaller report of 2007. He favors a medallion system, saying it will “provide a well trod path to develop new resources” and “create new points of entry to the business.”

Darius Taveshi of Town Taxi complained. “People are slipping into our process,” he said, “who have never been involved.” Now, the “taxi industry in Brookline is dysfunctional.” A medallion system, he said, represents an “opportunity to create a better business model for the town.”

Taxi drivers: George Webber said he is a retired software engineer who has been driving a Brookline taxi since 1991. It was, he said, “very lucrative ten years ago for anybody who would put in the time.” Recently, with the new mobile dispatch competition, he said, “drivers have left.” However, he claimed, some are not getting a great deal. He said there are different pay rates for drivers with different experience.

With Uber in particular, Mr. Webber said, payments to drivers will “fluctuate with the time of day; the rates are auctioned. I wouldn’t do it.” He said that with online companies “there’s no record check, there’s no background check.” In the midst of unregulated competition, he said, “this summer is the toughest ever; I’m breaking even after ten hours of work.”

Donfred Gillies said he had been driving a Brookline taxi about ten years. He was eager to own a medallion and disappointed so far. Many drivers he said, would “lose faith in this process…If we had our own medallions, we could make money.” Another driver, giving his name as Franz, said he had been with Bay State Taxi for ten years. “In a changing world,” he said, “big businesses are shutting down. People want their own businesses to support their families.”

Town meeting members: Merelice, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, described a group of Boston taxi drivers who have been “exploring a co-op, sharing ownership and getting employee benefits.” Leasing taxis by the day, as in Boston, or by the week, as in Brookline, she said “drivers feel like sharecroppers.” Some people in Brookline “live in a bubble,” she continued, ignoring the fact that “most drivers are people of color.” Because the earlier Schaller medallion plan provided “no windfall for the town,” she said, it had been “shelved.”

Jane Gilman, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, said she had been “dismayed by membership of the committee [on taxi medallions]–not representative of a broad spectrum of opinions.” With high medallion fees proposed, she said, “how would taxi drivers service a loan? We should not advance the town finances on the backs of…day laborers.” Ms. Gilman urged the committee to “consider the pitfalls of putting money first,” saying “a lot of decisions…are not only bad but immoral. We are in a changing community…and need new thinking.”

Coping with reality: Except for Mr. Bethoney, neither taxi drivers nor managers spoke in detail about how they would cope with the practical situation of high-priced taxi medallions. It sounded as though many wanted to own them but few had planned how to buy them.

However, Mr. Bethoney of Bay State Taxi has a plan. He runs a credit business to help Bay State drivers buy homes and cars. Now, with participation from a local bank, he says he will help them buy taxi medallions. “I’m 70,” Mr. Bethoney said, “I’m done with the cab business…The era of the one and two cab owner is coming…It’s very hard to get credit for a medallion…I have 45 credit applications on my desk for a medallion.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 29, 2014

Risking a taxi revolt: business survival in Brookline

Dawdling over medallions: Brookline’s government leaders could soon regret dawdling over taxi medallions. Had they acted seven years ago, when first presented with a taxi-medallion plan, they might have set a program in motion and already collected revenue. Instead, they left their work exposed to risks of business changes. Changes have been rapid, and they are accelerating.

Imagine being in business ten to ninety years, like the Brookline taxi companies. A change no business expects is for someone to come in and demand millions of dollars: “Pay up, or your business will be shut down.” Situations likely to come to mind are “protection” rackets and “shake-downs” by gangs. Businesses that have been threatened will likely be trying to figure out–not how to prosper–instead, how to survive. They will look at their alternatives.

Livery vehicles are a common alternative to taxis–particularly strong around New York City but also making inroads across New England. Fares for trips are agreed in advance rather than measured by meters. They can’t pick up passengers from street hails or taxi stands, but they don’t need local licenses. Like the taxis in Brookline and most other suburban markets, until recently they have usually been summoned by telephone.

Summoning rides via the Web became popular over the past several years, particularly with software running on “smart phones.” Uber of San Francisco now operates such services in about 30 countries and has attracted over $1 billion in venture backing. Hailo of London has recently been setting up operations in North America. Both firms operate in the Boston area.

Fighting progress: Cambridge tried to block Uber, and William Evans, the police commissioner in Boston, has been seeking more public regulation of “gypsy cabs,” as he called them. However, the state’s Division of Standards found Uber operations were allowed under state laws.

With emergence of technology, Brookline’s government leaders lost leverage to impose high-priced medallion licensing on taxi operators. One alternative for taxi operators is to set up livery services, equip them with technology and promote them to customers. Boston Cab has set up its own Web-dispatch, competing with Uber and Hailo using licensed taxis.

Switching sides: A few former Brookline taxi drivers are rumored to have switched sides, driving livery vehicles with contacts from Uber, Hailo, Lyft and Sidecar. They might not get as many fares right away but have lower operating costs. With their longstanding business patterns and name recognition, Bay State Taxi and Red Cab may not be able to change as quickly–but then they might not need to.

A deal approved by the Board of Selectmen in 2013–still not implemented–allows current taxi operators some medallions with low fees and other medallions with what might have been seen as outrageous but fixed fees, if there were going to be business as usual. According to the deal, the fees for the latter group of medallions are due three years after the program starts, or those medallions have to be turned in.

Brookline taxi operators would need to start with a livery fleet of about 75 vehicles, if maintaining the current quantities of vehicles. Initially, they could keep 106 of the current 182 vehicles running as licensed taxis for $45,000 in medallion fees, spread among them. The others could be repainted and fitted with technology to work as livery vehicles.

Taxi operators would need to convert most of their taxi business to livery in just a few years, so as to end up with 45 licensed taxis–the ones with low-priced medallions. Otherwise, Brookline would be demanding about $4.6 million in medallion fees to keep an additional 71 vehicles running as taxis. Four small taxi operators might be out of luck here; no low-priced medallions were slotted for them.

After the revolt: Could Brookline get by with only 45 licensed taxis? Although that might seem far-fetched, the town provides taxi stands for only about 30 vehicles. They are found in and near commercial areas, where most flag service begins–from stands and street hails. That comprises less than a quarter of taxi trips now starting in Brookline, so it probably could be maintained with only a quarter of the current taxi fleet.

The rest of the business–now coming mostly from telephone orders–could be served by livery vehicles that don’t need licenses from the town. Today, there are many ways to coordinate vehicles other than telephones and radio rooms–based on modern computers, data communications, wireless, GPS and Internet.

Pipe dreams: Brookline’s government leaders seemed to think they owned the market. Selling and auctioning medallions, they would rake in millions. If they tried that now, they might find no buyers at high prices. Since technology offers other ways to do business, it’s unlikely Brookline’s taxi operators will simply let the town strong-arm them into forking over a fortune, just to keep doing business the same way.

Taxi operators are likely to find it worth substantial efforts to escape the town’s clutches. With such a development, Brookline would stand to lose most of its influence over service quality, quantity and safety. It might not be able to sustain wheelchair-accessible vehicles or special services.

In the first Brookline taxi-medallion plan, Bruce Schaller, now a deputy commissioner in the New York City Transportation Department, tried balancing: (1) service to Brookline residents, (2) prosperity for the taxi business and (3) revenue for the town. Later, service and prosperity were neglected, while money took over. Today, years of sluggish management have left Brookline peddling buggy whips, in an age of jetliners.

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


Mike Beggs, Hailo’s black car service like ‘stabbing taxi drivers in the back,’ Taxi News (Toronto, ON), July, 2014

Joe Shortsleeve, Boston police commissioner questions safety of Uber, WBZ (Boston, MA), February 25, 2014

Geoffrey Fowler, Testing UberX, Lyft and Sidecar against a cab in six cities, Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2014

Brookline, MA, Board of Selectmen, Minutes, September 24, 2013, see “TAXI MEDALLION PROGRAM”

Kyle Alspach, Taxi-hailing app startup Hailo gets 1,200 Boston cabbies on board, Boston Business Journal, April 4, 2013

Scott Kirsner, Test-riding Boston Cab’s mobile app, Boston Globe, March 19, 2013

Michael B. Farrell, Cab drivers irate as ban against livery app reversed, Boston Globe, August 16, 2012

Board of Selectmen: vacation, town meeting, personnel, contracts, licenses and trash metering

A biweekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, July 22, started at 6:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Announcements: There will be no meetings of the Board of Selectmen Tuesday, July 29, or Tuesday, August 5. The next meeting scheduled is Tuesday, August 12, but that might be cancelled. Weekly meetings resume Tuesday, September 2.

A fall, 2014, town meeting is scheduled to begin Tuesday, November 18, at 7 pm in the High School auditorium. The warrant for the fall town meeting opens at the start of business Thursday, August 7, and closes at noon Thursday, September 4.

Town meeting articles require signatures of ten registered Brookline voters and must be submitted with written explanations, for the explanations to be published in the warrant report. Originals of articles with signatures are to be filed and time-stamped at the office of the Board of Selectmen, from which they will be forwarded to the town clerk to check signatures. Hearings on articles will be held by the Board of Selectmen, by subcommittees of the Advisory Committee and potentially by other town organizations.

Public comment: During the public comment period, Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member and a Human Relations commissioner, asked the board to appoint members to that commission, replacing ones who have resigned, so it can assemble a quorum for meetings. He sought an expedited process for current commissioners to join a new Diversity Commission that is expected to replace the Human Relations Commission in the fall. He asked Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, when telling department heads to seek a “diverse pool of candidates” for new hires, also to say they should consult the human relations and human services administrator about practices to promote diversity.

The new commission will be set up when approval is received from the attorney general for actions of the 2014 annual town meeting. Neither Town Administrator Mel Kleckner nor any member of the board seemed to know that a letter from the attorney general, on file with the town clerk, says reviews will be completed September 28. Board member Nancy Daly observed that nine commissioners had been interviewed this year, and they might not need another interview. Current commissioners who want to join the new commission should indicate interest, she said, by filing the usual applications to join a board, commission or committee.

Personnel: The board interviewed Sara Slymon, recently hired as library director to replace Charles Flaherty. Ms. Slymon described a background of innovation but also said, “Our bread and butter is still books.” Asked about potential future projects, she declined to speculate. Over the past 25 years, Ms. Slymon has held ten positions in library services for durations of one to four years, most recently as library director in Randolph.

Paul Ford, the fire chief, got approval to hire for four vacant firefighter positions. Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director, got approval to hire another assistant engineer, in addition to one authorized June 24, because of a resignation. Mr. Goldstein omitted what had become his usual request to “seek a diverse pool of candidates.” Despite Mr. Frey’s plea, he said nothing on consulting the human relations and human services administrator about practices to promote diversity.

Contracts: Jennifer Gilbert, former town counsel and a special counsel for Cleveland Circle Cinema redevelopment, presented an amendment to Brookline’s agreement with First General Realty, the proposed developer. Copies were not supplied to the public in information packets distributed at board meetings but are supposed to be available later. Ms. Gilbert said First General needs a utility easement, expected to be sought at the fall, 2014, town meeting. The project will be described in a forthcoming Beacon article.

Mr. Ford, the fire chief, won approval to accept a federal grant of about $0.10 million to train staff as fire instructors. Once certified, they will train other staff of Brookline’s department in advanced techniques and may train staff from other communities. Brookline will have to come up with about $0.01 million in matching funds. Mr. Ford said he expects to find that within his department’s current budget.

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, got approval to increase a contract with Beta Group of Norwood to review traffic and stormwater plans for a proposed Chapter 40B housing development at Hancock Village. Costs are being reimbursed by the developer.

Mr. Pappastergion, the public works director, got approval for a series of contract changes to complete the long-running sewer-separation project on lower Beacon St, between St. Mary’s St. and Pleasant St. Most costs of the $25 million project are being reimbursed by the state Water Resources Authority. However, about $0.1 million of ineligible costs was incurred because of failure to observe MWRA limits for engineering services. Mr. Pappastergion said he expects to cover those costs within his department’s current budget.

Erin Gallentine, director of parks and open space, got approval to reduce by about $0.06 million a contract with Quirk Construction of Georgetown to reconstruct Waldstein Playground, off Dean Rd. Town staff will do more of the project, including fencing, and it may take longer than planned to finish. Peter Ditto, director of engineering, got approval for an increase of about $0.01 million in a contract to repair the 55-year-old floor at Brookline’s transfer station. He said the original survey missed areas covered by refuse during the winter.

Ms. Gallentine also got approval for a contract with Touloukian & Touloukian of Boston, about $0.02 million to develop specifications to renovate doors and windows of the historic Fisher Hill Reservoir gatehouse. So far, the town has allocated $0.58 million for the project and has received a state grant of $0.04 million. Kenneth Goldstein, the chair, expressed reservation about the costly project, saying no use for the building has been identified, but he voted for the contract with the Touloukian firm.

Permits and licenses: A representative of Nstar sought permits for street work on Copley and Pleasant Streets to replace underground circuits. Mark Zarrillo of Copley St., chair of the Planning Board, asked the selectmen to delay the project so as to allow neighborhood review of plans. The area has a mix of underground and above-ground circuits, the latter recently upgraded from 4 to 14 kV. Mr. Zarrillo said that with the large amount of work in prospect, Nstar should be able to put all the circuits underground. The board agreed to a delay and will reconsider the project at a future meeting.

Michael Maynard asked for an exception to rules so that Coolidge Corner Theatre could serve more than one drink to a customer, including beer and wine. He said that a recent rule caused disruption in the theatre environment. According to Mr. Maynard, since the theatre started serving beer and wine four years ago, there have been only two incidents with “inebriated patrons,” both resolved without needing to call police. The board agreed that recent rules had been designed for a restaurant environment and allowed the exception.

Approval to transfer the common victualler (restaurant), liquor and entertainment licenses for Chef Chow’s at 230 Harvard St. was sought because of a change in management. Health, Building and Police reports were positive. There had been no citations for violations, and there was no opposition. The board approved. Colleen Suhanosky asked to add Sunday hours, 9 am to 4 pm, for Rifrullo Cafe at 149 Cypress St. There was no opposition, and the board approved.

David Iknaian sought a new common victualler license for Panelli’s Pizza, to be located at 415 Harvard St. Health, Building and Police reports were positive, and there was no opposition. The board approved, subject to conditions recommended by the Health Department.

Jenny Yu, a Winchester St. resident, sought new common victualler, wine and malt beverage, and entertainment licenses for Shanghai Jade, to be located at 1374 Beacon St. Health, Building and Police reports were positive, and there was no opposition. The board approved, subject to review of outside seating by the Department of Public Works.

Appointments: As often happens, the board slowed its pace when interviewing candidates for boards and committees: one for Climate Action and two for Solid Waste Advisory. Greg O’Brien, a recent law graduate, said he wants to work through Climate Action on solar power for condominiums and apartments. John Dempsey, chair of Solid Waste Advisory, said the town is currently “stuck” at about 9,000 tons of refuse a year, down from about 12,500 tons in 2007. Amie Lindenboim, also seeking reappointment to Solid Waste Advisory, said she agreed with Mr. Dempsey’s concerns.

Trash metering: On June 10, a plan to increase recycling through trash metering had been described to the board by Mr. Pappastergion, the public works director. He also described the plan at the annual public works “question time” on May 14. It involves town-issued 35-gallon refuse bins, one per household, collected under the current program of fees, plus added fees for extra refuse collection. At this meeting, board member Neil Wishinsky said changes needed to be publicized.

Mr. Dempsey said his committee’s role is “educational” and calls trash metering “pay as you throw.” The name as well as the concepts are hung over from rural and far suburban towns, where residents still take trash to town dumps and throw it into piles. That does not seem likely to educate or help Brookline, where public dumps closed and municipal refuse collection began more than a century ago.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 23, 2014


Brookline Town Counsel, General guidelines to drafting warrant articles, August, 2006

Taxi Medallion Committee: lost on a back road

The moderator’s Taxi Medallion Committee is lost and is hitting many bumps on a rough back road.

For years the town has been on a journey of exploration, looking for better Brookline taxis. The town is seeking to discover the secret of navigating from hackney licenses, renewed annually, to perpetual medallion licenses for Brookline’s 185-cab taxi fleet. Back in 2008, the Transportation Board and the Board of Selectmen dropped the route that Bruce Schaller, the consultant hired in 2006, provided. In 2010, with Richard LaCapra, another consultant, as a new guide, the Board turned onto an unmapped, never-before-used road that LaCapra claimed he knew about and recommended. (It involves multiple “tiers” of licenses.)

At a meeting of the committee yesterday, committee member Jeremy Kushner, a Brookline resident who used to drive a cab in New York City, asked Mr. LaCapra if he knew any other community in the country that had used this road. Mr. Kushner said he thought it would be a good idea to check with other such communities to see how well their trip turned out and maybe learn from their experiences regarding nasty potholes, wrong turns, detours and any other perils or problems. Mr. LaCapra admitted that no other community, to his knowledge, has followed the route that he recommended for Brookline.

Chad Ellis, a committee member and a Precinct 12 town meeting member, said that he believes that the town is lost and should try to find a way out to more known, less risky territory. He suggested that the moderator’s committee, the Transportation Board and the Board of Selectmen have journeyed into a very confusing labyrinth. However, Mr. Ellis, who had been working over financial calculations for medallions, hit a tremendous pothole. Committee member Michael Sandman, also an Advisory Committee member and a former chair of the Transportation Board, found an error in his calculations.

Amid El-Khoury, another committee member and general manager of Hello Taxi, seemed like a deer caught in the headlights. His revenue, he said, is down 40 percent; unless the town reaches its destination soon, his company will be out of business.

Mr. Sandman, realizing that the journey is not going well, stopped to ask for directions. He asked a passerby, Naiff Bethoney, an owner of Bay State Taxi. Mr. Bethoney, a member of the audience, had come to watch the travelers. Mr. Bethoney responded that he does not answer hypothetical questions.

This is the way it went for the moderator’s Committee on Taxi Medallions on Monday, July 21, in the fourth floor conference room at Brookline Town Hall.

– David Lescohier, Brookline, MA, July 22, 2014

Brookline taxis: can you afford a “medallion” taxi?

High prices: Since the 2007 Brookline Taxi Study prepared by Schaller Consulting, the Board of Selectmen and the Transportation Board have been considering plans to change Brookline taxi licensing from annually renewed “hackney” licenses to high-priced, perpetual “medallion” licenses. The “medallion” licenses would be sold to taxi operators to raise millions of dollars for Brookline.

So far, no one explained where that money could come from. However, there are only three practical sources: (1) increased fares paid by passengers, (2) reduced net incomes of taxi companies and other license holders, and (3) reduced net incomes of taxi drivers who are not license holders. Neither the 2007 Brookline Taxi Study nor any other available report presents an integrated financial view of the Brookline taxi industry.

Business finance and a phantom report: Some estimates can be made from an unsigned, undated report available from the Transportation Division of the Public Works Department (called here the 2012 Taxi Report). According to mentions of the report elsewhere, it may have been drafted or prepared by Richard LaCapra, a consultant on taxi licensing, and it probably was completed in early 2012.

According to the 2012 Taxi Report, 185 taxis were then licensed by Brookline, and revenues from fares in the first half of 2011 averaged $230 per day per taxi. Adding an average 15 percent of fares for tips leads to estimated total 2011 revenue for the Brookline taxi business of about $15 million. Confidential information from Bay State Taxi for 2010 and 2011 suggests those estimates are high. If Bay State were representative, then total 2011 revenue for the Brookline taxi business, including tips, would be about $13 million.

When costs of business are deducted, about $5.5 million per year is left for net personal incomes of drivers, and about $1 million is left for net business incomes of taxi companies and other license holders. The 2012 Taxi Report proposes to take back 37 existing licenses and to sell the balance of 148 as “medallion” licenses over about five years for a combined total of about $10 million, averaging about $2 million per year.

When extrapolated through total conversion from annual “hackney” licenses to long-term “medallion” licenses, the 2007 plan would have brought Brookline about $9.5 million over about 16 years in “medallion” fees–not adjusted for inflation or other financial factors. It would have involved little change in the size of the taxi fleet and represented added cost averaging about $0.6 million per year for the Brookline taxi business.

Bankrupting taxi companies: Unless offset by huge increases in taxi fares, the 2012 Taxi Report‘s plan for “medallion” licenses would extract about 30 percent of the combined annual net personal and net business income (for 2011) from the Brookline taxi business. At the same time, it would force the business to operate with 20 percent fewer vehicles–thus, on average, cutting personal and business income about in half. The likely fallout: companies shutting down and drivers leaving Brookline.

Compared with the 2007 Brookline Taxi Study, the unsigned 2012 Taxi Report lacks a professional approach. The 2007 study reviewed “medallion” programs in several communities and based recommendations on the comparisons, finding an equivalent to about $40,000 in market value for “medallions” in Brookline. In contrast, the unsigned 2012 Taxi Report simply claims that a “market price of $125,000 is realistic.” [p. 4] It presents no evidence to support the claim and fails to consider conflicting evidence explored in the 2007 study.

– Beacon staff, July 20, 2014


Unsigned, Brookline Taxi Report, Transportation Division Brookline DPW, Undated c. 2012

Brookline taxis: long-term “medallion” licenses

Members of Brookline’s Transportation Board have claimed at public meetings that the board began considering perpetual or long-term “medallion” licensing of taxis as early as 20 years ago. However, its first concrete action was in the fall of 2006, asking the Board of Selectmen for about $25,000 to fund a professional study. The Board of Selectmen approved a contract with Schaller Consulting of New York City.

At the time, Bruce Schaller had 25 years of experience analyzing taxi operations, including New York City, San Francisco, San Diego, Alexandria, VA, Anaheim, CA, Laredo, TX, and Montgomery County, MD. Mr. Schaller conducted surveys and organized conferences in Brookline with taxi owners, drivers and passengers, met with the Transportation Board four times and delivered a final report called Brookline Taxi Study in June, 2007. His report has vanished from Brookline’s municipal Web site, and it is being cached at the Beacon as a service to readers.

In early 2007, Mr. Schaller found two large and two small Brookline taxi companies with a total of 162 vehicles and licenses:

Bay State, 77 vehicles and licenses
Red Cab, 40 vehicles and licenses
Eagle Cab, 25 vehicles and licenses
Town Taxi, 20 vehicles and licenses

In addition, he found a total of 25 vehicles and licenses with a total of 11 individual operators and very small companies. According to Mr. Schaller, the taxi fleet of 187 vehicles and licenses was a reasonable match to the demands for services, averaging 3,300 trips per day. Incidents of slow service were lower than in most comparable places, while typical driver incomes were equal or higher. [pp. 8-10]

Historically, Red Cab is the established service, starting in the 1920s. Bay State is the insurgent, starting in the 1970s. The others are upstarts, starting in about the past 20 years. The Transportation Board added around 50 new taxi licenses over the past 20 years and has also been assigning the upstart companies and individuals some licenses formerly held by Bay State and Red Cab.

Mr. Schaller reported a minimum sustainable company size of about 40 vehicles and licenses, in order to absorb costs of dispatching, maintaining and garaging vehicles. At the time of his report, individuals and very small companies had mostly affiliated with Bay State or Red Cab for services they needed. Town Taxi was also dispatching taxis operating in Boston. Eagle Cab, operating independently, looked to be at risk. That service is now provided by Hello Taxi, operating from Western Ave. in Brighton.

Mr. Schaller found that Brookline’s taxi service more nearly resembled smaller suburban than larger urban services. In New York City and Boston, he wrote, around 80 percent of the trips come from street hails and taxi stands, and around 20 percent come from telephone orders. In Brookline, the numbers are reversed. Bay State and Red Cab dominate telephone-order business through what Mr. Schaller called “name recognition of established companies.” [pp. 12, 16]

Mr. Schaller said Brookline could maintain stable services at reasonable fares, while capturing some income, by licensing three large companies plus a share of licenses assigned to individual drivers. He recommended that Brookline plan gradual transition from “hackney” licenses renewed each year to perpetual or long-term “medallion” licenses for companies and drivers. By spreading a transition over time, he wrote, the industry would be able to absorb the financial burden and would gain stability from ownership of major assets.

The Schaller report emphasized balance: a few large companies sustainably dispatching, maintaining and garaging vehicles, but also some small companies and individual operators that provide competition. In order to maintain such a balance, it advised against auctioning “medallion” licenses to the highest bidders. Instead, it advocated a time-payment approach, in which “medallion” fees would be paid over periods of several years. [pp. 19-22]

Based on comparisons with other communities and business conditions in Brookline, in effect Mr. Schaller predicted a market value around $40,000 for “medallion” licenses, recommending a fee of $600 per month paid over seven years [p. 3] He outlined several options for fees and transition times, recommending a plan to sell about 19 medallions per year to companies and individuals–in other words, given the size of the taxi fleet, about 10 years of license conversions and a total 16-year transition period. [pp. 2, 30]

If Brookline had implemented Mr. Schaller’s plan at the time he filed a final report, by now Brookline would be near halfway through transition, and it would have received nearly $4 million in “medallion” fees:

July, 2008: $600 x 12 x 19 = $136,800
July, 2009: $600 x 12 x 38 = $273,600
July, 2010: $600 x 12 x 57 = $410,400
July, 2011: $600 x 12 x 76 = $547,200
July, 2012: $600 x 12 x 95 = $684,000
July, 2013: $600 x 12 x 114 = $820,800
July, 2014: $600 x 12 x 133 = $957,600
Total revenue over 7 years $3,830,400

So far, Brookline stumbled. It never created a single taxi “medallion” and received no revenue at all.

– Beacon Staff, July 19, 2014


Note: Thanks to David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, for a copy of the Schaller report of 2007 that he had downloaded from Brookline’s municipal Web site before it vanished from the site.


Brookline, MA, Board of Selectmen, Minutes, November 2, 2006, see “TAXI CONSULTANT STUDY”

Bruce Schaller, Brookline Taxi Study, Schaller Consulting, June, 2007

Taxi medallions: arrogant town officials questing for money

Some thought Brookline’s traditions of arrogant officials were laid to rest with election of Justin Wyner as moderator in 1970. Maybe not. A meeting of a moderator’s committee on taxi medallions that began at 7:00 pm on Bastille Day–Monday, July 14, 2014–bought back some of the worst of former days. Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the current moderator, had failed to appoint the main petitioner for Article 26 at the 2014 annual town meeting to the moderator’s committee.

The main petitioner for Article 26, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, sponsored Article 26, seeking to rescind authority to sell taxi medallions, at the 2014 annual town meeting, which was referred to a moderator’s committee. In his arguments to town meeting, the main petitioner for Article 26 had cited a 2013 Boston Globe article alleging that contract taxi drivers were being abused by medallion owners and singling out Edward J. Tutunjian, the owner of Boston Cab. The Globe article is replete with political sleaze and official corruption.

Mr. Gadsby insulted not only the main petitioner for Article 26 but also Brookline voters in failing to recognize the town’s main opponent of taxi medallions with a seat on the committee. Joshua Safer, the Transportation Board chair and recently made the chair of that committee, compounded the insult by offering the main petitioner for Article 26 30 seconds to state his views and by cutting him off for trying to speak any longer. Dr. Safer owes residents of Brookline an apology.

The proposed taxi medallion program has been touted as a measure to stabilize a troubled business and to improve services. However, the anxiety that underlies the arrogance began around 2007, with the start of a deep recession, as Brookline searched for revenue to fund services. A taxi medallion program might yield a one-time injection of a few million dollars, against a budget that now runs nearly $200 million a year.

The main petitioner for Article 26, whom Mr. Gadsby and Dr. Safer have been trying to sideline, has been protesting taxi medallions as a hidden tax and a social cancer. Such a program would obviously run up costs of operating taxi services, and the increased costs could only be met through increased fares.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 15, 2014


Martine Powers, No quick action from Boston on taxi reform, Boston Globe, July 15, 2014


Note, July 17, 2014.

The main petitioner for Article 26 at the 2014 annual town meeting asked not to be named in this article. With reluctance, that request was accepted. The petitioner is obviously a public figure: an elected town meeting member and the main author of what became controversial business at town meeting. By seeking distance from a controversy, the main petitioner loses the arguments. Less inhibited opponents will quickly move in for a kill.

Brookline’s solar power: slow progress and a stalled program

So far, Brookline ranks as a small player in the Massachusetts solar panel derby. Over the past four years, the state’s “carve-out” program of state solar power credits shows only 58 installations in Brookline–all but one residential and all but one rated at a modest 0.002 to 0.01 MW, peak. Total capacity shown for the town in this 4-year program is 0.36 MW, peak–an average of about 6 peak watts per Brookline resident. By comparison, the whole state of Massachusetts shows installed solar capacity of 660 MW, peak–an average of about 100 peak watts per state resident.

Brookline has two municipal installations: an array of 120 panels installed in 2007 on the roof of the Health Department building and an array of about 40 panels installed in 2010 on the roof of the Putterham branch library. Both were funded by government grants and private donations. So far, the town of Brookline has made no substantial investments. Charles “Charlie” Simmons, Brookline’s director of public buildings, did not know the rated electrical capacity of two facilities, but from the number of panels it is likely to be around 0.04 MW, peak.

Unlike large wind turbines, solar power is relatively friendly. It does not generate noise or flicker and does not tower over a landscape. Several other towns in the state have authorized or sponsored large solar installations. There are now 27 operating solar farms rated at 4 to 6 MW, peak, in Massachusetts. Most are commercial, but Barnstable, Bolton, Dartmouth and Lancaster have municipal facilities in this power range.

A town meeting action in the fall of 2012 tried to stimulate progress. Article 15, filed by Precinct 6 town meeting member Tommy Vitolo and passed unanimously, advocated “solar ready” roofs on Brookline’s buildings. The Board of Selectmen organized a Solar Roof Study Committee, which met three times from April through June of last year. Broadway Electric of Boston submitted proposals for six projects, ranging from 0.06 MW, peak, for the roof of the municipal swimming pool to 0.2 MW, peak, for the roof of the main High School complex.

Fortunately, in this case, Brookline was slow to act. According to news reports, Broadway Electric is being shuttered. Several Cape and Vineyard towns and towns in western Massachusetts were stuck with unfinished projects and may have missed deadlines to get state energy credits. Broadway Electric had been promoted to Brookline by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. Although it is not clear that MAPC has any engineering or financial expertise with solar energy, Mr. Simmons said town staff are meeting again today with an MAPC representative, hoping to revive a stalled program.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 14, 2014


Clarence Fanto, Broadway Electric’s struggles may leave Lenox, Lee solar plans in the dark, Berkshire Eagle, February 3, 2014

Metropolitan Area Planning Council, MAPC selects regional solar developer, February 26, 2013

Public Transportation Advisory Committee: Bridj jitney bus service, MBTA 51 bus route

A regular monthly meeting of the Public Transportation Advisory Committee on Wednesday, June 25, started at 7:00 pm in the 4th floor conference room at Town Hall, with the five current committee members present plus eight members of the public, a Transportation Board member, a member of MBTA management and a representative from GroupZoom, who operate the Bridj jitney bus service from Coolidge Corner.

Jitney bus service: Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, told the committee that the Centre St. neighborhood near Coolidge Corner was “taken by surprise” around 8 am the morning of June 2, when three full-size buses showed up on the street, labeled BRIDJ. Inquiry found they were starting to offer jitney bus service on weekday mornings to the Kendall Square area in east Cambridge and to the Post Office Square area in downtown Boston. For the first few weeks, the services were to be free of charge. Service has since been extended to the Seaport District.

Mr. Swartz said there had been “no notice to neighbors about buses on the street,” and they didn’t fit. A neighbor complained that the buses were left idling while waiting for passengers for much longer than the five minutes allowed. She had gotten drivers to turn off their engines. Another neighbor recounted that the 54-passenger buses had been almost unable to turn from Centre St. onto narrow Shailer St., calling the buses an “imposition on the neighborhood so that this company can make money.”

Mike Izzo, operations manager for Group Zoom’s Bridj service, agreed that the large buses had trouble negotiating turns, saying he was “losing some of [his] hair when those buses turn the corner.” Mr. Izzo, who affects an ultra-short hair style, didn’t look to have much left to lose. He offered contacts for anyone who wants to report a problem: mike@bridj.com and 931-551-5802. Mr. Izzo said his service was starting to use smaller buses from Academy Bus, operating from Braintree, and vans operated by DPV Transportation of Boston. However, all the current vehicles get their heat and air conditioning from the main engine–as yet an unsolved issue.

Linda Jason, a committee member, asked what Brookline was doing to address the neighborhood concerns. Abigail “Abby” Swaine, the committee chair, said that the Transportation Board would be reviewing permit applications in late summer or early fall. The service has temporary permits from Todd Kirrane, the transportation director, that expire in about two months. Linda Swartz, wife of Mr. Swartz, said buses might interfere with the Brookline Farmers Market, whose vendors start to set up stalls in the morning, and said the buses have been parked in metered spaces without paying at the meters. Several issues were left unresolved.

MBTA 51 bus: Ms. Swaine outlined proposals to alter the MBTA 51 bus route through south Brookline. The main change is to move the segment running from the intersection of Chestnut Hill Ave. with Route 9 to the vicinity of Putterham (Ryan) Circle about a mile westward. It would operate on Boylston St. (Route 9) and Hammond St. instead of Lee St., Newton St. and Grove St. An unresolved issue is how to proceed south of Horace James Circle.

An obvious choice would follow West Roxbury Parkway to Putterham Circle. However, Ms. Swaine said, much of that route is state highway, and it lacks sidewalks and safe, convenient pedestrian access. An alternative would follow Lagrange St. and Beverly Rd. to Grove St. west of Putterham Circle. Beverly Rd. is narrower, particularly the section passing Baker School.

Linda Lally, an MBTA system planner attending the meeting, said MBTA would need full specifications for a proposed change by mid-November to implement it for the winter schedule. The next opportunity is mid-March. Brookline has yet to organize either a ridership survey or neighborhood meetings. If use of West Roxbury Parkway is to be proposed, that will involve consultation with the state’s Department of Transportation.

Scott Englander, a member of the Transportation Board, said the board has been able to improve response rates to surveys by finding a retail sponsor and offering a chance at winning a gift card. Ms. Pehlke asked about including an insert in a utility bill mailing. Ms. Swaine agreed to ask Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director. At the start and end of school days, a full-size bus operating on Beverly Rd. would aggravate congestion near Baker School, and it might be unable to get through in snowy weather. Ms. Swaine said so far there had been no contacts with parents and school staff.

MBTA transit: The committee revisited the topic of transfers between MBTA lines, reviewed briefly at its last meeting. Committee member Deborah Dong said it should be a high priority because of the Government Center station closing for renovations. Mr. Englander said that a likely way to automate transfers would involve microprocessor-based Charlie Cards. Ms. Lally agreed but said that there was currently no way for MBTA to make the necessary changes to turnstile card readers. Ms. Swaine recalled that at the previous meeting Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, claimed the change would be “easy.”

With town meeting approval of $50,000 for a Beacon St. signal study, aimed at reducing street-crossing wait times for MBTA Green Line C trains, Ms. Swaine said the Transportation Department was drafting specifications for a consulting contract. Christopher Dempsey will monitor the project for the Transportation Board. There has been no written communication yet with MBTA, but MBTA staff are aware of the project and the funding.

Bridj jitney bus permit: At a meeting of the Transportation Board the next evening, Mr. Englander gave a brief oral report about the committee review of the Bridj jitney bus service. However, he did not convey vigorous neighborhood concerns about traffic and parking problems. The next day, Joshua Safer, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and chair of the board, said that so far there had been no written report to the board about the Bridj service.

Mr. Kirrane, the Brookline director of transportation, who attended the Transportation Board meeting, said that in September the staff of GroupZoom would meet with the Transportation Board, seeking a regular permit for Bridj. A few days after the meeting, Ms. Swaine said Mr. Izzo had informed her that Bridj would no longer use full-size, 54-passenger buses for its services based from Coolidge Corner but instead use smaller 27-passenger and 13-passenger vehicles.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 4, 2014

Repeal casino gambling: on the ballot this fall

As most readers of the Beacon probably know, yesterday the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts decided casino gambling repeal goes on the state election ballot this fall. The court unanimously dismissed all arguments against putting the question on the ballot from Martha Coakley, the attorney general now running for governor as a gambling supporter. She had refused to certify a question on repeal of casino gambling for the 2014 state ballot.

The obvious precedent was repeal of dog racing, approved by voters in 2008. It drew similar legal objections, in stronger forms. Dog racing and betting had been operating since the former Wonderland Dog Track, in Revere, opened in 1935. That repeal question was certified by Ms. Coakley for the 2008 ballot, but then it was challenged at the Supreme Judicial Court by people interested in racing and betting. Writing for the court, Justice Margot Botsford stated, “the Attorney General’s certification…was proper.”

In yesterday’s decision, Justice Ralph Gants wrote for the court, saying, “We see no reason to depart from our precedent [for dog racing]…the legislature and, through the initiative, the voters of Massachusetts may choose to abolish casino and slots parlor gambling and parimutuel wagering on simulcast greyhound races, and doing so would not constitute a taking of property without compensation.”

Ms. Coakley did not seem to learn a thing from the controversy in which she played a part just six years before. Who has been paying Ms. Coakley’s political bills?

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 25, 2014


Casino gambling repeal: Abdow v. Attorney General, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court No. SJC-11641, June 24, 2014 (Select Opinion type “Opinions from the Supreme Judicial Court” and Docket number 11641)

Dog racing repeal: Carney v. Attorney General, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court No. SJC-10158, 451 Mass. 803, July 15, 2008 (Select Opinion type “Opinions from the Supreme Judicial Court” and Docket number 10158)

Board of Selectmen: school programs, electronic voting and permits

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 17, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Board member Neil Wishinsky did not attend. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Announcements: The Brookline Farmers Market opens for the season on June 19. Hours are Thursday from 1:30 to 8:00 pm at the municipal parking lot on the west side of Centre St. just north of Beacon St. This year Carr’s Ciderhouse of Hadley, MA, has a permit to sell hard ciders in addition to cider vinegars and cider syrups. The Olmsted House, a historical site at 99 Warren St. operated by the National Park Service, opens for summer visitors June 25. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm.

Planning school programs: Helen Charlupski, a School Committee member, and Peter Rowe, the deputy superintendent of schools, sought approval of a $100,000 contract with Symmes Miana & McKee of Cambridge for planning services at Brookline High School. As Mr. Rowe explained it, this is not for architectural planning but instead for planning school programs. The Building Commission is listed as the agency in charge of the contract, as would normally occur for architecture or construction, but no member of the Building Commission addressed this topic.

Funding may be from item 59 under Article 8 as approved at the 2014 annual town meeting, but there was no description of the source of funds. Members of the board approved the $100,000 contract in a unanimous vote, without asking questions about contents of the project or qualifications of the contractor. Little engagement with the substance of some topics produced such a speedy meeting that the board paused twice, for a total of about 30 minutes, because it ran far faster than scheduled.

Electronic voting records: Town Administrator Mel Kleckner was granted a request to transfer $3,000 from an insurance account to the account for town meeting expenses, to pay overtime so employees of the Information Technology Office can attend town meetings. They will assist with the recent electronic voting system that has produced records inconsistent with votes as called by Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator. None of the other officials usually responsible for town meeting appeared: the moderator, the town clerk or the chair of the Advisory Committee.

Appointments: In contrast with its speedy approval of $100,000 for the purposes of Public Schools of Brookline, the board took a relaxed pace interviewing applicants for committees and commissions: two for Martin Luther King, one for Park and Recreation, one for Building and one for Information Technology. Dan Lyons, applying for a fourth term of three years on Park and Recreation, engaged in conversations with Kenneth Goldstein, chair of the board, over plans for the municipal golf course. Mr. Lyons said he favors building a driving range using part of the first fairway, reducing it from par-5 to par-4.

Permits: The board speedily approved several permit items: three events at Larz Anderson, a name change for a restaurant at 1009 Beacon St., a change in company officers for Trader Joe’s in Coolidge Corner and one hour earlier opening on Sundays for Sunset Cantina at 916 Commonwealth Ave. Mark Berkowitz was the applicant for extended hours; he appeared on friendly terms with some members of the board.

Annual review of open-air parking lots hit a snag. Board members Betsy DeWitt and Nancy Daly spoke of several complaints about operation of a lot near the intersection of Washington St. with Bartlett Crescent, northwest of Washington Square and just before Corey Rd. The lot appears operated in conjunction with U.S. Petroleum, at the corner of Corey Rd. on Boston land. Since it took over the location a little over 20 years ago, the gas station has been regarded by its Brookline neighbors as an eyesore and sometimes a nuisance. The board held that permit for investigation and approved the others.

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

2014 annual town meeting: electronic voting issues

The 2014 annual town meeting held eleven electronic votes: one at the first session May 27, six at the second session May 29 and four at the third and final session June 2. Only two of those from the last session appear in town meeting records on the Brookline municipal Web site. The other votes were on motions to refer Article 26, seeking to repeal sale of taxi medallions, and to refer Article 29, supporting “independent” local businesses.

Because records of the votes were collected by elected officials at a public meeting and used for a public purpose, they are public records under state laws and regulations. Copies were requested on June 11 and were supplied by Patrick Ward, the town clerk, on June 16. Mr. Ward sent a spreadsheet file with all eleven of the electronic votes.

Referral votes: Looking over the votes suggests that the two referral motions won because a majority of the town meeting members saw some merit to the corresponding articles but doubted there was enough support for them to pass. Both articles attracted strong opposition and sounded likely to lose an up-or-down vote.

John Harris of Precinct 8, who submitted Article 26 seeking to repeal sale of taxi medallions, voted to refer it to a moderator’s committee. If Mr. Harris thought he could win an up-or-down vote, he would surely have opposed referral.

Article 29, asking for support of “independent” local businesses, was submitted by a coalition of business owners spoken for by Abram “Abe” Faber, co-owner of the popular Clear Flour Bakery on Thorndike St. Some town meeting members said they found Mr. Faber’s approach exclusionary. Referring his article drew notable support from nearby precincts and from Precinct 5–perhaps a kind of consolation prize.

Uncertain votes: The file sent by Mr. Ward contained another mismatch with individual votes previously found on the Brookline municipal Web site. A vote on Article 32 from a Precinct 13 town meeting member changed from No to Yes, for a total of five votes that differ according to the source of data. The others were on the Driscoll School feasibility study, under Article 8, from Precinct 4 town meeting members.

Those might be “political” issues. Town meeting members sometimes find themselves recorded one way and later want to present their views differently. Records on the Web site do not say when or how individual votes changed. If one lacked copies of the records available at different times, those changes would be invisible.

Discrepancies in totals: There are several discrepancies between totals found by adding votes in the computer records and totals declared at town meeting by the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby. Totals for five of the eleven electronic votes differ from ones declared at town meeting sessions, by margins of one to three votes.

The uncertain votes do not explain the differences, so the discrepancies may represent “technical” issues. Mr. Gadsby found it necessary to repeat one vote and to call out corrections for two others. Those votes did not produce discrepancies. Problems occurred with eight out of eleven electronic votes. Of those, Mr. Gadsby was able to catch three at town meeting. The others remain lodged in Brookline’s records.

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

Technology: The current system appears to continue responding to voting changes after a vote is supposed to be over. The system fails to provide a clear signal saying when it has finished tabulating a vote. Brookline has many lawyers and executives but few design engineers. The 2012 committee that configured electronic voting lacked relevant expertise. It tended to accept system performance claims without thorough investigations and to discount the values of security measures and of direct feedback to town meeting members about how their votes are being recorded.

After practice with the current system at three previous town meetings, at the 2014 annual town meeting the technology failed to provide precise, reliable results for more than two-thirds of the electronic votes. Mr. Gadsby was able to detect and correct some problems, but he missed a majority of them. The electronic voting system needs to go back to the shop, to straighten out obvious kinks. It’s not ready for prime time.

Policy: If Brookline had a reliable electronic voting system, allowing town meeting members to change recorded positions after a vote has been declared would be a highly dubious practice. It opens an avenue into allowing town meeting results to become clouded after a town meeting is over, introducing potentials for protracted disputes or lawsuits over close votes.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 17, 2014


Brookline 2014 annual town meeting, electronic votes as of June 16, 2014

No. Day Article Section/vote Question voted
1 5/27 8 58 Driscoll School feasibility study, strike delay on spending funds
2 5/29 10 1 Community relations, close debate (2/3 vote)
3 5/29 10 2 Community relations, make director a department head
4 5/29 10 3 Community relations, main motion to create new commission
5 5/29 22 1 Zoning, convenience store with gasoline station (2/3 vote)
6 5/29 23 1 Zoning, prohibit accessory dwellings in single-family zones (2/3 vote)
7 5/29 25 1 Adopt local option, Retirement Board stipends
8 6/2 15 1 Zoning, Brookline Place, with controversy over parking (2/3 vote)
9 6/2 26 1 Legislation, repealing taxi medallion sales, refer to moderator’s committee
10 6/2 29 1 Resolution, supporting independent local businesses, refer to EDAB
11 6/2 32 1 Resolution, support state legislation, fossil-fuel divestment

Electronic recorded votes Y for “yes,” N for “no” & indicates an
2014 annual town meeting P for “present” or “abstain” uncertain vote
A for absent or not voting
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
01 Cathleen Cavell Y N Y Y Y Y A Y Y Y A
01 Ernest Cook A A A A A A A A A A A
01 Jonathan Cutler Y Y Y Y N A A A A A A
01 Elijah Ercolino Y Y Y Y Y Y N A A A A
01 James Franco Y Y N Y Y Y N Y N Y N
01 Richard Garver Y A A A A A A P Y Y Y
01 Neil Gordon Y N Y Y P Y Y Y P Y Y
01 Helen Herman Y N N Y N A A A A A A
01 Carol Hillman Y N Y Y N Y Y Y N N Y
01 Sean Lynn-Jones Y Y N Y Y Y N Y N Y Y
01 Alexandra Metral Y Y Y Y N N Y N Y N Y
01 Paul Moghtader Y Y N Y Y Y Y Y Y A A
01 Bettina Neuefeind Y N Y Y N A A N N N Y
01 Robert Schram Y N Y N N Y Y P Y Y Y
01 Katharine Silbaugh Y N N Y N A A Y A A A
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
02 Judith Kidd Y A A A A A A Y N N N
02 Lisa Liss Y Y Y Y Y N N Y A A A
02 Rita McNally Y Y N Y N Y N Y Y Y Y
02 Adam Mitchell Y A A A A A A A A A A
02 Barbara O’Brien Y Y A Y A Y Y A A A A
02 Gwen Ossenfort Y Y Y Y N Y A Y N N A
02 Linda Pehlke N N N Y N Y N Y N Y Y
02 Edward Richmond Y Y Y Y A N N Y A A A
02 Susan Roberts Y Y N Y N Y N Y Y Y Y
02 Diana Spiegel Y N Y Y Y Y Y Y N N Y
02 Stanley Spiegel Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y N N Y
02 Eunice White N Y N Y N Y N Y N Y Y
02 Bruce Wolff Y N Y N P Y P Y Y N Y
02 Ana Vera Wynne Y N Y Y Y Y A Y N Y Y
02 Richard Wynne Y N Y Y Y Y A A A A A
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
03 Harry Bohrs Y A A Y Y Y N Y N N P
03 Patricia Connors Y N Y Y Y Y Y P N N Y
03 Mary Dewart Y Y Y Y A A A A Y A A
03 Murray Dewart Y Y Y Y Y A A Y N Y Y
03 Dennis Doughty Y N Y Y Y Y N Y Y N Y
03 Kathe Geist Y A A A A A A N N A A
03 Jane Gilman Y P Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y Y
03 Heather Hamilton Y Y N Y Y N N P N Y Y
03 Gary Jones Y A A A A A A Y A N A
03 Laurence Koff Y Y N Y Y Y N A N Y N
03 Donald Leka Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
03 Kathleen Scanlon Y N Y Y Y Y N Y N N Y
03 Frank Steinfield Y N Y Y Y Y N Y Y N Y
03 Rebecca Stone Y P N Y Y N N A A A A
03 Jean Stringham Y Y N Y Y N N Y N Y Y
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
04 Sarah Axelrod Y N Y Y Y Y N Y Y N Y
04 Eric Berke Y& N N A N N Y Y N Y N
04 Edith Brickman Y N N Y N Y Y Y N N Y
04 Alan Christ Y& Y Y Y Y A Y Y Y N Y
04 Ingrid Cooper Y N Y Y N Y N Y Y Y Y
04 Anne Covert N Y Y Y Y Y N Y N N Y
04 Frank Farlow Y N Y Y Y Y Y P Y Y Y
04 Martha Farlow Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y Y
04 Nadine Gerdts Y Y Y Y Y Y N A A A A
04 John Mulhane Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y
04 Mariah Nobrega Y Y Y Y N Y N A Y N Y
04 Joseph Robinson Y Y N Y A A A Y Y A A
04 Marjorie Siegel Y& N Y Y A A A Y Y Y Y
04 Virginia Smith N& Y Y Y Y Y A N Y N Y
04 Robert Volk Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
05 Richard Allen Y Y N Y Y A A A N Y A
05 Robert Daves Y N N Y Y Y N P Y Y y
05 Dennis DeWitt Y A A A A A A Y A Y Y
05 Michael Gunnuscio Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y
05 Angela Hyatt Y Y N Y Y Y N Y N Y Y
05 David Knight Y Y N Y N Y N Y N A A
05 Hugh Mattison N Y N Y Y N N Y Y Y Y
05 Puja Mehta Y A A N A A A Y A A A
05 Randolph Meiklejohn Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y N Y Y
05 Phyllis O’Leary Y Y N Y Y P Y Y N A A
05 Andrew Olins N Y N Y Y A A Y Y Y A
05 William Reyelt Y Y Y Y Y N N Y Y Y Y
05 Betsy Shure Gross N Y N Y N Y N N Y N Y
05 Claire Stampfer Y Y N Y N Y N Y N Y Y
05 Lenore von Krusenstiern Y P Y Y P A A Y Y Y Y
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
06 Catherine Anderson Y N N Y N N Y Y N Y Y
06 John Bassett Y Y N Y Y Y N Y Y N Y
06 Jocina Becker Y A N Y Y Y P Y Y N Y
06 Christopher Dempsey Y N N Y Y N N A A A A
06 Brian Hochleutner Y N Y Y Y Y N Y N Y Y
06 Sytske Humphrey Y Y N Y Y Y N Y A N N
06 Virginia LaPlante Y Y Y N N N N A Y N Y
06 M.K. Merelice Y Y Y N Y Y N P N A Y
06 Ian Polumbaum Y N Y Y A Y N Y Y A A
06 Clinton Richmond Y N Y Y N N P Y N N Y
06 Ian Roffman Y N Y N N A A A A A A
06 Kim Smith Y N Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y
06 Ruthann Sneider Y N Y Y N Y P P N N Y
06 Robert Sperber Y Y Y N N Y Y Y N N Y
06 Thomas Vitolo Y N Y Y Y N N Y Y Y Y
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
07 Ellen Ball Y Y N Y Y Y N Y N Y A
07 Susan Cohen Y A A A A A A Y Y N Y
07 Susan Ellis Y A A A A A A Y Y Y A
07 Ernest Frey P Y Y Y Y Y N Y N N Y
07 Phyllis Giller Y Y Y Y N A A Y Y Y A
07 Elizabeth Goldstein Y Y Y Y A A A Y Y Y A
07 Mark Gray A N N Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y
07 Bernard Greene N N Y Y Y N Y Y N N A
07 Kelly Hardebeck Y Y N Y Y A A Y Y N A
07 Jonathan Lewis A Y N Y Y A A A A A A
07 Jonathan Margolis Y Y Y Y N Y A P N N Y
07 Christopher Oates N N Y N Y N Y Y Y N Y
07 Sloan Sable A A A A A A A Y Y N Y
07 Rita Shon-Baker Y Y Y Y N Y N Y Y N Y
07 James Slayton Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y N N A
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
08 Lauren Bernard A A A A A A A Y A Y A
08 Abigail Cox Y Y P Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y
08 Gina Crandell A A A A A A A A A A A
08 Franklin Friedman N Y N Y Y N A Y N Y A
08 David-Marc Goldstein Y Y N Y N N N Y N N Y
08 John Harris Y N N P N N A Y Y Y Y
08 Nancy Heller Y Y N Y N Y N Y Y Y Y
08 Anita Johnson Y A A A A N N Y Y N Y
08 Edward Loechler Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
08 Jeanne Mansfield Y N N Y N N N Y N Y Y
08 Robert Miller Y N Y Y N N P P N Y Y
08 Barbara Scotto Y Y N Y P Y Y Y Y N Y
08 Lisamarie Sears Y N N Y A A A Y Y A A
08 Sara Stock A A A A A A A A A A A
08 Maura Toomey Y Y N Y N Y N Y Y Y Y
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
09 Liza Brooks N N Y Y Y A A Y N Y A
09 Joseph Geller N A A A A A A A A A A
09 Paul Harris Y Y Y Y Y N N P N N Y
09 Nathaniel Hinchey Y Y Y Y Y A A Y A A A
09 Barr Jozwicki Y Y Y Y A A A A A A A
09 Joyce Jozwicki Y Y N Y A A A A A A A
09 Pamela Katz Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y Y
09 Julius Levine A A A A A A A A A A A
09 Stanley Rabinovitz A Y Y Y A A A Y A A A
09 Harriet Rosenstein N A A A A A A A A A A
09 Martin Rosenthal Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y N Y Y
09 Charles Swartz N N Y Y Y Y Y Y N A A
09 Dwaign Tyndal N Y A A A A A N Y N Y
09 Judith Vanderkay P Y Y Y N Y N P N Y Y
09 George White Y Y Y Y N N Y N Y Y Y
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
10 Carol Caro Y N Y Y N N Y P Y Y Y
10 Francis Caro Y N N Y Y N Y Y Y Y P
10 Sumner Chertok A A A A A A A A A A A
10 Jonathan Davis A N Y Y N Y A Y Y N A
10 Linda Davis Y N Y Y N Y A Y Y N A
10 Holly Deak Y Y Y Y N A A Y A N A
10 Stephan Gaehde Y A A A A A A P A A A
10 Beth Jones A A A A A A A A A A A
10 David Micley Y N Y Y Y N P Y N Y Y
10 Sharon Sandalow Y N Y Y Y N Y Y N N Y
10 Rachel Sandalow-Ash Y N Y P P N Y Y N N Y
10 Stanley Shuman Y P Y Y Y N N Y Y Y Y
10 Finn Skagestad Y Y Y Y A A A Y Y A A
10 Alexandra Spingarn Y A A A A A A A A A A
10 Naomi Sweitzer Y N Y Y N N N Y Y Y Y
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
11 Carrie Benedon Y Y A Y N Y N Y N Y Y
11 Joseph Ditkoff Y A A A A A A Y Y N N
11 Shira Fischer A N N Y Y Y N N N N Y
11 Shanna Giora-Gorfajn Y N Y Y N P N Y N Y P
11 Jennifer Goldsmith N Y N N Y N A P Y N A
11 Martha Gray N N Y N N Y N P Y N Y
11 Bobbie Knable Y N Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y N
11 David Lescohier Y Y N Y N Y N Y Y Y Y
11 Kenneth Lewis Y Y N Y Y Y N Y N Y A
11 David Lowe N N N Y N P N P Y Y Y
11 Rebecca Mautner Y A Y Y N N N Y A Y Y
11 Maryellen Moran N Y N Y A A A Y Y A A
11 Carol Oldham Y N Y N N N N P N N Y
11 Brian Sheehan Y N Y N Y N P Y N N P
11 Karen Wenc N N N Y Y N N Y N Y N
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 Michael Burstein N Y Y Y Y N Y Y N Y Y
12 Bruce Cohen Y Y N Y P Y N Y N A A
12 Lee Cooke-Childs Y A A A A A A Y Y Y Y
12 Chad Ellis Y Y N Y Y Y N Y Y N N
12 Harry Friedman N Y N N P Y N Y Y N N
12 Jonathan Grand Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y N A
12 Stefanie Greenfield Y Y N Y N Y A Y N A A
12 Casey Hatchett Y N N Y Y N A Y Y N Y
12 Amy Hummel Y Y N Y Y Y N Y N Y Y
12 Jonathan Karon Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y N Y Y
12 David Klafter Y P Y N Y N Y Y Y N Y
12 Mark Lowenstein Y Y N Y A A A Y N N A
12 Judy Meyers Y A Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y
12 William Slotnick Y Y Y Y N N N Y Y A Y
12 Donald Weitzman Y Y Y Y Y N N Y Y Y Y
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
13 Joanna Baker Y N Y Y N N Y Y N N Y
13 Carla Benka N Y Y Y Y Y N Y N Y N
13 Roger Blood A A A A A A A Y A N N
13 Chris Chanyasulkit Y Y N Y Y Y P Y Y N Y
13 John Doggett N Y N Y Y Y Y Y N N N
13 Jonathan Fine N Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y N
13 Andrew Fischer N Y Y Y N N N N N Y Y
13 John Freeman N Y N Y Y Y N Y Y N Y
13 Francis Hoy Y Y N Y Y N Y Y A A A
13 Ruth Kaplan Y Y Y Y A A A Y N N A
13 Werner Lohe N Y Y Y Y N N Y N Y Y&
13 Paul Saner N Y N Y Y Y N Y A A A
13 Lee Selwyn N Y N Y Y Y N Y N N N
13 Barbara Senecal Y Y N Y A A A Y Y A A
13 John VanScoyoc Y Y N Y Y Y N Y N N A
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
14 Robert Basile Y Y N Y A A A Y A A A
14 Clifford Brown P Y N Y A A A Y Y N A
14 Linda Carlisle Y A A A A A A Y N Y A
14 Gill Fishman N Y Y Y N Y N Y Y N Y
14 Paula Friedman A A A A A A A Y Y Y A
14 Deborah Goldberg Y A A A Y N Y A N Y A
14 Georgia Johnson A A A A A A A Y N Y Y
14 Fred Levitan N Y N Y A A A A A A A
14 Roger Lipson Y Y N Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
14 Pamela Lodish N Y N Y Y Y N Y N N N
14 Shaari Mittel Y A A A A A A Y A N N
14 Kathleen O’Connell Y A A A A A A A A A A
14 Benjamin Rich N A N Y Y N N Y N Y Y
14 Lynda Roseman Y Y N Y P Y N Y N N Y
14 Sharon Schoffman Y A A A N Y N Y N Y Y
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
15 Edwin Alexanderian A A A A A A A A A A A
15 Mariela Ames N Y N N A A A A A A A
15 Eileen Berger Y Y N P A A A P Y A A
15 Michael Berger Y N N N A A A P Y A A
15 Abby Coffin Y Y Y A A A A A A A A
15 Jane Flanagan N Y N Y A A A A A A A
15 John Hall A A A A A A A A A A A
15 Benedicte Hallowell Y Y P Y A A A A A A A
15 Janice Kahn N N P Y A A A Y N N Y
15 Richard Nangle N Y A Y A A A A A A A
15 David Pearlman N N N N N N N Y N N N
15 James Rourke N Y N Y A A A A A A A
15 Ab Sadeghi-Nejad N Y N Y A A A Y N Y Y
15 Cornelia van der Ziel Y N Y N Y Y Y A A A A
15 Vacant town meeting seat A A A A A A A A A A A
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
16 Saralynn Allaire N N N P Y N N Y N P Y
16 Robert Allen Y A A A A A A A N Y A
16 Beverly Basile Y Y N Y N Y N Y N Y A
16 John Basile A Y N Y A A A Y A A A
16 Stephen Chiumenti Y Y N Y Y Y N Y Y N N
16 Regina Frawley N N N Y P Y N Y N P P
16 Thomas Gallitano Y Y Y Y N N N Y Y N Y
16 Scott Gladstone Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y P Y Y
16 Alisa Jonas A P N Y N N N Y Y Y Y
16 Judith Leichtner Y P N Y N Y N Y Y Y Y
16 William Pu Y Y N Y N Y A A A A A
16 Joshua Safer Y Y N Y Y Y N Y N N N
16 Irene Scharf Y Y Y Y N N N P N Y Y
16 Arthur Sneider Y Y Y Y Y Y Y A A A A
16 Joyce Stavis-Zak Y Y Y Y N N N Y Y Y Y
                           
Pct. Given name Family name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
AL Nancy Daly Y P N Y Y N Y Y Y Y Y
AL Betsy DeWitt Y N N Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y
AL Benjamin Franco Y N N Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
AL Edward Gadsby P P P P P P P P P A P
AL Kenneth Goldstein Y Y N Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y
AL Hon. Frank Smizik Y A A A A A A A A A A
AL Patrick Ward P P P P P P P P P P P
AL Neil Wishinsky Y N N Y Y Y N A A A A
                           
Result of vote, as declared Y N Y Y N N N Y Y Y Y
Quantum of vote 1/2 2/3 1/2 1/2 2/3 2/3 1/2 1/2 1/2 1/2 2/3
                           
Totals in records Yes 179 128 107 185 109 106 47 171 96 99 126
  No 43 68 94 18 62 59 100 9 91 78 20
  Abstain 5 10 5 6 11 5 10 23 4 3 7
  Not voting 21 42 42 39 66 78 91 45 57 68 95
                           
Vote declaration Yes 176 128 107 185 109 106 47 170 96 99 126
  No 43 66 94 17 62 59 100 9 91 76 20
  Abstain 5 10 5 6 11 5 10 20 4 3 7

2014 annual town meeting recap: fine points

Town meetings seem to behave, in part, like musical theatre. If you can’t carry a tune, you probably won’t carry an argument. Alas, some of today’s would-be performers come across–politically speaking–as tone deaf. However, there still remain quite a few sparks of life.

May 27: Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6 flagged conditions the Advisory Committee had tried to attach to special appropriations item 41 under Article 8: $50,000 to study Beacon Street traffic signals, aiding MBTA Green Line trains. Dr. Vitolo said the proposed conditions amounted to an invalid attempt to bind actions of a future town meeting and moved to delete them. No Advisory Committee member stood up to respond. Town meeting members agreed by a show of hands, with only two people counted as opposed.

Joyce Jozwicki of Precinct 9 sounded more than a little cross about special appropriations item 40 in Article 8: $30,000 for “bicycle access improvement.” She contended it “should be preceded by enforcement of the rules for bicyclists.” Over the fan noise, no response could be heard from the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Driscoll School: In the debate over a Driscoll School feasibility study, School Committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff admitted what had long been clear to close observers: despite nearly religious objections, the School Department has already increased class sizes, “on average 1-1/2 students per class,” she said.

That almost cancels Brookline costs to support METCO and “materials fees” students. If standards for class size rise from about 25 to about 27 students, then the current students from outside Brookline will all have been absorbed by the current staff within the current buildings–responding to historic promises that those students occupy “available seats.”

Concerning special appropriations item 51 under Article 8, George White of Precinct 9 asked: Where’s the plan for light-emitting-diode (LED) street lights? For once the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, sounded flustered, saying that should be in the warrant report. It is not. He brushed off Mr. White, telling him to go ask the Department of Public Works–whose commissioner was standing on town-meeting floor, looking ready to answer the question. After all, LED street lights are Mr. Pappastergion’s signature project of the year.

School funding: In the debate over school funding, Jonathan Davis of Precinct 10 asked about costs of “carts” for computers: “Is that much money really needed?” He never got a clear answer. School superintendent William Lupini launched his “so” “right” dialect–a local curiosity at School Committee meetings–as in, “So…they’re for the computers we’re purchasing…Right?” Yes, indeed. “Exactly what it says on the tin.”

More items from Ms. Ditkoff of the School Committee: “The cost per student has been absolutely flat for the last five years…We’ve added more than 50 classrooms out of our current spaces.” Without explanation, the latter sounded like “space magic.” Apparently a School Committee insider violated current town-meeting protocol–a Gadsby invention–distributing rogue handouts on town-meeting floor. It caught Mr. Gadsby’s attention and drew a reproach, but then he relented, saying it “has my retroactive approval.” Humph! Issues of free speech went unmentioned–even with Martin “Marty” Rosenthal, Karen Wenc and Harry Friedman on hand.

Somebody might have asked but didn’t: since Public Schools of Brookline already spends around $17,000 per year per student, if computers are so important and the ones PSB prefers cost only $330 each, why not get a computer for every student and forego the fancy carts and projectors PSB wouldn’t need?

Police Department topics: Harry Friedman of Precinct 12 objected to investigating criminal backgrounds of construction workers, during debate about the police budget. Joslin Murphy, recently appointed as town counsel, said Massachusetts law now requires checking national Criminal Offender Record Information if workers have unsupervised contact with school children. That might be an issue, for example, in the upcoming Lawrence School project. Mr. Friedman was dissatisfied, saying, “People in these jobs often have criminal records” but need employment to regain a place in society. He called the practice “heartless and vindictive.” However, workers on town jobs are usually going to be union members–unlikely to get those particular jobs fresh out of prison.

Mr. Friedman also objected to police seeking out a “Groton man”–apparently not a graduate of Groton School–who answered a fake “personal” ad Brookline police placed online. Outside a putative “hands off” stance, Moderator Gadsby asked Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, about the “purpose of entrapment policies.” Not satisfied at Mr. O’Leary’s responses, Mr. Friedman said, “From a moral or ethical point of view [the incident] really…crosses over the line…. If the Brookline police want to be the protectors of eastern Massachusetts…they can go into Boston and patrol the streets there.”

Advisory chair Harry Bohrs confirmed the once touted Galaxy WiFi services are dead and gone, although many antennas still hang from street-light brackets. He said Brookline is equipping some employees with wireless Internet, to the tune of $50 per device per month.

May 29, human relations: Article 10 proposed to replace the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, dating from 1970, with a new Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. It also designates a new “chief diversity officer” reporting to Town Administrator Mel Klecker and reduces the new commission’s duties and powers, compared with the 1970 commission. Nancy Daly led the effort to write Article 10 and spoke for the Board of Selectmen. She said it would “not give the [new] commission the quasi-judicial authority to hear and act on…complaints.”

Precinct 15 town meeting member Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, spoke for the current commission and against Article 10. She said it “will take away any direct role or oversight on complaints brought to the [chief diversity officer] by employees…[and] take away the commission’s authority for developing…equal opportunity and affirmative action. It will give the commission about eighteen tasks…but appropriates no money for them.”

Speaking about a chief diversity officer, Ms. Ames said, “What good does that do if we’re going to ask this person to do precisely what was wrong by his predecessor? Only this time, we put it in writing: that is, handle complaints privately, have sole discretion whether to share information with the commission, have no oversight and no accountability…in essence, get paid hundreds of thousands to do…what exactly? Keep the lid on?”

Stature as a department head: It must have been a troubling moment for Ms. Daly and other members of the “diversity committee.” However, one of them, Martin “Marty” Rosenthal of Precinct 9, had joined with Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 in proposing an amendment to this year’s Article 10: designating a new chief diversity officer as a “senior administrator/department head”–the same language used in Brookline bylaws for the head of the Human Resources office, which was created by town meeting in 2000.

A motion to close debate after nearly an hour proved premature; it failed to get a two-thirds vote. Arguments continued. While Mr. Rosenthal and Dr. Spiegel had offered spirited sallies for their amendment, it was likely Joanna Baker of Precinct 13 who sailed it over the net.

Ms. Baker recounted experiences as a recruiter, helping to employ and advance people of color. “People hate change,” she said. “Change makes people uncomfortable.” According to Ms. Baker, the stature of being a department head will matter. In order to be effective, she said, a chief diversity officer will have to be “shrewd, discerning, sophisticated, gutsy.” In a recorded vote, town meeting adopted the Rosenthal-Spiegel amendment by a margin of 107 to 95. The main motion also got a recorded vote: approved 185 to 16.

Noise control: In Article 12, changes to Brookline’s noise-control bylaw were proposed by Fred Lebow, an acoustic engineer and a former Precinct 1 town meeting member–to provide what he claimed would be better standards for regulating noise. He proposed a new standard for estimating background noise at night: make measurements during the day and subtract 10 decibels. That’s not helpful if your neighborhood tends to be fairly noisy by day but quiet at night. Selectmen missed the problem, but they managed to flag a provision to regulate some of the leafblowers while exempting others–large ones mounted on wheeled carts.

Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6–a recent B.U. Systems Engineering grad and transplant from Precinct 1–challenged the proposed standard for night-time noise at town meeting. Dr. Vitolo carved away pseudoscience from the proposal, saying, “This warrant article is bad news. The most sensible way to measure ambient noise at night is to measure ambient noise at night…Legislating night-time ambient noise is a bit like legislating that the earth is flat.”

For the supporters of the article, including a majority on the Board of Selectmen and a unanimous Advisory Committee, there was no recovery. In a show of hands, Moderator Gadsby found zero raised in support and declared unanimous rejection of the article–an extremely rare event. He asked officials gathered at tables just past the auditorium’s stage, “Have we no courage in the front of town meeting?”

Mavens of precinct politics–towns don’t have wards–may recall that Mr. Lebow was among a wave of Precinct 1 conservatives who infiltrated, years ago, a moderate delegation. Dr. Vitolo was involved with a second, progressive wave, who eclipsed the first wave a few years later. The waves more often involve galleries of mostly incumbents, promoting themselves as friendly “neighbors.” Controversies at the time roiled over whether or not to support renovation of the Carlton St. footbridge. Was that really a convenience to the neighborhoods, or would it instead become a crossway for criminals, slinking in from Boston? We shall see.

Down-zoning: Two quietly successful articles carried on a trend: adapting Brookline’s land use regulations to neighborhoods. It had taken root at a heated, 4-night town meeting held in December, 1973. Like that previous effort, both recent ones were organized by neighborhood residents. Unlike that previous effort, both got help and support from town boards and agencies, and both aroused little controversy.

Article 11 proposed a neighborhood conservation district for Toxteth St. between Aspinwall Ave. and Francis St., plus adjacent parts of Perry St., Harrison Ave., Aspinwall Ave and Francis St. It was built out starting in the late nineteenth century–before Brookline adopted zoning–on a more spacious scale than the current T-5 two-family zoning requires. Ann Turner of Precinct 3 said the recent effort was prompted by an obnoxious project built to the maximum under zoning limits and requiring no special town review.

Article 21 proposed a new S-4 type of single-family zone for parts of Buttonwood, near Meadowbrook Rd., also currently zoned T-5 two-family. Neighborhood resident Diane Gold told town meeting she and her neighbors were motivated by a developer who took advantage of current zoning to replace one modest, single-family house with a pair of “huge, 4-story, 2-family luxury condos…Green space was paved over to create ten parking spaces.” She recalled, “We were told they can do this by right…If you don’t like it, change the zoning.” With help from Polly Selkoe of the Planning Department and with town meeting’s approval, that is what residents did.

Zoning changes rejected: The Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee all took it on the chin with two other zoning changes proposed by the Planning Board. Article 22 revived the long-running disputes over self-service gasoline stations–proposing to allow them in business districts when combined with so-called “convenience stores.” As proposed, those stores could be up to 3,000 square feet–far larger than many current retail stores.

Judith Vanderkay of Precinct 9 recalled, “Twenty years ago…my neighborhood rallied to prevent a giant, highway rest-stop-type gas station.” She said Article 22 looked “like something from ALEC being proposed in the guise of an innocuous regulation”–referring to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a far-right group that has been promoting pro-business, anti-labor laws, mostly in state legislatures. The proposal failed on a recorded vote of 109 to 62, below the two-thirds margin required for a zoning change.

In S-40 single-family districts–Brookline’s lowest zoning density–Article 23 proposed to disallow new, detached accessory dwellings to be occupied by employees or their family members. Last November, town meeting disallowed them in single-family districts with smaller lot sizes. Steve Heikin spoke for the Planning Board, saying that accessory dwellings are a “loophole” allowing permanent construction for a temporary use.

Town meeting members Anita Johnson of Precinct 8, Rebecca Mautner of Precinct 11 and Jane Gilman of Precinct 3 denounced the Planning Board proposal–partly as an attack on “affordable housing.” Ms. Johnson cited an approach used by Portland, OR. “They put a size limit on accessory units…825 square feet.” She said Portland’s regulation “has been totally successful, and everyone agrees with it.” Article 23 failed on a recorded vote of 106 to 56, again below the two-thirds margin required for a zoning change.

Renovation of the Carlton St. footbridge, strongly controversial a decade ago, returned to town meeting in Article 24. The now-dilapidated bridge was built in the 1890s to serve a whistle-stop on the former Boston and Albany commuter rail service between Needham and Boston. It has been closed since fall, 1975. Article 24 proposed accepting a grant in easement from MBTA to accommodate wheelchair ramps. Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt said Brookline would “apply for a state [Transportation Improvement Program] grant, up to 90 percent” of funds already set aside. In a quiet surprise, town meeting voted unanimous approval.

Retirement Board pay: Stipends for Retirement Board members–a perennial–returned to town meeting in Article 25. As on previous occasions, board member James C. “Chet” Riley asked for town meeting’s support. “We have the ability right now to invest your $245 million,” he said. “We are the deciding body.” According to Mr. Riley, the board’s work has become “a lot more daunting, a lot more challenging.” That did not sway Advisory. Committee member Karen Wenc of Precinct 11 said, “The substance of this article [came] before town meeting in the May, 2012, session–with no demonstration that the Retirement Board’s efforts are [now] measurably greater” than they were then. “There is no compelling reason for change.”

The Board of Selectmen reversed former opposition–by a margin of 3 to 2. Speaking as one of the three in favor, Nancy Daly said the “vast majority [of neighboring communities] do provide a stipend…Boston, Newton, Cambridge….” Town meeting members would likely notice that the few communities Ms. Daly named–unlike Brookline–are all cities. In a personal appeal, Martin “Marty” Rosenthal of Precinct 9 stated, “Nobody’s done more for the town of Brookline than Chet Riley.” Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 took a financial approach, saying, “This is one of the few boards that actually has the final say over large quantities of money. They’re volunteers, but they deserve the sort of minimal compensation that this article proposes.” Article 25 proposed a stipend of $3,000 per year for each of the five board members.

Regina Frawley of Precinct 16 did not agree. “[This is] at least the fourth time in fourteen years” with the proposal, she said. “They’ve been waiting for the right town meeting, the right Board of Selectmen…It’s a town. This is a volunteer [effort], and if they don’t want to do it they shouldn’t volunteer.” Precinct 6 town meeting member Merelice said, “I’ve been in the financial services industry,” and asked, “Do [board members] get the advice and counsel of licensed [financial] planners?” Mr. Riley of the Retirement Board responded, saying, “We hire and fire consultants and money managers.” What may have sounded like posturing did not sit well with town meeting members, who rejected Article 25 in a recorded vote, 47 to 100.

June 2, Brookline Place: The final session of the 2014 annual town meeting began with the postponed Articles 15 through 19, concerning proposed redevelopment for Brookline Place. Moderator Gadsby’s stagework in positioning those articles to begin a session provided a showplace for Children’s Hospital–the landowner and developer–and for the town officials, boards and committees who became sponsors and supporters of the project. The block bounded by Washington St., Brookline Ave. and Pearl St. is part of the former Marsh Project–involved in redevelopment efforts for nearly 50 years.

Town meeting members who declared partial opposition had proposed alternative zoning in Article 16. As compared with Article 15, the official zoning proposal, Article 16 would have restricted new on-site parking for over 180,000 square feet of added office space. Supporters of Article 16 claimed that the adjacent MBTA Green Line trolley stop and the nearby bus stops for MBTA routes 60, 65 and 66, traveling via Route 9, should make any added parking unnecessary. Management of Children’s Hospital have contended that more parking is needed for financially viable development and that costs of removing contaminated soil would make it too expensive to place that parking underground, as normally required by Brookline’s zoning.

In an apparent response, the Planning Board and their Brookline Place Advisory Committee proposed to reduce added parking from about 465 to about 325 spaces–negotiated with the management of Children’s Hospital. The change apparently undercut support for Article 16. Submitters of that article opted not to offer a motion for it. Town meeting passed over the article without a vote. Fifty years ago and earlier, weak opposition would have been squelched: maybe allowed a speaker and then switched off. Brookline’s traditions have changed. The debate over the Brookline Place articles included many speakers and took about an hour and twenty minutes.

Precinct 6 town meeting member Merelice spoke forthrightly. “Let’s start with admitting the reality that Children’s Hospital has us over a barrel,” she said. Children’s had acquired 6-story offices the former Harvard Community Health Plan built on the eastern part of the Brookline Place block during the 1990s. More recently, Children’s bought the western part of the block, occupied by two low-rise buildings dating from early twentieth century. The literal “Brookline Place” is a narrow, little used way running north from Washington St. between the larger low-rise building and the 6-story offices.

Referring to a former attempt at redeveloping Brookline Place, Merelice commented, “Town meeting members ten years ago lost sight of the fact that they were voting for zoning.” The controversial project–never carried out–anticipated biotechnology laboratories. A key problem with the site has been soil that is badly contaminated from nearly a century of use by a former gas works. Merelice continued, “When Children’s bought, they knew full well the soil was contaminated. Nevertheless, they proceeded to buy up all the adjacent parcels. Now they’re asking the town to feel sorry for them, because it would be ‘too expensive’ to remove the soil. Their answer is a huge garage with no underground parking.”

Treating Article 16 as though it posed a real threat to the Brookline Place project, Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 recalled, “Fifty years ago…[with the] Chestnut Hill shopping center, [which] straddles the line between Brookline and Newton, Brookline did not want any retail development because of concerns about congestion and traffic…All the retail establishments were built on the Newton side of the line; Brookline got the parking lot. Newton got the abundance of taxes; Brookline lost millions in tax revenue.”

Dr. Spiegel described an unsuccessful attempt in the early 1980s to build a hotel replacing the former Boston Cadillac, located opposite the B.U. Bridge. Brookline Place, he said, offers the town “$2 million in taxes…[That] means more classroom teachers…support for METCO…[and] the Coolidge Corner Library…With all the good that it has, will it be built?”

Moderator Gadsby held a recorded vote on Article 15 for zoning changes. Town meeting approved 170 to 9, he announced, with 20 abstaining. Mr. Gadsby then passed over Article 16 without a vote. Articles 17 and 18 were approved by voice votes. Article 19 was approved by a show of hands, declared unanimous.

Taxi medallions: Town meeting member John Harris of Precinct 8 filed Article 26, proposing that Brookline ask the General Court to repeal laws it had passed, at town meeting’s request, authorizing Brookline to sell taxi medallions. The Transportation Board and Board of Selectmen, both committed to the medallions since they were proposed in 2007, proved much exercised over the attack from Mr. Harris. Robert Volk of Precinct 4 proposed referring Article 26 to a special committee to be appointed by Moderator Gadsby.

Mr. Harris said his “intention [was] to begin the debate…the town should have had in 2008.” He asserted that “medallions establish an artificial quota on the number of taxis allowed to operate,” leading to evil consequences. Jonathan Karon of Precinct 12 agreed, describing his experience representing a person who had been injured during an incident involving a taxi in Boston, which uses medallions. If you are injured in such a way, Mr. Karon said, you will find the “medallion is mortgaged…insurance [is] at the legal minimum…[and the] medallion owner will disclaim responsibility,” saying the taxi driver is an “independent contractor.”

Advisory Committee member Michael Sandman, a former Transportation Board chair, responded for the committee, saying “nearly every premise that Mr. Harris spoke of is wrong.” He showed three pages of items. About a claim that “medallions establish an artificial quota,” Mr. Sandman said Brookline has actually “had a closed system for decades, with a fixed number of licenses.” Joshua Safer of Precinct 16, the current Transportation Board chair, agreed. He said, “The current system is a closed system…There is scarcity by design…We have no logical way to bring newcomers into the industry.”

Charles “Chuck” Swartz of Precinct 9 asked, “How would a Brookline [medallion] system be different from Boston? He got a fairly opaque answer from Richard La Capra, who has been employed by the Transportation Department as a consultant on taxi regulation since 2010. Mr. La Capra stated that a “Brookline [taxi medallion] system will be different [from Boston]…because it is handled at the regulatory level in a…different fashion.”

Chad Ellis of Precinct 12 said he had prepared a financial model, checked out with Mr. La Capra, finding that a 10 percent fall in taxi fare revenues would produce at least a 50 percent contraction in medallion values. He supported the article filed by Mr. Harris.

Moderator Gadsby called for a vote on Mr. Volk’s motion to refer the article rather than approve or reject it. Unable to decide from a show of hands, Mr. Gadsby held an electronic vote. Town meeting approved referral, he announced, 96 to 91. Mr. Gadsby asked for volunteers to serve on a moderator’s committee and said he plans to appoint a committee within three weeks.

Resolutions: Article 27 was filed by Neil Gordon of Precinct 1, who described himself at town meeting as a veteran of the Vietnam War. It asked for a “modest but meaningful memorial to Brookline’s veterans,” flying flags in their honor. Town meeting approved in a unanimous voice vote.

Article 28, filed by Frank Caro of Precinct 10, did not get such a swift hearing. It proposed a resolution saying that Brookline should “proactively deploy enforcement officers on foot in business districts beginning in the fourth daylight hour after snowfalls,” to enforce Brookline’s snow clearance bylaw. The Board of Selectmen, supported by the Advisory Committee, proposed referring Article 28 to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner–to address it using a “task force.”

However, the same problem had been taken to at least three previous town meetings. Each referred an article to a moderator’s committee, yet the problem remained unsolved. Dennis Doughty of Precinct 3 presented some graphics showing snow-removal complaints logged since December, 2011, by the Brookonline Web page. They indicated several chronic problem spots, targets of repeated complaints.

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., of Precinct 16, a lawyer with quite a few local business clients, had already voiced a related argument, saying there were a few chronic problems but that nevertheless “the goal should not be to fine and to warn” business owners. Lea Cohen, an Advisory Committee member at large, spoke as the outgoing chair of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce. She objected that “the existing bylaw has some very tight time-frames.” She asked town meeting not to “make another gesture that singles out our merchants with uneven enforcement policies.”

Joshua Safer, of Precinct 16, disagreed with trying a “partnership” tactic again. He noted that “the last moderator’s committee on sidewalk snow removal suggested exactly [what Article 28 proposed], across the entire town.” Mr. Safer stated, “The police force seems comfortable that they would have the resources to undertake this particular effort.” Saralynn Allaire of Precinct 16, a member of the Commission for the Disabled, turned adamant, “It’s time,” Dr. Allaire said, “to take serious action on this problem, instead of just kicking it down the road yet again.” By a show of hands, a large majority of town meeting rejected referral of Article 28 to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner. Nearly all approved the resolution.

Local First: Article 29, a resolution urging support for local business, was submitted on behalf of an organization called Brookline Local First. Issues developed at town meeting and in several earlier reviews over what “local” might mean in that context. The Board of Selectmen proposed that town meeting refer the article to the Economic Development Advisory Board, which they appoint, rather than accept or reject it.

Abram “Abe” Faber, co-owner with his wife Christina “Christy” Timon of Clear Flour Bread on Thorndike St., made the arguments for Article 29. The two have run Clear Flour since 1982, live in Brookline and brought up a family here, he said. “Vibrancy of Brookline’s economy,” Mr. Faber stated, “stems from its independent businesses.” Comparing them with what he called “formula businesses”–franchises and chain stores–he said, “Independent businesses hire a greater proportion of local employees [and] pay them higher wages…Cities and towns benefit most…from…independent…rather than formula businesses.”

The arguments rang false to Hsiu-Lan Chang, also a Brookline resident. She introduced herself to town meeting as owner of Fast Frame, a franchise located on Beacon St. in Washington Square. She described her background as a trustee of the Brookline Community Foundation, a founder of the Washington Square Association and a supporter of several local civic and charitable groups. Her sons David and Leo, she said, are graduates of Brookline public schools. “Article 29,” she stated, “left…[an] impression that I’m not a part of this community.” She urged town meeting to reject the article, saying, “The imposition of an arbitrary definition on the word ‘local’…is exclusionary, divisive and simply wrong.”

Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt suggested proponents of the article might be seeking more than the town could do. She mentioned requirements of “state procurement law to solicit broadly, without discrimination among suppliers in purchasing practices.” Ms. DeWitt stated, “While well intentioned, this resolution is flawed. We must have a fair, broad and inclusive definition of local business.”

Speaking for the Economic Development Advisory Board, Clifford Brown of Precinct 14 said EDAB would give the article careful consideration if it were referred to them but cautioned, “Brookline businesses should focus outward and on expanding the local economy.” A show of hands on the motion to refer proved too close to call for Moderator Gadsby. He conducted an electronic count. Town meeting approved referral 99 to 76, he announced, with 3 abstentions.

Article 31 proposed a resolution affirming “support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education.” Alex Coleman, a clinical psychologist and a member of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, submitted the article and made the main arguments for it. He said he had lived in Brookline more than 30 years, bringing up a son who is a Brookline High graduate, and described his recollections of making public a trans-sexual identity, over 20 years ago, as being a “horrific experience.”

Dr. Coleman said that attitudes have begun to change: “There are now students in the Brookline schools who identify as being gender-nonconforming,…[However], people…[with] a different gender identity…or expression…don’t have the same protections as everybody else.” Frequent problems he noted are “harassment in places of public accommodation…[and being] denied equal treatment by a government agency or official.”

Leonard “Len” Weiss spoke for the Advisory Committee, supported by the Board of Selectmen. The committee proposed an amendment asking Brookline’s legal staff to review Brookline’s bylaws and propose changes at next fall’s town meeting to make them “consistent with [the] purpose” of Article 31. Town meeting approved the resolution as amended.

Article 32, submitted by Frank Farlow of Precinct 4, proposed a resolution urging the General Court to enact S. 1225 of the current session, An Act Relative to Public Investment in Fossil Fuels. That calls for state pension funds to divest from “fossil fuel companies” but does not specify what the term means. Speaking for the Advisory Committee, Harry Bohrs, the chairman, cited that issue, claiming the “bill does not support its own goals in a meaningfully effective way.” Karen Wenc of Precinct 11, an Advisory member, said as an energy consumer she “would feel hypocritical and insincere in voting for this resolution.”

Arguing in favor of the resolution, Edward “Ed” Loechler of Precinct 8 acknowledged, “When you hear the word ‘divestment’ you think, ‘well, we’ll lose too much money’.” Dr. Loechler said, “Profits are not the same as returns on investment.” It is the latter, he contended, that matters for pension-fund portfolios. He cited an independent review of returns on investment for around 3,000 U.S. public stocks over many years, claiming that the difference between performance with and without including about 200 “fossil fuel companies” proved “statistically insignificant.” However, Dr. Loechler argued, even if that were not so, “It’s time to stop talking about climate change and start doing something about it…Making money from the destruction of the planet is wrong…as wrong as making money from slavery was in the 1850s.”

For the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly spoke of a “very tangible financial hazard to not addressing climate change.” Town meeting members asked for a recorded vote on the article. They approved the resolution 126 to 20, with 7 abstaining–the last action during a long and complicated town meeting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 7, 2014


Correction, June 8, 2014. In the discussion of Article 23, the phrase “family members or employees” was corrected to read “employees or their family members.” Thanks to Stanley Spiegel for spotting the mistake.


John Hilliard, Brookline taxi consultant contract signed, Brookline TAB, December 3, 2010

City of Boston, Taxi Consultant Report, Nelson Nygaard, October, 2013

Environment: be careful what you ask for

Brookline’s incautious foray into environmental regulation has produced a small-scale disaster–a reminder to “be careful what you ask for.” One thesis held containers made from closed-cell, expanded polystyrene foam to be the Devil’s work. They were banned from local foodservice businesses. These common, lightweight products are sometimes misidentified as Styrofoam, a Dow Chemical trademark for slabs of extruded polystyrene foam.

Here is what happened at our neighborhood favorite: Dok Bua–a popular, highly regarded Thai restaurant on Harvard St. that does a busy trade in take-out as well as table service. Before the disaster, a take-out usually included five containers: a Dart 80HT3 hinged-lid polystyrene foam box for the main dish, a soup cup and three portion containers. The last four were unaffected by Brookline’s hasty ban and are still provided.

Dart is a well known U.S. manufacturer of foodservice packaging, with headquarters in Michigan and several U.S. plants. An 80HT3 container provides lightweight, disposable packaging with good thermal insulation. It measures 8 x 7-1/2 x 2-1/4 in and weighs 14 g, equal to 0.5 oz. Because Brookline has never provided any practical recycling for such containers, we take them once or twice a year to a privately run recycling program, when we can combine the errand with another trip nearby.

For take-out, Dok Bua now provides a Pactiv VERSAtainer NC723 round container and lid, 7-1/4 in diameter x 2-1/4 in high. It weighs 40-1/2 g, equal to 1.4 oz, and is made of virgin, solid polypropylene. These sturdy containers are easy to clean, dishwasher-proof and handy for leftovers. We’re not recycling them; we reuse them. However, we have seen plenty of the previous as well as the current Dok Bua take-out containers tossed in both refuse and recycling bins. Either way, their most likely fates are to be burned at an incinerator in Rochester. Recycling symbols on the Pactiv items are so small they are almost sure to be missed.

The small-scale disaster that Brookline’s hasty and foolish ban produced is wasting about an extra 0.9 oz of virgin polymer resin for each take-out serving from Dok Bua. We don’t see any evidence that many of our neighbors are taking up an opportunity for reuse. The container cost for Dok Bua has at least tripled. Any competent analysis would very likely find the overall effect of Brookline’s ban on polystyrene foam, as worked through by Dok Bua, to be substantially more–not less–environmental damage. Hundreds of pounds a year in extra plastics are being used for no benefit whatever–instead, for overall harm. It turned out to be a lose-lose proposition.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 2, 2014

Public Transportation Advisory Committee: new services and reviews

A regular monthly meeting of the Public Transportation Advisory Committee on Wednesday, May 21, started at 7:00 pm in the fourth-floor conference room at Town Hall, with all three current committee members attending plus five members of the public, two representatives of GroupZoom, proposing a new transit service, a Brookline Transportation Board member, a member of MBTA management and two representatives of the MBTA Advisory Board.

Express buses to Cambridge and Boston: Matthew George, founder of GroupZoom, located in Cambridge, described the Bridj transit service his company expects to offer. It plans to provide express-bus service between high-demand locations–featuring Web-based scheduling, electronic payments and on-board amenities, including WiFi. According to business news reports, GroupZoom has received around $3 million in venture funding from a private investor group that includes Scott Griffith, a partner at General Catalyst and former CEO of Zipcar, now an Avis division.

Mr. George said initial plans are for two Brookline-centered routes and two Cambridge-centered routes. He claims routes between the vicinities of Coolidge Corner and Kendall Square and between the vicinities of Coolidge Corner and Post Office Square are prime candidates in Greater Boston. Traveling the MBTA Green Line and Red Line between Coolidge Corner, where he lives, and Kendall Square, where he works, Mr. George measured morning rush-hour travel time at around 55 minutes. He says his service will take less than 20 minutes.

Initially, Mr. George expects the Bridj service to provide full-size, 54-passenger buses run by Academy Bus, a charter company operating from Braintree. The fare for the Kendall Square route is projected at around $6 each way, or three times the current MBTA Charlie Card fare, in return for saving an estimated 35 minutes each way. Linda Lally, an MBTA system planner at the meeting on other issues, said MBTA supports the proposed Bridj service as a complement to the mass transportation services MBTA provides.

Abigail “Abby” Swaine, committee chair, said GroupZoom would need Brookline Transportation Board authorization to operate a jitney service and would need approvals for locations it plans to pick up and drop off passengers. The company will probably need similar authorizations from Cambridge and Boston for the routes Mr. George described. Committee members asked about locations of stops. Mr. George said possible locations are near municipal parking lots, particularly ones on Centre Street.

Jerry Lazar of Craftsland Rd. asked whether GroupZoom might provide service from Chestnut Hill. Mr. George was not sure but said Bridj will have zoned fare capability. He said there is also interest in service from Brookline Village. Scott Englander, a Brookline Transportation Board member, asked about sharing data with host communities. Mr. George said GroupZoom would do that, subject to nondisclosure agreements. An inquiry the next morning with Todd Kirrane at the Brookline Transportation Department indicated no applications yet from GroupZoom.

MBTA equipment, more 3-car trains: Richard T. Leary, a former executive secretary to the Board of Selectmen and later Brookline’s first town administrator, presented a report for the MBTA Advisory Board. He has served for many years as Brookline’s representative. He was accompanied by Paul Regan, the board’s executive director. Responding to the committee’s interest in 3-car trains on the Green Line, Mr. Regan said the MBTA has only enough equipment for a few 3-car trains at rush hours.

Running more 3-car trains will also need power upgrades, according to Mr. Regan. Some power substations have been renovated, but trolley wires are up to 80 years old, and overloads and brownouts occur at rush hours, When power upgrades are finished, replacing antique signals will be the next priority. Only those near Kenmore Square, which flooded in 1962 and in 1996, have had recent attention.

The current MBTA capital plan calls for 220 new Green Line cars by some unspecified date. However, the financial tables, out to FY2018, show no such acquisition. The Green Line currently has 114 operable Kinki Sharyo Type 7 cars, now 17 to 28 years old, that are to be renovated. It has 95 operable Breda type 8 low-rise cars, now 6 to 15 years old. They will not need major maintenance soon. No additional 3-car trains can likely be expected before 2022.

Mr. Regan, Mr. Leary and committee members discussed measures to speed up boarding passengers and discourage fare evasion. About two years ago the Green Line stopped opening rear doors when running on the surface. That led to crushes in the fronts of cars, especially at rush hours, so the Green Line resumed opening rear doors during rush hours. Mr. Regan said MBTA will be hiring more transit police but faces high turnover. Officers often leave to take highway, city and town police jobs.

Committee members asked whether MBTA will add more payment kiosks to service Charlie Cards. There are now about 150 of them, but there are none for surface parts of the Green Line except on the Riverside (D) branch. Mr. Regan said there are four payment centers located in Brookline groceries: the two Star markets, one 7-11 store and Bay State Foods. He did not think more payment kiosks or centers would open in the next few years.

Speedier Beacon Street trolleys: Last year the committee supported a $50,000 study of Beacon Street traffic signal improvements, to reduce delays on the Cleveland Circle (C) branch of the Green Line. The 2014 annual town meeting looks set to fund the project. It is included in the Advisory Committee’s budget, under Article 8.

Mr. Regan said MBTA management was “thrilled” about the Beacon Street project, a first for the MBTA Green Line. So far, MBTA has worked on traffic signal improvements for buses and for commuter rail but not for above-ground parts of the Green Line. The Advisory Committee has proposed some conditions on the funding, which committee members had yet to investigate.

MBTA fares and finances: Mr. Leary reviewed MBTA finances. Last year’s Transportation Finance Act, Chapter 46 of the Acts of 2013, adds about $600 million per year to state transportation funding for FY2014 through FY2018. Although MBTA gets a portion, much of that goes toward repairing degraded bridges and roads. MBTA is committed to a “proposition 2-1/2″ approach. It will raise transit fares by about 2-1/2 percent a year: likely about 5 percent every 2 years, starting this July.

However, the agency’s financial problems are far from over. Since 1947, the MBTA and former MTA fares have never paid the full cost of rides. Before 2000, MTA and MBTA got a yearly and much maligned “deficiency budget” from the General Court. In 2000, under so-called “forward funding,” MBTA was instead granted one percentage point of the state sales tax. For a while that worked, because of increasing ridership and sales tax receipts. Then fare revenue flattened after 2005; sales tax receipts flattened after 2008.

For FY2010 through FY2014, the General Court provided $160 million a year in so-called “contract assistance.” That means, in effect, the old MTA and MBTA “deficiency budget” from the past has been revived in a new form–added to the sales-tax earmark. The General Court looks on course to do the same for FY2015.

According to Mr. Leary, those funds, along with management reforms and the 2013 finance act, have brought financial stability to MBTA. MBTA is hiring 63 workers to bring more maintenance in-house plus 180 workers to run late-night service. Employees are on the state’s Group Insurance Commission health plan, which is also helping Brookline cope. Subway trains are being run by single operators. Absentee rates are down. Need for the last two reforms had been reported since at least the 1950s, by the old Boston Herald and by the Boston Globe.

MBTA is to maintain a “recovery ratio” of 33 percent or more–meaning fares are to pay at least one-third the cost of rides. Of its current $1.9 billion budget, Mr. Leary said about $160 million is being paid by “local assessments” on cities and towns in the MBTA operating area. Brookline is paying about $5 million. Similar municipal transit support has occurred since the 1920s, starting with the former Boston Elevated Railway Co.

Committee member Sherry Flashman asked about falling ridership. Mr. Regan said ridership is actually up. That becomes somewhat complicated. MBTA preliminary reports of increased ridership have often proven inconsistent with federally audited reports appearing much later in the National Transit Database. Those showed largely stagnant system ridership after 2002 and falling ridership after 2005. Possibly the years after 2012 may see sustained, verified increases, but it is too early to know.

Less waiting for the next bus: Brookline Transportation Board member Scott Englander presented a quantitative study he carried out to see whether wait times near Cleveland Circle, transferring between MBTA bus routes 51 and 86, could be reduced by schedule shifting. Route 51 extends through south Brookline to Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain. Route 86 extends through Allston, Harvard Square and Somerville to Sullivan Square in Charlestown. Combined, they could approximate a so-called “urban ring” long advocated to connect radial transit routes in and out of downtown Boston.

Mr. Englander’s work was assisted by MBTA system planner Linda Lally, who arranged access to real-time records of bus arrivals and departures. Ms. Lally said bus scheduling has been computerized for about three years and now includes “interlining”–meaning drivers may transfer from route to another. Those changes improve efficiency but do not reduce wait times for passenger transfers.

Mr. Englander found that shifting schedules of 51 buses relative to 86 buses could reduce average wait times somewhat. However, he said the best case amounted to only several percent of total travel times.

More ridership in south Brookline: For some time, the committee has looked at potential changes to the 51 bus route, in hopes of increasing ridership. According to Mr. Kirrane, the transportation director, one possibility is the segment between the intersection of Chestnut Hill Avenue with Route 9 and Independence Drive southwest of Putterham Circle.

The 51 bus currently follows Lee, Clyde, Newton and Grove Streets. Ridership might increase by instead following Boylston, Hammond and Lagrange Streets and Beverly Road. In the 1970s and before, areas near the latter streets were served by the former 59 bus, but that bus was discontinued in a cost-cutting change. The 59 number is now used for a route between Watertown and Needham. The committee meets next on June 15, also at 7:00 pm.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 24, 2014


Comment, June 10, 2014. Scott Englander, a Transportation Board member, sent a comment about MBTA 51 bus service:

The MBTA has so far only offered Brookline the possibility of shifting Rt. 51 bus schedules uniformly (i.e., shifting all departure times forward or backward by the same amount). Mr. Englander found that shifting schedules of Rt. 51 buses uniformly could, at best, reduce passenger layover times at Reservoir by 5%, and even that modest overall improvement would come at a cost of adversely affecting outbound passengers. The analysis did not look at potentially beneficial changes in schedule that don’t involve shifting all schedules by the same amount of time.


Katie Johnston, Data-driven bus service set to roll out, Boston Globe, April 10, 2014

Rafael Mares and Kirstie Pecci, Keeping on Track: Transportation for Massachusetts, Conservation Law Foundation and MassPIRG, March, 2014

Massachusetts Transportation Board, FY2015 transportation plan, Draft, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, January, 2014

Massachusetts Transportation Board, The way forward, FY2014 transportation plan, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, January, 2013

Nuclear news: a “cat-litter mystery”

Followers of nuclear issues likely recall reports in February about a significant discharge of radioactive contamination at the U.S. Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located about 25 miles east of Carlsbad, NM. WIPP is the only government-licensed facility for long-term storage of radioactive waste. Producing plutonium for nuclear weapons, between 1943 and 2002, generated the waste being stored at WIPP.

Brookline–about 2,000 miles from the New Mexico site–is not as isolated as one might think. Contamination from WIPP apparently became airborne and, if it did so, can travel long distances. It resembles long-lived components of radioactive fallout from above-ground nuclear weapons explosions–starting in the U.S. with the Trinity site explosion of 1945 and lasting until the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Nuclear waste storage: WIPP is the earlier of two U.S. nuclear-waste repositories authorized between the late 1970s and late 1980s. Construction of WIPP took from 1980 to 1988. It was designated to hold relatively low-level but long-lived radioactive waste from military programs. The other repository is Yucca Mountain, in southern Nevada. It was designated for high-level waste from nuclear power-plants. Construction began in 1992, during the Herbert Bush administration, but was halted in 2010, before completion, by the Obama administration.

WIPP construction started before the site’s geology was known in much detail. By the time construction ended, geologists had found buried faults and fractures, boreholes and aquifers above and around the salt deposits tunneled into to build WIPP. Years of disputes and further studies followed. In 1998 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved WIPP as safe to use, during the Clinton administration, and in 1999 waste storage began.

Radioactive discharge event: WIPP was evacuated after sensors warned of a major radioactive discharge in underground work areas late at night last February 14. Three months later, the discharge had been traced to a drum of waste shipped to WIPP from Los Alamos National Laboratory, where plutonium processing and testing began in 1943. The Department of Energy, which runs both WIPP and Los Alamos, originally said radioactivity had been trapped in filters.

More recently, WIPP managers disclosed that 22 above-ground workers had “ingested or inhaled” radioactive contamination. At a February 23 public meeting organized by the mayor of Carlsbad, NM, a Department of Energy spokesperson estimated about 10 nCi of plutonium and other alpha-emitting elements had been released into the open atmosphere around WIPP.

The main isotope, plutonium-239, has a half-life of about 24,000 years. Reducing it to trace amounts–a billionth of current amounts–takes about 40 half-lives, or a million years. Some of the main products of nuclear fission persist much longer: technetium-99 half-life about 220,000 years, iodine-129 half-life about 17,000,000 years.

The 1980s designers and 1990s certifiers of WIPP looked only 10,000 years ahead–just an instant in time, compared to long-lived radioactivity and to geology. In at least the million years they should have considered, geologic history has seen about eight full glacial cycles. The most recent of those left the Great Lakes and the Grand Canyon.

Hazards from the atmospheric release of radioactivity estimated by the Department of Energy last February 23 would be small for people miles from the plant, as department personnel say, but they are hardly zero, since alpha emitters are powerful inducers of tumors. Far more radiation has evidently spread through underground tunnels. The Department of Energy has not allowed workers to resume ordinary activities underground. As of May, 2014, WIPP remained effectively shut down.

Power-plant waste: In addition to high-level radioactive waste–spent fuel rods–nuclear power-plants also generate low-level waste, containing some long-lived radioactivity similar to waste being stored at WIPP. That consists of used filter elements, residues from cleanups, contaminated tools and clothing, and other byproducts of routine operations. Like the other 103 licensed nuclear-power reactors in the U.S., the reactor at the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth is holding both spent fuel rods and low-level waste on-site.

Eventually, low-level power-plant waste is currently destined for a privately run repository that is under construction in west Texas. The principal investor in Waste Control Specialists, located about 35 miles west of Andrews, TX, was the late Harold C. Simmons. Mr. Simmons was also a well known contributor to “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” the group that broadcast attacks on former Sen. John Kerry, now the U.S. secretary of state, during the 2004 Presidential campaign.

High-level nuclear waste is another story. In addition to alpha-emitting elements such as plutonium, irradiated fuel contains nuclear-fission products that emit intense beta and gamma radiation–notably strontium-90 and cesium-131, both with half-lives of about 30 years. Several minutes of exposure to an irradiated, unshielded fuel rod can be fatal.

Sources of high-level waste are former factories for nuclear weapons and nuclear power-plants. U.S. weapons factories left the equivalent of about 2,500 metric tons of heavy metal in plutonium-processing wastes, separated from the plutonium that was used to make weapons. As of 2014, the U.S. nuclear-power plants have left about 73,000 metric tons of heavy metal in unprocessed spent fuel–97 percent of the U.S. total high-level wastes.

Rated capacity of the unfinished, now idle Yucca Mountain repository is only 70,000 metric tons of heavy metal. At current rates, another facility of that size is needed about every 40 years. Most high-level waste is being stored where it was made. The large storage sites in New England are closed power-plants in Wiscasset, ME, Haddam Neck, CT, and Rowe, MA, and active power-plants in Waterford, CT, Portsmouth, NH, Plymouth, MA, and Vernon, VT.

“Government misadventure”: Writing in the New York Times, before the February 14 radioactive discharge at WIPP, veteran reporter Matthew L. Wald called storage of low-level radioactive waste “a government misadventure.” Among the most difficult issues are unexpected events. No one expected waste that had already been in storage for years to explode, but that is what the drum from Los Alamos apparently did at WIPP. A photo published online shows a gaping hole in the drum’s lid.

Laura Zuckerman, writing for Reuters, recently reported that contents of the failed drum heated, because of some unexpected chemical process. Jeri Clausing, writing for Associated Press, reported that one of the main suspects has been commercial cat litter packed around waste containers. Cat litter had long been used as a packing material to absorb liquid leaks. However, for the failed drum, instead of clay composition, available since the 1940s, Los Alamos reportedly used one of the newer cellulosic compositions–also known as “organic.”

“Cat-litter mystery”: News articles report speculation that somehow nitrates in waste reacted with cellulose in “organic” cat litter to create a highly flammable or explosive material. Since the 1820s, it has been known that cellulose can react to form flammable or explosive nitrocellulose–also called “guncotton.” However, that requires a strong acid, usually nitric acid.

Plutonium processing typically uses high-strength nitric acid to dissolve irradiated reactor fuel, as the start point for extracting plutonium. Before wastes from processing are stored, they are ordinarily mixed with alkali compounds to neutralize acids, so that wastes can be held in plain metal tanks. In a laboratory setting, however, strong acid wastes might have been stored in glass or other nonmetal containers. Until contents of the failed drum at WIPP have been examined, a “cat-litter mystery” endures.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 23, 2014


Update, slow progress: As of May 30, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy has stopped sending nuclear waste from Los Alamos to WIPP. In a notice to the New Mexico Environment Department, it estimated two to four years to clean up and reopen WIPP. Other, major clean-up efforts are likely to be affected: notably those at the Savannah River and Hanford sites in South Carolina and Washington state, which produced nearly all the plutonium used for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.


Jeri Clausing, Associated Press, Feds say it could take 2 years to seal nuclear waste site, Billings (MT) Gazette, May 31, 2014

Jeri Clausing, Associated Press, Has cat litter turned barrels of New Mexico nuclear waste into ticking time bombs? Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 23, 2014

Jeri Clausing, Associated Press, WIPP leak linked to container from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Albuquerque (NM) Journal, May 17, 2014

Steve Sandoval, Communications Office, Los Alamos National Laboratory ships last of high-activity drums to WIPP, Los Alamos National Laboratory, November 25, 2008

Laura Zuckerman, New Mexico official urges removal of nuclear waste drums that could leak radiation, Reuters, May 16, 2014

Laura Zuckerman, Possible radiation leak at New Mexico military nuclear waste site, Reuters, February 16, 2014

Matthew L. Wald, Texas company owns national radioactive waste monopoly, New York Times, January 21, 2014

Matthew L. Wald, South Carolina threatens over cleanup of nuclear waste, New York Times, November 29, 2013

U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Nuclear Energy Institute v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 01-1258, July 9, 2004 [373 F.3d 1251] sourced from U.S. EPA

Robert Vandenbosch and Susanne E. Vandenbosch, The revised radiation protection standards for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, Forum on Physics and Society, American Physical Society, 2009

Richard A. Kerr, For radioactive waste from weapons, a home at last, Science 283(5408):1626-1628, March 12, 1999

Board of Selectmen: bonds, licenses and human relations

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 21, started at around 6:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. As happened last week, several people attended who are interested in a proposal to replace the human relations commission.

Announcements: Next week, the 2014 annual town meeting starts Tuesday, May 27, at 7:00 pm in the High School auditorium, side entrance at 91 Tappan St. It continues on Thursday, May 29, on Monday, June 2, and for other sessions as needed. This week, the Brookline Neighborhood Alliance is holding a forum on town meeting issues Wednesday, May 21, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. According to board member Betsy DeWitt, it will review Articles 8 (budget), 10 (replacement of human relations commission), 11 (Toxteth neighborhood district), 15-19 (Brookline Place development), 21 (small-lot zoning near Meadowbrook Rd.), 26 (repealing sale of taxi medallions) and 28 (prompt snow clearance in business districts).

The Brookline VFW and American Legion post has organized site visits on Memorial Day, May 26. Bus trips leave at 8:30 am near the Veterans Post at 386 Washington St. An outdoor ceremony starts at 11 am near Town Hall, 333 Washington St. An open house will be held at the Brookline Senior Center, 93 Winchester St., on Friday, May 30, from 3 to 6 pm, showing the new fitness center. A full-length meeting of the Board of Selectmen is not scheduled next week, because of town meeting. However, the Advisory Committee schedules early evenings on town meeting nights, starting at 6:00 pm in Room 208 at Brookline High School. The selectmen will hold a short meeting at the same time Tuesday, May 27, in Room 209–mainly for change orders, budget transfers and other routine business.

Bonds, police, seniors: Treasurer Stephen Cirillo won authorization to sell $8.4 million in municipal bonds. The effective interest rate from the low bidder is 1.8 percent, he said. Most of the money will pay for building and grounds maintenance projects. The largest of those is $3 million for repairs to the former Lincoln School. Sewer maintenance receives $1 million. The town got a favorable interest rate because of its AAA credit rating, Mr. Cirillo said, awarded because of attention to long-term financial planning.

Since the new Lincoln School on Kennard Road opened in 1994, the sturdy, 1930s structure on Route 9 has been used repeatedly for temporary space during renovation of several schools, Town Hall, the health department building and the main library. However, with three schools now being considered for expansion projects, old Lincoln School may not be enough. The Board of Selectmen and the School Committee have each held long executive sessions recently to consider “leases.”

Other, long-term projects are being performed in stages and get only parts of funds from this bond sale. The municipal service center on Hammond St., just 15 years old, gets a major renovation. Its structural design proved inadequate for heavy equipment on an upper floor. Reconfigurations will move equipment to the ground floor, and the upper floor will be repaired.

Construction of Fisher Hill Park gets $1.2 million from these bonds. Brookline bought the 1887 Fisher Hill Reservoir, a project of the former Boston Water Board, from the state in 2008. It had been out of regular service since the 1950s. The new park is a late stage in a complex redevelopment. The reservoir’s historic gatehouse is to be restored.

Chief of Police Daniel O’Leary won authorization for nine student police officers. They will train at Lowell Police Academy, he said, and are expected to begin service in late fall. In a nod to the board’s renewal of concerns about workforce diversity, Mr. O’Leary noted that three of the nine are African-American.

Two of the student police officers, Mr. O’Leary said, are “legacies.” That is a code word for members of several families with long-term backgrounds as Brookline employees. From at least the middle 1800s through the 1960s, those families lived in Brookline and comprised much of the workforce.

Brookline’s Age-Friendly Cities program was reviewed by board member Nancy Daly, who chairs the Age-Friendly Cities Committee, with committee members Ruthann Dobek, the Senior Center director, and Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member. Brookline was the first New England community to cooperate with the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency, in starting a program.

According to Mr. Caro, the committee is focused on pedestrians in urban Brookline and wants to reduce bicycle use on sidewalks. In the late 1960s, however, Massachusetts passed a law requiring bicyclists to use sidewalks outside business districts, where they are available.

License reviews: The board heard seven applications for food service, liquor and entertainment licenses. Five proved fairly routine, with no member of the public offering comments or objections.

Juan Carlos Hincapie asked for new food service (“common victualler”) and entertainment (radio, TV) licenses to operate Milky Way cafe on Cypress St. near the corner of Route 9, at the former site of Yobro cafe. Neighbors protested midnight closing hours Monday through Saturday. Mr. Hincape said he was seeking only what Yobro had. It turned out that while Yobro had applied for midnight closing, it was allowed only until 10 pm. The board approved the new licenses, with closing hours of 10 pm Monday through Saturday and 8 pm Sunday.

Lisa Wisel applied for an extension of liquor service hours at VineRipe Grill, housed in the Putterham Meadows golf clubhouse on West Roxbury Pkwy. Several residents of the area sent letters and spoke in opposition to pushing morning hours back to 8 am Tuesday through Sunday and 9 am Monday. Service hours now start at 10 am Monday through Saturday and at noon Sunday.

Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, spoke of “neighborhood concerns,” saying, “If you need a drink at 8 in the morning, you’ve got a problem.” Cornelia van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, told the board, “10 am is early enough, drinking early in the morning is not a good sign of mental health.” She was seconded by Saralynn Allaire, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and member of the Commission for the Disabled.

Ms. Wisel explained that there had been requests for beer with breakfast, particularly during golf tournaments. Board chair Kenneth Goldstein sounded sympathetic, saying it was “part of the golfer culture.” Board member Neil Wishinsky said it was “not [his] style,” but he was “willing to give it a try.” That didn’t appeal to board member Betsy DeWitt, who said she could not support 8 am. Board members Nancy Daly and Benjamin Franco both said they were “uncomfortable with 8 am on weekdays.”

On a motion by Ms. DeWitt, the board voted to authorize a 10 am starting hour every day, only Mr. Goldstein opposing. That allows a two-hour extension to current hours on Monday. Mr. Goldstein then proposed the hours Ms. Wisel had requested, but that lost by a 3 to 2 vote, attracting support from Mr. Wishinsky.

Human relations: The board again considered Article 10 for next week’s town meeting, on which it was unable to reach consensus the previous week. That seeks replacement of the current Human Relations Youth Resources Commission by a proposed Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, and Sandra DeBow, the town’s Human Resources director, spoke about the issues, but most other officials present at last week’s review did not attend this one.

Earlier in the evening the Advisory subcommittee for the article met with the selectmen-appointed “diversity committee” chaired by board member Nancy Daly, which submitted Article 10. Later that evening, the full Advisory Committee reconsidered the article. Ms. Daly summarized what those committees recommended and proposed that the Board of Selectmen join with their views on several items:

  • number of commission members to be 15 rather than variable, 11 to 15
  • quorum to be a majority of members serving, with a minimum of six
  • Board of Selectmen to appoint a non-voting representative
  • chief diversity officer also to be director of the new commission’s “office”
  • chief diversity officer not to be a department head or senior administrator
  • chief diversity officer to report to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner
  • chief diversity officer to have an option to take issues to the Board of Selectmen
  • commission also to have an option to take issues to the Board of Selectmen
  • commission office to be budgeted and located per the town administrator
  • Brookline schools to be included among concerns of the chief diversity officer

The board spent about an hour on Article 10. Many arguments proved similar to those at previous reviews. Some board members indicated support for changes Ms. Daly described. However, Ms. DeWitt expressed skepticism over the Board of Selectmen appointing one of their number as a representative to the commission, saying it would cause “built-in conflict,” since selectmen are to hear appeals from the commission and chief diversity officer.

Ms. DeWitt noted that selectmen are not involved in the police complaint process because they act as an appeals board. The same applies to the Transportation Board, to which the Board of Selectmen do not send a regular representative. The selectmen did not appear to reach consensus on this issue.

Ms. Ames, the current commission’s chair, contended that the chief diversity officer should be appointed by the Board of Selectmen rather than the town administrator. It is common practice for the board to review and approve senior employees, likely to be followed here too. What can matter more is how and by whom senior employees such as the proposed chief diversity officer are recruited. For example, with Charles Flaherty retiring as director of the Public Library of Brookline, a screening committee was set up by the library trustees to seek and review candidates for a new director.

It has been clear that Ms. Ames and several other current commission members are concerned over a much diminished role for the proposed new commission in reviewing complaints. Ms. Daly, Ms. DeWitt, Mr. Wishinsky and Ms. DeBow all addressed that issue, emphasizing growth in the town’s responsibility for privacy rights since the original Human Relations Commission was established in 1970.

The board voted to support Ms. Daly’s proposals about number of commission members, quorum and inclusion of Brookline schools among concerns. While they voiced some support for proposals concerning a chief diversity officer and functioning of the commission, the vote they took did not explicitly refer to those matters.

Unsatisfied, Ms. Ames asked the board, “Do we now have an equal opportunity policy?” Ms. DeBow conceded, “There is no existing policy…that is, in many ways, how we got to this debate.” After the meeting, Ms. Ames said that proposals for a new commission, so far, would not produce an improvement over the current commission. What was mainly missing, she said, was action on recruitment and promotion of minorities “from the top.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 21, 2014


Corrections, May 24, 2014. Third night of the 2014 annual town meeting is Monday, June 2, not Tuesday, June 3. The selectmen scheduled a short meeting for 6 pm Tuesday, May 27, in a room at the high school.

New England casino gambling: a business in decline

The 1990s surge of casino gambling in New England is long past. Newer casinos have largely been feeding on older ones. Unlike the Southwest and Midwest, New England is geographically compact. Except for northern Vermont, most people in the region now live within about a 2-hour drive from a New England casino. Most people in the region who want to participate in casino gambling have been doing so.

There are now six New England casinos: two each in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine. Adding casinos in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire could make gambling more convenient for some 3 to 5 million residents. That would be likely to increase gambling somewhat and to grow more gambling addicts. However, no surge in gambling resembling the 1990s appears in prospect. Trends can be seen in reports of gross incomes, on which state gambling taxes are based.

New England gross incomes for casino gambling, 2004 to 2012

Source of data: New England casino gambling, 2013 update, U. Mass. Dartmouth

A declining trend in gross income from New England casino gambling–total stakes less total payouts–began in 2007, before the severe recession of 2008 and 2009. There has been no recovery. Instead, gross income from casino gambling continues to fall. Adjusted for inflation by the U.S. Consumer Price Index, total gross income in 2012 for New England casinos–which includes food, lodging and other entertainment–fell to about 71 percent of total gross income in 2006, the peak year. Gross income from New England casino gambling remains a small element in the region’s economy. For 2012, it was 0.28 percent of New England’s gross domestic product and shrinking.

During the 21st century, there was a major expansion at the Twin River casino in Lincoln, RI, in 2007. New casinos opened in Bangor, ME, in 2005, and in Oxford, ME, in 2012. None of the additions led to an increase in gross income from New England casino gambling. Instead, each addition appeared to take business from older casinos. From 2006 to 2012, the New England market share for Foxwoods in Ledyard, CT, shrank from 46 to 33 percent. The market share for Mohegan Sun in Montville, CT, shrank from 44 to 40 percent. An ambitious 2005 program to expand Foxwoods proved badly timed; in 2009 Foxwoods defaulted on debt.

NewEnglandFoxwoodStates

Source of data: New England casino gambling, 2006 and 2013 updates, U. Mass. Dartmouth

The main sources of decline in New England’s gross incomes from casino gambling look straightforward. The origin states of gamblers at Foxwoods, the oldest and largest New England casino, have gradually concentrated in Connecticut, where it is located. As casinos opened in New York and Pennsylvania, fewer gamblers opted to travel longer distances to Foxwoods. For the great majority of gamblers who do not become addicts, casinos are only one of many pastimes. In the 1990s they were novel in New England; now they have become dated and, for some, no longer as interesting.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 17, 2014


Clyde W. Barrow, et al., New England casino gaming, annual update 8, Center for Policy Research, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, 2013

Auditi Guha, Barrow resigns, alleges faculty exodus and lack of support at UMass Dartmouth, New Bedford Standard Times, April 22, 2014

Matthew Sturdevant, Foxwoods report details revenue erosion, debt details, risks of increased competition, Hartford Courant, January 8, 2014

Clifford Woodruff and Catherine Wang, Widespread economic growth in 2012, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, June, 2013

Public Works: question time and complaints

Brookline’s Department of Public Works (DPW) held a public meeting to answer questions about its services Wednesday, May 14, starting at 7:00 pm in the first floor north meeting room at Town Hall. At least 30 town meeting members attended, along with quite a few other Brookline residents.

Since at least the 1940s and likely since open town meetings before 1916, questions and complaints about town services dominated town-meeting debates on the former highway, sanitation and water budgets and, after the early 1960s consolidation, on the public works budget. By the 1970s, problems with potholes, water leaks, street cleaning, litter, burnt-out lights, missing signs and crumbling sidewalks and paths would often take most of an evening’s town-meeting session.

“Question time” began in the 1980s, in hope of reducing the town-meeting schedule and solving rather than just airing some problems. DPW has now made a tradition of the event, held shortly before an annual town meeting. Commissioner Andrew Pappastergion, former chief of the water division, led this year’s “question time.” Division directors were on hand: Kevin Johnson for Highway and Sanitation, Fred Russell for Water and Sewer, Erin Gallentine for Parks and Open Space, and Peter Ditto for Engineering and Transportation. Some of the senior managers were also present: Thomas Brady for Forestry and Conservation, Edward Gilbert for Solid Waste and Recycling, and Todd Kirrane for Transportation.

Mr. Pappastergion said DPW has Brookline’s second-largest expenditure, after schools: for fiscal 2015 about $42 million in total spending. Much of that pays for MWRA water and sewer, but the rest would still leave DPW as the third largest budget, between Police and Fire. In the budget tables–which account separately for pay changes, health care and other employee benefits–DPW is now proposed for near-level funding in fiscal 2015.

Parks and Open Space is allocated a 4-percent cut, about $137 thousand, while other divisions are getting increases. However, Parks and Open Space has the second largest share of the Capital Improvement Program, after schools. In the warrant report for the 2014 annual town meeting, neither the Board of Selectmen nor the Advisory Committee explains cutting the operating budget for parks.

Mr. Pappastergion’s “flashiest” program for the next fiscal year is starting to install light-emitting-diode (LED) lamps for street lighting, a 4-year program. Brookline maintains its street lights rather than pay a flat fee to Northeast Utilities (before that Boston Edison, then Nstar). Energy savings and extended lamp lifetime from LED rather than high-pressure sodium-vapor lamps can save money when costs of replacing lamps are high, as with street poles. Recent drops in LED prices combine with a state incentive program to result in estimated payback periods under ten years. When the new lamps are lit, residents will see more balanced white rather than pink color.

The first question came from Harry Friedman, a Precinct 12 town meeting member. He asked when the town would address deterioration of Claflin Path, on Addington Hill. He said flooding has become more severe and more frequent, and a path light has failed. Before it failed, neighbors replaced the bulbs. Several neighbors detailed problems, including Amy Hummel, also a Precinct 12 town meeting member, who said flooding has occurred often for at least ten years.

Mr. Ditto of Engineering promised Claflin Path will inspected soon, and a plan will be drawn up to correct problems. That could involve larger drains and catch basins; if so, it might take some time. The failed light fixture is attached to a house, and Mr. Ditto did not know who owned it.

Carol Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, complained about “tree wells,” as she called them, around street trees in commercial areas. Without protective grates, edges of brick or pavement around tree bases are increasingly exposed as soil compacts or erodes. Ms. Caro tripped on one and suffered injuries.

During the 1960s, a small “first wave” of commercial-area street trees were planted without much protection for either trees or pedestrians, mostly in lower-density areas. As soils compacted or eroded, mulch was sometimes added, with little concern about sidewalk appearance. Over time many of those trees died, but several still survive. Higher-density areas, notably Coolidge Corner, were left bare, as they had been since Brookline began to pave streets shortly after 1910.

When a “second wave” of commercial-area street trees were planted during the 1970s and 1980s, in a program galvanized by former Brookline business-owner and resident Anita Belt, higher-density commercial areas got trees, including Coolidge Corner. In some places, brick edging was installed along curbs and around trees, with heavy metal grates spanning spaces between brick or pavement edges and tree trunks.

As tree trunks and roots grew, grates began to shift and warp. Many have now been removed, exposing the “tree wells” about which Ms. Caro complained. Mr. Brady of Forestry knew about the issue and sympathized, but he did not appear to have a solution ready. He said Brookline plans to try polymer bricks set into soil around trees, as already done in parts of Boston. He did not say how trees will survive without ample rainwater.

Jean Stringham, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, reported fewer newspaper boxes, with the remaining boxes in better condition. When she coordinated a survey over a year ago, more than 150 boxes were found, with about three-fourths in what she called “poor condition.” A recent survey found only 33 boxes, all in “good condition.” While more neatness may please some people, it may not help others. For example, the Brookline TAB used to distribute newspapers from a box in front of the Arcade Building at 316 Harvard St. Now that box is gone; there are no longer any TAB newspaper boxes in Brookline.

Cornelia van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, complained of several problems, including snow clearance violations near her house, street lights extinguished and fluorescent lamps left out with refuse for collection. Mr. Gilbert described the town’s recent expansion of hazardous waste collection, from once or twice a year to Thursdays from May through October. Fluorescent lamps are accepted at the South Brookline transfer station between 7:30 am and 12:30 pm and at the Health Center dropoff between 8 am and 5 pm.

Several people described problems they reported via the Brookonline Web page deployed in fall, 2011. While it lacks a distinctive site address, or URL, people said it has been effective–with problems often cleared a few days after being reported. However, some people have reported problems that remain unaddressed. One is rainwater accumulating in recycling bins. An unidentified resident said she found them too heavy to empty.

Ruthann Sneider, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, asked whether there is a program in Brookline to survey and correct gas leaks, citing reports of thousands of leaks found in Boston. Actually, the survey she likely read about also found many leaks in parts of Brookline too, near Coolidge Corner and toward B.U. Mr. Brady of Forestry described a survey to locate leaks near street trees, where soil is exposed.

In response to a report from Virginia LaPlante, also a Precinct 6 town meeting member, about a recent, strong gas odor near Welland Rd. at Tappan St., Mr. Brady said that sounded like an emergency situation: if noticed again, call 911.

Clint Richmond, another Precinct 6 town meeting member, asked about new street-marking materials that appear to be plastic. Mr. Pappastergion said DPW is trying out several materials for durability and contrast. He said one of the more successful trials had been crosswalks in service for about three years at the busy intersection of Beacon and Harvard Streets.

A South Brookline person asked about plans for trash metering. Mr. Pappastergion and Mr. Gilbert described proposed automation for solid waste collection, after the town’s current disposal contract expires at the end of June. That includes an element of trash metering but not the typical “pay as you throw” adopted mostly by low-density communities.

Instead, Brookline would continue to charge a fixed fee, paying for collection and disposal of one standard-size, marked refuse bin per household per week. Additional refuse would be collected when left out in marked plastic bags, Mr. Pappastergion said. Under the recent proposal, the town would supply marked bins to the 13,200 households using the town’s refuse service–around half the households in Brookline.

The new refuse bins would be compatible with automated handling, similar to what now occurs when recycling bins are emptied into collection trucks. However, Mr. Pappastergion said, the likely capacity of new refuse bins is 35 gallons, about half the capacity of current recycling bins. Marked plastic bags for additional refuse would be sold at grocery and convenience stores, at prices based on costs of collection and disposal.

Mr. Pappastergion said under the proposal Brookline would operate waste collection using its own trucks, with conditions still being negotiated with the union representing workers. No one asked, but apparently Brookline would no longer take bulky items, such as mattresses and tables, that won’t fit in plastic bags. If that were so, a likely result would be accumulation of discards along sidewalks in some residential areas.

Participants raised several other issues, although many of them have been widely reported. The atmosphere contrasted with what might have been found forty or fifty years earlier: little of the “us and them” attitudes once common. Instead, even though far fewer Brookline employees live in the town today, on all sides it was mostly “we,” “us” and “our problems.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 15, 2014


Beth Daley, Boston riddled with natural gas leaks, Boston University study finds, Boston Globe, November 19, 2012

Hazards of rail transport

When we encounter news of railroad crashes involving oil and fuel tankers–such as the disaster last summer that took the lives of 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec–we probably don’t imagine anything like that in Brookline. We don’t even have freight rail here.

However, we once did. In the early 1850s, the former Charles River Branch Railroad was built from Needham through Newton and Brookline to Boston. For about twenty years it hauled millions of tons of gravel and sand to fill the largest parts of the Charles River’s former saltwater mudflats. Those once extended from what is now the east edge of the Public Garden to what is now the Charlesgate channel of the Muddy River and westward to what is now Kenmore Square. Since the mid-twentieth century, such a massive project probably would not happen. No one could likely get environmental waivers or permits today.

The former freight railroad is now the Riverside or D branch of the MBTA Green Line, since 1959, and the filled parts of Boston are the Back Bay neighborhoods. Unlike the rest of the Green Line, the Riverside branch was a first-class, heavy-duty railroad–a twin-track with fully separated crossings. After days of hauling gravel ended, the former Boston & Albany bought it to run a commuter-rail service into Boston. Passenger carriages were originally pulled by coal-fired steam locomotives, standard for the day.

A long-running controversy about the so-called Carlton St. Footbridge–passing over tracks of the former Charles River Branch Railroad and connecting Colchester St. and Carlton St. with the Riverway and Olmsted Park–has origins in the 1890s, when Longwood-area residents asked selectmen to install it as a convenience. It served a whistle-stop on the former B&A commuter-rail branch between Needham and Boston.

Unlike handsome stone bridges designed during park construction under Mr. Olmsted, Sr.–whose son chaired Brookline’s first Planning Board–the Carlton St. bridge was a makeshift. Brookline highway workers assembled it from steel shards, beams and fasteners. Under Article 5, a special town meeting November 17, 2009, appropriated $1.4 million, using a rare roll-call vote, to rehabilitate the rusted-out relic, which has been closed to public access as a safety hazard since fall, 1975. So far, the project has not been completed.

The city of Revere is not so fortunate as Brookline to be distant from its freight-rail history. Branches of the former Boston & Maine–some transporting freight under successor Pan Am Railways–provide a potential corridor connecting interstate rail to large oil depots along banks of the Chelsea River. In 2011, Global Partners, owner of the largest tank complex, proposed to bring grain alcohol from the Midwest into Revere and East Boston, using rail tankers. Revere residents and city officials became alarmed.

Most rail tankers in widespread use today to carry flammable liquids were designed in the 1950s, as much for capacity as safety. Of more than 100,000 type DOT-111 tank cars built, over sixty years around a third have been involved in rail crashes. Even when traveling at low speeds, hundreds have split open, starting massive fires. These tankers carry about 30,000 gallons each, or about three times the fuel carried by each of the jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001.

Global of Revere proposed to bring in one to three trains a week, typically 60 cars each–a total that could reach around 200 million gallons a year of fuel-grade ethanol to be blended into gasoline. That would probably travel through eastern Massachusetts at night along the route of the MBTA Fitchburg Line commuter rail–through Lowell, Cambridge, Chelsea and other communities. Global has been shipping ethanol by rail from the Midwest to Providence and then by barge from Providence to its tanks in Revere. Eliminating barge shipping could save money.

Revere residents approved a ballot question opposing rail shipment of ethanol. They joined with people from several other communities, pressuring the state legislature. Considering potential hazards from multiple perspectives, the General Court attached “outside section” 81 to H. 3538 of 2013, the fiscal 2014 appropriations bill. It likely matters that Robert A. DeLeo, the House speaker, represents Revere and has his district office there.

Section 81 did not attack rail transport of ethanol. Instead it would have altered Chapter 91 of the General Laws, regulating waterways, by blocking new licenses for facilities that store or blend large amounts of ethanol when located within a mile of a census tract with a population density above 4,000 residents per square mile. As soon as its current licenses expire, that might have put Global out of business in Revere. At best, the company could blend ethanol elsewhere and bring in pre-blended gasoline, raising costs.

Governor Patrick used a so-called “line-item veto” against Section 81. Mr. Patrick, a former corporate lawyer who is not a candidate for re-election this fall, proposed that the General Court instead forbid using rail tankers to bring ethanol into Revere or East Boston before August, 2015. He promised to have the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency develop a “comprehensive ethanol transport response plan.” However, a few days earlier Global had announced it was suspending plans to transport ethanol by rail.

Gov. Patrick issued, at best, a disingenuous statement. Unlike many among the public, he and concerned state legislators would have been well aware that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation had just published an “Ethanol Safety Study.” In Chapter 4, Report Findings, it frankly states that “movement of [ethanol or other hazardous materials] is regulated at a federal level, and it cannot be regulated in any manner at the state or local level.” By acting to force Global of Revere to change its plans, close or relocate, the General Court was exercising powers it does have to head off potential disasters.

Rail tankers do not seem likely to become much safer very soon. There is a somewhat sturdier design approved as a Canadian standard, in the wake of Lac-Mégantic: type CPC-1232. However, that design might not be enough. Recently another rail tanker crash occurred in downtown Lynchburg, VA. Three tank cars loaded with petroleum split open and ignited, but no one was reported injured. Associated Press news writers stated that the National Transportation Safety Board knows of “several accidents in which cars built to the new standards ruptured.”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 1, 2014


Dave Riehle, Runaway Quebec train, source of so much heartache, began its journey toward disaster years ago, Workday Minnesota, July 24, 2013

John Laidler, Ethanol transport raising concerns, Boston Globe, August 4, 2011

Seth Daniel, Screeching halt: backed into corner, Global withdraws ethanol train plan, Chelsea Record, July 4, 2013

Alan Suderman and Michael Felberbaum, Associated Press, Rail tankers carrying oil derail and catch fire in Virginia, New York Times, May 1, 2014

Candidates Night: controversies appear in town elections

The Brookline Neighborhood Alliance held a Candidate’s Night on Wednesday, April 16, from 6:30 to 9:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. It featured candidates for town-wide offices in the upcoming election on May 6. Margaret Bush, president of League of Women Voters of Brookline, presided as moderator.

The Alliance is a fairly recent organization, founded in 2001. It helps coordinate activities of more than 20 neighborhood associations in Brookline, many of them operating for 40 years or more. Current Alliance co-chairs are Dan Saltzman and Sean Lynn-Jones. Mr. Lynn-Jones introduced the candidates.

This year there is only one town-wide contest: four candidates running for two seats available on the Board of Selectmen. Incumbent Nancy Daly is running for re-election. Incumbent Richard Benka stepped aside after two terms; he remains co-chair of the Override Study Committee. The challengers are Brooks A. Ames of Whitney St., Arthur Wellington Conquest, III, of Tappan St. and Benjamin J. Franco of Cypress St.

Controversies
For more than two centuries, the Board of Selectmen was a gentlemen’s club, meeting at Dana’s and Punch Bowl taverns before there was Town Hall as we know it today. Over the past 55 years that changed. Louise Castle became the first woman to serve on the board in 1960. For many years afterward, there was never more than one woman among the five members. Recently–during 2007 through 2013–women formed a majority of the board, and currently there are two women on the board.

Another barrier has not yet been breached. There has never been an African-American or Latin-American member of the board, nor for at least a century has there been a foreign-born member. There has been only one minority head of a town department over the past 40 years. Those are major concerns for two of this year’s candidates. Mr. Ames and Mr. Conquest, an African-American, say they are campaigning jointly to promote minority representation in town management.

Continuing financial stress from growth in the school population has revived a controversy many thought was laid to rest in the 1970s: whether the town should continue its affirmative-action program in the schools, accepting minority students through the METCO program. A related element is school-age children of town employees who live elsewhere but have been allowed to attend Brookline schools. The combined groups are said by school administrators to number around 600, out of around 7,000 students now attending Brookline schools.

METCO was organized in 1965. An initial effort was led by Prof. Leon Trilling of M.I.T., then chairman of the Brookline School Committee. Key participants included Dr. Robert Sperber, then Brookline superintendent of schools, and the superintendents in Newton and Lexington. When METCO started sending students to seven founding communities in 1966–75 to Brookline–the program was described as filling “available seats” in classrooms. For many years, the added students were not considered a major factor in achieving a goal of 25 or fewer students per class, and the costs to Brookline were described by school administrators as small.

However, the Education Reform Act of 1993 led to a statewide reporting system for public school populations and spending, so that the added populations could not be discounted. Over time, the numbers of added students grew. State payments for METCO students and so-called “materials fees” charged for children of town employees are much less than the average cost per student in Brookline schools, as calculated by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Moreover, state-certified costs do not include costs of school buildings.

The Ames and Conquest campaigns for minority representation, together with revival of disputes over the METCO program and new disputes over the “materials fee” program, comprise a level of agitation not seen in the town since struggles over rent control and high-rise zoning in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those controversies formed a backdrop for the discussions at Candidates Night which no one there could ignore.

Board of Selectmen
Nancy Daly is seeking a fourth term on the Board of Selectmen. She named experience in town government as a major qualification. Ms. Daly formerly chaired the Advisory Committee. She cited recent efforts in getting Brookline recognized as an “age friendly community” and in proposing to revise the town’s bylaw on diversity and inclusion, Article 10 on the warrant for the annual town meeting in May.

Brooks Ames is seeking a first term on the Board of Selectmen. He has been a member of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission since 2013. Mr. Ames described himself as a Heath School graduate and now a Heath School parent. He complained that there had been “no department head of color in over 40 years” and said his goal is “making sure that everyone has a seat at the table.”

Arthur Conquest is seeking a first term on the Board of Selectmen. He has been a Precinct 6 town meeting member since 1997 and is a past president of the High School parent-teacher organization. Mr. Conquest described his unsuccessful application to serve on the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, clearly indicating he felt the current Board of Selectmen acted unreasonably.

Benjamin Franco is seeking a first term on the Board of Selectmen. He has been a member of the Advisory Committee since 2008. Mr. Franco described himself as growing up on Amory St. He said he is particularly concerned about financial pressures from school enrollment increases. He cited as a qualification his experience in state government, gained as a legislative aide in the state senate.

Ms. Bush, the moderator, posed several questions submitted by members of the audience to candidates for the Board of Selectmen. On the chronic issue of tax classification, with businesses seeking a lower tax rate, no candidate favored much change. On the efforts to get payments in lieu of taxes from nonprofit organizations, all would encourage them.

Responding to a question about how to handle the proposed Chapter 40B housing development at Hancock Village, Mr. Ames cited his legal experiences with 40B developments and said he favors a “negotiated settlement.” All the candidates were familiar with the situation and cited potential problems, but none had any more to offer toward a solution.

A question on which the candidates clearly differed asked whether they “support a robust METCO program.” Mr. Ames said his support is “100 percent.” Mr. Conquest said METCO is “an integral part of our school system.” Ms. Daly said she would “fight strongly for the program” but there are limits “to what the taxpayers can pay.” Mr. Franco stated he could not “say that regardless of financial pressure…we’re going to retain it.”

Another question that drew differences asked about support for “Local First,” a business initiative proposed under Article 29 at the annual town meeting in May. Mr. Ames criticized the proposal for excluding franchised businesses. Mr. Conquest offered no opinion. Mr. Franco said Brookline “should make sure everybody is protected.” Ms. Daly said she saw problems, notably the issue of “what’s local?” The proposal seeks more town purchasing from local business, while Ms. Daly said the town is “subject to state bidding laws.”

School Committee
Three candidates are running for the three seats available on the School Committee. Incumbent Rebecca Stone is running for a fourth term. Incumbent committee chair Alan Morse stepped aside after three terms. Incumbent Amy Kershaw stepped aside after one term. The new candidates are Michael A. Glover of Franklin Ct. and Lisa R. Jackson of Winthrop Rd.

Rebecca Stone cited as accomplishments a strategic plan, improvements in “educational equity” and renovations to Heath and Runkle Schools. She voiced support for school-building recommendations from the Bspace Committee but also concerns about “fracturing the community” over costs of the work. Michael Glover, a real-estate lawyer who moved to Brookline from Jamaica Plain 1-1/2 years ago, described his goal to “retain the culture and characteristics that attracted our family, without compromising the quality of education.” Dr. Lisa Jackson, an investment portfolio manager, came to Brookline in recent years from California. Her aim, she said, is to “grow strengths around technology, science and math.”

By “educational equity,” Ms. Stone may have been alluding to the Equity Project that began about ten years ago, early in the Lupini administration. According to contemporary town reports, it aimed at “eliminating the racial achievement gap” in Brookline schools. However, an earlier “equity project” began in the 1960s during the Sperber administration. It aimed to eliminate disparity among what Dr. Sperber once called the four rich and the four poor elementary schools. A comment by Dr. Jackson suggested the older project has yet to meet some objectives. She mentioned finding many more classroom computers at Heath than at Pierce.

Ms. Bush again posed questions to the candidates. The first asked about their support for METCO: is it still necessary? Ms. Stone said she is a “very strong supporter” and said the program provides “extraordinary benefit to students and the community.” Mr. Glover said he is a “wholehearted supporter” and said a “holistic school requires exposure to different backgrounds.” Dr. Jackson said she offers “full and robust support” for METCO as an “integral part of an education.”

A question on which the candidates differed asked about the accuracy of school enrollment projections, which now predict continued growth for at least several more years. Dr. Jackson said she lacked knowledge about the accuracy of the projections. Mr. Glover said the projections were “conservative, maybe too low” and did not take full account of the proposed Hancock Village development. Ms. Stone did not answer the question directly, instead referring again to work of the Bspace Committee and describing it as a “broad set of recommendations.”

Key elements of the most recent projections for the school population appear in the public version of the proposed school budget for fiscal 2015, on pages 21-24. They estimate that by 2018 the total school population will rise at least 1,000 students above the historical norm for which Brookline’s school buildings were designed.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 17, 2014


2014 Annual Town Meeting Warrant, town meeting files, Town of Brookline, MA

Superintendent’s FY2015 preliminary budget, Public Schools of Brookline, MA, March, 2014

Edward W. Baker, The old Worcester Turnpike, Proceedings of the Brookline Historical Society at the annual meeting of January, 1907, Internet Archive

The Trilling plans for METCO, pp. 193-210 in Lily D. Geismer, Don’t Blame Us: Grassroots Liberalism in Massachusetts, 1960-1990, PhD, U. Michigan 2010

No news is bad news

The Boston Globe, for about the last 50 years New England’s leading newspaper–following collapse of the old Herald and retrenchment at the Courant–continues to cheapen its products while raising its prices.

Over the last few years, the Globe switched off its once sturdy reporting on health care. Even though it continues to list talented reporters on staff, there are rarely any articles from them and almost none of substance. Although a significant article by young reporter Carolyn Johnson continues to appear once in a while, science reporting–never a Globe strength–has been wedged into a crevice inside “technology,” itself a branch of “business.”

As of mid-April, 2014, New England news totally disappeared from both the Globe’s free site and its paid site. Now “health” is just a feature of “lifestyle.” Chelsea Conaboy, who came to the Globe from the Philadelphia Inquirer less than three years ago to coordinate health-care news, has left for the Portland, ME, Press Herald. Science lost a place in the banner headings. Lapse of New England news, typically dozens of articles a day, is especially grievious, because there has been no comparable source of reports on the region.

Actually, some New England news is still available at the Globe, but “you can’t get there from here.” It’s grouped with pages of the free site, but there aren’t any links on those pages to bring it up. Instead, you need to know the full, Internet locations of all the pages–and maybe bookmark them. They are:
  • Connecticut, http://www.boston.com/news/local/connecticut
  • Maine, http://www.boston.com/news/local/maine
  • New Hampshire, http://www.boston.com/news/local/new-hampshire
  • Rhode Island, http://www.boston.com/news/local/rhode-island
  • Vermont, http://www.boston.com/news/local/vermont
Previously there was a Massachusetts page, but all it ever showed was a few college sports scores. Cape Ann, Cape Cod and southeastern, central and western Massachusetts remain terrae incognitae to the Globe. As of mid-April, 2014, what all the above pages actually show is the same “news lite” as the “local” page.

These developments are hardly surprising. The historic “tiny” Globe–from the 1870s through the 1950s–was usually pedestrian when not blinkered. It often treated anything much beyond Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville and Chelsea as though located somewhere on the fringes of the universe.

A slightly more cosmopolitan Globe, after Harvard grad Tom Winship succeeded his dad Laurence as chief editor in 1965, pushed horizons out to around Route 128. However, the Globe’s moldy standards of local reporting proved little changed. A 1974 “empty parking space” reserved for former Secretary of State Jack Davoren at the State House comes to mind. It was actually photographed on a Sunday. The Globe editors had to know that was a fake event, but apparently they had their agendas.

In particular, the younger Winship seemed to hate former Gov. Dukakis, a fellow Harvard man, for a few years, with predictable results. After he retired in 1984, Winship expressed what came across as remorse about helping Dukakis lose to Ed King in the 1978 primary. The Globe did boost King down the skids by reporting on “lobster lunches” King favored–at taxpayer expense–helping Dukakis return to office in 1982.

The Boston Globe has been ailing for years before and since the Taylor trust sold it to the NY Times in 1993–under a succession of clueless editors, ineffective at coping with electronic news: Michael Janeway, Jack Driscoll, Matthew Storin and Martin Baron. It was only a near-monopoly during the age of paper that propped up an erratic and faltering institution. Once Internet news became popular after the 1990s, the gates began to close.

Brian McCrory, a native of Weymouth, was named chief editor of the Globe in December, 2012. He has been a Globe reporter, then a columnist, since 1989. He has yet to put a distinctive stamp on direction and content; it’s too early to tell whether he will help restore the Globe to a modicum of health. So far he presided over slashing health-care news, ending New England news and decorating the online sites with more gadgets and pictures.

One of Mr. McCrory’s columns in 2011 advocated charging a subscription fee for the Globe’s online edition. That seemed an unpopular view among the news staff, but it was more-or-less what Globe management did shortly afterward–setting up a separate paid site and gradually moving content from the free site to the paid site. Early reports indicated few subscribers. Shortly before the NY Times sold the Globe to Red Sox owner John Henry in August, 2013, Globe circulation reports became opaque, but they are apparently double-counting online subscribers who are also print subscribers.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 15, 2014


On the Move, Portland (ME) Press Herald, March 16, 2014

Jon Chesto, Boston Globe’s new circulation report underscores challenges in transitioning from print to digital, Boston Business Journal, November 1, 2012