Category Archives: Licensing

licenses and permits

Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heavy manufacturing of power plants, World Nuclear Association, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: marijuana dispensary license

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. drug deaths, 1999 through 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Unsigned, Draft conditions, from current Board of Selectmen, November 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: new saloon and funding gap

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, August 4, started at 5:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board has gone into semi-hibernation and probably won’t meet again in August. This rambling, sometimes cornball board often pushes the biggest problems far out into the night; maybe observers might give up and sign off. The last agenda item on this particular night was a zinger.

$4 million funding gap: The town looks to be around $4 million short of money to rebuild Devotion School. To town administration, that was obviously stale news. The state had sent a funding letter on June 10. The Board of Selectmen did not put the matter on their agenda and let the public know about the problem until almost two months later.

Last May 26, town meeting voted $118.4 million for the project, told by the board and the Advisory Committee to expect $27.8 million in state aid. Six weeks later, the state came back with only $25.9 million. Adding to a $1.9 million problem, the public schools still have no place for kindergarten through fourth grade students during the project. Old Lincoln School will be full with fifth through eighth grade students.

At a morning meeting on August 4, according to board member Nancy Daly, Suffolk Construction of Boston, the general contractor, proposed to install temporary classrooms over the asphalt basketball courts behind the school along Stedman Street. That would cost another, unplanned and unfunded $1.8 million. Where can it all come from? Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, thought it could not come from the debt exclusion approved at the May 5 town election, saying voters had been “promised” some particular amount. He was mistaken.

Mr. Wishinsky apparently forgot that voters approved a project–not an amount of funds. According to state law, that is how debt exclusion questions have to be worded. Up to the times of the town election and town meeting, Brookline had only estimates of total costs and of state funding. It was in no position to make promises to anybody about amounts of funds.

The May town meeting was advised differently by the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee. The board estimated debt exclusion would apply to $49.6 million in bond funding. [on page 8-25 of the warrant report] The committee estimated debt exclusion would apply to $44.6 million. [on page 8-69 if the warrant report] The town meeting endorsed neither estimate, and it appeared not to have authorized bond funding either.

Instead, the town meeting approved a project total of $118.4 million, by a vote recorded as 222-1. Prior to the vote, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator, did not say the motion included bonding, although the margin was more than required by law for bonding. So far, no one knows how much of the approved total might come from current revenue, how much if any from bonding and how much of the latter via debt exclusion. What looks nearly certain is that the total funds approved won’t cover the total costs.

Irish saloon: In another roundabout of the evening, the board approved a large Irish saloon amid lower Beacon Street neighborhoods. Known elsewhere as Waxy O’Connor’s, the Brookline site is to be only a Waxy’s–without beer pitchers and self-serve beer taps. Brookline is getting management from Woburn, at least for a while. In Woburn, according to an online review last month, “The people at the bar were screaming, swearing and running in and out of smoking cigarettes.”

Waxy’s put on a better show than three weeks ago. Frank Spillane, the Foxborough lawyer representing the chain seeking to open at 1032 Beacon St., had reviewed Brookline regulations. Ashok Patel, the Woburn site manager, was slated to manage the Brookline site–no more questions about who the manager would be. Mr. Spillane and Mr. Patel had settled potential problems with some neighborhood representatives.

Board members still proved wary. Although they approved licenses for a restaurant, full liquor service, entertainment and outdoor seating, they limited closing hours to 1 am and attached conditions, including outdoor service to end at 10:30 pm with clean-up completed by 11 pm, limits on noise, deliveries and smoking, little or no paper on the patio and multiple security cameras. Restrictions are still lighter than some at Chipotle on Commonwealth Avenue, where no alcoholic beverages can be served outside. As board member Nancy Heller observed, the ban on pitchers did not extend to sangria or margaritas.

Personnel, contracts and finances: In a little over half an hour, the board reviewed and approved hiring for 25 vacant positions, and it approved six miscellaneous contracts ranging from $3,000 to $25,000. It is unclear why, in a community that employs an expensive town administrator with a staff of six, the Board of Selectmen would not delegate such matters, which it always approves.

David Geanakais, the chief procurement officer, presented a contract to lease space on the third floor at 62 Harvard St. for classroom space. The contract distributed by the board was abridged to leave out the amount and cost of the space. Members of the board did not seem to think that important to tell the public about, but afterward Mr. Geanakakis said the first-year cost would be $129,000.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, won approval for two contracts with Susi and Sons of Dorchester for a total of $1.23 million, the main yearly contracts for street and sidewalk repairs. Susi was low bidder on the $0.95 million street repair contract but won the sidewalk contract only when another bidder failed to submit complete documents.

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


Annual town meeting, first session, Brookline Interactive Group, May 26, 2015 (video recording, vote on appropriation for Devotion School at about 01:40:10)

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

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

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

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

Rhode Island: offshore wind-power, winning and losing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: two boards, changing colors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: water fees, snubbing the public

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Transportation: good intents, cloudy results and taxi rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: police awards, paying for snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing the rules: new taxi regulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: personnel, policies and budget reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: projects and budget reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, February 17, started at 7:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The agenda focused on the town administrator’s financial plan for the fiscal year starting next July.

Hancock Village Chapter 40B project: In public comment, Judith Leichtner, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, questioned the board’s commitment to resisting a large, partly subsidized housing development proposed at Hancock Village in south Brookline by subsidiaries of Chestnut Hill Realty, the owner and manager.

It has been obvious for weeks that the Zoning Board of Appeals will the allow the development, with a decision expected to be recorded in days. “Will you be appealing this terrible ZBA decision?” asked Ms. Leichtner. “Will you be hiring outside counsel with experience litigating 40B? What action will you be pursuing to…protect historic property?”

Ken Goldstein, the board’s chair, said that the board “will be discussing [litigation] next week in executive session…we have time…we are aware of the deadline.” Left unsaid: for a Board of Selectmen to sue the Board of Appeals that it appointed would appear to put the community in conflict with itself–a house divided.

Contracts, personnel and finances: David Geanakakis, the chief procurement officer, received approval for a $0.38 million lease-purchase agreement with TD Bank. It will fund a set of DPW equipment anticipated in the current capital improvement plan. Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, got the board to certify expected operating life of at least 10 years for a new fire engine, a bonding issue.

Licenses and permits:Hui Di Chen of Melrose, formerly involved with Sakura restaurant in Winchester and the proposed new manager of Genki Ya restaurant at 398 Harvard St., spoke for applications to transfer licenses held by the current manager. Mr. Chen seemed unprepared for some of the board’s questions. He had not sought out training provided by the Police Department on managing alcoholic beverage sales under the Brookline regulations. The board opted to hold the applications and reconsider them at a later date. Board records contain several misspellings of names.

Haim Cohen of Brookline received a license for a restaurant he plans to open on the former site of Beauty Supply, at 326 Harvard St. To be called Pure Cold Press, it was described as a “juice and salad bar.” He has a major shortfall of parking under Brookline zoning and will also need approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Financial plan: Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, presented a financial plan for the fiscal year starting next July, assisted by Sean Cronin, the outgoing deputy town administrator, and by his replacement in the position, Melissa Goff. The main outlines do not include revenue from a tax override of $7.665 million per year that the board proposed on February 10. However, Mr. Kleckner’s plan shows how municipal agencies would use a share of those funds, if voters approve the override.

Without funds from the proposed override, Mr. Kleckner had to propose substantial cutbacks in the municipal programs and agencies. Rental assistance from the Council on Aging would suffer a 25 percent cut, as would part-time Library assistants. Vacant positions in the Police Department and Fire Department would go unfilled. Park ranger, gardener and laborer positions in Public Works would be eliminated, reducing services. Several older vehicles would not be replaced. The Health Department would lose its day-care center inspectors and trim its contribution to Brookline Mental Health by 25 percent.

If voters approve the proposed tax override next May, these cuts would be restored, costing an estimated $0.682 million per year from the proposed $7.665 million per year in override funding. Left unsaid: Public Schools of Brookline has a more difficult problem to solve. If voters reject the proposed override, there will be $6.983 million per year less in funding that could support school programs and departments.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 21, 2015


Brookline municipal agency and program reductions, FY2016, without tax override, February 17, 2015

Melvin Kleckner, Summary of Brookline FY2016 financial plan, Town of Brookline, MA, February 17, 2015

Financial Plan, FY2016, Town of Brookline, MA (15 MB)

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

Craig Bolon, Public schools: decoding a tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 7, 2015

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

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

Zoning Board of Appeals: architecture for Hancock Village Chapter 40B, Brookline Beacon, September 9, 2014

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

Judith Leichtner, Comments to Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals on proposed chapter 40B development at Hancock Village, September 8, 2014

Brock Parker, Developer gets green light to pursue a 40B project in Brookline, Boston Globe, October 24, 2013

Board of Selectmen: snow removal, employee friction and marathons

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, February 3, started at 6:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The agenda was slim, considering that the previous week’s meeting had to be cancelled because of snow.

Board member Ken Goldstein announced that he will not be running for another term this spring. He has served on the board since 2009 and has been chair since May of last year. Before that, he was a Planning Board member for 15 years, chairing that board from 2004 to 2009. He was previously a member of the Housing Advisory Board, and he served as a town meeting member from Precinct 14. He practices law at a Brookline firm, Goldstein & Herndon.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator, has submitted a letter of resignation. Later this month he begins a position with the state Department of Revenue as Senior Deputy Commissioner for Local Affairs. Mr. Cronin has worked in the Brookline office of the town administrator for 17 years. He described Brookline management as a “team effort” and said he hopes to engage with state policy initiatives in the same spirit.

Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, got board approval to fill Mr. Cronin’s position and said he intends to promote Melissa Goff, the assistant town administrator for the past nine years. She came to Brookline from the Boston Office of Budget Management during the Menino administration. In Brookline, she has been in charge of annual budget preparation and has participated in the development of online services. Mr. Kleckner also has approval to fill Ms. Goff’s position and said he plans a broad-based search for candidates.

Ray Masak, a building project administrator, got approval for a $0.12 million contract with Eagle Point Builders of Belmont to restore doors and windows of the historic gatehouse at the Fisher Hill Reservoir, the lowest of several bids by a small margin. References said Eagle Point Builders did good work for other towns on restoration projects but warned that Mark Moroso, the owner, could be “tough” to deal with. The architect is Touloukian & Touloukian of Boston.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval for $0.02 million for a dam inspection at the Brookline Reservoir. He hopes to resolve issues with the growth of vines and bushes so that trees and landscaping can be maintained rather than cleared. The contractor, Tighe & Bond of Worcester, will prepare a tree management plan.

Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, got approval for $0.06 million in change orders for projects underway at Lawrence, Devotion and old Lincoln Schools. He reported that the Devotion project will not require indoor air sampling, because levels of soil contamination from oil tanks were below hazard thresholds, but there will be offsite soil disposal.

Snow removal budget: Andrew Pappastergion, the town’s public works commissioner, described snow removal for the two storms that began on January 27 and February 1. He said the municipal service center received a total of 46 inches of snow, none of which has melted so far, and he estimated costs of snow plowing and removal at $0.53 million for the first storm and at $0.23 million to date for the second one.

The town’s budget for snow was based on 43 inches over the season, in line with the historic average. That has been exhausted, with winter just half over. Mr. Pappastergion asked the board to authorize emergency snow funds under Chapter 44, Section 31D of the General Laws, and the board voted to do so. Those funds will later be made up by tapping the reserve fund, by cutting other budgets this year or by dipping into next year’s funds. There is no Proposition 2-1/2 exemption for emergency snow funds.

Mr. Pappastergion was also authorized to fill four vacant positions and to accept $0.006 million in state grants to support recycling. He said a state grant of $0.2 million is pending, to purchase waste bins for a trash metering program that he expects to implement later this year. He has been operating under priorities of the former Patrick administration and did not seem to have planned for potential changes in priorities under the new Baker administration.

Costs of job friction: As reported in the Beacon, Brookline has been experiencing increasing friction with employees. Sandra DeBow-Huang, the director of human resources, asked the Board of Selectmen to approve a $0.17 million reserve fund request, for legal services. She said unexpectedly high costs mainly came from two employee lawsuits and one employee complaint to the state Department of Labor Relations (DLR).

The request for legal services funds is historically large–around eight percent of the total reserve fund, which is already facing stress to pay high costs of snow clearance. It is likely to be scrutinized when it reaches the Advisory Committee, which controls the reserve fund. Ms. DeBow-Huang complained of “tight time frames” to respond to DLR proceedings.

DLR is a fairly new state agency assembled in 2007 from older agencies. Its investigators and its Commonwealth Employment Relations Board hear and rule on union issues when contracts do not include binding arbitration. The Board of Selectmen later interviewed a candidate for the Human Resources Board, without getting much insight on job friction from that interview.

Marathons: Josh Nemzer, representing Boston Athletic Association (BAA), sought and received a parade permit from the board for the 2015 Boston Marathon segment on Beacon St. He described road closing as lasting from 9:15 am to 5:30 pm next April 20. Board member Nancy Daly objected to repeated refusals by BAA personnel last year to let Brookline pedestrians cross Beacon St. and said BAA might want to consider using Commonwealth Ave. instead, if it could not accommodate community needs.

In another version of marathon, the board resumed its discussion of 2015 tax override proposals, once again without reaching a conclusion. School Committee chair Susan Ditkoff and member Rebecca Stone were present along with William Lupini, the superintendent of schools, Peter Rowe, the deputy superintendent for finance, and Jennifer Fischer-Mueller, the deputy superintendent for teaching.

The process began with appointment of the Override Study Committee of 2013 on August 20 of that year, almost a year and a half ago. The committee soon became embroiled in attacks on the METCO program and never seemed to regain full balance. All members of the Board of Selectmen publicly stated that they favor larger amounts of money than the committee recommended,

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 4, 2015


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

Annual Report, Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations, 2014

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

Board of Selectmen: vacation, town meeting, personnel, contracts, licenses and trash metering, Brookline Beacon, July 23, 2014

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

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

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

Craig Bolon, Public schools: decoding a tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 7, 2015

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

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

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

Licensing Review Committee: registered marijuana dispensary

A regular meeting of the Licensing Review Committee on Thursday, January 29, started at 8:30 am in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. This committee considers licensing policy and new types of licensing. The agenda was initial review of the proposed form of license for a registered marijuana dispensary. Patricia Corea, associate town counsel, is a member of the committee and described the proposed license conditions and the proposed form of a license application.

In addition to committee members, attending this meeting were Alan Balsam, the health director, Kara Brewton, the economic development director, Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, Todd Kirrane, the transportation administrator, Peter Ditto, the engineering director, Polly Selkoe and Lara Curtis Hayes of the Planning Department, Supt. Mark Moran and Lt. Philip Harrington of the Police Department and one member of the public. The town departments had presented their reviews at a previous meeting held on December 11.

Business plans: New England Treatment Access (NETA), now headed by Arnon Vered of Swampscott, proposes operating from the former Brookline Bank building at the intersection of Boylston and Washington Sts. The company is also planning a dispensary in Northampton and a production facility in Franklin. Present for the company were Mr. Vered, Norton Arbelaez, a lawyer, Amanda Rossitano and Jim Segel, a lawyer and a former state representative from Brookline. Mr. Arbelaez said the company hopes to open its production facility in March and be in full operation by fall.

The company is being reviewed for state certification. The Department of Public Health would act as primary regulator for the strength and purity of products. According to Mr. Vered, most sales are expected to be oil-based liquids, not solid or smokable marijuana. If the company receives state and local licenses, it will also need a special permit under Brookline zoning enacted in November, 2013, and maintained without change at the 2014 fall town meeting. The Board of Selectmen issued regulations for a registered marijuana dispensary last year.

Brookline requirements: Mr. Arbelaez, representing NETA, questioned a proposed requirement to report racial and income information about customers. He said the company would not have the information. Asking for it could be an invasion of privacy. Dr. Balsam of the Health Department said his department’s intents were to keep track of how many customers received health-care subsidies and to check for potential discrimination. There was no apparent resolution of the issues at this meeting.

Mr. Arbelaez questioned proposed requirements to avoid “illegal” conduct, noting that marijuana distribution is expected to remain illegal under federal law, even if the federal government does not enforce the law against a state-regulated operation. The committee agreed to modify the requirements. Mr. Arbelaez also questioned requirements not to create “nuisance conditions” from illegal parking, littering and other activities–noting lack of control over activities outside the place of business.

Kenneth Goldstein, a committee member and chair of the Board of Selectmen, explained that proposed requirements were modeled after other town licensing and that the Board of Selectmen, as the licensing authority, understood practical circumstances and could not be “arbitrary or capricious.” Mr. Arbelaez noted that the company had submitted a “transportation demand management” plan, intended to reduce traffic problems.

There was an extended discussion of home delivery. The state is requiring that home delivery be available, but Mr. Vered maintained that while it might reduce traffic issues, home delivery was probably less secure than a well protected and highly visible business location. Police representatives indicated that they preferred deliveries be made from NETA’s production facility. Mr. Vered said that was also the company’s preference.

The proposed license application includes financial information about Brookline operations. Mr. Arbelaez noted that the information would not meaningfully reflect the company’s operations, since over 80 percent of its costs were expected to be incurred in production, not distribution. The committee agreed that audited financial statements, already required as public information, would suffice. It will hold another review in mid-February.

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


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

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

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

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

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

Fall town meeting: pipe dreams

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

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

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

Ferc2014ConstitutionPipeline2

Source: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fall town meeting: taxi masala

A fair contender with the curry as great cuisine of India is the masala: a mixture with mainly “sweet” rather than “strong” seasonings. Unlike a curry, a masala does not abide mistakes. Leave out an ingredient or use the right ingredients in the wrong proportions, and a masala can become strange, spiky, flat or even disagreeable.

A regulated taxi fleet behaves similarly; a healthy fleet comes only with the right regulations in the right proportions. With numbers of taxis too few or too many, fares too high or too low, requirements too lax or too stringent a fleet suffers. Cabs may be unavailable when wanted, drivers surly, vehicles shabby.

Medallion plans: Brookline’s model of citizen-run boards is stressed by the amount of work needed in trying to regulate a taxi fleet. Before the current Transportation Board, originating at a town meeting in 1973, Brookline operated with three other approaches to traffic and taxi regulation. None coped well with the intensity of automobiles after World War II. In the work of taxi regulation, the current system may be treading on limits.

This year, town meeting intervention interrupted about eight years of work to introduce so-called “medallion” licensing: permanent, transferrable licenses rather than annually reviewed ones. Medallion systems began in large cities during the 1920s, as a way to reduce congestion and conflict from an oversupply of taxis. They remain uncommon outside large cities. Some–including Washington, DC–do not have such a system now.

Brookline’s interest in medallions looks always to have been inspired more by money than by good regulation. It first cropped up in 1994, when the town was planning its first Proposition 2-1/2 tax override, and it gathered steam in 2006, when a second tax override was in the wings. Historically, money from sale of taxi medallions has not been a dominant factor. Boston’s original system in the 1930s sold medallions for less than $100, in today’s values. Classic medallion systems focused on regulating sizes of taxi fleets, not on local revenues.

Professional advice: Brookline was professionally advised to focus on good regulation by Schaller Consulting of New York City. In 2006, the town hired Bruce Schaller to evaluate the potential of medallion licensing. Mr. Schaller had 25 years of experience analyzing taxi operations, including New York City, San Francisco, San Diego, Alexandria, VA, Anaheim, CA, Laredo, TX, and Montgomery County, MD. His “Brookline taxi study” counseled moderation.

The Schaller report of June, 2007, presented a plan to introduce medallions gradually, over about 16 years, and to focus on selling them to experienced taxi drivers. Under those conditions, Mr. Schaller predicted a market value of around $40,000, recommending a fee of $600 per month paid over seven years. [p. 3] That would have brought in an average of under $0.5 million a year–far less than Brookline officials hoped.

Delays and intervention: Efforts to get a state law authorizing taxi medallions bogged down, taking from 2007 to 2012. Toward the end of that period, the Board of Selectmen and the Transportation Board revisited medallion planning. By then, Mr. Schaller had left consulting to take an executive position in New York City government.

The town hired Richard LaCapra to develop a plan. Although experienced as a financial analyst, Mr. LaCapra had no background in taxi licensing. The LaCapra plan of March, 2012, called for much more rapid transition to a system with all-medallion taxis and predicted selling medallions at much higher prices. It had no provisions for selling to drivers except to a few who already held one or a small number of annually reviewed licenses.

After getting the LaCapra plan, Brookline’s efforts again bogged down, taking more than two years to reach an initial implementation that was most recently expected in summer, 2014–according to Todd Kirrane, Brookline’s transportation administrator. That allowed opportunities for intervention, seized by Precinct 8 town meeting member John Harris, who filed Article 26 for the 2014 annual town meeting last spring. It sought to repeal state authorization for taxi medallions.

Medallion shock: Article 26 sent medallion efforts into shock. Although initially somewhat skeptical about medallions, over time, all the taxi company owners and some taxi drivers had become advocates. The LaCapra plan included special help for current holders of annually reviewed licenses–big discounts on an initial set of medallions. Veterans of the Brookline taxi business who could buy medallions early at low prices were likely to prosper. Those buying medallions later, at higher prices, would be exposed to more risk.

The annual town meeting sent Article 26 to a study committee to be appointed by the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby. The committee met many times over the summer, submitting its report a day before the fall, 2014, town meeting began. In the meantime, Mr. Harris again proposed repeal, in Article 15 for the fall town meeting.

Precinct 11 town meeting member David Lescohier proposed a resolution under Article 16. Its key element, as summarized by the Advisory Committee, advocated that Brookline seek to “provide drivers with improved working conditions, a more secure future and an opportunity to own a stake in the taxicab business.”

Most reviews by town boards and committees, including the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee, opposed Article 15 but supported Article 16. Apparently fearing Article 15 was headed for defeat, shortly before the town meeting Mr. Harris opted to drop repeal of state authorization and substitute a resolution. Its key element asks that Brookline “not sell, lease, rent or otherwise make available or require taxi medallions as a condition of any taxicab owner doing business….”

Town meeting review: At the second session of town meeting on Wednesday, November 19, some speakers tried to “spin” the resolution from Mr. Harris, as though it said “no taxi medallions,” but that was not what it said. Although a resolution is not binding on town officials and agencies, they could follow this one by setting up a hybrid system, in which some annually reviewed taxi licenses remained and medallions were not the only way to run a taxi business.

Precinct 6 town meeting member Chris Dempsey, a former assistant director of transportation for the state, launched the session’s main attack on taxi medallions, saying, “The sole benefit of a medallion scheme is a one-time financial windfall.” While Mr. Dempsey made it sound simple, that’s not necessarily so. To the disappointment of some town officials, the Schaller plan of 2007 would not have produced a windfall. Instead, it mainly aimed to encourage long-term service from experienced taxi drivers.

Donfred Gilles, a Brookline taxi driver for 25 years, described his fears and longings. Like several other Brookline drivers, Mr. Gilles is of Haitian descent. “In 2007,” he said, “when the town started the process of reforming the taxi industry, the town sided with us. We thought finally our time was coming. We are still holding on to the hope that it will happen.” He pleaded, “I’m here to speak on behalf of the drivers. I’m asking you to give [us] a chance.”

Michael Sandman, an Advisory Committee and Taxi Medallion Committee member and a former Transportation Board member, took issue with prejudice he has heard against drivers who support medallions, characterizing those views: “Drivers are immigrants; they don’t understand the risk of loans…Baloney: three of the four taxi companies are owned by immigrants. More than 40 experienced drivers are in line to buy medallions.”

Mr. Lescohier, speaking for Article 16, described his concerns, saying, “Working conditions are deteriorating. Many drivers work twelve hours a day. The job can be dangerous. There are no benefits, no paid sick time, no paid vacation, no workers compensation, no health insurance…At the end of the day, there’s less and less money…We need to give taxi drivers hope, give taxi businesses stability.”

Debate on the articles took about an hour and 50 minutes, with many more speakers and several questions. Precinct 14 town meeting member Clifford Brown asked how a medallion system could be more restrictive than the current closed system of annually reviewed licenses. Chad Ellis, a Precinct 12 town meeting member and member of the Taxi Medallion Committee, responded. The main difference was permanent medallions, he said. “It’s almost impossible to reduce the number of [medallion] licenses.”

In the end, town meeting adopted the resolution from Mr. Harris, proposed under Article 15, by 110-83, using an electronically recorded vote. A hand vote on Article 16 adopted Mr. Lescohier’s resolution by a very large majority, possibly 10 to 1.

Reconciling outcomes: It is far from clear what Brookline officials might do about the outcomes. The two resolutions are in partial conflict. Under Article 15, the town should not “require taxi medallions as a condition of any taxicab owner doing business.” Under Article 16, passed by a much larger majority, the town should allow taxi drivers an “opportunity to own a stake in the taxicab business.” A Transportation Division draft of taxi regulations, last updated in February, will need attention.

There is no apparent way for the town to honor the spirit of Article 16 without medallions, but Article 15 insists that the town not “require taxi medallions as a condition” of doing business. A review of the 2007 Schaller report could help. Taken together, the two resolutions seem to call for an even more complex “taxi masala”–a spicy mixture of ingredients that need to be maintained in careful balance in order to work.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 22, 2014


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

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

Craig Bolon, Risking a taxi revolt: business survival in Brookline, Brookline Beacon, July 26, 2014

Brookline taxis: can you afford a “medallion” taxi?, Brookline Beacon, July 20, 2014

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

Unattributed (apparently Richard LaCapra), Final report on the Brookline taxi industry, undated (apparently March, 2012)

Bruce Schaller, Brookline taxi study, Schaller Consulting, June, 2007

Kate Eaton, Checkered past, Chicago Tribune, October 26, 1997

Fall town meeting: tobacco controls, resolution derby

Brookline’s 2014 fall town meeting held its second and final session Wednesday, November 19, working through the 8 remaining of 20 articles. A summary of actions at the November 19 session, by article number, follows:

11. tobacco controls–amended and approved
13. zoning case notifications–no action needed
15. legislation, taxi medallions–resolution adopted
16. resolution, taxi medallions–amended and adopted
17. resolution, health effects of town lighting–adopted
18. resolution, domestic workers–amended and adopted
19. resolution, natural gas projects–adopted
20. reports–Taxi Medallions Committee report presented

Taxi medallions were challenged at the 2014 annual town meeting this spring by an article calling for repeal of the state legislation authorizing Brookline to issue them. The 2014 fall town meeting returned to those issues in Articles 15 and 16. Much activity at the second session focused on resolutions, including two resolutions that were adopted about taxi medallions.

Tobacco controls: Under Article 11, Precinct 6 town meeting member Tommy Vitolo and other petitioners sought to strengthen Brookline’s tobacco controls [Article 8.23 of town bylaws]–adding controls on so-called “e-cigarettes” in the same ways as ordinary cigarettes, forbidding self-service displays of tobacco products, forbidding smoking in all hotel and lodging rooms, rewording some definitions and increasing fines for bylaw violations. Petitioners also proposed to remove the qualification “knowingly” on tobacco violations.

The article received favorable reviews from the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee, with the board amending the prohibition on self-service displays to make it slightly clearer. The Advisory Committee found that hotels and motels in Brookline already operate with entirely smoke-free rooms. Town meeting approved.

Taxi medallions: Articles 15 and 16 were presented to town meeting together, because they concerned the same topics. At Brookline’s 2014 annual town meeting in the spring, Precinct 8 town meeting member John Harris and other petitioners submitted Article 26, proposing home-rule legislation to repeal the previous home-rule legislation from 2010 and 2012 that permits the Board of Selectmen to sell and issue so-called “taxi medallions”–meaning permanent, transferrable taxi licenses. Article 26 was referred to a special committee to be appointed by the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby.

At the 2014 fall town meeting, Mr. Harris and other petitioners returned with the same repeal proposal, under Article 15. Precinct 11 town meeting member David Lescohier and other petitioners filed a proposed resolution on taxi medallions as Article 16. It called for review of taxi licensing, adding another objective to those Brookline must consider. That was summarized by the Advisory Committee: “Provide drivers with improved working conditions, a more secure future and an opportunity to own a stake in the taxicab business.”

The Advisory Committee opposed Article 15 as filed–that is, as calling for repeal. It supported Article 16, with amendments that removed some potentially vague and redundant phrases. The Board of Selectmen decided to agree with the Advisory Committee rather than attempt more surgery.

Late in the day, the Article 15 petitioners–finding their repeal proposal disfavored–decided to abandon what they had proposed and to substitute a resolution of their own. It asked the Board of Selectmen and the Transportation Board not to “require taxi medallions as a condition of any taxicab owner doing business in Brookline.” Town meeting had problems sorting through apparently competing resolutions, finally voting to adopt both of them.

Other resolutions: The Department of Public Works is now in the second year of a 4-year program to replace high-pressure sodium streetlamps with LED streetlamps. Under Article 17, Precinct 5 town meeting member Claire Stampfer and other petitioners proposed a resolution asking Brookline departments to select “appropriate lighting,” taking into account “public health effects of light.”

DPW has already considered potential health effects, rejecting so-called “daylight white” (about 5,500 K color temperature) in favor of so-called “neutral white” (4,000 K) LED streetlamps. Compact fluorescent lamps now common inside Brookline buildings are mostly so-called “warm white” (2,700 K). The Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee both supported Article 17, and town meeting voted to adopt the resolution as proposed.

Under Article 18, Stephen Vogel of Walnut St. and other petitioners proposed a resolution described as seeking “respect and dignity” for household workers. As submitted it also called for Brookline to “collaborate with domestic worker-led committees.” The Advisory Committee amended the resolution, dropping that phrase and saying that the town “supports efforts to inform Brookline’s domestic workers and their employers of…rights and responsibilities” under the state’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights law, enacted this year. [St. 2014, C. 148] The Board of Selectmen agreed, and town meeting voted to adopt the resolution as amended.

Under Article 19, Precinct 8 town meeting member Edward Loechler and other petitioners proposed a resolution “opposing the expansion of natural gas through pipelines and hydraulic fracturing in Massachusetts.” There is no hydraulic fracturing in Massachusetts, nor are there known natural gas-bearing formations. There are five pipeline projects now proposed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for New England, all serving parts of Massachusetts, although the petitioners appeared to know about only one of them. The Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee raised no objections, and town meeting voted to adopt the resolution as proposed.

– Beacon Staff, Brookline, MA, November 20, 2014


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

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

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

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

Craig Bolon, New pipeline across Massachusetts: gas produces hot air, Brookline Beacon, July 11, 2014

Craig Bolon, Household workers: not just respect, Brookline Beacon, October 1, 2014

Advisory subcommittee on taxi medallions: another turn of the churn, Brookline Beacon, October 15, 2014

Board of Selectmen: interviews and warrant articles, Brookline Beacon, October 16, 2014

Board of Selectmen: Muddy River project, school construction and warrant articles, Brookline Beacon, October 29, 2014

Advisory Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries

The Advisory Committee met Thursday, October 30, starting at 7:00 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall–conducting the last major set of reviews for the season. Brookline’s fall town meeting starts at 7:00 pm Tuesday, November 18, in the High School auditorium, reached via the side entrance at 91 Tappan St.

On the agenda were Articles 12, 13 and 19–restricting locations for medical marijuana dispensaries, sending zoning appeals notices to town meeting members and opposing by resolution a natural gas pipeline. The last two no longer seemed controversial. For notices, the Planning Department has instituted changes that satisfied the petitioners, and no action is expected at town meeting. The resolution seems likely to pass.

The proposed zoning change for medical marijuana dispensaries previously got seven full-dress reviews by five boards and committees. All but the Advisory Subcommittee for Planning and Regulation recommended thumbs down. Nevertheless, the full Advisory Committee gave it an eighth review with 28 of the 30 committee members present, lasting over two hours. Only committee members Sumner Chertok and Pamela Lodish were not on hand. An audience of more than 30 listened, clearly divided between support and opposition.

Proponents: In November of last year, after voter approval the previous year of a state law to allow marijuana distribution for medical use, Brookline adopted zoning to allow state-regulated dispensaries in general business, office and industrial zones. They require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The boundary of a site must be at least 500 feet from the boundary of any school property. A building proposed for a dispensary may not contain a day-care center. Section 4.12 of Brookline’s zoning bylaw contains several other general restrictions and some procedural requirements.

As at the other reviews, Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave. and the other petitioners for Article 12 argued that those restrictions are not enough. They claim a basis for their proposal in a regulation of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, although it was clear to all that the state regulation does not apply to Brookline, because Brookline adopted its own regulations, as specifically allowed.

Opponents: Opponents have argued that tightening zoning restrictions for locations as the article proposes would leave no site available in Brookline. A map from the Planning Department agrees. A divided subcommittee proposed excluding dispensaries from sites within “100 feet from a day-care center or 500 feet from any playground or park that includes a play structure.” At the Thursday review, however, subcommittee member Kelly Hardebeck of Precinct 7 backed away, saying she no longer supported additional zoning restrictions and leaving a 2 to 3 majority of subcommittee opposing the article.

Review: The petitioners for Article 12 went through their now-familiar arguments, adding nothing new. Again, Dr. Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St., a physician, said she, along with other physicians belonging to the practice groups of the major Boston medical centers, would refuse to prescribe marijuana.

Dr. Bruce Cohen, a physician, described a review of Article 12 from the Advisory Council on Public Health, which he chairs. He said medical marijuana is now a variety of products, used in a variety of ways. Some do not contain trans-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main compound producing euphoria. The council, he said, “found no public health benefit from changing the [zoning] regulations.”

Steven Kanes, a new Advisory Committee member this season, appeared troubled by the whole issue of medical marijuana. If federal law prohibits it, he asked, “should the town be passing a zoning law?” Committee chair Harry Bohrs reviewed development of the issue in the state and the town, saying, “Zoning legislation…is not the only thing. The [Board of] Selectmen have powers to promulgate regulations.”

Polly Selkoe, the assistant director of regulatory planning, said the board “can specify delivery conditions in a license.” In Newton, the City Council was said to be requiring amounts of more than an ounce to be delivered by courier rather than purchased over the counter.

Sean Lynn-Jones of Precinct 1, one of the subcommittee members opposing Article 12, objected to the drift of the arguments, saying, “We haven’t talked about the interests of patients…balancing benefits and costs.” The other boards reviewing the article, he said, “feel that Brookline has an interest in making medical marijuana available to patients.”

Several committee members described experiences of people whose ailments did not respond to conventional treatments but who obtained relief from some form of marijuana. A lawyer representing New England Treatment Access, seeking to open a dispensary at the former Brookline Bank site–located at the intersection of Boylston and Washington Sts.–said the firm will offer a comprehensive variety of medical marijuana products.

The committee voted on two motions: a slightly revised proposal from the petitioners for Article 12 and the proposal generated by the subcommittee. Both lost by large majorities. The only committee members supporting any further zoning restrictions were Angela Hyatt of Precinct 5, Amy Hummel of Precinct 12 and Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13. Mr. Kanes abstained. The fall town meeting will hear from at least five boards and committees, all now on record opposing Article 12.

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


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

Board of Selectmen: Muddy River project, school construction and warrant articles, Brookline Beacon, October 29, 2014

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

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

Zoning bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, June 2, 2014

Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

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


Editor’s note: price claims

A fantasy from the sponsors of Article 12 focused on arbitrage. Customers for medical marijuana, they claimed at several meetings, will buy it for $300 an ounce and sell it on the black market for $400 an ounce. No one challenged self-anointed “experts,” just as happened years ago with “Reefer Madness” promotions (1936) and a few decades of less charming successors.

Since medical marijuana has to be grown and processed under controls and incurs taxes and overhead, a sensible person would expect it to settle in at higher prices than street goods. Legalization of marijuana by the states of Washington and Colorado provides above-ground comparison markets. A recent price survey by Philip Ross documents some effects, published by International Business Times–an Internet news site based in New York City.

According to Mr. Ross, street marijuana sells in the U.S. at an average price of around $350 an ounce, but the price has fallen to about $240 in Washington and Colorado, where it competes with over-the-counter recreational and medical sales. Medical marijuana costs more there, he reports–around $300 an ounce. Where underground sales compete with above-ground markets, competition appears to have induced differential pricing.

According to Mr. Ross, most medical grades are less potent in euphoric effects than street goods, while they cost more. Contrary to the claims from Article 12 sponsors, evidence from this source shows little arbitrage potential in medical marijuana. Instead, the products look more likely to remain specialties of interest to people with ailments that do not respond to other treatments.


Philip Ross, Marijuana costs in the U.S., International Business Times, July, 2014

Board of Selectmen: Muddy River project, school construction and warrant articles

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 28, started at 6:25 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. In an earlier session, closed to the public, the board had agreed on a contract with the Teamsters local representing the police and fire dispatchers. There were two major reports about ongoing issues. There were public comments, reviews and recommendations for ten of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18. An ambitious agenda produced a session lasting nearly until midnight.

Announcements, contracts and interviews: The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 29, November 9 and December 4 at Baker and Devotion schools and at the Health Center. The first day for a winter farmers market in the Arcade Building at 318 Harvard St. is Sunday, November 2, starting at 2 pm.

On Wednesday, November 12, the Brookline Neighborhood Association and League of Women Voters host a forum for the November 18 town meeting. It begins at 7 pm in community television studios on the third floor at 46 Tappan St., the Unified Arts Building of Brookline High School. Topics are for Articles 8, 12, 13, 15 and 16: revising the disorderly conduct bylaw, restricting locations for medical marijuana dispensaries, sending zoning appeals notices to town meeting members and managing taxi medallions (that is, permanent licenses).

Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning, got approval to extend the duration of a contract with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown for design of a road improvement project for lower Washington St. Planning began about nine years ago as part of a so-called “Gateway East” effort. Erin Gallentine, director of parks and open space, got approval to add $0.015 million to a masonry repair project at the Old Burying Ground on Walnut St., using funds already appropriated.

The board interviewed candidates for appointments: one for Tree Planting, one for Economic Development and one for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations–created at this year’s annual town meeting to replace the former Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission. Twelve commissioners are authorized but none appointed yet, with some positions still awaiting applicants according to board member Nancy Daly. The board also decided to appoint a Noise Control Bylaw Committee, to be charged with proposing revisions to related town laws.

Projects, licenses and permits At the request of Ms. Gallentine and the Dukakis Recognition Committee, established in 2011 through a town meeting resolution, the board approved a plaque dedicating the Riverway Park to Brookline residents Michael and Kitty Dukakis, the former 3-term governor and his wife. It will be stationed near the Longwood stop on the D branch of the Green Line, where Mr. Dukakis often boards.

Hsiu-Lan Chang, who operates Fast Frame on Beacon St. in Washington Square, asked for permission to install a plaque on the Washington Sq. clock–a donation to the town about 20 years ago from Washington Sq. merchants–in honor of William T. Bonomi, a key supporter of efforts to install and maintain the clock. The board approved. A major maintenance effort is expected before year’s end by Electric Time of Medford, funded by area merchants.

The board reviewed and approved alternate managers for alcoholic beverage sales at two locations, temporary licenses for two events and a 10 am Sunday starting hour for alcoholic beverage sales at six locations. The last, according to board member Betsy DeWitt, is an obligation under a recent state law when a license-holder requests it.

Chen-Hui Chi of Chelmsford appeared to apply for a food vendor (take-out) license to continue operations for Hong Kong Cafe at 1391 Beacon St., which currently has a different owner. He was represented by a bilingual lawyer who translated the board’s questions to Chinese. The board wanted to make sure the applicant understood that the license did not authorize table service. Board members were satisfied and approved.

Managers of Herb Chambers appeared for continued review of an inflammables permit for the Audi dealership at 308 Boylston St. A review on August 29 had left several matters to be settled. As before, the organization was represented by Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen.

Mr. Allen told the board that the waste oil storage tank had been moved to a different location and would no longer be serviced via East Milton Rd., a previous source of neighborhood opposition. He said former underground tanks have been removed. KPA Environmental and Safety of Colorado is now overseeing environmental compliance. Mark Jefferson, deputy chief of the Fire Department, confirmed the progress but said the new tank installation was not finished. This time, despite some neighborhood objections, the board was satisfied that Herb Chambers was on track for a safe workplace and granted an annually renewed permit.

Representatives of the VFW and American Legion post on Washington St. appeared again, seeking a club license for alcoholic beverages. They were represented by Roger Lipson, a Brookline-based lawyer and Precinct 14 town meeting member. The post held such a license from 1977 through 2010 but let it lapse by mistake, when a manager became ill. About two years ago, Elmon Hendrickson, a Brookline resident, took over as post manager.

Mr. Hendrickson has been successful in building a clientele who use the post for events, including weddings and other celebrations, but this has caused friction with neighbors–evident at a previous hearing October 2 on the license application. This time, both Mr. Hendrickson and the board were more prepared. The board wanted some firm conditions on the license, to which Mr. Hendrickson agreed.

There will be police details for events with over 50 participants, and there will be four post members on hand for events: two for service and two for security. The club will not operate past 11 pm. Video cameras and sound meters have been installed and will be monitored during events. Doors near abutters will be used during events only for emergencies. The parking lot will be used only by caterers. With these and other conditions, the board approved a new club license for the post, to be reviewed annually.

Muddy River project: The board heard a report on the Muddy River Restoration Project from Thomas Brady, the conservation director, and Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director. The project began after a major storm in October, 1996, flooded the Kenmore Sq. transit station and many houses and buildings in Brookline and Boston. A disastrous 1958 decision by the Hynes administration in Boston to divert the river into relatively small culverts is now being reversed by excavation and by construction of large channels under Park Drive and Brookline Avenue crossings, near the former Sears now called Landmark Center.

As Mr. Brady and Mr. Pappastergion explained, the current effort will correct only one blockage to river flow, although it is probably the worst one. A century-long buildup of silt and invasive plants obstructs many other parts of the riverway, from Ward’s Pond through the Fenway area. They said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, manager of the current project, is now willing to extend the project–provided it receives a Presidential order and Congressional funding.

Board member Ben Franco said the Muddy River project was what got him involved in town government. Betsy Shure Gross, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, urged pressure on Congress for funding. “If we don’t maintain this river,” she said, “it will continue to be a significant threat.” The board agreed to participate in a campaign of letters from Boston, Brookline and several organizations. They will send a letter to the President.

School construction: The board entertained a long report from Planning Board member Sergio Modigliani on the need for school construction. Mr. Modigliani felt that the needs were overstated, and he brought along a spreadsheet report trying to show why. According to his report, for kindergarten through eighth grade, the Brookline schools have, by different criteria, between about 600 and 850 unfilled seats. Class sizes this year range from 17 to 26 (Baker seventh grade).

As has become well known, while school enrollments rose over the past several years, so did class sizes. William Lupini, the school superintendent, made similar points in a presentation to the board on October 7. However, Dr. Lupini’s view appears to be that maintaining high-quality schools is going to take more space, perhaps another elementary school plus some kind of high-school expansion.

Mr. Modigliani, an architect, sought to discourage the board from supporting that approach, claiming that the unfilled seats in elementary schools will make more space unnecessary for at least several more years. However, he could not explain how to make use of the capacity, which is scattered through all eight schools and across all nine elementary grades, except by ordering students to transfer abruptly from one school to another.

Board members seemed skeptical. Betsy DeWitt pointed out that several current classrooms have been squeezed into small spaces, labeled “suboptimal.” Mr. Modigliani agreed that was possible but said he had not been able to inspect any of them. Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, challenged Mr. Modigliani’s approach, saying it would force schools to split siblings between schools.

Board member Nancy Daly recalled events of years ago, saying, “My son was in a first grade of 27 kids. He didn’t learn how to read. That’s what catapulted me into town politics.” Mr. Modigliani seemed to focus on counting noses. The value of a seat in a classroom, he claimed, was about $100,000, but it turned out that he meant only costs of construction. He did not seem to have given much attention to the effects of increasing class sizes on the quality of teaching and learning.

Warrant articles: The board voted to recommend no action on Article 1, unpaid bills, since there are none. For Article 2, collective bargaining, the board voted to recommend approval of the collective bargaining agreements reached with police officers earlier and with dispatchers the same evening. For Article 3, budget amendments, the board voted to recommend the Advisory Committee’s plan to use about 60 percent of an additional $0.04 million in state aid for the new diversity department, as proposed by Advisory member Stanley Spiegel and agreed to by the School Committee.

The board voted to recommend approval of Article 7, bylaw amendments prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education. The board had worked through these topics last August 29 with the participation of citizen petitioners for the article.

As negotiated with the petitioner for Article 9, noise control bylaw amendments, the board voted to recommend referral to the Noise Control Bylaw Committee it will be appointing. For Article 10, commercial recycling, the board expressed support. However, board member Nancy Daly observed, “The business community is pretty unaware of this.” She asked petitioner Alan Christ, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, “Have you reached out to them?” Apparently unsatisfied with the answers, the board decided to wait for an analysis by the town administrator, Mel Kleckner, and did not vote a recommendation.

The board gave the petitioners for Article 12, restrictions on locating marijuana dispensaries, another big bite of the apple, after spending almost two hours on the topic at a previous meeting. Not much was new. The issues had been hashed over the previous evening, at a meeting of the Zoning Bylaw Committee. Once again, George Vien of Davis Ave. tried to scare board members with vague threats of federal prosecution.

Mr. Goldstein wasn’t buying any of that, saying, “I don’t think the federal government is going to hold the Board of Selectmen liable for voting no-action on a warrant article.” He then moved to recommend no action on Article 12. Board member Neil Wishinsky agreed, saying, “We can handle the concerns that people have through the licensing and appeals process.” The board voted unanimously to oppose Article 12.

For Article 13, zoning appeals notices to town meeting members, the board also voted to recommend no action, after the Planning Department instituted changes that satisfied the petitioners. For resolution articles 18 and 19, support for domestic workers and opposition to a gas pipeline, the board voted to recommend approval, with amendments proposed by the Advisory Committee.

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


Jana Kasperkevic, Medical marijuana in New York: barriers high for small businesses, Manchester Guardian (UK), October 29, 2014

Conservation Commission: will Muddy River flooding be controlled?, Brookline Beacon, July 16, 2014

Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

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

Advisory subcommittee on taxi medallions: another turn of the churn

A special Advisory subcommittee met for a public hearing Tuesday, October 14, starting at 5:30 pm in the Denny Room at the Health Center. It was assembled by Advisory chair Harry Bohrs to review two articles about taxi medallions filed for the town meeting starting November 18. The subcommittee consists of Advisory members Amy Hummel, Sytske Humphrey, Fred Levitan and Michael Sandman, with Mr. Sandman as chair.

The topic became a renewed controversy when John Harris, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, filed Article 26 for this year’s annual town meeting, proposing to ask the General Court to repeal sections of state laws allowing Brookline to sell taxi medallions: in Chapter 51 of the Acts of 2010 and in Chapter 52 of the Acts of 2012. The town meeting voted to refer his article to a committee to be appointed by the moderator.

Medallions are permanent taxi licenses that are owned as property and can be resold. Like most towns, Brookline has annually renewed licenses. The Transportation Board began to consider a medallion system several years ago. A November, 2008, town meeting voted to ask for state legislation authorizing such a system. It took four years to get satisfactory legislation and two more years to develop plans and regulations. If Mr. Harris had not filed Article 26 or it had been rejected, a medallion system would have been implemented by this past summer.

The moderator’s committee on taxi medallions met over the summer. It consists of Mr. Sandman along with Chad Ellis, a Precinct 12 town meeting member, Jeffrey Kushner, a Brookline resident, and Joshua Safer, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and current Transportation Board chair. Thus the moderator’s committee and the Advisory subcommittee share one member, and both are being steered toward Transportation Board viewpoints.

Mr. Harris refiled the article seeking repeal of taxi medallions, now Article 15 for the fall town meeting. Like all business coming before a town meeting, it will be reviewed by the Advisory Committee, who first send it to a subcommittee. Mr. Sandman and Mr. Levitan of the subcommittee are former Transportation Board members.

David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, filed Article 16 for this fall’s town meeting, proposing a resolution on how Brookline should handle taxi issues. Oddly, it takes no direct position on taxi medallions. Instead, it supports “actions to enhance driver retention and recruitment” and says Brookline should “increase staffing devoted to taxicab regulation.”

In an explanation filed with his article, Mr. Lescohier complains that plans for taxi medallions approved by the Board of Selectmen have “practically earmarked medallion sales only to established companies,” ignoring “disgraceful, deteriorating working conditions” for taxi drivers and providing no “realistic opportunity for [them to become]…owners” of medallions.

At a public hearing last July, several taxi drivers spoke in favor of a medallion system that could allow them to become medallion owners. The owner and manager of Bay State Taxi, Brookline’s largest service, said he had a program ready to go that would finance medallion purchases by Bay State drivers, if they were sold to the drivers at reasonable prices. Mr. Lescohier denounced current medallion plans at the hearing, saying they focused on maximizing town revenues, “chasing the fantasy of windfall dreams.”

Mr. Kushner of the moderator’s committee said the current medallion plan “is not good public policy.” It “raises future costs of operating taxis,” he claimed. From a social perspective, he said, selling medallions “is like using nuclear weapons to kill ants.” Mr. Ellis was even more blunt, saying, “We’re not going to do medallions.”

Veterans of the Transportation Board would have none of that. Mr. Levitan said he “could not conceive of voting for [Mr. Harris's] article. It has no merit whatever.” Mr. Sandman, apparently unmoved by the social justice arguments, reminded others, “We are a subcommittee of the finance committee.” Ms. Hummel and Ms. Humphrey, who had not followed the long, complicated disputes, sounded uncertain. Ms. Hummel said “value judgments come into play as well,” but she did not “know what other alternatives make sense.”

Capt. Michael Gropman, head of the Brookline police traffic division, spoke in favor of implementing the current medallion plan. “Eleven years…[of] analysis,” he said, have been “destroying the industry…It has been an insult watching [one of the taxi owners] suffer through this…We cannot continue to do this any more…It’s impossible to get a cab on a Saturday night…You folks have to make a decision.”

Mr. Levitan moved to recommend no action on Article 15, seeking to repeal taxi medallions, which won unanimous support. Mr. Sandman moved to recommend approval of Article 16, the resolution, but Ms. Humphrey sought to amend, recommending it be referred to the moderator’s committee. After some discussion, the amendment won unanimously.

The Advisory Committee may or may not support its subcommittee’s approach. In any event, decisive actions that Mr. Ellis, Mr. Kushner and Capt. Gropman urged were not getting through this subcommittee, who recommended yet another turn of the churn.

– Beacon staff, October 15, 2014


Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

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

Brookline taxis: can you afford a “medallion” taxi?, Brookline Beacon, July 20, 2014

Board of Selectmen: bicycles, warrant articles, neighborhood issues

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, September 30, started at 6:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations, but the unusually busy meeting ran almost five hours. There were reviews and hearings for five of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18.

Announcements: This coming Sunday, October 5, the National Park Service is guiding a “Walk along the Emerald Necklace,” visiting sites of Brookline and Boston parks developed in the late 1800s by Brookline resident Frederick Olmsted, Sr. If interested, call 617-566-1689 ext 221. The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 28 and 29, November 9 and December 4 at the Senior Center, Baker and Devotion schools, and the Health Center.

Contracts and programs: Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, got approval for $0.1 million for geotechnical analysis at Lawrence School, a $3.1 million project to add four classrooms. That is likely to be about a quarter of the contingency budget, although Mr. Guigli did not say. He said levels of contamination, mainly ash, proved low enough that most of the problem soil could be reused on-site.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got contract approval for the fifth major round of bicycle markings on Brookline streets, totaling $0.06 million. This round will install new markings on Cypress and School Sts. near Town Hall and replace or install markings along all of Beacon St. Mr. Ditto was not able to describe the standards that will govern the formats of these markings. In response to a question from board member Nancy Daly, he said Brookline was not planning any fully separated bicycle lanes, sometimes called “cycle tracks.”

Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning, got approval to extend the current contract with the state transportation department for a bicycle sharing program known as Hubway. About 60 percent of $0.11 million in state funding has been spent, mostly on equipment and installation. The program operator is apparently still losing money. The board approved a 3-year sponsorship agreement with New Balance of Boston to brand bicycles stationed in Brookline, in return for $0.03 million to support program expansion to more locations.

Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, got approval to accept three state and federal grants totaling $0.06 million. The smallest of them, $0.01 million for a program to combat underage drinking and drunk driving, started a long discussion that recalled public disturbances earlier this year–a topic revisited later in the evening, when the board heard a liquor license application for the American Legion and VFW post on Washington St.

Personnel and diversity: Candidates for the Conservation Commission and Commission on Women appeared for interviews. The Board approved three Climate Action appointments: Precinct 15 town meeting member Michael Berger of Wolcott Rd., Crystal Johnson of Harvard Ave. and Precinct 11 town meeting member David Lescohier of Winchester St.

Several hirings were approved to replace former employees at the library and in the Public Works Department. Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, made his usual request to seek a diverse pool of candidates and consult with the personnel office.

In an item not on the original agenda, the board questioned Sandra DeBow, director of the Human Resources Office, and Lloyd Gellineau, human relations and human services director, about efforts to increase diversity of the work force. Ms. DeBow said that, when posting job openings, her office had begun to employ a variety of social media popular among minority groups. Dr. Gellineau described what he called a “blueprint” for outreach. The two said they expected to report survey results next summer.

Warrant articles: During review of Article 2 for the fall town meeting, about collective bargaining agreements, Ms. DeBow announced a long-awaited, multi-year agreement with police officers. She and Mr. O’Leary said the agreement would replace police captains with deputy superintendents who will be non-union and exempt from civil service. That will evidently reduce the department’s roster of sworn officers. Mr. O’Leary said the new agreement will couple educational requirements with senior ranks. The board supported the agreement.

Although the board had announced hearings on warrant articles, only three members of the public spoke, fairly briefly–all town meeting members. The board’s review of Articles 4, 5 and 6, related to development of the former Cleveland Circle Cinema site, turned up no controversy. However, the board questioned Mr. O’Leary at length over Article 8, which he had submitted, seeking to revise Brookline’s bylaw on disorderly behavior.

The disorderly behavior law is an inheritance from colonial times. The version enacted in 1922 and effective until a change last year said, “No person shall behave in a rude, disorderly, insolent or insulting manner, or…shall use any indecent, profane, insolent or insulting language…in any public way” or near any dwelling. Civil liberties challenges to such laws began to accumulate in the 1960s. Mr. O’Leary has been trying to reconcile the law with court rulings. A key problem is distinguishing between free speech and abusive speech.

Mr. Goldstein, a lawyer, recalled the citation about “shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater” that paraphrases an historic opinion of former Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in 1919, holding that speaking in opposition to the draft during World War I was not constitutionally protected. While memorable, it addresses few of the disturbances to which police are called.

Town meeting member Rita McNally of Precinct 2 objected to proposed deletion of provisions against threats and offensive language in public places. Town meeting member Regina Frawley of Precinct 16 noted that abuse of women and of older people included intimidation–not covered by either the current or the proposed law. Mr. O’Leary argued that under case law, police need a witness. “Our word is not good enough,” he said. Members of the board turned wary. They decided to continue the hearing and ask town counsel to advise them.

Licenses and permits: Most common victualler (restaurant), alcoholic beverage service and package-store licenses turned up little controversy. However, a proposed restaurant called Society of Grownups at 1653 Beacon St. drew sharp questions. That was the site of B&D Deli from 1927 to 2005 and then, for short times, of Jimmy’s Italian and Starbucks. Board member Betsy DeWitt noted that Society was a subsidiary of Mass Mutual. She asked about the relationship between a restaurant and a financial services organization.

Nondini Naqui, the manager for Society, accompanied by a lawyer for Mass Mutual, said the purpose of Society was “financial literacy and education” for young adults; food service was ancillary. Ms. DeWitt said she was concerned about potential for deception and asked “how much of Mass Mutual’s services” will be sold at the location. Douglas Moran, the chief financial officer of Mass Mutual, responded, “We won’t sell financial products at that location.” He said Mass Mutual “will not try to hide the relationship.” The board approved a restaurant license for Society.

Neighborhood issues: An application to replace a lapsed liquor service license for the American Legion and VFW post on Washington St. was clouded by controversies. According to neighbors, last spring saw problems with noise from events at the post and apparently drunken participants nearby. Board member Nancy Daly recalled “inebriated people outside the hall.” About 15 interested residents came to the hearing.

John Tynan, post commander and a former Brookline fire lieutenant, spoke for the post, saying there had been a “disconcerting” delay of nine months since submitting an application. “We’re trying to get this place up and running.” Ms. DeWitt noted that under the club type of application pending, service can only be provided to club members.

The post manager, Elmon Hendrickson, a Brookline resident, responded, “Every time we have an event, we apply for a one-day license.” The club license is intended for the post’s routine operation to serve members and not for events. Problems noted by neighbors had occurred during events. Mr. Hendrickson said the post has installed surveillance cameras and begun monitoring events.

A neighbor on School St. described “concerns with noise in front of the building.” She said, “We need a direct number to the manager…a schedule of events. We don’t want to call the police.” Another neighbor said there had been “problems with commercial exploitation…two disturbances in last six months: loud music, screaming, marijuana, urinating in public, cigarette butts.”

Ms. Daly noted that Mr. O’Leary, the chief of police, advised “that you do call the police, let them work on this for you.” Mr. Goldstein said the post “may need police details for events.” He said there also needed to be “standards for the size of events.” The neighbor who described disturbances asked the board to limit club license operations to 11 pm Fridays and Saturdays and 10 pm other nights. The board decided to hold the application for further investigation.

An application for a permit to store flammables at the Audi dealership on Boylston St, recently taken over by Herb Chambers, also brought controversies. Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, represented the dealership. He said it had a permit issued in 1948, which it proposed to replace with a conventional, annually renewed permit.

As at the review last month of the dealership’s transfer of ownership, neighbors raised concerns. A resident of East Milton Rd. objected to the dealership’s using it, when hauling used motor oil, for about the past year and said that some employees have been parking on the private way. Another neighbor, who said he had lived on East Milton Rd. for 60 years, made similar objections.

For Marcus Quigley, chair of the Conservation Commission, who lives nearby on Walnut St., fire protection was a major issue. He said used motor oil was being stored close to neighboring properties and asked for a setback of 20 feet to reduce hazards. Responding to a question from Mr. Goldstein, he said he did not know whether used motor oil was a worse hazard than fuel oil.

Mr. Allen contended that “other properties have similar licenses without big controversies.” However, the need to hire a hazardous waste handler indicates used motor oil is not a benign substance. Board members considered whether to require conditions on a flammables permit but concluded they did not have enough information. They decided to continue the hearing to a future date.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 2, 2014

Transportation Board: Coolidge Corner jitney to Boston and Cambridge

The Transportation Board held a public hearing on Thursday, September 11, about jitney service between Coolidge Corner and business areas in Boston and Cambridge, starting at 7:30 pm in the Denny Room at the Health Center. Five of the six board members heard from representatives of GroupZoom, operators of the Bridj jitney service, and from members of the public.

A rocky start: The Bridj jitney service was announced in Brookline May 21, when GroupZoom founder and president Matthew George met with the Public Transportation Advisory Committee. Mr. George planned to run commuter buses between Coolidge Corner and business areas in Boston and Cambridge. Passengers would be able to reserve seats via the Web and board with electronic ticketing operated from cell phones. The first route would be to Kendall Square in Cambridge, he said, where he works.

Mr. George got a temporary permit for the Bridj service from Todd Kirrane, the transportation director, and began operations the morning of June 2, picking up passengers on Centre St. At first, it may have been more of a “hit” to the neighborhood than a “hit” with the passengers. The service began with full-size, 54-passenger highway buses operated by Academy Bus, a Braintree charter company.

At a June 25 meeting of the Public Transportation Advisory Committee, Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, told the committee that the Centre St. neighborhood was “taken by surprise” around 8 am, when three full-size buses showed up. He and other neighbors complained that they blocked the street, could not navigate narrow cross-streets and were left idling for long times, emitting fumes.

At the June 25 meeting, Mike Izzo, who had been hired as operations manager for Bridj, promised to correct problems and offered telephone and e-mail contacts for anyone experiencing future problems. He said the service was starting to use smaller vehicles.

A state license: On July 8, Mr. Izzo represented Bridj at a Department of Public Utilities hearing, applying for a state license to operate a charter bus service. The Transportation Oversight Division is a non-communicative agency with a useless Web site. Brian E. Cristy, the director, claimed there had never been a reporter at a hearing but relented and let one stay. Your State Open Meeting Law at Work, perhaps.

At the state hearing, Mr. Izzo said GroupZoom was starting to use DPV Transportation as a contractor, operating from McClellan Highway in East Boston. He said the Bridj service would use quarter-size to full-size buses, with capacities of 13 to 54 passengers, and committed to use only state-certified carriers observing federal safety and maintenance standards. GroupZoom has received its state charter-bus license, according to Mr. Izzo.

Adapting the service: At the September 11 Transportation Board hearing, Mr. Izzo said that in Brookline the Bridj service now uses only 9-passenger limousines, operated from East Boston, and no longer uses either large or small buses. GroupZoom is working on jitney permits with Boston, Cambridge and Brookline. Mr. Izzo also said Bridj vehicles no longer use Centre St.

In Brookline, Mr. Izzo said Bridj vehicles now pick up passengers and drop them off on Harvard St. at the bus stops near Beacon St. and Coolidge St. Responding to a question from board member Ali Tali, he said the route out of Brookline is south on Harvard St., east on Longwood Ave., north on St. Paul St. and east on Beacon St. Using limousines, he said, stops are short and have not interfered with MBTA buses.

Linda Jason, representing the Public Transportation Advisory Committee, recounted earlier reviews of the Bridj service and mentioned problems reported in and near Centre St. She said the committee remains concerned about extended idling in winter and summer to provide heating and cooling and would encourage Bridj to explore underutilized parking lots to pick up and drop off passengers.

Mr. Swartz said that disturbances on Centre St. had stopped. He wondered whether Bridj would resume using large buses and resume using Centre St. Mr. Izzo said he did not anticipate using large buses again in Brookline but “will continue to explore sites” for stops. Pamela Zelnick, the board member chairing the hearing, said that other jitney licenses specified the routes and the locations of stops. Mr. Izzo asked for some flexibility.

Outstanding service: Nathaniel Hinchey, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, and his spouse Connor both said they are regular Bridj customers, in part because of direct access to the Seaport district. They said service was “awesome” and “fantastic” and contrasted it with slow speeds and frequent breakdowns on the Green Line.

Another Bridj regular, who works in downtown Boston, said service is on-time, vehicles are clean and comfortable, and reserved seats make trips easier. A Bridj customer who identified herself as a “working mom” said the time she saved using Bridj instead of the Green Line was “very important.” Others at the hearing echoed the compliments. Two said they do not own cars. No one had a complaint.

Mr. Izzo said Bridj is currently charging promotional fares: $3.00 each way at peak times and $1.00 off-peak. Last May, Mr. George estimated a regular fare of $6.00 to Kendall Square. Mr. Izzo said the service to Kendall Square has been saving about 30 minutes each way over MBTA travel times, close to 35 minutes that Mr. George estimated last May.

Ms. Jason asked whether a jitney permit would include conditions. Ms. Zelnick replied that conditions would be drafted and said there would be a review by the Transportation Board in October.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 12, 2014

Board of Selectmen: anti-discrimination law, auto dealer transfer

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, August 26, started at 5:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Board member Betsy DeWitt was in contact by telephone. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Alex Coleman, a member of the Human Relations Commission, supported an article for the fall town meeting in November, from town counsel. It follows a resolution Dr. Coleman proposed as Article 31 at this year’s annual town meeting, affirming support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity or gender expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education.

When town meeting approved Article 31, it added an amendment proposed by the Advisory Committee and endorsed by the Board of Selectmen, asking Brookline’s legal staff to review the town’s bylaws and propose changes at the next town meeting to make them “consistent with [the] purpose” of the resolution. That is what the new article is intended to do. Several parts of town bylaws would change, adding “gender identity and gender expression” to categories of prohibited discrimination.

The new article is being proposed to town meeting by the Board of Selectmen. Chair Kenneth Goldstein asked Dr. Coleman if he and other petitioners for the previous article wanted to join as co-sponsors of the new one; they do. Dr. Coleman explained that addressing discrimination in public accommodations will be particularly helpful, because of gaps in state and federal anti-discrimination laws. The article will be filed by joint sponsors.

Audi of Brookline, at 308 Boylston St., is the town’s last remaining dealer in new automobiles, after departure or closure–over the past forty years–of former Cadillac, Ford, Buick, Oldsmobile, AMC/Jeep, Volvo, Saab and Volkswagen operations on Commonwealth Ave., Beacon St., Harvard St., Boylston St. and Hammond St. The Audi dealership was recently bought by the Herb Chambers company, which applied for transfer of a license to sell used vehicles at the site.

Boston’s and Brookline’s former automobile row on Commonwealth Ave., starting at the B.U. Bridge and proceeding west, is entirely gone. From about 1910 through 1990, most U.S. and major foreign automobiles could be found along both sides of this three-quarter mile of street. The only reminders now are Herb Chambers operations up Brighton Ave. and past the bend at Packard Corner on Commonwealth Ave.–selling and servicing over 30 makes.

The Herb Chambers company was represented by Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, by Brad Gomes and Steve O’Neill, general managers for Herb Chambers, and by Antonio Bruno, designated manager of the Audi division in Brookline.

The board questioned Capt. Michael Gropman of the Brookline Police Department about incidents on Lawton St., involving vehicles connected with the nearby Herb Chambers operations, parked on the street and dropped off at night by tow trucks. After Brookline police intervened about six months ago, Capt. Gropman said, Herb Chambers managers stopped those problems, and apparently they have not recurred.

Problems have also been reported in the past on East Milton Rd., a short street off Cypress St. that ends at the back of the Brookline Audi property fronting on Boylston St. One resident of the street spoke about recent pickup and dropoff of materials via East Milton Rd. and about continuing use of the street by vehicles being repaired. There is something going on making lots of noise and fumes, he said, maybe work on wheels.

Mr. O’Neill of the Herb Chambers company said the work was wheel refinishing, done within company premises by a contractor who uses state-approved equipment. The neighborhood resident said the Brookline Health Department had found the operation lacked proper filters, allowing fumes to escape. Mr. O’Neill denied that there had been a citation. He also said a vendor comes by about every two weeks to pick up waste motor oil at the East Milton Rd. access, because an oil storage tank had recently been moved there during a renovation.

According to statements, car dealerships have operated at the site since the 1930s. There are many departures from current zoning, but they can continue as long as they are not worsened. Mr. Allen said that under Herb Chambers management there would be no expansions of uses and buildings. He said an “Audi image program will force beautifying the premises.” The board approved the license transfer, subject to several health and safety conditions, including all the current conditions.

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

Board of Selectmen: celebrations, personnel, programs, licenses

A triweekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, August 12, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. Meetings of the board have slipped from weekly to biweekly to triweekly during high summer.

Announcements: There will be no meeting Tuesday, August 19, or probably Tuesday, August 26. The latter might be scheduled if needed. Notices appear on the Calendar page of Brookline’s municipal Web site. There would be a notice by close of business Friday, August 22.

Weekly meetings of the Board of Selectmen 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 opened Thursday, August 7, and it closes at noon Thursday, September 4.

Board member Neil Wishinsky will be Brookline’s representative to the Logan Airport Community Advisory Committee. The board appointed a building committee for renovations and improvements to fire stations 5 on Babcock St. and 6 on Hammond St.: board member Ben Franco, Building Commissioners Janet Fierman, George Cole and Ken Kaplan, Fire Chief Paul Ford and Deputy Chiefs Robert Ward and Mark Jefferson.

Board member Betsy DeWitt announced a neighborhood meeting scheduled for Wednesday, August 20, in the Harrison St., Kent St., Aspinwall Ave. and Kent Sq. area about a proposed 400-seat pavilion for Parson’s field. If interested, call the Brookline Planning Department for information, 617-730-2130.

Ken Goldstein, the chair, responded to a Boston Globe story saying that Kevin Fisher, the applicant for a medical marijuana dispensary in the Brookline Bank building at the corner of Washington and Boylston Sts., had falsely claimed on a state permit application to be a graduate of Youngstown State University in Ohio. Mr. Goldstein read a statement and said Brookline would conduct a thorough review of the local applications.

Celebrations and donations: The board celebrated the hundredth birthdays of Brookline resident Ethel Weiss of Harvard St. and former Brookline resident Roslyn London. Apparently the board did not know that Mrs. London had died just a day earlier.

Ethel Weiss has operated Irving’s Toy and Card Shop since 1938. She continues to tend the shop every weekday. She came to the meeting with Nancy Heller, one of her Precinct 8 town meeting members. Ms. Weiss thanked the board for good wishes. She said, “I’ve always found the people in this town to be helpful and kind.”

Ruthann Dobek, director of the Senior Center, said the number of centarians in Brookline is growing. In 2002 there were 26, she said, but the number is “now much larger.” The board accepted a donation of $500 from HC Studio of Station St. to support the Brookline Commission for the Arts.

Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, proposed a use for the Penny Savings Fund, created in 1948 by a former school principal and recently holding around $7,000, but inactive for many years. The purpose of the fund, he said, was to help poor people. Mr. Cirillo said he learned the background from former assistant treasurer and current Precinct 4 town meeting member John Mulhane. He proposed the fund be closed out and its proceeds donated to the safety net fund maintained by the Brookline Community Foundation, for similar purposes. The board agreed.

Personnel: Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, won approval to promote Michael Raskin to sergeant. Mr. Raskin joined the force in 1986, he said, and was formerly a sergeant in the patrol division. He lost the rank when he left in 2009 to join the National Emergency Management Association. He returned after about a year and a half to join the detective division, where he will now serve as a sergeant.

Anne Reed, the assistant library director for administration, got hiring approval to replace a reference librarian who recently died. Mr. Goldstein revived his typical request to “seek a diverse pool of candidates,” saying the library should “work with town personnel staff” on diversity. Mr. Cirillo received hiring approval to replace an office assistant who had taken a position in another town office. Lisa Paradis, the recreation director, got approval to hire a replacement for a recreation teacher who left for a job elsewhere.

Programs and contracts: Ms. Dobek and Gary McCabe, Brookline’s chief assessor, asked to raise the income limit on Brookline’s tax relief program for older property owners from $40.0 to $47.5 thousand. Participants can get up to $1,000 per year in tax reductions in return for up to 125 hours per year of work in town offices. The board agreed. A new program, funded by a $5,000 grant from Hamilton Realty, is to offer similar temporary employment to older residents who rent. The board approved.

Joe Viola, assistant director for community planning, received final authorization to process agreements for this year’s federal Community Development Block Grant, the federal FY2014 and the local FY2015 program. Brookline receives about $1.3 million as a legacy from the activities of the former Brookline Redevelopment Authority between 1958 and 1985.

Using block grant funds, the board also approved agreements for $0.05 million in Senior Center and $0.35 million in Housing Authority programs. The biggest elements in those are the Elder Taxi program and health and safety projects for public housing. Owing to sharp cutbacks in federal housing support, Brookline’s federal block grant has become a mainstay of Housing Authority maintenance.

The largest of several contracts up for review was $3.11 million with GVW of East Boston, to add classrooms at Lawrence School. The board approved the contract. According to the attorney general’s office, in 2009 George V. Wattendorf, the owner of GVW, was sentenced to fines, restitutions and probation for violating prevailing wage laws during school and public safety projects in Haverhill, Reading, Lunenberg, Lynn, Amesbury and Natick. GVW was barred for one year from working on public construction in the state.

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, got approval to increase contracts with Touloukian of Boston and Edith Netter of Waltham related to reviews of the proposed Hancock Village 40B housing development. Little of what Ms. Netter did is on the public record, but so far it cost about $40,000. Ms. Steinfeld said it was “helpful,” and the board approved a request for $26,000 from the Reserve Fund, sent to the Advisory Committee. A budget showed $0.25 million allocated for outside services so far, with $0.026 million reimbursed by the developer.

Chief O’Leary received approval to accept a state grant of $0.02 million for computer storage upgrades. Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval of $0.14 million for contract road repairs and for $0.12 million in reimbursement requests to the state. Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, got approval for $0.013 million to correct concealed drainage defects as part of the Town Hall garage renovation. The board approved an agreement with Patrick Farmer, a Shady Hill School teacher and Meredith Ruhl, a Simmons instructor, to occupy the historic Widow Harris house on Newton St. in return for rent, housekeeping and educational programs.

With little comment and no apparent consultation with the Climate Action Committee, the board approved agreements with Cadmus Group of Waltham and BlueWave Capital of Boston, related to potential solar electricity projects. Those firms had been promoted to Brookline town departments by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which previously promoted the now-shuttered Broadway Electric solar division. Luckily, Brookline did not try to do business with Broadway.

Jennifer Gilbert, former town counsel and a special counsel for Cleveland Circle Cinema redevelopment, proposed warrant articles for the fall town meeting to discontinue easements for long unused sewer connections that run through the site. The board voted to file one of these. As at a program review in July, Ms. Gilbert apparently sent documents late the same day, and copies of the article in the form being filed were not distributed to the public at the meeting.

Appointments: The board interviewed Anthony Schlaff for reappointment to the Advisory Council on Public Health. Responding to a question from board member Ben Franco, Dr. Schlaff said substance abuse remains a significant problem in Brookline and a concern of the council.

Nancy O’Connor, vice chair of the Park and Recreation Commission, was also interviewed for reappointment. She started saying by she didn’t “have anything exciting to talk about,” but the board became engaged. Ms. DeWitt asked about the recent design for the Ward Playground on Brook St. Ms. O’Connor described it as a “creative use of a very small space,” where the commission had to “hold back” on what to install. Mr. Wishinsky complimented the commission on “spectacular success” with the recently renovated Clark Playground on Cypress St. Ms. O’Connor said a key ingredient was balance, “It’s a dance.”

Permits and licenses: Haim Cohen applied for a common victualler (restaurant) license to open The Place Next Door on Harvard St. His family has run Rami’s, where he works now, for over 24 years, and the vacant, former Beauty Supply is what they called the place next door. He said he plans a kosher dairy restaurant–a rare bird outside New York City–where the menu is vegetarian. Mysteriously, he said it will be “glatt kosher.” As far as we’ve heard, ordinary vegetables don’t have glands. The project will take new construction and equipment. The board approved.

Rafael Pieretti of Newton applied for license transfers to operate Olea Cafe on Washington St. He plans modern Italian fare, with several varieties of bruschetta, panini and pasta plus wines and beers. There will be quite a bit of renovation. The board was skeptical that the proposed liquor manager had no previous experience, but she described the training she had taken and readily answered questions about procedures. The board approved.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 13, 2014

Committee on Taxi Medallions: bank loans and unsold medallions

The Committee on Taxi Medallions met Monday, August 11, starting at 7:00 pm in the third-floor lounge at Town Hall. Committee chair Josh Safer was absent; Amid El-Khoury had resigned from the committee, and he joined the fairly large audience. Committee member Michael Sandman chaired the meeting.

Two Brookline Bank representatives described experience with loans for Boston and Cambridge taxi medallions: William Mackenzie, Senior Vice President for Commercial Lending, and Timothy Steiner, Vice President for Commercial Lending. So far there has not been a loan in default, they said. They attribute the record to a strong work ethic among the borrowers. If a loan were to fail, they said, they would seize the medallion used as collateral and sell it. They claimed to be unaware of any decline in medallion market values.

That could be a bit behind the times. The owner of Hello Taxi said there are currently 235 medallions available for sale in Boston, and apparently there are no buyers. A year ago, he said, the unsold inventory was near zero. He believes that mobile technology deployed by Uber, Hailo, Lyft and Sidecar has undercut the market for taxi medallions, at least in Boston.

Betsy DeWitt, a member of the Board of Selectmen, spoke somewhat skeptically about medallions for Brookline taxis. She described circumstances in Washington, DC, which houses a large, regulated fleet of taxis but does not use a system of permanent, transferrable medallions.

As at the recent hearing held by the committee, Bay State Taxi owner Joe Bethoney said the town should sell taxi medallions to current, long-term taxi operators and drivers for nominal fees and earn revenues when the medallions are subsequently resold.

At least one and possibly more articles are being prepared for the fall town meeting, now scheduled to start on November 18. It is not yet clear whether the committee will be able to sort out the issues and arrive as a coherent and workable approach to recommend this fall to the Transportation Board, to the Board of Selectmen and possibly to town meeting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 12, 2014


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

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

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.

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)

Will the Massachusetts supreme court let us repeal casino gambling?

September 13 of 2011 was a Tuesday but still an unlucky day for the state. That was when Gov. Patrick met with the two leaders of the General Court to cut a deal on casinos. Mr. Patrick got some concessions in return but sold out supporters who expected him to keep casinos at bay. Everything piled onto the deal after that day has been animal droppings.

Since New Jersey sparked a casino invasion in 1977 by legalizing gambling in Atlantic City, casino maggots have swarmed nationwide–notably in Connecticut and eastern Pennsylvania. In Massachusetts, it takes three to play: the governor, the House speaker and the Senate president. Until late summer of 2011, one of the three kept a can of Raid handy for casino maggots. Then Mr. Patrick caved and the casino deal was on.

A Winthrop-based organization, Repeal the Casino Deal (RCD), led by John Ribeiro, organized efforts to reverse the damage Mr. Patrick inflicted on the state. RCD collected over 90,000 signatures and validated about 70,000 of them to put a repeal question on the state election ballot this fall.

Currently blocking the group’s efforts is Attorney General Martha Coakley, a popular but unworthy candidate for governor. Ms. Coakley refused to certify the ballot question, essentially on grounds that, unlike casino maggots she favors, people of the state do not have constitutional rights. Ms. Coakley is reportedly advised by former Patrick administration Chief of Staff Doug Rubin, who has been working as a consultant and registered lobbyist for the gambling industry, assisting a casino operator and a manufacturer of slot machines.

RCD challenged Ms. Coakley at the Supreme Judicial Court. It has heard arguments and is expected to rule early in July. Meanwhile, since the General Court declined an option to enact repeal, RCD collected another 26,000 signatures and is validating and filing them.

As the Boston Globe recently disclosed, at least one member of the Massachusetts supreme court has longstanding ties to the gambling industry. As a “partner at McDermott Will & Emery in the 1990s,” Andrea Estes wrote, “[Justice Robert] Cordy represented the owners of Suffolk Downs,” which from 1995 to 1997 sought to open a slot-machine parlor. Owners of Suffolk Downs are involved in the pending case.

An upstanding judge with a partisan history of participation in legal issues will commonly recuse himself or herself from a case involving those issues or their beneficiaries. So far, Mr. Justice Cordy, a nominee of former Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci, has failed to do that. He risks being seen as dishonoring the courts.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 22, 2014


Frank Phillips, Ex-Patrick aide now lobbyist for gambling firm, Boston Globe, February 24, 2011

Noah Bierman, House Democrats to discuss gambling bill tomorrow, Boston Globe, September 12, 2011

State House News Service, Coakley says casino law repeal is not eligible for ballot, Gatehouse Media, December 8, 2011

Andy Metzger, State House News Service, AG rebuffs casino ban question, accepts 14 others, Cape Cod (Hyannis) Times, September 4, 2013

Frank Phillips and Jim O’Sullivan, Baker enters governor’s race, Coakley weighs bid, Boston Globe, September 4, 2013

Matt Murphy, State House News Service, Anti-casino advocates file injunction against Attorney General’s ballot ruling, Cape Cod (Hyannis) Times, September 11, 2013

Joan Vennochi, What does a casino share with Coakley? Boston Globe, February 13, 2014

Andrea Estes, Justice hearing casino repeal case tied to Suffolk Downs, Boston Globe, May 10, 2014

Associated Press, Anti-casino group collects enough signatures for ballot, Boston Herald, June 17, 2014

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

Annual town meeting: Brookline Place, taxi medallions and resolutions

Brookline’s 2014 annual town meeting held its third session Monday, June 2. Although running a little late, town meeting members worked their way through the remaining articles and will not need another session. A summary of actions on articles:

15. Zoning amendments, Brookline Place–approved
16. Zoning amendments, Brookline Place (alternative)–rejected
17. Grant of easement, Brookline Place–approved
18. Restrictive covenant, Brookline Place–approved
19, Release of documents, Brookline Place–approved
26. Legislation, repealing authority to sell taxi medallions–referred
27. Resolution, urging memory of Brookline veterans–approved
28. Resolution, urging snow clearance in business districts–approved
29. Resolution, supporting Brookline businesses–referred
30. Resolution, supporting legislation on obstetric fistula–approved
31. Resolution, opposing discrimination by gender identity–approved
32. Resolution, supporting legislation on fossil-fuel divestment–approved
33. Reports, town officers and committees
(1) Police department, complaint process–presented

The contentious issues were expected to be Articles 15 and 16, two versions of zoning for Brookline Place, and Article 26, legislation to repeal the state authorization to sell taxi medallions. Article 16, submitted by petition, called for less parking than official Article 15. Debates proved fairly compact. There were four more electronic votes after the seven of May 27 and 29, but only records for two of those appeared on the town’s Web site later in the week.

Brookline Place: The Planning Board and its Brookline Place Advisory Committee proposed to complete nearly a half century of redevelopment in the Brookline Village block bounded by Washington Street, Brookline Avenue and Pearl Street, adjacent to the Village’s Green Line stop. Except for the T stop and the former Water Department building at the eastern extreme, the commercially zoned area now called Brookline Place–which includes 6-story offices built in the 1990s–is owned by Children’s Hospital.

Management of Children’s Hospital proposed to replace low-rise buildings near the corner of Washington and Pearl Streets with business and medical offices in an 8-story tower–as reviewed over an extended period with the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, Brookline Place Advisory Committee, Planning Department and other committees and agencies. Because the development should not add to the school population, substantial net tax revenue is expected. Parking has been the main controversy.

Brookline’s usual zoning requires underground parking. However, Children’s Hospital management claimed that underground parking would make the project uneconomic. Brookline boards and agencies agreed to propose zoning with above-ground parking. However, controversy continued around the amount of parking. Because the site of the development includes a rapid-transit stop, Brookline’s representatives took an unusual stance, advocating less parking than standard zoning. Children’s Hospital management also took an unusual stance, calling for more parking than the town’s representatives.

Article 15 presented a negotiated compromise. That calls for replacing a current 3-story parking garage, with 355 spaces for 105,000 square feet in the existing 6-story offices. A new 6-story garage would be built on the site of the present garage, providing 683 spaces for a new total of 287,500 square feet in the 6-story and new 8-story offices combined. It represents a substantial cutback from 820 spaces that had been under discussion earlier.

Town meeting members led by Andrew Fischer of Precinct 13 submitted an alternative proposal under Article 16. Although complex, it would allow little above-ground parking beyond the current parking garage. More spaces could be built underground. Petitioners argued that transportation via the Green Line and the three MBTA bus routes serving the site should make additional parking unnecessary.

Proponents of Article 15, supported by the Advisory Committee, said that Article 16 would not allow enough on-site parking at costs that make the project economic. Without substantially more parking than the current garage, they said, new offices could become unmarketable at premium rents and could expose the surrounding neighborhood to predatory “impacts from cars circling and taking on-street parking.” Town meeting agreed with those arguments, approving Article 15 and rejecting Article 16.

Article 17 proposed Brookline accept a grant of easement from Children’s Hospital, allowing a public path 45 feet wide between Washington Street and the Village T stop. It will pass between the new 8-story office tower and the older 6-story offices and parking garage. Article 18 proposed Brookline enter into a restrictive covenant with property owners involved in the new development, such that future uses maintain tax income. Article 19 proposed authorizing the Board of Selectmen to release documents concerning a 2007 project for Brookline Place, also involving Children’s Hospital, that was never completed. Articles 17, 18 and 19 attracted little controversy, and town meeting approved them.

Taxi medallions: Article 26, submitted by Precinct 8 town meeting member John Harris, proposed asking the General Court to repeal sections of state laws allowing Brookline to sell taxi medallions: in Chapter 51 of the Acts of 2010 and in Chapter 52 of the Acts of 2012. Sale of taxi medallions had originally been requested by a special town meeting held in November, 2008. In his arguments to town meeting, Mr. Harris 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. Harris sought to revive basic controversy over ownership of taxi medallions, calling it a “social justice issue.” He cited a 1986 New York City brief calling the medallion system there “an engraved invitation to corruption” and recalled the 1930 resignation of former New York City mayor Jimmy Walker, “after being accused of accepting bribes from the Checker Cab Company.”

The Board of Selectmen has called the recent Boston scandal, instead, “the fault of regulators” and argued, in effect, that Boston is Boston. Since 2003, they said, the Brookline “Transportation Board has suspended or revoked the license to operate for several companies and many drivers” when they did not follow regulations.

The Advisory Committee took a less partisan approach, calling Mr. Harris’s “concerns…legitimate for some forms of taxi medallion systems” but arguing that Boston’s medallions–at around $600,000–probably sell for around ten times as much as Brookline’s should–because of a monopoly for serving Logan Airport. Advisory has estimated $10 to $15 million in one-time revenue. Town meeting approved a motion to refer Article 26 to a moderator’s committee, to report in time for a fall town meeting.

Resolutions: Precinct 1 town meeting member Neil Gordon submitted Article 27, asking for a “modest but meaningful memorial to Brookline’s veterans,” flying flags in their honor. Town meeting approved the resolution.

Precinct 10 town meeting member Frank Caro submitted Article 28, resolving 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 and Advisory Committee both proposed to refer the matter to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner, but town meeting supported Mr. Caro and approved the resolution.

Article 29, submitted by a local-business group calling itself “Brookline Local First” got quite a different response. The group sought a resolution calling for a “task force,” jointly appointed by Brookline boards and committees, to “support the growth and development of locally owned and independent businesses” and calling for declaration of a “Brookline local economy week.” The Board of Selectmen questioned a narrow focus, apparently excluding franchise holders, and moved referral to the Economic Development Advisory Board. The Advisory Committee found only about 70 businesses involved with “Brookline Local First” versus about 2,000 businesses in Brookline, recommending no action. Town meeting took up the question of referral first and approved referral by a vote of 99 to 76.

Sarah Gladstone, a student at Brookline High School, submitted Article 30, a resolution in favor of H.R. 2888 of the 113th Congress, proposing the Obstetric Fistula Prevention, Treatment, Hope and Dignity Restoration Act of 2013–which did not pass last year. The complication of labor is now rare in the United States but remains common in poor countries. Surgical treatment usually works but is often too expensive for victims, The House bill seeks assistance to international organizations. Town meeting approved the resolution.

Alex Coleman, a Human Relations Youth Resources commissioner, submitted Article 31, a resolution to express “support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity and expression.” The Advisory Committee moved to amend that, by also asking Brookline’s “legal services department”–apparently meaning the Office of Town Counsel—to review Brookline bylaws and propose changes “consistent with [the] purpose” for a fall town meeting. The Board of Selectmen supported the Advisory Committee, and town meeting approved the amended resolution.

Precinct 4 town meeting member Frank Farlow and Brookline resident Byron Hinebaugh submitted Article 32, a resolution urging the General Court to enact S. 1225 of the current session, proposing An Act Relative to Public Investment in Fossil Fuels. The bill, filed by Sen. Benjamin B. Downing of Pittsfield, who chairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, seeks for the state to divest all pension fund holdings in “fossil fuel companies”–not defined in S. 1225. The Board of Selectmen recommended approval of the Article 32 resolution, after amending a “whereas” clause.

By a substantial majority, the Advisory Committee recommended no action, calling S. 1225 a “blunt instrument” and citing vagueness about the meaning of “fossil fuel companies.” General Electric, the committee report noted, operates a wind turbine business and other “clean energy” divisions but also owns GE Oil & Gas. The hour was getting late, and town meeting members may not have been troubled by such distinctions–voting to approve the resolution as amended by the selectmen.

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


Correction, June 6, 2014. Faulty information found on the Brookline Web site the morning after the June 2 session led to two mistakes. Article 26 on taxi medallions was not rejected but instead referred–to a moderator’s committee, to report before a fall town meeting. Four electronic votes were held. They include one on that referral, approved 96 to 91, and another on a referral under article 29, a proposed resolution in support of “Brookline local first,” approved 99 to 76. Votes of individual town meeting members were not available from town meeting records for those two matters. The other two electronic votes are recorded in town meeting computer files: on Article 15, zoning for Brookline Place, approved 185 to 18, and on Article 32, a resolution supporting divestment of state pension funds from fossil fuel companies, approved 126 to 20.


Bob Hohler, Marcella Bombardieri, Jonathan Saltzman and Thomas Farragher, For Boston cabbies, a losing battle against the numbers, Boston Globe, March 30, 2013

Annual town meeting: human relations, regulations and zoning

Brookline’s 2014 annual town meeting held its second session Thursday, May 29. Another session is scheduled for Monday, June 2, and a fourth session continues to look likely. Progress on Articles 10 through 25 might look rapid, but consideration of Articles 15 through 19, about redevelopment at Brookline Place, was postponed. A summary of actions on articles:

10. Community relations commission–amended and approved
11. Greater Toxteth neighborhood conservation district–approved
12. Noise control bylaw amendments–rejected
13. Tobacco control bylaw, High School no-smoking zone–approved
14. Tobacco control bylaw, increased age of purchase–approved
15. Zoning amendments, Brookline Place–postponed
16. Zoning amendments, Brookline Place (alternative)–postponed
17. Grant of easement, Brookline Place–postponed
18. Restrictive covenant, Brookline Place–postponed
19, Release of documents, Brookline Place–postponed
20. Zoning amendment, Mason Terrace–rejected
21. Zoning amendments, S-4 zoning, Meadowbrook area–approved
22. Zoning amendment, convenience store at gasoline station–rejected
23. Zoning amendment, accessory dwelling in single-family zone–rejected
24. Grant of easement, Carlton Street footbridge–approved
25. Adopting local option, Retirement Board stipends–rejected

Contentious issues resulted in six recorded votes, including one just on procedure. Debate took over an hour on Article 10: to replace the Human Relations Youth Resources (HRYR) Commission, dating from 1970, with a new Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations (DICR) Commission. Rejection of Articles 22 and 23 on zoning, filed by the Planning Board, again showed consequences of burdening annual town meetings with traditional topics for fall town meetings. Neither rejected article involved an urgent situation. Both were likely to benefit from extended reviews.

Human relations: Arguments over a proposed new DICR Commission revealed little that had not already surfaced in about a year and a half of controversy–during which the Board of Selectmen, their “diversity committee” that proposed the change, the Advisory Committee, its special subcommittee for the matter, the Human Resources Board, the standing Committee on Town Organization and Structure, and the existing HRYR commission all weighed in.

Article 10 at the 2014 annual town meeting was an outcome of Article 10 at the 2013 annual town meeting. The 2013 article was submitted by HRYR commissioner Larry Onie, by Brooks and Mariela Ames, recently but not then HRYR commissioners, and by town meeting members Bobbie Knable, Frank Farlow and Arthur W. Conquest, III. It cited a low level of minorities in Brookline’s professional work force–zero in leadership positions–and sought to strengthen HRYR roles in diversity, equal opportunity and human rights.

Also at the 2013 annual town meeting, Article 9 proposed to abolish the HRYR Department and the position of HRYR director. Stephen Bressler, HRYR director since 1974, was retiring, and Town Administrator Mel Kleckner was eager to chop a small department out of the town’s government structure–leaving responsibilities to the Human Resources Office created in 2000. That office replaced the former Personnel Department–in practice a division of the selectman’s office. The 2013 town meeting approved Article 9 and referred Article 10 to the selectmen’s “diversity committee.” Mr. Kleckner nominated Dr. Lloyd Gellineau to a new position of human relations and human services administrator, reporting to Dr. Alan Balsam, director of Health and Human Services.

Submitters of Article 10 in 2013 pointed out that Human Resources, like former Personnel, focuses on employee compensation and benefits. Workforce diversity gets little attention beyond filing reports and updating policies. In 1994, Brookline revised a municipal affirmative-action policy. In 2011, it revised a municipal anti-discrimination policy. Nevertheless, over the 42 years since Richard Fischer resigned as the first human relations director in 1972, Brookline’s municipal workforce never had an African-American or Latino among senior leadership, and its school workforce had only one.

Under Article 10 at the 2014 annual town meeting, Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 and Martin Rosenthal of Precinct 9 proposed to amend the main motion, making the new commission effectively a town department, as HRYR had previously been, and providing its director with the stature of a department head. Town Administrator Mel Kleckner has argued against what he called excessive overhead to maintain a small department.

After around an hour, the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, accepted a motion to close debate. That takes a two-thirds vote. It was rejected in the first of three electronically recorded votes, getting support from only 62 percent of those voting. Arguments continued. In a second recorded vote, the amendment proposed by Mr. Spiegel and Mr. Rosenthal passed by a margin of 107 to 95. The third recorded vote approved the new DICR commission and department, 185 to 16 with 6 abstentions.

Now Mr. Kleckner will have to figure out where to locate and how to budget a new department. Sandra DeBow, director of the Human Resources Office, will have to share duties that include recruiting a more diverse workforce. The Board of Selectmen will have to decide whether to advance Dr. Gellineau to head the new department, if he wants to do that, or find a different director. Will current HRYR commissioners apply for the DICR Commission? If they do, will the selectmen appoint them?

Regulations: Residents of the Toxteth Street vicinity organized to create a neighborhood conservation district for their area, under Article 11, to be called Greater Toxteth. This type of district has regulations that go beyond zoning but are less strict than a local historic district authorized by Massachusetts under Chapter 40C of the General Laws.

Greater Toxteth’s regulations call attention to front porches common in the area. A special review would be required to enclose a front porch for living space. So would alterations that add living space encroaching on current front yards. However, other additions that increase living space less than 15 percent would not need special reviews. Town meeting did not need much time for the article, because the Neighborhood Conservation Commission and the residents of Greater Toxteth had “done their homework” well.

Noise control bylaw amendments in Article 12 were proposed by Fred Lebow, an acoustic engineer and a former Precinct 1 town meeting member, to provide what he claimed are more reliable standards for measuring noise. One complication was that the article proposed a method for estimating background noise at night by making measurements during the day and subtracting an arbitrary 10 decibels.

The proposed approach may work for some neighborhoods but might not provide accurate estimates for those near highways and busy streets, particularly Route 9 and the Turnpike. They tend to have larger differences between day and night background noise. Both the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee supported the proposal, with one minor difference between them. However, town meeting was not convinced and voted no action.

Tobacco control bylaw amendments in Articles 13 and 14 were proposed by High School students Nathan Bermel, Mary Fuhlbrigge and others. Article 13 called for a no-smoking zone extending 400 feet from grounds of the High School. That becomes a large area–around 35 acres, roughly but inaccurately sketched in the warrant report.

It extends approximately through the intersections of Blake and Rawson Roads and of Welland and Somerset Roads, on the north, through the intersections of Lincoln Road and Gorham Avenue and of Cypress Street and Brington Road, on the east, through the intersection of Clark Road and Route 9, on the south, and across Tappan Street just short of the intersection with Gardner Road, on the west. All of the Cypress Street Playground is in the zone, which looked like a main intent.

As voted by town meeting, the restriction applies full-time, year-round, whether or not school is in session, but it applies only to someone classified as a “minor or school personnel.” If John Dempsey, a member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee, were still the principal of Devotion School, he would be not be allowed to smoke at home–not that Mr. Dempsey has likely wanted to. Former superintendent Robert Sperber, now a Precinct 6 town meeting member, would be restricted, were he still superintendent. Enforcement may be difficult, except perhaps on or next to High School grounds. An obvious refuge for High School smokers becomes Tappan Street near and northwest of Gardner Road. Other refuges are likely to be found quickly.

Under Article 14, town meeting voted to raise the minimum age for tobacco purchase in Brookline from 19 to 21. Like Article 13, the restriction appears symbolic; it may not have much practical effect. Within a metropolitan environment as large and complex as Boston, there are innumerable ways to skirt local laws. The initiative could still be effective if pursued as a state law rather than as a local law.

Zoning: Under Article 20, submitted by petition, town meeting rejected rezoning 273, 277 and 281 Mason Terrace from single-family (S-7) to two-family (T-6)–a rejection that was recommended by the Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee. The argument from the Planning Board was that, if allowed, a “future threat of demolition of [those] dwellings in order to construct new buildings” could damage the Mason Terrace neighborhood.

In contrast, under Article 21, also submitted by petition, town meeting–as urged by the Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee–approved a new S-4 type of single-family zoning, using that to designate properties in the Meadowbrook Road area. That neighborhood was historically called “Buttonwood,” settled in the early twentieth century by officers of Brookline’s police and fire departments and their families. As petitioners described, “It is one of the few neighborhoods left in Brookline where a family can afford to buy a single-family home with a yard for less than a million dollars.”

The counterpoint of Article 21 versus Article 20 shows how Brookline’s town government continues to support measures that strengthen neighborhood character and continues to oppose measures that encourage profiteering. That makes striking contrast with attitudes found some 50 and more years ago–a lasting mark of Brookline’s “neighborhood zoning” begun at a dramatic, four-night town meeting held in December, 1973.

Town meeting rejected two routine measures proposed by the Planning Board. Article 22 would have recognized a convenience store at a gasoline station. Article 23 would have prohibited an accessory dwelling in a single-family zone. While there were arguments for and against those proposals, they are likely to have been victims of rushed consideration and might better have been put off to the traditional venue of a fall town meeting. There were recorded votes. Article 22: 109 in favor and 62 opposed. Article 23: 106 in favor and 59 opposed. Both fell short of the two-thirds required for a zoning change.

Under Article 24, town meeting accepted a grant of easement that would allow the so-called Carlton St. footbridge, closed since the fall of 1975, to be renovated and equipped with wheelchair ramps. The project is Brookline’s largest contribution to an effort that is mostly federally funded: dredging the Muddy River channel, following disastrous 1996 flooding that shut down the MBTA Green Line for weeks.

Under Article 25, town meeting rejected stipends for Retirement Board members. The session’s last recorded vote found 47 in favor and 100 opposed. Decades of skeptics notwithstanding, Brookline remains a town and not a city–in fact as well as in name. Members of a few boards, including the Board of Selectmen and Zoning Appeals Board, are paid–although stipends remain nominal–but hundreds of town residents serve on unpaid boards, commissions and committees. The 240 elected town meeting members are, of course, unpaid.

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

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.

Casino gambling: who supports it and who opposes it?

So far, this year’s crop of candidates for state offices turned in a dismal performance on casino gambling. An initiative to repeal a Massachusetts law authorizing casinos brought the topic back to the front burner. Some candidates can’t take the heat and are trying to stay out of the kitchen.

Since at least the Revolutionary War, gambling has been a “fourth evil” for governments in the U.S., along with alcohol, tobacco and firearms–historically policed by a bureau of the U.S. Treasury but now by the Department of Justice. Unlike classic evils, for which the prescription became to tax and regulate, a common approach to gambling was to ban and prosecute, at least as written in the law books.

Anti-gambling laws were always hypocritical, with huge exceptions carved out for bingo, beano, horse racing and sometimes lotteries, and with enforcement that proved whimsical when not plainly corrupt. In the older states of the Northeast, there was at least a “bookie joint” for every urban neighborhood, often doing double duty as a tavern, as a barber shop or, in more recent times, as a pizza parlor. It was probably the small scale and ordinary character of these enterprises that kept fires banked instead of raging.

Like alcohol and tobacco–and, over the past century and a half, like recreational drugs–for some people gambling readily becomes addictive, wrecking careers and households. As with alcohol, tobacco and drugs, addiction becomes more likely as activity becomes more glamorous, intense, convenient and frequent.

The country’s engagement with Prohibition from 1920 to 1933–thanks to the former Anti-Saloon League–opened new opportunities for importers and home-delivery services. Those were quickly seized by criminal gangs–notably the Mafia, operating out of most large cities. Criminal gangs had long been running the “numbers racket” and “bookie joints.” Mastery of some illegal trades led to taking over another that became far more profitable, until the country came to its senses early in the Franklin Roosevelt administration.

With the end of national Prohibition and, over time, with the repeal of state and local “dry” laws, gambling resumed a role as the biggest source of Mob income. It became the everyday cash cow that helped to fund “loan-sharking” operations, “protection rackets” and “shakedowns” preying on local business. While there had been early, state-authorized lotteries, amid the post-Civil War campaigns against evils of alcohol and drugs, those lotteries were shut down before 1900, and stiff federal anti-gambling laws were enacted to keep them closed.

Light finally dawned in some dim corners of state governments during the 1960s. The insight was that a permanent state lottery could be a “win-win” proposition: to raise money for a state government and to take money away from criminal gangs and weaken them. New Hampshire, eager to avoid traditionally despised income and sales taxes, went first. In 1963, the state legislature authorized the New Hampshire Sweepstakes, using horse races at Rockingham Park in Salem as the arbiter of a lottery, to dodge federal anti-gambling laws of the time.

New Hampshire cities and towns had options, voted in a special election, to accept or reject local ticket sales. At first only 13 of then 211 communities chose to participate. That was enough to get started, and it was enough to get attention. New York followed suit in 1967, New Jersey in 1970. New Jersey created the first popular modern state lottery: large numbers of outlets, frequent awards and a high fraction of sales paid out in awards. The rule of thumb in “numbers rackets” had been 60 percent; New Jersey offered 70 percent.

Massachusetts followed a New Jersey pattern, starting sales in 1972 with 50-cent tickets, 70-percent payouts and weekly awards, arbitrated by drawing numbers from a tub at a public event. Then and now, tickets have typically been sold in small “convenience” grocery stores. Although local “numbers runners” maintained some business for a while, providing confidential services, they dwindled. Within a few years, the largest source of criminal income had collapsed, and the Mob became increasingly vulnerable to law enforcement.

The Massachusetts State Lottery had a dark, founding genius in Robert Q. Crane, a Democrat and former state representative who served as state treasurer from 1964 to 1991–by statute the Lottery Commission chairman. In 1974, during Mr. Crane’s watch, the Lottery introduced an original “product”: the so-called “scratch ticket.” At first, The Instant Game proved unpopular. Gamblers learned it paid out only 30 percent of sales as awards, most just a dollar or two.

In 1979, the Lottery Commission hired a new marketing manager, James “Jimmy” O’Brien–more recently at Scientific Games International near Atlanta, GA. Mr. O’Brien raised the payout percentage and used the added outlay for mid-range awards, $40 to $100. There were enough of them to generate a “buzz,” according to former Washington Post columnist David Segal. Mr. O’Brien doubled the number of retail outlets, mainly by allowing retailers to pay for tickets after they had been sold rather than in advance.

Mr. O’Brien also began “scratch ticket” promotions, including entertainment themes and holiday themes. Those changes attracted much more gambling. Ticket sales grew from $54 million in 1980 to $1.6 billion in 1995. “Scratch ticket” sales have now reached around $3 billion a year–more than two-thirds of state lottery revenue–although growth slowed during the past decade.

Mr. Crane and his successors as treasurer focus almost entirely on the “top line” of gambling: the state’s net income, sales revenue less direct expenses. They fail to weigh the hidden costs–personal, social and financial–from gambling addiction. Those include heavy impacts from family disruption and increased crime, as well as acute medical care, mental health services, substance abuse services, unemployment insurance, child protective services, domestic abuse services, public safety and prisons.

Profs. Earl L. Grinols (U. Illinois) and David B. Mustard (U. Georgia), well known as experts on social economics of gambling, have shown that hidden costs from gambling addiction are often at least three times the total benefits realized by states from gambling. When a state sponsors more gambling than it takes to suppress criminal gangs, the state loses rather than gains. Huge hidden costs paid by residents for increases in gambling absorb much more than the employment and government income provided by gambling operators.

Casino promoters tout job gains, but those can easily be outweighed by hidden job losses. As gamblers divert funds that would have been spent on ordinary goods and services into relatively high casino profits, ordinary businesses cut staffing or fail to grow it. The higher the profit margin of a casino becomes–often through monopoly licensing–the more likely the overall effect of the casino will be to reduce rather than increase total employment in its market area.

Flush from the “success” with the first popular modern state lottery, in 1977 New Jersey authorized casino gambling in Atlantic City. Since the nineteenth century, that had been a domestic industry limited to Nevada. Within Nevada, gambling addiction and its precursor, so-called “problem gambling,” were somehow tolerated as burdens borne to support the state’s unique industry. New Jersey provided a new lure into gambling for the far more populous states of the Northeast.

Casino gambling is the most intensive form of gambling now allowed in the U.S. and has the most potential to stimulate addiction, although so-called “gaming parlors” with slot machines and the newer video machines are also highly hazardous. As the Massachusetts development of “scratch tickets” shows, gambling promoters usually see themselves as business people rather than moral lepers. Like marketers of tobacco, they scheme and labor over ways to attract people into habits likely to harm them. Despite some pretentions, they are clearly unconcerned.

Gambling addiction is a major financial advantage to casino operators. As Prof. Grinols showed in a book published in 2004, around half of casino-gambling revenue typically comes from addicts and “problem gamblers.” Without that income it would likely be unprofitable to run luxurious casinos. Experience has shown that fairly plain state lotteries are enough to choke off gambling revenues from flowing to criminal gangs. There has been absolutely no valid social reason to allow gambling casinos.

Facts and reasoning about casino gambling appear to mean little or nothing to many of this year’s candidates for Massachusetts state offices. Consider those running for governor. The only vocal opposition to casino gambling comes from Dr. Donald Berwick, originally a pediatrician in family care and now a professor at Harvard Medical School–considered at best a long shot.

Among the other Democrats, Martha Coakley, now the attorney general, personally blocked from this fall’s election ballots an initiative to repeal the state’s casino law. She is being challenged in the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. Like his predecessors since Mr. Crane, Steven Grossman, now the state treasurer, has become a gambling promoter. He sounds oblivious to huge social costs caused by increasing state income from gambling.

Republicans are not encouraging. Charles D. Baker, Jr., former head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, looks likely to become the nominee. He says maybe Massachusetts should allow only one casino rather than three. Some other candidates have kept quiet on the casino gambling issue. However, Democrats Juliette Kayyem and Joe Avellone and Independents Evan Falchuk and Jeffrey McCormick are on record as supporting casino gambling.

Democrats seeking to replace Martha Coakley as attorney general differ on casino gambling. Warren Tolman, a former state senator from Watertown who sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002, is on record as supporting casino gambling. Maura Healey, a former assistant attorney general supervising consumer protection, fair labor, ratepayer advocacy, environmental protection, health care, insurance and financial services, civil rights and antitrust, opposes casino gambling and has been making her opposition to casino gambling a campaign issue.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 9, 2014


Edmund Mahony, [Former, jailed New England Mob boss Raymond "Junior"] Patriarca pleads guilty but denies Mafia tie, Hartford Courant, December 4, 1991

Dong Kwang Ahn and Elizabeth Cardona, Massachusetts State Lottery revenue distribution, Interoffice memorandum to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, May 10, 2010
“Currently the Massachusetts State Lottery is regressive because poor constituents spend a higher proportion of their income on lottery compared to higher income consumers….”

David Segal, Gambling’s man, Washington Post, February 15, 2005

Earl L. Grinols, III, and David B. Mustard, Business profitability versus social profitability: evaluating the social contributions of industries with externalities and the case of the casino industry, Managerial and Decision Economics 22(3):143-162, 2001

Earl L. Grinols, III, Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits, Cambridge University Press, 2004 (in PB, 2009) See pp. 175-176 (in PB) summarizing social benefits versus social costs.

Shirley Leung, Gubernatorial candidates reflect on casino law, Boston Globe, December 4, 2013

Carolyn Robbins, Candidates Maura Healey and Warren Tolman differ on state casino law, Springfield Republican, April 16, 2014

Board of Selectmen: school building, Marathon, development, licenses

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, April 8, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. As usual, the board heard from department staff and organizations. It had also scheduled two license hearings concerning alcohol sales to underage customers.

Announcements: The Brookline Neighborhood Alliance will hold a candidate’s night for town-wide offices Wednesday, April 16, starting at 6:30 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall, 333 Washington St. Gillian Jackson from Brookline Commission for the Arts described plans for spring, leading up to the year’s Coolidge Corner Arts Festival scheduled for June 7. See ArtsBrookline.

Devotion School project: The Building Commission got approval to apply to the state’s inspector general for authorization to use a Chapter 149A design-build process when renovating Devotion School. In that approach, a general contractor is engaged before there is a completed design on which to bid. Members of the board seemed unaware of the town’s disastrous experience with a loosely controlled process when starting a new Pierce School in the late 1960s. Years of repairs and corrections followed, costing millions of dollars in today’s money. In the early 1970s, Brookline revised its standards for conducting town projects, and there has been no such disaster since.

Marathon Day: Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, described plans for Marathon Day: Monday, April 21. Beacon Street from Cleveland Circle to Audubon Circle will have no automobile traffic or crossings from about 9 am to 6 pm. He didn’t mention whether the Bowker Overpass near Kenmore Square will be open. Team Brookline leaders said they had raised about $200 thousand in recent weeks for 2014 Marathon Day activities.

Hancock Village 40B development: Alison Steinfeld, the town’s planning director, got authorization for a consulting contract to review the latest proposal for a Chapter 40B housing development at Hancock Village in South Brookline. That plan for 192 apartments, started in process last fall with the state’s Housing Appeals Committee, is much smaller than one for more than 400 apartments floated several years ago, but it would still be a major impact on the neighborhood and could also further overload Baker School.

Hotel at former Red Cab site: The Economic Development Advisory Board and Kara Brewton, the town’s economic development director, announced agreement with Claremont Companies for improvements to public property near the long vacant former site of Red Cab at 111 Boylston St. Claremont, of Bridgewater, MA, proposes a 130-room hotel. It would be a little more than half the size of Brookline’s largest: Holiday Inn on Beacon St. The Davis Path pedestrian overpass would be renovated. Redevelopment has languished for about a decade as one after another plan fell through or attracted strong neighborhood opposition. Plans began with up to 5 stories of offices and more recently saw a 3-story office building proposed by GLC Development Resources.

Clark Road reconstruction, Quezalguaque: Peter Ditto, the town’s engineering director, got approval for a $176 thousand Chapter 90 project to reconstruct Clark Road this coming summer. With a $5,000 contribution from Brookline Rotary, the fund to provide an ambulance for Brookline’s “sister city” Quezalguaque, Nicaragua is finally nearing its goal. That will only be enough to buy and outfit a used van. Surprisingly, no board member contrasted how rapidly money had been raised for a sports event, just a moment in time, as compared with a long-term humanitarian project.

Liquor license violations: Deborah Hansen, owner of Taberna de Haro on Beacon St. at St. Mary’s St., appeared for a hearing about the sale of alcohol to an underaged customer, lack of supervision and other complaints. She explained that on an icy day this past winter neither she nor the manager of alcohol sales made it to the restaurant before opening time, and the bartender had made mistakes. That bartender has been dismissed, she said. Richard Garver, a Precinct 1 town meeting member, spoke in her support and said she had the support of the other town meeting members. The board was not unanimous on this matter, as it often is; Nancy Daly and Richard Benka dissented on some items but did not explain why. With no previous history of violations, Ms. Hansen received a 3-day conditional suspension, to be held for a year and cancelled if there are no more violations.

Liquor license violations: David Brilliant, owner of the former Mission Cantina just across Beacon St. from Taberna de Haro, appeared for a hearing about the sale of alcohol to an underaged customer and about operating under an expired license, apparently shortly before the restaurant closed. He admitted to the violations and apologized. With no previous violations, he also received a 3-day conditional suspension, but his license was ordered to be permanently terminated if not transferred or properly reactivated within six months.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 9, 2014


Nicholas J. Brunick and Patrick O. Maier, Renewing the land of opportunity, Journal of Affordable Housing 19(2):161-190, 2010