Category Archives: Services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Zoning Bylaw Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries

The Zoning Bylaw Committee met to review proposed new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries Monday, October 27, starting at 7:30 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall. Article 12 for the November 18 town meeting proposes to exclude these facilities within five hundred feet of day-care centers and places where “children commonly congregate.” The committee had held a public hearing on the article September 22.

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

Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave. and the other petitioners for Article 12 argue that those restrictions are not enough. They claim a basis for the specifics of their proposal in a regulation of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, presumably meaning 105 CMR 725, titled “Implementation of an Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana.”

At the committee’s hearing and at several other recent meetings, Mr. Bennett claimed Brookline should have followed regulations from the state’s public health department–adding exclusion zones around day-care centers and places where “children commonly congregate.” However, the petitioners for Article 12 quote selectively from state regulations.

Crumbling claims: The state regulation at issue, 105 CMR 725.110(A)(14), can be found in a section titled “Security Requirements.” It provides (in full):

“An RMD [registered marijuana dispensary] shall comply with all local requirements regarding siting, provided however that if no local requirements exist, an RMD shall not be sited within a radius of 50 feet [sic] of a school, daycare center or any facility in which children commonly congregate. The 500 foot distance [sic] under this section is measured in a straight line from the nearest point of the facility in question to the nearest point of the proposed RMD.”

The regulation is only a default. It applies “if no local requirements exist.” Last year, Brookline enacted its own local requirements in Section 4.12 of its zoning bylaw. The regulation does not apply to Brookline. Since it was the keystone of Mr. Bennett’s claims, they appear to crumble. He and the other petitioners for Article 12 are left with general arguments about “protecting children” but not with the hard-edged specifics such as a “radius of 50 feet” or a “500 foot distance.”

Opponents: The petitioners for Article 12 claimed that in Colorado half the prescriptions for medical marijuana had been written by a dozen physicians. One of the petitioners, Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St., showed how that might happen. Ironically, the statement from Dr. Childs, a physician, became an argument in opposition.

Dr. Childs said she, along with other physicians belonging to the practice groups of the major Boston medical centers, would refuse to prescribe marijuana. That is likely to leave a small number of independent physicians as sole resources for patients interested in treatment. As in Colorado, a small number of physicians is then likely to write a large fraction of prescriptions, because of rigid attitudes adopted by other physicians.

Eddie Benjamin of Brookline objected that petitioners for Article 12 wanted to ban marijuana dispensaries by leaving no place for one to locate. Maps prepared by the Planning Department confirmed that locations of parks, playgrounds and child-care facilities in Brookline were so numerous and widely dispersed that no part of a general business, office or industrial zone would remain as an eligible site.

New England Treatment Access (NETA), now headed by Arnon Vered of Swampscott, proposes to use the former Brookline Bank building at the intersection of Boylston and Washington Sts. Mr. Vered argued that it is one of the few suitable sites in Brookline: an isolated, single-use building in a general business zone, on a state highway with on-site parking, close to a transit stop on Station St.

According to Polly Selkoe, the assistant director of regulatory planning, the Brookline Bank location is an eligible site under current zoning, and NETA has filed a plot plan that freezes the zoning for its site. Under those conditions, even if town meeting were to pass Article 12 as submitted, NETA would be able to use the site as long as it began operations within three years from filing the plot plan.

Review: Committee members found claims advanced for Article 12 unconvincing. Linda Hamlin, who chairs the Planning Board, said there was “no evidence day cares are put in jeopardy.” Kenneth Goldstein, who chairs the committee and the Board of Selectmen, said, “Voters in Brookline have spoken clearly…The bank is about as good a location as we could find in this town.” The committee voted unanimously to oppose Article 12.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 28, 2014


Marijuana dispensary zoning, currently allowed, Town of Brookline, October, 2014

Marijuana dispensary zoning, proposed Article 12, Town of Brookline, October, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: interviews and warrant articles

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 14, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. There were reviews, public hearings and recommendations for 10 of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18.

Announcements, contracts and interviews: The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 28 and 29, November 9 and December 4 at the Senior Center, Baker and Devotion schools, and the Health Center. Public Works and Planning administrators got approvals for a total of $0.05 million in contracts, the largest of them with Robicheau of Roslindale for work at Waldstein Park.

The board interviewed several candidates for appointments: two for Arts, one for Public Health Advisory, one for Naming and three for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations–created at this year’s annual town meeting to replace the former Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission and recently approved by the state’s attorney general. Twelve commissioners are authorized, none appointed yet.

Warrant article, disorderly conduct: Article 8 for the November 18 town meeting, submitted by Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, seeks to revise Brookline’s bylaw on disorderly conduct. An earlier review September 30 left unanswered questions from members of the board. This time Mr. O’Leary was assisted by Patricia Correa, an associate town counsel, and by town meeting members long interested in the issues.

Ms. Correa had distributed a 6-page memorandum outlining state and federal court decisions from 1967 to the present that indicated revisions to town bylaws were needed. One clarification would remove the term “quiet enjoyment” but retain and define “disturbing the peace” in line with the decision in Commonwealth v. Orlando. [373 Mass 732, 1977]

Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen, represented defendant David Orlando of Norfolk County in the 1977 case, which he lost at the state supreme court. The court found the statute being challenged constitutional, holding that it provided reasonable notice about forbidden conduct. The 1977 decision refers to “activities which…most people would find to be unreasonably disruptive and…did…infringe someone’s right to be undisturbed.”

Mr. Rosenthal recalled the circumstances of the 1977 case and recommended to the board that the proposed bylaw would be effective and defensible. He was supported by Nancy Heller, a Precinct 8 town meeting member who had raised issues during a 2013 town meeting debate over the bylaw. This time the board seemed satisfied that lingering issues had been addressed and voted unanimously to recommend Article 8.

Warrant article, noise control: The board heard from Fred Lebow, a former town meeting member, about Article 9, in which he proposes revisions to Brookline’s noise control bylaw. It is the same proposal that was rejected at this year’s annual town meeting in a unanimous vote of No on a main motion–a very rare event.

Mr. Lebow, an acoustic engineer, still wants to make life easier for fellow engineers by exempting them from night-time work–instead, estimating night-time noise by adjusting the amount of noise measured during the day. Mr. Lebow tried to convince the board about his approach by showing that the bylaw already uses a similar approach when measuring noise from “fixed equipment,” but it sounded like a tough sell.

Mr. Lebow’s article would completely exempt any leafblower from regulation that is not handheld or carried in a backpack. Board member Betsy DeWitt did not seem to favor weakening standards. She said, “My neighbors come to me with complaints: leafblowers used out-of-season…The torture moves around during the day…Two operating together is pretty painful.”

Mr. Lebow also wants to allow noise meters that are calibrated to European (IEC) standards rather than to U.S. (ANSI) standards. He claimed they are “the same,” but they are not. According to Pulsar Instruments, a dealer in precision sound equipment, “USA standards…are usually VERY different…[from] IEC standards and are often incompatible.” It came out that one of Mr. Lebow’s problems is that he happens to own a European meter.

For whatever reasons, Mr. Lebow’s proposals appear likely to weaken or undermine Brookline’s noise standards and make them difficult to apply accurately. Andrew Fischer, a Precinct 13 town meeting member, objected to the proposed changes, saying, “We don’t want loud leafblowers…We want effective noise enforcement…This pokes holes through the ability to enforce.”

Warrant article, commercial recycling: Alan Christ, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, came to argue for support of Article 10. It proposes that businesses in Brookline be required to recycle in the same ways as residences. Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, objected that most businesses are tenants and that requirements should apply to property owners, saying, “You should be talking about the landlords.”

Mr. Christ did not seem to understand the distinction, but Andrew Pappastergion, the Public Works director, clearly did. Most commercial properties, he explained, are being served by private waste haulers, who do not provide recycling now. “We do offer it,” he said, “but we offer only one pickup per week.” He maintained that the issues were complicated. “DPW supports the intent of the article, [but]…just adding the word ‘commercial’ [to a Brookline bylaw] does not provide proper enforcement.”

Celinda Shannon, who became executive director of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce about a year ago, spoke in support of commercial recycling. However, she said she was “concerned with practical and financial issues.” Board member Betsy DeWitt recalled, at the time of the “plastic bag ban…[last year], discussions about implementation plans.” “That’s right,” responded Ms. Shannon.

Mr. Pappastergion said he was wary of trying to take on too many solid-waste issues in short order. As he put it, “We’re going to be requiring a very large culture-change in the community.” Last May 14, at the complaint session DPW holds before an annual town meeting, Mr. Pappastergion had announced a trash metering proposal, which he also described at a June 10 meeting of the Board of Selectmen.

Warrant article, Zoning Appeals notices: Bobbie Knable, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, spoke for Article 13, on Zoning Appeals notifications, which she and Ruthann Sneider, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, had filed. She recounted a case in her neighborhood when abutters could not learn of continuances for a case or learn about an applicant’s withdrawal. Her article would require notices sent to town meeting members,

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, said some problems had already been addressed. If an Appeals panel now grants a continuance, it is to a “date certain” announced at the hearing where the continuance is granted. She said “minutes” of Appeals sessions were being made available online. When board member Betsy DeWitt looked up a recent case on the spot, using a portable computer, she found no such thing.

Ms. Steinfeld seemed to back away, saying there was “a summary of the prior night’s meeting on the Web site.” There are no minutes online now. The online records just say, in general, what type of development was being proposed–such as “basement expansion” or “house addition”–and whether an appeal was granted or denied.

The online records do not say who sat on an Appeals panel, who spoke at a hearing or what they said. They do not even describe special permit and variance requests–such as 3 feet less rear setback than required under Table 5.01 for an accessory structure in an S-7 zone. If conditions are imposed, they do not tell what the conditions are. Ms. Steinfeld promised improvements.

Warrant articles, naming and resolutions: The board voted to recommend no action on Article 14, naming part of Cypress Playground as Hennessey Fields, and instead to recommend an alternative filed for a “special-special” town meeting, also scheduled for November 18. The board voted to support Article 17, a resolution asking the town to select health-conscious LED lamps for its lighting programs. It had heard arguments at a public hearing October 7.

Stephen Vogel of Walnut St. spoke for Article 18, proposing a resolution in support of the rights of domestic workers. He previously described it at length to an Advisory subcommittee. Edward Loechler, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, and Carol Oldham, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, spoke for Article 19, proposing a resolution against natural gas pipelines and explorations in Massachusetts.

Article 19 has oddities. Natural gas, it claims, “is a non-renewable fossil fuel which generates significant carbon emissions.” The proponents cited no renewable fossil fuels nor any ordinary substance that does not produce carbon [dioxide] emissions when burned. They appeared unfamiliar with recent research showing the U.S. distribution of atmospheric methane spiking in the Southwest but very low in New England.

UsMethaneEmissionPhoto2006

Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Board member Ben Franco seemed skeptical. Without natural gas, he asked, “Can renewable energy fill the gap?” Dr. Loechner maintained there was unused capacity in existing gas pipelines but did not distinguish between average and peak demands. Ms. Oldman mentioned transport of liquefied natural gas on ocean-going ships but did not explain that much energy has to be spent on liquefaction. The article sounded in need of study.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 16, 2014


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

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

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

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

Eric Holthaus, Desert Southwest is burping methane, VNV Advisory (Slate), October 10, 2014

Board of Selectmen: appointments, warrant articles, school spending

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 7, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. There were reviews and hearings for two of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18.

Announcements: 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. The planned Olea Cafe at 195 Washington St., which was allowed permits on August 12, will not be opening. The Coolidge House assisted care facility at 30 Webster St. is closing. Genesis Health Care, of Kennett Square, PA, operates other facilities in Medford and Chelsea. Hunneman Hall at the main library is hosting a commemorative, Remembering the Tam, this Thursday, October 9, at 7 pm. The Tam O’Shanter pub and music hall operated at 1648 Beacon St. between about 1972 and 1995.

Contracts and appointments: Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval for a $0.17 million contract with Susi of Dorchester for street repair on Englewood Ave and at two intersections. The work had been planned for later but was moved ahead because of deteriorating conditions. Greer Hardwicke of the Preservation Commission got approval for a $0.02 million state-funded contract with Wendy Frontiero of Beverly for historical surveys in northern parts of Brookline.

The board voted appointments to the Council on Aging: Peter Ames, Doris Toby Axelrod, Phyllis Bram, Jean Doherty, Harry Johnson, Barbara Kean, Celia Lascarides, Helen Lew, Claire Lurie, Yolanda Rodriguez, Evelyn Roll, Vera Shama, William Wong and Jackie Wright. The board interviewed two candidates for appointments: one for Conservation and one for Tree Planting.

Diversity director: Lloyd Gellineau was appointed Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Human Relations under a bylaw voted at this year’s annual town meeting. That bylaw replaced the former Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission with a new Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. Dr. Gellineau is the first African-American in many years to become a Brookline department head. He is also to be Brookline’s chief diversity officer.

The new commission has yet to be appointed, and so far no candidates have been interviewed. The Board of Selectmen had waited for approval of town meeting actions by the state attorney general. It was received on September 23–two days before a 90-day deadline. Several people came to speak in support of Dr. Gellineau. He has worked in Brookline’s Department of Health and Human Services for eight years.

Supporters included Michael Sandman, an Advisory Committee member, Rita McNally, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, Betsy Shure Gross, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, and Cheryl Snyder, a constable. Others contended Brookline should set up a screening committee and conduct a broad-based search for a director. They included Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Joanna Baker, a Precinct 13 town meeting member and Dr. Alex Coleman of Tappan St.

Board member Nancy Daly spoke in favor of Dr. Gellineau, saying, “We have someone who’s highly qualified.” She had chaired a committee appointed by the board to review Brookline’s efforts toward diversity. It turned out to be a complicated effort, taking more than a year. Since the commission has to be consulted about a director, Ms. Daly proposed Dr. Gellineau’s appointment as a provisional director. The board agreed in a unanimous vote.

Warrant articles: Claire Stampfer, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, and Heather Hamilton, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, spoke to the board about Article 17 at the November town meeting. It proposes a resolution asking the town to select health-conscious LED lamps for its lighting programs. The lamps differ mainly in brightness and in color temperature, a measure of how much they tend toward red or blue light.

Incandescent and “warm white” fluorescent lamps have color temperatures rated around 2,700 K, “cool white” fluorescent lamps are around 4,200 K and “daylight” halide lamps are around 5,500 K. LED lamps can be made over a wide range; those for street lighting commonly come with 4,000 K or 5,700 K ratings. After an initial review of options, Dr. Stampfer said Public Works chose a 4,000 K rating for its current street-lighting program. She and Ms. Hamilton said color temperature has health effects. Used at night, higher numbered ratings can cause sleep disturbances.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy, lower numbers for LED-lamp color temperature are associated with lower efficiency, usually measured in lumens per watt. At a 3,000 K color temperature, as compared to 6,000 K, it typically found 20 percent lower efficiency. For the same amount of lighting, the cost of electricity would increase about 25 percent–nearly cancelling the electrical-efficiency benefits of LED lamps as replacements for fluorescent and high-pressure sodium vapor.

School spending: An audience of more than 30 gathered as William Lupini, the school superintendent, reviewed school spending, in the light of a potential tax override to support operations. Dr. Lupini distinguished priorities for schools, which he called “core values” and “beliefs,” as compared with priorities from the recent Override Study Committee, whose report referred to “levers.” Much of that committee’s long sessions were conducted in code, nearly opaque to ordinary Brookline residents. Some of that code, like “levers,” factored in Dr. Lupini’s presentation, too.

Dr. Lupini’s presentation was detailed in a 58-page document titled Preliminary Look at Budget Implications. Although not found that evening via a “Packet” link for October 7, 2014, at Meeting Central on the municipal Web site, two days later a link appeared on the Override Central page. The core of Dr. Lupini’s financial presentation was an estimate of operating cost growth to maintain services.

Key elements of school priorities, as described by Dr. Lupini, are neighborhood schools, small classes and commitments to diversity–all involving significant costs. He emphasized that school spending per student, when adjusted for inflation, has been held level over the past five years. The override study report agreed. Most new financial needs come from trying to maintain services during increasing enrollment.

Over the past ten years, Dr. Lupini showed, class sizes have grown. For the 2005 school year, they ranged from 14 to 25 students, with 19 the most common. For the 2015 school year, they are 15 to 26 students, with 22 the most common. The number of K-8 students increased 41 percent, the number of K-8 home rooms increased 29 percent and the average home-room student count increased from 19.3 to 21.2. Although not shown as part of the presentation except for school nurses, numbers of students per support staff member have also been growing, along with numbers of students per teaching staff member.

BrooklineClassSizes2005and2015

Source: Public Schools of Brookline, October, 2014

In code words, on page 13 of his presentation, Dr. Lupini estimated that school operations need a total of $12.29 million in additional revenue for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 fiscal years combined. It was not clear how much allowance had been made for salary increases and other sources of budget inflation. It was also not clear how much of that amount was to maintain services and how much was for new services. There was no explanation of what so-called “catch up,” “enhancement” and “structural deficit” actually meant.

Members of the board seemed to take Dr. Lupini’s word on school priorities, but they had concerns about timing and transparency. Board member Nancy Daly asked for a budget projection. Susan Ditkoff, chair of the School Committee, described a process extending into next spring. Board members said it had to be much faster and said the budget must tell what an override buys. As board member Neil Wishinsky put it, “We have to give the voters a reason to pay more money.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 8, 2014


Dr. William Lupini, Superintendent of Schools, Brookline, MA, Preliminary Look at Budget Implications, October 7, 2014

Energy efficiency of LEDs, U.S. Department of Energy, March, 2013

Board of Selectmen: bicycles, warrant articles, neighborhood issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board of Library Trustees: improving the cafe

A special committee of the Board of Library Trustees met again Wednesday, October 1, investigating ways to improve the cafe at the main library. Kookoo’s Nest is currently open between about 10 am and 3:30 pm Monday through Thursday. Cafe space was added during library renovations completed in 2003. It is located on the ground floor at the bottom of the main stairs, near the periodicals room and the teen center. The cafe serves sandwiches, soup, salad, muffins, scones, cookies, juices, soft drinks, espresso and other coffees.

At the meeting, cafe operators Ali Mohajerani and Elizabeth “Elie” Dunford said business has been slow this year, leading them to trim operating hours. They and the committee have considered closing the cafe. So far there has been no action on a pending renewal of the cafe’s operating agreement. Sara Slymon, the library director, said that the agreement is between the operators and the town. According to Michael Burstein, chair of the library trustees, the agreement remains active in the opinion of town counsel.

Reviewing the situation, library trustees have decided they could not help the cafe financially but expressed willingness to help in other ways. Committee member and library trustee Regina Healy said the basement location “doomed” the cafe, but Ms. Slymon contended locating it near the teen room had been an advantage. The operating agreement calls for the cafe to be open when the library is open. Mr. Mohajerani said that had not worked in practice, because business had been brisk for only a few hours a day.

According to Mr. Mohajerani, the cafe would benefit from better signage, letting library patrons know where it is located. He is annoyed when people bring their own food and take up table space. The cafe is not distinctly separated; instead its space spans a corridor connecting to ordinary library services. Library administration has maintained that they provide a public service and cannot restrict where patrons sit.

Kookoo’s runs a popular cafe on Station St. a few blocks away. Comparing the two operations in a memorandum, Ms. Dunford wrote, “the population we serve [at the library] is…different than our main cafe, and we can’t always serve the same things there without losing money.” That might become the kernel of a new approach: adapting to the library setting and patrons.

Mr. Mohajerani, Ms. Dunford and committee members agreed to try some changes. The operators will send proposals to Ms. Slymon within about a week. The committee will recommend to the trustees allowing the operators to experiment with changes. The committee and the cafe operators planned to review the situation in a few weeks, hoping for a turn-around.

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

Board of Selectmen: opposing Hancock Village 40B, defending METCO

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, September 16, started at 6:45 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Hancock Village Chapter 40B: Kenneth Goldstein, who chairs the board, announced that Brookline lost in its Norfolk Superior Court case opposing a Chapter 40B housing project proposed for Hancock Village. He did not say whether the board intends to pursue appeals. All board members said they continue to oppose the project. At this meeting, they endorsed and signed a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Under Chapter 40B, developers can obtain a “comprehensive permit” to build housing, in lieu of all other town permits, if one in five housing units is subsidized to benefit low-income and moderate-income residents, following state regulations. The Zoning Board of Appeals is the only local board directly involved in such a permit. Within about a month, it is expected to make a decision on the Hancock Village proposal.

Hancock Village is situated in the southernmost corner of Brookline, toward West Roxbury. It was one of three Brookline projects organized after World War II to provide housing for war veterans, along with public housing on High St., toward Jamaica Plain, and on Egmont St., toward Allston. A 1946 contract between John Hancock Insurance Company, the developer, and Brookline specified objectives and restrictions for Hancock Village.

Now the Board of Selectmen is concerned that Chestnut Hill Realty, holder in due course, is seeking to nullify obligations under the 1946 contract in proposing to put up a five- to seven-story building with 140 apartments and nine three-story buildings with 44 apartments. Its letter to the Board of Appeals cites several objections, including invasion of protected green space, massing of the large building, sprawling parking lots and traffic.

Projects, hirings and interviews: Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval to seek reimbursement for $0.019 million in road repairs, under the state’s “rapid recovery” program. Brookline is now eligible for up to about $0.1 million. Michael DiPietro, the comptroller, got approval to hire an accountant to replace an employee who has left.

The board interviewed a candidate for Economic Development Advisory and a candidate for Solid Waste Advisory. Questions during the latter interview revealed that Brookline does not know what is happening to recycling collections after they leave town premises and does not know how much solid waste is being incinerated. A new contract, under development, may divert solid waste to a landfill in Southbridge.

Tax override: Starting at 8 pm, the Board heard a report from Susan Ditkoff and Richard Benka, co-chairs of the Override Study Committee appointed last year. They mostly repeated information from a written report of August 14. As in that report, Ms. Ditkoff and Mr. Benka took an exceptionalist approach. They did not compare Brookline with the 350 other Massachusetts cities and towns.

Surprisingly, Mr. Benka devoted much of his time to the METCO and the “materials fee” programs run by Public Schools of Brookline. For more than 40 years, they have allowed minority students from Boston and children of town employees to attend Brookline schools. Together, he claimed, they cost Brookline about $7 million a year. If they were abolished, his figures suggested, there would be little need for a tax override to maintain school operations.

Mr. Benka presented no evidence to sustain his cost claims, and he may not have any. To the contrary, Public Schools of Brookline says students in these programs do not get their choices of schools but are instead assigned to schools where there are available seats. Operating in that way, the programs do not add significant costs. It came out that there are currently about 800 more available seats, mostly from observing policies on maximum class sizes. Board members were skeptical of Mr. Benka’s claims about METCO and “materials fees.” According to Betsy DeWitt, they “need a pragmatic filter.”

In discussions about a tax override for debt exclusion, Ms. Ditkoff and Mr. Benka said that the proposed project to expand Devotion School was expected to add only five classrooms. That project is currently budgeted for over $100 million. In contrast, construction underway at Lawrence School will add four classrooms for less than $5 million. It sounded as though the Override Study Committee had entertained some strange priorities for economies.

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

Devotion School Building Committee: designs and controversies

On Wednesday, September 10, the Devotion School Building Committee presented options to renovate and expand the school at a public hearing held in the Devotion School auditorium, starting at 7 pm. At least 12 of the 20 committee members were present. The audience numbered around 150 and included four of the five members of the Board of Selectmen and several School Committee members.

Town bylaws require building committees for construction, alteration or repair projects going beyond routine maintenance. The state’s School Building Authority (SBA) also requires such a committee to include specified school and municipal officials. The Board of Selectmen assembled the largest building committee ever, including representatives of Devotion School parents, preservationists and the business community.

Background: After the Devotion School project appeared for at least ten years in Brookline’s capital improvement program, active planning began in the summer of 2012, with appointment of the committee. Devotion School was last renovated between 1974 and 1976, when the current north wing along Stedman St. replaced a handsome but dilapidated building opened in 1899.

Local architect Robert Kaplan moved the north wing eastward from the 1899 site, away from Harvard St., opening up community space and providing a more respectful setting for the Edward Devotion House. The house was begun around 1680, when the then-unincorporated town was known as the Muddy River hamlet of Boston. It was built out to its current form around 1745. The town bought the property in 1891 for school uses.

When the current school opened in 1976, it was rated for 650 students, although during the 1950s the student population had reached around 900. In a conservative interpretation of “open schools,” then in vogue, Mr. Kaplan provided flexible partitions in the 1976 north wing and generous spaces for woodworking, home economics, music, art, science, assembly, library and community uses. A stately auditorium in the central building, opened in 1915, was divided into a large library below and a low-rise auditorium above.

The woodworking and home economics programs were disbanded in the 1980s, as Brookline reacted to Proposition 2-1/2 with many cutbacks in both municipal and school services. With Devotion’s student population increasing steadily since about 2005, the School Department used the north wing’s flexible partitions to create more classrooms, then added sub-partitions and cubicles.

The former community room, special program rooms, open areas and almost every other usable indoor space have now been taken for classrooms. This fall’s student count is about 815. The 2012 fall town meeting appropriated $1.75 million for a feasibility study and preliminary plans. Brookline hired HMFH Architects of Cambridge for the work. In 2013, the SBA authorized expansion of school capacity to 1,010 students.

Plan options: The main design options are explained in a document from HMFH, available for several weeks on Brookline’s municipal Web site. At the public hearing, committee chair Betsy DeWitt, a member of the Board of Selectmen, summarized the background of the project, some of the objectives and the ongoing process. Objectives, she said, are “driven by educational programs…grade clustering, access to common space.”

Guiding criteria that Ms. DeWitt showed on a projection screen include preserving the central building opened in 1915 and the historic Edward Devotion House. These and the other exhibits are supposed to be available from the municipal Web site but were not found the following morning. Ms. DeWitt described a schedule.

The committee plans to meet September 26 and designate a preference for one of three options, to be sent to the SBA by October 2. Review by the SBA is expected at a November 15 meeting. If favorable, Brookline will prepare preliminary plans, aiming for SBA approval in March of 2015. Ms. DeWitt said members of the Board of Selectmen expect to propose a tax override next January, to be submitted to voters the following May.

George Metzger from HMFH. assisted by Deborah Collins and Andrea Yoder, presented the three design options now before the committee. Option 1 retains the site layout, replacing the current north and south wings with larger structures of the same heights. A new north wing would extend about 100 feet eastward down Stedman St., compared with the current one. A new south wing would be wider, shrinking the outdoor area near Babcock St.

Option 2 removes the current north and south wings and builds a large structure behind but connected to the current central building, three stories toward Babcock St. and four stories toward Stedman St. Option 3 is similar to option 2, but the new building becomes five stories toward Stedman St. It moves back and disconnects from the central building–no longer to be part of the school–taking up most of the current field area. With any option, current underground parking would increase from about 45 to about 65 spaces.

Ken Liss, for the Brookline Historical Society, and Sara Patton, for the National Park Service, described the historical significance of the Devotion School site. Mr. Liss said it had become the community’s unofficial “town green.” He named other historical buildings demolished from the 1940s through the 1960s, saying that the town now “values its past by building for the future.”

Sara Patton, lead park ranger at the Kennedy birthplace site less than two blocks away, recalled that four of the Kennedy family began their educations at Devotion School, including former President John F. Kennedy, shortly after the central building opened in 1915. She said the National Park Service coordinates educational programs every year at Devotion School, focused on the neighborhood history.

Questions and comments: When Ms. DeWitt invited questions and comments, an audience member asked to see the options superimposed, but HMFH architects had not thought to compare their designs graphically and could not respond. Some in the audience appeared to dismiss options 2 and 3, focusing on option 1. They wanted to know how much of the field area in back of the school would be taken. Again, HMFH architects were unprepared.

George White, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, asked about enclosing open spaces in front of the school along Harvard St, as done now with the south portions. He said it “could be like the Public Garden” in Boston. Once more, there was no clear response from the architects. Mr. Metzger was straightforward, however, about going above five stories, saying that would “make it impossible to meet the educational plan.”

Devotion School is just 2-1/2 blocks from the Coolidge Corner transit station, a candidate for the selectmen’s recently announced town-wide transportation demand management. William Lupini, the superintendent of schools, did not seem to think it applied to his department. “Teachers need to park. They don’t always come from places with public transportation.” It sounded as though the fifth and sixth floors at Town Hall aren’t connected.

Toward the end of the hearing, parents of Devotion students began to speak up. Some were angry over the guidelines’ emphasis on maintaining historical structures. In particular, they seemed to see the 1915 central building as an obstacle. Mr. White sounded irritated, saying, “There are some people who don’t think we knock everything down in Brookline and build a Howard Johnson’s.”

Ms. DeWitt reminded the audience that a tax override was going to be needed. Many voters who have no children in the schools will have to support it, in order to win approval. A narrow focus on school needs alone won’t help. “It is the most expensive project the town has considered,” she said. “I will campaign for it very hard, and everybody here should be prepared to do the same.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 11, 2014

Board of Selectmen: fire engines, repairs and “flat earth”

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, September 9, started at 7:15 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Lisa Paradis, the recreation director, reported on plans for Brookline Day on Sunday, September 14, at Larz Anderson Park, 9 am to 1 pm. The current version of a Brookline community event began in 2012; the main sponsor is Brookline Bank.

Announcements: The Devotion School Building Committee will present plans to renovate the school Tuesday, September 10, 2014, in the Devotion auditorium at 7 pm. The committee was appointed in summer, 2012. Plans are being developed by HMFH Architects of Cambridge. When the current school opened in 1976, it was rated for 650 students. The state’s School Building Authority has authorized expansion to 1010 students.

The main design options are explained in a document from HMFH. Most options preserve the current central building, opened in 1915. The south building dates from the mid-1950s, replacing a building opened in 1893, and the north building dates from the mid-1970s, replacing a building opened in 1899. The historic Devotion House in front of the central building once had a large barn, demolished in the late nineteenth century.

Projects, contracts and hiring: The board accepted payment of $0.3 million from Children’s Hospital, agreed as part of the Brookline Place project, to be used for demolishing the 1970s pedestrian overpass across lower Washington St. Temporary funds from Brookline’s Community Development Block Grant become available for reallocation.

The Board approved contracts for $1.44 million to purchase two new fire engines, appropriated at the annual town meeting in May. Ray Masak of the Building Department got approval for a $0.17 million contract with Robicheau of Roslindale to complete Waldstein Park renovations, expected to reopen some time next spring.

At the Building Commission the same evening, Mr. Masak reported completion of roof repairs for Pierce primary, the main library and the water department. The board approved about $0.02 million in change orders to cope with unexpected conditions. As much as $0.1 million may be needed to cope with conditions at Lawrence School, Mr. Masak told the Building Commission, mainly more ash in soils than found by borings and testing.

Although the money involved is only $0.01 million, Kara Brewton, the economic development director, said that a contract with Nelson/Nygaard of San Francisco will have substantial consequences. The firm will expand on the transportation demand management being planned for Brookline Place, preparing a town-wide plan to guide future development.

The board approved hiring to replace head clerks in Veterans Services and the Building Department. One is taking another town job, and the other relocated. Kenneth Goldstein, the chair, made his typical request to “seek a diverse pool of candidates [and] consult with the personnel office” for the Building position. So far, the board has not interviewed candidates for a new Diversity Commission voted at the annual town meeting.

Appointments: As usual, the board took a more relaxed pace interviewing candidates for boards, commissions and committees: one for Public Health Advisory, two for Arts Commission, one for Commission on Women, two for Housing Advisory, one for Tree Planting and one for Economic Development Advisory.

Brookline has the oldest tree planting committee in the U.S., set up in the early nineteenth century. It has only three members. Board member Nancy Daly asked Nadine Gerdts, a committee member seeking reappointment, about adding more members. Ms. Gerdts seemed open to the idea. In response to other questions, she said a strong, current concern is to maintain mature tree canopies, such as those on Amory St. and Russett Rd.

Ordinarily the board does not make appointments at the same meetings candidates are interviewed. At this meeting, board member Neil Wishinsky was appointed Brookline’s representative on the Port Authority Advisory Committee, previously discussed on August 12. Elizabeth Childs, who interviewed on July 8, was appointed Brookline’s representative on the Norfolk County Advisory Board. There are many pending appointments.

Fall town meeting: The board authorized publication of a warrant for a town meeting to begin November 18. It has 20 articles: ten filed by departments, boards and committees and ten filed in petitions from town residents. Four of the latter propose resolutions.

Former town meeting member Fred Lebow is returning with the same proposal about measuring noise that was rejected at this year’s annual town meeting in a unanimous vote of No on a main motion–a very rare event. Mr. Lebow, an acoustic engineer, still wants to make life easier for fellow engineers by exempting them from night-time work–instead, estimating night-time noise by adjusting the amount of noise measured during the day.

Dr. Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6–a recent B.U. Systems Engineering grad–ridiculed the idea at town meeting as “legislating” noise. He told town meeting last May that “the most sensible way to measure ambient noise at night is to measure ambient noise at night…Legislating night-time ambient noise is a bit like legislating that the earth is flat.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 10, 2014

Solid Waste Advisory Committee: recycling and trash metering

A monthly meeting of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee on Tuesday, September 2, started at 5:45 pm in the Denny Room at the Health Center. All six members attended, with an agenda including commercial recycling, a new set of waste bins in public areas, and changes in fees to implement trash metering.

Solid waste trends: Edward Gilbert, the director of solid waste and recycling, reported that Brookline’s solid waste collection tonnages continue to fall. Refuse is down about three percent from a year earlier. Recycle collection has fallen even more, down about six percent. No one described reasons for the trends or compared them with other communities.

After a flurry of activity early in the Patrick administration, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection seemed to doze off. Its latest solid waste data published on the Web stop with 2011. Trends in solid waste disposal fell around five percent per year for 2004 through 2009, mainly decreasing landfill and out-of-state disposal. After that, progress halted; statewide refuse disposal for 2011 was up three percent over 2009. Brookline appears to be bucking a disappointing recent trend in Massachusetts.

Brookline achieved its progress without implementing a plan for trash metering that was proposed last May 14 by Andrew Pappastergion, the town’s public works commissioner. However, progress did not seem to dim the enthusiasm of Mr. Gilbert and committee members for the plan. Mr. Gilbert pointed out that Brookline could start charging for disposal of household furnishings some landlords continue to dump on town sidewalks.

Solar-powered compactors: Within about two months, new solar-powered compactors from the Big Belly company of Newton should be installed in public areas, and the old litter baskets will then be removed. The replacements come in pairs: one bin for refuse and the other for recycling. Signs on recycling bins will list materials they accept. The new bins are lined and covered. They should reduce attacks from birds, squirrels and other animals.

Since 2006, the committee has organized two trash audits, sorting through random samples of waste collection to estimate the amounts of recyclables in refuse bins and the amounts of refuse in recycling bins. A further project of the type is not being planned, but the committee noted objections from one town resident, who apparently has privacy concerns. An opinion from town counsel had held materials put out for collection become town property. Residents should shred items that might be personally identifiable.

Foam recycling: Committee members agreed to plan another collection of polystyrene foam for sometime next winter, but they were not enthusiastic about it. Past collections proved ecologically unsound, they said–high inputs but slim results, costing more in non-renewable resources than they saved. Brookline does not currently have a plastic foam compressor, which might help the balance. Committee members may take a trip to Newton, to see how its program operates.

No consensus emerged on commercial recycling. Committee members had heard that Alan Christ, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, had worked on a warrant article about the topic. There was discussion about recycling in local restaurants. Few if any now separate out recyclable beverage cans and bottles. A similar discussion occurred at a spring meeting of the Climate Action Committee, with a focus on school cafeterias.

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

Override Study Committee: warping the facts

Brookline’s Override Study Committee appointed in 2013 did themselves no favors with a report filed Thursday, August 14, in the dog-days of summer, when no one might be watching. Their report comes across as wordy, warped and awkward–read in tandem with the much more straightforward report from the Override Study Committee of 2007.

Fuzzy logic: A fuzzy argument from the 2013 committee held that Brookline taxes are unusually heavy. [p. 115] That fiction was concocted by combining medians for incomes with averages for taxes. People who work with statistical data would know such an approach is not valid. Actually, community data as taken from the committee report show the opposite: that is, when compared to community incomes, Brookline taxes are unusually light.

Property tax versus Income, selected Massachusetts cities and towns
Source of data: Brookline Override Study Committee, Final report, August, 2014, pp. 114, 115

Fair comparison: In the chart, a magenta line reflects average taxes per resident, as a percentage of average incomes per resident, for the 19 communities that the Override Study Committee of 2013 cited as a basis of comparison. Communities above the line have relatively high taxes, considering their incomes; those below the line have relatively low taxes.

As compared to community incomes, Brookline’s taxes are well below average. In fact, Brookline is the stingiest–or, if you will, the thriftiest–of all. By percentages instead of amounts, Medford–second from the left–is slightly more thrifty than Brookline. Part of the reason families have been moving to Brookline, other than the reputation of its schools, could be that its taxes have become a fairly good bargain.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 24, 2014


Note: No one, at least any time recently, has tried to relate circumstances in Brookline to those throughout Massachusetts. The recent study committee did not do so. Their so-called “peer” communities were mostly very well-heeled places–not chosen to represent the state.

The town’s history runs to such an approach. As recently as the 1880s, Brookline’s gentry advertised the community–without a trace of modesty–as “the richest town in America.” Who might then have guessed, 130 years later, that Brookline would have a substantial and growing poverty rate?

The following chart presents the same type of picture as the earlier one, but it includes nearly all the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns. Data came from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue for 2011–the latest income data that can be readily extracted from census machinery, with only residential property taxes.

Property tax versus Income, Massachusetts cities and towns

Excluded from this chart were 21 vacation destinations–mostly Cape Cod and the Islands–totaling less than two percent of the population. Property tax versus income comparisons there are badly distorted by absentee owners of luxury houses. Their property taxes are tabulated with those communities, while most of the luxury-owner incomes are not.

This chart shows a concentration of communities near the state’s average income per resident of around $35,000. Of the state’s many moderate-income communities, only Framingham and Medford somehow landed on the committee “peer” list and thus on the earlier chart, while this chart shows nearly all those communities.

The magenta line on the statewide chart is the statistical trend from an unconstrained, unweighted linear regression. The slope is about 0.058 and the source intercept about $9,400. On average, this means that the state’s communities, aside from vacation spots, were collecting in residential property taxes about 6 percent of resident incomes over about $9,000 per person.

As also found in the chart with only so-called “peer” communities, Brookline sat on the low-tax fringe in the statewide comparison. Its residential property taxes were substantially less than typical for the town’s income levels. Cambridge, with its portfolio of high-tech industries, achieved much lower residential property taxes for its income levels. Among the communities with middle and upper average incomes, statewide, Brookline had the second lowest residential tax burdens relative to incomes.

Board of Library Trustees: cafe problems

A special committee of the Board of Library Trustees met Wednesday, August 20, starting at 6:00 pm in the Trustees Room on the top floor of the main library. Trustee Judith Vanderkay chaired the meeting with five other board members, including Michael Burstein, the board’s chair. The committee is looking into how to help the operator of the cafe at the main library cope with reported financial shortfalls.

Cafe space was added during renovations completed in 2003. It is located on the ground floor, just to the right of the main stairs, going down. The cafe has a work space of around 150 square feet and table space about the same size on either side of an open corridor, near the periodicals room and teen center. Cafe management has changed since the cafe opened.

When the trustees re-advertised in 2010, there were two proposals. The current concessionaires, who also run KooKoo Cafe at 7 Station St., were chosen over operators of VineRipe Grill, at the Putterham Meadows (Lynch) golf clubhouse. The current operation began early in 2011. According to Sara Slymon, the library director, a 3-year agreement was up for extension early this year. So far, there has been no extension of record.

KooKoo’s Nest, as the cafe is now known, is open between 10 am and 3:30 pm Monday through Thursday. It serves sandwiches, soup, salad, muffins, scones, cookies, juices, soft drinks, espresso and other coffees. Food is brought in from Station St. Sandwiches and half sandwiches are $7.95 and $3.95. Some are vegetarian, others are tuna. Of six listed, not all may be available. Latte is $3.25 and $3.75, and Snapple beverages are $2.25.

Ms. Slymon said Ali R. Mohajerani and Elizabeth A. Dunford, owners of KooKoo, were seeking $700 a month to compensate for operating losses. According to Ms. Slymon, Mr. Mohajerani said their library cafe has always lost money. They had agreed to a dollar a year for the space, but Trustee Gary Jones, who monitors financial matters for the board, said he could not recall a payment.

Trustees on the committee could not understand why, if they had been losing money, Mr. Mohajerani and Ms. Dunford waited so long to raise the issues. Apparently, they have not met with the board since the current agreement was reached. When the board meets next in September, the committee voted to recommend not providing subsidies for the cafe, but they also voted that “the committee would entertain any request from KooKoo’s to meet” about problems.

Mr. Jones said he had contacted Lauren Stara, a library building consultant at the state Board of Library Commissioners, and heard that financial problems at cafes in municipal libraries were fairly common. However, he said, ones in Watertown and Framingham were reported to be paying rent and doing fairly well. The cafe concessionaire in Watertown confirmed that he has always paid a few hundred dollars a month to the library.

Red Leaf Cafe, at the Watertown library, is located just inside the main entrance, to the left. It occupies the Friends of the Library Room, set up when the library was expanded and renovated several years ago. That offers at least twice the total space of Brookline’s cafe. Walls of the table area are lined with bookshelves, about 150 feet of shelves mostly filled with paperbacks. Many books are available for sale. Red Leaf Cafe is open from 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday and from 10 am to 3:30 pm Saturday.

Watertown’s cafe serves a menu similar to Brookline’s, except that some sandwiches are made with meats and all sandwiches there are made to order. Full size sandwiches range from $5.50 for melted cheese and tomato to $7.25 for ham and cheese, with three bread choices. Cappuccino is $2.65 and $3.25; sodas and juices are $1.95. The manager said he meets with the library trustees most months and gets business from employees at the nearby town hall, police station and fire station.

Brookline could probably do more than it has done to promote business for its library cafe. Trustees at the committee meeting sounded willing to help, as did Ms. Slymon. Unlike the situation with Brookline’s cafe, Red Leaf Cafe is featured on the Watertown library’s Web site. The morning after the committee meeting, signs appeared at entrances to the main library, announcing a “new” KooKoo’s Nest cafe on the ground floor.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 21, 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

Bicycle Advisory Committee: street markings, safety and priorities

Brookline’s Bicycle Advisory Committee met Monday, August 11, at 7:00 pm in the fourth-floor conference room at Town Hall. It focused on priorities for bicycle facilities next year, drawing several visitors. The committee did not meet at Devotion School, as before. Meeting dates, times, places and agendas can be found on the Calendar page of Brookline’s municipal Web site.

Committee members appeared to expect an allocation for bicycle facilities in Brookline’s capital improvement program. However, the current program shows only $30,000 for this fiscal year and nothing for future years, under the heading “public works infrastructure.” The committee worked with a large paper map of the town’s bicycle facilities. A corresponding map could not be found on Brookline’s municipal Web site, where most bicycle documents appear stale, the latest bicycle map is from 2011 and no link appears to the Web site operated by the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Bicycle markings: The committee considered whether to propose a “bike box” for next year. To the committee, that means painted markings at or near a street intersection–not a bicycle carrying case. The U.S. Department of Transportation does not currently provide a standard for augmenting bicycle markings at street intersections in its Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Brookline currently has no such markings. Boston has some augmented markings at a few Commonwealth Ave. intersections in B.U. neighborhoods but currently lacks evidence about whether they improve safety.

The committee also considered which streets to propose for new lane markings. The committee maintains a Green Routes Bicycle Network Plan that began with Beacon St. and has expanded to Harvard, Washington and other streets in urban Brookline and to Clyde, Lee and other streets in suburban Brookline. There is a path for pedestrians and bicycles in Riverway Park, but there are no physically separated lanes on streets.

For visitor Anne Lusk, that was a critical issue. She urged the committee to propose at least one separated bicycle lane, calling it a “cycle track.” She also proposed a bicycle training area to be constructed at Robinson Playground on Cypress St. Cynthia Snow, the chair, said she would to put the items on the agenda for a meeting this fall.

Safety and priorities: There was discussion of safety impacts of bicycle lanes. So far there has not been a detailed analysis, but the committee has a police report of bicycle crashes for 2013 and some data for earlier years. For 2013, on the two miles of Beacon St. there were 15 reported incidents. At a rate of about 7 incidents per mile per year, Beacon St. might be safer than B.U. neighborhoods of Commonwealth Ave., where the Boston Globe recently found about 30 incidents per mile per year. Amounts of bicycle traffic on the two streets have not been reported.

As proposed by committee member Tommy Vitolo, the committee decided to request four bicycle improvements for next year: (1) some route to connect bicycle lanes on Clyde St. to Larz Anderson Park, (2) one or more “bike box” markings at street intersections, (3) a bicycle lane on St. Paul St. between Beacon St. and Commonwealth Ave. and (4) one or more additional bicycle racks.

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


Brookline Green Routes Bicycle Network, map, Bicycle Advisory Committee, 2014

Bicycle lanes and paths, map, Brookline Information Technology Department, 2011

Housing Authority: renovations, programs and project development

The Brookline Housing Authority board met Tuesday, July 15, at 4:30 pm in the community room at 55 Egmont St. Commissioners David Trietsch, chair, Barbara Dugan and Joanne Sullivan joined director Patrick Dober and other staff. BHA currently operates 893 public housing units, administers about 580 federal voucher units and provides 31 rooms for special needs housing, separately administered.

Maintenance and renovation: Mr. Dober reported some repair and renovation projects complete, including safety curbs and trees at several sites, accessibility improvements at Col. Floyd and masonry repairs and low-flow toilet installations at High St. Veterans. With renovations recently completed at Morse and Kickham, he said, the only large, near-term project remaining is at Sussman.

George Lalli, the maintenance director, reported start of construction for an apartment building on the Trustman parking lot, including three meetings so far with Trustman residents about concerns during the project. There will be 32 units at 86 Dummer St., between St. Paul and Amory Sts. The last BHA development on a similar scale was Kickham, 39 units at 190 Harvard St., built with federal funds and opened in 1978.

Management issues: There was discussion about conversion of subsidized units at the Village in Brookline development to market rate. It is Brookline’s last large Chapter 121A project from the first half of the 1970s. Mr. Dober said the town negotiated for 100 of the 307 units to remain permanently available to low-income and moderate-income tenants. Brookline will lose 207 units from its “affordable units inventory,” bringing the total that can be estimated for the fall of next year to about 1,830–only about seven percent of the housing stock.

There was also discussion about the housing bill pending in the General Court. Mr. Dober said the governor’s plan announced last year–to replace all local housing authorities with six state authorities–would not be included. He recounted some problems in Chelsea and Quincy that factored in the proposal.

Community Foundation programs: A presentation from the Brookline Community Foundation was led by Jenny Amory, its director, and by Frank Steinfield, the board chair. They were introduced by commissioner Joanne Sullivan, who is a board member. The foundation’s major focus, Mr. Steinfield said, was “alleviating poverty.” It is involved in the Next Steps program at BHA, helping low-income residents find employment and providing “financial education.”

The foundation also operates a “safety net” that has assisted BHA tenants. Ms. Amory said the budget for this year was $120,000. Mr. Dober said a “big goal” for BHA was keeping tenants, who sometimes struggle to pay rents. David Trietsch, chair of the commissioners, thanked representatives of the foundation, saying it has been a major help to BHA tenants.

Finances: Mr. Dober described “rooftop leasing” to provide sites for commercial communications facilities. He said SteepleCom of Ashby, MA, has been designated as program manager. BHA is limited by regulations to 3-year contracts, as compared with 30-year contracts common in the industry, but Mr. Dober said SteepleCom agreed to work with BHA. Their agreement includes provisions for liability insurance and for roof repairs in case of damage.

No accounting for 86 Dummer St. could be found on the Web site for the Housing Authority or on the municipal Web site. However, minutes of the Board of Selectmen show substantial town contributions. Toward $12.3 million in estimated construction costs, Brookline committed about $3.2 million from its Affordable Housing Trust. In October, 2013, Brookline waived about $0.24 million in permit fees. So far, Brookline has also committed about $1.1 million from federal allocations. There may have been exchanges between the Affordable Housing Trust funds and federal allocations not shown in minutes of the Board of Selectmen. Brookline loaned BHA about $0.54 million to support planning and design.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 11, 2014


Sean P. Murphy, Governor Patrick plans ambitious overhaul of state’s troubled public housing, Boston Globe, January 9, 2013

Brookline Board of Selectmen, Minutes for April 26, 2011, $1.7 million for 86 Dummer St.

Brookline Board of Selectmen, Minutes for February 11, 2014, $2.6 million for 86 Dummer St.

Brookline Board of Selectmen, Minutes for June 24, 2014, $1.1 million federal for 86 Dummer St.

Retirement Board: seeking to improve asset earnings

The Brookline Retirement Board met Tuesday, June 24, at 4:30 pm, and Monday, July 28, at 2:00 pm, in the basement conference room at the Health Center. Both meetings focused on performance of Brookline’s retirement assets. Brookline began appropriating toward a long-term retirement fund in the early 1970s and increased its appropriations in the 1980s, when the state began to regulate retirement systems more strictly.

Brookline continues to maintain a locally managed retirement fund, while a majority of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns, plus several counties and other jurisdictions, have placed all their retirement assets in state-managed Pension Reserve Investment Trust (PRIT) funds. Counting state agency and employee funds, there are now only 106 retirement funds for public employees in the state that are managed outside PRIT. Long-term returns for PRIT funds have rarely been beaten by those for the other retirement systems.

Considering cumulative returns since the start of the state-managed fund in 1985, only seven of the current 106 independently managed funds have done better than the PRIT average: Haverhill, Malden, Needham, North Adams, Taunton, Wellesley and Weymouth. The cumulative average return for PRIT was 9.84 percent. Those for the top seven communities ranged from 9.90 to 10.35 percent. Brookline’s fund ranked 46th in this long-term comparison, just above the middle, with a cumulative return of 8.90 percent over 28 years.

Recently, Brookline’s retirement fund fared poorly, with a return of 12.13 percent for 2013, ranking 103rd among 106 funds. Other retirement funds ranged from 11.36 to 21.82 percent. Brookline’s lower performance will be made up by more contributions from its budget in the future, resulting in higher taxes, less services or both.

After seeing disappointing results early this year, the Retirement Board brought in a new asset manager: Russell Investments of Seattle, WA, a subsidiary of Northwestern Mutual. Near three-quarters of Brookline’s fund assets, totaling about $250 million, are now in funds managed by Russell. Their client representative for Brookline, Steve Flynn, reviewed performance and strategies on June 24.

The board has also recently hired Raymond Depelteau, who serves as chief investment officer for Holyoke and for Westfield, to provide strategic advice about other assets. Attending his first Brookline meeting on July 28, Mr. Depelteau presented options to improve Brookline’s asset performance.

Westfield and Holyoke retirement funds have been performing better than the Brookline fund recently, ranking sixth and eleventh among the 106 Massachusetts funds as measured by the 2013 returns: 20.27 and 19.64 percent. If Brookline had matched performance of Westfield and Holyoke, it would have had earned nearly $20 million more for 2013.

The state’s Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission publishes profiles of the Massachusetts retirement systems for public employees. Assets of all independently managed systems totaled about 60 percent of long-term liabilities, as of the first of this year. Brookline assets totaled about 56 percent of long-term liabilities.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 5, 2014


Annual Report for 2013, Massachusetts Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission

Independently managed Massachusetts retirement funds, 2014, information from Massachusetts Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission

Bicycle markings: unsuccessful in B.U. neighborhoods

Writing in the Boston Globe of Saturday, August 2, Martine Powers reported that bicycle signs and painted street markings in B.U. neighborhoods have failed to prevent fatal crashes. She reviewed police reports for Commonwealth Ave. between the B.U. Bridge and Packard Corner, where Commonwealth Ave. bends and Brighton Ave. begins. Along most of this part of Commonwealth Ave., Brookline takes up on the inbound side of the street at the building doors, so the street is part of Brookline as well as Boston neighborhoods.

That segment of Commonwealth Ave. has elaborate bicycle markings, including signs, green-painted lanes and many safety warnings. A showcase for the late Menino administration, it may be the most developed example of a major, bicycle-oriented urban street in New England. However, it has no physical barriers between bicycles and motor vehicles, it has no traffic signals for bicycles and there is little enforcement of bicycle laws.

According to Ms. Powers, over the three years from 2010 through 2012, on just that 3/4 mile of Commonwealth Ave., 68 bicycle crashes were reported to Boston police–including a fatal incident in 2012. Ms. Powers does not seem to know much about the neighborhoods. If she did, she might have heard about one of our fellow bicyclists who was run over at the same location in nearly the same way forty years earlier–before there was a Paul Dudley White bicycle path and long before almost anyone in New England heard of bicycle markings. Although in the hospital for weeks, our friend survived.

A typically disjointed Boston administration is now about to reconstruct that stretch of Commonwealth Ave., according to the Globe. That part of the street was recently repaved, got new sidewalks and trees and is just fine, but the Walsh administration apparently has federal money burning a hole in its pocket and no better use for it. A pressure group called Boston Cyclists Union decided to campaign for physically separated bicycle lanes.

As Bill Smith of Brookline’s Engineering staff found out several years ago, when planning a Beacon St. reconstruction, even a more spacious street with a generous center median has only a finite amount of width in which to fit pedestrians, trolleys, trees, shrubs, motor vehicles, parking and bicycles. In the end, Mr. Smith did not design physically separated bicycle lanes for Beacon St.

Eventually Transportation staff added a few bicycle markings–more recently amended with green-painted lanes and signs. Some markings were in place a few years ago but failed to prevent a fatal incident on Beacon St., similar to the Boston incident of 2012, in which a bicyclist was run over by a truck making a turn.

The Commonwealth Ave. design is being rushed to beat a grant deadline. It’s easy to see the Walsh administration making an even bigger mess than the myopic Menino administration–in each of three major projects over about 20 years. Like Brookline on Beacon St., Boston is brushing off bicycle riders, recently suggesting special signals for them. Nearly all of today’s bicyclists on Commonwealth Ave. ignore the traffic signals they already have.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 3, 2014


Martine Powers, Bicycle advocates seek safety changes for Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue, Boston Globe, August 2, 2014

Bicycle facilities and the manual on uniform traffic control devices, U.S. Department of Transportation, 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

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

Board of Selectmen: contracts, personnel and appointments

A biweekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, July 8, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Announcements: A design advisory team will start meeting soon for Brookline Place. It was not clear whether that meant the Brookline Place Advisory Committee. The first meeting is to be Wednesday, July 16, 7:00 pm, at the Latvian Lutheran Church, 58 Irving St.

Contracts and personnel: The board reviewed a proposed 2-year extension of the agreement for emergency services with Fallon. Brookline houses two ambulances full-time and links Fallon with emergency communications. Fallon staffs the ambulances full-time and gives priority to services in Brookline. No money is exchanged. Paul Ford, the fire chief, made a strong pitch for extending the agreement, saying that services have been satisfactory and that Fallon has provided emergency medicine training for Brookline firefighters. The board agreed to extend the agreement.

Several public works contracts were presented, briefly reviewed and approved. The largest amounts were three contracts totaling $1.53 million for street and traffic signal repairs, a $0.58 million contract to repair the historic Fisher Hill Reservoir gatehouse, $0.25 million for grounds maintenance, $0.14 million for repairs to the historic Burial Ground and $0.03 million to complete sewer and drain projects.

Costs of the gatehouse project, adjacent to the new Fisher Hill Park, are partly offset by a grant of $0.04 million from the state’s Historic Commission. Costs for sewer and drain projects are reimbursed by MWRA. A check for $0.14 million was accepted from Claremont Companies, building a hotel at the former Red Cab site on Boylston St., to fund public improvements in the vicinity.

Proceeding at a rapid pace, the board approved budget transfers already allowed by Advisory the previous evening, and it approved hirings to fill vacancies–a sergeant in the Police Department, a recreation leader and a health inspector–all created by retirements. Kenneth Goldstein, the chairman, made his usual requests to seek a “diverse pool of candidates.” However, no town organization currently monitors the effectiveness of such efforts.

Appointments: As often happens, the board slowed its pace when interviewing candidates for boards and committees: one for Martin Luther King, one for Norfolk County Advisory, one for Transportation and one for Zoning Appeals.

Elizabeth Childs, a new candidate for the Norfolk County board, is a former School Committee member and a former Massachusetts commissioner of mental health. Her strongest concern, she said, was whether Brookline was “getting a fair return on our tax contributions” to the county. The assessment for the current fiscal year is $0.79 million. There are no visible county services.

Board member Betsy DeWitt asked about abolishing country government, as has already happened in eight of the 14 counties. She did not seem to know that county abolition in western Massachusetts was a pre-emptive strike by legislators who wanted to derail competition for their offices. Mr. Goldstein said he knew of three current efforts in the General Court, but he said “none have traction now.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 10, 2014

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

Board of Selectmen: cell-phone antennas, personnel and appointments

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 24, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Announcements: Groundbreaking for 32 new public housing units was held in the morning at 86 Dummer St., near the B.U. West segment of Commonwealth Ave. and adjacent to Trustman Apartments. There will be no board meeting Tuesday, July 1. There are to be biweekly meetings during July and August.

Cell-phone antennas: In an item of new business not detailed on the agenda, Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, proposed sending letters to members of the General Court representing Brookline, urging them to oppose S. 2183 and Sections 74 and 75 in H. 4181. He had found out about these bills from messages sent by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, to which Brookline belongs. The board agreed.

The bills would have undercut local regulation of cell-phone antennas. Section 1 of S. 2183 proposed to add the following to Chapter 40A of the General Laws: “No zoning ordinance or by-law shall prohibit, regulate or restrict collocation of wireless facilities on existing structures….” Cities and towns would be unable to regulate placement of antennas on buildings.

S. 2183 came from the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee and was sent to Senate Ways and Means. No hearing appears to have been held. More recently, H. 4165 has been replaced with the text of S. 2231, which came from Senate Ways and Means. That is an omnibus economic development bill and does not contain the obnoxious “wireless facilities” provisions. It appears on the July 1 calendar for the House.

Contracts and personnel: Alison Steinfeld, the town’s planning director, got approval to hire Tod McGrath of the MIT Center for Real Estate as a financial consultant to review the recently revised 40B housing proposal at Hancock Village. Patrick Ward, the town clerk, got approval to fill two senior clerk vacancies, one replacing a 20-year employee who was recently discharged.

Kevin Stokes, the director of information technology, got approval to hire a network engineer, replacing services formerly outsourced. Andrew Pappastergion, the DPW director, got approval to fill eight vacant positions. Because of unfavorable bids for solid waste collection in February, the service will not be outsourced.

Complete Streets: Scott Englander, a member of the Transportation Board, sought and received the board’s support for a resolution endorsing “Complete Streets”–promoted since 2005 by an eponymous private organization. The Massachusetts Municipal Association became a promoter in 2011, but the state Department of Transportation has yet to sign up.

Appointments: As it did the previous week, the board took a relaxed pace interviewing applicants for boards, commissions and committees: one for Assessors, one for Conservation, one for Zoning Appeals, one for Women, one for Martin Luther King and two for Naming. Carla Benka, seeking reappointment to the Naming Committee, described it as “a quiet committee…reactive rather than proactive.” She said she expects that an article for this fall’s town meeting will seek to rename Cypress Playground as Henessey Field.

Christine Fitzgerald of Fuller St., a new candidate for the Commission on Women, described her background growing up in difficult circumstances when her father died while she was in high school. She became the first in her family to earn a college degree and went on to law school, becoming a law firm partner and litigator working mostly with technology and financial firms. Now, she said, “I don’t have to prove things any more.” Board members Nancy Daly and Betsy DeWitt seemed won over. Ms. Daly commented, “It’s a great story.”

Permits: An open-air parking lot near the intersection of Washington St. with Bartlett Crescent, northwest of Washington Square and just before Corey Rd., became an object of controversy the previous week and had been held over. After further review, its permit was approved.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 1, 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

2014 annual town meeting recap: fine points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Public Transportation Advisory Committee: new services and reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Climate Action Committee: “green” schools and solar energy

A regular monthly meeting of the Climate Action Committee on Monday, May 19, started at 6:00 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall, with 10 of the 15 committee members present, plus five members of the public and Doron Bracha, a Brookline resident giving a featured presentation on “green” schools. Co-chair Keske Toyofuku presided. Next Step Living, a solar energy firm in the Boston seaport district, was to present at this meeting but rescheduled for next month’s meeting.

Mr. Bracha, an architect specializing in energy-efficient school buildings, lives in the Devotion district, where his children attend. He is active in the Green Team at the school. He illustrated design features for school buildings that manage solar flux entering windows, reduce energy consumption with air heat exchangers, capture and store rainwater, and control acoustic reverberation.

Some of these features were illustrated with recent pictures of Wayland High School, where several “green” design elements have been employed. Committee member Dan Bennett asked about a high ceiling, looking to be around 20 feet, over the lunch room. Mr. Bracha acknowledged there had been tradeoffs between prestige appearance and energy efficiency but said some of the upper space was occupied by a mezzanine and balcony.

At Devotion School, Mr. Bracha said he noticed there was little recycling. In particular, the lunch room was discarding disposables and food scraps in refuse bins. He wondered whether other Brookline schools were also missing recycling opportunities. Committee member Benjamin Chang, who also serves on the School Committee, said he did not know but would ask Food Services director Alden Cadwell, who joined the school system at the start of the current school year.

Committee member Werner Lohe, who also serves on the Conservation Commission, said he had read that Boston University recycles both disposables and food scraps. Committee member Don Weitzman said some but not all schools have blue recycling bins supplied by the public works department. Co-chair Neil Wishinsky, who also serves on the Board of Selectmen, cautioned that the department lacks authority to require recycling by Public Schools of Brookline. An audience member recalled Green Teams at elementary schools organized several years ago by Mary Dewart, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, saying they had been less engaged recently.

Mr. Bennett asked about the variety of alternative energy systems considered for “green” schools, saying he believes cogeneration gives the most “bang for the buck.” Mr. Bracha replied, “Every project is different,” and “many projects don’t have the budget for environmental enhancements.” Committee members were concerned that could happen with current projects under review for Devotion, Driscoll and Lawernce. Mr. Toyofuku said he hoped Mr. Bracha would come to future meetings to continue the discussion.

The meeting turned to energy efficiency programs, alternative transportation and solar energy installations in Brookline. Mr. Wishinsky called attention to the Hubway bicycle station formerly at Town Hall and now near JFK Crossing, the intersection of Fuller and Harvard Streets. Mr. Lohe said utilization at Town Hall had been low. He hopes to see improvements to traffic signal coordination but realizes it is complex and costly.

Committee member Linda Olson Pehlke expressed concern that if town meeting rejects Article 16, submitted by Precinct 13 town meeting member Andrew Fischer, reducing parking at Brookline Place, it could not be proposed again for two years. The Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee all recommend Article 15 instead, submitted by the Brookline Place Advisory Committee.

A question from the audience asked about the status of a program guide for solar energy. Lara Curtis Hayes, who provides staff support to the committee, said there is now a first draft and that the agency running the state’s rebate program has received a recent infusion of funds. Massachusetts makes available a comprehensive list of all the state’s subsidized solar energy projects since 2008.

After a slow start, the Massachusetts solar program became very active in 2012 and 2013, spurred by drastic drops in solar panel prices. The state offers rebates of up to $4,250 for a home installation, if the household income is not over $95,420. The federal government offers a 30-percent tax credit. In 2013, there were 4,262 installations of small solar systems in the state, rated at up to 10 kilowatts, peak.

Although small systems were 87 percent of the state’s solar installations for 2013, they provide only 11 percent of their rated power, because several large solar plants were brought online–mostly by cities, towns and utility companies. For 2013, Brookline had 16 solar systems installed, all of them small ones for homes, rated at a total of about 90 kW, peak.

Compared to a statewide average of 33 peak watts per resident, new Brookline systems for 2013 were rated at just 1.5 peak watts per resident. A fairly typical home solar system was rated at about 5 kW, peak, and it cost around $25,000 installed. However, installed system prices reported in Brookline during 2013 ranged from $3.40 to $6.98 per peak watt; they were similar to prices in other places.

For New England, small solar installations rarely realize capacity factors above 12 percent–ratios of average to peak power. Their unsubsidized prices are equivalent to around $40 per average watt. So-called “third generation” nuclear is coming online this year at unsubsidized prices around $8 per average watt. Of course, small solar installations deliver energy to the doorstep, while delivering energy from utility plants adds transportation and distribution costs–quite high in New England.

Committee members strategized about stronger efforts to promote solar energy. Next month’s committee meeting will feature several solar energy installers providing services in Brookline.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 20, 2014

Public Works: question time and complaints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Board of Selectmen: awards, block grants and human relations

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 13, started at around 7:15 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. However, the meeting attracted many people who came for the annual awards to police officers and several people interested in a proposal to replace the human relations commission.

Leadership: In a brief, afternoon open session before vanishing into a two-hour executive session, the board elected Kenneth Goldstein as chair for the coming year. Mr. Goldstein is a former, long time member of the Planning Board. Newly elected member Benjamin Franco, a former Advisory Committee member, joined the board–replacing Richard Benka, who did not run for another term.

Awards: Chief of Police Daniel O’Leary presented awards to three police officers for distinguished service: a commendation to Noah Brothers, a public service award to John Bradley and an award for police officer of the year to Douglas Dunwoody. Officer Dunwoody was noted for service in several difficult incidents, including one last year near the intersection of Lee St. with Route 9, when the driver of a car transporting illegal drugs was disarmed of a pistol.

Announcements: The Department of Public Works is holding a public meeting to answer questions about its services Wednesday, May 14, starting at 7:00 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall, 333 Washington St. The department also offers an “open house” Tuesday, May 20, from noon to 6 pm, demonstrating its services and equipment at the Public Works Center, 870 Hammond St. The department provides services for parks, roads, sanitation, water and engineering. The Bicycle Advisory Committee will hold an annual bicycle parade Sunday, May 18, starting at noon from Amory Park, near the corner of Amory and Freeman Streets.

The Brookline Neighborhood Alliance will hold a forum on town meeting issues Wednesday, May 21, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. The Driscoll School Council will host a discussion on proposals to renovate the school Friday, May 16, starting at 8:15 am in the school auditorium. The Council on Aging and other organizations host a discussion on “elder care”–home-based services and residential options for older people–Thursday, May 15, starting at 5:30 pm at the Brookline Senior Center, 93 Winchester St.

Block grants: Joe Viola, assistant director for community planning, presented the fiscal 2015 community development block grant program. It will bring in over $1 million in federal funds to serve disadvantaged people and neighborhoods. Brookline’s eligibility stems from the former Redevelopment Authority, which carried out two major projects from the early 1960s through the mid-1980s. In the early 1970s, the Nixon administration convinced Congress to replace redevelopment project funding with block grants.

This year’s program has four large elements at around a quarter million dollars each: assisting acquisition of houses on Beals St. for homeless people, a contribution to the town’s housing trust fund used to subsidize housing for low-income and moderate-income residents, demolition of the pedestrian overpass near the corner of Route 9 and Washington St., and grant administration. Several smaller projects fund security systems in public housing, youth employment and training, and other social services. Total funding is $1.334 million.

The pedestrian overpass was built in the early 1970s by the former Redevelopment Authority, connecting its Marsh Project and Farm Project sites, on the north and south sides of Route 9. Poor visibility of pedestrians from below led to assaults and vandalism, and the overpass was blocked off in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s town meeting authorized demolition, but until now that has never been carried out for lack of funds. A development project at Brookline Place is expected to reimburse the cost of demolition, restoring block grant funds for use in other programs. The Board of Selectmen voted unanimous approval of this year’s program.

Construction noise: Representatives for Claremont Companies of Bridgewater, MA, presented a request for a waiver of noise control to demolish the former Red Cab garage at 111 Boylston St., where Claremont plans to build a 130-room hotel. The building abuts tracks of the Riverside branch of the MBTA Green Line. Demolition can only be performed during very late night and very early morning hours, when trolleys are not running. Claremont estimates 40 nights of work spread over two months. They will be operating excavators, front-end loaders, a crane and a Brokk demolition robot but will not operate manual jackhammers or transport debris or heavy equipment at night.

Neighbor Mike Bukhin of 46 White Place described experiences with a recent, much smaller project, restoring a dilapidated exterior wall. After getting a waiver, he tried notifying nearby residents by e-mail, with mixed results. He said erratic MBTA scheduling made the work take far longer than anticipated and predicted similar problems for Claremont. The Board of Selectmen approved a waiver for Claremont for 60 days, Sunday through Thursday nights between 1:15 and 4:45 am, starting in June or July, provided Claremont notifies the town at least ten days before starting and maintains an e-mail list to notify neighbors, day by day.

Human relations: Yet another long discussion ensued over replacement of the current Human Relations Youth Resources Commission by a proposed Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. Among those present were Harry Bohrs and Michael Sandman, chair and subcommittee chair of the Advisory Committee, Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, Barbara Scotto, vice chair of the School Committee and Jean Berg, chair of the Committee on Town Organization and Structure. There were several other members of boards that have become involved in the issue.

The change is being proposed by a selectmen-appointed “diversity committee.” In the fall of 2012, the human relations commission disclosed that the 26 departments reporting to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner and the Board of Selectmen lacked even one minority person as a department head and had not had one for over 40 years. The Board of Selectmen reacted by appointing the “diversity committee.” However, rather than investigate hirings and promotions, that committee proposed to abolish the human relations commission. They want to set up a new community relations commission, but it would be unable to investigate complaints involving Brookline personnel.

Nancy Daly, a member of the Board of Selectmen who chairs the “diversity committee,” described its latest revisions, developed after reviews by the other boards. The situation has become an unusually tangled set of disagreements that could lead to six or more competing proposals set before town meeting. The Board of Selectmen was not able to reach consensus and will reconsider the matter next week.

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

Human relations: more than advice?

In the 1950s and before, Brookline’s government focused on delivering services. Compared with other partly urban communities around Boston, the mix was rich and varied. In hackneyed local news, Brookline was often referred to as “leafy”–a sly dig meant to suggest “flaky.” The town was maintaining thousands of street trees, since setting up the Committee on Planting Trees in the previous century. Crews of foresters went around every spring, trimming many of those trees. Every snowfall, Brookline sent out an armada of small plows and cleared all the sidewalks. During warm months, parks and playgrounds were patrolled by park rangers, whose presence tended to discourage littering, vandalism and violence.

The price for all that became fairly high. Since early nineteenth century, Brookline’s culture and politics had been led by a handful of settled, Yankee families. The 1920s through the 1950s saw placid populations they easily dominated gradually replaced by new and less compliant ones, including Jews, professionals and white-collar business people. In a quest to hold on to elected offices–once the Brookline Citizens Committee could no longer do the job–some of the old-line Yankees made tacit partners among the mostly Irish immigrants and descendants living in town, who provided the local services. Coupled with unionization of the work force, that led to big wage and salary hikes. During the late 1960s, Brookline’s tax rate spiraled upward–growing as much as 20 percent a year.

A cauldron of conflicts developed. There was, for a time, a “Committee to Avoid a $100 Tax Rate.” There was a campaign to restore rent control, in effect during World War II and for a few years afterward. There was anger over new, high-rise buildings that were invading older neighborhoods around them. There were strong demands to make four elementary schools in the northern, mostly urban precincts as effective as four located in the southern, mostly suburban precincts. There was outrage over alleged harassment by some police officers of people of color.

The last of these conflicts emerged just as a Human Relations Commission was created by town meeting in 1970. It was charged to develop “nondiscrimination” policy, specifically: “the development of opportunities within Brookline…for those who are discriminated against and restricted by their race, color, national origin or ancestry, religion, sex or age….” The commission was also to “adopt…affirmative action guidelines” for town departments and contractors, with approval from the Board of Selectmen. Finally, the commission was to “initiate, receive, secure the investigation and seek the satisfactory adjustment of complaints charging discrimination….” [Brookline bylaws, Article XXVIII, 1970]

Effective performance of the broad scope of duties was undermined by Brookline’s failure to provide the Human Relations Commission with authorizations under Massachusetts laws. In order to carry out investigations, the commission would need to subpoena witnesses, take sworn testimony, demand, review and safeguard confidential documents and conduct executive sessions. However, unlike 1960s approaches to consolidating public works and planning, the 1970 town meeting did not seek state authorization for the commission, using a so-called “home rule petition” to the state legislature. Had it done so, the commission, like the town’s contemporaneous rent control board, might have been authorized under Chapter 30A, the state’s Administrative Procedure Act.

The evil of combining ambitious duties with vacuous powers left the Human Relations Commission worse than hobbled. It failed to lead expected reforms and became ridiculed in some quarters. There have been relatively few investigations of discrimination complaints, and there were not many notable outcomes. As in 1970, Brookline’s work force includes comparatively few minorities. Agencies reporting to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner and the Board of Selectmen lack even one minority department head. Like all its predecessors in the past half century, the current Board of Selectmen appears determined to “keep the lid on,” suppressing even mild protests. We have watched one after another supposedly civic-minded member of that board be co-opted into serving interests of the permanent government: town employees who run the town departments.

This year’s sally to replace the Human Relations Commission with a new “Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission” looks like more damage control. After public embarrassment over Brookline’s decades of failure to make much progress with minority hirings and promotions, the Board of Selectmen sponsored a “Committee on Diversity, Equal Employment Opportunities and Affirmative Action.” Clearly spooked that a live munition could blow up on them, they installed one of their number as chair and excluded all current members of the Human Relations Commission. Unlike any other bylaw setting up a town agency, their proposal for a new one starts with four gassy paragraphs about the agency’s “mission”–with the obvious effect of constraining it. Like the 1970 commission, the new one would lack state authorizations, making it at least as impotent, if not more so. The new commission is expected to offer advice, advice, advice.

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

Advisory subcommittee: a new human relations board

On Thursday, April 24, an Advisory subcommittee set to work at 7:00 pm in the third-floor lounge at Town Hall–slicing and dicing Article 10 for the spring town meeting in May. The meeting, which included a public hearing, recalled an old saw sometimes misattributed to Bismarck. (“Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” John Godfrey Saxe, 1869) However, unlike other town boards, slicing and dicing is the main business at Advisory. They go at it with confidence.

Article 10 had been reviewed just the night before by the Human Relations Youth Resources (HRYR) Commission, which it proposes to abolish–creating in its place a new “Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations (DICR) Commission.” Michael Sandman, who chairs the special subcommittee assembled for the topic, did conduct a public hearing, unlike HRYR–which advertised a public hearing but did not hear from members of the public. It didn’t take much time, since the Advisory hearing drew only a few members of town boards and two visitors.

Mr. Sandman was prepared with a punch-list of proposed amendments, gathered from several sources. He and Advisory colleagues Systke Humphrey, Bernard Greene and Amy Hummel went through them briskly, yet with close attention to meaning and detail. Although Mariela Ames, who chairs HRYR, was present, apparently she had not sent Mr. Sandman the changes her commission proposed the day before; they were not on his punch-list.

Among the many amendments discussed, three stood out. Facing a potential for a commission with only one staff person–possibly none–calling the organization either a “department” or a “division” doesn’t seem to fit the circumstances. The subcommittee recommends calling it an “office” instead, although it’s not clear whether the proposed DICR commission would have an actual office.

Three members of the selectmen-appointed committee that proposed Article 10 were present: Martin Rosenthal, Rita McNally and Elena Olsen. They were helpful in explaining how they came to propose a new commission with a variable number of commissioners: 11 to 15. However, the subcommittee recommends a commission of fixed size, like all other current boards, settling on 15 commissioners.

The third “hot button” issue was whether the proposed DICR commission should have scope to review practices of more than agencies reporting to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner and the Board of Selectmen. The other major agencies are the Public Schools, Housing Authority and Public Library–each of which has an elected governing board.

At Mr. Sandman’s suggestion, the subcommittee recommends that the proposed bylaw say it “applies to all Brookline departments and agencies.” In his opinion, that would include schools and libraries but not the Brookline Housing Authority. That might be a specious distinction, since the housing authority is a state-chartered agency, while the town is a political subdivision of the state. [Hunter v. City of Pittsburg, 207 U.S. 161, 178-179, 1907, upholding a principle sometimes called “Dillon’s rule“]

Like monitoring of the Public Schools of Brookline, monitoring by a Brookline agency of the town’s housing authority would need cooperation rather than compulsion. A total of 16 potential amendments was considered, with nine to be recommended. The full Advisory Committee will meet at Town Hall Tuesday, April 29, at 7:00 pm, and take up those and other issues.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 25, 2014

Human Relations Youth Resources Commission: coping with changes

A meeting of the Human Relations Youth Resources (HRYR) Commission on Wednesday, April 23, started at 7:00 pm in the Denny Room at the Health Center. The main topic was a public hearing about Article 10 on the warrant for the annual town meeting in May. That proposes to replace the HRYR Commission with a new town board. Attendance was slim. Other than town officials, there were three members of the public. Although this was supposed to be a public hearing, members of the public were never invited to speak.

Article 10 is proposed by a selectmen-appointed “diversity committee.” Nancy Daly, a member of the Board of Selectmen who chaired that committee, attended the Wednesday meeting and offered several comments. Rita McNally, a former HRYR commissioner and a member of the selectmen-appointed committee, was also there and spoke. Known in full as the Committee on Diversity, Equal Employment Opportunities and Affirmative Action, it met a dozen times between December, 2012, and January of this year.

What HRYR commissioners really did at the “public hearing” was line-by-line review of the selectmen-appointed committee’s proposal in Article 10. An unsigned, draft “Motion to be offered,” amending that article, had been circulated among commissioners. Paper copies were available to the public. No one said who wrote the “Motion” document, but it was explained and defended by Mariela Ames, who chairs the HRYR Commission.

Brookline’s Human Relations Commission emerged amid complaints in the late 1960s that some police officers had harassed people of color. After quite a stir, the commission was created by the 1970 annual town meeting and began operations that August. Except for being merged with the former Youth Resources Council in 1974, its organization and duties remained the same for 43 years–until last year.

A stimulus for reviewing the HRYR Commission looks to have been retirement last year of Steven Bressler, HRYR director since 1974. During its early years, HRYR became an active town department, with a staff that grew to around ten. After Proposition 2-1/2, in 1982, there were many cutbacks in town services. For example, most sidewalk snow-plowing ended. HRYR staff shrank until only Mr. Bressler remained.

Originally Article XXVIII in Brookline’s bylaws, the Human Relations bylaw later became Section 3.14 of the current bylaws. Under it, until last year the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission was charged to:
  • develop…opportunities…for those who are discriminated against and restricted
  • adopt…affirmative action guidelines [for] employment practices…of the town
  • adopt…affirmative action guidelines [for] employment practices of town contractors
  • administer…the affirmative action program relating to contracts
  • secure the investigation of…complaints charging discrimination

Taking the first duty literally, in 2012 HRYR commissioners began to review hirings and promotions by town agencies: departments run by the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator Mel Kleckner and also the Public Schools, Housing Authority and Public Library–which have elected boards. It didn’t take long to discover that there were no minority department heads among the 26 departments under the selectmen and town administrator, also that there had been–at most–only one during the previous 40 years.

As has happened in other Massachusetts communities with a board similar to HRYR, the commission began to seem like an “itch” to some of the people who have participated in town government for years. There were complaints it was going beyond its “mission.” However, a main purpose of such a board is to air a community’s dirty laundry. When it is doing its job, the HRYR Commission is almost sure to become an “itch.”

In 1974, the Board of Selectmen proposed to merge Human Relations with the former Youth Resources and also to strip away from the merged commission responsibilities to adopt and enforce town policy–instead vesting many responsibilities in a town employee to be called the “director of human relations youth resources,” reporting to selectmen rather than to the commission. Town meeting agreed to the merger but left human relations responsibilities of the HRYR Commission as originally set in 1970.

This year, a selectmen-appointed committee proposes more changes, now creating a new “Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations (DICR) Commission.” As in 1974, the proposal would strip away from a commission of town citizens responsibilities to adopt and enforce town policy, instead vesting many responsibilities in a town employee–this time to be called a “chief diversity officer.” That employee would not report to a new DICR commission or to selectmen but instead to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner.

The town employee would be charged with “preparation and submission to the Board of Selectmen of a recommended diversity and inclusion policy.” The town employee would also “serve [as] ombudsperson to provide…dispute resolution services.” A DICR “department,” in place of the former HRYR department, might have only one staff person, or it might have no staff at all. However, DICR would have a “mission.”

Hardly a surprise: the first target at the HRYR Commission’s review on Wednesday was a “mission” statement proposed for DICR. The original Human Relations bylaw had no such “mission” statement. The current bylaw, as revised last year, has none either. Bylaws for other agencies don’t have “mission” statements. Instead, bylaws just describe duties and powers of boards, commissions, committees and departments. There have been florid claims of “empowering” DICR through a “mission,” but the practical effect is to constrain it.

Language in the selectmen-appointed committee’s article is prolix. Brian Myles challenged other HRYR commissioners to try to articulate the proposed “mission”–apparently meaning to state it in plain words. No one was able to do that very well. It looks something like the handiwork of Martin Rosenthal, a member of the selectmen-appointed committee. Mr. Rosenthal, who was on the Board of Selectmen in the 1980s, has a similar habit of speech. He is now a Precinct 9 town meeting member and co-chair of Brookline PAX.

The “Motion” document considered at the HRYR meeting would have deleted the “mission” statement. However, after a long discussion, HRYR commissioners voted unanimously that the “mission” should be reduced to one sentence plus one of the four paragraphs. They labored over the size of a DICR commission, voting that it should be 15, like the current HRYR Commission–rather than 11 to 15 as the selectmen-appointed committee proposes. HRYR commissioners would allow one of the 15 to be a parent of a METCO student rather than a town resident.

The HRYR Commission is responsible for enforcing Brookline’s fair housing law, Section 5.5 in the bylaws. Article 10, as proposed by the selectmen-appointed committee, would abolish the HRYR Commission but put nothing in its place to enforce the fair housing law. HRYR commissioners voted that the proposed DICR commission should take responsibility for the fair housing law.

The rest of the HRYR “public hearing” was discussions among commissioners over proposed duties of a new DICR commission, including review of employment practices of town agencies. If the new commission has any staff, its director is expected also to serve as the town’s “chief diversity officer”–typically among the roles in a human resources office. Like most large businesses, Brookline now has such an office, but it did not have one in the 1970s. Two commissioners were opposed in a vote on duties of a chief diversity officer.

On Wednesday, HRYR commissioners seemed unsure how to conduct a public hearing and how to organize and promote a warrant article, yet some commissioners wanted to be involved with employment practices of town agencies–more complicated tasks. They might also need to learn procedures to subpoena witnesses, take sworn testimony, demand, review and safeguard confidential documents and conduct executive sessions.

Nancy Daly, the member of the Board of Selectmen attending, raised a point about the last of those procedures. She also reminded HRYR commissioners that Brookline will have slim financial resources to provide staff, noting that many other boards and committees do their own work–preparing minutes and writing reports. The HRYR Commission could not finish its review on Wednesday and will meet Monday, April 28, at 6:30 pm, trying to wrap up. It might even hold a public hearing.

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

Commission for the Disabled: taxi accessibility and snow clearance

A regular meeting of the Commission for the Disabled on Tuesday, April 22, started at 5:00 pm in the Denny Room at the Health Center. Commissioner Jim Miczek reported on wheelchair accessibility requirements for Brookline taxis. The town currently has no accessible taxis and is considering permanent taxi licenses. Mr. Miczek said the draft accessibility requirements are cursory and vague.

Eileen Berger, the commission’s chairperson, reported no response to the issue so far from the Transportation Board, which has responsibility for taxis. Dr. Lloyd Gellineau, the town’s Human Relations Youth Resources director and a Human Relations-Human Services administrator, raised a general issue about how the town can require accessible transportation services. The commission will be reviewing a possibility for proposing home-rule legislation.

Dr. Saralynn Allaire, another commissioner, reported on investigations in support of the “age friendly community” designation that Brookline received last year. Several at the meeting remarked on hardships last winter because of haphazard snow clearance, notably in commercial districts. Article 28 on the warrant for the annual town meeting in May, submitted by Frank Caro, a member of the Age Friendly Cities Committee, seeks to send “enforcement officers on foot in business districts beginning in the fourth daylight hour after snowfalls.”

The commission considered ways to raise awareness among older town residents about the services currently available for people with disabilities. Dr. Sarah Whitman, another commissioner, will prepare a proposal for the next meeting, to be held May 20. Ms. Berger will also invite Todd Kirrane, the town’s transportation administrator, to that meeting, to review requirements for taxi accessibility.

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

Haste makes waste, even in Brookline

Brookline’s town meeting acted too hastily in banning expanded polystyrene foam last year. Often mistaken for Dow Chemical’s trademarked Styrofoam–slabs of extruded foam–the firm but featherweight molded foam is widely used for food containers in restaurants and grocery stores.

Brookline activists–none with sustained work experience as food or polymer chemists–tried to finger polystyrene as a specially dangerous material. In fact, nearly all plastics contain additives and monomers that could be hazardous in their raw forms and in large quantities. However, evidence against any one of the hundreds of commercial plastics is weak–nothing like the overwhelming evidence against tobacco.

Polystyrene happens to be a fairly valuable material for recycling, yet in 40 years of recycling programs the town has never given it serious attention. Recycled polystyrene is a prime component of some high-volume products, including supposedly “green” bamboo composite floor coverings. Industrial demand often exceeds supply.

As an intrepid reporter for the Brookline TAB recently discovered, potential alternatives to polystyrene foam food containers are much more expensive. Most use more, not less, in virgin materials and manufacturing energy. Many of them also release as much or more in life-cycle air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The key problem with polystyrene foam is the same as its key virtue: the combination of firmness with low density. That makes it a good insulator and shock absorber but also makes it bulky to handle at curbside pickup, prone to blow around and hard to separate for recycling instead of burning.

The town’s year-round “solution” to recycling has been voluntary dropoff at the worst possible location, far from our main population centers. Driving there with a whole carload of foam would consume more petroleum than it could save.

A real solution for recycling would be a hydraulic foam compressor, taken around occasionally to dropoff bins located within walking distances of those population centers. The town could also adopt a similar approach in place of its other hasty ban: polyethylene film, also useful as a recycled material.

Living near the B.U. West section of Commonwealth Ave., we’re not much affected by Brookline’s hasty bans. We often visit markets and restaurants in Allston and Watertown. We have long avoided extra packaging of any kind but still bring home some amounts of polystyrene foam and polyethylene film, which we continue to recycle via privately managed programs.

When Brookline joined Boston, Cambridge and other communities in adopting so-called “single-bin recycling,” the town effectively abandoned recycling in favor of burning most waste tonnage other than glass and metal. That’s because mixed materials end up badly soiled and damaged, destroying value. These communities “recycle” more in name than in fact. Would-be “environmentalists” rarely know where contents of their “recycle” bins go.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 5, 2014


Burning public money for dirty energy, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, 2011

Jon Chesto, Gov. Patrick eases ban on Massachusetts incinerators, Boston Business Journal, 2013

Fred Bever, Environmentalists slam Massachusetts solid waste plan, WBUR (Boston, MA), 2013