Category Archives: Taxes

Against neighborhoods: Brookline zoning for marijuana

This month–likely on Thursday, May 24–Brookline’s Town Meeting will vote on a risk-laden approach to marijuana zoning and licensing. A complex surface hides disorganized, hypocritical, neighborhood-hostile efforts. Two meetings on Thursday, May 10 showed confusions and lapses of community spirit: a review for some Town Meeting Members and a regular Advisory Committee meeting, both held at Town Hall.

Recreational marijuana regulation: At the 2018 Annual Town Meeting starting May 22, under Articles 17 through 22 Brookline could allow up to four retail shops selling recreational marijuana and up to four marijuana cafes. The Planning Board and the Planning staff, supported so far by three of the five Select Board members, propose to allow the recreational marijuana shops in Local Business zones as well as in General Business zones.

Brookline has five main General Business zones. They are mostly well separated from residential areas and schools: Commonwealth Avenue, Coolidge Corner, Brookline Village, Washington Square and the west end of Route 9 near the Chestnut Hill Mall. There are smaller ones near the north end of Harvard Street, bordered by Allston, and near the east end of Route 9, bordered by the Riverway.

There are seven main Local Business zones. Many thread through residential areas and near schools: the shopping center near Putterham Circle in South Brookline, the northern part of Harvard Street between Devotion School and Verndale Street, the middle part of Harvard Street between Pierce School and Marion Street, the northern part of Cypress Street near Washington Street, the middle part of Cypress Street near the High School and Route 9, the southern part of Cypress Street near Kendall Street, the east end of Beacon Street between St. Mary’s and Carlton Streets, and land near the west end of Beacon Street around Sutherland Road.

Threatened neighborhoods: Proposed zoning for marijuana includes so-called “buffer zones” extending 500 feet out from schoolyard boundaries. Marijuana shops are not allowed inside “buffer zones.” The maps that follow identify some of Brookline’s threatened neighborhoods–showing parts of Local Business zones outside “buffer zones.” Colored in bright blue are Local Business areas where marijuana shops would be allowed. “Buffer zones” around schools are cross-hatched.

Threatened neighborhoods near Harvard Street

HarvardStreetNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

 
 
Threatened neighborhoods near Cypress Street

CypressStreetNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

 
 
Threatened neighborhoods near Putterham Circle

PutterhamtNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

Information from Town Hall: Planning staff held a late-afternoon information session at Town Hall on May 10, sought by Precinct 5 Town Meeting Members. The two staff were Francisco Torres and Ashley Clark–hired in part to develop and promote plans for marijuana. They have fairly short spans of experience in Brookline, and they smile a lot.

At the Town Hall session were Betsy DeWitt–formerly a Select Board member–plus Phyllis O’Leary, Wendy Machmuller, Rob Daves, Andy Olins, Hugh Mattison and newly elected Cindy Drake from Precinct 5, John Bassett from Precinct 6, Craig Bolon from Precinct 8 and Regina Frawley from Precinct 16.

Precinct 5 Town Meeting Members generally opposed medical marijuana at the former Brookline Bank on the corner of Route 9, High Street and Washington Street. They spoke about keeping marijuana shops out of the Local Business zones on Cypress Street. Betsy DeWitt saw high profits from marijuana shops pushing out ordinary local business.

Planning has proposed no standards that support ordinary local businesses. Their proposals for zoning and licensing amount to a “first in the door” approach to zoning permits and business licenses. However, they propose no system to regulate how the timing of applications would be recognized. That could leave Brookline exposed to long and potentially costly “due process” lawsuits, claiming that results from its informal approach had been arbitrary and capricious.

Advisory Committee hostile to neighborhoods: Many of the 24 out of 30 Advisory Committee members at the evening meeting on May 10 seemed hostile toward Brookline neighborhoods. Because around 60 percent of Brookline voters opted to legalize marijuana, they claimed recreational marijuana shops could be sited without considering impacts on neighborhoods. Fisher Hill resident Clifford Brown of Precinct 14 led a charge for more marijuana revenue, while several others on the committee chimed in.

Critically examined, some claims about huge local revenues turn out to be fragrant BS when not flagrant lies. The budding marijuana industry had its friends at (the General) Court when Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2017 was being written: the ironically titled “act to ensure safe access to marijuana.” The access is particularly “safe” for marijuana dealers. Much of the potential local revenues come from so-called “community impact fees” that can be included in city and town contracts with marijuana dealers. However, when the revenue party is over after five (5) years, it’s done and gone–while all the problems the community may find continue indefinitely. According to Chapter 94G, Section 3(d) of the General Laws, as amended by the 2017 act:

“…a host community may include a community impact fee for the host community; provided, however, that the community impact fee shall be reasonably related to the costs imposed upon the municipality by the operation of the marijuana establishment or medical marijuana treatment center and shall not amount to more than 3 per cent of the gross sales of the marijuana establishment or medical marijuana treatment center or be effective for longer than 5 years….” [emphasis added]

Voters blindsided: Many of the Brookline voters who opted to legalize marijuana had been informed by the cautious, two-year process to zone and license medical marijuana. Medical marijuana dispensaries are not allowed in Local Business zones. The only current one is on Route 9. Hardly anybody would have expected “full speed ahead” and “open floodgates” for recreational marijuana–the approach from Brookline Planning, welcoming both marijuana shops and cafes to the Local Business zones threading through residential neighborhoods and near schools.

At Advisory Committee on May 10, vocal majorities rejected a motion to exclude marijuana shops from Local Business zones. They supported another motion to allow marijuana cafes. Hypocrites would continue to ban medical marijuana sales from Local Business zones, and they support a new ban on marijuana treatment centers. The outlook of hypocrites seems to be that medical marijuana would not yield as much in licensing fees and local taxes as recreational marijuana–so medical marijuana should be banned.

Those supporting neighborhoods by voting to exclude recreational marijuana shops from Local Business zones were committee members Harry Friedman, David-Marc Goldstein, Angela Hyatt, Alisa Jonas, Steve Kanes, Fred Levitan and Lee Selwyn. Thumbing noses at neighborhoods by voting the other way were Ben Birnbaum, Clifford Brown, Carol Caro, Lea Cohen, John Doggett, Janet Gelbart, Neil Gordon, Janice Kahn, Bobbie Knable, David Lescohier, Pamela Lodish, Shaari Mittel, Michael Sandman, Kim Smith, Charles Swartz and Christine Westphal. Committee chair Sean Lynn-Jones did not vote. Vice-chair Carla Benka and members Dennis Doughty, Kelly Hardebeck, Amy Hummel, Mariah Nobrega and Susan Roberts were absent.

Preventing needless burdens: The NETA medical marijuana dispensary on Route 9 is already in negotiations for one of the potential licenses as a recreational marijuana shop. Its success would leave only three licenses available. There are six more General Business zones to provide sites, leaving no need to burden neighborhoods near Local Business zones. A simple amendment to Article 17 at the 2018 Annual Town Meeting can keep recreational marijuana shops out of Local Business zones.

VOTED: To amend the motion under Article 17 so as to change “Use 29A, Storefront Marijuana Retailers” from “SP *1,2″ to “No” for L (local business) districts.

As of May 17, an equivalent motion is being proposed by Neil Wishinsky (chair of the Select Board) together with Betsy DeWitt, a Precinct 5 Town Meeting Member (TMM-5), Cynthia Drake (TMM-5), Scott Gladstone (TMM-16), Angela Hyatt (TMM-5) and Kate Silbaugh (TMM-1). After several years of experience with recreational marijuana shops in General Business zones, Brookline could review the results and see whether it might make sense to allow them in other places.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 12, 2018, updated May 17, 2018


Recreational marijuana information, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2018

Locations for marijuana shops, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2018

Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, 2018

Adult use of marijuana, 935 CMR 500, Massachusetts Code of Regulations, 2018

Public documents, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, 2017-2018

Emma R. Murphy, Brookline’s NETA marijuana dispensary seeking recreational license, Brookline (MA) Tab, April 18, 2018

Business and functional requirements for the licensing, tracking and sale of adult-use marijuana (57 pp) Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, November, 2017

An act to ensure safe access to marijuana, Massachusetts Acts and Resolves of 2017, Chapter 55

Gintautas Dumcius, Brookline medical marijuana dispensary, operated by NETA, set to open in mid-January, Springfield (MA) Republican, December 24, 2015

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

Labor rights for U.S. domestic workers

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

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

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

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

Trends in federal minimum wage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Right to work” states

RightToWorkStated2016
Source: AFL-CIO, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Net metering for electricity: fair practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Human Resources: resisting the Earned Sick Time law

At a meeting Thursday, September 17, the Board of Selectmen heard a proposal from Sandra DeBow-Huang, the director of the Human Resources Office, to allow a version of what she called “sick leave” for some of Brookline’s nonunion employees. It looked designed to resist Article 7 at the town meeting on November 17.

Earned Sick Time: At the state election of November, 2014, three out of four Brookline voters said Yes to Question 4. They joined other voters statewide to enact the Earned Sick Time law, which went into effect July 1. The new law governs most private companies in Massachusetts with 11 or more employees. However, it does not apply automatically to cities and towns.

Massachusetts towns can adopt the Earned Sick Time law and follow its state regulations through votes of town meetings. That is what Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, and Cornelia “Kea” van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, propose in Article 7. Their explanation is straightforward.

“This law allows employees to use Earned Sick Time to look after their own medical needs or the needs of family members, or to address issues related to domestic violence. It requires an employer of eleven or more employees to provide a minimum of one hour of earned paid sick time for every thirty hours worked by an employee, up to 40 hours of earned paid sick time in a calendar year.”

Proposed benefits: An effort to resist Article 7 began this summer. Apparently seeing that outright opposition could easily be overcome at town meeting, Ms. DeBow-Huang proposed some concessions. The document that emerged on September 17 showed signs of haste. Obvious mistakes included grammatical errors, dangling phrases and duplicated paragraphs. Instead of “Earned Sick Time” it used several different terms, without defining them clearly.

The focus of the proposal was a favored set of nonunion employees who currently lack Earned Sick Time benefits–specified under Brookline’s Classification and Pay Plan, a policy document Ms. DeBow-Huang does not publish on the municipal Web site. Rather than hour-by-hour accruals of Earned Sick Time, Ms. DeBow-Huang proposed periodic “lump sum” accruals, which are also recognized under the new state regulations.

An item-by-item examination of the September 17 proposal found over a dozen items for which it was more restrictive than the new state law and regulations: reducing benefits or denying benefits to some employees. There looked to be no item that expanded on those state standards. On September 17, Ms. DeBow-Huang claimed the proposal was “generous,” but the examination showed the opposite. A subtext hinted by the September 17 proposal was trying to set a model for negotiations over union contract renewals.

Union employees: Most Town of Brookline employees belong to unions. Some of the “regular” employees–working more than half-time–have gotten Earned Sick Time benefits through union contracts for years. However, there can be different benefit policies, since there are different union locals representing employees. The contracts are public records, but Ms. DeBow-Huang does not publish them on the municipal Web site, making it tedious and costly for anyone outside her office to compare them.

The November town meeting will consider whether the September 17 proposal corresponds with what Brookline voters expected when endorsing the Earned Sick Time law. It looks likely that the Board of Selectmen will oppose adopting the new law and instead will support the September 17 proposal or some variant.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 25, 2015


Sandra DeBow-Huang, Paid sick leave, Brookline Office of Human Resources, September 17, 2015 (reformatted for readability and annotated, items examined highlighted in red)

Craig Bolon, Issues with proposed policy in lieu of Earned Sick Time, September 25, 2015

Earned Sick Time law, Office of the Massachusetts Secretary of State, 2015

Earned Sick Time regulations, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, 2015

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

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

Board of Selectmen: new saloon and funding gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Advisory Committee: probing a disconnect

The Advisory Committee met Tuesday, July 28, starting at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall–mainly to understand a disconnect in budgeting before and during the May town meeting. Details had been reviewed by the Capital subcommittee at a meeting the previous Tuesday, July 21. While some events had become known, understandings of them remained murky.

Structural deficit: As adopted at the 2015 annual town meeting, the fiscal 2016 budget had a structural deficit, around $200,000, known to some Brookline employees but withheld from most or all members of boards and committees and from town meeting. At the point of the Advisory Committee’s review July 28, a timeline for some events of the disconnect had become clear:

Late April: Public Works gets only three bids for recycling
Late May: Public Works settles on best bid, $200,000 over budget
May 26: Annual town meeting adopts fiscal 2016 budget
May 28: Annual town meeting completes work and dissolves
June 23: Board of Selectmen approves $1.22 million FY2016 contract
June 23: Board of Selectmen applies for $200,000 from reserve fund
July 7: Advisory Committee approves $200,000 and starts investigation
July 14: Advisory Committee members lodge protest with Board of Selectmen
July 21: Advisory subcomittee conducts special hearing and drafts report
July 28: Advisory Committee holds special review meeting

By late April, at least Andrew Pappastergion, the commissioner of public works, Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, and Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, knew that a structural deficit in the fiscal 2016 budget was likely. Before the end of the annual town meeting, they knew the budget deficit was certain and would be about $200,000.

None of them told any member of the Advisory Committee, which has a legal duty to propose budgets to annual town meetings. Had they done that, the committee could have amended the budget proposed to town meeting, to bring it into balance, or it could have proposed to reconsider the budget, if notified after the budget had already been voted.

It has not been clear whether members of the Board of Selectmen had timely information. No member of the board told any member of the Advisory Committee or told town meeting about it before June. Treatment of protesting committee members at the board’s meeting July 14 looked and sounded disrespectful. However, on July 28 the committee skirted those issues, focusing on information received from town employees.

Explanations: As described in a subcommittee report prepared by Fred Levitan, a Precinct 14 town meeting member, during the May town meeting, Mr. Kleckner was also aware of about $190,000 in extra state aid for Brookline. He failed to inform Advisory Committee members and town meeting about those circumstances as well. Apparently he hoped to use the extra funds somehow to repair the structural deficit.

According to a 20-year “town-school partnership,” that would have been unrealistic. Revenues have to be reviewed by a standing committee and are typically divided between municipal and school accounts. So far, there has been no meeting of the partnership committee to consider changes in fiscal 2016 state aid.

According to Mr. Levitan, Mr. Klecker said not notifying the Advisory Committee was “a mistake.” To many observers, that might not appear likely. Mr. Klecker has about 20 years experience with work similar to his current position–serving four Massachusetts towns, most recently Winchester and Belmont. The same provisions of Massachusetts General Laws have applied to all the towns.

The committee discussed whether to reconsider the contentious $200,000 reserve fund transfer it had approved July 7. That had been an evening when the committee rejected a reserve fund request, the only rejection any member could recall in about ten years. The request approved came on a vote of 12 to 10 and one abstention. With just a single vote cast as No instead of Yes, the $200,000 request would have been rejected on a tie vote.

Following Advisory customs, reconsideration needed a motion from a member who had voted Yes on the $200,000 transfer. If the transfer were reconsidered, it might be voted down and withdrawn. When Sean Lynn-Jones, the committee chair, called for such a motion, there was no response. Most members seemed satisfied such a disconnect would not happen again.

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


Report from Fred Levitan for Capital subcomittee to Advisory Committee, $200,000 DPW transfer request, Town of Brookline, MA, July 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Advisory Committee: budgets and reconsiderations, Brookline Beacon, May 1, 2015

Kehillath Israel: renovation and Chapter 40B development

On Wednesday evening, July 8, representatives of the Kehillath Israel congregation announced at a public meeting held at the site that they were starting real estate development, in two parts. Part 1 renovates the synagogue building, dedicated in 1925, and adds about 10,000 square feet of support space on the north side. Part 2 builds an undisclosed amount of partly subsidized new housing, replacing the community center opened in 1948 and using Chapter 40B of the General Laws to override Brookline zoning.

Rabbi William Hamilton opened the meeting, saying the congregation was planning for a next century. The membership has shrunk from a peak of around 1,200 families in the 1950s to around 400 now. He introduced Joseph Geller, a landscape architect and developer, member of the congregation, Precinct 9 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen, who led most of the discussions.

Mr. Geller introduced Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a local real estate lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen with whom Mr. Geller served. Mr. Allen is representing the congregation’s legal interests in development plans. Asked about potential disruptions from pursuing development while nearby Devotion School is being rebuilt, Mr. Allen merely said it could be “a problem.”

According to Alison Steinfeld, Brookline’s director of community planning and development, about a year ago Mr. Allen met with members of the department for an initial discussion. Ms. Steinfeld said she did not know the amounts of housing Kehillath Israel might have in mind. Such a discussion, as well as such a meeting as happened July 8, are among steps in Brookline’s design review process for any development on Harvard St.

Location, location: Stories about a potential large housing development have circulated around nearby neighborhoods for many months, with a wide range of speculation about locations, amounts, sizes and heights. The presentation on July 8 settled only location: space now occupied by the community center, which representatives of the congregation called the “Epstein building.”

The current community center’s building outline is about 120 by 65 feet, plus a depth of about 30 feet for front entry and steps. If there were to be no further incursions past those perimeters, that could provide a gross area near 10,000 square feet per floor. A modern 4-story building, similar in overall height to the community center, might house around 40 medium-size apartments.

North Brookline neighborhoods have had two previous experiences with 40B developments. A private developer near the synagogue substantially scaled back initial plans and built a double wood-frame quadruplex at 107A through 113B Centre St. in the late 1990s, replacing a large house. Occupancy of these condominium units has proven fairly transient, with turnovers every several years.

After about seven years of disputes and negotiations, the development arm of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston scaled back initial plans for the former St. Aidan’s Church by about 60 percent and put up mostly modern, fireproof new construction around 2008. However, adaptive reuse, unprecedented for the Archdiocese, placed several apartments inside the historic church structure and preserved the large courtyard at the corner of Pleasant and Freeman Sts. and its huge copper beech tree.

Senior housing: Mr. Geller said Kehillath Israel was planning “senior housing”–favorable for a community in which escalating costs of public schools have been driving up budgets, leading to tax overrides passed this year and in 2008. While age-restricted housing is clearly a form of discrimination, under some conditions it is allowed by laws and regulations.

Massachusetts has had antidiscrimination housing laws for many years. They were partly subsumed by the federal Fair Housing Act, Title 8 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (PL 90-284). The original version of the law prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin in the sale and rental of dwellings. Other protected categories have been added.

Section 4 of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B, “Unlawful Discrimination,” prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, age, ancestry, veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status, children, handicap and receipt of public assistance or housing subsidy in the selling, renting or leasing of housing accommodations, commercial space or land intended for those uses. Fines are up to $50,000 per violation. Massachusetts regulations in 804 CMR 02 implement the law.

One of the few general exceptions in housing discrimination laws has allowed, after 1988, qualified “senior housing” developments, as modified under the federal Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (PL 104–76). Such a qualification requires 80 percent of dwellings to be occupied by at least one person who is 55 years of age or older. The federal qualification can be lost if that operating status is not maintained.

The Kehillath Israel congregation would almost surely be able to qualify a development as “senior housing.” Asked how the congregation might guarantee that “senior housing” will continue to qualify and operate that way, Mr. Geller said he expected there would be a continuing agreement with the Town of Brookline. By contrast, the management at Hancock Village in south Brookline has been moving away from “senior housing,” actively marketing to mostly foreign families with children. They are not planning “senior housing” as a part of their current Chapter 40B housing project in Brookline.

When a religious organization sponsors housing, some assume members and affiliates of the organization will become occupants or may be favored. Occupants of new housing at the Kehillath Israel site need not be Jewish or otherwise share some background that might tend to exclude people protected against discrimination. During controversy over redevelopment of the former St. Aidan’s Church, at least some former parishioners seemed convinced they would be favored to occupy new apartments there. Since that did not agree with housing laws and regulations, it did not happen.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 9, 2015


Fair housing regulation, Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, 2015

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

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

Board of Selectmen: poisoning the well

On Tuesday, June 30, as recommended by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, the Board of Selectmen voted to ask the Advisory Committee for $15,000 from the reserve fund on July 7, “for expertise in the study of eminent domain,” to be expended by the Office of Town Counsel. The request was prompted by approval at the annual town meeting of a resolution under Article 18, calling for the following main activity:

“…Town Meeting asks the Board of Selectmen to study and consider in good faith the taking under the powers of eminent domain [of] the two buffer zones presently zoned S-7 within the Hancock Village property, abutting Russett and Beverly Roads, for a permanently publicly-accessible active recreational space….”

Entanglements: A key problem with this request has been that members of the Board of Selectmen are plaintiffs in two lawsuits involving the Hancock Village property. They are suing a state agency that authorized the owner to propose a project under Chapter 40B of the General Laws, overriding Brookline zoning and other permits. They are also suing the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals, for approving the project and granting a comprehensive permit.

If that were not enough, Nancy Heller, a newly elected member of the board, submitted Article 17 to the 2015 annual town meeting and argued it. It’s entitled, “Resolution in support of changes to the affordable housing law, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40B.” She and other petitioners explained, “…[We] have worded the resolution in a broad manner. The purpose is to give our legislators as much latitude as they need to work with other legislators to amend 40B….”

Thus members of the Board of Selectmen are entangled in attacks against both a controversial 40B project at Hancock Village and the key Massachusetts law enabling the project. This leaves high risks for any involvement they might have in proposals arising from Article 18, under which Brookline would consider taking currently vacant parts of Hancock Village by eminent domain, to be used as recreation land.

One of the common challenges against eminent domain is acting in “bad faith”–that is, for covert purposes other than those claimed. With the Hancock Village situation, the property owner could be expected to claim that members of the Board of Selectmen considered eminent domain in “bad faith”—mainly to restrict an unwelcome Chapter 40B development rather than mainly to acquire recreation land.

Anticipation and defenses: After the recent town meeting, many participants and observers anticipated the Board of Selectmen would appoint a study committee for Article 18, as they often do for other issues, and would then keep their distance from it.

It would need to become an independent “blue ribbon panel,” with no further involvement by members of the Board of Selectmen. Putting the issues in the hands of an independent panel could provide defenses against acting in “bad faith,” should a recreation land effort proceed and should eminent domain be used to acquire Hancock Village land.

For quite a few years, several iterations of the Board of Selectmen have swung the other way. Coached by ambitious town administrators, they have politicized almost every new board, commission, committee and council by installing one of their members on it, often naming that member as chair. Article 18 presented a situation where such a domineering brand of machine politics cannot work. It could obviously encourage claims of “bad faith” and could well destroy a project to acquire recreation land.

Precedents: After idling on Article 18 for a month and making a false start, Mr. Kleckner, who seems to know very little about Brookline history, tried to claim a committee was unlikely because the town no longer has a redevelopment authority to call on. The former Brookline Redevelopment Authority was indeed active in takings during the Farm Project and Marsh Project, but the Town of Brookline did similar work, too. Disputes focused on policies and costs; mechanics were not thought to be much of a stretch.

Under Article 25, the 1974 annual town meeting authorized taking land off Amory St. by eminent domain for conservation. The relatively new Conservation Commission had proposed the Hall’s Pond project and presented all the key evaluations and arguments to boards, committees and town meeting. Not long afterward, the commission did similar work for the conservation area now known as Amory Woods.

Like the Hancock Village buffers, the Hall’s Pond parcel was seen as threatened by development, yet it was intact and had never been built on. North of Route 9, Brookline had no conservation land then, and very little suitable land remained. At 3-1/2 acres, the site to the east of Amory Playground was about half the size of the Hancock Village buffers combined.

The Conservation Commission obtained advice from local lawyers, contracted for a land survey, commissioned independent appraisals, and prepared and submitted the 1974 town meeting article. Commissioners persuaded only two members of the Board of Selectmen, but they got help from the Planning Board and a unanimous endorsement from the Advisory Committee. Town meeting gave strong support, and a counted vote was not needed.

Poisoning the well: On June 30, Mr. Kleckner led members of the Board of Selectmen in an odd direction–at high risk of poisoning the well, though coupling them into “bad faith” maneuvers. They did not hold matters at arms length by appointing an independent committee. Instead, they voted to submit a reserve fund request for funds to be spent by the town counsel, who reports to them.

They expect to entertain discussions of the issues among the board–potentially some closed to the public, at which they may also be considering “litigation,” as their agendas often call out. According to Mr. Kleckner, they expect to couple investigations pertinent to recreation areas with those pertinent to potential school sites and possibly other town projects.

By failing to maintain a bright line of separation between recreation land proposed at Hancock Village and other town business, including lawsuits against Hancock Village development, recent actions by Mr. Kleckner and members of the Board of Selectmen stand at grave risk of poisoning the well. Ignoring the request of the town meeting to act “in good faith,” they are proceeding headlong toward wrecking the potential for a significant project. At least some will say that is what they meant to do.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 2, 2015


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

Article 18, Brookline, MA, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, heard and acted on May 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: Village Street Fair, trash metering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Celebrate Brookline Village, The Village Fair, 2015

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

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

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

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

Trash metering, WasteZero (Raleigh, NC), 2010

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

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