Saturday, April 26, 2008

DCR Confused About Another Bridge

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation has a problem about the Longfellow Bridge: they don't agree with their own consultant's report about its current condition, according to a report in the Boston Globe. The DCR also wants to hold up reporting of the bridge's inspection until after repairs can be made, and a newer inspection made:
An independent inspection of the Longfellow Bridge found the span to be in worse condition than the state had previously determined, but officials dispute the findings and refused to release the report to the public for several months...

But [Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr.] said he wants Jacobs to conduct a follow-up inspection and issue a final report this summer, after the repairs are complete.

"I believe there's general agreement that, when those repairs are done and Jacobs does the reinspection, the rating will be better, and there will be an agreement at that time," said Sullivan.

Last summer, the DCR told the Boston Herald that the BU Bridge was not structurally deficient (archive fee):
“It may need work, but it can still take the statutory loads,” said Wendy Fox, spokeswoman for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns the bridge connecting Boston and Cambridge. “The point is, it’s not on the list because it’s not considered to be structurally deficient.” [italics added]
despite that the bridge was listed as structurally deficient in the federal National Bridge Inventory database -- as well as the Boston Herald's compilation based on the federal database. Oh, and you can see the holes through the bridge's surface from below.

Few people would likely disagree that the DCR (and its predecessor agencies) has a poor record in maintaining their infrastructure, although some blame could easily be pointed at the State Legislature and/or Governor for failure to allocate sufficient funding. But the DCR should do a better job at recognizing and reporting the condition of the infrastructure under their control, rather than making public misstatements or engaging in peculiar reporting practices. The public statements of DCR officials about the current condition of their bridges is straining their credibility.


Longfellow Bridge image by lstrong2k through Creative Commons license.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

BC Arts Festival Today Through Saturday

The 10th Annual Boston College Arts Festival begins today and continues through Saturday, April 26th. Events each day are noon - 10 pm. Parking is free after 5 pm on Friday and all-day Saturday. Rain or shine.

Children's activities are on Saturday, noon - 4 pm. Children's activities are generally free, except for $7.50 for t-shirt decorating. Based on previous years, other activities may include: decorating masks; making bookmarks; face painting; cookie decorating; coloring contest; ceramics; scene painting; sidewalk mural; jewelry-making; musical instrument "petting zoo"; children's theater (The Emperor's New Clothes); story hour; and a parade with the BC Marching Band at noon.

It's up to you to decide if Urinetown: The Musical is appropriate for adults or children who haven't been potty-trained.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Register Now for the 2008 Boston Civic Summit

Earlier this year, Councilor Maureen Feeney, President of the Boston City Council, proposed to hold a civic summit to bring together the leaders and foot soldiers in our activist-friendly city. It sometimes seems like there are more civic organizations than people, particularly since some people seem to join dozens of groups.

The event will be held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston on Saturday, May 3rd from 8:15 am - 3:45 pm.

Gerta Dhamo, staffer for Councilor Feeney's office, wrote of the meeting:
The purpose of the event is to build a better city by working together on strengthening and promoting greater civic engagement and fostering dialogue between community groups. The summit will also provide current and prospective community leaders with tools, training and support to better exercise their important civic responsibility.

We welcome you to join civically engaged Boston residents, organization leaders, board members, as well as concerned citizen in this important community event and that you encourage your readers to attend as well. Attached you will find more information and a registration form. You can also visit our website at http://www.bostoncivicsummit.org/
When Councilor Feeney originally proposed the idea back in January 2008, she envisioned something big:
Feeney said she wants to invite every neighborhood and business group, parent-teacher organization, and crime-watch group in the city as well as residents unaffiliated with any group, and even those who are not civically engaged at all.

The one-day gathering would be akin to a congress, where people could voice their concerns and hopes for the future of the city, a forum for innovative ideas and finding common ground, she said.

She pitched the idea to BlueMassGroup, an online discussion forum for Democrats and progressives. She didn't get much of a response -- 1/3 of the comments posted were by Don Saklad.

The idea apparently didn't go over very well with Mayor Thomas Menino, "who said the needs in each neighborhood are different and should be addressed separately," according to the Boston Globe.

The registration form (PDF) can be found here. The information says to register by April 25th.

Boston Globe (1/7/08): "City Councilor Feeney unveils plans for one-day, citywide gathering"
Boston Globe's City Weekly: "Michael Jonas: Shout it from the summit: Activists needed"
Boston Globe Editorial: "Boston misses the call"
Letter to the Editor of the Boston Globe: "Letters: Give local leadership a break: Feeney's an inspiration"; "Letters: To those in the know: Status quo must go"


Image from "redjar" through a Creative Commons license.

Boston Capital Projects Viewable Database and Maps

The City of Boston has a beta version of a GIS (Geographic Information System) tool to search a database to find capital projects being undertaken by the city. I'm not sure how long this beta version has been online (the copyright shows 2007), but I hadn't come across it myself until a well-informed local resident pointed it out to me.

If you search within the neighborhood of Allston-Brighton, for example, you'll see 38 capital projects currently underway -- listed as "To Be Scheduled," "In Design," "In Construction," or "Ongoing Program." The projects include renovations of schools, libraries, and fire stations. It is informative to see all these projects linked to from a single database.

The mapping system in the city's online tool appears very similar to that for their online assessing, hence the parcels are outlined. The city probably spent an awful amount of money producing this mapping software, while an enterprising netizen could probably do the whole thing independently with google maps and a couple hours of work -- assuming that the (latitude,longitude) of the assessing database were available.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Holloway to Leave Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services

At tonight's meeting of the Boston College Task Force, Paul Holloway, Allston-Brighton liaison within the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services, announced that he would be leaving his post effective May 9th.

Holloway, a resident of Oak Square, will still be working for the city -- his new job will be as a regional planner with the department of emergency planning (I didn't catch the exact name of the department).

I think everyone would like to wish Paul well on his next endeavor! Hopefully he'll get a chance to spend all those piles of money that the federal government keeps telling municipalities they'll be receiving...

BC Football Player Charged With Rape and B&E

The Boston Globe and Boston Herald reported that Boston College football defensive end Brady Smith has been charged with rape and breaking and entering. (EDIT: Press release from the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office is here.)

This follows running back A. J. Brooks being charged with assault and battery in November 2007, and Gosder Cherilus and DeJuan Tribble being charged with assault and battery in August 2007 based on a July 2007 incident at The Greatest Bar near North Station.

Only 21% of Bostonians Know the Mayor's Constituent Service Phone Number

The results of the online poll are in regarding the phone number for delivery of constituent services to Boston residents, and the results are likely to raise a challenge to Mayor Thomas Menino's current constituent service hotline.

Bill Oates, the Chief Information Officer for the City of Boston, told the Boston Globe that "residents are comfortable with the mayor's long-established hot line."

Not so. An online poll held here at Brighton Centered over the last week-and-a-half shows that, among the well-wired readers of this website, only 21% knew the correct phone number of the "Mayor's 24-Hour Constituent Service Hotline": 617-635-4500.

A similar 21% of respondents seemed to think that the city already uses "311" for constituent services. The city doesn't, even though many think it should.

It looks like switching the current, poorly-known phone number to an easily-remembered "311" wouldn't cause much of a disruption because few people know the current number.

The city receives far fewer calls to their constituent service hotline than comparable cities with "311" service. This online poll demonstrates that the likely reason is that most people don't know what number to call.

A surprising 12% of respondents thought that they should call "911" to report a pothole to be filled. A major justification a decade ago for having a "311" service in Baltimore was to free up "911" from handling non-emergency calls, and this poll shows that the potential for misuse of "911" continues in Boston.

A substantial 17% of respondents thought of calling the Mayor's City Hall office directly with 617-635-4000 -- rather than his constituent service hotline -- while 6% would call Paul Holloway, the Allston-Brighton liaison in the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services (617-635-3485). Another 7% would call fictitious numbers (617-635-9311 and 888-3-BOSTON).

One of the "wrong" answers was actually a correct answer: 10% of respondents would bypass the Mayor's constituent service hotline by calling the Department of Public Works directly at 617-635-4900.

One commenter to a previous post here at Brighton Centered noted that he has the number saved on his cell phone, hence trying to remember the number might not be a good test; I should have included an option "I don't know because I've saved it on my phone already." I note, on the other hand, that I failed to provide an additional choice for respondents,"I have no idea", causing many people -- like my wife -- not to bother responding altogether. Note also that one of the links in the articles at Brighton Centered actually included the correct answer... so some people may have been tipped off. I predict that a more scientific poll of Boston residents would produce significantly fewer than 21% correct responses.

Channel 7's General Manager's Lawyer Opposes Trying Cases in the Media

Today brought a sad story that the WHDH (Channel 7) general manager, Randi Goldklank, was arrested on various charges after she was allegedly drunk and disorderly while exiting a plane at Logan Airport.

Her lawyer, David Eisenstadt, in court on her behalf, declined comment, "saying he did not believe in trying a case in the media," according to the Boston Globe.

Meanwhile, WHDH continued to try cases in the media today, including Goldklank's case, Boston College football player Brady Smith's arrest on rape and breaking and entering, the mental evaluation for accused student in a bomb plot, and so on. Maybe Goldklank was put on administrative leave because her lawyer contradicted station policy about what they should be covering?

TAB Scoops Heights On Undergraduate Student's Lawsuit

An editor at the Northeastern News, the student newspaper of Northeastern University, wrote in The Salt Mine that The Heights, the Boston College student newspaper, got scooped on a story that should've been a slam dunk for The Heights to cover.

Who scooped them? The Allston-Brighton TAB, a community newspaper.

At issue? The undergraduate who is part of the lawsuit against the city over the new zoning amendment that limits off-campus undergraduate student apartments to four students or fewer. Her name is Jessica Luccio, and she is a sophomore at BC. It only made sense for a newspaper to run an interview with her to find out why she joined the lawsuit. As of today, a search at the website of The Heights still produces no hit for the name "Luccio".

The NU News editor argued that there were two days for The Heights to file their story after the Boston Herald first named Luccio as part of the lawsuit -- albeit without identifying the university in which she is enrolled. (UniversalHub and Brighton Centered both noted soon after the Herald article that Luccio is an undergraduate at BC, I might add.)

Most of the main-stream media -- and non-MSM bloggers -- don't cover on-campus issues because that is the beat that ought to be covered best by student newspapers. I think there will be some red faces over in Chestnut Hill this week.

What were the stories that The Heights considered more important to run in their April 17th issue? One story was the debut of two flat-screen TVs in the dining hall. Apparently, students voted in February 2007 that these flat-screen TVs were more important than "a push for united social change, reshuffling the [Undergraduate Government at Boston College's] structure to improve efficiency, extending the UGBC's role beyond programming to improve student life, and [having the UGBC serve] as a more representative liaison between the students and the administration."


Image from Mike Wade through Creative Commons license.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Scenes From Today's Boston Marathon

Defending champion Ernst van Dyk was already ahead of second-place finisher Krige Schabort [left] by the time they hit Heartbreak Hill.









The two leading women, Dire Tune [F7] and Alevtina Biktimirova [F8], were neck-and-neck up Heartbreak Hill [right]; they would stay that way until the end. Tune beat Biktimirova by two seconds at the finish in a race that couldn't have been closer.








Defending champion Lidiya Grigoryeva [left], however, was well-behind in eighth place, and looking to be in serious trouble. She later would finish in ninth place.









The elite men and the first wave of the open competition left 25 minutes later -- and arrive at Heartbreak Hill 10 minutes later -- with defending champion and three-time winner Robert Cheruiyot [right] already holding the lead.








The early waves of runners from the open competition are starting to attack Heartbreak Hill...









...followed, an hour later, by the middle-of-the-pack runners.










People often say, "I don't know how they do it." Here's a guy who I really don't know how he did it, since he tore his Achilles tendon only three months ago.









Most marathons have some people near the back who run in wacky outfits. This race I saw one guy in a pink tutu near the front of the pack (probably running under 3:00) -- sorry, no photo -- and this guy nearer to the middle of the pack in blackface impersonating Randy Moss [right]. I'm not sure if we were supposed to cheer him or throw orange slices at him.









What would a Boston sports event be without the requisite NY Yankees fan in a team uniform? [left] He's clearly overdressed for the warm weather today, so maybe he'll collapse from heat exhaustion. Too bad.









This guy [right] was much too far back in the race to throw a water balloon at the torch... if there were one.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Kastor Wins U.S. Women's Marathon Time Trials

Little-known runner Magdalena Lewy-Boulet jumped out to a big early lead in Sunday's women's marathon in the U.S. Olympic Time Trials, but favorite Deena Kastor picked up the pace late in the race to claim the victory. Lewy-Boulet took second place, while Blake Russell held off several fast-finishing challengers to claim the third and final slot for the Beijing Olympics this summer.

There was a surprisingly large crowd watching the event along Memorial Drive in Cambridge near to the Harvard Bridge. Most of the spectators I spoke with were out-of-towners here to run Monday's Boston Marathon (or cheer on a family member or friend). Many spectators knew one or more of the runners through their home town's local running club.

Lewy-Boulet (#43) was already in the lead at mile three -- surprising everyone -- and opened up a gap as large as 1:45 at mile 15 over the small pack of the top contenders, including Kastor (#1).




Kastor, one of the top marathoners in the world, increased her pace by mile 21 and was less than 30 seconds behind. By mile 23, Kastor passed Boulet and never looked back. Kastor finished in 2:29, around one minute ahead of Boulet -- who managed to shatter her qualifying time of 2:42 with a 2:30 performance that is close to her personal best.


The clear audience favorite was Joan (Benoit) Samuelson, gold medalist at the first time the Olympics held a women's marathon -- at the 1984 Los Angeles games. Everyone saw her coming from a mile away and cheered for "Joanie". Samuelson appears to have broken into the top 100 in today's event, only 20 minutes behind the winning time.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Yard Waste Collection Starts Monday 4/21

City of Boston yard waste collection begins on Monday:

Spring 2008 Collection Dates: April 21st-May 23rd
  • Place leaves, and yard debris in large paper leaf bags or open barrels labeled "yard waste" (no plastic bags).
  • Yard Waste stickers for barrels are available by calling 635-4959.
  • Tie branches with string, 3' maximum length. Do not put branches in barrels.
  • Put barrels, bags and branches on the curb 7:00 AM on your Recycling Day: April 21 through May 23
  • Yard waste will not be collected with trash from April 7 through May 23.
  • Yard waste in plastic bags will also not be collected.
  • No more Saturday collections.

Note, however, that Allston-Brighton trash pickup is delayed one day this week:
Trash/recycling collection: Regular collections in all Boston neighborhoods except Allston/Brighton, Dorchester, East Boston, Hyde Park, Mattapan, Roslindale, and West Roxbury, which are delayed a day. Jamaica Plain residents who have twice-weekly collection will have no delay, while service for those with once-weekly collection will be de layed one day.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Boston Marathon Monday: III. Marathon Sunday, Too!

There will be not one, but two, marathons in Boston this weekend:
Huh?

This being the year for the Summer Olympics, each country's Olympic team needs to have time trials for each event. At November's men's event in New York City, Ryan Hall set the U. S. men's marathon time trial record by 17 seconds -- but the real news was that runner Ryan Shay collapsed after five-and-a-half-miles, and later died. Hall will be joined by Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell to represent the U. S. in the Beijing Olympics in August.

The marathon time trial organizers bought into Boston's bid to hold a separate women's marathon time trial race the day before the Boston Marathon itself.

Is there a problem with holding a time trial during an event full of the unwashed masses? Absolutely not. They Kenyan Olympics Team has held their time trials before at the Boston Marathon, and those Kenyans know how to win in the event. The unique aspect of the marathon sport is that the lowest amateur gets to line up with the best athletes at the same start line (or a few city blocks behind) -- I think it is the only Olympic sport where that is true throughout the sport. Holding a separate time trials event takes away that amateur-professional atmosphere of the marathon.


Course

The women's time trial event course will follow a downtown Boston and Cambridge course that is not the same course as the Boston Marathon. It starts and ends near Copley Square, and has a series of loops of a six-mile route that crosses the Harvard Bridge (at Massachusetts Avenue) into Cambridge and follows Memorial Drive.

The sad thing about this course is that it doesn't have any of the wonderful hills that make the Boston Marathon so famous. The downtown course for the time trials is flat, flat, flat:
When you think of Boston and marathon running, you think of hills, especially punishing downhills followed by deceptively tough climbs. Alas, the Olympic Trials marathon will not be run on the Hopkinton to Boston route, which features those fabled undulations. The trials race route, a five-loop configuration throughout Boston and nearby Cambridge, will be mostly flat, following many of the same roads used for the Tufts 10 Km, held each October on Columbus Day.


Favorites

On Sunday's women's time trial, the favorite has to be Deena Kastor. She won the bronze medal in the women's marathon at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and enters the women's time trials with a qualifying time 12 minutes faster than anyone in the field -- and itself a U. S. women's time trials qualifying time record. Kastor blew away the competition at October's Tufts 10-K, which was run along much of the same route as the women's time trial on Sunday.

American women have been shut out of winning the Boston Marathon since Lisa Larsen Weidenbach won the race in 1985. This year, Kastor is in such good form -- with a 2:19 qualifying time -- that she would stand a decent chance of winning the Boston Marathon outright. Sadly, she won't be running the Boston Marathon -- she'll be running the time trials the day before.

Other people favored to get one of the three slots to Beijing includes Elva Dryer and Kate O'Neill of Milton.

But perhaps the fan favorite among the scheduled entrants will be Maine resident Joan Samuelson -- who won the gold medal in the Los Angeles Summer Olympics women's marathon in 1984.


Previously:
A runner's perspective of the Boston Marathon.
Spectator's perspective of the Boston Marathon.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Boston Marathon Monday Preview: II. For Spectators

The 112th Boston Marathon will be run on Monday, April 21st -- Patriot's Day. Yesterday I gave a runner's perspective of the race. Tomorrow will be a preview of the U.S. Olympics Team Time Trials -- Women's Marathon -- on Sunday, April 20th.

The Boston Marathon usually draws a crowd of between 500,000 and 1 million people, which means that there are people lined up (several deep) along virtually the entire route. Race organizers claim it to be the largest attendance for any annual sporting event. Young children often enjoy the event, even if they don't quite understand it yet.


Hey, Old Timers -- Here Are Recent Changes to the Event:
  1. Main race now starts at 10:00 am (not noon)!
  2. Wheelchair Start: 35 minutes earlier than the main field (i.e., 9:25 am)
  3. Elite Women's Start: 25 minutes earlier than the main field (i.e., 9:35 am)
  4. Main field broken into two start times:
    • Elite Men + main field wave 1 at 10:00am
    • Main field wave 2 at 10:30 am

Where is the best place to view the race?


The course passes through Brighton for miles 21.4 (BC Green Line T Station) to 22.3 (Cleveland Circle). Both of those are popular places to view the race. Cleveland Circle has occasionally witnessed wheelchair crashes when crossing the train tracks -- unless they need medical attention, please do not assist the wheelchair athletes back onto their chairs, or else they will be disqualified!

Another great place to watch is at the beginning of Heartbreak Hill in Newton -- approximately mile 20.2 on the course -- at the corner of Comm. Ave and Grant Ave (500 Commonwealth Ave, Newton). You'll see the wheelchair racers making their move and breaking free from each other as they go up the hill. Lots of runners will need cheers to carry on up the hill.

Course map can be found here (PDF).

Good viewing places further from Brighton include:
  • Starting line (Hopkinton), where the runners are crowded together and wheelchairs have been known to collide. Just don't try to drive anywhere near to Hopkinton... it's a total zoo.
  • Natick town center (mile 10.1); the runners are not too tired yet.
  • Wellesley college, where the Wellesley women scream like girls (mile 12.2 or so), especially if a cute runner jumps out into the lead -- as Brad Pitt look-alike Josh Cox did in 2001.
  • Heartbreak Hill, the last of the Four Hills of Newton (begins at mile 20.3)
  • Anywhere from Kenmore Square (mile 25.2) to the finish at Copley, although expect it to be very crowded
Note that the course will be completely closed off at least a few minutes before the first competitors (wheelchairs) arrive (around 10:30 am), and will stay closed to vehicular traffic until runners on a six-hour pace pass through (around 3:30 pm for wave 2).

When will the athletes be arriving in Brighton?

The 35-K (21.75 mile) mark is near the intersection of Comm Ave and Wade Street / Foster Street, i.e., halfway between the BC T station and Cleveland Circle.

Here are expected arrival times for the lead competitors in each category:

Mile.......Wheel(M)....Wheel(F).....Runner(W).....Runner(M)
21.75.....10:30:14.....10:46:33.......11:32:48........11:46:55

and the last official competitors to come through should be at 3:29 pm (who started at 10:30 am and are on a pace of 13:45/mi to finish in exactly six hours).

The biggest pack of runners will be coming through 12:30 - 2:00 pm.

Everything is approximately 10 minutes earlier at the beginning of Heartbreak Hill (20.2 mile mark).


What could I do to help out runners?

Bananas, cut in half, are perfect for the runners right after they deplete their glycogen stores and hit the wall (mile 20). Petroleum jelly (for chafing) is a popular handout, but wear latex gloves.

Oh, and cheer, too. A lot.


Image by Paul Keleher under Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Boston Marathon Monday Preview: I. A Runner's Perspective

In case you hadn't realized it, the 112th Boston Marathon will be run on Monday. Miles 21.4 - 22.4 of the course passes through one side of Brighton along Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill Avenue, and then Beacon Street.

I'm not running this year, but have entered it a number of times -- and made it both to the starting line and finishing line twice. Here are some of my notes from my 2002 race (when I ran a 2:56) offering information from a runner's perspective:
  1. The downhill right out of Hopkinton is really, really steep.
  2. Ashland and Framingham smelled mostly of barbecue and stale beer.
  3. Fans in central Framingham made the route far less ugly, but the road surface still sucks.
  4. Doing some random business along the side of the road in Natick while being cheered wildly by a group of black women on the other side. Soon they would no doubt get bored by the sight.
  5. 6-foot high poster one Wellesley woman held up saying she'd let you kiss her (exuberance or desperation?), and is this offer only made to the men? [Many such posters are held up -- this one was exceptional due to its size.]
  6. They may be Wellesley women, but they scream like girls.
  7. Gloves on at the start, off by four, on again at nine, off again at mile 14. Don't toss away clothing during the Boston Marathon because the weather can change back-and-forth.
  8. The toughest hill in the race is the exposed, steady uphill climb past Newton Lower Falls at mile 16.
  9. Passing nearly-stalled wheelchairs up the first and fourth (Heartbreak) hills of Newton -- running a marathon is easy compared to racing a wheelchair uphill.
  10. Hearing the radio at mile 20 tuned to "the event", followed by the fan screaming, "That's it! Strike three! Four-three!" [Won't happen this year -- the race now starts too early.]
  11. Slowly passing Dick Hoyt at mile 23 -- man is he strong and an inspiration! [The Hoyts usually get a head start in the race.]
  12. Running down Beacon Street is faster than the C-line.
  13. Staying on the left works everywhere except the water stops at miles 22 and 24, which are only on the right.
  14. Hearing "Go Cambridge" every 50 feet -- literally -- because of these new easy-to-read uniforms! [I was a member of the Cambridge Running Club at the time.] Warning: don't have readable words on your clothing unless you want it shouted out really, really often throughout the entire race.
  15. What the hell? One more hill at the very end -- up Hereford Street? [Now there's yet another hill right before that, too, since the course has been changed slightly to take the Comm Ave underpass below Mass Ave.]
  16. One local expert on the race claims that 90% of the course is uphill or downhill -- only 10% can be truly classified as flat.
  17. I'm not buying any more lemon-lime Gatorade for at least a few months.

More on the race in the next two days:

Tomorrow: a spectator's perspective on where to watch the race. Think: wheelchair wipeouts.

Friday: changes to this year's marathon -- particularly the additional race, the U. S. Women's Olympics Marathon Time Trial, on Sunday along a different route.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Four Landlords Plus One Student Make Five -- And File Suit Against the City

The Boston Herald reports that four landlords and one student have filed a lawsuit against the city's new zoning amendment restricting rental properties to four or fewer undergraduate students per unit:
Battling City Hall are four landlords, Mark Rosenberg, Anthony Dimeo, Lazarus Pavlidis and Lloyd Rosenthal, who all bought homes in Allston and Brighton over the past two decades with plans to rent them out to students...

Jessica Luccio, who lives with eight other students in a rental in the city, also has joined in the suit. She argues that, under the new rules, she faces an unfair restriction on who she can rent an apartment with in the city.
And... why didn't the other seven students join the suit?


Earlier:
Amateur legal analysis of some legal arguments opposing the zoning amendment. Boston Zoning Commission passes the amendment following a long, boisterous public hearing. BRA Board does the same, without so much boisterousness. Background on the zoning amendment.

Update: Adam Gaffin reports that the student who joined the lawsuit, Jessica Luccio, is a student at Boston College, based on her Facebook profile. She also has a webpage on the BC server. She is in the class of 2010, hence currently a sophomore -- and therefore in need of housing for the fall, since BC does not, in general, provide housing for juniors.

Another Update: More will be coming in the future about some of the landlords who are part of the lawsuit. Some of them are well-known -- if not notorious -- in Brighton.

BostonNOW Is Now Gone Due To Krumbling Krona

The free daily newspaper BostonNOW has now folded, according to a report in the Boston Herald and a subsequent story in the Associate Press.

The original concept of the newspaper included seamless merging of blog content. In reality, very little original blog content was included -- and that process was far from from seamless.

The worst part of the way BostonNOW designed the blog content was that they required all blogs to be created on their website, rather than through a hyperlinking method to the blog's own website. All that blog content across the web couldn't be used unless the blogger created a duplicate blog over at BostonNOW. With the paper's demise, people who created blogs from scratch on the paper's website (yeah, both of those guys), may now risk losing all their old content. I once, nonetheless, created a blog there using their useful tool -- a single button that would import all of the postings from an existing blogger blog elsewhere on the web -- but haven't bothered with that parallel blog ever since.

My first experience with a BostonNOW reporter wasn't awful. He was writing a story duplicating my blog post on possible alternative uses for three houses now owned by Boston College. Why couldn't they just run my blog post instead? Wasn't that the idea for the newspaper's blog content? Also, since they were reporting on the possibly historic nature of the houses, why couldn't they look up that they are all three listed on the National Register of Historic Places? Anyway, the experience could've been worse.

The newspaper carries a high opinion of itself, as evidenced by its press release posted over at the Boston Phoenix's "Media Log" blog:
BostonNOW’s editorial content, especially its strong local reporting, has been picked up dozens of times by Boston’s paid dailies and TV outlets. The Economist magazine lauded BostonNOW in January as one of the finest free dailies in the United States.
I'm not sure the paper's readers -- or those who went to great lengths to avoid being the paper's readers -- would necessarily agree, nor would their vocal critics. To their credit, though, BostonNOW did get the story of the how the MBTA is broke before the Boston Globe did. To their detriment, they ran the story of Senator Barack Obama maybe defeating Senator Hillary Clinton the day after the New Hampshire Democratic primary.

The reason for the paper folding? The owners are in Iceland and have been suffering from a collapsing Icelandic currency relative to the U.S. dollar -- which itself has been collapsing relative to the euro. In short, a krona fire sale on Iceland. I wonder if anyone will produce a kronology of the kollapse? Clearly prone to hyperbole, the paper's press release claims that the Icelandic krona has "has declined over 20% against the dollar since January." Looking at the Wall Street Journal's numbers, however, it looks more like a 15.5% decline to me. (Alternatively stated, the dollar has increased in value by 18.3% relative to the kronar.) Close enough?

Even though it's a free daily, a hard copy of today's paper might actually be worth something on Ebay -- in dollars, not krona, of course.

Best headlines -- although they miss the U/L case for the newspaper's name:
UniversalHub: "Call It Boston Then"
Boston Phoenix Media Log: "Boston Now Is Boston Then"


BostonNOW Hard Hitting Stories Yet to be Written

The online version of BostonNOW has been -- for several months! -- looking for citizen journalists to earn $16 to 40 writing a story for the free daily paper. Here's their ad:



Hmmmm... I wonder. Is March 3rd one of the "best dates"? October 22nd? Or is John Smith the best date? Jane Doe? Maybe they should look at the Phoenix's classifieds?

Oh, I get it now. They mean where to go on a date! Damn, I'm stupid.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Boston Police Experimenting With Community Online Organizing In Jamaica Plain

The Boston Police Department's Neighborhood Crime Watch Unit has initiated an experiment in online community organizing in Jamaica Plain in an effort to "build community and reduce crime by connecting neighbors to each other and to community and police resources."

It's called the "E-13/Jamaica Plain Neighbors Network," and the idea appears to be to add an online tool for crime watches to use. Crime watches are usually bottom-up organizations -- put together at the grass roots level by concerned residents, who then establish a relationship with the local police force.

This new social network appears to be a proactive step by the BPD to provide a "social network" environment for "neighborhood cluster groups" to organize themselves.

It will be interesting to watch this experiment to see how well it works -- and if it should be replicated in other neighborhoods. It may not, however, be a useful tool for the poorest neighborhoods, or, more specifically, those neighborhoods with the poorest access to computer resources.

Cardinal Decides Not to Eat Those Nuts

Spring. Cardinals. Nuts. Nothing odd there.

But when Sean Cardinal O'Malley was attending a meal with the local Nigerian immigrant community following their two-and-a-half-hour Mass, he was offered some nuts:
"Afterwards there was a meal with plenty of Nigerian food. At the beginning of the celebration they offered to me, as a sign of hospitality, a plate of some very fancy nuts, so I took one and said to Father Oscar, 'Am I supposed to eat it?' and he replied, 'If you eat it, you won’t sleep for two weeks.' So, after a little consideration, I gracefully declined the offer!"
I'll bet good money that those were cola nuts -- they have a pinkish meat and I'm not exaggerating to say that they are packed to the rafters with caffeine.

Cola nuts are found across the Sahel of West Africa, and are commonly offered to guests as hospitality. I've also heard them used metaphorically to describe the act of bribery.

You break off a little bit of the nut, and nibble -- slowly -- on the tiniest bit of it. What if you eat lots of them often? Your teeth will look like _________ (fill in the blank with your favorite, offensive redneck stained teeth joke).

This Cardinal appears to be getting some good advice from at least one of his flock: be careful when a Nigerian guy offers you some nuts.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Muggings Targeting Elderly Near Wallingford Road / Leamington Road

Boston Police Department's D-14 station has issued an alert about muggings of elderly people, in the early evening hours, in the neighborhood of Leamington Road and Wallingford Road in Brighton -- but possibly extending as far as the area bracketed by Commonwealth Avenue, Washington Street, and Market Street.

Suspects: "three or four black males age 16 to 20 years of age. Suspects are usually wearing dark or black clothing."

Via Allston-Brighton TAB's blog.

City Council Continues 10-Year Battle for 311 Service

The City Council held hearings Thursday on an improved constituent service hotline. Despite the Boston Globe's recent trumpeting of the issue, they buried coverage of the Council hearing to page B4 (probably because City Editor Brian McGrory vowed in 2003 "never spill a drop of ink writing about the Boston City Council") -- and then buried the most alarming quotation towards the bottom of the story:
[Boston Chief Information officer Bill Oates] acknowledged a switch to the catchy and simple 311 could elicit a flood of new calls.

"One of the challenges of 311 is we don't want to turn the button on 311 and have a volume [of calls] that will overwhelm the capacity of the call center," Oates said. He said city officials are currently focused on improving the city's response to calls made to the mayor's hot line. "It's a fairly well-known number," Oates said.

Yes, you read that correctly: a top city official doesn't want to roll out a service that more people would call -- he wants to keep the call volume at its current, low level.

The city's CIO also seems to think that the phone number of the Mayor's hotline is well-known, which is a disputable assertion. (See poll below.)

On top of that, a quick search of the record shows that the City Council has been lobbying -- unsuccessfully -- for the 311 service for over a decade.


The Phone Number Few People Know -- Or Call

The truth seems to be both that Boston's current system has a very low call volume compared to comparable cities, and that most residents don't know where to call.

The population of Baltimore is only 20% larger than Boston, yet its 311 service -- the first ever rolled out in the U. S. -- receives about 3000 calls (4.6 calls per 1000 residents) compared to Boston's 450 (0.8 calls per 1000 residents) to the "Mayor's 24-Hour Constituent Service Hotline." And of Boston's small number of calls, the city claims that around 80% are never logged because they are merely informational requests, not complaints. That leaves Boston with only 80 substantive calls per day (0.14 per 1000 residents) to the Mayor's hotline. New York City? Forty thousand calls per day to their 311 number since it started in late 2002, or 5.0 calls per 1000 residents.

Why so few calls in Boston? Are there no potholes in the city?

In last fall's Allston-Brighton District 9 City Councilor campaign, at a candidates' forum I asked one candidate, Rosie Hanlon, if she ever used the Mayor's hotline (she said no); a number of other candidates privately admitted the same. Only half of the candidates for Councilor-At-Large claimed to have used the system when responding to a written questionnaire. (Two other candidates dodged the question, while Councilor Felix Arroyo candidly admitted, like Hanlon, to never having called the number.)

In my roles both as a blogger and a member of several civic groups, I often hear complaints about city services. Very, very few people in my experience know the phone number of the Mayor's hotline; many people don't even know that the hotline exists. And those people are the ones who are involved at some level in community events -- civic leaders and long-time, not transient, residents. (Some of the noisiest complainers in Brighton have admitted to me they have never called the number!)

It's quite clear to me: the Mayor's 24-Hour Constituent Service Hotline doesn't get many calls because most people either don't know it exists, or don't know the phone number off the top of their head.

When you combine that observation with CIO Oates' statement that the city doesn't want an increase in call volume anytime soon, the cynical argument is that the city wants to keep the current system to avoid dealing with constituents and their complaints.


City Council Held Hearings About Rolling Out 311 Service -- In October 1997

In the 1996 presidential campaign, President Bill Clinton gave a speech in Sacramento, California pushing the concept of a city services phone number for non-emergency services, as part of his support for community policing. The City of Baltimore rolled out their service in October 1996, and the Federal Communications Commission approved the use of the 3-1-1 phone number in February 1997.

Former Allston-Brighton District 9 City Councilor Brian Honan joined with current Councilor-At-Large Stephen Murphy to hold hearings in October 1997 (archive fee) to look into having a 311 service in Boston:
Lost pets, illegally parked cars, noisy parties, cars blocking driveways and a host of other issues are regularly fielded by emergency operators, according to City Councilor Brian Honan. He said he is concerned that the calls bog down the 911 system, making it more difficult for police, fire and emergency officials to promptly respond to more serious emergencies "In terms of Boston, there is a significant number of nuisance calls into our 911 system," said Honan, who represents the Allston-Brighton district and proposed the hearing along with Councilor at Large Stephen J. Murphy. "We're going to examine the issue to see if it's a feasible, viable option to adopt a 311 system."

Murphy, who chairs the Committee on Public Safety, which will hold the hearing, said the concept mimics a program in Baltimore, where the number of calls to 911 dropped by 43 percent as a result of the new public nuisance line.
The Globe recently noted that Councilor Murphy "has been pressing the city to adopt 311 for nearly a decade"; actually he's been doing it for just over a decade, albeit more to relieve "nuisances" from the 911 line than to deliver constituent services.

Despite this pressure, city officials aren't totally giving in, according to the Globe: "[Mayor Thomas] Menino's spokeswoman, Dot Joyce, said the existing hot line has served the city well."

Which might be true if "well" means having a number that few people seem to know and even fewer call.


Online Poll

I have put up an online poll about what number you should call if you wanted to have a pothole filled today. No Peeking! No Searching Online! The point is to see if the readers here know, off the top of their heads, what number to call.

To vote, you have to load the full website in a browser.

Tree-Planting Workshop -- And Get a Free Tree!

The Allston Brighton Green Space Advocates are holding a tree planting workshop on Wednesday, April 16th in conjunction with Boston's "Grow Boston Greener" initiative to plant 100,000 new trees in Boston by 2020.

Participants will learn about how to plant and care for a tree -- and will receive a free tree to plant in their own yard.

At the ABGSA's Green Gathering in February 2008, John Walkey of the Urban Ecology Institute noted that the initiative was organizing three kinds of activities to encourage tree-planting: do-it-yourself workshops (like the ABGSA's event); organizing neighborhood groups and people for planting, possibly including designated "tree captains"; and the city's volunteer system of green space stewardship, such as "adopt-a-park." The city's initiative was announced on April 27, 2007 -- Arbor Day -- and the plan is to have 1000 trees planted by the end of april.

Walkey noted that there is not enough public land to accomplish the ambitious goal of the initiative, so that a lot of private owners will be part of the plan to add trees to the city. Unfortunately property owners periodically have to cut down trees for various reasons, too; the rule of thumb is to plant one new tree for every one inch of diameter of tree that was felled.

The ABGSA held a series of "street greening workshops" in 2007 to develop ideas on how to make three routes in Allston-Brighton -- Everett Street, Chestnut Hill Avenue, and Brooks Street -- greener. This kind of planning will likely be an important element in the city's tree planting initiative.

The ABCDC is holding the outdoor tree-planting workshop indoors at their offices at 320 Washington Street, Brighton, MA 02135, 3rd floor. I wonder how their offices will look after all that tree planting?
"That very night in Max's room a forest grew and grew -- and grew unitl his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around..." [Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak]

For more information contact Kate Jordan at the Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation (the sponsor of the ABGSA): Jordan@AllstonBrightonCDC.org, 617-787-3874, ext.216

Between the Lions in Oak Square Wednesday

Leona the Lion will make an appearance in Oak Square next Wednesday afternoon featuring songs and stories. The Leona character appears on the PBS/WGBH show, "Between the Lions." The event is being organized by the Presentation School Foundation.

DATE: Wednesday, April 16, 2008

TIME: Leona Performance at 2:00 pm
Activities & Snacks at 3:00 pm

LOCATION: Oak Square YMCA, 615 Washington Street, Brighton, MA 02135

The event was rescheduled after snow caused its cancellation in February. African lions are not particularly fond of snow.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Legal Objections to the Four Student Apartment Zoning Ordinance: "Is That All You've Got?"

Opponents of the recently enacted zoning amendment limiting off-campus undergraduate students to four or fewer per apartment appear to be preparing a legal challenge, according to the TAB newspapers.

What might be the legal arguments at the basis of their challenge?

An online op-ed by Dr. Richard Cravatts, advertising and publications manager at law firm Nixon Peabody LLP, at the American Thinker website presents a series of potential arguments against the zoning amendment. I suspect that the arguments he makes will be similar to many arguments that will appear in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the zoning amendment. He works for a law firm, while I'm not a lawyer at all, so it makes perfect sense for me to be presumptuous by analyzing his legal arguments. I am admittedly surprised by how poor those legal arguments against the zoning amendment appear to be.

1. A zoning ordinance that has as one of it objectives to limit the amount of rent an owner could potentially realize in an unregulated market, thus reducing his profits and the value of his property, has been seen by some courts, as it has with rent control, as a "taking" of private property by the government for "public use, without just compensation," a violation of the Fifth Amendment.
At no time have I heard the proponents state that the zoning amendment has anything to do with rent control; instead, it is the opponents who claim that the amendment amounts to a backdoor version of rent control. Councilor Michael Ross and other supporters justified the amendment on the basis of over-crowding and quality-of-life issues. While some have claimed that the outcome of the zoning amendment could be to make such units more affordable to families, a plausible argument could even be made that the zoning amendment will actually drive up rental prices, because it will increase the demand, as measured in number of units, while not increasing the supply of units.

Opponents of the zoning amendment also frequently argue that it will increase the price per person for student rentals -- landlords continue to charge the same amount per unit, in order to pay off their costs, thereby charging more per occupant when there are fewer occupants -- which is contrary to the position that landlords will now be earning less per unit. Many students remark that they pay more for on-campus housing, yet still prefer to live on-campus, indicating that there is more money available to many students per person to pay for off-campus housing than they currently pay.

If the lawsuit simultaneously argues both that the zoning amendment amounts to rent control and that students will have to pay more for apartments as a result of it, then expect any decent defense lawyer to tear apart the argument by showing the inherent contradiction.

If the TAB article is correct, then a form of this argument (#1) will be the primary basis for the lawsuit. Skip Schlomming of the Small Property Owners Association told the TAB, "They want to use a landlord on the verge of retiring so if he gets targeted, that’s just his retirement." Such a landlord's legal standing would be his financial harm due to the decreased occupancy.

2. Landlords legally cannot proscribe or police the private behavior of tenants -- nor should they have to -- even if it was permitted by housing law.
The zoning amendment as I understand it does not include any provision for policing the private behavior of tenants; its enforcement plan doesn't yet exist, but will presumably be written by the city's Inspectional Services Division. Indications are that enforcement action would be initiated by a complaint, and that the enforcement would target the landlord, not the tenant.

Standard leases state the names of all people allowed to occupy the unit; if other people not listed on the lease occupy the unit, then the tenant is in violation of the contract, and the landlord can just throw them out. If the landlord, however, signs one or more leases for a unit that include, in writing, more than four undergraduate student occupants, then the landlord is violating the new zoning amendment. In neither case is the landlord "[policing] the private behavior of tenants" -- he is only required not to sign leases to more than four students.

Something I expect to occur is that some students may now sign leases that do not list all the occupants. If they do so, they may become liable for paying the fines and also subject to eviction. It's one thing to like to watch Jeopardy, but quite another to be living in a state of continual jeopardy that could suddenly throw you out onto the street in the middle of the winter. Since ISD enforcement is likely to be triggered by complaints, students engaged in such illegal living arrangements would definitely not want to be throwing noisy parties with underage drinking.

3. The courts have also repeatedly asserted that tenants, when they live in units that conform to zoning regulations, are entitled to an expectation of privacy from government intrusion, something they seemingly would be denied if Boston officials can prevent them from living together merely because they happen to be college students.
Cravatts' sole legal argument here invokes the dissent in the U. S. Supreme Court's 1974 Belle Terre v. Boraas case; a lower court hearing a lawsuit against the zoning amendment would be unlikely to reject the majority decision in favor of the dissent, since this would likely not survive an appeal.

4. While the Boston ordinance specifically prevents more than four college students, and only students from living together in a unit, it will allow families, even extended families, to occupy the same units that will now be unavailable to students.
On a factual basis, the defense would cede this point. The reason is that students are not legally a protected housing class, regardless of whether or not some people consider this unfair. Cravatts' once again uses only the Belle Terre dissent as a legal argument that would be unlikely to carry the day.

5. There are other measures to address the social problem of rowdy student behavior which are more practical to implement and less intrusive than regulations which have tended to harm, rather than ameliorate, housing markets
.
Whether or not this is true it does not invalidate the zoning amendment. Cravatts is making a political argument rather than a legal one. Government has every right to choose among competing options to address a problem, as long as they are all legal.


One more argument was made by attorney Stephen Greenbaum in the TAB article:
6. “The city would have to ascertain students’ personal academic status in order to determine the legality of their living arrangements,” said Greenbaum. “Students are under no obligation to disclose that information.”
Greenbaum's argument is that the law is not enforceable on a practical level, because students living off-campus will simply refuse to say whether or not they are students. Yes, that may very well happen, and the apartment would not get cited. But if the students deliberately lied to an ISD officer that might open up more legal jeopardy if ISD could determine their enrollment status through independent means.

Boston College Police, for example, jointly patrol off-campus with Boston Police Department details, and regularly are supported in their work by BC employees who identify whether or not a given apartment is occupied by BC students. BC students having a noisy party may prefer to be identified as being students to go through the student disciplinary system rather than initiating a criminal record.


I must say that I am quite unimpressed with these legal arguments against the zoning amendment. I honestly thought that there would be stronger legal arguments than these -- they amount to a Hail Mary pass, not a slam dunk. As The Decider asked Brother George, "Is that all you've got?"

More discussion on this topic is at the AllstonBrighton2006 google group.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Councilor Flaherty Fires Opening Salvo of the 2009 Mayoral Campaign

I recently wrote on this blog that Councilor Michael Flaherty years ago called for the City of Boston to adopt the "CitiStat" system to track constituent service complaints. Since it is well-known that Councilor Flaherty is interested in running for Mayor, I predicted that he would raise up this issue after the Boston Globe published an article in Sunday's newspaper about how long Mayor Thomas Menino's administration is taking to roll out such a service:
I am under the impression that Councilor Flaherty and his team consider this one of his signature issues, so the Globe story in Sunday's paper will add fuel the fire of his Mayoral ambitions by giving him a strong issue for campaigning. Mayor Menino therefore has a deadline for rolling out his version of the system before election day in November 2009 -- not in 2010, the date told to the Globe by Bill Oates, the city's chief information officer.
I pointed out that the Globe article missed this key element in their story. Councilor Flaherty seems to agree, because today he sent out a bulk email making the same point:
In its extensive coverage of Boston's citizen complaint tracking efforts, the Globe's article contained a glaring oversight: Since 2005, I have been pushing for the city to adopt CitiStat -- an online accountability and assessment tool for tracking constituent services as well as long-term planning goals.

In fact, I am holding yet another hearing on Thursday to debate the feasibility of implementing the tracking program in Boston.
Is Councilor Flaherty going to make this into an issue for the Mayoral race? You betcha. His email continues to attack the "Administration", although without explicitly naming the Mayor:
In the end, our city's stubbornness hurts everyday residents who just want the city to respond to their needs in a timely and responsible manner...

Had the [Menino] Administration listened three years ago when a tracking system like CitiStat was first proposed, perhaps we too could have claimed three years of savings and quality constituent services. I am hopeful that we can all get serious about saving residents money and delivering better services...

I strongly encourage the Administration to take an active role in this debate.
I believe we have just heard the opening salvo of the 2009 Mayoral campaign.

The public hearing Councilor Flaherty refers to will be held on Thursday, April 10, at 1 pm in the Boston City Council's Iannella Chambers. Bring your own ordinance. Remember to look both ways before entering the chamber.

David Berstein of the Boston Phoenix's Talking Politics Blog thinks that Mayor Menino's actions are part of a broader pattern where: a City Councilor occasionally comes up with a good idea: Mayor Menino takes the idea as his own via a press conference; and then Menino doesn't follow through with implementing the project. Bernstein adds the example of the city-wide Grove Hall-wide WiFi system. Bernstein has, in effect, proposed Boston's new parlor game: come up with other examples.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

More On 311 -- And Could It Be Flaherty's Issue in 2009?

In a nice piece of investigative reporting, the Boston Globe found out how little the city has progressed in the last two years in rolling out a city-wide constituent complaint tracking service (often referred to as a "311" service). While the city has a system called the Mayor's 24-Hour Constituent Service Hotline, the system doesn't provide full tracking of complaints throughout the city's various departments, resulting in little knowledge as to how well complaints are resolved.

The Globe story fails to note five rather important angles to the story:
  1. There already is an online constituent service webform (actually two webforms!) that generates a small (but non-zero) amount of tracking information;
  2. The online webform that accepts complaints about building, health, housing, code enforcement, environmental services, and weights and measures has been broken for more than one year for at least some web browsers;
  3. The city has begun regularly summarizing various departments' performances through average response times to complaints, despite not having a system fully trackable to the public;
  4. Mayor Thomas Menino may very well be slow to embrace a city-wide 311 system because he has already associated constituent services with his "Mayor's Constituent Service Hotline"; and
  5. One of Mayor Menino's likely challengers next year, Councilor Michael Flaherty, has been pushing the 311 service, and may renew his push if Mayor Menino doesn't get the new system running soon.
The Globe story noted that Mayor Menino vowed two years ago to roll out such a complaint tracking service by the end of 2006, but city officials now say that it may be 2009 or 2010 before the system is ready -- and for a total price tag of $4 million.

Why the service has been so slow to roll out was not addressed in the Globe story. I can guess that the basic problem is that various city departments probably use different software to do their core tasks, so the process requires bringing all of their work under a common system. That is an awfully hard task when you're dealing with a large organization -- although New York City was able to do so relatively quickly for $20 million in 2003. Where there's a will there's a way.


Online Constituent Services. The Globe story completely missed the fact that constituent complaints can be submitted online, not just by phone (617-635-4500). Why does this matter? An online complaint (eventually) returns a ticket number, so that you can keep track of the complaint; phone calls do not generate a ticket number. The number helps for follow-up calls -- but you still cannot view the status of the complaint online, ticket number or not.

Weekend staffing for the online form has been spotty in my experience: once I even received an email on Monday morning from a city employee saying that I shouldn't use the online form over the weekend because it wouldn't necessarily be answered. (I have subsequently been told that requests submitted online during the weekend are being read over the weekend, but I have not confirmed that in practice.)


Broken Web Forms.
One or more of these web forms has been broken for well over one year, at least in my browsers (Firefox, Konqueror, Opera). The form fails to identify any street address that I enter in order to submit a building complaint (e.g., work after hours). The building, health, housing, code enforcement, environmental services, and weights and measures departments probably think that nobody is submitting complaints online; in fact, since the web forms fail for at least some people (like me), people are stuck sending their complaints back to the Mayor's 24-hour line.


City Department Tracking of Response Times to Constituent Complaints.
To his credit, Mayor Menino is using measured metrics to track the response of his various departments to constituent complaints. For example, in 2006 88% of potholes were filled within 24 hours. Obviously, some amount of information is getting stored and analyzed in the current system -- which seems to obviate the need for the Boston Globe to do their own investigation of the city's response to 50 randomly selected complaints, since the city's statistics cover a much larger statistical sample.


Why Turn the "Mayor's 24-Hour Constituent Service Hotline" Into the "City of Boston Constituent Service Hotline"?
Come on, Globe, recognize the obvious reason why the Mayor doesn't want to get rid of the "Mayor's 24-Hour Constituent Service Hotline" by creating a "311 Constituent Service Hotline." Do you detect a word that would disappear from the name? Much of an elected municipal official's work is in constituent services, so they understandably want to claim the credit for their (staff's) work. Why not call it the "Mayor's 311 Constituent Service -- That You Can Also Access By Calling 617-635-4500?" I think that name is catchy.

Wait... Councilor Sam Yoon already thought of that idea, and told it to the Boston Globe two years ago:
Some inside City Hall believe Menino may be reluctant to give up a number that's become part of his own urban brand. ''I recognize the mayor, for good reason, could be worried that he'll lose the connection he has with people through the mayor's hot line," says Yoon.

Yoon's solution: ''Let's call it 'the Mayor's 311.' "


Councilor Flaherty Has Been Pushing For 311 Service.
In last fall's campaign for Boston City Councilor-At-Large, three of the current office holders -- Councilors John Connolly, Michael Flaherty, and Sam Yoon -- responded to a questionnaire here on the Brighton Centered Blog about revamping the constituent services system. Councilor Connolly called for a 311 service; Councilor Yoon expressed how impressed he was with Somerville's 311 service, and that Boston should improve their service; and Councilor Flaherty noted that he called for the city to implement a "CitiStat" system four years ago:
COUNCILOR MICHAEL FLAHERTY: The city has an obligation to responsibly and efficiently meet the needs of constituents. However, I am unsure that the 24-hour hotline is the appropriate tool as it lacks the ability to track constituents’ requests. That is why we need CitiStat, which is a government accountability program that I called for in 2004. CitiStat enables every request to be tracked so that the city – and its residents (by phone or internet) – can comprehend how quickly and adequately requests are addressed.
I am under the impression that Councilor Flaherty and his team consider this one of his signature issues, so the Globe story in Sunday's paper will add fuel the fire of his Mayoral ambitions by giving him a strong issue for campaigning. Mayor Menino therefore has a deadline for rolling out his version of the system before election day in November 2009 -- not in 2010, the date told to the Globe by Bill Oates, the city's chief information officer.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Bostonscapes Photograph Tour of Allston-Brighton

The blogger "fenix" on Bostonscapes Daily Photo has been touring the neighborhoods of Boston and generating a series of posts with many beautifully-shot photographs highlighting the architecture, landmarks, and businesses. She also provides some historical background.

She's started into his Allston-Brighton photo-tour -- four posts to-date (although one is about Brookline's Coolidge Corner instead!) -- and will probably total 8-10 posts when she's finished. Re-load the URL daily to watch the progress, or, better yet, comment on her blog with suggestions for additional photographs that would be appropriate.

A quick bunch of my suggestions for A-B subjects: St. John's Seminary (St. John's Hall) and the hillside and grove next to Cardinal O'Connell's mausoleum; Chestnut Hill Reservoir with pumping station; St. Columbkille's church; WGBH fortress; view towards downtown from the St. Elizabeth's parking garage; Chandler's Pond from the reedy (eastern) end; The Hills Are Alive (The Cenacle); any number of places along the Charles River Reservation; Sparhawk mansion at 43-45 Murdock Street (before they tear it down); the beautiful magnolia tree out front 1954 Comm Ave (wait -- he already chopped it down); Harvard Stadium; architecture of the middle campus at Boston College; many handsome apartment buildings along Comm Ave.

Based on her work on the other neighborhoods, I think there will be better photographs to come than the ones already posted. She really has a good eye for layout and color.

Some previous journeys of Bostonscapes Daily Photo through Boston neighborhoods: Jamaica Plain; Mission Hill; West Roxbury; Dorchester; Back Bay; Fenway-Kenmore; Roxbury; Chinatown; Charlestown; Hyde Park; Roslindale; East Boston; South Boston; North End; South End; Government Center; Beacon Hill.