Friday, January 30, 2009

Schofield Resigns from BC Task Force Following BRA Board Decision

Tim Schofield today submitted to the Boston Redevelopment Authority his resignation from the BRA's Boston College Task Force today following last night's approval of BC's Institutional Master Plan by the BRA Board.

His move followed the task force's reversal of its position on the 150-bed dormitory along Commonwealth Avenue proposed for BC's new Brighton Campus. Up through September 2008, the task force continued to be on record opposing all dormitories on the former St. John's Seminary land, but recently changed course with the majority on the task force supporting the 150-bed dorm -- with conditions -- following a secret meeting held by the group.

The task force was left dangling at Thursday's public hearing when Mayor Thomas Menino's aide announced that he wanted the dorm proposal removed from the IMP; Councilor Mark Ciommo and State Representatives Kevin Honan and Michael Moran subsequently reversed course from the positions they held earlier in the month to oppose the dorm proposal as part of this IMP.

Schofield declined to talk about his decision beyond the reason given in his resignation letter that "running a business in these difficult economic times requires all of my time and attention." Other members of the task force noted that he was in the minority on the dorm issue and that he appeared quite frustrated with the internal dynamics on the task force.

During their secret, internal deliberations in the past week and a half leading up to last night's meeting, several members are revealing that there has been a great deal of infighting.

Schofield led several of the task force's public meetings during the public comment periods and, other task force members note, was instrumental in drafting the text of the task force letters and trying to build consensus within the advisory group. He has been on the task force since March 2007, although he stepped down for several months in 2007 while running unsuccessfully for Allston-Brighton District 9 City Councilor.

Electrical Fire at Furniture Store in Brighton Center

Traffic along Washington Street in Brighton Center, including buses 57 and 501, were all stopped up this evening due to a small electrical fire in the rear of the Europe Today furniture store at 380 Washington Street.

Steve MacDonald, Public Information Officer for the Boston Fire Department, said that the fire appears to have been caused by a water leak that shorted out some old wiring. The fire was contained to a wall towards the rear of the building. BFD responded to the one-alarm fire and reports no injuries. Traffic should be opened up by 6:15 pm or so.

Globe Moves Brighton to Newton to Appease GateHouse

Last night, the Board of the Boston Redevelopment Authority approved Boston College's 10-year Institutional Master Plan, despite objections from Brighton neighbors.

In a head-scratching move, the Boston Globe published the story online in their YourTown Newton website, even though the BRA's decision only impacts development of BC's property owned in Boston, not Newton.

Brighton just became a mini-battlefield in the conflict between the New York Times Company, owner of the Boston Globe, and GateHouse Media, which runs the WickedLocal sites and well over 100 community newspapers in New England.

The Times and GateHouse recently settled a lawsuit by the latter alleging that the Globe violated fair use practices through aggregation of GateHouse stories onto the Globe's new YourTown websites. Evidence in support of GateHouse's allegations were the large number of GateHouse stories that at times appeared on the Globe YourTown websites alongside very little originally Globe content.

In the settlement, the Times appears to have agreed to change from an automated aggregation format -- where GateHouse story titles and ledes were automatically inserted onto the YourTown webpages -- to a curated aggregation format more akin to blogging, where a short, human-written description accompanies the link to GateHouse content.

By putting a Brighton story into the YourTown Newton, the Globe appears to be trying to beef up the quantity of Globe content on their YourTown Newton website, probably so that it doesn't appear to be so heavily dominant on a competing newspaper's content.

The Boston Globe's City Weekly has regularly covered the debate between the university, neighborhood, and the City of Boston over proposed dormitories and athletic stadiums for the university's new Brighton Campus (the former St. John's Seminary site purchased from the Archdiocese of Boston in 2004-7), but, as far as I can remember, has done so by categorizing the stories with Brighton, not Newton, bylines. Nothing in today's story described how the process will impact Newton, which has its own project-by-project approval process -- as opposed to the master planning process found in Boston. The advance story was solely located on the YourTown Newton website, while another advance story on the BRA's BC Task Force was on the website. The story linked to from Friday's online Globe itself was then separately categorized in the higher education category.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

BRA Board Approves Boston College Master Plan -- But Rejects Brighton Dorms (For Now)

After a three-and-a-half-hour hearing, the Boston Redevelopment Authority's Board today approved Boston College's 10-year Institutional Master Plan -- but without the 500-beds of undergraduate dormitories on the former St. John's Seminary land (aka Brighton Campus).

The move came after Dan Roan, Allston-Brighton Coordinator from the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services, notified the board that Mayor Thomas Menino was requesting that the 150-bed dormitory along Commonwealth Avenue be removed from the IMP. Instead, the 150-bed dorm and another 350-bed dorm further inside the Brighton Campus will be the subject of a future study in order to determine a suitable location for them.

More details to follow.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Broken Promises": Globe Op-Ed on BC's Institutional Master Plan

Two Brighton residents have an op-ed appearing in Thursday's edition of the Boston Globe which lists a series of reasons the Boston Redevelopment Authority should reject Boston College's Institutional Master Plan at the BRA Board's meeting on Thursday afternoon.

Ram Rao and Abigail Furey detail some of the broken promises from the university:
Among the most significant examples are its promises not to expand further into Brighton and not to build dormitories for undergraduates on the former archdiocese site. It also claimed it would not accept high-density housing for its students, but subsequently purchased, without notice to the city or the community, a 17-story high-rise about a half mile from campus for dormitory use.

When the college purchased the archdiocese property in 2004, the Globe reported that college officials "do not foresee using the land for core campus functions."

Yet in 2007 BC made a hard turn and is now insisting on putting those "core campus functions" -- dormitories, athletic fields and stadiums, parking garage -- onto their new property. By shifting from low-impact, day-time use facilities -- like administrative buildings, classrooms, offices, laboratories -- to high-impact, night-time uses, BC chose a path of confrontation with the surrounding neighborhood.

BC Task Force Meets in Secret and Relents on 150-Bed Dormitory

The Boston Redevelopment Authority's Boston College Task Force will recommend to the BRA Board approval of 150-bed dormitory on the former St. John's Seminary land purchased by BC in 2004-7, while recommending against an additional 350-bed dormitory on the property. They will further recommend that the BRA Board require that a different site be adopted for the 350-bed dorm, rather than allow it to be re-proposed by the university after conducting a site study.

The recommendations were crafted as the result of a secret meeting held by the task force last week -- and through subsequent email activity and phone calls -- according to several members of the task force.

Such meetings -- unannounced and not open to the public -- in order to deliberate, vote, and craft recommendations on various elements of BC's Institutional Master Plan, appear to be in violation of the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law for municipalities (MGL 39, Section 23B), according to an opinion issued on June 1, 2007 by Suffolk County District Attorney Janis Noble. (In the statute, the district attorney is charged with its enforcement.) The DA's opinion rejected the BRA legal counsel's arguments that the task force should not be subject to the law.

Several members of the task force have repeatedly stated during the past year-and-a-half that they would not follow the OML, relying on the BRA legal counsel's position instead of the DA's opinion.

The task force's position on the 150-bed dorm is a concession by the task force from their previous positions in a series of letters they wrote between 2004 and September 2008. The recommendations are described in a letter released by the task force in advance of their presentation to the BRA Board Thursday afternoon, part of which reads:
  1. Working with the BRA, the Task Force and the community, Boston College must house the remaining 350 students not accommodated by its current housing proposals on its traditional campus. The Task Force pointed to multiple sites for additional housing on the traditional campus (page 13 of our letter of September 5, 2008). A majority of the Task Force accepts the College’s plan to locate a 150-bed dormitory on the Brighton campus as a means to house all of its undergraduate students on-campus by 2018. The Task Force recognizes that this reverses our long-standing position on housing students on the so-called Brighton campus; we also recognize widespread community opposition to this proposal. In making this most difficult concession, the Task Force believes that the College should act decisively to forge common ground with the community by accepting an affirmative obligation to house 350 more students on its traditional campus.
  2. Given the clear sensitivity to housing students on the so-called Brighton campus, the proposed residence hall must be a “dry dorm” where alcohol is prohibited.
  3. The siting of the 150-bed dormitory needs to be sensitive to the landscape and physical features of the former Archdiocesan grounds. The historic stonewall, for example, needs to be preserved.
BC has resisted preservation of those stone walls along Commonwealth Avenue because they instead wish to have the roadway widened in order to allow for the "Boston College" T station (the terminus of the Green Line "B" train) to be moved into the center of the roadway.

Image of "The Secret And Magic Circle Meeting Begins" by :Duncan provided through a Creative Commons license.

BC Busing Students to Pack the Audience at BRA Board Meeting

Boston College's 10-year Institutional Master Plan goes to the Boston Redevelopment Authority's Board Thursday afternoon for a public hearing and likely vote.

Word out of the Chestnut Hill campus is that BC officials are trying to pack the room with students, going so far as providing a bus direct from campus to City Hall.

Alumni have been emailed in a last-minute attempt to deluge City Hall with support. And BC employees who live in Brighton have been contacted directly to ask them to attend and speak at the hearing.

The last time BC used hard-ball tactics like these, Mayor Thomas Menino was none-too-pleased.

Jack Dunn, Director of Public Affairs at BC, called for students to attend in Monday's edition of The Heights, the BC student newspaper:
Dunn encouraged students to attend the meeting in support of the IMP.

"It's a public hearing. Anyone can go. Anyone can speak, and they hear all voices," Dunn said. "We would encourage members of the BC community, students, faculty, and staff to support the plan."
The editorial board of The Heights further called for students to attend.

Those general appeals were followed up by an official email from Judy Robinson, Assistant Dean for Student Development ("off-campus dean"), which was sent out to many undergraduate students to notify them that one (or more?) buses would be running them from campus direct to City Hall for Thursday's hearing.

Who arranged the full-sized bus to convey the students direct to Mayor Menino's digs? None other than the Office of Governmental and Community Affairs at BC, who wants students to "be a presence" at the meeting, according to the email. Packing the hearing room with students doesn't sound like a very community-friendly program, does it?

Email appeals went out to BC alumni this week asking them to contact city government (both the BRA and the Allston-Brighton coordinator of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services) to express last-minute support for the university's IMP; they were also encouraged to attend the BRA hearing Thursday, thereby further packing the room.

This week's alumni appeal email was written by Thomas Keady, Jr., Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs, and John Feudo, Associate VP of the BC Alumni Association.

Last June, Mayor Menino objected strongly to William Leahy, S.J., President of BC, sending letters to BC alumni encouraging them to write or call the BRA to submit public comments.

Keady doesn't appear to be satisfied with packing the hearing room with just students and alumni. He is reportedly personally calling BC employees who live in Brighton to twist their arms to attend. One such recipient of Keady's tactics felt manipulated by such a high-ranking BC official, realizing that he had little choice but to attend. There were many such BC employees in attendance at the BC Task Force meeting earlier this month, sitting towards the back, mostly silently.

Image of tour buses by Proggie provided through a Creative Commons license.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Where Does Flaherty Stand on the Issues?

Boston City Councilor-At-Large Michael Flaherty announced on Sunday his candidacy for Mayor of Boston. His announcement seems to have rushed to the (kitchen) table after Adam Gaffin, curator of UniversalHub, noticed a test version of Flaherty's video on YouTube. As such, his "Flaherty for Mayor" website isn't yet up, and won't be for a week or so.

Want to know where Councilor Flaherty stands on some of the issues before the city?

When he last ran for Councilor-At-Large in 2007, I assembled the following background on him via questionnaires, candidate forums, websites, and the like. It's a good start, although I acknowledge that these are his positions as of 15 months ago -- some of which might have changed in the interim.

City Planning Department: Should the city create a planning department in order to return to the model tossed aside when the Boston Redevelopment Authority was created and took over the city planning role? Flaherty's position: Yes. (Note that most large cities have a planning department.)

Casino Gambling in the City of Boston:
Should Boston have a casino, particularly at the Suffolk Downs site in East Boston? Flaherty's position: Undecided, but noted that the idea holds "much promise." (Note that approving a casino is a state issue, but that a Mayor could easily help green-light a project or put up roadblocks at every step of the way.)

Neighborhood Schools: Should Boston return to the neighborhood school model, where children attend the nearest school, rather than the current system that allows parents choice among schools within their zone? Flaherty's position: Maybe, but it would be "
it is unrealistic and socially reckless to go to 100% neighborhood schools overnight."

Delivering Constituent Services: Is the "Mayor's 24-Hour Constituent Service Hotline" an effective tool, or does it need changing? Flaherty's position: has called for adopting the "CitiStat" to track constituent service requests better. (Note: there have been some improvements to the hotline in the past 15 months, but I assume Flaherty continues to want more improvement in this service.)

BC Dorms on the Former St. John's Seminary Grounds:
Should Boston College be allowed to build undergraduate dormitories on their "Brighton Campus", i.e., the property purchased from the Archdiocese of Boston? Flaherty's position: non-committal, but generally supports the city's universities constructing dormitories to house more of their students. (Note: he is a "double eagle", graduating from both Boston College High School and Boston College.)

Brighton Centered Questionnaire (October 2007)
Allston Brighton Community Blog Questionnaire (October 2007)
Asian Pacific American Agenda Coalition Questionnaire
GLBT Issues
Adrian Walker column on candidate forum
Candidate Forum audio (October 10, 2007)
Allston-Brighton TAB candidate profile

Note: I will be trying to assemble information on other candidates again this year. Kevin McCrea has also already announced he will be running for Mayor this year. Mayor Thomas Menino has not yet announced whether he will seek re-election.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Snow, Southie, and the Mayor

The last snow emergency in Boston was two weeks ago, but residents across the city continue to guard their shoveled street parking spaces with all kinds of old furniture, cones, trash barrels, and the like.

Boston has an unofficial policy allowing such space-saving for 48 hours following a snowstorm. The Boston Globe reported Saturday that city employees aren't picking up the junk guarding parking spaces:
City sanitation workers, under orders to throw away anything left in the street more than 48 hours after a storm, cruised Dorchester yesterday collecting garbage. But parking space savers stayed in place.
Why aren't city employees picking up the junk?

Seven words: Michael Flaherty of South Boston for Mayor.

Many people consider snow removal to be the third rail of city politics. Screw up and you'll get voted out. Anger the public and they'll have your scalp. Just ask former Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic.

The last time Mayor Thomas Menino made a big issue of enforcing the city's official policy banning such space-saving garbage he caused a near-riot that made national news. The late District Councilor James Kelly led the opposition to the Mayor, saying that Kelly had "more barrels than [Menino's] got trucks."

Compare the city's current silence on enforcing the ban to the Mayor's open involvement in 2005:
[Mayor Menino] extended the 48-hour grace period for holding spaces after snowstorms by four days.

Calling an end to the city's snow emergency today at 8 a.m., he said residents can keep their claims on spots until 8 a.m. Wednesday. Then, city crews will start picking up parking space markers -- everything from paint cans to trash barrels to a snow-packed picnic basket -- that now line the streets in some neighborhoods.

Councilor Flaherty is actually on record about the issue, looking for middle-ground:
"I don't think people should be entitled to the space until spring," Flaherty said. ''But I don't think 48 hours is enough. It should depend on the snowfall. If we get a light dusting, I don't think you should be allowed to put anything out. But in heavier snowfall, a week makes sense. It's fair and it's reasonable."
Since it's been two weeks since the last snow emergency, we can infer that Councilor Flaherty thinks that the city should currently be picking up the space savers.

In December 2007, it was hot line complaints led to the city taking action to remove the junk:
"The mayor's hot line has been receiving numerous complaints about space savers and a majority of those calls have come from South Boston," Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce said.
Now in January 2009, will Councilor Flaherty's South Boston supporters flood the Mayor's 24-hour Constituent Service hot line (617-635-4500) with new complaints, forcing a confrontation with South Boston residents that could alienate them from the Mayor in an election year?

It seems backwards, but Councilor Flaherty's South Boston supporters might help out their candidate by forcing a confrontation over the space savers -- losing their spaces in the short-term.

If I were betting on the outcome at one of Governor Patrick's casinos, I would put money on the city quietly letting people save their spaces indefinitely. South Boston has a lot of votes; were the neighborhood to unify in opposition to the Mayor, he could have quite a fight this fall.

Image of parking space-saving fan by stephanie says provided through a Creative Commons license.