Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Musical Signature of WCRB-WGBH Conversion

Monday morning I flipped through the radio stations and heard the unmistakable sounds of Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio in a. It was my first indication that 24-hour classical music station WCRB is really being bought by WGBH to continue as a 24-hour classical station -- but with WGBH's broader mix of music, not WCRB's mostly light classical (all Vivaldi and Mozart, all the time).

The Boston Globe reported this morning that the Federal Communications Commission approved the $14 million purchase of the station last week -- although the WGBH format is not supposed to change until December 1 and WCRB announcers have yet to move to the Brighton studios.

WCRB's annoying stamp, er, "branding," on their station was still in evidence Monday: the piano trio's conclusion was immediately followed by a chirpy-voiced, "Casual, comfortable classical."

No. This piano trio is neither casual nor comfortable. It is dark, tragic, dramatic, and pathos-ridden -- written in memory of the great 19th century Russian pianist and composer Anton Rubinstein who had died in the preceding year.

I'll be delighted when WCRB transitions to WGBH musical fare like this piano trio but drops the idiotic branding verbiage.

Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in a, Op.50, 1st movement, played by Sviatoslav Richter (piano), Oleg Kagan (violin), and Natalya Gutman ('cello).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why Did the BRA Board Delay Vote Over Charlesview Relocation Proposal?

The Boston Redevelopment Authority announced today that its Board was postponing a vote on the proposed development project to relocate the Charlesview apartments to Brighton Mills.

The BRA's stated reason for the delay dodges the salient fact that local elected officials want the project modified -- a stance reiterated by District 9 City Councilor Mark Ciommo as recently as last week.

A group of North Allston-Brighton residents had recently written to the BRA Board requesting the delay:
[The residents] said the planning process was “tainted by a project manager biased against the residents of Allston and Brighton,” referring to a number of e-mails recently released by a [Public Records Law] request in which senior BRA project manager Jay Rourke expresses frustration with Allston-Brighton residents for their continued resistance to the proposed Charlesview Development project.
The BRA gave a different reason for the delay, namely, that it had something to do with the future plans of the Brookline Machinery site, which is not part of the current development proposal. BRA senior project manager Jay Rourke emailed today:
The BRA feels that the Charlesview redevelopment project has completed the public process and is ready for consideration by the BRA Board of Directors for approval. Nonetheless, it will be removed from tomorrow night’s agenda because there is no finalized agreement between Harvard University and the BRA concerning the future of the adjacent Brookline Machinery site. The public hearing will be rescheduled and re-advertised once a satisfactory agreement with Harvard has been achieved.
The real reason? The A-B elected officials are not in support of the current proposal without significant modification, such as including the Brookline Machinery lot as part of the project. As I wrote several weeks ago, all A-B elected officials wrote in October to the BRA:
They wrote requesting the BRA and developer to: expand the area of land in the development to include the Brookline Machine building; reduce the number of rental units (those that are beyond the low-income units for the current Charlesview tenants); reduce overall the project's density; increase the number of home ownership units; reduce of the height of the eight-story Telford Street building; express a concern about a "lack of open and recreational space" in the project; increase the amount of retail space; and halt further development of Harvard property in North Allston-Brighton until "significant development of the Holton Street Corridor is realized." Pretty broad stuff which will take a while for the BRA and the project's developers to modify and accommodate.
Councilor Ciommo reiterated his position last week at a meeting of neighborhood residents:
Ciommo supports many of the requests of the ABNNF.

“It better be different than the one that was presented at the last meeting at the Honan Library, or I won’t support it,” said Ciommo.

Asked what would happen if the BRA approves the plan, Ciommo said, “Then they’ve stepped over the community.”
With opposition to the current version of the project coming from both residents and elected officials, the BRA had little choice but to put off the project's consideration until changes can be made to it.

Update (11/17/09): The Boston Globe has an article here. BRA Director John Palmieri told the Globe that he had promised to have a commitment from Harvard about developing the Brookline Machinery site -- which has yet to happen. The Globe concludes that "the move is an effort to placate Allston neighbors, who insisted additional housing be built on that site to help create a more vibrant neighborhood with residences, shops, and Harvard’s planned $1 billion science complex."

Image of proposed Charlesview development from the website.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Could the Plymouth Rock Studios Fiasco Happen in Boston?

The Boston Globe's Spotlight Team reported today about substantial holes in the developer's plans to build a large movie studio on a former golf course in Plymouth. Several days ago, the developer's $550 million financing fell through, and the Globe's investigative report shows how many of the players have financial backgrounds -- bankruptcies, lawsuits, and jail time for fraud -- that are extensive and messy, even by Hollywood standards.

Could this mess happen here in Boston?

Before addressing this question, let's look at who are the winners and losers in the Plymouth Rock Studios collapse.

Winners. Governor Deval Patrick's administration is a big winner in this mess, having turned down a request for $50 million in infrastructure improvements related to the project because the developers had been unable to come up with private financing to back the project:
The state’s decision in June not to grant the studio $50 million for roads and other infrastructure was a particular blow... Patrick administration officials said last week that the state still wants to aid Plymouth Rock - if the studio comes up with long-term funding first.
The state appears to have learned its lesson after the Columbus Place hole-in-the-ground disaster.

And don't forget the other big winner: the Globe's Spotlight Team for hard-hitting reporting that may well get nominated for an award in the next year.

Losers. The big loser appears to be starry-eyed city officials and town meeting in Plymouth, who have green-lighted the project without doing much due diligence into the developers:
When Plymouth’s Town Meeting convened in October 2008 to pass judgment on Plymouth Rock Studios executives’ grand proposal to bring to town what they called “Hollywood East,’’ the results of the vote were a foregone conclusion...

Soon, it was time for Plymouth’s town meeting members to debate tax breaks and re-zoning a golf course for 2 million square feet of sound stages, office space, retail businesses, housing, and a hotel.

Except there was no debate. Members voted to cut off discussion before it started, and hoots and applause filled the hall.

And the chairman of the Plymouth Board of Selectman didn't seem bothered by any of the financial problems of the lead developer:
[Dick] Quintal has known for some time about Kirkpatrick’s bankruptcy and several of the lawsuits against him. And he accepted Kirkpatrick’s explanations.

“I didn’t pay no attention to that,’’ he said. “That’s none of my business.’’

The utter failure of city officials and town meeting members to vet fully the developers and their financing is the lesson that Boston city officials ought to learn.

Could This Happen in Boston?

Boston itself has been beset by three recent messes of financing and oversight: Downtown Crossing, where city officials approved a development plan and allowed a building tear-down despite the project's inadequate financing; North Allston, where city officials approved Harvard University's proposal for a massive science complex, under the apparently false assumption that the university's vast endowment was more than enough to fund the project; and Columbus Center, where the state approved a development, including a promise of public money that was later withdrawn, despite the project's lack of financing.

All three projects are currently holes-in-the-ground with no short-term prospect for construction.

The Downtown Crossing example is the most worrying, since the Globe reported earlier this year that the Boston Redevelopment Authority "cut corners in allowing half a city block to be torn down," "set aside requirements for key disclosures and agreements," and "did not perform an examination of the developer's financing plans, which are not required under city rules."

Prediction: Flaherty to be Wifi-ed on Performance Bonds

In the mayoral campaign this year, candidate Michael Flaherty pushed the idea of requiring performance bonds for major development projects to ensure that they have adequate financing and complete the proposed work. At least one city official scoffed at the idea, calling it "a bit of political rhetoric."

As a result of the Downtown Crossing approval mess, Mayor Thomas Menino vowed that the city would more closely scrutinize project financing in the future.

I have a prediction on this one: Flaherty will get wifi-ed on the performance bond idea. I suspect that there are city officials, behind the scenes, who are more in favor of the idea than those who have spoken on-the-record. As a result, Mayor Menino will, within six months, take up the idea as his own and push for the BRA to implement it.

Expect Boston College's first proposed project in their institutional master plan -- likely a dormitory on the current site of More Hall -- to be an early test of what I predict will be a new city policy.

Update (11/16/09): I thought about drawing a parallel with the Wampanoag tribe's proposed Middleborough casino, but wasn't up to speed on the exact details of that ongoing scandal. Dan Kennedy, an avowed opponent of the plan, tweets, "Change "Plymouth" to "Middleborough" and "studio" to "casino," and you've got pretty much the same story."

Image of proposed Plymouth Rock Studios development project from the developer's website.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Short-Term Commercial Leases Please Residents -- In the Fenway

While residents of North Allston-Brighton have been complaining for years about swaths of commercial property -- bought by Harvard University over the past two decades -- being left vacant while Harvard considers its long-term plans, the Boston Metro reports that residents of the Fenway neighborhood appear to be benefiting from short-term business leases during the current economic downturn:
"While we have significant long-term plans to build and make it a lively street, this is also not the right time to be creating new buildings," said Diana Pisciotta, spokeswoman for Samuels and Associates, which has already built up much of the [Boylston Street] block but is now securing short-term leases with retailers.

"We thought it was really important to bring in neighborhood-friendly uses to storefronts that might otherwise be empty"...

“We’re very happy that the developers have tried to make the streets active and not let the place look blighted and rundown,” said Bill Richardson, president of the Fenway Civic Association.
Earlier this summer, Mayor Thomas Menino guided a tour bus loaded with retailers and real estate brokers through the Fenway and Newbury Street, pointing out many empty storefronts ripe for new businesses. Last year, the tour went through Dudley Square, the South Boston waterfront, and Downtown Crossing.

Mayor Menino even offered business owners an incentive to open a business on Newbury Street: a free month of advertising on a city-owned space downtown.

As Harry Mattison remarked in July: "Next year please drive the bus down Western Ave" in North Allston-Brighton.

Image of vacant, former VW dealership in North Allston from the blog This Is Harvard used with permission; all rights reserved.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

OMG: Boston Police Cite Bicyclist for Improper Lighting

I am always amazed when the police in any town or city in eastern Massachusetts cite a pedestrian for jaywalking or crossing illegally, an automobile driver for opening a door into traffic, or a bicyclist for failure to stop for a stop sign or red traffic light. These infractions just seem never to be enforced, although they should be.

Which is why I offer a tip of the hat to the Boston Police, working out of Jamaica Plain's E-13 station, for citing a bicyclist for "Riding a Bicycle without Proper Lighting."

State law requires a red light on the rear of the bicycle and a white one on the front whenever in use at a time more than 30 minutes past sunset (until 30 minutes before sunrise). They also require some kind of reflectors, although these can often be provided by the cyclist's attire.

Why did the police ticket this particular bicyclist? It has something to do with riding erratically at 2 am and unlawful possession of a firearm that had its identifying numbers obliterated. I guess that's the threshold for a citation about unlawful bicycle operation.

Image of Red Bike Reflector by sillygwailo provided through a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Boston Poet Laureate Leads Open-Mic Event

Brighton's Sam Cornish, Boston's Poet Laureate, will be master-of-ceremonies for an evening of poetry and prose at the Brighton Allston Congregational Church, 404 Washington Street, this Saturday at 7 pm.

It will be an open-mic event, so bring your own fall-colored poetry on the theme, "Thankful People: an evening of prose and poetry celebrating Thanksgiving and the fall season."

The event is free, although donations will be accepted for the church's community supper kitchen.

Image of Sam Cornish from an interview published by Cervena Barva Press.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Khazei Crafty Like a Fox, Part Deux

Several days ago I wrote about how Alan Khazei's campaign for the Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat was being crafty in their use of social media, by apparently watching another candidate's Twitter following/followers list (Steven Pagliuca's) and following at least one of them (me). I tried tweeting the campaign to ask if that was, in fact, what they were doing, but only got back a perfunctory DirectTweet (you know, a Form Tweet).

Two days later, I'm tweeted by AlanKhazei:
local activists like @michaelpahre in Brighton exemplify Big Citizenship ( - will follow and support you as senator
First, I feel weird getting referenced right before a quotation of Mahatma Ghandi. I don't deserve to be in such company.

Second, I now feel deeply guilty for not writing about the Shubow Park cleanup event here on the Brighton Centered blog, and for not attending it. (Real reason I couldn't attend: family commitments. And rain.) Here are the photos from the event.

Third, it sounds to me as though they might have happened to start following my Twitter feed on Tuesday by mere coincidence (although that is still not 100% clear). Instead, Khazei's campaign could have a formal effort to connect with hyperlocal bloggers like me.

Either way, that is still crafty campaigning in the age of new media. Tip of the hat to Khazei and Co.

Image of Shubow Park cleanup event from Alan.Khazei at flickr.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Ciommo Over Selvig 64-35% in District 9 City Councilor Race

With 26 of 27 precincts reporting, incumbent Mark Ciommo has defeated challenger Alex Selvig for District 9 City Councilor by a margin of 64-35%.

With 95% of precincts reporting city-wide, incumbent Thomas Menino has defeated challenger Michael Flaherty for mayor by a margin of 57-43%.

Incumbents John Connolly and Stephen Murphy, along with challengers Felix G. Arroyo and Ayanna Pressley, have taken the four City Councilor-At-Large seats.

My predictions were surprisingly on-the-mark, getting each candidates' percent of the vote to within 1-2 percentage points -- although Pressley took 4th place stronger over Tito Jackson and Andrew Kenneally than I had predicted.

Who Did Worst Against "None-of-the-Above"?

For those candidates running unopposed, it is instructive to see how many people didn't cast a ballot in their race or voted for a write-in -- together representing the "none-of-the-above" vote. This is one way of gauging which district councilor is least liked in his or her district, or who might be the most vulnerable two years from now:
  • District 2: Bill Linehan 60.4%, None-of-the-Above 39.6%
  • District 3: Maureen Feeney 66.9%, None-of-the-Above 33.1%
  • District 4: Charles Yancey 64.1%, None-of-the-Above 35.9%
  • District 5: Rob Consalvo 64.0%, None-of-the-Above 36.0%
  • District 6: John Tobin, Jr. 67.6%, None-of-the-Above 32.4%
District 2 Councilor Bill Linehan won over None-of-the-Above with the lowest margin. Ouch.

Khazei Crafty Like a Fox

David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix asked rhetorically if Alan is Khazei, like a fox?

I instead think he's crafty like a fox -- in the way his people are using Twitter.

Last night I saw some re-tweets of Steve Pagliuca's original content, so I decided to start following Pagliuca's Twitter feed. Pagliuca is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in December's special primary election. (At some point a few weeks ago I started following Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Congressman Michael Capuano, two other candidates for the Democratic nomination.)

Then the usual thing happened: Pagliuca's people returned the favor by starting following my Twitter feed. Yawn... As if they actually read my tweets.

But then, five hours and 32 minutes later, Alan Khazei, another Democratic candidate, started following me -- even though I hadn't initiated any contact with his Twitter feed.

Where did Khazei's people get the idea to start following me?

Sure sounds like they are monitoring Pagliuca's Twitter followers and then following them. Clever. That's what you get when you've got so many wired-in young'uns supporting your candidacy.

(The Khazei-ites did not respond to a tweeted request for an explanation.)

Quick Predictions for Today's Election

Mayor: Menino over Flaherty by 57-43%.

District 9 City Councilor: Ciommo over Selvig, 63-37%. Not too different from Nov 2007 vote, except that Ciommo will win big with elderly Russian vote in 2009 -- rather than split the vote, as he did with Glennon in 2007.

City Councilor-At-Large: Connolly, Murphy easy winners; Arroyo solid 3rd place; too close to call among Pressley, Jackson, and Kenneally for the fourth slot (but lean Pressley after Kerry robocalls -- popular in Boston).

Turnout: 28% city-wide.

Candidate Election Night Parties to be Preceded by Municipal Election

The candidates for District 9 City Councilor will be holding election night parties tonight:
  • Mark Ciommo, incumbent, Corrib Pub, 396 Market Street, Brighton, 8 pm
  • Alex Selvig, Deep Ellum, 477 Cambridge Street, Allston, 8:30 pm
All candidates said their events are open to anyone to attend.

The election night parties will be preceded by the municipal election, today, 7 am to 8 pm. Where Do I Vote in Massachusetts?

Image of Early Voting 2008 by NCReedPlayer provided through a Creative Commons license.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Unsubstantiated Allegations About Unsubstantiated Allegations

Readers of this week's Allston-Brighton TAB who flip to the editorial page will find a series of endorsements for the municipal election that will be held Tuesday: incumbent Thomas Menino for mayor; incumbents John Connolly and Stephen Murphy, as well as challengers Tito Jackson and Felix G. Arroyo, for City Councilor-At-Large; and incumbent Mark Ciommo for District 9 City Councilor.

In crafting the endorsement of Ciommo's bid, however, the editorial page of the A- B TAB engaged in a bit of mudslinging -- about challenger Alex Selvig's mudslinging:
Ciommo has been on the receiving end of a campaign of mudslinging. We took seriously the accusations that were hurled in his direction by opponent Alex Selvig and some of his followers. Many of the charges have turned out to be distortions and unproven accusations. [emphasis added]
As a frequent reader of the A-B TAB, I was startled to read that the newspaper had unearthed multiple distortions and multiple unproven accusations made by Selvig, because I have not seen any such news analysis printed or online in their newspaper. Nor were any examples given in the editorial itself.

The TAB's allegations about Selvig's "distortions" and "unproven accusations" might be accurate; as far as I can tell, however, they have not substantiated any of these allegations on their pages.

The campaign between Ciommo and Selvig has been lively and, yes, there have been some cases where both candidates -- though noticably more by Selvig -- have stretched the facts a bit to make their point. But to my eye it has mostly been the typical kind of stretching that goes on in political campaigns. Selvig did go negative with a mailing earlier this month, and another one that arrived today. But once again, inspection of the TAB's stories don't substantiate how Selvig's allegations in these negative mailings are "distortions" or "unproven accusations."

A-B TAB editor Wayne Braverman did not respond to an emailed request Friday for examples of stories they have run that would detail their allegations about Selvig. The closest examples I could find, in a news story in last week's paper, look like pretty ordinary and tame campaigning -- by both Selvig, who accurately pointed out a $200 contribution to Ciommo's campaign, and by Ciommo, who incorrectly identified the source of most of Selvig's campaign funds. (The funds were loaned to his campaign by Selvig, not by Elite Rowing -- which would illegal under the state's campaign finance law.)

Until I hear something more concrete, I will chalk up as unfair the TAB's unsubstantiated allegations about Selvig making unsubstantiated allegations.

Other Endorsements in District 9 Race

For an endorsement in the District 9 race that is better reasoned, read the Boston Phoenix:
Also deserving is first-term District 9 incumbent Mark Ciommo, who has a solid understanding of issues facing Allston-Brighton — particularly campus expansion — and took on the difficult role, for a freshman councilor, of mastering the city’s complex budget. As chair of the Ways and Means Committee, he managed to hold serious, informative budget sessions in the middle of a fiscal crisis and a mayoral-election year.
The Boston Bulletin also endorsed Ciommo:
Ciommo is a quiet man in the middle of very loud neighborhood debates.

The audible angst in Allston and Brighton is seen as necessary by residents who feel that their neighborhoods are under siege by massive development projects and the impacts that come from the hundreds and hundreds of college students who are their transient neighbors...

We agree with those who think Ciommo needs to be more vocal in his stands on crucial issues. It would be nice to see him act less like a diplomat and more of a fighter on issues like police patrols, ISD enforcement, rats and improving schools. We urge him to make good on this endorsement by taking his work on the council to a higher level.
Note that the Boston Herald did not endorse in this race, and neither did the Boston Globe.

Image of Sometimes I yell at myself by spunkinator, provided through a Creative Commons license.

Youkin' It Up at the Edison K-8 School

Red Sox all-star Kevin Youkilis was in Brighton Monday with Mayor Thomas Menino delivering a batch of books to the library of the newly-merged Edison K-8 School.

The Edison School was previously a middle school, but opened last September as a K-8 school after merging with the students and faculty of the now-closed Hamilton and Garfield Elementary Schools.

The books Youkilis delivered were collected at Fenway Park on July 11th and 12th as part of his "Batting for Books" program run through his Hits for Kids foundation. The program has already passed its goal of collecting 100,000 books for the libraries of Boston Public Schools.

One kid seems to have scored a book on Michele Obama...

Image courtesy of Christopher Horan, chief communications officer of the Boston Public Schools, who also write the All About BPS blog.