Friday, November 12, 2010
The striped pavement looks to be approximately: 0.1 mile of exclusive bike lane; 0.25 mile of shared bike line on the right hand side of the street; and 0.15 mile of exclusive bike lane.
The street was recently re-paved, which meant that a number of potholes larger than a newborn baby were filled in. Several dangerously protruding manhole covers are also now level with the asphalt, although one bad one still remains at a location halfway down the hill.
For those who know the one-way street: it is fairly steep downhill such that a cyclist can easily speed over 40 mph unless braking steadily the whole way. In the past, I have had to ride in the center of the lane, blocking vehicular traffic -- weaving left-and-right because of the horrendous condition of the road surface. The resurfacing and bike lane are welcome improvements.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Earlier today the Boston Globe reported that the city's main water line had sprung a leak in Weston at a location only 75 feet away from the major leak that disrupted the city's water service back in May.
The Boston Globe's story notes that the MWRA is preparing unspecified backup plans:
"Right now, there are no service interruptions of any kind, but we are making ready our backup plans just in case," said Ria Convery, an MWRA spokesman.In May the CHR was used as part of the backup water supply. The MWRA activity over there today suggests that it may be called into service again soon.
Friday, July 30, 2010
In the case of Galvin et al. vs. Boston Zoning Commission et al., Superior Court Justice Charles Spurlock [right] issued a preliminary ruling on June 29th that there are "sufficient facts to support an inference" that the BC Task Force, an official advisory body of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (or, in the judge's words, "a subcommittee of the BRA"), is a government body, and hence subject to the state's Open Meeting Law. The ruling was issued in response to a series of pre-trial motions by lawyers on both sides of the case.
The ruling is significant in that it is consistent with the ruling of Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley in June 2007 that the BC Task Force and the Harvard Allston Task Force are government bodies that are subject to the state's OML, a ruling that the city continues to dispute.
Two Brighton residents, Patrick Galvin and Mark Alford, filed their lawsuit against the city in July 2009 in response to the city's approval of BC's IMP. The BRA Board voted in January 2009 to approve the IMP; the Boston Zoning Commission approved it, with modification, in June 2009; and Mayor Thomas Menino subsequently signed it.
Justice Spurlock's order, while not a final ruling in the case, indicates that the task force will continue to be a defendant in the lawsuit. To date the task force has not, to my knowledge, responded at all to the complaints nor have they been represented in front of the court by legal counsel.
Implicit in the judge's ruling is that the lawsuit will go forward into additional phases, such as discovery and, potentially, trial. This alone suggests that there may be a protracted legal battle over BC's IMP that could impact the university's ambitious expansion plans.
This preliminary ruling by Justice Spurlock appears to be a major headache for the city, since its lawyers argued strongly to try and keep the task force out of the lawsuit. Now not only is the task force in this lawsuit as a defendant, but the judge has made an initial ruling that would appear to imply that all of the BRA's task forces are subject to the state's OML -- and, by extension, the state's Public Records Laws and ethics laws.
Let's hope the task force members -- now confirmed by the preliminary ruling to be part-time, unpaid municipal employees -- are doing a better job at retaining their emails than some other city employees who have recently been in the news.
Other Rulings by Judge
The judge also turned down two separate motions by the defendants that would send the case to Land Court and expedite it.
While not noted in the ruling, the judge appears to have allowed Boston College earlier this spring to join the lawsuit as a defendant without objection from the plaintiffs (as expressed in a December 2009 hearing). BC's lawyers have been filing motions repeatedly with the court -- including the Land Court and expedition motions -- actions that are normally allowed only for parties to the case.
The plaintiffs did not, however, win on every issue. The judge: ruled that their allegation of OML violations were filed too late according to the statutory 21-day limit; rejected their attempt to make a claim for violations of civil rights and their rights under the Equal Protection Clause; said that he would not consider possible criminal violations of the state's ethics laws, since those should be brought in front of the district attorney instead; that the individual members of the task force could not be named separately as co-defendants in the lawsuit, appearing to lift their individual liability (while not ruling on the government body's collective liability); and that the task force itself did not impact the rights of the plaintiffs, because the task force was only an advisory body to the BRA.
I suspect that that last ruling will be hotly contested in the case, and that we haven't heard the last of it.
The ethics issue, too, promises to be complicated as the case moves forward. While ruling that this civil action is not the appropriate venue for a criminal allegations of conflict-of-interest against individual members of the BC Task Force, the judge also stated case law that ethics civil violations are administrative matters that are rectified by processes within governmental agencies. But if the BRA Board and BZC relied upon recommendations from their advisory panel (the task force) that were allegedly biased due to financial conflicts-of-interest, then nothing in the ruling appears to prevent the plaintiff's arguments from going forward in seeking to invalidate approval of BC's IMP in a tainted process.
Spurlock was assigned to the case earlier this year after the previous judge, Christine Roach, recused herself after repeatedly suggesting her potential conflicts to the lawyers.
Update: The Boston Bulletin has a story on the ruling.
Saturday, May 01, 2010
The city's water main also had a major failure once before -- in 1859. Allston-Brighton historian William Marchione wrote in Allston-Brighton in Transition: From Cattle Town to Streetcar Suburb:
In 1859 a major break occurred in the aqueduct at the point where it passed across the Charles River at the westerly end of Needham. Since the capacity of the four small storage reservoirs ringing the city was quite limited, it became necessary to thut off water service to Boston for all but domestic uses while repairs were being made. Had a major fire broken out at this point, the fast-growing metropolis might have found itself without water, with devastating consequences. This emergency prompted the Cochituate Water Board to recommend the construction of a much larger storage reservoir just outside of Boston.That new reservoir would be the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, the site of which was selected in 1864 and construction began in 1865. Its location was straddling the border between Brighton -- then an independent town not part of Boston -- and Newton. The purpose of the new reservoir was to provide a much larger backup water supply in case of catastrophe.
The reservoir consisted of two basins; the larger one still exists, while the smaller one was granted to Boston College, which, over time, filled it in to make way for an expansion of its campus (the "Chestnut Hill Lower Campus"). The main water pipe, however, continues to pass underground at the same location on the BC campus.
The reservoir is no longer used as part of the water supply system for Boston, but is reserved as a backup in case of emergency. Such as today.
I estimated by around six (or so) feet lower than normal. William Marchione, in his book Allston-Brighton in Transition, gives the size of the Bradlee Basin as 125 acre (5.4 million square feet or 1.56 mile circumference) and a storage capacity of 550 million gallons. Using the conversion of one gallon to 7.5 cubic feet, I estimate the reservoir's "standard depth" as 13.3 feet. That means current water level of 7.3 feet, instead of the usual 13.3 feet.
So the Chestnut Hill Reservoir this spring might only have been just over 50% capacity? Ouch. That extra water would have come in handy right about now.
I wonder if the people at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority and Department of Conservation and Recreation might now be kicking themselves for letting the reservoir's level get so low earlier this year.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Library supporters are outraged and looking to reverse that decision -- whether through additional state funding, with an attached rider that would require all the branches to remain open, or additional city funding.
Those who want the branches to remain open have top two targets for their criticism: BPL President Amy Ryan, who drew up the closing plan, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who voiced his strong support for it.
Are they targeting the right people?
The answer to this question lies first in figuring out why BPL is in a funding crunch.
Menino spokesperson Dot Joyce noted that the city this year "level-funded libraries."
Budget documents on the BPL website show that the City of Boston has decreased its payments much less: from $31.2 million in FY09 to $29.7 million in FY10 and $29.4 million in FY11. That's a decrease of $1.8 million over two years, or a cut of 6%. (Note that Joyce is not quite correct in saying that the city has "level-funded libraries.")
Now let's look at the state funding side of the BPL budget.
Brighton state Representative Michael Moran is especially outraged at Menino and has co-sponsored a bill in the state House of Representatives that would restore some state funding.
Note that verb: "restore."
In the same time period that the city has cut its funding to BPL by a little bit, the state has cut heavily its own contribution to BPL: from $8.9 million in FY09 to $4.0 million in FY10 and $2.4 million in FY11. That's a decrease of $6.5 million over two years, or a cut of 73% in state funding for BPL.
The funding shortfall in BPL's budget can nearly all be traced to a decline in state funding, not a decline in city funding.
Should Brighton protesters target Mayor Menino to tell him to restore funding for the libraries to keep the Faneuil Branch Library open? That strategy appears misguided, since it is not the city that has drastically cut their funding for the libraries.
Instead, Brighton residents might find their outrage better directed at members of the state legislature who voted to decrease state spending on BPL by 73% over the past two years.
Since state representatives Moran and Kevin Honan both voted for the budget bill that included decreased funding for BPL in the FY10, shouldn't the outraged residents of Brighton be holding them accountable? (Senator Steven Tolman probably also voted for the same cuts, but I can't find a roll call vote from 6/19/09.)
Shouldn't the the outraged citizens of Brighton be demanding that Reps. Moran and Honan and Sen. Tolman restore the state's funding to BPL from $2.4 million to the FY09 level of $8.9 million?
Methinks the public's anger towards Menino is misplaced on this issue since it is the state legislature who created BPL's funding sinkhole.
And members of the public who are angry at the possible closing of the Faneuil Branch Library should hold Moran, Honan, and Tolman responsible for their June 19, 2009 votes on the FY10 budget.
Friday, April 16, 2010
The problem with McGrory's argument that BC should contribute more PILOT to the city is that he didn't give a handle on what might be a reasonable expectation for those payments, particularly since only some of BC's property is located within Boston's city limits.
By looking at what BC might be expected to contribute in PILOT under the proposal recently made by the city's PILOT reform commission, BC ought to be contributing at least $1.6 million more to the city than they are currently paying through PILOT and real estate taxes.
Here's how I come by that number: Boston College's existing Chestnut Hill campus (just that part within the Boston city limits) are currently assessed at a valuation of around $480 million, according to the city's website. Add to that the 16-story apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue they purchased in 2008 and the former St. John's Seminary land they purchased from the Archdiocese of Boston for $177.4 million in a series of transactions between 2004 and 2007. Added together, those properties lying within Boston have a current value in the ballpark of $722 million, no small change.
The current property tax rates in Boston -- the amount that BC would be paying if they were not a tax-exempt institution -- are $12 (residential) or $29 (commercial) per year per $1000 of valuation for residential property. Since BC's primary financial activities are in education and research, not rental income, most of the land would fall under the commercial rate; I'll assume 75% commercial, 25% residential, or $25 per $1000 of valuation.
If BC were to pay full taxes on their property at that $25 rate it would total around $18.05 million per year. The city's commission that is looking at PILOT reform is recommending that tax-exempt institutions, like universities, voluntarily contribute PILOT at a rate of 25% of the tax rate -- corresponding here to $4.5 million -- of which the institution could elect to pay half in payments-in-kind (e.g., community benefits). The 25% figure is based on a calculation of the cost of city services the institution requires as part of its operation, such as the emergency response to many campus incidents (including Tuesday's ammonia leak at BC's Conte Forum).
Applying the commission's recommendations implies that BC should be contributing a minimum of $2.3 million cash in PILOT to the city, while BC is currently, according to McGrory, paying only $0.3 million in PILOT and $0.4 million in real estate taxes for taxed property. (Nearly all of the valuation for the taxed property is 2000 Commonwealth Avenue; since I include it in the PILOT calculation above, it is appropriate to consider it alongside BC's current PILOT.)
So BC should be paying at least $2.3 million in cash to the city, while they are currently paying only $0.7 million, a shortfall of at least $1.6 million. Based on the commission's recommendations, McGrory has a point that BC is underpaying the city for required city services.
McGrory's tone has evinced a torrent of outraged (and outrageous) comments -- channeling the tone of Howie Carr fans who comment at the Boston Herald's website -- nearly all from people defending BC from what they view as his unfair attacks on their alma mater. Read at your peril.
Image of BC's campus:
Thursday, April 15, 2010
This follows a completely opposite vote in the same legislative body a couple of years ago, when the same legislative body was against legalizing gambling.
The legislators are still using the same "studies" written by the casino industry and its lobbyists, not independent analysis. In fact, this time around they asked only for a "benefits" study, not a "cost-benefits" analysis. Good lord. At least figure out what it is you're getting into before you vote for it.
The legislators are using the same arguments that casinos would create lots of new jobs -- vastly inflated numbers that don't make sense, and are made with the crazy methodology that is "standard" among all kinds of developers (where one hour of subcontracted work qualifies as an entire "job," rather than expressed in FTEs). The unemployment rate might be higher today than it was a couple of years ago, but I predict that the unemployment rate will have dropped significantly by the time that the first shovel goes in the ground.
The legislators are faced with the same arguments that gambling destroys people's lives, such as the nine-year-old boy who had to watch loan sharks repeatedly slam a meat cleaver in-between his father's fingers.
It's the same arguments. In fact, it's virtually all the same representatives voting again, since most of their seats aren't challenged.
The speaker of the house, that's who. State Representative Robert DeLeo, whose father we learned this week used to work in the gambling industry at the race tracks, is now the speaker, having replaced disgraced former speaker and former State Representative Salvatore DiMasi.
The old leadership told the representatives a couple of years ago to vote against legalizing gambling, and they did it. The new leadership told the representatives this week to vote for legalizing gambling, and they did it.
A large number of the members of the state house of representatives appear to have no principles behind their voting records; they are just following their speaker like a flock of sheep.
Their benefits for cowing behind DeLeo? Continued leadership positions in the house and the extra pay that comes with it.
Since these legislators appear to operate under no principle other than following their leader, then what does this mean about their votes a few years back to kill efforts to ban gay marriage? Were those votes not based on principle? Will they gladly reverse their votes when a new speaker takes over who wants to get rid of gay marriage?
Gay marriage advocates watch out.
Do I sound cynical? Angry?
Maybe. It's because I learned that our state's representatives ain't got no... you know.
In Allston-Brighton, Representative Michael Moran and Kevin Honan both voted yes in favor of the casino bill. Both voted against the casino bill in 2008.
Image of sheep:
Monday, March 15, 2010
The Aguageddon -- make that the H2OMG -- looks to be flooding the bike path along the Charles River on the north side in Watertown.
I know where I'm not going for a run Tuesday morning.
Image of flooded Charles River:
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Three of the 26 branch libraries are located in Allston-Brighton; statistically speaking, one of those three is therefore facing closure.
On one level, it would be politically disastrous to close the Honan-Allston Public Library in North Allston, since it is named after the deceased brother of current State Representative Kevin Honan. The Brighton Branch Library near Brighton Center would seem an unlikely target, too, since it is currently undergoing renovations -- if it were to close, the money already spent would be tossed down the toilet.
That leaves the Faneuil Branch Library in Oak Square [pictured at right].
How do the data on the branch libraries compare to this superficial assessment? The trustees have stated that they will be guided in their decision-making by data about each of the branch libraries, in addition to other important qualities such as connection to other community centers:
Library administrators will rank the 26 neighborhood branches by foot traffic, computer use, and how many Web surfers use laptops to log on to Wi-Fi networks. They will count how many programs are offered at each location and tally the number of people who attend storytime and English classes.Below are a few sets of data on the Allston-Brighton branch libraries that were taken from a compilation on the BPL website. Statistics date from fiscal year 2007, which allows for a direct comparison among the branches (since the Brighton branch was closed for renovations in early 2009). I am impressed by the methodological data collection that BPL has undertaken, and the ease with which a member of the public can access the information from the internet. If only all government agencies were like this!
Based on these indicators -- many of which the BPL trustees said they would be using in arriving at their decision -- it would appear that the Faneuil branch library is the most likely to be closed. In fact, the Faneuil branch ranked last in all but one indicator.
The Presentation School Foundation has already initiated a campaign in order to drum up support for the Fanueil library and lobby the city to keep it open. Based on these data, however, the PSF's work is cut out for them.
Most Recent Renovation or Construction (i.e., Most Modern Facilities)
- Brighton: built 1969, renovated 2010
- Honan Allston: built 2001
- Faneuil: built 1931
- Brighton: 76,900
- Honan Allston: 74,000
- Faneuil: 47,200
- Brighton: 22,400
- Honan Allston: 20,000
- Faneuil: 7,600
- Brighton: 120,710
- Honan Allston: 118,117
- Faneuil: 93,043
- Honan Allston: 14,540
- Brighton: 9,841
- Faneuil: 2,902
- Brighton, Honan Allston: yes
- Faneuil: no
- Honan Allston: 20
- Brighton: shared lot (with courthouse)
- Faneuil: none
- Honan Allston: 17
- Brighton: 14
- Faneuil: 12
- Honan Allston: 82,895
- Brighton: 77,857
- Faneuil: 61,568
- Honan Allston: 101
- Brighton: 58
- Faneuil: 53
- Honan Allston: 25
- Brighton: 4
- Faneuil: none
- Brighton: 701
- Honan Allston: 254
- Faneuil: 198
- Honan Allston: 98
- Faneuil: 83
- Brighton: 27
- Honan Allston: 1,736
- Brighton: 981
- Faneuil: 720
- Brighton: 199
- Honan Allston: 116
- Faneuil: 10
Another issue that is bound to be raised is that the Faneuil branch would be a nearby resource for a future community center at the former Presentation School in Oak Square; that future connection will not be reflected in assessments of past connections.
A final issue which appears contradictory is that the Faneuil branch had its meeting rooms used more often by public organizations than the Brighton branch, yet BPL documentation lists the Faneuil branch as having no meeting rooms. (I assume that the "meeting room" that is being referred to in the Faneuil branch is the small stage in the children's book wing -- which cannot be used separately from the rest of the room.)
Lacking from these indicators is a measurement of the number of "community centers" connected to each branch library. How exactly this term is defined may determine which branch comes out on top.
Another indicator missing from these is how "central" the branch is to the neighborhood or the public. That's a hard thing to quantify, although it probably already appears in the statistics for the numbers of visitors (gate count) and the circulation statistics.
Finally, the number of children's events (book readings, magic shows, etc.) is not summarized in the information on the BPL website. Based on my experience, I suspect that the Brighton branch will come last in this category -- but there should be a more quantitative measure available on it, too.
Let me add my own architectural category:
Most Interesting Architecture:
- Honan Allston: Beautiful building inside and out. A real treat to visit.
- Faneuil: Cool Art Deco exterior (only building of that style in Allston-Brighton). Awful and cramped interior that makes you forget its beautiful exterior.
- Brighton: Horrendous Stalin-esque exterior (which, in 1969, replaced a beautiful building!). Unknown interior (until renovations are complete).
Friday, March 05, 2010
One audience member asked, "Would you consider putting a Dunkin' Donuts in?"
Lowe's site development manager Larry LePere responded that he had actually raised the issue with Lowe's management before in other projects, but was always struck down by his bosses -- such that he got the message not to raise the issue again.
LePere didn't mention, however, that the nearest Dunkin' Donuts (aka Dunking Doughnuts) is far, far away from the proposed development site -- two blocks away, that is, at the corner of North Beacon Street and Market Street. You know, the one that used to have the 1957 sign [upper right] that was torn down nearly two years ago.
Image of former Dunkin' Donuts sign in Brighton:
Monday, March 01, 2010
Mayor Thomas Menino rejected Lowe's first proposal for the store in 2007 because of the traffic problems it would create.
A year-and-a-half ago Lowe's presented the first revision in their plans in which they first promised to spend $1.2 million to improve traffic signals on Market Street and North Beacon Street. If those improvements were found to reduce vehicle travel times, Lowe's representatives proposed that they should be permitted to construct their store.
In Lowe's traffic study, however, they substantially misrepresented the existing traffic situation on Market Street, stating travel times that are approximately three times longer than actual measured times. Lowe's characterization of travel times on Market Street are, simply put, way off.
Will Lowe's on Thursday continue to misrepresent the existing traffic conditions on Market Street?
In 2008 Lowe's representatives told the BAIA:
Lowe's traffic engineering consultants claim that it currently takes 14.4 minutes to travel along Market Street from Washington Street to Lincoln Street during morning rush hour, and the reverse trip during evening rush hour takes 17.6 minutes. They also claim that travel on North Beacon Street from Market Street to Union Square takes 10.2 minutes eastbound during morning rush hour or 15.0 minutes westbound during evening rush hour.Their consultants were stating the travel times estimated from computer modeling of Market Street traffic patterns, not those actually measured in a vehicle on the street.
So what does the experimental physicist in me want to do? Measure the actual travel times. During morning and evening rush hour the past couple of weeks I made a series of timings of the travel time from crossing Washington Street to the time crossing Lincoln Street (or vice-versa). Morning timings were taken in a car and evening timings were taken from MBTA bus #86, which should be even slower than normal traffic because of the added time of allowing passengers to get on and off. [See the bottom of the post for more details on the measurements.]
Actual travel times: between four and seven minutes.
Predicted travel times from Lowe's computer models: between 14.4 and 17.6 minutes.
The results show that Lowe's predictions of travel times are three-and-a-half times too large for northbound travel on Market Street during morning rush hour, and two-and-a-half times too large for southbound travel on Market Street during evening rush hour.
The conclusion: Lowe's and their traffic consultants in 2008 massively misrepresented how bad the traffic is on Market Street.
Why Would Lowe's Massively Over-Estimate the Market Street Travel Times?
Lowe's proposed in 2008 that, if they could reduce the travel time by spending money on improving the timing of the traffic lights, then they should be allowed to proceed on constructing their box store in Brighton Landing:
[Lowe's and their consultants] claim that construction of their proposed, big box store will reduce average trip times along Market Street by 13-28% and along North Beacon Street by 3-11%...But the actual travel time is already much better than Lowe's represented it to be; the existing travel times are a 50-67% improvement over their flawed computer models, much more than their proposed 3-28% improvement.
...If there is more traffic on nearby streets, shouldn't this mean that it would take longer to go anywhere by car?
Not if Lowe's paid $1.2 million up front, prior to any approvals for construction of the store, in order to improve traffic signals in the area by synchronizing them. Lowe's insists that they will put a condition on their construction that they must first demonstrate a reduction in trip time from the signal improvements to Market Street and North Beacon Street.
The cynical explanation is that Lowe's might be over-estimating the travel times in order to guarantee that it will appear as though their traffic signal improvements will improve the travel times. It's hard to know whether or not this is the real reason, but I am willing to bet that the BAIA asks some pointed questions at Thursday's meeting.
It's hard to imagine why a traffic consultant -- presumably paid by Lowe's for many hours, days, or even weeks of engineering work -- wouldn't bother to spend an additional hour or two driving up and down the street measuring the actual travel times. Unless, of course, the engineers made the measurements, found them less favorable than the computer model's predicted times, and chose not to make mention of the discrepancy. But that is a purely speculative conspiracy theory.
Their computer model travel times don't make any sense, either. The distance between Lincoln and Washington streets is 0.75 miles, so Lowe's model predicts average vehicle speeds of 3.1 mph in the morning and 2.6 mph in the evening. Those speeds are so slow that many young children could walk faster.
Let's hope that their traffic engineers have driver's licenses and own cars so that they can drive up and down the street a few times before Thursday's meeting.
Other Traffic Issues
Other things to look for in Thursday's presentation by Lowe's traffic engineers: whether they are using the same traffic study or a new one; if they are using the magical stroke-of-the-pen to declare "that 50% rather than 25% of the traffic would already be driving in the area on other errands"; how much the relocation of Briggs from one of the parcels is improving the traffic in the study, rather than other changes (such as a reduction in size of the store or traffic signal improvements); and how Lowe's deals with New Balance's counter-proposals to create a flyover on/off ramp to the Mass Pike and have a commuter rail station near Everett Street.
Morning rush hour northbound [measured by car]: Average 4.0 minutes (individual measurements: 4:27 and 3:27), compared to Lowe's predictions of 14.4 minutes. Neither measurement was within a factor of three of Lowe's predictions.
Morning rush hour southbound [measured by car]: Average 4.2 minutes (individual measurements: 4:37 and 3:50); no Lowe's prediction given.
Evening rush hour southbound [measured on MBTA bust #86]: Average 6.9 minutes (individual measurements: 7:35, 5:30, 6:50, 7:30), compared to Lowe's predictions of 17.6 minutes. Not one measurement was within a factor of two of Lowe's predictions.
Evening rush hour northbound: No measurements or predictions.
[above right] Image of a traffic jam in India:
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Hamamelis blooms in late winter, and a few of the arboretum's specimens near the ponds were in bloom. More will likely bloom within the next week or two.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
With the arrival of the flower and garden shows in late winter.
Last weekend I took in the Rhode Island Spring Flower & Garden Show, a modest-scale event that is a nice afternoon for peeping, photographing, seed and bulb shopping, and magic-watching.
The Boston Globe reported on Thursday that the Boston Flower & Garden Show will be making a comeback next month after a one year hiatus following the "financial meltdown of its producer, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society."
In the interim, locals have had to make their way to another city -- such as Providence, Rhode Island -- to stop and smell the roses.
Red-twigged dogwood Cornus serinicea [right] and primroses (Primula) and daffodils (Narcissus) [left].
Friday, February 26, 2010
Two years ago, Chipotle moved in down the street and the first Burrito Battle of Cleveland Circle was joined.
And in a few weeks the battle for the burrito dollars of Boston College undergraduate students will escalate into outright warfare.
The Boston Restaurant Talk blog announces that El Pelon Taqueria, a store damaged by fire -- twice! -- in the Fenway, is moving to the top of Lake Street at 2197 Commonwealth Avenue, the former site of the College Sub Shop and across the street from BC. They plan to open March 15, although no word as of yet if they will be handing out free burritos on the first day like Chipotle did.
What kind of weaponry will El Pelon bring to the battle? Their menu can be found at The Burrito Blog, natch.
The only question I have is this: Do you eat your burrito with the outer end of the strip up or down?
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
New Balance Proposal for Brighton Landing Development Met With Skepticism From Current Owners of Land
Their development proposal was met with considerable skepticism -- from the current owners of the parcels of land New Balance wants to develop. The owners of two of the three big parcels tell the Boston Herald that there's no deal to sell the properties or their development rights to New Balance.
One of those property owners, Marathon Realty Corporation, has an agreement with Lowe's to develop the site for a home improvement store, but the city has previously nixed that idea due to concerns about traffic problems. David Wanger, president of Marathon Realty, told the Boston Globe:
“It’s inappropriate for New Balance to be presenting a proposal of what they would like to do on property owned by my company unless it’s a collaborative effort," Wanger said. “We’re not going to simply abandon our plans because New Balance has new ones."It is clear from an earlier Herald article that State Representative Michael Moran was previously knowledgeable and supportive of New Balance's proposal; State Representative Kevin Honan was supportive, too, in his comments today to the Herald.
Why would New Balance present their proposals now before they have agreements on any of the parcels?
One theory is that New Balance is trying to preempt Lowe's when they re-propose their own box store idea in the next few weeks. By showing an alternate development vision, New Balance is offering the neighborhood and the city an alternative to undermine the Lowe's project. Over in revenue-strapped City Hall a $250 million development probably looks a lot better than a more modest Lowe's store.
But a more conspiratorial theory has been discussed around the neighborhood for the past few weeks: that New Balance is trying to win over public support for their project in order to pressure the current landowners into selling to New Balance instead of Lowe's. That would explain why New Balance has put so much preliminary effort into wooing the local state representatives over to their project -- and putting a commuter rail stop at nearby Everett Street.
But New Balance's publicized plan could also backfire on them. The owner of one of the parcels seems to be driving his selling price upwards:
“We talked last year and neither the price nor the arrangements were to our benefit,” said William Joyce, [B.L.] Makepeace’s president. “We appreciated the offer, but they were way below anything we consider reasonable.”
Update: Harry Mattison attended the meeting and offers his comments on the development proposal.
The pattern of voting in virtual lock-step with house leadership is not a new phenomenon, although the trend has abated somewhat in comparison with the previous house speaker:
"The Phoenix, in a review of roll-call votes since DeLeo became Speaker, has found an easing of the lock-step voting habits seen by Democrats under DiMasi. Overall, House Democrats have been twice as likely to vote against DeLeo and his leadership team as they were under DiMasi."
Monday, February 01, 2010
The view is looking east; the Mass Pike runs up from the lower right corner of the picture. I've labeled the various features in the image -- the red text is mine, not New Balance's.
The crossing of the Mass Pike looks to be more like a pedestrian bridge lined up with Litchfield Street -- not a flyover with on- and off-ramps -- which connects the proposed new development at Brighton Landing to the new Charlesview project a few blocks further north. Litchfield has residential buildings on its west side, light commercial on its east.
According to at least one source who was briefed on New Balance's plans, their presentation included an additional flyover with looping ramps that is not included in this artist's rendering.
Note: post was updated to clarify the issue of pedestrian bridge versus on-/off-ramp flyover.
It looks like the lull in construction may be about to change.
New Balance is poised to announce a major new project for Brighton Landing that would redevelop an industrial and commercial neighborhood into a mixed-use development.
Word has been leaking out for a number of months that New Balance -- whose corporate headquarters is located next to WGBH's "nuclear aircraft carrier" in the Brighton Landing area alongside the Massachusetts Turnpike -- wishes to initiate a large development project on the currently under-utilized industrial and commercial land between their current buildings and the Stop-and-Shop grocery store to the east.
The initial proposal that has been floated in the past months includes: two office towers (where one is for New Balance's own use to consolidate the corporate offices of their non-NB shoe brands); a movie theater/auditorium; luxury hotel; mixed residential housing and retail; and open green space running east-west in the middle of the project. The entire project is expected to be long-term and would be built in stages, possibly taking up to two decades to complete.
These details were provided and confirmed by a number of individuals who have heard presentations in the past few months from New Balance representatives. New Balance is expected to present details of their proposal in a community meeting next week -- which may include modifications to the plan based on feedback they have received during the past few months. (New Balance was contacted for this story but declined the opportunity to comment.)
The exact identification of the parcels involved was unclear to people briefed on the plans. The parcels in Brighton Landing have a variety of owners listed with the City of Boston assessors office and the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds, only several of which are Brighton Landing LLC, the proponent of the new development. (I have drawn the full possible area at right.) It is likewise unclear if they have entered into any purchase and sale contracts other property owners, but it would seem likely based on the maturity of their development proposal.
Lowe's previously proposed to develop part of the site with a large box hardware store that met with the opposition of both neighborhood residents and Mayor Thomas Menino due to its negative transportation impacts on nearby streets. Lowe's later floated the idea again, albeit without filing a new proposal with the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
The New Balance project concept would address its transportation impacts in two major ways: pushing for the state to locate a commuter rail station at Brighton Landing near Everett Street, which could also service diesel multiple unit trains; and building a new flyover on-/off-ramp for the Mass Pike (and/or a cloverleaf located further east by the Leo Birmingham Parkway). The current transportation constraints of the site are such that the Mass Pike ramps are a requirement for the project to move forward, according to those briefed on the plan.
While the office towers would likely be buffered from existing residential neighborhoods, the pike ramp flyover might be located relatively close to the residential neighborhood of North Brighton along Lincoln Street.
New Balance has not to date submitted their proposed development project to the BRA for review.
Community Meeting: NB Guest Street Planning & Development is hosting a community meeting to present their "vision" of potential future development of Guest Street. The meeting will take place on February 10th at 6:30 p.m., on the 2nd floor at Brighton Landing, 20 Guest Street in Brighton.
Update: Lowe's is on the schedule for Thursday's meeting of the Brighton Allston Improvement Association. Hard to know what that means, based on New Balance floating their own development ideas for what are likely to be some of the same parcels of land.
Image of New Balance's headquarters in Brighton Landing from the NB Store website.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
A week after the election, I was surprised and intrigued to read an op-ed in the Boston Globe by Democratic media consultant Dan Payne describing the results of an "exit poll" conducted by Hart Research Associates, a Washington, D.C. based survey research firm.
Did somebody actually take an exit poll despite election-day stories to the contrary?
No, as is clear from two organizations which did the polling on election day.
David Drembus, director of operations at Hart Research Associates, confirmed in an email that the firm took a telephone poll on election night of 810 Massachusetts voters. Nothing wrong with that, just that it's not an exit poll; Payne stepped in it by mischaracterizing the poll. (Payne could not be reached for comment.)
Exit polls are a gold standard for election analysis, because they track the reasons behind actual voters' decisions at the ballot box. They are also difficult to organize, since they require interviewing actual voters [image at right] as they leave representative polling places scattered across the entire election area. As Mike Allen wrote at Politico.com (and was also reported by the Wall Street Journal):
No exit polls from today’s Senate special in Massachusetts, where the polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The consortium scrambled to put something together — for the “why,” more than for the call — but wasn’t confident a reliable system could be built so fast.Facts like these didn't stop WBZ's
Last Friday on the show Beat the Press, Boston Phoenix journalist Adam Reilly and WGBH host Emily Rooney bemoaned the fact that we wouldn't really know why voters voted the way they did because there weren't any exit polls taken:
REILLY: I wish we had exit poll data so we could...Sadly, the studio's cameras didn't show the look on the face of suddenly-silent Jon Keller -- seated in-between Reilly and Rooney -- who was presumably either ready to pounce with his "eye-popping exit poll numbers" or dropping his jaw that his colleagues could be so clueless as to think there weren't any exit polls. Or maybe, just maybe, he kept his mouth shut so that he would not step in it again.
ROONEY [interrupting]: I've been lamenting that.
That Keller so readily accepted the outcome of his Rasmussen "exit poll," in any case, is a reflection of his sagging political analysis of Massachusetts politics. He should easily have recognized that Rasmussen's polling results were not representative of Massachusetts voters:
Our polling shows that 53% of voters in Massachusetts are Democrats, 21% Republican and 26% not affiliated with either party.These numbers agree with neither the voter registration in Massachusetts, which have 51% of the electorate unenrolled, nor the 2008 presidential election exit polling data, which have 43% of actual voters identifying as unenrolled. Those poll internals are red flags that were picked up by Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com, who is currently the best independent poll analyst on the national scene; Keller should have immediately seen the poll problems, too.
Let's hope that the media don't sell short the next election and put together a set of reliable exit polls. Otherwise we are likely to see another round of misrepresentations of the nature and reliability of the polling data come November.
*** Update 1: Keller has, as of 1/29/09, now corrected the text on his blog entry to read "these election-day poll numbers."
Update 2: It looks like WGBH's Beat the Press will be tackling the issue of no exit polls in this week's broadcast -- without Keller.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether.While the court's decision adjudicated the free speech rights of organizations falling under section 501(c)(4) of the federal tax code, the reasoning of the majority opinion, based on the First Amendment, raises a related question: Do tax-exempt non-profit organizations likewise now have First Amendment free speech rights that cannot be abridged by prohibitions on partisan political activity in section 501(c)(3) of the tax code?
The Chronicle of Philanthropy writes that, while the court's decision technically only applies to 501(c)(4) organizations, the issue is not settled as to whether or not it would also apply to tax-exempt, non-profit organizations:
Charities governed by 501(c)(3) — which are not affected by the court ruling — present a more complicated picture, legal experts say. Such groups are barred from any partisan political activity and may conduct only a limited amount of lobbying. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that such restrictions do not violate free-speech rights because charities benefit from tax-deductible contributions.In a separate opinion piece at the same website, Leslie Lenkowsky, professor of public affairs and philanthropic studies at Indiana University, continues the argument:
But the new ruling gives such weight to the First Amendment that some legal experts expect it may prompt a charity to challenge the existing rules. Although it would be a tough case to make, says Ronald Jacobs, a Washington lawyer, “it wouldn’t surprise me if someone tried it.”
[The] Supreme Court has opened the door for more extensive political activity by nonprofit groups, which may be a mixed blessing.
This has generally been obscured because the Supreme Court’s decision refers to election spending by “corporations,” which many understand as “businesses.” In fact, the opinion is using “corporations” in a legal sense, referring not just to businesses but also to labor unions and many other types of incorporated organizations, including nonprofit ones.
Many non-profit groups -- particularly the larger ones with deeper pockets -- are organized as corporations under state law, which is why Lenkowsky argues for more expansive implications of the court's decision.
I can imagine, however, that the counter-argument to expanded non-profit advocacy would be that non-profit institutions in effect obtain their tax-exempt status in exchange for surrendering some of their free speech rights -- a tax-exempt benefit that 501(c)(4) organizations do not enjoy. Free speech rights are not restricted, because the organization could always turn down the tax-exempt designation.
But it still raises interesting possibility: Might the Catholic Church now have the free speech right to endorse candidates in federal elections without losing its tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit?
If so, then Massachusetts might once again look politically like it did early in the 20th century when William Cardinal O'Connell exerted enormous political power. Imagine how different the abortion or casino gambling debates would play out if the church were free to engage in partisan political activity.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Political reporter Bob Katzen writes in his Beacon Hill Roll Call column about how the blame could be passed all the way back to 2004 -- when the state legislature passed a law changing the way a new senator is chosen. At the time, Senator John Kerry was the Democratic nominee for president; if he would have won that race, the law up until 2004 gave the governor the power to appoint his successor in the senate.
And the governor at that time was none other than Mitt Romney, a Republican.
If the 2004 bill had never been passed, then Senator Paul Kirk, temporary appointee of Governor Deval Patrick, would continue in his post until after the November 2012 election for the seat.
While the 2004 bill passed the legislature overwhelmingly, finger-wagger Jon Keller singles out Milton State Sen. Brian Joyce and Mattapoisett Rep. William Straus for their roles behind the bill.
Locally, we can ask: How did our Allston-Brighton representatives vote on the 2004 bill to change the way a senate vacancy is filled from an appointment to a special election? A "yes" vote was in favor of a special election instead of a gubernatorial appointment.
Rep. Kevin Honan - Yes
Rep. Michael Moran - Was not yet elected
former Sen. Anthony Galluccio - Was not yet elected
Sen. Steven Tolman - Yes
Note that Rep. Moran played a more recent role in September 2009 in chairing the legislature's committee on elections that reformed the 2004 law in order to provide for a temporary gubernatorial appointment pending the outcome of the special election.
Honan, Moran, Galluccio, and Tolman all voted for the September 2009 bill.
Reps. Honan and Moran both voted against a similar bill in 2006 that would have granted the same temporary appointment powers to the governor. They both win the "Flip-Flop of the Year" award for Allston-Brighton.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Eric Gittleman, secretary and treasurer of the newly re-formed committee, told me last fall how he had organized a group of residents in Ward 21 and was beginning the process of formal recognition. They filed their statements with the Massachusetts Republican Party on November 30.
In response to a tweeted query today he confirmed that the committee was the product of several months of work -- not the result of Massachusetts Republicans' new-found enthusiasm in the wake of State Senator Scott Brown's victory last Tuesday in the special election for the U.S. Senate seat. He noted, however, that they welcome into their committee people newly-energized by the election results.
The committee is holding a caucus next week because they are required to elect delegates to the state's convention before February 3rd.
The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, January 27th in Dorchester at All Saints’ Church, 209 Ashmont St, Boston MA 02124, from 7:00 pm until 9:00 pm. Prior to the caucus, they will meet closer to A-B at the office of Boston Student Realty, 1066 Commonwealth Ave, Boston MA 02215, at 5:30 pm. As with Democratic ward committees, the meeting is open to the public but delegates must be registered Republicans as of December 1, 2009.
No word to date from Ward 22's Republicans. Anybody out there?
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Brighton resident, businessman, Jay Severin-watcher, and sometimes playwright David Schrag decided to imagine what
Schrag unfortunately got scooped by Dennis DiClaudio, whose own version of the same concept made it onto Comedy Central's website.
Warning for both: put down your coffee before watching, otherwise serious spraying may result.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Base Elections are the Exception, Not the Rule. Politicos like to point to Karl Rove's electorate base strategy in 2004 as the model for an effective presidential campaign, but that strategy worked well because so many states had anti-gay marriage constitutional amendments on their ballots that year. President George W. Bush won running towards the middle in 2000; Senator John McCain lost running towards the right in 2008; while now-President Barack Obama in 2008 had a platform full of progressive policies, in many ways he won in the middle (52-44% of moderates) using conciliatory language and vows of bipartisanship.
If you look at the mailings and phone calls in this campaign, it is plainly obvious that Coakley was contacting pretty much only Democratic voters while Brown was going for unenrolled (independent) voters. It is absolutely amazing how stark the difference was. Coakley seemed to make no attempt to contact unenrolled voters -- who make up more than 50% of registered voters -- while Brown did so repeatedly. Polls in the week before the election showed Brown winning unenrolled voters by 2:1 or 3:1 margins.
The 2004 presidential election was an outlier. Independent voters continue to be where close elections are won or lost -- even in liberal Massachusetts.
The Third Maxim of Politics. The first maxim of politics is that All Politics Are Local. The second maxim is that You Have to Ask People For Their Vote.
Now we have learned the third maxim: You Have to Shake People's Hands. Not hide away in your campaign office or substitute meetings with members of town school committees -- even though they are elected officials. Shake people's hands; don't ever say that it isn't important to do so. And then shake some more hands.
Massachusetts Corollary #1: Sox with an "x," tot "cks". Not only shake people's hands, but don't make fun of people who shake voters' hands outside Fenway Park -- or mock Red Sox legends like Curt Schilling. That'll kill you with the crowd that is looking for any reason to say that you're Out Of Touch.
Establishment Candidacies Are Bad News In This Political Climate. Coakley ran a campaign that was amazingly similar to then-Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2007-8: the establishment candidate whose election is inevitable. Until that inevitability hits a big pothole, that is. Even though Clinton wrapped up lots of Democratic superdelegates early in the primary and caucus season, then-Senator Barack Obama eventually caught up with her on that score; meanwhile, Obama had churned out substantially more elected delegates.
You don't need to lock up the support of every single member of a school committee, board of selectmen, water district board, union organizing committee, or ward committee. There are far more voters out there than there are selectmen. Meet some ordinary voters, shake their hands, and ask them for their vote.
Don't Make Easy Assumptions: They Can Be Wrong. People assumed Coakley, as the woman in the race, had the women's vote wrapped up. But at least one poll in the past week broke down the numbers and showed she was surprisingly weak among women voters. I wouldn't be surprised if that were true back in the December 2009 primary, too. Do the Capuano, Khazei, or Pagliuca campaigns have polling to share on this point?
Coakley's Future In Doubt. Coakley's amateurish campaign immediately makes her appear vulnerable this fall -- from either a Republican or a Democratic challenger. Coakley is now perceived as such a weakened candidate for state-wide office that a challenger is inevitable.
I will venture a bit close to the precipice and make a bolder prediction: Democratic Party leaders in Massachusetts will quietly pull Coakley aside and suggest that she not run again for attorney general. Those leaders talking to Coakley will not be the leadership in the state legislature, however, since they are all scared to death that Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin will run for Attorney General -- and get subpoena power. They would rather see a no-name Republican as attorney general than Galvin.
I predict that Galvin moves forward with a run for the seat and scares Coakley into not running for re-election -- just like 2002 when Mitt Romney drove then-Acting Governor Jane Swift out of the race for governor.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
At first some tea partiers referred to their activities as teabagging or to themselves as teabaggers, but they have since chosen to avoid these terms due to their sexual connotations.
Now one local elected official is reviving the teabag metaphor. State Senator Steven Tolman gave Senate President Therese Murray a marble plaque engraved with the inscription (alternately attributed to either former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt or actress Mae West ):
"A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water."I'm sure Senator Tolman didn't mean to connect the senate president with the tea party movement, right?
Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/dlytle/ / CC BY 2.0
The five incidents have occurred at: Quality Market, 140 North Beacon Street (hit twice); Tedeschi's, 241 Market Street (hit twice); and Brooks Variety Store, 32 Brooks Street.
People with information contact D-14 detectives at (617)343-4256 or submit anonymous tips at the CrimeStoppers Tip Line at (800)494-TIPS or text the word ‘TIP’ to CRIME (27463).
A camera truck from WHDH (channel 7) was seen outside the Tedeschi's in the late afternoon, presumably for a live shot on tonight's newscasts.
Sunday, January 03, 2010
When the MDC disappeared and morphed into the Department of Conservation and Recreation, not much changed.
But lately, I have seen those streets shoveled more often and in a timely fashion. But why? Is the DCR all of a sudden doing a phenomenal job at shoveling sidewalks, now that they no longer are in charge of plowing the parkways in town?
Sunday night I learned the secret to their recent sidewalk shoveling success: the DCR brought in a chain gang from the Department of Corrections.
Well, not exactly a chain gang. Nobody was shackled hand and foot to each other. But they were wearing orange jumpsuits with big, black letters "DOC" on the back, and there were two vehicles -- one from DCR with equipment, the other a van from DOC for the passengers -- slowly following the shoveling men as they worked their way around the ice rink and reservoir.
Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera with me to, um, "capture" the guys for posterity. So I had to settle for a stock photo from Creative Commons.
Sounds to me like a good solution to address something that used to be a big problem.
Image of guantanamo jumpsuit orange cropped from an image by gierszewski, used through a Creative Commons license.