DudleyFort Hill then

^ Dudley Square today — Fort Hill then : change brings Roxbury back to life

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Often, during recent elections, we heard much about “the community.” We heard it again in the recent Boston 2024 donnybrook. People said, “the community wants this” or “it’s not good for the community” and even “the community opposes…” We also became vividly accustomed to the term “community activist.”

This sounds good. Most of us who hear the term “the community” envision it. We see happy neighbors cooking out or attending a local public meeting, or perhaps rooting for a local school baseball team as it squares off against a team from somewhere else. These impressions gain sinew from Boston’s history : the present city is made up of what were once  eight separate towns : Charlestown, South Boston, Noddle Island (East Boston), Dorchester, Hyde Park, Brighton, Roxbury, and Boston itself. And some of these eight themselves encompassed separate sections : Dorchester included Mattapan, Savin Hill, Uphams Corner, “Columbia Point,” Cherry valley, Fields Corner, Port Norfolk, Codman Square, and Lower Mills; Roxbury included Mission Hill, Roxbury Highlands, “Lower Roxbury,” Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, and West Roxbury; Brighton included Allston. And Boston itself broke into North End, West End, Beacon Hill, South End, Back Bay, Bay Village, Chinatown, and Downtown.

Sharp hills galore, and ,many valleys and tidal plains, gave most of these geographic pictures lump and smell, not to mention a position set off from each. And thus geography became the frame for the photos in our community picture book.

But there are at least two major contrary facts that dilute our picture, that render it illusory.

First is that Boston is not simply a puzzle of pieces entirely individual. Hardly anybody who lives within the frame of one “neighborhood” photo spends all his or her time there. Most work elsewhere, many socialize elsewhere or shop elsewhere.

Second is that hardly anybody who lives within this or that picture today will still be living there 20, 30 years from now, or lived there 20, 30 years ago. Most people in America move constantly. Many end up living in five, ten, even twenty different places during their lives. Even long-time residents of this or that “community” move to Florida for retirement. I can’t begin to count the number of “Dorchester people”: I know who were ferociously active as such but who now live elsewhere, returning — if at all — only to visit a pub  or a barber shop or to work a poll on election day. The same is abundantly true of Charlestown, the North End, West Roxbury, and “Southie” — to name just the most self-identified of “old loyalty” communities.

Even died-in-the-woool “Dot Rats” or “Townies” move away without a qualm if there’s a better job out there, or a great price offered for their house, or if they have a child to be closer to, or who want better schools than what they think their Boston “community” has to offer.

Thus even in Boston, with its geographically vivid, pictured frames, “community” is more a vision than a thing, more a dream than a waking. New “neighborhoods’ appear, old ones disappear : today the brand new, still a-building Seaport District is Boston’s loudest burgeoning frame-picture; while the “New York Streets,” once a teeming neighborhood (and its own City Ward), has so disappeared that only attic figs recall it.

“Community” is a convenience. When it loses its convenience, it gets left behind.

I have set all of this forth because too often in Boston today activists raise the “community” slogan as a stop sign : thou shalt not develop Codman Square ! You may NOT “gentrify” Uphams Corner ! One activist whom I often read — and enjoy the company of — talks of building Boston “from the community up.”

It seems to me that by “community” people who use the term express a belief. The evidence for that belief may disappoint, but the belief has its own life. It goes on despite facts. Today I had a longish conversation on twitter with a Codman Square activist who insisted, at first, that Codman Square has “lots of community activity” and that I did not know the neighborhood., I pointed out, as per the first version of this article, that I had made clear that most people who live in a “community:” do not respond thereto. I pointed out that at Codman Square DC meetings, 156 people show up, out of a neighborhood with maybe 5,000 adult residents. The twitter converser then said “that’s why there needs to be all encompassing community action.”

She may well be right about what the people who live in and around Codman Square may need. Or she may be wrong. My own belief is that the people of Codman Square should bed trusted to make their own, individual decisions about what they “need.”

The same Codman Square tweeter also talked of the plight of people she knew who have “lived here for generations.” But that is manifestly untrue. Codman Square in the last 40 years has changed population almost completely, and it is changing again. It exemplifies my point that “community” is a concept ephemeral, in part illusory, and highly subjective to the individual using the term.

I don’t mean to suggest that neighborhood activists cannot give voice to their area of Boston, and draw the City’s attention. They can. Neighborhood activists also provide personality to an area and patronize its eateries — because if you’re going to gather in groups to talk things out, an eatery is a pretty accommodating place to do it. Still, neighborhood activists do best when they work on details rather than the big picture, because the picture is not theirs to draw except in part.

A good example is our friend Chris Kollett, of Roslindale, who describes the “community process thus : “This certainly can be a problem with the community process, esp. when a small group ends up with an outsized voice….Reaching community consensus *can* be messy & problematic at times. But it’s pretty great when communities come together.”

Stability is not how the reality of Boston neighborhoods works, nor can. A big city like Boston is built on commerce, its real estate on prices. For every activist who wants “the community” to decide, there’s six homeowners ready to sell — almost always to someone who does not now live in “the community” and who likely won’t live there 30, 40 years from now. The businesses in a “community” are even more ephemeral. Most don’t last five years; hardly any last. for 40. Their owners go where thew customers are. If they’re “in the community,” fine. If not, then not. And what business, situated in a “neighborhood” rather than center city, relies only on customers who live “in the neighborhood” ? Not very many.

There is, however, one kind of “community” that does stay pretty much the same decade after decade : a dying one, a community with scant commerce and not much income. East Boston was like that in 1970, when my Aunt Liz came back for my Mom’s funeral after living in Cleveland since 1928. She recognized every building and almost every store.

That’s not “Eastie” today, is it ? Today’s East Boston is as vibrant a pass-through as it’;s never been, teeming with development, with newcomers of all kinds and more income than its streets have grasped since JFK’s grandfather ran a saloon on Meridian Street. Nor do the vast changes tidal waving through “Eastie” arise “from the community.” They are brought to nit by investors risking risk capital and crafting plans — just as did William Sumner and his followers when, in the 1830s and for decades after, they created the first East Boston.

That is how “community” is made. By risk capital, by bold seers, by shops and technology hubs willing to chance the future of an area. The more “community” activists impede these risk takers, the surer it is that their “community” will slide away; because change is life, and life is change. Only the dying stand still; only the dead commit to it.

What I have just written is not romantic, and it may not be fair (community and change has nothing to do with concepts like justice); but it is the truth.

As for the various “neighborhoods” of Boston that we love to love, charming and evocative of loyalties, sing them while you can : because unless they decay, they will 20, 30, 40 years hence chant very, very different tunes from the songs they proffer to you now.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ “I will not mortgage the City’s finances !” — Mayor Walsh stood firm against the USOC’s ultimatum

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The headline sums it up. The USOC — United States Olympic Committee — yesterday told our City to go to hell. No 2024 Olympic games for us. It was a stunning act of disrespect.

The day began with a hastily called presser by Mayor Walsh, who announced that no, he was not going to sign the USOC’s financial guarantee. “I will not mortgage the city’s finances,” he said, his face stiff with anger.

Four hours of tense negotiations ensued, involving the Mayor, the Boston Bid Committee, and the USOC, with — evidently — Governor Baker participating by teleconference. I could find out nothing; my sources had shut off their cell phones. Then, at 1.47 PM, I received an e-mail — in red letters, no less — telling me that Governor Baker would hold a presser at 3 pm. What was he going to say ?

Not until about 2.35 PM did we find out that the negotiations had failed, that the USOC refused to amend its requiring the City to guarantee cost overruns and that the Boston games bid was therefore finished. Did the Mayor have any regrets ? “None at all,” he said.

At 3 pm the Governor faced the press. There was anger in his face — I’ve seen him in all kinds of moods, and this was his angry mode. “All along the Senate President, the Speaker,and my office have told the committee that we had a process and that we expected we’d have an answer on about the first of August,” he said. “until a week ago nobody had a problem with that.”

The event Baker was referring to took place on Friday. Evidently the USOC told the Governor to get aboard the Bid immediately. I don’t know too many people who would react well to that, much less a Governor as sure of his command as Baker.

The USOC said it was in a hurry facing a mid-September deadline for formally submitting a bid to the International Olympic Committee. I find that argument unconvincing. Deadlines can be extended. When our Bid Committee has spent millions of dollars, hired many staffers, engaged thousands of volunteers, and devised a very detailed plan — all while being criticized and vilified at every turn — the least the USOC could do was have the Bid Committee’s back and get the mid-September deadline extended. Instead, the USOC cut everybody adrift.

I hate to write what I have written. I wanted the Games to come to Boston, wanted it very much. I am a journalist but also a citizen, and as a citizen I went all in for the games, giving the Committee pretty much all I had in me, because I liked the vision, approved of all the changes, enthused over the developments, applauded the jobs and, yes, the developers’ profits; I also wanted very much to cover a nine-year story and — personally important to me — looked forward to taking my grand-kids to the games in 2024.

But the facts are hard to gloss. Fact is that the USOC proved a dishonorable partner. Who do they think we are ? A city or a television contract ? What sort of tone-deaf entity gives ultimatums to democratically elected political leaders ? We can’t have Olympic games in Boston if the pay price is having to submit to the USOC’s mindset.

And now to the battle that took place on the ground. From the outset, the Bid Committee made one huge mistake : it presented an incomplete, sketchy bid to a dozen public meetings, as if it were the mother of all BRA design review developments. The BRA’s design review process is already well past usefulness. Meetings are packed with opponents of every detail, whereas proponents usually do not show up. Secondly, the Bid Plan was presented to a public already hepped up by the casino – anti-casino fights that took place barely 18 months ago and, in some neighborhoods, are still going on. Those anti-casino people mostly took up the anti-Olympics theme, well organized to vilify every meeting they could get to. Third, every environmentalist ultra in the City objected to the Bid Plan’s green action even though its green plan was a terrific boon. The ultras simply did not want developers for profit — whom they hold responsible for un-green ing the City — to create new greenspace.

These three constituencies added up to a ton of social media fury that the media loved reporting — it made superb copy.

No wonder that support in Boston for the Bid headed downward right up until recently. As the Olympic meetings moved from one neighborhood to the next, it alienated one neighborhood after the other.  The Committee seemed at a loss how to deal with this. Most were planning specialists , quiet gentle people entirely ill equipped to confront dogged, inflammatory opponents.

All kinds of weaponry brandished : Subpoenas, referenda, calls to give the Bid to Los Angejes, mountains of quizzical accountings from Olympic Games in other cities — a  mountain of quibble and squabble, detours and kaleidoscopy that made the City look like a house of cray-cray.

It didn’t matter much that new Bid chairman Steve Pagliuca oversaw the issuing of a much better Plan 2.0 because by then, the battle between supporters and opponents had already blown up to full combat mode.

Still, about six weeks ago, the Committee figured out that as the Olympic games are a sports event, they ought to lead with sports figures — Olympians galore and David Ortiz — and that it would be smart to set loose its thousands of sports-loving volunteers to canvass neighborhoods and sign up new volunteers all over the City, especially in communities of color, where opposition was slight and the need for jobs high. Unfortunately, this change of tactic, too — wise though it was — came too late for the USOC’s hurry.

In addition, at all times the huge elephant in the Olympic sandwich was the question of cost overruns. As we see, this question was never settled — probably was never addressed realistically; indemnification agreements were needed, and no one that late in the game would step up to sign one — and when Mayor Walsh finally called the question, the USOC said “nothing doing.”

And there you have it. A huge opportunity lost, to drive change in the City — change that is going to happen anyway, and with a finality that boggles mouldy minds and ultra insisters.– and give us a grand sports party to boot. I’m sorry for our City, sorry for our sports community, and sad for my grand-kids who now will not see the games here at home.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Baker and Walsh

^ authority gratuitously compromised versus authority fully asserted : Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker

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We’ve opined at length about why we support bringing the 2024 Summer Olympic Games to Boston, I have no intention of revisiting any part of our brief in favor. The purpose of today’s editorial is to address significant. governance issues that the Games controversy has highlighted and about which mistakes have been made.

The first issue is “transparency.” During the past few years the notion has gained traction that governments should be “transparent,” which is to say that government records should all be readily available to the public and that, to the extent feasible, communications between government officials — and even among subordinates — should be public as well. This objective sounds apple pie, a good government move. Like most such moves, however, it needs limitation in order not to overreach. Because the second issue is “authority.” It too needs to be respected.

Elected executives must be accorded a zone of confidentiality protecting their communications with one another as well as communications made by subordinates. If elected executives don’t have such zone of confidentiality, their authority of office is vitiated. The state’s Constitution (and the City Charter of Boston) empower elected officials. We either allow Charter’s and Constitution’s powers to work, or we undermine both officials, City Charter, and Constitution.

Opponents of the 2024 Games bid seek publication of all manner of documents well within the Mayor of Boston’s zone of confidentiality. The Mayor yesterday ceded this vital principle to them; it was a huge mistake on his part which, if not corrected by an appropriate Executive Order, will leave him powerless to make the most important mayoral decisions : land use decisions. Because if developers and proposers of projects like Boston 2024 can’t be sure that their proposals and negotiations will be confidential during the negotiation stages, no developer or proposer will make any such proposals. That will hurt the Mayor and severely injure the City’s economic boom.

The Mayor appears to fear that voters do not trust him, do not trust government, do not trust the games committee. Opponents have indeed said so, often and loudly. I think the Mayor has over-reacted; nonetheless, he is not wrong to confront the distrust issue,. It is the ebola in today’s American body politic, of which Trump is the most toxic symptom; many more such symptoms abound. Voters distrust Congress, some distrust the President; some distrust our democracy itself, the economy, and every institution of political health. It is wrong, however — hugely wrong — to respond to ebola by offering up your body to it.

There are plenty of voters — a majority, perhaps — who either believe in the Mayor or who want to, voters who are ready to gird up for battle by his side; voters who want change and who look to Walsh to get it done. These supporters include developers and boom-economy businesses that see prosperity in the offing if the Mayor can get the City to that point. The Mayor needs to be these voters’; leader, not their white flag of surrender.

Unfortunately, the Mayor has placed himself at the head of the Transparency Arny. It is difficult for him now to step aside from that army and say, “wait just a minute, you’re taking transparency too far.”

Yet the current “transparency army” is his sworn political foe. Can he ever win their trust — except by letting them run his show ? That would be a final mistake. Their agenda is the opposite of his : ” no development boom, no neighborhood change, no new economy, no education transformation, no Mayor with authority.”

Mayor Walsh can still recover his power. He should, as soon as feasible, issue the following Executive Order :

“Notwithstanding the decision that we made to make public certain documents relating to the Olympic games proposal, that were presented and discussed in confidentiality, it is now City Policy that negotiations and proposals made to the Mayor by developers and event proponents shall be conducted entirely confidentially, including any and all documents and communications made pursuant thereto, by My office or by those who work for My Office and other City agencies and departments where I so order; and no such proposal or negotiation shall be made public until and unless an actual agreement is reached in such form and of such content as shall, according to the City Charter, require a vote of the Council.”

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Meanwhile, support for the Games looks to have increased on account of last night’s debate. That is no surprise; supporters have been the underdog, and an underdog almost always wins a first debate simply because it gets to make its case, to people who may only have known characterizations leveled at it by the opponent. The controversy now moves to Governor Baker, on whose decision all attend — exactly as he should want it. How he will decide, I cannot tell. One thing however is sure : discussions he is having leading up to his decision are being held in the confidential zone, where the authority of governance rests and must rest.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Stan Roseberg speaks

^ He has a plan, but it’s the wrong plan, and it won’t happen — yet : State Senate President Stan Rosenberg

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Those who want Massachusetts government to spend more money have taken exactly the wrong approach to arriving at their desire : they want higher taxes.

Specifically, Raise Up Massachusetts, an advocacy team that successfully pushed for hiking the State’s minimum wage, now proposes something far less sensible or likely : it wants to almost double the state income tax rate on high earning workers. Those affected will be asked to pay 9 % of their income in taxes rather than the present 5.15 %.

The proposal isn’t very likely because, first, it requires a Constitutional amendment, as Massachusetts does not allow different tax rates for different people. Twice in the 1990s advocates sought such an amendment; both times it was soundly defeated. Second, the proposed amendment cannot appear on the ballot unless tits supporters present some 64,750 valid signatures, after which at least one quarter of the entire legislature must, in two separate sessions, vote to advance the proposal. Will this happen ? Not as long as Robert DeLeo is Speaker of the House, it won’t. Governor Baker also intends to oppose it actively.

The State Senate is another matter. Its leader, Stan Rosenberg, has made it a point to advocate “progressive” causes, especially those which spend more state money and/or which bolster the protected position of public worker unions. So far, Rosenberg has lost every significant battle to the solid alliance of Governor Baker and Speaker DeLeo. Rosenberg is not deterred. As I wrote for Here and Sphere months ago, Rosenberg is playing a long game, one in which losing, for the time being, is perfectly acceptable as long as he can provide a beachhead for “progressives’ and, slowly but surely, increase their power within the Democratic Party and the State House. Rosenberg may well have 2022 in mind; both Baker and DeLeo will likely be finished by the end of that year. It may well take that long for him to achieve his aim, and he seems acclimatized to a long battle.

The tax hike move is also the wrong way to achieve higher state tax revenue. Grabbing an additional $ 40,000 and up from the 14,000 earners who will be affected hurts these earners but does not in any way assure those dollars will be well spent. Baker doesn’t need the extra funds — yet — and a succeeding governor will likely not have Baker’s singular persuasiveness and skills as a budget manager. To grow state tax revenue the right way — assuming that’s needed — we should do the following:

1.improve the state’s primary and secondary education, so that graduates are ready to do at least entry level jobs that will be needed — or to handle the still more demanding “gig” economy that portends even now. Governor baker has already proposed education reforms that will head Massachusetts toward this major policy goal.

2.raise the state’s minimum wage to $ 15.00 an hour,  in Boston maybe even to $ 22.00 an hour. Workers earning this sort of money rather than the present $ 10.50 minimum will actually pay taxes rather than be recipients of the expanded EITC. They’ll also be able to spend into the discretionary economy, thereby boosting the taxable earnings of others ! Raise Up already pursued this wage raise course successfully; why are they now changing the policy ?

3.keep the building boom going in Boston and extend it to gateway cities. A Building Trades union worker earning $ 150,000 pays $ 7,500 or so in state taxes; that same union worker laid off pays no taxes and in fact needs public assistance. This means supporting the Boston 2024 Olympics, Imagine Boston 2030, and the Governor’s Gateway Cities municipality-state compacts.

Please note that my plan for growing the economy is not a standard, right wing “job creators” argument. I am fully aware that consumer demand grows the economy; that the more that people earn, the more they can spend, and that that in turn causes more hiring and more earnings, thus more state tax revenue. My plan fits the Left-wing scenario no better than it accedes to the Right side. But it makes sense.

Of course, that might be the problem., Sensible isn’t an especially sexy point of view in these temper tantrum days of revenge taxes, blame games, and facile illusions.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Baker FCB

Governor Baker swears in members of the MBTA’s Fiscal Control Board

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Last Friday, Governor Baker appointed the five members of the Fiscal Control Board (FCB) that will oversee every detail of MBTA operations. On Monday they held their first meeting. It is now Wednesday, and already the FCB has issued a significant, innovative order to improve transit service to the public.

The FCB ordered that the $ 7,500,000 in non-performance fines paid by Keolis, the company that operates the MBTA’s CommuterRail lines, will be used to hire additional Keolis staff, to do a variety of things not being done well enough or at all; in particular, additional fare collectors will be hired.

Failure to collect several millions of Commuter Rail fares was an issue raised at the Hearing held by the Legislature’s Transportation  Committee, at which the Governor;’s MBTA reform legislation was testified about — including extensive testimony by the Governor himself. There, the Governor expressed a resolve not to have to hear of non-collection of Commuter Rail fares ever again; and State Senator Tom McGee, chairman of the Committee, responded in kind : “believe me, we don’t want to heart of it again either.”

The FCB’s move almost guarantees that fare collection will be a problem solved.

Some have complained that the $ 7,500,000 was not allotted to track and switching repairs first., I find the complaint misplaced and uninformed. Three weeks ago Governor Baker announced that he was postponing a $ 200,000,000 order of new trains for the Fairmount CommuterRail line so that those very track and switching repairs could be made.

If this level of complaint previews the criticisms that Governor Baker can expect of his MBTA reform, there will truly be nothing to see there. Yet there’s worse. Today a State Senator posted on facebook that the FCB’s fare collector hiring is an example of “privatization” and thus to be decried. Is he serious ? In what way is it “privatization” to use Keolis money the better to do Keolis’s job ?

Or perhaps the Senator is telling us that Keolis, a private company, shouldn’t have been hired in  the first place (by the previous administration, let us recall) and that instead the Carmens’ Union should run the CommuterRail ? I almost wonder why that sounds like a very, very bad idea.

The FCB is going to rethink how the MBTA is run. It is not going to accept an inefficient practice when there’s an efficient one available. It is not going to cling to a process that opens doors to failure when there’s processes available that have fewer exits. The FCB is going to evaluate what works, and who; and what does not work, and who. The public has a right to nothing less, and the Governor is right to insist that MBTA personnel remember who they’ve been hired to serve — and at what level of taxpayer cost.

The FCB’s thoroughgoing overhaul of the MBTA’s workplace culture prerequisites what is needed next : new cars and trains, T line expansion, and the personalization of ridership service. And guess what / Better T service is good for T employees, too, including the Carmen’s Union’s own survival — whether or not they realize it so far.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ requests subpoena : District 7 Councillor Tito Jackson

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Yesterday City Councillor Tito Jackson requested that a subpoena issue to the Boston Olympics Bid Committee, and to Mayor Walsh, to produce a document that Jackson feels entitled to see, a document that opponents of the Olympics Bid feel will evidence some sort of scandal and thereby destroy the Bid entirely.

The full Council will have to vote in favor of Jackson’s request, or it fails. I do not know how that vote will go, and this editorial will not opine on it. Our story here is a different one. The question we ask is, “what right does a Councillor, or anyone, have to see documents that, in our view, lie securely within the Mayor’s executive confidentiality (and which in this case have been superseded by later proposals) ?

As we see it, the Mayor is elected, and fully empowered, to make decisions for the City and to conduct negotiations on the City’s behalf also. In exercise of his chartered powers, the Mayor conducts negotiations that may feature proposals and counter proposals of all sorts and at many times. In the case of the Olympics bid, the Mayor has conducted such negotiations for at least eight months now and has entertained at least two full proposals. We know of these two because the Bid Committee has made the first proposal partially public and the second entirely so. The Bid Committee was under no obligation, in our view, to make either of these proposals public and did so purely in order to elicit public support.

The Bid Committee also argues that other portions of its proposals are subject to confidentiality agreements made between it and the US Olympic Committee, which oversees bids made by American cities and are therefore not to be made public. The argument is a sound one.. Which is why things now stand at the subpoena request stage.

Our view is that the internal confidentiality of Bid Committee proposals is an example of why the Mayor, in his negotiations with this or that entity, is accorded non-disclosure discretion.The Mayor cannot conduct negotiations freely if he has to worry that a portion thereof (and in this case, a proposal that has been superseded) will be made public during the negotiation stage. We support the Mayor’s authority in this regard.

The situation is no different, as we see it, from that which recently arose with President Obama’s Trans Pacific partnership (TPP) negotiation, wherefor he requested fast track authority not to have to submit any TPP treaty to Congress until the negotiation was complete. Unions put up a dogged fight to deny him that authority, but the President triumphed in the end, and justly : because he is empowered to conduct international negotiations, and to do so he needs full power to conduct them as he sees fit.

The principle is this : duly elected and empowered executive officer cannot be hindered in his or her powers simply because opponents of the negotiation oppose it.

Opponents of the Olympics Bid have every right to advocate their position, in whatever forums they deem useful for advocating. But their advocacy cannot intrude upon the powers of the Mayor.

My guess is that the mistakes made by the Bid Committee — and definitely, making public a bid proposal as a means of generating support for the Bid has been a huge mistake — assure that any major negotiation involving the Mayor and a group as significant as an Olympics Bid Committee will be made entirely privately, behind closed doors, so that “the public” will hear nothing at all about them, until an agreement has been reached. At which point it gets presented to the Council for debate and a vote — but not a moment before.

Nor will any sensible entity that seeks business with the City ever again put its proposal to the public during the negotiation stage. What sort of reckless naif would even think of doing so, after what we have seen happen to the Boston 2024 bid committee ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Imagine Boston 2030L

^ (L) Imagine Boston 2030 — trumping the BRA ? (R) Brian Golden, the new BRA Director

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Mayor Walsh has moved recently to change the way the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) operates. We applaud his moves.

First, he replaced the BRA’s long time chief planner Kairos Shen, whose tenure began in 2002. (To read the full story of Shen’s removal, click this link : ) Shen was a Menino man to the core, as were the two BRA board members that Walsh replaced this week:

“Out are two who served for years during the administration of the late mayor Thomas M. Menino: Consuelo Gonzales-Thornell, a construction company owner on the board since 1989, and former Reebok executive Paul Foster, appointed in 2006.In their place, Walsh nominated Priscilla Rojas, an audit manager at John Hancock, and Carol Downs, the co-owner of a popular restaurant in Jamaica Plain.”

A recent audit — the second by Walsh — of BRA administration found it “dysfunctional” :

All of these moves and critiques of the agency that governs all of Boston building and development point to a dramatic re-purposing. And there is indeed much to be re-purposed. The agency’s community-input design review process has lost its point, as almost all design review meetings are commanded by people who either oppose the project or want it built to their purposes, not the developer’s. There have been disputes about affordable housing, which Walsh wants to build much more of. Some meetings have clamored for more, some meetings for less, some even for none at all.

Local politicians, taking advantage of the current BRA “public meeting” conditions, have made demands of developers that stretch the envelope, even rip it to shreds; projects have ended up cancelled as a result.

The Boston 2024 Olympics Plan, tenuous already because the Bid Committee didn’t really expect to be picked by the IOC  and was palpably unready, has been nitpicked almost to death by opponents at design review meetings which evince, in terminally toxic  form, the distortions endemic to the current state of BRA design review.

To any observer with any sense of  BRA history, the current situation cannot continue. Developers cannot have their rights as risk investors vitiated by project opponents. A proponent shouldn’t have to move heaven and earth to crowd a design meeting with its supporters — as Roxbury Latin School recently had to do — in order to not see its years of planning come to naught. Yet that is where we are, because, 60 years ago, the BRA of Mayor Collins’s years held absolute power to wipe out entire neighborhoods — power that bit by bit and protest by protest was wrested from it, to the point that now the opposite incoherence prevails.

At the same time that Walsh has moved to take the BRA in a direction of his choosing, he has initiated an entirely separate City Plan, ImagineBoston2030 — a movement with its own, quite different public comment accommodation and its own agenda, including the building of 53,000 units of housing by 2030. For 2030, the community input -process is being handled online, via the Mayor’s interface website, and in person at “IdeaThons.” Thousands of Bostonians have given 2030 their personal feedback.

Walsh’s direct approach to publicizing 2030 circumvents the BRA design review meeting, captured as most of them are by opponents of projects, yet at the same time is the opposite of the dictatorial BRA of 1960. This way, the Mayor gets the City he wants, and gets it without imposing his vision idiosyncratically, favoring one developer over another, as Menino often did.

My guess right now is that Walsh envisions ImagineBoston2030 establishing the vision, the plans, and the public support for seeing them happen, leaving the BRA review process to play a purely design and zoning role. If this is Walsh’s goal, it’s entirely deserving of our support — and yours.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender (1)

Community Block Grants awarded : by Governor Baker (L) and LtGov Polito (R)

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Yesterday Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito ceremoniously distributed Community Block grants to about 40 Massachusetts municipalities, most of them among the State’s neediest. Distributing the Federally funded grants — averaging $ 710,000 — annually is among the happiest of Baker’s and Polito’s duties; and the event, taking place at the foot of the State House’s Grand Staircase, was the opposite of contentious.

From Adams and Amherst to Athol, Greenfield, and Erving, from Southbridge and Ware to Chesterfield, Cummington, and South Hadley, and from Avon and Everett to Chelsea, West Springfield, Amesbury, and Wales, officials smiled as they opposed for a dozen cameras photographing their receiving the Grant checks.

Community Block Grants get applied to the most pedestrians of needs : renovating buildings, adding space to Senior Citizens centers, cleaning up parks and sports fields, fixing sidewalks and repairing roadways. These things matter a lot; small annoyances often matter more, in our daily lives, than big ones.

Much that Baker and Polito do these days is happy, and rewarding, and occasion for mutual thank-you’s; governing isn’t all dispute and division. Yet soon enough, the Baker and Polito team will re-enter the battlefields. This morning, in the Boston Globe, bakers’ priorities going forward were enunciated; he spoke of them also last night, at an intrergvi8ew-forum at Suffolk University. All will occasion much conflict; Baker enters upon these priorities, however, with a strong burst of public confidence in his leadership.

First up is charter school expansion. A bill to lift the charter school cap on allowed numbers thereof failed in the State senate last year. It passed the House but was amended into uselessness in the Senate before being voted down. This time, there may well be a cap-lift referendum placed on the 2016 ballot. If so, says Baker, he will support it.

This is good news. The system of education set up almost 170 years ago, of one size fits all common schools, no longer satisfies the needs of the technology economy, with its fractured, differentiated specialties requiring small size, diverse knowledge. Nor can we any longer allow instructors to not submit their work to competency evaluation. Prospective employers will no longer accept graduates who aren’t ready for entry-level jobs, or who haven’t basic proficiency in English, mathematics, languages, technical, and history. Students need to be tested, moved forward, challenged; need to be encouraged to innovate and — just as important — to be good citizens and not disruptive of others. Most charter schools do all of these task effectively, which is why parents want their children  entered into charters. The problem is that we’re about 30,000 charter seats short.

Baker will find significant opposition awaiting his preference. Teachers’ unions and their public school parents allies resist expansion of charter schools because they say that charters draw money away from standard public schools that would otherwise be accorded them. This op-ed isn’t the place to address that debate, only to note that it will take place, and that Baker won’t have overwhelming support, as he had for his comprehensive MBTA reform package.

Baker will also have plenty of state administrative reforms to see about. Management failures and contractor incompetence continue to bedevil the Registry of Motor Vehicles, DCF, and many areas of the Department of Health and Human Services — in particular, the agency is still not deployed to deal with Opioid addiction as a health matter rather than a criminal one. Baker has time and again stressed how important he feels it is to alleviate the Opioid addiction crisis; he is right about that, and my information is that major decisions about this are coming quite quickly.

While all of these significant Baker priorities become actual — and maybe face pushback, especially his charter school commitment — the question of the Boston 2024 Olympics walks into the picture too. Whether or not Boston should host the 2024 Summer games has become the most heated political dispute I have seen in the City since charter reform 35 years ago. Opponents have injected their anger into City government itself; and the Mayor’s supporters have responded almost as passionately.

Baker has taken notice — how could he not ? — and has engaged an independent body to evaluate the Boston Olympic Bid and report their findings to him. This suggests that he will opine about the bid — support it or defer to. My guess is that he may take a position but won’t make it his big deal. After all, it is mainly a Boston issue, even if some prospective Games venues locate quite distant from the City. So why should he risk getting chewed up by a brawl that isn’t unavoidably his ?

In particular, I do not see the Governor taking a strong position on the games Bid referendum that evidently is slated to appear on the November 2016 ballot. (note : there’s talk, of having this state wide referendum on a different date. Nothing specific about that yet, however.) Baker may well say how he will vote on said referendum, but I doubt he will call out his Team to work one side or the other of it. And why should he ? the charter school referendum will be difficult enough. “One big fight at a time” is a pretty wise axiom.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


From Governor Charlie Baker’s office a few days ago came the following announcement :

“We have filed legislation to increase access to clean, cost-effective

To which was attached, at the @MassGovernor twitter account, the following meme :

clean energy

Included in the Governor’s announcement was this statement by Vivien Li, one of Boston’s busiest and most diversely committed activists : “Diversifying energy production makes sense as Massachusetts works to reach its Global Warming Solutions Act targets,” said Vivien Li, President of the Boston Harbor Association. “The legislation proposed by the administration strikes an important balance by including hydroelectric power and Class 1 RPS-eligible resources without overwhelming the market with one form of generation. I commend the Baker-Polito Administration for its leadership in helping to address impacts of climate change within the Commonwealth.”

As Li’s quote shows, Baker’s legislation calls upon hydropower to alleviate a full five percent of all the carbon reductions the state has committed to achieve by year 2025. Five percent may not sound like much, but it represents, according to Baker’s announcement the equivalent of removing 1,200,000 cars from our highways.

This substantial infusion of hydropower will come from Canada, where water energy abounds. It will be imported from Quebec via a system known as “Northern Pass,” Much publicity has accrued to the Northern Pass route of high-wire electricity lines; now, it seems, these will come to be.

I’ve viewed alternative energy proposals skeptically. Fossil energy employs millions and represents  major portion of the national economy. It is fairly cheap, compared to the cost of alternatives.  It is not to be parted with casually or soon. Until recently, I have not seen the need to move away from fossil fuels, nor any method of doing so that won’t burden city people. But now I do see a need.

What I have seen is the situation in West Roxbury, where Spectra Pipeline proposes to run a gas transmission pipe under streets directly adjacent to the Lorusso Family’s Quarry, known to all as West Roxbury Crushed Stone.

Blasting goes on at the quarry. It’s how quarries operate. That Spectra was unable to procure a different pipe route — has had to propose one having a substantial risk of pipeline damage from quarry blasting — tells me that it’s time to reduce dependence on natural gas.

Spectra would hardly have committed to a pipe route so dangerous were it not that the Boston area lacks natural gas supply significantly enough to impede the economy. We do need almost double the amount of gas currently available in present pipeline capacity. This is where the Governor’s hydropower legislation helps out. If Boston can buy its energy shortage via imports of hydropower, it will not need to require extra gas pipelines.

The Spectra pipeline comes despite a high incidence of gas leaks in existing pipelines. Fixing those existing lines would relieve some of Boston’s gas shortage.

Folks who purchased homes adjacent to the Lorusso Quarry did so despite the quarry being their immediate neighbor. I therefore dismiss complaints they voice about it. But these same people did not assume an expectation of having a gas pipeline routed underneath their street and hard by the quarry. They should not now be asked to acquiesce in it.

That things have come to this level of snag seems to me to make it urgent to unlock, at least somewhat, from fossil fuel and to commit the State to other energy sources., We should support the Governor’s legislation.

The Governor filed his bill in the State Senate, where strong support flourishes for alternative energy initiatives  In that body one meets Senator Jamie Eldridge (D, Middlesex & Worcester), perhaps the state’s leading advocate of, and expert in the policies of, alternative energy. I look forward to see how Eldridge shepherds the Baker hydropower bill to a positive legislative outcome.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Mayor WalshNoBoston

^ Mayor Walsh and 1000s of volunteers versus “the same five people” should be a no-brainer. We’ll soon find out IF.

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Immediately after I wrote my most recent article concerning Boston’s 2024 Olympic Games bid, a new WBUR poll appeared in which support for hosting the games moved up slightly from the previous poll showing support in negative territory. Support continues in negative territory, but the current Plan’s decision to use venues in the state’s gateway cities appears to have helped. Though opposition leads support, in Boston itself, by 53 to 40, statewide it’s 50 to 40, which means that outside of Boston the number is probably closer to 44 to 40.

That’s still negative; and as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wants to see positive support for the games showing up in polls by September, the Bid Committee has much work to do, and quickly. Can it accomplish this task ?

Were this a governor campaign, such as last year, a 10 to 13 point deficit would be no big matter. Charlie Baker was down almost 20 points to Martha Coakley in mid-July of 2014; yet by mid September he had overtaken her in polls and stayed ahead all the way to his small but significant win. But this is NOT a Governor campaign.

To turn around the present 10 to 13 point deficit, and move to a five to ten point positive, the Bid Committee would, ordinarily, unleash a statewide media buy of major intensity; would print up brochures and deploy volunteers to canvass voters; would get the editorial boards of the state’s major newspapers fully on board; and, if possible, would win Boston’s Mayor and Governor Baker to back the Bid argument. So far I see no evidence that the Bid Committee is ready to do any of these, or that it has the funds on hand to do it.

Yet I said “ordinarily.” The drive for a positive result in September of this year is not an ordinary circumstance. The actual decision will be done by a voters’ referendum in November 2016. That is when the media and canvassing effort will get going. All that is at stake this September is a poll number, a much more ephemeral thing.

Its ephemerals can easily become substance with just a few — but hugely significant — developments. None of the big influencers have weighed in as yet. The Governor has said nothing; Mayor Walsh supports the bid, but with major reservations (at least formally; in fact many of his team, are working devotedly to win the Bid). The Globe has written positively about the new Bid Plan, but it has yet to say “back the Bid.” The Boston Herald has only recently begun to shift from opposition to support, driven largely by its distaste for the antics of the most visible opponents; its editorial page seems far away, even now, from recommending a Yes.

Change these four influences, and you’ll almost certainly change the current poll numbers significantly.

I say this because while the Olympics currently draw a negative, I don’t believe the public has written its Olympics opinion in stone. This is certainly true outside Boston proper; yet even in Boston, where almost all of the passionate opponents live, hardly anyone you meet talks about the Olympics, and when you raise the subject, almost all say “undecided.”

How could things be other ? People have read — maybe — about the Plan, about its shortcomings, about its complexities and its unsolved conundrums; but people in Boston also like sports, and they are passionate about it. Why has that passion not yet shown up in support for the Bid ? As I see it, most Bid supporters don’t view the Bid as controversial and so aren’t energized to fight for it. The sentiment seems to be, “It’s a great thing, why isn’t it ?” That was certainly the feeling back in January, when the Bid was first widely bruited; and if the opponents have arisen out of nowhere to high fury, the Bid’s supporters have not changed. They liked the Bid then and like it now in about the same way : a good thing but not something to go to war over.

The opposition HAS gone to war. It has way , way overreached, angering the mayor and engaging in tactics both selfish and rude (and seen as such). The opposition’s methods and noise remind many of Tea Party offensiveness; and for very good reason. They’re the same : bogard public meetings, obstruct everything, chant slogans, answer argument with insult, fling ad hominem attacks, harass, distort. (That the Bid Committee has engaged in a kind of BRA design review tactic, by which every neighborhood touched by the Games’ plans feels endangered, hasn’t helped matters.)

How over the top have they gone ? One No-Boston activist calls the games “a disaster” and run by “Scamsters.” Another threatens Court Action (which she has no standing to bring) to stop the Bid Committee’s upgrading of Quincy Point Park, a State-owned acreage much neglected, parts of it in full disrepair.

The public , however, hardly noticed any of this, until Black Lives Matter activists took over Mayor Walsh’s home street at 4 AM one morning, waking up everybody. Though the Black Lives Matter agitators are not NoBoston — and one capable NoBoston advocate has specifically noted the distinction — the demonstrators did not limit themselves to Black Lives Matter issues. They agitated about the Olympics, too. And thereby brought perhaps unwarranted dislike upon the No Boston argument, and in the most attention-getting venue available.

Now everybody notices; and, handed the opportunity, the Mayor has gone on the offensive against NoBoston’s tactics for public meetings, talking (correctly) “the same five people taking over public meetings where people are trying to discuss the details.”

The No-Boston activists would be hard pressed to win a fight with Boston’s popular Mayor even if they were numerous and not confrontational. Flinging ad hominem attacks, slogans, and 4 AM rudeness at him, they have no chance.

Meanwhile, in this context of  quite outlandish opposition by a small few versus a huge body of Boston 2024 volunteers (and more signing up every day), just two specific points move most Bid opposition : the Games must call upon no taxpayer dollars except for infrastructure and security, and no tax breaks should be accorded developers of the Games’ Widett Circle stadium and post-stadium housing proposal. Solve the no-tax issue, and very likely most of the big influencers come aboard the Bid. Solve the tax-break offer, and a significant number of skeptical Bostonians say “”Ok, why not do the Games ?”

The Games Bid can get to Yes in the polls very quickly once the major pieces start falling into place. Will they ? We’ll soon see.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

NOTE 07/15/13 — : I have significantly updated the 4 am demonstration at Mayor Walsh’s home portion of this story in  light of reliable information given me.