The News Tribune sees 'potential' in development. Borderline sees something else.

Ever get the feeling that developers dominate Waltham?

Borderline sure does after reading an article by correspondent Samantha Monk in the Daily News Tribune, entitled "Analysis shows Waltham could nearly double its population".

I've written about the Tribune's pro-real estate bias before, but this latest article takes the paper to new lows, starting with the first paragraph:
"The city has potential for great changes in the years ahead."
What are the "great changes"? Why, more development! The article refers to a report prepared by the city Planning Department, which finds that "the city has the potential to build thousands of new homes and millions of feet of commercial space, producing substantial revenue."

Sure, the article mentions "caution" and "concern" from residents and the League of Women Voters (who had some role organizing a meeting with city officials) regarding development, but the damage is already done: "Potential" is equated with more development.

Is this what people really want? Maybe some do -- namely, developers and their associates, who are interested in lining their own pockets, even if it means breaking the law. Maybe some city officials and councilmen too, who are friendly with these characters. But no ordinary resident of Waltham I know has ever said, "Hey, you know what Waltham really needs? More townhouses!"

Message to elected officials: We don't need no more stinkin' development in Waltham. There are already too many condos, office parks, and strip malls here. We should be looking at Lincoln as a model for development, not Framingham.

Message to the News Tribune: Please do a better job of eliminating pro-development bias from your correspondents' articles. We know you receive a lot of money from real estate advertisements and commercial inteersts, but remember who your readers are.


Old School

Borderline talked with Miss Waltham 1937 recently. She was Borderline's neighbor until last year, but moved away to live with relatives. We still keep in touch.

The phone conversation started with Easter greetings, but turned to schools, a great concern of Borderline's family. Miss Waltham had attended Waltham public schools in the 1920s, and remembers a very different setup than what our neighborhood has now. Kids from Kindergarten to grade 3 attended a small school located where McDonald Playground on Newton Street is now. It was a cramped school with no yard (but some trees on the southern edge, a few of which are still standing). For fourth grade, the kids went to the school on High Street and Lowell (where the Peter Gilmore Playground is now located) that Borderline's barber also attended. Waltham High on School Street was much smaller; in fact Miss Waltham remembers that when she attended in the 1930s they had to stagger attendence so some kids went in the morning, and others in the afternoon.

This unusual attendence requirement freed up part of Miss Waltham's day, and she filled it with a clerk's job at a local textiles plant that handled piecework. She remembers her interview, the manager said she would only hire her if she continued with school -- "'cause in those days if you waved money in front of young people they'd want to give up school. It was the Depression!"

She did stick with school, and worked on payroll. She remembers the workers, all girls a little older than her. By this time, they weren't first generation Americans. They were the children of immigrants. They loved to dance during lunch (someone brought in phonograph records, apparently) and treated Miss Waltham like a little sister.


Um, guys, it's 2006

Speaking of "best of" lists, has anyone noticed the bumper sticker on Veterans Taxis of Newton?

"Best of Boston 1993"

1993? You might as well be bragging about "Best of Boston 1983." A different era of magazines, taxicabs, and local faves.

Krissy's best of Newton list

Krissy's blog has compiled a great "best of" list for Newton. It's very thorough. Read it now!


Cross-border crime in Newton and Waltham

This week's issue of the Newton Tab was unusually active with incidents of cross-border crime.

First, there's the hapless driver from Waltham crashing into the Newton Police Station, apparently after having a few. This has a knock-on effect of screwing up Newton's emergency dispatch system. (sorry, can't find the link, but it's in the first section of the April 12 Tab)

Police photo: Thomas Nolan from Falmouth Road in WalthamThen there were two crimes perpetrated by people living in borderline neighborhoods. This guy on the right is Thomas Nolan from Falmouth Road in Waltham, right on the Newton line. He allegedly pulled down his pants in front of a lady on Needham Street in Newton, and started, erm, "flying a kite" in front of her. Another case: two men living on or near North Street in Newton ambushed a deliveryman from Lily's Chinese Kitchen, just across the border on River Street in Waltham, and stole his money, according to the victim.

The worst of these crimes, though, was the murder of Edward Schiller in a Rte. 9 parking garage. The police have solved the murder, and say it was set up by James Brescia of Sartell Rd., Waltham. He was allegedly angry that the victim was dating his estranged wife, and hired someone to kill him.

Can't we all just get along?


Elm Street mess - where are the cops?

Sometimes municipal governments can be so clueless. The city of Waltham did all of this advance preparation for digging up Elm Street near the Car Wash -- ranging from calling thousands of homes with recorded messages, to posting detour signs -- but when the actual construction begins, they can't even assign a few cops to direct traffic at crucial intersections.

This morning at 11 am there were two enourmous traffic jams on Newton Street, and also at Pine Street, where people were forced to detour. But the only cop I saw was at the work site on Elm Street -- and he was probably the off-duty "detail" guy, getting $64/hour or whatever to stand around.

There should have been someone at Moody and Pine, and Newton and Main, to speed up the traffic at those pinch points. Instead there were none. The result: A mess, an inconvenience, and a public safety hazard -- try getting a fire engine through that tangle!


Newton's CPA Astroturf scandal: Interview with Guive Mirfendereski

Borderline first heard about the CPA-astroturf scandal in Newton last month, while at the barber's.

"You hear about that guy in The Lake?" The owner said to the customer on the other chair. "Taking the city to court for the baseball diamond at South."

"Yeah, I saw it in the paper yesterday. CPA, right?" They both agreed it was terrible that Community Preservation Act funds were being used to refurbish Newton South's baseball diamond.

When Borderline got home that night, I flipped open the Newton Tab and read the rest of the story ("Resident taking on city over new turf," by Dan Atkinson, in the March 15 issue). Guive Mirfendereski of Nonantum had filed suit, objecting to "plans supported by Mayor David Cohen to spend $5 million in CPA dollars to lay artificial turf at Newton South High School's baseball and soccer fields." Mirfendereski's reasoning: The CPA was never intended to refurbish Newton South's athletic fields. The Tab article even cited the key passage from the law: The money "cannot be used to rehabilitate or restore assets owned by the municipality before the adoption of the act."

This guy's attitude struck a chord with Borderline, and I am sure, a lot of other people too. Borderline voted for the CPA when it came up for vote in Waltham last year. The CPA, when passed by local towns and cities, lets the local governments levy a small tax on residents to pay for projects aimed at preserving the community. The examples cited by politicians before the vote usually involve the city government buying land with CPA money before developers can get at it. Installing five million bucks worth of Astroturf at the local high school is never part of the vision.

The CPA seems quite clear regarding what the money can be used for. From the Tab article:
Excerpted from 2002 Informational Guideline Release, which is an amendment to Massachusett General Law Chapter 44B:

"The purpose of the CPA is to give communities a dedicated funding source to expand certain community assets: open space, historic resources, recreational land and community housing. With respect to rehabilitation of those assets, however, cities and towns may only use community preservation fund monies to rehabilitate or restore assets that were originally acquired or created with fund monies. Fund monies cannot be used to rehabilitate or restore assets owned by the municipality before the adoption of the act or acquired with other municipal funds.

"Under the recent change in the law, this restriction no longer applies to any rehabilitation or restoration projects involving historic resources...It does continue to apply, however, to such projects involving open space, recreational land and community housing..."
Yet the City of Newton is not backing down. City lawyers and pols have decided to play hardball with Mirfendereski. The Tab article cited this gem from the cityĆ­s motion to dismiss:
"It is both shocking and outrageous that (Mirfendereski) seeks to impede the democratic process of CPA funding by preventing the CPC from even making a recommendation to the Board of Aldermen and preventing the Board of Aldermen from taking a vote."
Borderline was approached by Mirfendereski today via email, and asked to consider "writing a few paragraphs" on this issue. Borderline agreed. I was thinking about writing something about it even before he contacted me, and tying it into Newton's current (and future) school funding woes, but this gave me an opportunity to do an interview. One thing that I made clear before I asked my questions: I support the CPA. At that time, I suspected he did not, but his answers were surprising. Here's the complete, unedited transcript of the interview:

Borderline: Did you vote for or against the CPA when it appeared on the ballot?

Mirfendereski: I voted for it and in so doing I relied on the language of the ballot and the legislation that set out the purposes for establishing the dedicated fund.

Borderline: Could you tell me how you found out about this proposed use of the CPA?

Mirfendereski: Originally, I read about the SynTurf project in the Newton Tab's story (11 January 2006) about a meeting that the abutters of Newton South High School had with the planners of the project and mayor.

Borderline: How did you feel when you first learned about it?

Mirfendereski: The story contained a quote from a gentleman named Jeff Seideman who stated that the law did not permit the use of the funds for what the planners were proposing. The article also contained the mayor's rebuttal on this.

Borderline: Why do you think Newton Officials attempted to do this with the money, if it's so clearly against the guidelines?

Mirfendereski: Because there is no accountability on the state level about how these monies are being appropriated. Times are tough, money-wise and there was a pot of honey they could dip into without anyone having the ability to stop them. There is social good that comes from this project except the furtherance of the politics of pandering to a select group of interests -- they will get their flied (or maybe kickbacks too), the contractors will make millions and the mayor will get their collective gratitude and contributions when he decided to run for another office (possibly, US representative Barney Frank's seat if the latter decides to run for the Senate).

Borderline: What would be an ideal use of CPA funds in Newton?

Mirfendereski: When the CPA was originally proposed in the Legislature it contained the following statement of findings, which is illustrative of what they wanted to accomplish:
"It is hereby found that the fundamental character of the communities of the commonwealth is now endangered as the result of the combined effects of a series of factors, including: a. the loss of open space and park land as the result of continuing sprawl; b. the loss or deterioration of structures and landscapes that are of historical importance to the communities in which they are located; c. the inadequate supply of low and moderate income housing, which forces people of all ages to leave communities where they have roots or deprives them of housing that meets reasonable standards of habitation; d. It is further found that traditional financing mechanisms, including statewide and national grant programs, do not provide an adequate dedicated funding source for communities attempting to preserve their fundamental character in the face of those dangers, and that a dedicated funding source will allow communities to address those needs."
To give you an example of what is suitable under CPA -- If a building and parking lot owned by a person were demolished and left to sit, the city can buy it with CPA funds and build affordable housing on it, or turn it into a field (even cover it in synthetic turf). If an old house that has some historical significance but its owner can no longer maintain it or if it is falling apart or being eyed by developer, then the city can use CPA funds and acquire it and rehabilitate it.

(end of question/answer session)

Borderline is not sure of the current status of Mirfendereski's case, but the Tab article from last month notes that 10 people need to bring a complaint, not just one. If you'd like to get in touch, email Borderline (borderlineblog@gmail.com) and I'll forward the message to Mirfendereski. Additionally, Borderline urges Newton voters to contact the people that you elected to represent you in the city government -- i.e., aldermen and the mayor -- and let them know what you think about the planned use of the CPA.

For those readers who don't live in Newton, there's another issue to consider: If Newton's lawyers prevail, there's a very good chance that the CPA will fail when it's brought up for a vote in other towns, or be repealed -- CPA opponents will rightly say that the law can be used for totally unworthy projects, and use Newton South's multimillion-dollar Astroturf installment as an example. Borderline knows that he never would have voted for the CPA in Waltham had Newton successfully funded the Astroturf project at Newton South High School.


Fresh fruit for rotting vegetables

Is it just me, or are we living in a society based on the lyrics from a Dead Kennedys album?

On Fox 25 News at Ten, John Monahan had a little segment on computer printers adding little yellow dots to every printout, identifying what model printer made the printout, the serial number of the printer, and the date the printout was made. This feature is built in to every color printer made in the past 10 years -- apparently to identify people printing counterfeit money. So forget about printing out an anonymous pamphlet, if you are using a color printer.

Thank goodness for anonymous blogs!