Newton and Waltham 4th of July fireworks

OK, for the hundreds of people who have been pinging the Borderline Blog looking for fireworks and other activities info for Independence Day 2006, here's your fix:

Newton: Kids Morning, Open Air Market and Fair, Evening Fireworks. Times, location, and other details courtesy of the Newton Tab

Waltham: Prospect Hill Daytime Activities for the Kids, Evening Music and Fireworks. Times, location, and other details courtesy of the Waltham City website

Note that parking anywhere near the fireworks locations is impossible, unless you arrive early.

Have a fun and safe 4th!

PS: If you are a new visitor, be sure to check out some of the other articles on the site, listed to the right, or visit the monthly archives. There are hundreds of entries in the Borderline Blog, on everything from activities for the kids to local history to opinions about housing and schools. You can leave comments on any of the posts that you read!


Kidscursion: Newtonville

I never used to think of Newtonville as a worthwhile family outing, but in the past year or two I've come to realize that it's a great place to kill a few hours with the kids, especially if the weather is bad. Here's a list of three great things to do with the tykes in Newtonville:

1) Start out with a visit to Newtonville Books and the Lizard's Tale (296 Walnut Street, 617 244-6619, website). They have a special kids' reading room (I assume this is the Lizard's Tale) with lots of comfy chairs and other activities, such as a drawing table, bean bags, a crawl tubs, and wooden puzzles. The book selection is really good for younger kids, and there are quite a few educational selections for those getting interested in science, occupations, and even the Red Sox (I heard one father reading his son a book about the saga of the 2004 World Series while I was there!). For the older kids there are tweener and early-teen oriented novels. Oh, and there's also a super selection of books for adults. The staff are young but extraordinarily helpful.

2) Newtonville Pets used to be known as Debbie's Petland. At some point Debbie moved on but the place hasn't changed much -- there's still the row of plexglass puppy pens on the right, rabbits and gerbils in the center, birds and lizards a little further back, and the dark fish room way in the back. Kids love animals and it's easy to kill a half hour here. Say "hello" to the giant parrot sitting near the window, when you enter the store. I think his name is Harvey.

3) In terms of places to eat, there's no shortage of decent places to grab lunch or a snack in Newtonville. I like the little cafe that's next to Jin Mi and the fitness place that replaced Ritz Camera -- it's cozy, and serves great little gourmet sandwiches and cakes, and you can even by a bottle of wine or Belgian beer (not recommended if you're with the kids, but OK in the evening -- it's open til 10 pm every night!). They also serve about a half-dozen flavors of ice cream. The prices are super. If you want to go across the Pike to Newtonville's northern half, Lam's (Vietnamese) and Cabot's Ice Cream are all kid-friendly places to nosh.

Hope you enjoyed this Kidscursion -- Borderline will identify a few other local kidscurions from time to time.


The Red Ice Cream Truck Guy -- Identified!

The Garden City blog did some great legwork, and got a photo and interview of the Red Ice Cream Truck Guy. Borderline talked about him last year, but didn't get the name.

He's still around, too, despite the presence of an interloper -- a square ice cream truck guy, with a different tune.

More high school debate: Garden City blog responds to Borderline

Chuck over at the Garden City blog responded to Borderline's earlier call to transform Newton's dual-high school system into a single high school system. Here's an excerpt:
The new North will probably have a little more than 1800 students, fewer than attend now. But if you wanted to combine the two high schools, where would you put a different one? When last the schools were combined Newton was a different place--the south side not as built up and traffic not nearly as bad.
Chuck brought up some very good points in his blog, but I still think fiscal and demographic realities necessitate moving back to the single high school model. Here's my response to Chuck:
Thanks Chuck for discussing Borderline's single high school proposal. You bring up some very valid points about location, traffic on the south side of Newton, and more. But my basic argument is Newton can no longer afford two full sized high schools in an era of skyrocketing school costs and inevitable demographic change. Yes, Newton is a very attractive place to live because of its schools, but what type of young family can afford to move to Newton to take advantage of them, when single family houses cost 500 or 600k? Only people that have lots of money, or families in which the parents are working two demanding jobs. These are the types of families who have fewer children. Or send their kids to private school.

Changing districts or downsizing school systems is not impossible. Framingham merged its North and South high schools back in 1991. Newton closed Warren Junior High as well as many elementary schools back in the 1980s, including my own, Davis school. It was tough for my family and my neighborhood but we survived. What were the reasons for the closures? Demographic changes and budget pressures. It sounds a lot like the situation Newton is experiencing right now, in my view.
The Newton Tab blog has also talked about Newton's school-related budget discussions here and here.

The Missing Factor in Population Decline Stories

A slew of stories this week in the papers, on population declines in and around Boston. This one by Peter Reuell on the Daily News Tribune website is typical:
Framingham lost 1,882 residents since the 2000 Census, more than any other city or town in MetroWest, and accounting for nearly one-fifth of those lost in all of Middlesex County, estimates released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau show.
The drop, from the 66,942 counted in the 2000 Census to 65,060, represents a nearly 3 percent dip in just five years, far outpaced Newton, the second highest population loser, where 737 were lost.
"It's such a complicated situation, it's very hard to get a finger on it without doing a lot of study," said Barry Winston, director of development at the Waltham West Suburban Chamber of Commerce.
The article goes on to cite rising housing prices, death rates, and a host of other factors, except one: Tens of thouasnds of illegal immigrants in and around Boston who don't want to be counted, or can't be counted because of language barriers or the transitory nature of their living arrangements.

I am not sure why Ruell didn't dig on this point. It's so obvious, but it's a pink elephant in the room that pols and the press don't want to address either for reasons of political correctness or because they don't want to admit it's a problem.


Colors! Colors! C-c-c-c-Colors! (or, Crips in Newton)

I choked on my Cheerios when I saw this item in the Boston Herald:

Cops hunt Crip Ties in Newton School

It wasn't just the fact that some Los Angeles street gang had supposedly arrived in leafy Newton, but where it had arrived -- Lincoln-Eliot elementary school!

A follow-up in the Tab by Dan Atkinson ("Wannabe" gangstas menace Newton) suggests that fear, grafitti, teen posturing, and rumors seem to be behind talk of Crips showing up in The Lake, rather than real-life bad mans rolling into town with their glocks and low riders.

Compare that with the gang situation in Waltham, which Borderline noticed a few weeks back (Misguided teenage pranks, or gang signs?). In Waltham, it's for real, at least according to people who should know -- a policeman told me after I posted that MS-13 does have a presense in Waltham.

See also:

Crack Houses in Newton


Trouble in the Waltham Police Department

A few months back there was a buzz about a series of anonymous letters to the News Tribune and Waltham City Hall alleging misconduct in the Waltham Police Department. I heard the problem related to nepotism, but according to a Jennifer Roy article "Report finds fault with Waltham Police Department" (News Trib, dated June 6) there's a lot more involved.

Roy bases her article on the release of an independent report drawn up by investigator Warren J. Rutherford. I believe there were 35 complaints in the original anoymous letter(s), and the article alludes to some of them, including the department overlooking medical problems, wrongful termination of a cadet, issues involving the use of unmarked police cars, favortism relating to sick leave, and more. Unfortunately Roy was only able to see a censored version of the report, so there's still a lot of mystery.

The Boston Globe article on the Rutherford report couldn't dig up much more in the way of details beyond something involving the alleged abuse of a "reserve" list of police applicants who have taken the civil service exam. The article adds Mayor McCarthy pledges to take action, etc. etc.

Anyone else have any details?


Some suggestions to solve the Newton North High School problem

Image of NNHS from Lowell Street, photo from Greater Boston TVI knew it was going to come up sooner or later. A proposal to once again raise taxes to pay for Newton schools. Or, in this case, one school.

Newton North.

Page 1 of the June 7, 2006 Newton Tab has the story. The increase has been proposed by a group of aldermen, who are worried that the current city plan to pay for North will result in other essential services being shortchanged. Buried in the text is the estimated cost for a 20-year, $150 million debt exclusion: It "would raise the average resident's yearly taxes by about $240." The article continues, "The overall tax increase over 20 years would be about $4,800."

Borderline is not surprised. I predicted this type of scenario in an earlier post. Now I am going to offer some real ideas about how to deal with this mess.

Borderline's first suggestion: put off reconstruction on any new high school for five to ten years.

There are several reasons for this. As noted in page 23 of the May 31 Tab, "the average life of a municipal building is about 50 years," but North is still in its 30s.

It's not just the standard shelf life. It's the fact that the NNHS building is not in dire straits, as some would like us to believe. I don't deny that the building is a little rough around the edges, and some rooms are dark, or don't get ventilated that well. But the school is not about to fall down. And Borderline disputes the Tab's May 31 claim that "people have been complaining about North" for every year it's been in existence. I attended the school for four years, and aside from rumors of asbestos in the auditorium fire curtain, damage to the walls of the Little Theater, the pool supposedly being six inches too short, and the undeniable angular ugliness of the building, I didn't hear students, teachers, officials, or parents complaining about Newton North's physical integrity. No one ever said the building was seriously flawed and needed to be torn down.

I have been in the building in recent years -- I visited the campus when Mrs. Borderline was taking night classes through the Newton Community Education program -- and it looked almost the same as it did 20 years ago. There was no damage in Main Street, the corridors, or in the classrooms I saw. Outside, the only damage I have seen in the past few years are some of the exterior bricks facing Lowell Street are crumbling. And I suspect these bricks may have been allowed to deterioriate on purpose, in order to give members of the public driving by the idea that the building is dilapidated.

Another reason to put off reconstruction: In five years we will have a better idea of Newton's demographic trends. I am not convinced Newton will need two giant high schools, because, frankly, this town is too expensive for most young families to live in, and people are having fewer kids. I am sure that the city has a good idea of high school enrollment 10 years down the road, based on the current crop of 1st and 2nd graders in Newton's elementary schools. But what about 15 years from now? Or 20 years from now? Are there really going to be enough kids to fill a brand new Newton North and the existing Newton South?

This brings up Borderline's second suggestion: It's time to give up the idea of two separate high schools in Newton, and return to a city with just one high school.

Having two high schools made sense in the 1960s when the baby boom unleashed a tidal wave of kids on the school system, and there was the need for a dedicated vocational program in one of the high schools. But it doesn't make sense anymore. Besides demographic trends, and the decline of the Tech-Voc program, the costs associated with maintaining two quality high school campuses and academic programs are just too much. Returning to a single high school would eliminate redundancy and reduce costs. Citizens and officials wouldn't be arguing every two years about overrides, cancellation of important academic programs, cuts in essential city services, or illegally dipping into the CPA fund to pay for questionable school improvements.

I am sure there are people who think Borderline is crazy. But consider the crazy situation Newton is in right now before you dismiss my ideas. An estimated $165 million for the new Newton North? A seemingly never-ending series of overrides and budget shell games? The constant spectre of public employees being laid off, and cuts to services and programs?

And what will happen when it's time to rebuild Newton South High School? No one's talking about it now, but they probably will be in ten years. Where's the money for that going to come from?

Newton had one high school before and the kids did fine. It's time to reconsider returning to that model for Newton's schools, and putting an end to the fear, uncertainty and doubt that will continue to plague the city if it rushes into building an expensive new Newton North.

Related Borderline Blog commentary:

Why I won't be moving to Newton anytime soon

Why No Newton North Alumni Association, or Alumni Fund?


Local housing bubble deflates

Map from Mass Government websiteBorderline knows there's a serious problem with the real estate market, when there are "for sale" signs posted on every other street in Newton and Waltham, and it's once again possible to buy a single-family detached home in Newton for less than $400,000.

Actually, the problem only exists for some people -- namely, sellers and their real-estate agents. I have sympathy for the former group, especially if they bought in the past few years, but not much feeling for the middlemen. People who are staying put can actually anticipate a slight drop in property taxes. And people who are buying really do have a lot of opportunities, although rising mortgage rates will bring some pain.

See Borderline's earlier posts on real estate:

Newton housing bubble?

Borderline prediction comes true: Housing prices decline

News Tribune sucks up to the realtors

News-Tribune sucks up to the realtors ... again


Pat Hannon, Crystal Lake, and the law

I used to think that Pat Hannon was a selfish, whining jerk. I mean, riding a snowmobile on Crystal Lake in Newton Center? Demanding that the swimming hole be shut down, because of some alleged infringement upon his property rights? Come on!

But I have to admit, the guy has a lot of pluck, and has to be admired for standing up to Newton City Hall, far past the point where other mortals would have given up.

Photo of Crystal Lake swimming area, from Newton ConservatorsAnd it now turns out that he has something else on his side, that's even more powerful than City Hall: State environmental law. He has been directly responsible for uncovering several environmental no-nos that the City of Newton apparently hoped no-one would ever notice, including arsenic-filled lumber in a retaining wall at the lake's recreation area, and problems with a circulation pump used at the swimming hole.

I know a lot of people wish that Hannon would just go away. But regardless of his motivations, the City of Newton has to follow the law, too.

See also:

Newton's CPA Astroturf Scandal

Gee, Who Forgot to Turn Out The Lights?