Fall is here

Hard to believe, but autumn is here, and this year it's coming well before Labor Day.

It's hard to say when it started. Maybe it was when the daytime heat and humidity disappeared. Or a few days ago, when it got so cool at night that we started to make the kids wear long-sleeved pajamas. Or the tomato plants in the garden started getting yellow leaves. Or the Monarch Butterflies flew away.

Maybe there will be an Indian Summer, but in the meantime, get ready for New England's best season ...



What's up with Whittemore?

Whittemore Elementary is supposed to under renovation right now. It's part of the big plan hashed out with the neighborhood, the mayor, city councilors, city workers, architects, parents, teachers, and most important of all, the students.

But since the last day of school in June, nothing has happened at the school. No signs have gone up, warning of impending construction. I don't see trucks unloading equipment, or carting away debris. The 70s-era gym is still standing, but I thought it was supposed to be torn down and replaced. The ventilation system is still on -- I can hear it when I stand outside the bridge between the school and the gym. Why isn't it turned off, and how much is that costing the city every month?

And why isn't anything going on?

I ask because the construction schedule directly impacts my neighborhood, and my family. The last thing I want is this to drag out for longer than possible. Not only would costs go up, but the kids would have to be at the temporary Whittemore -- South Middle School -- for longer than the planned two years.

Anyone have an idea what's going on with Whittemore? Is it a delay, or is this part of the plan, for budget reasons, or something else?

Related blog entries:

Updated school designs presented at stealth meeting

Whittemore planning meeting

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Waltham Latin Festival, 2006

We watched the parade and browsed some of the stalls this afternoon. I'd say more than a thousand people were there, representing a dozen or so countries and Puerto Rico -- lots of people brought flags or T-shirts to represent ...


Condo-mania in Watertown!

The mystery of the old warehouse across the street from Russo's has been solved. It's being turned down and going to be made into a mega condo development. Check out the last paragraph of this story in Sunday's Globe West for details. Check out this H2Otown thread for debate from local Watertownians (or is it Watertownites?)


Geese Begone!

Here are some scenes from Waltham's Calvary Cemetery, and the Riverwalk waterfall at the bleachery, taken this morning:

Until now, if you called state or local officials and complained about the public health hazard and frustration caused by Canada Geese, you'd have gotten a shrug. They could have rightly said that their hands are tied, owing to federal rules which protect Canada Geese, and permit them to take over parks, waterways, lawns, and highway medians.

It was truly a ridiculous situation. If you protested that goose poop was preventing you from letting your kids play in the grass at the park, they would do nothing. Yet if you said dog poop was the problem, the city would issue tickets to dog owners, start partrols, and round up any strays contributing to the problem.

But it looks like things are about to change. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a "full and final rule" that allows the destruction of "resident" (as opposed to migratory) nests and geese, by property owners and officials, under certain conditions:
The new regulatory program consists of three components. The first creates control and depredation orders for airports, landowners, agricultural producers and public health officials that are designed to address resident Canada goose depredation and damage while managing conflict. This component will allow take of resident Canada geese without a federal permit provided certain reporting and monitoring requirements are fulfilled.

The second component consists of expanded hunting methods and opportunities and is designed to increase the sport harvest of resident Canada geese. Under this component, States could choose to expand shooting hours and allow hunters the use of electronic calls and unplugged shotguns during a portion of early September resident Canada goose seasons.

The third component consists of a new regulation authorizing the Director to implement a resident Canada goose population control program, or "management take". Management take is defined as a special management action that is needed to reduce certain wildlife populations when traditional and otherwise authorized management measures are unsuccessful, not feasible, or not applicable in preventing injury to property, agricultural crops, public health, and other interests. Under Management Take, the take of resident Canada geese outside the existing sport hunting seasons (September 1 to March 10) would be authorized and would enable States to authorize a harvest of resident Canada geese between August 1 and August 31. Management take would be available to States in the Atlantic, Mississippi, and Central Flyways following the first full operational year of the other new regulations.
That's right, folks. The handcuffs are off. It's time to "harvest" a few thousand geese that are polluting our parks and public places in Newton and Waltham, especially near the river and ponds. Call your local municipality or representative to get them cracking.


Population decline: Local media gets it wrong again, but ...

When will they ever learn? Earlier in the summer, I took the News Trib to task for screwing up the population decline story, and then another reporter working for the same company does it all over again for the Newton Tab this week!

The missing factor, of course, is illegal immigration. Waltham has thousands, Newton probably hundreds, who are not counted by city or federal censii for reasons including language barriers, fear of deportation, and potential investigation of illegal living arrangements. The reasons why local journalists don't even mention this question likely are a combination of ignorance and political correctness. Why political correctness? Because when you start talking about illegal immigration, you have to start investigating who they are and how they are affecting the community. Then you have to deal with the complaints from rightists, who claim that the paper is painting too sympathetic a portrait of illegal immigrants and not doing enough to highlight crime and the burden on local services, and leftists who claim the media is demonizing illegal immigrants and following some national conservative agenda. The easy way out: Just pretend the issue doesn't exist, and hope that no one notices.

I should note that the Tab article did get one thing right: They zeroed in on the Mayor's Office, and how population declines in Newton will affect planning and financing the new high school. The city's response is laughable. Read Borderline's comments about the Tab article here on the Newton Tab blog.

Additionally, Borderline has commented before on the population decline, which I believe is a long-term trend, and its impact on rebuilding NNHS. I suggested moving back to a one-high school system, like Framingham did in the early 1990s. Here's the main reasoning that I put forth:
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.
Please feel free to read and comment on the full text of the original blog post.

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Waltham teacher accused of disgusting crimes. Let justice take its course

A Waltham drama teacher has been accused of some disgusting crimes, and Dancer gives a local perspective.

Sound familiar? Sure it does. We hear about stories of teachers taking advantage of students all the time, and there are some real sick predators out there. But before the baying mob rips this guy's reputation to shreds, let all the facts come out, and let justice take its course. As everyone in Newton knows, sometimes an innocent teacher gets fingered.

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Butterfly paradise?

Image From Wildlife Without Borders, US Fish and Wildlife Service
Anyone notice how many Monarch Butterflies have been around this summer? I've seen them in Newton, Waltham, and on the Cape. I can't recall seeing any around these parts for years, and now they're everywhere.

The picture is from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Fire error

Borderline made a factual mistake earlier this week. The fire wasn't located on Dana St., but rather on 15-17 Cambria Road. Sorry for the mixup!



The Newton Housing Authority's broken list

Rants about municipal bureaucracies are nothing new, but what caught my eye about margalit's post about her recent dealings with Newton Housing Authority was this statement, concerning her place on the waiting list for public housing resources in Newton:
... [The NHA employee] comes back like 3 minutes later and tells me my number is the same that it was two years ago.

Now that's a problem. Because it's a sequential list, and if I'm the same number that I was two years ago, that means that not one family has moved in 2 years. And I personally know of two families that have moved. So something is very rotten in our city. I tell her that this isn't possible, that I know people have moved, so how come my number hasn't changed. Hmmm... she's a bit stumped there. Then she tells me that's not how the list works. But that's exactly how the list works. People move out, you move up.

I tell her I'm finding this extremely suspicious, especially since I was number 1 and then pushed way down the list and now the list remains the same. When I was on the top of the list it moved but not it no longer does? Something is not right. Something is very wrong.
I am sure that the NHA will come up with some smooth excuse to tell the local paper (if any reporters actually look into it) but my own observations of public waiting lists for valuable or important public services is that people with friends or relatives on the inside -- either civil servants or politicians -- tend to rise to the top faster than unconnected outsiders. This situation was one of the causes of the public housing scandal in Boston in the 1980s and early 1990s. It would be very interesting to see how people on the NHA list jumped the queue ahead of someone who has been on the list for years. Or is there a more innocent explanation?

Borderline has his own public waiting list problem, but hardly on the same scale as margalit. I have been on a two-year waiting list with the Waltham CIty Government's tree planting program for a tree on our curb -- for five years. I don't want to say some connected persons got pushed to the top of the list, because it could be the result of budget cuts or something else, but no bothered calling me up about it. When I contacted my city councillor two years ago, he said he had a lot to say about the list, but didn't get into details, except to promise he would push for some type of city-wide plan to improve the planting program.

Translation: I'll never get to the top of the list.



Cross-border firefighting

Dana Road fire, August 10, 2006
Sometimes Borderline writes about cross-border crime involving people from Newton and Waltham, but I'd also like to point out how neighbors and the two cities help each other out. This evening there was a fire on Dana Rd. (correction: Cambria Road!) which straddles the border, about halfway between Franklin Elementary in Newton and Whittemore Elementary in Waltham. A two-family house was heavily damaged in a manner of minutes. I heard the sirens at about quarter of six, saw the smoke a few minutes later, and arrived just before six, at which point it was already under control, but had totalled the upper story of the house -- as someone standing in a nearby driveway told me, "it happened so fast."

I am still not sure in which city the fire occured. My map points to Waltham, but a Newton cop said it was in Newton.

Regardless of where the fire happened, there were a few things that really impressed Borderline about how it was handled. First was the concern shown by all the neighbors in our area. Everyone wanted to know if the people inside were OK, or if anyone was hurt. Second, was how well the Newton and Waltham Fire Departments worked to put it out. As the photo shows, a Waltham engine and a Newton ladder truck were the first to arrive, judging by their positions directly in front of the house. There wasn't any bureaucratic haggling about where the border was, or which city had responsibility, the firefighters just worked together to get the flames down as quickly as possible.

Good job, firefighters.

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What's missing from the Boston Globe's "Westword" blog

I just checked out the Boston Globe's "Westword" blog, aimed at the folks who live in the newspaper's western coverage zone (an awkward collection of towns and cities stretching from cities inside 128, to semi-rural towns beyond 495).

There's a few things wrong with the blog, in Borderline's opinion.

One, there are no comments, so readers cannot communicate with Globe staff, or leave their own opinions and observations.

Two, it's all about articles that appear in the paper. In other words, a promotional tool.

Third, it's overwhelmingly oriented to the bigger cities and towns, especially Newton, Waltham, and Framingham. That's great for residents of those towns, but not fair to folks farther out.

For the first two reasons, I don't think Westword qualifies as a blog, and I am not going to link to it in the local blogs listing on the right side of Borderline. The Newton Tab does a better job with its blog, which not only has comments enabled, but sometimes posts about issues that aren't covered in the Tab. Sure, the Tab uses the blog as a promotional tool, but it's also a real community resource and place for people to voice opinions.


Road Rage in Waltham

An item from a few weeks ago in the News Tribune, about Stephen Villandry of 180 Prospect Hill Road being charged with road rage and driving with a suspended license:
An officer working a construction detail, then watched as Villandry stopped his tan minivan in the travel lane, got out, walked over to the alleged victim's Chevy Aveo, and yelled obscenities at her, he said.
Road rage is quite common. This article says road rage is quite common, and it seems like there's an item like this in the paper every week, either as a standalone article, or in the police log. A survey cited in the article found more than one third of drivers had personally experienced road rage in the previous six months.

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Waltham City Council steamrolls residents, mayor on pro-developer zoning change

Anyone who cares about development in Waltham must read the front-page Globe West article in today's Boston Sunday Globe by Stephanie Siek. The article, "Waltham City Council overrides zoning veto," sums up what's been going over the past few months, as developers lick their chops over the chance to replace office buildings with more lucrative structures that include stores and restaurants, and pratically every Waltham city councillor helps them out by changing the zoning regs, and then overrides Mayor McCarthy's veto.

It's clear that Mayor McCarthy and a handful of councillors are the only ones who want to protect our interests against the neverending wave of development in Waltham. The only councillors who supported the mayor's veto, notes the article, are Councilor George A. Darcy III of Ward 3, Councilor at Large Patrick J. O'Brien, and Councilor Stephen F. Rourke. Councilor at Large Kathleen B. McMenimen wans't able to vote, but she has been against the zoning proposal in the past. Good for them, for actually showing some backbone when it comes to saying "no" to developers.

Then, on the developers' team, we have Council President Edmund P. Tarallo of Ward 2 and the rest of the Council gang. Tarallo couldn't vote for the veto for procedural reasons, but has supported the zoning changes in the past. All other councillors apparently supported the veto, i.e., they want the pro-developer zoning changes. I wonder why?

Unlike the previous Globe article on the proposed zoning changes (see "Sloppy reporting on Waltham development"), this time the Globe talks to people opposed to the zoning plans -- namely, the citizens of Waltham who are fed up with the development that is ruining our city. Here's a quote that I think sums up the feeling in the city:
Several attendees said the council was ignoring the public.

"My reaction is and has been that the council seemed to be working in a vacuum," said Herbert Henderson, who lives on the south side of Waltham. "There was no effort to gauge the public's will for or against this proposal."
For a sample of other residents' feelings on this issue, check out the July 18 and July 19 letters to the editor in the News Tribune. Also check out the August 2 editorial in the same paper, "Let the mayor's veto stand".


Summertime at the Cove

The Cove is one of Newton's best-kept secrets. I've been going there since the early 1970s. The only way to get there is via a bunch of obscure side roads in Auburndale without any signs, or by canoe.

They've removed all the old kids' equipment, including the Yellow Submarine and the infamous spinning wheel of nausea, but they have some new wooden structures that are just as fun.

The Cove is great for anyone who likes the outdoors.You can play on the playground equipment, play in the fields (if there's no baseball game going on), feed the ducks (not the Canadian geese!), have a cookout under the trees (you might have to reserve the grills, anyone know for sure?) and take nature walks -- there's a network of paths that go along the river toward Waltham's Island neighborhood, the Marriott, and Lyons Field in Auburndale.

At one time back in the 70s and 80s they had ice skating at the Cove in the wintertime, but I don't think the City of Newton oversees that anymore.


Spotted on a Waltham tow truck ...

The motto "We meet by accident!" I think the company is Pilgrim Towing.




Newton native killed in Israel

David Martin Lelchook who grew up in Newton Center and graduated from Newton South was killed in Israel, where he has lived since the 1980s. The News Tribune has the details:
"He was a very devoted father and would do anything to be nice to people," Doris Lelchook said yesterday, just hours after learning her son had died in a guerrilla rocket attack on the kibbutz he had called home for two decades.
The death of any civilian in this war -- whether Lebanese or Israeli -- is terrible. My prayers go out for the hundreds of victims and their families.



The system is broken: Globe exposes the snakes that prey on the debt collection system

The Globe is doing a lot more investigative work these days, uncovering official incompetence, sleazy businessmen, and questionable court processes. If you haven't seen the Globe Spotlight investigation into Massachusetts' broken debt collection system ("Debtor's Hell"), you should check it out now. It will leave you fuming. Here's a sample from today's report on constables, who get paid to serve court papers. They are not trained in the law, have no oversight, and charge huge fees for their services, and have an incentive to screw the little people. Many even have criminal backgrounds:
In Boston alone there are 186 of them, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino has given arrest powers to every one, including (Kenneth) Dorsey and 87 others with criminal arrest records for offenses including firearms violations, indecent assault and battery on a child, and impersonating a police officer. Seven have been appointed in spite of guilty verdicts, among them one convicted twice in the last four years of beating his wife.

The other part of this series that was really scary was the second episode on how the small claims court system has been corrupted by lawyers and court staff who consistently favor business interests, even when these business interests accuse the wrong person or don't have evidence that someone owes them money. Disgusting.

These types of articles are traditionally more of the Herald's turf, but I am glad to see that the Globe is getting involved -- whereas the Herald often seems to lean toward sensationalism, the Globe investigative reports usually spends more time researching the problems and presenting more than one side of the story.

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Poor timing, wrong message for pro-Israel demonstration in Newton

(Warning: There is a disturbing image in this post of a victim of the Israel Defence Force "mistake")

Just spotted this in the News Tribune, about a pro-Israel vigil and rally at the Newton City Hall War Memorial:
The rally featured speeches from prominent leaders in the Boston Jewish community, but a crudely drawn cartoon on a poster articulated why many in the crowd had gathered.

On the poster, two gunmen, kneeling, aimed machine guns at each other; one was labeled Israel, the other Hezbollah. The Israeli soldier was kneeling in front of a baby carriage, protecting it, while the other individual used a similar baby carriage as coverage to hide behind and fire the weapon.

I don't dispute that terrorists mix in with civilians in the Middle East, but to have this rally supporting the Israeli miltary now -- just days after dozens of innocent women and children were killed by Israeli military incompetence as they huddled in a basement shelter, too afraid to evacuate their village -- is the wrong message to send. After this disgraceful incident, not to mention the indiscriminate targeting of any vehicle travelling in certain parts of Lebanon, including ambulances, and the deliberate bombing of a United Nations outpost which killed four UN peacekeepers, supporters of Israel's military should be asking hard questions of this mission and how it's being carried out, rather than offering unconditional support.

Qana victimI also find it unusual that the News Tribune reporter did not mention the baby carriage cartoon in the context of what happened in Qana. Did he not ask anyone at the rally about what they thought? Or was he unaware of the killings?

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