Opinion: A View Of Holidays and Freedoms On This 4th Of July

Photo: Veterans Day and Memorial Day are our holidays to remember those who have served and those who have given their lives to win and protect our freedom.

By Will Brownsberger

The recent hate crimes in Belmont, Winthrop, and Brighton, so close to home and so near the Fourth of July, have me thinking about the meaning of our national holidays.

Seven of our eleven federal holidays celebrate our struggles for freedom and justice. Each of our national struggles have occurred in the context of broader international liberation struggles. 

Independence Day and Washington’s Birthday celebrate our declaration of independence from King George III and honor those who fought our revolutionary war to uphold that declaration. Our revolution was just the first of many revolutions to replace the autocratic rule of European monarchs with government by the people.

Our new holiday, Juneteenth, celebrates the final end of slavery in the United States. More than 600,000 died in our Civil War. By comparison, only 25,000 died in our revolutionary war. Almost as many soldiers died in the Civil War as in all our other wars combined. Roughly 10 percent of the men between 18 and 45 died in the Civil War and many more were maimed for life. The union soldiers sacrificed to free four million people from slavery.

It took a horrific convulsion to expunge the stain of slavery that ran so deep in our nation and to enshrine liberty for all in our constitution. It is fitting that we finally have a holiday that specifically celebrates that milestone in our progress. 

Martin Luther King Day celebrates a great leader and those who struggled alongside him to make freedom real for African Americans by dismantling the state and local laws discriminating against them.  

The struggle for universal civil rights and freedoms continues to this day, but it is broader and more complex. It is not just about changing laws. It is about changing the behavior of individuals and institutions who may discriminate against not only African Americans but other minorities and/or women. All nations that are committed in good faith to basic human rights continue to struggle to realize those rights universally for their citizens.

The recent hateful incidents diminish the freedom of all minorities. Whether one is visibly Black, visibly Asian, visibly an orthodox Jew or visibly transgender, one should be able to walk the streets free from the fear of random violence.

Many people who commit hate crimes may suffer from some form of mental illness, but it is hateful ideology that leads them to translate their inner struggles into hateful actions. All of us, whether healthy or unhealthy, act based on the ideas we are exposed to. That is why it is so important that all of us speak out against violence and broadcast our appreciation for diversity.

We celebrate and thank the law enforcement officers who respond when hateful violence unfolds. They, like our soldiers, put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedoms. Veterans Day and Memorial Day are our holidays to remember those who have served and those who have given their lives to win and protect our freedom. On those days, we also honor our public safety personnel.

Labor Day honors public safety personnel, teachers, and other unionized workers, but more broadly honors all those who fought for better wages and working conditions in the international labor movement. It is easy to forget across the distance of years just how low wages often were and how cruel the workplace could be. The labor movement fought and won great victories to create the relative comfort that many of us now enjoy.  As in the civil rights movement, there is more to be done.

Columbus Day has become controversial for good reason. Columbus’ revealed the Americas to Europeans, but he did is so in the service of a monarch bent on acquiring resources for royal aggrandizement. Those who came after him destroyed the great pre-Colombian civilizations in the Americas. I support rethinking that holiday to align it better with the consistent values expressed by our other holidays.

The remaining three federal holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day — bring families together to enjoy the freedoms we have been blessed with.

Opinion: Defining The ‘No’ Victory

Photo: A No

By Marie Warner, Precinct 6

Gratitude. 

Before any commentary on the path that led to a victory for NO Override NOW, we start with profound gratitude. 

Thank you to all the voters who voted no on Ballot Question 1. Thank you for your support and your hope that your vote makes a difference. It did.

Thank you to our neighbors, homeowners, renters and business supporters who promoted the campaign with our yard signs and through our flyers and through calls. Thank you for this courage. We are appalled that some of you now are experiencing backlash and bullying from disappointed ‘Yes’ supporters.

Thank you to the NO Override NOW volunteers who assembled, delivered and held campaign signs for hours, while swamped in a sea of maroon and white “Yes Override” signs. You are the best, most dedicated team ever.

Thank you to the Belmont neighbors who cheered on those sign bearers with your “thumbs-up” and car honking. Your encouragement gave us hope. 

Thank you to the campaign team and all our talented supporters who devoted time, boundless energy, innovative ideas and who donated their dollars to help boost this campaign to success.

Thank you all. You are totally awesome.

How it started: The path to No Override Now started in September 2020, when the Select Board approved a $12.5 million override for the November 2020 ballot. Although town officials acknowledged this override was “a big ask,” it was approved.  

This “big ask’ was later withdrawn, citing unanticipated funding from the state, and an unexpectedly high cash reserve. Or perhaps the town officials surmised that the $12.5 million would not succeed at the polls and withdrew the override. Nevertheless, in making this withdrawal, the “guarantee” of an imminent override was given by town officials, and sure enough, a $6.4 million override was unanimously approved by the Select Board and placed on the April, 2021 Ballot.  

The NO Override NOW Committee was launched in response to this “act of hostility” to struggling Belmont residents and businesses, as eloquently stated by one of the NO Override NOW supporters. We could not imagine how town officials, employees, committees could unanimously champion an added tax burden on residents and businesses still suffering from the stress and financial strain of the pandemic. We could not believe those town officials could advance another tax increase, after the 2020 debt exclusion, which significantly increased Belmont taxes, the highest tax increase of all 351 communities in the state.  

And we decided to fight.

The supporters of NO Override NOW are truly grass-root Belmontians. We had not been caught up in Belmont town politics nor special interests.  Many of us are long-term residents who have steadfastly supported the town of Belmont for years, some for multiple generations. We are diverse and inclusive, with progressives, moderates, conservatives, parents, seniors and young professionals. Our supporters showed heart and grit, in a fight that we knew was just; to help some of the most vulnerable Belmont residents who could not afford this additional tax burden.

Opinion: Come Together Belmont, Right Now

Photo: The cover of the Beatles album “Abbey Road”

By Mary Lewis

On April 5, Belmont’s elementary school children will have the opportunity to attend school in-person and full-time for the first time since March 12, 2020. Middle and high school students will follow later this spring. On May 3, Belmont Center will resume the outdoor dining it first launched due to COVID last year. And on June 23, the pool will reopen – albeit with some limitations on numbers. These are opportunities for us to come together, hopefully mostly vaccinated, as a community. There’s a lot to look forward to after an excruciatingly difficult year. I can’t wait to reconnect with people I’ve barely seen for months.

Here is what I don’t want to overhear at an outdoor table in the center or poolside: arguments about what sports should be cut from the middle and high schools, whether theater is more important than music or vice versa, and which days the library should cut hours, or why there is trash overflowing at Joey’s, Pequosette, and Grove Street Parks on the weekends. If this happens, it will mean that the override has not passed, and while other towns are busy bouncing back from a horrible year, we will be compounding our public health crisis with a fiscal one that further divides our town.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If we acknowledge that acting now saves taxpayers money. Belmont’s multi-year structural deficit will not magically disappear if we ignore it. In fact, it will just get bigger. And, as welcome as the news is of federal aid for our small businesses, renters, and others facing difficulty meeting housing costs, we must face the fact that regarding the other aid promised to the town, only a very small percentage will be unrestricted or not allocated for COVID-related expenses.   

If you put off painting your house because of sticker shock, you may have to replace rotting wood and paint your house – at much greater cost. We’re in the same situation with our town. Deferring maintenance and routine expenses makes things cost more, not less. Likewise, cutting first responders means paying overtime if those who are left are needed in an emergency. Failing to hire a procurement officer means we spend more, not less, on supplying our schools and town with the things they need to function, whether its road salt or school desks. Let’s not delude ourselves: as counterintuitive as it might seem, deferring a tax increase does not help our most vulnerable residents. It just makes our collective costs snowball, burdening us all more. Like a routine paint job before rot sets in, the override saves money in the long run.

This spring, let’s come together as a community again – finally – at school, in town center, at the pool, in our parks. And let’s come together as a community that assumes responsibility for maintaining and sustaining what we have before it falls apart.

Please join me in voting Yes on Question 1 on April 6.

Opinion: Protect Our Town Employees and Seniors With A ‘Yes’ Vote On The Override

Photo: A vote to pass the override will ensure seniors and town employees are protected

ln his guest column in a local publication dated Feb. 18, “Please Join Me ln Voting ‘Yes,” former Selectman Ralph Jones suggests ways of reducing town expenses including asking town employees to help pay for them. He wrote “reducing compensation through union negotiations would depend on the expiration dates of existing contracts.”

ls it fair or appropriate for Jones, or any elected official or administrator in town including the Select Board or the town administrator, to expect town employees, through a reduction in compensation or benefits, to help pay for the ongoing increases in town expenses?

Residents, administrators and elected officials regularly advocate for new services and facilities but we are reluctant to pay for them and are dismayed when we receive our new real estate tax bills. We, as a town voted, through our town meeting members, for an expensive new high and middle school. Now we have to pay for it.

Regarding additional school services, Jones writes “increasingly, schools also are not simply educating students, they are also caring for their social and emotional needs. This expands the type of employees that must be part of the school system.” I agree with him and will be voting for the override in April.

As residents, we Belmontians want excellent services and top flight facilities and we have them. We want our schools to be among the best in the state. As taxpayers many of us are shocked and angry at how expensive our excellent quality of life costs us.

The town has a limited commercial tax base so we residential taxpayers have to rely on ourselves to fund the facilities and services we choose to have. Going forward, I see overrides every several years as an uncomfortable but routine aspect of living here.

For years there has been talk of helping seniors, who may be having trouble paying their real estate taxes, stay in their homes but I’m not aware of any follow through regarding this issue. ln order for overrides to be successful I believe this issue needs to be effectively addressed.

Our town employees are an integral and valued part of our community. They contribute to our quality of life in ways we often do not notice. I’m in favor of the police and fire department employees keeping their Civil Service protections and of fair compensation and benefits for all town employees.

Dick Madden
Retired Town Meeting Member
Pleasant Street

Opinion: At This Crossroads, Why School Funding Matters

Photo: Why school funding is critical now

By Stephanie J. Crement

I have been a public-school educator for the past 22 years and currently work as a middle school special educator. I have two children at Butler Elementary School, where I believe they have received and continue to receive an excellent education. However, we are now at a crossroads in our town, and I am very concerned that if we do not pass the override on April 6, our schools will be unable to maintain the high quality of education from which my children and many others have benefitted.

We talk about how we value education in Belmont, yet Belmont spends less than other towns in Massachusetts in nearly every category of the school budget. Belmont is already in the bottom three percent in Massachusetts in number of teachers per 100 students (class size) and in the bottom six percent in Massachusetts in per pupil expenditure. A failed override would make our teacher-student ratio even worse. That funding – or lack thereof – plays out in real ways in the classroom.

One way funding plays out is with class size. In my experience, class size DOES matter. To be sure, highly skilled teachers know how to manage large classes and to differentiate to meet the needs of many students with various needs. But those who say that the size of the class does not significantly affect the experience of the student and the teacher have spent little time in actual K-12 classrooms. The more students there are in the classroom, the less individual attention each student receives during the school day.  During a 57-minute class period, there simply isn’t time for a teacher to check in with 28 students individually. Large class sizes mean fewer opportunities for students and teachers to connect, for students to get feedback, and for students to ask questions and have those questions answered. There is less time for teachers to discover students’ passions and to assess where students might be struggling.  

What is less obvious is that with each additional student, a teacher’s workload increases exponentially. It can mean an additional 30 minutes per child spent reading an essay or grading a math assessment and writing constructive feedback. It can mean an additional hour preparing for, holding, and following up after a parent-teacher conference for each additional child. It’s not that teachers are unwilling to do this. In fact, every Belmont Schools educator who has taught our two children has worked well beyond contractual hours to prepare lessons, communicate with us, and give our students feedback. Moreover, children’s needs extend beyond academics. When our high school cannot hire a social worker, it doesn’t mean that children don’t bring their concerns to school.  It means that helping students work through problems is another part of what teachers and other school-based staff members do, putting additional stresses on their time.

What Belmont doesn’t have in dollars, my children’s dedicated teachers at Butler make up for in energy, hard work, and time.  However, time is a limited resource.  At some point, it just runs out. With increasing enrollment, we will not be able to maintain the quality of education upon which Belmont prides itself, and we certainly won’t be able to make improvements and add new programs. If the override fails, it is our students who will suffer. 

Some might say that research about class size is inconclusive. Let me tell you what is NOT inconclusive:  the importance of the teacher. In fact, it is incredibly well-documented that the most important school-related factor that affects student achievement is teacher quality. Just because our Belmont educators and administrators have worked with fewer resources than our neighboring schools does not mean that we should continue to underfund our schools. Just because the best teachers make it look easy does not mean the burden isn’t heavy. Without this override, I fear that the work will be too heavy to bear, and our schools will not be able to maintain their reputation for excellence.  

We will not be able to retain high quality, experienced educators with large class sizes and without the resources that most other districts around us can offer.  We will not be able to attract more teachers of color to join an overwhelmingly white teaching staff when they can choose districts with smaller class sizes and more resources.

Our lean school budget is not a source of pride or a sign of fiscal responsibility. It means that our children, especially those with learning differences who often need extra time and specialized instruction, aren’t getting what they need and deserve. As a special education professional, I was particularly  shocked to learn that our elementary schools do not have Special Education Chairs. Children who receive special education services have Individual Education Plans (IEP), legally binding documents that outline how the child learns and the services, accommodations, and modifications the student requires as well as the goals that the child is working to achieve. Special educators spend time assessing students, differentiating for student needs, modifying curriculum, and providing accommodations so that students can be successful and master their IEP goals. These are practices in which all good teachers engage. Another facet of a special educator’s job is completing compliance related paperwork.  This paperwork is critical for our students on IEPs to ensure they are receiving the services they need. It is also very onerous and time intensive.  Without Special Education Chairs, those responsibilities fall solely on the teachers and school psychologists. This often leaves those educators with even less time to prepare lessons or provide feedback to students. Hiring special education chairs is not an extra; it allows classroom teachers to devote their time to the job of teaching. 

I hear people say: Belmont students have done well, so why do the schools keep asking for more? For my family, like many others I know, the excellent reputation of the school system is one of the reasons we moved to Belmont.  Many Belmont students do well on standardized tests, an important but very limited measure. However, I’ve spoken with many parents and caregivers of students who receive special education services, or even those who might not have been identified, who say their students are not receiving all the services they need. That’s not because the teachers who work with them are not excellent or hardworking. It’s because our system does not have the capacity to do more. An education system that prides itself on being excellent must be committed to serving ALL students, not just those for whom learning comes easily.  

For years, Belmont educators have done so much with very little, but this isn’t a trip to the dollar bin at Target. It isn’t a game where we try to get as much as we can with as little as possible. These are our children’s futures.  If we say we value education, it’s time that the funding we provide truly reflects that sentiment.  

Please vote yes for the override on April 6.

Stephanie J. Crement

Harris Street

Opinion: What’s Happening With Our State Government?Massachusetts’ Secret State House And How To Fix It

Photo: Massachusetts State House (Wikipedia)

By Maya Chandrakasan, Sherman Street

In a few months myself and my fellow Belmont High School seniors will walk across a stage and receive our diplomas. It’s safe to say this past year has been difficult for all of us. But these challenges are only the beginning of what lies ahead for my generation. As we enter college and the workforce in a world ravaged by the coronavirus, government inaction will be blamed on “partisan gridlock.” Federal legislators may use their precarious majority to defend themselves, but for Democrats in the state house there are no excuses for inaction. 

The Democratic party holds a veto-proof supermajority in the Massachusetts state legislature which they have had for more than three decades. So why haven’t we been able to pass any significant climate legislation since 2008?

Despite being a relatively progressive state, Massachusetts has one of the least transparent statehouses in the country: bills die in committee, the public has little time to object to a bill before it is voted on, and recorded floor votes on legislation are not guaranteed. 

Massachusetts is in a minority of states in the country that do not publicize or disclose how legislators vote in committees. While that may seem like a technicality, most lawmaking is done in legislative committees, and most legislation is killed in committees. A popular 100 percent Renewable Energy bill, which took six years to write, was killed in committee without ever making it to the House floor for a vote. All of these barriers inhibit action and change: our democracy is dying behind closed doors. 

This isn’t to attack some of the great state legislators, many of whom truly care about their constituents. This is about a broken state house rules system that both blocks constituents from holding their reps accountable, and reps from countering powerful house leaders for fear of retribution.

Last month, myself and other constituents in the 24th Middlesex district joined our state representative, Dave Rogers, on a call asking he sign onto the following three transparency amendments:

• All votes held in legislative committees be publicly disclosed so that constituents have the opportunity to see how their representatives are voting.

• Each bill be made public 72 hours prior to a final vote (extending the current 24 hour window) to ensure that anyone who wants to discuss the bill with their representative has that chance.

• The threshold for a vote to be publicly-recorded in the House of Representatives be reduced to eight from the current 16 representative requirement so that more bills can be publicly voted on. 

Unfortunately Rogers has not yet given a public commitment to voting for these transparency amendments. In the past, Rogers has proven himself to be a progressive legislator responsive to constituent concerns. We are fortunate to have a legislator who will disclose his committee votes despite House rules. However, just because Rogers votes the right way does not mean that other reps will, and in order to pass a veto-proof bill we need more than just his vote; in other words, to actually pass the legislation he cosponsors and introduces, we need transparency. 

In the coming days, the statehouse will vote on a new set of rules for the upcoming legislative session. The various crises of this past year have proven that state and local governance matter. From comprehensive police reform to climate bills to eviction moratoriums, there are numerous life-saving policies that can be implemented on the state level. Unfortunately, none of those have, or will be passed without serious change and accountability. 

The rules voted on will be law for the next two years and will influence what can get done in this crucial time. As we turn the page on a bungled federal response to the most pressing issues of our time, we must begin to repair our government from the bottom up. That begins with a transparent Massachusetts statehouse. 

I urge anyone who cares about virtually any issue to contact Rogers by email (dave.rogers@mahouse.gov) or phone (617-722-2637) and ask him to vote for these three transparency amendments to state house rules for the next legislative session. Learn more about our broken state house at https://actonmass.org/the-campaign/ and join our district team to get involved in our final push for a more accountable state legislature. 

We Are All In This Together: Coexisting with COVID-19

Photo: Team work will get us through

By Lisa Gibalerio, Prevention Specialist, Wayside Youth and Family Support Services and Corinne Jackman, Belmont High School Nurse

It’s been almost two months now.

Two long months of physical distancing, of adhering to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s stay-at-home advisory, of working from home while assisting our kids with online instruction, of acquiring and wearing masks, and of keeping a distant but worried watch over our own parents, many of whom fall smack dab in the middle of the most vulnerable age group.

Most of us have been managing at least some level of anxiety. Over the health of loved ones, over the harrowing plights faced daily by front line workers, over the stress of an overwhelmed health-care system, job insecurity, safely acquiring groceries, and of kids who are also scared, missing meaningful milestones, longing for their friends, and adapting to a virtual school world they never signed up for.

How much longer will we need to do this?  

While experts are working around the clock to develop a safe and effective vaccine, we are told it could be mid-to-late 2021 before that vaccine is ready to inoculate seven billion of the planet’s inhabitants.

Does this mean we stay hunkered down for another year or more?

Most likely no; it’s not sustainable on almost every level, e.g., economically, emotionally, educationally.

The best strategy that seems to offer hope for a safe emergence back into the world includes wide-spread testing, isolation of those who test positive, and contact tracing. Countries who have employed this strategy have been successful because only those who test negative are allowed out in public; all positives are instructed to isolate at home. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know that everyone in line at the post office had tested negative?

Alas, the accessibility of widespread testing has remained elusive in Massachusetts, as elsewhere. So, here we are, collectively contemplating how we will tentatively peek out from under our shells, and wondering how we will navigate the next year.

To get some insight into how to manage long-term stay-at-home experiences, we reached out to a parent whose child spent nine months in isolation following a bone-marrow transplant. She offered the following advice to parents:

  • Live life one day at a time.
  • Keep a positive mindset; it can really impact your emotional wellbeing. 
  • Limit any media intake that focuses on the negative aspects of this virus.
  • Be creative with your time.
  • Keep yourself and your family busy by discovering new hobbies.
  • Learn new skills, or master ones that you’ve already been developing.
  • Be thankful for the little things, no matter how small they may seem.
  • Take time out for yourself – and don’t feel guilty about it.
  • Take turns with your partner in entertaining the younger one(s) while the other takes a little time off for themselves.
  • Remember: things could always be worse; this too shall pass and we will be back to normal before we know it.

As the state begins to open up in the coming weeks, many people have said that, while they may venture out to a backyard barbecue this summer, they do not expect to sit in a crowded movie theater, take in a game at Fenway Park, or ride the subway. Not until there is a vaccine.

In the meantime, remember, the best protection we have right now, and in the months to come, includes frequent hand washing, physical distancing, and mask wearing. It is also important to stay up-to-date with guidelines from reliable sources, such as the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. These steps offer protection for ourselves and also for our fellow community members.

As Eugene Robinson said recently in the Washington Post: “We are all in this together. Some of us may not like that, but the coronavirus doesn’t care.”

Opinion: Five Facts That Need Examination To Determine Route For Community Path

Photo: 2014 map of the proposed community path. (Town of Belmont)

By Jarrod Goentzel and Phil Lawrence, co-founders, Friends of the Belmont Community Path

Dear Belmont Selectmen and Town Leaders on the Community Path Project Committee,

We appreciate the Board of Selectmen efforts to maintain momentum on the Belmont Community Path by making decisions to facilitate the next phase of design. We acknowledge that the 2-1 decision at the Feb. 25 meeting to recommend the route on the south side of the tracks from Brighton Street to Alexander Avenue followed careful deliberation and support from the Community Path Project Committee. Given that significant uncertainties remain for that section, we applaud the Selectmen’s decision to make this recommendation contingent on further due diligence of the southern route and to confirm the viability of Contingent Route number one on the north as a ready alternative. 

This period of due diligence is crucial. Selecting a route that ultimately cannot be designed or built due to insufficient town funding, environmental risk, broad public backlash, or other issues may cause Belmont to miss the federal funding opportunity. The Selectmen’s decision justifiably emphasized the feasibility study and its recommendation, which Pare Corporation did not change at the February 25 meeting based on recent information. The Selectmen also had to rely on personal judgment for issues where the study was incomplete. We suggest that the board to quickly assess additional evidence as it arises given the urgency of the design funding request to Town Meeting in May. 

As part of this due diligence, we review below the evidence regarding five key points discussed on Feb. 25 to identify areas where the feasibility study is incomplete and where the Selectmen’s judgment must be applied. 

1. The feasibility study recommendation is based on a slim 76-75 difference in score between the Recommended Route (South) and Contingent Route #1 (North).

It is important to note that during the Feb. 25 meeting, the score advantage for the southern route was mistakenly reported as 70-63 (which are actually the scores for the E3b and E3a sub-sections, respectively). The difference in composite score, which considers the alignment of all segments along the route as the basis of the route recommendation, is only 76-75. This extremely narrow margin justifies the BOS confirmation regarding the viability of readily switching to Contingent Route number one if due diligence raises concerns with the recommended route.

2. The feasibility study did not consider acquisition and environmental permitting costs for the Purecoat North/Crate Escape location that are required on the southern route for an easement.

The feasibility study only estimated costs for construction, operations, and maintenance, which would almost entirely be covered by federal funds. The study did not consider the costs for right-of-way acquisition or environmental permitting, both of which must be borne by the town. Discussion on Feb. 25 revealed incomplete information regarding the options and associated costs. The Selectmen wisely made their decision contingent on further due diligence.

3. The feasibility study did not assess environmental risks associated with the Purecoat North/Crate Escape location on the southern route.

Excavation for the path poses an extremely high risk for Chapter 21E environmental cleanup at the only location in Belmont tracked by the EPA as a toxic site. Belmont taxpayers deserve clarity on the potential costs and future risks associated with the recommended route and clarity on how the board would fund these incremental costs given the town’s financial constraints. The Selectmen wisely made their decision contingent on further due diligence. 

4. The feasibility study could not consider utilization of the Belmont High School property while under redesign.

The southern route runs through the high school campus, resulting in many positive aspects noted on Feb. 25. However, there are potential opportunity costs in using this property (e.g. lost field space or parking) and operational costs (e.g., security monitoring of a public pathway through the open campus). The Belmont School Committee has not yet taken a vote on this route. The Selectmen wisely incorporated approval by the School Committee as a contingency. 

5. The feasibility study recommendation and the recent Pare Corporation review of recent information ignore persistent public concern with the railroad crossing and state agency preference to avoid the railroad crossing.

The feasibility study analysis of the at grade Brighton Street crossing (segment E4a) did not distinguish a northern route crossing of the STREET ALONE from a southern route crossing of the STREET AND RAILROAD. This distinction is important for two reasons:

  • Public opinion: The study assumed double weights for all User Experience criteria based on clear public input. Recent public feedback centered on the difference in User Experience of a railroad crossing. With no distinction in scoring for E4, the feasibility study fails to incorporate persistent public concern with the at-grade railroad crossing.
  • The study assumed any MBTA rejection as a fatal flaw. Although he stopped short of rejecting the railroad crossing during the January 28 meeting, John (Jody) Ray from the MBTA stated: “the MBTA would always prefer that every crossing was a separated crossing, either below or above the tracks.” Michael Trepanier from MassDOT echoed this sentiment, saying “one fatality is always one too many”. With no distinction in scoring for that crossing, the feasibility study fails to incorporate the clear preference for the northern route Brighton Street crossing by the MBTA and MassDOT.

The Board of Selectmen’s judgment should consider that, given the feasibility study’s emphasis on User Experience and MBTA perspective, the composite score for the northern route would have scored higher and been recommended if there had been distinct scoring for the Brighton Street crossing.

The Selectmen recommended the southern route with contingencies regarding unknown right-of-way property issues and school preferences. The 60-day contingency period may not allow for proper due diligence with property owners to determine realistic acquisition costs or reasonable environmental risk assessment. The Board of Selectmen should only proceed with the design of the southern route if they can disseminate sufficient evidence to address the budgetary and environmental risks for Belmont residents and the safety concerns for future users whose federal taxes would build the path. If proper due diligence cannot be completed prior to the Town Meeting in May, then you should not stall momentum on the Belmont Community Path with further delays to gather more information. 

Meanwhile, there is no reason to delay. Evidence indicates that the contingent northern route is not only viable but also preferential when incorporating public and state agency opinion regarding the railroad crossing. With no right-of-way acquisition or potential EPA cleanup, the cost for Belmont is lower. We recommend that you reduce risks, lower costs, and avoid delays by promptly exercising the northern route contingency.

Note: To date, the Friends of the Belmont Community Path has focused on providing information to educate and encourage discourse among Belmont residents. Given the high priority for MassDOT to add this critical link in the Mass Central Rail Trail and use of federal taxpayer funds to build it, we plan to invite engagement with the wider community in advocating for a safe, off-road path.

Opinion: Working To Keep Teens Safe Over The Holidays

Photo: Keeping teens healthy over the recess.

By: Lisa Gibalerio, Prevention Specialist, and Laura Kurman, Program Director

Wayside Youth & Family Support Network

With the holiday season underway and the opening of retail marijuana shops in Massachusetts, adults are urged to pay close attention to teenagers’ behavior concerning alcohol and other drugs in the days and months ahead.  The Belmont Wellness Coalition is working collaboratively with many partners across town to reduce underage use of alcohol and other drugs. Please be part of the solution and do what you can to reduce youth access to alcohol as well as marijuana products.

As we know, teen alcohol use can lead to unsafe behaviors that put our kids’ health and safety at risk. If we work together, we can help to ensure that our kids stay healthy and safe!  (By the way, for each year that a teen does not use alcohol, the odds of lifelong dependence decrease by 15 percent.)

Retail recreational marijuana shops are opening around the state. In Belmont, although there are no licenses or special permit applications at this time, the town could approve up to two retail marijuana establishments within certain zoned areas. While shops in Belmont would not be allowed to sell marijuana to people under the age of 25, teens may nevertheless find ways to access these products.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), administered several years ago in Belmont, revealed that approximately one-third of teens reported that they are drinking.  Most are getting alcohol from older siblings, older friends, or home.  In many instances, students said, their parents do not know they drink, or do not know how much they drink.

Often, due to their developing brains, when teens drink, they tend to drink too much. Teens who drink put themselves at risk for alcohol poisoning, car crashes, injuries, violence, or unprotected/unwanted sex, and, if they are athletes subject to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) regulations, they may lose the privilege to participate in sports.

As a parent or guardian, you can and do make a difference!

Here are some tips to reduce teen drinking and use of marijuana:

  • Keep alcohol in a secure location, preferably in locked cabinets. Even if you trust your teen, their friends may be tempted by what’s available in your home.
  • If you are hosting a party, do not leave unsupervised alcohol around where it is accessible to underage guests. Tell other relatives not to serve alcohol to your child under the age of 21 as well.
  • Let your child know what you expect. Tell your teen that adults may be drinking during the holidays, but under no circumstances is he/she allowed to drink alcohol.
  • If your child is attending a party, check on the details. Find out if there will be parental supervision, and be sure no alcohol will be available at the parties that your teen will be attending.  Wait up to greet your child when he/she/they arrives home at curfew time.
  • Never serve alcohol to anyone under 21, and don’t allow children to serve alcohol to others. It is illegal to serve or provide alcohol to underage youth, or to allow them to drink alcohol in your home or on other property you control.  See Social Host Liability Law: http://www.mass.gov/essexda/prevention-and-intervention/juvenile-prevention/social-host-liability.html
  • Do not to leave your teenagers home alone if you go out of town. Word gets out quickly and a drinking party can develop – sometimes without your child’s consent.
  • Do not relax your family rules with your own teens during the holidays. It can be difficult to return to previous expectations.

The Belmont Wellness Coalition welcomes your input!  Please consider joining us as we work to keep our kids safe and healthy – it really does take a village!

The BWC, along with Wayside Multi-Service Center, wishes you a peaceful, safe, and happy holiday season.

If I can be of support to you or your teens, please contact me at: Lisa_Gibalerio@WaysideYouth.org

Opinion: Solar Power The Best And Brightest Use For Incinerator Site

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By Martin Plass

We as the town have to decide soon on the future use of the incinerator site. The Board of Selectmen discussed this in their meeting on Thursday, June 7 and there will be a meeting for public input on June 18 at 8 p.m. at Town Hall. I urge the public to attend and voice their input and concerns.

One thing that concerns me is the temptation to find a commercial usage for the property that will maximize the income for the town instead of using the opportunity to enhance the beautiful natural conservation lands that surround the incinerator site. We as the town are already working on improvements to Rock Meadow with an agricultural consultant. With the McLean Barn upgrades being considered on the south end and the incinerator site on the north end of Rock Meadow we can further develop this area into a beautiful park and recreation land that integrates into the Western Greenway with Lone Tree Hill and Habitat to the East and Beaver Brook to the West. (By the way: I would love to see the McLean Barn turn into a café or beer garden, maybe with artist lofts spaces and a visitor information center that could provide some income to the town and would be a great place to enjoy a refreshment after a walk).

One proposal that has come up is to use the incinerator site for an anaerobic digester that would turn organic waste (food leftovers, etc.) into methane gas that would be burned on site and generate electricity (think Deer Island). I am concerned about this usage and worry that it could seriously interrupt the natural beauty of the area by bringing undesirable odors, noise from the generator, exhausts from burning methane, and heavy truck traffic to the site. While the prospect of making money with such a plant and providing renewable energy to Belmont is tempting, we need to make sure that such a use is in harmony with the areas around it and has none of these negative side effects. For the same reason, I am opposed to developing any parcels for housing. This would convert natural recreational space into private restricted space, something that could not be reversed.

Instead, I can see a community-owned solar array as a possible compromise usage which would generate some income for the town and fit with our climate action goals. Solar would not produce any noise, traffic, smells or other negative effects on the site and could be set-up to allow vegetation underneath and secondary use in combination with it. I like the proposal from one interest group that combines a community solar array with a bike park, a skateboard park, some DPW containers and a boardwalk for nature viewing as well as parking to serve as an additional access point to Rock Meadow and the Western Greenway.

I hope to see many Belmontians turn up for the June 18th meeting and look forward to seeing other proposed uses. To me, the overriding criteria should be to use the site to enhance our recreational nature areas for the enjoyment of the entire community.

Martin Plass lives on Stanley Road and is a Town Meeting Member representing Precinct 3