Time To License Your Dogs and Cats; Deadline is March 15

Photo: Pet licenses will be available in January.

It’s time to do the annual renewal of your dog and cat license to comply with Massachusetts General Laws as well as the Belmont bylaw, according to Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman. Make sure you license your pet by the March 15 deadline to avoid the automatic increase in fees and $50 enforcement violations.

If your pet has an up-to-date rabies vaccination currently on file with the Town Clerk’s Office, renewal of the pet license can be accomplished in fewer than two minutes by renewing and paying online. The convenience fee for a $12 pet license is an additional $1.22.

At the homepage for the Town, www.belmont-ma.gov, select Online Payments, then License my Pet online. If the system does not allow you to renew online, you’ll need to send us an updated rabies vaccination certificate – to townclerk@belmont-ma.gov or fax to 617-993-2601; we’ll update the record and you’ll be able to license online immediately thereafter.

First time licenses for new pets must be by paper application with the veterinarian certificate of rabies vaccination.

Pet license applications – both online renewals and fillable pdf – are available on the Town Clerk’s webpage at http://www.belmont-ma.gov/town-clerk; a paper pet license application will also be included with every census mailing to Belmont households in January. The Town Hall continues to be closed to the public so please use our secure Town Clerk Mail secure drop box located along the driveway to the left at the base of the steps to Town Hall at parking lot level.

Fees Applicable, Jan. 1 – March 15:

  • Spayed or neutered cats and dogs: $12 ($9 if the owner is 60 years or older)
  • Unaltered cats and dogs: $37 ($34 if the owner is 60 years or older)

Beginning March 16, the fees increase significantly.

XMas Tree Pickup Starts Jan 4; Special Cardboard Drop-Off Set For Jan . 9

Photo: Residents have two weeks to have their trees collected.

Belmont’s Department of Public Works has announced the times and dates for a pair of yearly seasonal services: picking up your Christmas trees and collecting your cardboard.

Curbside Christmas tree collection starts on Monday, Jan. 4, and ends on Jan 14. Trees will be collected on your trash day for those two weeks. Trees need to be free of ornaments, bags, wiring, lights, and stands. After those two weeks, residents will need to call Waste Management (800-972-4545) for a bulky pick-up by noon the day before your trash day. 

Cardboard Drop-Off will take place on Saturday, Jan. 9 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the DPW yard located at 37 C St. off of Waverley Street.

There will be a $5 fee per vehicle.

Contact information will be required for contact tracing purposes. 

The DPW is encouraging contactless payment by requiring pre-registration and payment for the event. Please use the attached link for pre-registration. https://belmontma.myrec.com/info/activities/program_details.aspx?ProgramID=29888

  • Prior to arriving at the event, all residents who have not paid on-line, should be ready with a check (payable to the “Town of Belmont”) or cash, and on a separate sheet of paper, provide the town contact information including your name, address, and phone number.
  • Cardboard will only be accepted from pickup truck beds, trunks, and the back of SUVs. The DPW will not accept cardboard from the seats of vehicles handed to us by residents.
  • Any resident who attempts to or exits a vehicle will be asked to leave.
  • Residents will be required to wear a mask.
  • All town personnel working will be wearing masks and gloves.

Obituary: Jeffrey Wheeler, Belmont’s Long-Time Town Planner, Died Sunday

Photo: Jeffrey Wheeler (right) at a meeting of the Planning Board

Jeffrey Wheeler, who helped create the townscape of Belmont as a fixture in the town’s Planning Office for more than a quarter-century, died on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020.

“We are deeply saddened by this news, and share our condolences with his family, friends and coworkers,” said Shawna Healey, Belmont’s acting Human Resources director in an email to Town Meeting Members sent Tuesday, Dec. 29.

“I know we will all miss Jeffrey’s smile and the hard work he has contributed to the Town over his 26 years,” said Healey. 

As head of the Planning Division of the Office of Community Development, Wheeler handled land use, economic development, zoning and planning issues in Belmont. Working with town departments and boards – specifically the Planning and Zoning boards – Wheeler was involved in every aspect of town planning: from perfunctory design and site plan reviews to writing the 25-page agreement approving the construction of Cushing Village (now known as the Bradford).

Wheeler was the “go-to” source in Community Development on the town’s zoning bylaws – whether it was creating or changing existing ordinances and interpreting the meaning of a byzantine section of the law.

In the past year, Wheeler played a key role in some of the most significant projects in Belmont: planning for the opening of two retail marijuana establishments, reviewing the Chapter 40B housing development at Beatrice Circle, and leading the effort in rewriting residential zoning bylaws to allow a mixed-income development on McLean Hospital land that was approved by a Special Town Meeting.

A native of Sherborn, Wheeler’s family said it will forgo any services but are planning to hold a celebration of life in August 2021, so all can attend. 

Wheeler’s family and the town are looking to set up a fund to place a bench in his memory in Belmont.

“As soon as this fund is set up we will share it with staff and all those who wish to contribute,” said Healey.

What’s Closing Early On The 24th; What’s Open And Closed Christmas

Photo: Well, there was a lot to cry about to Santa this year.

Merry Christmas, Belmont. While for many there is little to actually celebrate this difficult time, Dec. 25 will be a day to reflect on the past year around the dinner table before decamping to watch the latest holiday movie on the Hallmark Channel or basketball contest on whatever platform you prefer. For those who don’t celebrate the day, several fine Chinese restaurants will be open and, if you want to risk it, some great movies are premiering on the big screen on the 25th – Wonder Woman 1984, News of the World and Promising Young Woman.

And if you have a “need” to get out of the house, here are a few places around town closing early Christmas Eve and open on Christmas.

Christmas Eve early closings:

  • Star Market at 535 Trapelo Rd. closes at 6 p.m. The pharmacy closes at 5 p.m.
  • CVS: 264 Trapelo Rd. is closing at 10 p.m. (the pharmacy at 6 p.m.) and 60 Leonard St. at 9 p.m. (with the pharmacy shutting its doors at 4 p.m.)
  • Both Starbucks locations are closing at 5 p.m.
  • The Dunkin’ locations at 353 Trapelo Rd. and 52 Church St. are closing at 9 p.m. The store at 350 Pleasant St. will shut down at 7 p.m.
  • Craft Beer Cellar at 51 Leonard St. in the Center will be open ’til 7 p.m.
  • US Post Offices at 405 Concord Ave. and 492 Trapelo Rd. are closing at noon.

Christmas Day


  • The Dunkin’ at 353 Trapelo Rd. has a sign on the door proclaiming “Open on Christmas.” So it will be open from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m.
  • The 52 Church St. location in Waverley Square and the operation at 350 Pleasant St. will be closed on Christmas.


  • The Belmont Center store at 47 Leonard St. and the “Cushing Village” location at 110 Trapelo Rd. will be closed.

CVS Pharmacy

  • The store at 264 Trapelo Rd. will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • The operation at 60 Leonard St. in Belmont Center will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Christmas.
  • The pharmacies at both locations will be closed.

Star Market

  • Belmont’s supermarket located at 535 Trapelo Rd. is closed for the day.

If you are looking to get around on the MBTA:

  • The Fitchburg/South Acton Commuter Line will operate a Sunday schedule while buses that operate in Belmont are likewise running on a Sunday schedule.

Opinion: Teens, Substance Misuse, and the Ongoing Pandemic

Photo: Comedian John Mulaney who entered rehab this week

By Lisa Gibalerio, Prevention Specialist, Wayside Youth and Family Support Network; Program Coordinator, Belmont Wellness Coalition

When my daughter told me last night that her favorite comedian, John Mulaney, had relapsed after 15 years of sobriety and had entered a rehabilitation program, I thought: he is not alone.

The disruption of life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on those with substance use disorders or mental health issues. Anyone who was already struggling with these challenges before the pandemic was catapulted into a perfect storm of increased stress, social isolation, and reduced access to care and support. Though relapse is often a part of recovery, 2020 has seen an uptick in both substance misuse relapses and mental health disorders.

How has all this impacted teens in Belmont?

When the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was last administered in Belmont, in March of 2019, over 25 percent of teens reported drinking, vaping, and/or using marijuana. We do not have data since the start of the pandemic, but it’s fair to say that the stress levels on young people in Belmont have not abated. 2020 saw new fears of a potentially life-threatening illness, disruption of the school year, cancellation of long-awaited traditional celebrations like graduations and birthday parties, and a lack of job opportunities and curtailment of college experiences. How could they not be affected?

In such an environment, some young people may turn to inappropriate substances to cope. Some may gain access to substances, such as alcohol, via older siblings, older friends, or at home. In many instances, students reported, their parents do not even know that they are drinking – neither how frequently, nor how much.

What’s wrong with coping this way? The danger is that, due to their developing brains, when teens drink, they tend to drink too much. This puts them at risk for alcohol poisoning, car crashes, injuries, violence, and/or unprotected/unwanted sex.

As parents, we may feel helpless on how to impact this. However, there are concrete things parents can do to reduce substance misuse among their kids:

  • Talk with your kids about the impact of substance misuse.
  • Set your expectations in a clear and concise way.
  • Listen to your kids.
  • Reach out to their friends’ parents. If there is a gathering at a house (hopefully Covid-safe!) – text the parents ahead of the event: ask if they will be home and monitoring the event.
  • Wait up at curfew time.
  • Do not relax your family rules during the holidays; it can be difficult to return to previous expectations.

Remember, every year that a teen does not use alcohol, the odds of lifelong dependence decrease by 15 percent.

2020 has been an incredibly stressful year, for adults, for kids – for all of us. And, if we work together, we can help ensure that our kids stay healthy and safe.

If you have questions, please reach out to me at Lisa_gibalerio@Waysideyouth.org.

Wishing you all safe and happy holidays.

Have Yourself A Gusty Little Christmas: High Wind Watch, Possible Outages Over Holidays

Photo: High wind watch this Christmas (Photo credit: DPA)

Santa Claus may show up later than usual Christmas Eve as ol’ St. Nick and his reindeer will be fighting against a nasty Nor’easter about to slam into Belmont and southern New England on Dec. 24 and into Christmas.

The National Weather Service issued a High Wind Watch starting Thursday after dark and lasting through Friday afternoon as a storm heads up the Atlantic coast bringing mild temperatures – highs in the mid-50s Christmas – along with winds between 20 to 30 mph with gusts reaching 60 mph.

“Damaging winds could blow down trees and power lines,” said the NWS in its press release of Dec. 23.

“Widespread power outages are possible” and “[t]ravel could be difficult, especially for high profile vehicles,” the statement read.

If the Christmas lights should go dark, call Belmont Light at 617-993-2800 to report the outage. Do not call 911 if losing power is not an emergency.

‘We Do Get It’: Target Of Parents Ire, Prestwich Defends School Committee’s Pandemic Response [VIDEO]

Photo: Andrea Prestwich has been the target of some resident’s claims that she leads a committee that doesn’t act on parent’s ideas and complaints

During a recent December Zoom meeting hosted by the Warrant Committee on making difficult budget choices in the coming year, a resident – whose question was read out – asked if the April 2021 Proposition 2 1/2 override request could be “split” into two votes on a separate school and town budgets. The resident explained their reasoning for breaking up the override (known as a menu option) because “there has been a loss of confidence in the current school system.”

The underlying rational behind the request – which doesn’t appear likely as the Select Board is supportive of a All-Town budget – is brutally simple: They and others are prepared to reprimand the leadership of the school committee and district by voting down a critical infuse of cash.

Then a familiar voice spoke up.

“I would like to defend the school’s stewardship at this point,” said Andrea Prestwich, chair of the Belmont School Committee. Having spent her entire nine month tenure leading the committee under the whirlwind of COVID-19, the mother of two Belmont High students was prepared to do what the committee and district had rarely done since the spring – a full-throated justification of the elected board’s

“I think it is certainly unfair to say that the schools have not managed the school budget,” said Prestwich, pointing to continued successes in providing excellent education (a pair of nationally recognized “Blue Ribbon Schools) while initiating a new Middle and High school all the while doing so with funding level that is far below state and peer schools.

“My first reaction to the idea of splitting is that we are all in this together. We shouldn’t be talking about the town and the schools and trying to pick the fire department or the library against the schools. You know we’re one town,” she said.

Prestwich’s bulwark defense of the schools come as parents, residents and have called Prestwich out for her and the committee’s esquivalience of schools and the pupils, one which has brought a level of displeasure rarely seen in the past two decades.

Winn Brook resident Prestwich, an astrophysicist by trade (BA physics, Queen Mary College, London; PhD in Astrophysics at Imperial College London) is preparing for the second half of the school term with a view of look forward rather than reexamine the past.

The interview was done over email and has been edited for length.

Since March 2020, the School Committee and the district haven’t addressed the issues presented by your growing number of critics. Why haven’t you or the committee countered this criticism? Is there a proper time and venue to highlight the School Committee’s policies and actions?

Every member of the School Committee is deeply aware of the criticism and varying  viewpoints. Our community doesn’t speak with one voice.  As a school committee we try to reach out by responding to emails, holding office hours, and listening to comments at meetings. We’ve also been struggling with the sheer volume of public input–and desire for more public input. A lot of public discussion occurs on social media. As school committee members we seldom engage on social media because of concerns over open meeting law. Overall, I don’t think we’ve done a stellar job in communicating our decisions and we are looking for ways to improve.

The primary complaint of School Committee critics is what they call the mismanagement of the district, from “refusing” to collaborate with parents on pressing issues – taking control of the air filtration project and aggressive push towards hybrid and full in-school learning – and a lack of transparency. How do you and the committee answer these specific charges?

One core issue here is that a group of parents disagree with our decision to have a phased opening starting in remote. They prioritized in person learning. We had many good reasons for choosing a phased approach – adopted by other districts – and in retrospect I personally feel that this was a good decision. COVID-19 is spread through aerosol transmission, and adequate ventilation is key. Families and teachers need to know that “their” classroom is safe. They need to know how many air purifiers they need, and when it is safe to close windows. This took time. I respectfully disagree with our critics who feel we should have opened in hybrid. That said, we also understand how frustrating the phased decision was to a section of our community, and in response we accelerated the phases as much as we could. After we made the decision to accelerate the hybrid, we were inundated with emails from folk in the opposite camp: they supported the phased approach and were unhappy with moving too fast. Our community is divided on the issue of hybrid, but this is not unique to Belmont. School committees are under fire across the Commonwealth. For example, see the recent Slate article highlighting division in Brookline.

It’s interesting that there is a perception that we “refused” to collaborate with parent groups. We are very grateful for the guidance we received from the air filter group – following their suggestion we  purchased hundreds of air purifiers. We are following up on the testing initiative, although funding and logistics are challenging. Despite this, parents feel that they have not been listened to or been a part of the decision making process. I get this. It was a fundamental mistake not to have involved parents in plans for phasing and hybrid. They should have been involved from the start. We are moving things in the right direction by having parents, educators and students involved in groups tasked with improving the hybrids. The high school working group was very successful.

On the issue of transparency: if you follow our School Committee meetings, you know that we’re a collaborative group. Consistent with the open meeting law, we discuss these issues in open session, with the exception of those subject to collective bargaining that are appropriately addressed in executive session. There is no hidden agenda. In that sense, our decisions are completely transparent.  I think the accusation of “lack of transparency”  boils down to “why can’t you give me an immediate answer to my simple question?” There is often a real tension between a desire to answer a question openly and fully and our obligation not to discuss the details of issues that are subject to collective bargaining with the teachers union [the Belmont Education Association]. The move to pandemic operations has required completely re-negotiating working conditions with our educators: not just in Belmont but in all public school districts in Massachusetts. The Memorandum of Agreement covers working hours, the school year, air exchange standards in classrooms, the ability of staff to take leave of absence, sick time, professional development, virtual participation, snow days, acceptable temperatures in the classroom, and many other details. We are legally obligated to negotiate these changes according to state labor law. We always attempt to be as open and transparent as possible, but certain details cannot be discussed publicly until we’ve reached final agreement on matters being negotiated. 

[In early December] and a month previous, the committee and the district admitted some decisions were “not perfect” and you and Belmont Superintendent John Phelan expressed regret for those missteps. While your critics continue to point to perceived faulty governance, what would you tell the public about what the committee has been effective/successful in achieving during the pandemic?

On the School Committee we are humbled by our responsibilities. We are coping with something no school district has had to deal with since 1918; a dangerous pandemic. We’re deeply aware of how our decisions affect children and families in Belmont. We’ve made some unfortunate missteps in communication and not involving parents in decision making. That said, I feel like we’ve had some important successes.

One, our buildings are very safe. The BALA report was very late, but extremely thorough. We know the air exchange in each classroom. We know which classrooms need a purifier and/or a open windows to be safe. We know which rooms need extra purifiers if we want to close windows to keep the rooms from getting too cold. Our families and teachers can be sure our buildings are “pandemic ready.” Because we confident in our buildings, we can keep schools open even though COVID-19 cases are increasing in Belmont and surrounding towns.

Second, we were able to eliminate full-day kindergarten fees for the 2020-21 school year. We hope this will be a little help to families who are struggling in a pandemic economy. In future years, all kindergarten students will count as full time for the purposes of calculating state aide, resulting in an increase in Chapter 70 funding for Belmont.

In addition, our educators developed excellent remote learning strategies over the summer. 

Although we have a long way to go to go, we have taken several positive steps to improve communication. We have instituted School Committee Office hours, and we now have a Google form where people can submit questions and comments to the committee prior to a meeting. I try to answer most questions in public, or read out the comments

A resident, Jacob Scott, has created an online “recall petition” on the Facebook page “Time to put the Kids First in Belmont Ma” targeting you and possibly the entire school committee. Scott has not given a reason for the recall but others comment about “lack of leadership and poor management,” being “rude” and being dismissive. Why do you think you are being the point person for a group’s ire? Has it affected how you approach the position?

I completely understand the level of frustration in the community with our schools. Not one of us on the School Committee is happy with the current situation. We would all like for school in Belmont to be back to normal. As School Committee chair, I’m the natural target for the frustration. Nobody likes being told, “I’m sorry, your three minutes are up, but we have to move on because we have a four hour meeting.” 

On the flip side, I’ve received many emails and cards of support. Flowers, cookies and chocolates have all been left on our doorstep. People stop me in the streets to say thank you. Other School Committee members have had similar experiences.  We all appreciate these kind gestures, and endeavor to learn from the criticism. 

What is the one misconception promoted by critics that you and the school committee would like to correct?

The misconception that somehow Belmont has not followed the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) guidelines or fails to meet minimum DESE expectations. I’m sorry to say that this misconception has been fueled by DESE actions. 

Belmont submitted plans for a phased return in August. Several other districts also submitted phased plans. The plan had all the necessary components: remote and a hybrid that also allowed for remote-only access. It was accepted by DESE without comment. There was no requirement for hybrid to start by a particular date. In mid-September, 16 districts received letters asking why hybrid learning had not started. It gave the impression that Belmont was not meeting state requirements, when no such requirements were in place. That’s not moving the goal posts, it’s pulling new posts out of thin air. Note that I do not object to setting new goals as circumstances change. I object to the post-facto characterization of the Belmont plan as apparently inadequate, which inflamed an already polarized community. 

Another example was the roll out of the new DESE metrics. The announcement talked about “full in-person learning” as the goal unless the community is “red” according to infections per 100,000 people and positivity rate. Overall, these changes are sensible. There is now ample evidence that transmission is rare in schools with proper mitigations in place. However, the press conference failed to make the point that social distancing must be maintained. Belmont’s schools are too crowded to allow full in-person learning. Nevertheless, we received emails asking why we could not follow DESE guidelines and return to full in person learning. 

I hope Gov. Charlie Baker’s future actions reflect a more nuanced understanding of individual districts and the often divisive dialogue in otherwise close-knit communities.

With COVID, labor unions, the state’s education and health departments playing large roles this school year, has the committee been forced to answer to too many masters to be effective in its role leading the district? 

There is some truth to this statement. We need to collaborate with our colleagues in the BEA, Belmont’s Health Department and  be mindful of the guidance from DESE, the State Health Department, the CDC, etc. As I said previously, DESE has made this process more painful than was necessary.  

School funding and enrollment is another major factor. Belmont schools are funded significantly below the state average on a per student basis and the enrollment has grown significantly over the past few years, including a surge in English Language Learners and students with special needs. Operating in a pandemic – with remote, hybrid and remote only students – requires significantly more staffing than regular operations, and works best with smaller classes. It also requires a lot of administrative legwork. Belmont resources have been stretched to a breaking point.

With the school year nearing halfway, will the school committee and the district maintain the same policies the committee and superintendent agreed to in August or could there be changes inspired by the parent groups’ advocacy?

The phased policy adopted in August was very controversial but all schools are now in hybrid so that policy has now played out. Moving forward, we will continue to involve our parent community in important decisions including how and when to move to full in-person learning.

Will the release of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dampen some of the criticism as parents see a light at the end of the tunnel – possible late spring return to in-class learning and a return to normal in the 2021-2022 school year?

I do think there is light at the end of the tunnel. Based on everything that we know now, there is the prospect for widespread vaccination to be accomplished by this summer. And there’s a good chance that school will return to normal — or something that looks much more normal — for the next school year.

Belmont’s COVID Infection Numbers Continue To Climb

Photo: Update on COVID-19 incidents and rates in Belmont

On the week the first vaccine approved to treat the coronavirus was being administered throughout the country, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Belmont continues a steep rise in lock step with the rest of the country.

In the week ending on Thursday, Dec. 17, 121 Belmont residents contracted the virus, bringing the total number since March to 542.

The extent of COVID’s recent reach in Belmont can be seen mapping the rate of increase in cases over time. From a low point of 0.5 on Sept. 11, the average daily incidence rate (per 100,000) over two weeks has steadily climbed to 28.9 per 100,000 as of Thursday, Dec. 17, demonstrating that Belmont is in the midst of the second “surge” in COVID cases in the US.

Average Daily Incidence Per 100,000 People Over A Two Week Period

Sept. 110.5
Sept. 182.1
Sept. 252.1
Oct. 21.3
Oct. 92.4
Oct. 161.8
Oct. 232.9
Oct. 304.2
Nov. 64.5
Nov. 138.1
Nov. 209.4
Nov. 2710.2
Dec. 414.6
Dec. 1121.9
Dec. 1828.9

Belmont, along with its neighbors Watertown (1,023 total cases, an average daily incidence per 100,000 people greater than 50), Lexington (571 cases) and Arlington (809) are in the state’s designated “yellow” category which indicates a “moderate” risk of contacting COVID-19.

While the infection numbers have skyrocketed, the death count hasn’t budged from 60 since the last reported victim in late May.

Really? Winter Has Arrived? Ugh! ‘Welcoming’ The Winter Solstice

Photo: Winter has finally arrived.

The first day of astronomical winter in the Northern Hemisphere is marked by the winter solstice, which occurs on Monday, Dec. 21, at 5:02 a.m. EST.

The first day of meteorological winter began Dec. 1.

The winter solstice is the day with the fewest hours of sunlight in the year, making it the “shortest day” of the year, coming in at 9 hours and 4 minutes. The sun will rise at 7:11 a.m. and will set at 4:15 p.m.

Looking on the bright side, days begin to again grow longer until the summer solstice, the first day of summer and the longest day of the year.

The downside? The coldest days of the year are still to come, occurring between mid-December and late January.

Belmont’s Snow Emergency Parking Ban Ends At 10 PM Thursday; Sidewalks Cleared By 8 PM Friday

Photo: Start diggin’

Belmont’s snow emergency parking ban will end effective at 10 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 17, according to an email from the Department of Public Works.

Sidewalks Need To Be Cleared By 8 p.m. Friday

The Office of Community Development is reminding residents that Belmont’s residential snow removal bylaw requires sidewalks along residential property to be cleared of snow and ice by the day after a storm ends. With regards to today’s storm, snow and ice should be cleared or treated from sidewalks to a width of at least 36 inches by tomorrow night, Friday, Dec. 18. 

“We appreciate your attention to this very important public safety matter. Please refer to the town’s web site for further information regarding winter weather and the town’s snow removal bylaw,” said the OCD news release

If you have any questions, contact the Belmont Office of Community Development at 617-993-2650 during normal business hours.