Alper Withdraws From Race To Keep Seat On Health Board; Leaving With Two ‘Victories’


Saying he felt he should go out on top – “like David Ortiz” – Dr. David Alper announced today, Saturday, Feb. 10, he was withdrawing his nomination for election to a record 11th term on the Belmont Board of Health.

“I want to leave before people started saying ‘What’s with that old guy? Get him out of there,'” said Alper, after meeting with Town Clerk Ellen Cushman at 1 p.m. Saturday with formally withdraw from the race.

With Alper leaving the race, the sole resident who has submitted nomination papers for the board is Stephen Fiore of Van Ness Road, an attorney in civil litigation with the Cambridge firm of Foster & Eldridge. Alper said one reason he wanted his decision known over the weekend was to allow anyone interest in serving 48 hours to gather the 50 signatures required to run for the seat.

First elected to the board in 1988, Alper said he several events occurred in the past week that led him to reconsider running for another three-year term on the three-member board. On Monday, Alper was selected to the Board of Trustees of the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), the Bethesda, Maryland-based professional medical organization representing 80 percent of the 15,000 podiatrists in the United States.

Saying his inclusion on the national board “an amazing honor,” Alper said the time commitment to the organization “is enormous” with travel and paperwork taking up most of his free time.

Alper and his wife will also become empty nesters as their son will be heading out of the house by the end of the summer, “and I wanted to spend more time with her.” Add his thriving practice from his Oak Avenue residence, “laying all that together, maybe it’s time to say goodbye to the board.” 

But before he leaves in the final eight weeks, Alper said he’ll be completing two major initiatives he’s been heavily involved. By April 1, the board will have created comprehensive health regulations on the future retail sale of marijuana in Belmont, with a final vote on March 26.  

“Useless [residents] votes to withdraw from sales, Belmont will be prepared with common scene rules and regs,” said Alper, as applications for state-issued retail licenses will be accepted on April 1.

Alper said through the work by new Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, funds have been found to allow the town to hire a Youth Coordinator for a revitalized Belmont Youth Commission which Alper has been advocating for several years. 

“So there are a few victories to have before I leave,” said Alper who said he’ll remain a Town Meeting member and “be there when something else needs to be done.” 

“It was really a perfect of storm of events. So I’m happy to be moving on,” said Alper. 

UPDATE: Town Election ’18: Caputo In, Williams Out for Selectmen; A Race For Health Board [VIDEO]

Photo: Tom Caputo delivers his nomination papers to Town Clerk Ellen Cushman.

There will be a new face on the Belmont Board of Selectmen. The question now is will there be a race for the open seat?

So far the facts are that one-term selectman and current chair Jim Williams said he will not submit papers to retain his seat for a second three-year term. 

“I’m not running. I’m certain about that,” said the Glenn Road resident this week.

As Williams exits town government, Tom Caputo made it official submitting nomination papers to Town Clerk Ellen Cushman on Friday, Feb. 2, accompanied by his campaign manager Ellen Schreiber. 

“I believe Belmont as a town have some very important decisions to make in the next three years, and they will impact our community for the next 30 years,” said Caputo. 

See the accompanying video to hear more from Caputo on why he’s running and issues before the board.

The Richmond Road resident is currently serving his first full three-year seat on the School Committee after being appointed to the committee on Nov. 2014 to replace Kevin Cunningham who resigned. At the town election in April 2015, Caputo ran uncontested for the two-years remaining in Cunningham’s term. In April 2017, Caputo was elected to a full three-year appointment with 3,014 votes running with Kate Bowen to fill two slots.

With nomination papers due to the Town Clerk’s Office in less than 10 days on Feb. 13 at 5 p.m., a challenger to Caputo will have about to week to secure the signatures of at least 50 registered voters.

Race for Health Board Now On

There will be a good race for the seat on the Belmont Board of Health as a Van Ness Road resident has returned nomination papers to take on long-time Board member Dr. David Alper who has submitted his papers. 

Stephen Fiore is an attorney in civil litigation with the Cambridge firm of Foster & Eldridge, LLP, who is a frequent lecturer on medical-legal issues and health care law. If the last name sounds familiar, Fiore’s wife is Lisa Fiore, the current chair of the Belmont School Committee, who is giving up her three-year seat to seek election for a single year, the remainder of Murat Bicer’s term. Bicer has resigned from the committee as he is moving away from Belmont.

Alper is a Podiatry specialist with an office in his Oak Street home. He is currently serving his tenth elected three-year term as a member of a three-person board the directs the seven-member Health Department staff and its $500,000 annual budget.

Editor’s note: The Health Board story has been revised due to Fiore’s submission of nomination papers to the Town Clerk on Monday, Feb. 5.

In Or Out: Selectmen to Decide Jan. 8 If Pot Stores Are Coming To Town of Homes

Photo: Selectmen Mark Paolillo, Chair Jim Williams and Adam Dash with “brownies” before their discussion on pot regulations.

The representatives of the Belmont Board of Health and the town’s Health Department were bearing gifts as they came to speak before the Belmont Board of Selectmen on the future of marijuana retail sales in town.


Uh oh! Was the Board of Health tipping its hand on what position it would take on the future of pot stores in the “Town of Homes?” Or were the members being “set up” like a scene out of a Cheech and Chong film with Belmont Police Chief McLaughlin and the drug squad ready to pounce on the unsuspected consumers of “edibles.”

“Watch out. It could be ‘Mary’ ‘Wona’!” warned Selectmen Chair Jim Williams. 

But it turned out that Board of Health member Dr. David Alper was only sweetening the night with actual brownies (and latkas from resident Bonnie Friedman) as he came to advise the selectmen on Monday, Dec. 18 and the Planning Board the next night, Tuesday, Dec. 19 that “they need to get going” to decide whether the town would join the majority of communities allowing the establishment of  stores for the “adult” sale of marijuana which will begin statewide on June 1 . 

The selectmen declared Monday it would decide whether to opt in or out of the state law allowing the retail sale of pot and associated marijuana-infused food and candies at its scheduled Monday, Jan. 8 meeting at Town Hall. 

The state is moving quickly on creating licensing regulations with the Cannabis Control Commission this week presenting to the Secretary of State its outline for the issuance of licenses. The state will hold a public meeting on Feb. 5 before the law goes into effect on April 1 with the first applications going to the 18 medical marijuana dispensaries currently operating. All new weed retailers can open their doors on June 1. 

If the board decides to follow the lead of Winchester and a few towns in the Cape that have opted out, Belmont will need to call a town-wide election to support the board’s decision. The special election is required because the town’s voters passed what was called Question 4 in November 2016, 52.5 percent to 46.5 percent (7,585 to 6,868 votes), a slightly lower margin than the state overall, which was 53.6 percent yes vs. 46.3 percent no.

If the voters approve the board’s opt-out declaration, the selectmen would subsequently need to call a special town meeting before April 1 to enact a bylaw codifying the decision. 

While the selectmen could simply wait until the town’s scheduled election on April 4 and then the first night of the annual  Town Meeting on April 30 rather than call a special election and town meeting with its additional cost of approximately $15,000, Alper noted that marijuana entrepreneurs are expected to target “well-to-do communities” for their retail operations – which early estimates will generate $1 to $3 million in revenue annually – as they seek “upscale cannabis consumers.”

“I am less optimistic that we will be ignored,” said Alper. “Those four days allows someone to come in and ask the CCC for a license which will be granted because we didn’t have a bylaw or vote stopping it.”

By opting out, the town would also forego revenue from a three percent tax through a user agreement with retailers which is on top of the state’s three percent cut. Alper said the money – which modestly could be north of $30,000 annually – must be earmarked towards anti-drug education and prevention, which could include providing grant money to the district schools to conduct annual health surveys, establishing pilot programs to fight opioid addition and funding of additional shifts for police officers in drug prevention operations.

If the board decides to allow stores to open, the selectmen can also decide whether to establish a “cap” on the total number of establishments in Belmont. The minimum number of stores is determined by taking 20 percent of the number of full-liquor retail operations in town, which will allow Belmont to have only one store. While the town must allow one to open although it does control the “time, place and manner” of the store through the Planning Board. 

But Alper advised the Planning Board that it should not attempt to “hide” the store(s) in some out-of-the-way location such as behind the new electrical substation off of Brighton Street. 

“We want this to be a success,” he said, noting it will be easier to monitor and control. 

Selectman Adam Dash said a dispensary near his law practice in Somerville is “very professional looking. They don’t have Bob Marley posters in the window. We can regulate it so it looks like a professional place.” 

Alper said this will not be like any other commercial operation in another way: it is a cash-only business. While the state has approved the sale of pot, the federal government continues to see weed as illegal and President Trump’s US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has vowed to step up federal enforcement against pot.

The result is banks and other institutions will not accept checks, electronic payments or credit card transactions from these retail operations. Subsequently, the buying and selling of pot is via cash, which also includes how they pay store employees and suppliers. (Although one solution is to use Bitcoin or another non-traditional cryptocurrency.)

“They will pay their taxes and light bill in cash,” said Alper.

And the business ain’t low-end: high-grade pot sold in these establishments will cost between $250 to $400 an ounce, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in cash exchanging hands each day.

“And they’ll need an IRS agent in each store because it’s all cash,” said Alper.

Alper said while the town can limit the number of retail operations, due to the “liberal drafting of the regulations” by the CCC, the Board of Health will have the right to issue permits to a business for the therapeutic or “casual use” of marijuana, pointing to yoga instructors, massage and physical therapists who could seek a waiver. 

“We could also see one-day licenses like we have for alcohol use,” said Alper.

Alper said the Board of Health is ready to create these regulations – it does not require Town Meeting or selectmen authorization, just an open public meeting before issuing the new rules – “so we are waiting what direction you want to take.” 

“It all leads back to you people,” said Alper.

Rats Begone! Joey’s Park Reopened; Town Asks Patrons To Carry Out Trash/Food

Photo: Joey’s Park, certified rat free.

After being closed for nearly a month due to an infestation of rats, Joey’s Park will reopen Wednesday, Nov. 22 – just in time for the Thanksgiving Holiday – to the public after the “rodent problem” has been resolved, according to a press release from the Belmont Department of Health.

The play structure adjacent to the Winn Brook Elementary School on Cross Street has been off-limits to the public since mid-October when the Belmont Department of Public Works and the Health Department discovered rats nesting in and around the facility. The town contracted Assurance Pest Solutions, a professional pest control operator to both investigate and treat the infestation using a non-chemical irritant to force the rodents out of the area.

“We are pleased to inform you that the rodent problem has been safely resolved at Joey’s Park and the park is again open for Belmont residents and the general public to enjoy!” read the press release.

To help prevent future rodent infestations at Joey’s Park, the Health Department is encouraging those using the park “to carry in/carry out any food, drinks, and trash items, which may attract nuisance wildlife to the area.”

They’re Here To Stay: Controlling Rats with Education, Money and Garlic

Photo: Joey’s Park, ground zero for rat removal.

Take equal parts garlic and white pepper then add a dash of paprika and mix.

Sounds like an excellent dry marinade you can rub on chicken or steak before grilling to give the meat a bit of a punch.

In fact, the mixture is an excellent organic rat repellant. That’s correct: rat repellant. 

That spicy recipe is currently being pushed into the rodent lairs under Joey’s Park in the Winn Brook neighborhood, according to Jay Marcotte, the town’s Department of Public Works director as he came to update the Belmont Board of Selectmen of his department’s battle with the rodents.

The popular playground adjacent to the Winn Brook Elementary School has been closed for the past fortnight after workers discovered the vermin living in and around the play structure.

Currently, the town is seeking “a safe and swift resolution to the issue,” said Wesley Chin, Belmont’s Health Department director,

Marcotte said he decided to approve a non-chemical approach – at the cost of $2,300 – as “the safest possible” method as the playground is very popular with children and families from around town. The natural repellant that comes in a gel is intended to irritate the rats’ skin which will hopefully have them scurry into one of the 40 traps laid out in the park.

The park will stay closed for another three weeks when the firm applying the solution believes the job will be complete, said Marcotte.

Even if this method does the job in the Winn Brook neighborhood, Belmont will not be as fortunate as the Town of Hamlin which found a pied piper to drive off the pests – and unfortunately a large segment of the German town’s school-aged population – as the rodents have been seen congregating near the port-a-potties at Town Field, on Beech Street, and along Pleasant Street, said Chin.

“They’re not going away,” said Dr. David Alper of the town’s Health Board, advising the board to create a new line item in the upcoming fiscal 2018 budget to tackle the rat issue in the future.

“Short money for long-term gain,” said Alper.

The town will expand its current rat removal campaign in all of the town’s parks which will include removing trash cans from those public spaces to rid the rodents of their food source, said Marcotte.

But the most effective method of controlling the rodent issue is information and data, including calling the Health Department when rats are found so the town can track their migration.

“The best tool is educating the public,” said Alper.

What’s The Buzz? Keeping Honeybees In Belmont, Wed Night 7 PM

Photo: Honeybee in nature.

Honeybees are pretty active. You might say they are … as busy as a bee.

A honeybee – whose wings stroke about 200 beats per second, producing its famous, distinctive buzzing sound – flies for up to six miles to visit between 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip, all the while helping to pollenate flowers and fruit and producing food in the honey made in the hives they occupy.

Some folks in Belmont have discovered this wonderful creature of nature and have allowed the bees to set up shop in all kinds of places in town. There are hives in open spaces such as Belmont Acres and adjacent to the busy intersection of Pine Street and Trapelo Road across from Moozy’s.

With interest in cultivating bees on the rise, the Belmont Board of Health is holding a Public Forum on “Keeping of Honeybees” on Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. Learn things like where you can place a hive and the general practices of good beekeeping. 

Dog Park Part of Discussion at Monday’s Meeting On Off Leash Program

Photo: The dog park that recently opened in Waltham. 

Is it time for Belmont to have its own dog park, join its neighboring towns to provide a separate area to allow pets the chance to play and socialize. 

Watertown (2014) and Waltham (2015) have recently opened enclosed off-leash areas that Fido can run like the wind. Arlington his its own park while Cambridge has eight including two near to Fresh Pond on the Belmont line. 

A Belmont dog park will be one of several issues brought up on Monday, June 20 at 5:30 p.m. when the Board of Health holds a public hearing on the town’s off leash dog program.

David Alper, chair of the Board of Health, told the Belmontonian no policy changes will be issued at Monday’s meeting.

“We hope to hear from residents on the current policy and listen to any ideas they may have,” said Alper. The long-time chair has said a dog park, which is becoming the norm in communities, is one area that is worthy of discussion.

The current off-leash program in Belmont allows dog owners a large amount of leeway when and where they can run their pets. Owners need only obtain a $40 yearly permit ($30 for the second dog) from the town – which requires the licensed dog and owner meet with Belmont’s Animal Control Officer, for a pet behavior assessment and a review of the regulations. 

The couple can then go to six Belmont athletic fields – Belmont High School Fields, Winn Brook, Grove Street, Pequossette Field and Town Field – to run as long as they clean up after their pet and defer to requests from town and school officials on use. Newton has a similar program. 

2016 Permit Application can be found at the Health Department’s web page. 

Health Director Russakow Retiring, Assistant Braun To Take Charge

Stefan Russakow, who has headed Belmont’s Health Department for the past four-and-a-half years, is retiring as the department’s director at year’s end.

The town didn’t look far for a replacement as Russakow’s assistant, Angela Braun, will take charge of the department in January 2015. 

Recognizable by his prominent mustache, Russakow has been the town’s face for a variety of health services including inspections of the town’s 80-plus eateries and educating their food service staff on preventing food-borne illnesses, handling housing and nuisance complaints while adopting new animal control regulations.

He was on the forefront with the Health Board in increasing the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 at the 20 retail outlet selling the products. Russakow also was a main player in the removal of the diving board at the Underwood Pool in 2012 which caught the attention of many residents.

Russakow came to Belmont in July 2005 as assistant to Belmont’s long-time health director Donna Moultrup. Braun was hired in Dec. 2010.

The Philadelphia native began is public health career while serving in the armed forces in the Philippines. Before coming to Belmont, he worked as the director of public health and community services in Nashua, N.H., was the director of the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program and was the Chief of Environmental Health and Operations of a 12-town health district in Connecticut.

Belmont Raises Age for Tobacco, E-Cig Sales to 21 in 2015

Joining surrounding towns and large municipalities like New York City, Belmont will prohibit the sale of all tobacco products and nicotine delivery devices such as e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 21 beginning on Jan. 1, 2015.

The move approved unanimously by the Belmont Board of Health at an afternoon meeting on Wednesday; Sept. 17, also impose guidelines on the sale of flavored cigar wrappers and associated products favored by younger buyers to make smoking more enjoyable.

Anti-smoking advocates believe the new regulations will place a damper on older teens and young adults from experimenting with smoking when they are vulnerable to becoming addicted to tobacco.

“Needham has had a 21 [limit] for a decade and the smoking rates for kids there has gone down,” said Stephen Shestakofsky   of Edwards Street who has long been an anti-smoking advocate.

“We know that if you become addicted to tobacco at a younger age, it is much, much harder to quit. So this will make it harder for teens to ‘cheat’,” said Shestakofsky.

Belmont becomes the 30th Massachusetts town or city to adopt the 21 year old sales prohibition.

“We are not going to be an [island] … where kids say ‘well, I’m not going to you I can go [out of town],” said Dr. David Alper, vice chair of the Board of Health, noting that nearby Arlington, Newton, Winchester and Brookline have existing 21 year old sales restrictions while Waltham and Watertown are currently looking to raise their age limits.

The town also placed nicotine delivery vehicles such as e-cigarettes (which heats nicotine and water into a vapor without the cancerous byproducts from cigarettes) since there has not been long-term studies to show they are either safe while also being seen as a “gateway” to tobacco addiction. 

What’s important to note is that the regs are aimed at keeping young adults away from the products. This wouldn’t prevent adults from using it but it will teens,” said Shestakofsky.

Vaping Nation Has Belmont’s Board on Health in Its Sights

Belmont Board of Health meetings are typically quiet affairs with little on the agenda to cause a stir. The last time the board was the center of residents ire was when it ruled two years ago to remove the Underwood Pool’s diving board on safety concerns.

But the board’s Wednesday, Sept. 17 meeting – set to take place at 5:30 p.m. in Town Hall – has caught the eye of a growing grassroots movement and they want their message heard in Belmont.

The Vaping Militia has sent out a “call to action” to its Massachusetts supporters that the health board would discuss and vote on raising the age to 21 for purchasing tobacco products in Belmont.

When asked about the militia, Board vice chair Dr. David Alper was as much in the dark as most people.

“Not a word. Never heard of them,” Alper told the Belmontonian.

“Just checked with the office, and they have also not received any calls or inquiries from them,” he said.

While one’s ears may prick up when a self-describes “militia” could be showing up at your front door, this newly-minted group isn’t a military force but advocates for the use of electronic cigarettes.

“We’re a national organization of people who are fighting for [a device] that helps so many people. We refuse to be quiet when our rights are being threaten,” said Art Barker, who co-founded The Vaping Militia in January.

Vaping is when a person uses a vaporizer or e-cigarette to inhale heated water vapor that contains nicotine, propylene glycol, solvents and flavors. For the majority of current users, vaping is their preferred avenue to quit smoking.

An explanation of vaping and how it differs from smoking tobacco can be found in this USA Today article.

For supporters, vaping is also a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products “since it removes all the harmful carcinogens found in tobacco,” Barker told the Belmontonian. The lack of cancer-causing agents in the vapor also eliminates health concerns from second-hand smoke.

A trucker by trade, Barker smoked for 27 years, trying every known suppression project – from nicotine patches and gums – with limited success.

“A year-and-a-half ago, I started vaping and I quit tobacco that day,” said the Calimesa, California-native, who credits its use for markedly improving his health.

In the past year, national health organizations and national and local governments have taken a highly critical look at e-cigarettes. Last month, the American Heart Association called the Federal Drug Administration to require e-cigarettes to undergo a lengthy health review while banning their sale to minors and requiring warning labels similar to those found on cigarettes packs.

Vaping does have its supporters. Michael Siegel, a tobacco control expert at the Boston University School of Public Health, told USA Today that e-cigarettes are a benefit to public health as long as it’s used to quit smoking.

For vaping advocates, the threat to their rights is when restrictions to tobacco “dovetails into regulations on e-cigarettes,” said Barker. In fact, the group is “alright” with vaping age restrictions – “we see vaping products being for adults,” said Barker – but all too often new regulations from state and municipal entities “continues to loop all the other [stuff] onto vaping as if it’s a tobacco product.”

“We want to keep vaping viable but when we start seeing bans on its use in parks or just walking down the street, that’s when our freedoms are being threatened,” said Barker.

But Barkers’ defense of helping people quit smoking or preserving their rights will hold little sway with Belmont’s Board of Health.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the focus will not only be on setting a minimum age to purchase all tobacco products to 21, up from 19, but also to broaden the definition of tobacco products to include the e-cigarette, said Alper.

“As e-cigarettes did not exist when the current regulations were written, this updating seems most appropriate to address,” said Alper.

“By including e-cigarettes in the definition, they will be treated like any other tobacco/nicotine product and will, therefore, require a license to sell and limitations on where they can be used, in order to protect nonsmokers,” he noted.

And if Militia members show up?

“It is an open public hearing, and anyone is welcome to attend,” said Alper.