Notes from an Allston/Brighton city-council forum
Notes from a forum between the four people running for the Allston/Brighton district city-council seat in Tuesday's preliminary, held tonight at the Brighton Elks. Two of the four will advance to the final election in November. Also see Harry Mattison's livetweeting of the forum.
Alex Selvig: Integrity. I will never compromise my integrity for political college scholarship or donation. My integrity is not for sale. I'd urge you all to do some research and see who is really paying the pipers for this campaign. Look at the 2009 and 2008 donation reports. Absentee landlords, liquor license holders and the like give heavily to certain other candidates, but not me. I won't accept any donations from liquor license holders, landlords or the law firm associated with Dianne Wilkerson. Will not hide e-mail.
Mark Ciommo: I was born and raised here, we're raising our two sons here. Want to build a strong and vibrant community. My top priority is to respond to today's concerns while building a vibrant community. As chair of ways and means, I did more with less. We now have access to comprehensive database on property owners. I can now employee all city resources to bear on party houses and rundown house. As only product of BPS, I know how important public schools are. Continue to fight for an Allston/Brighton school zone. We'd save millions and parents would be guaranteed a seat in their community.
Ben Narodick: I did come out to Allston to attend law school at BU. From day one I realized this was a place I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I'm only person with experience promoting commercial development. UC-Berkeley student fund to do that. I'm going to be here focusing on solutions. How are we going to get things done? I guarantee I will have an answer or know where to go for one.
Abigail Furey: Allston Brighton deserves a strong, independent voice at City Hall. AB is a community at risk: Four school closings, high rate of unoccupied housing and institutional expansion. I'm a business owner, lived here since 1993. Been active in community issues. Chestnut Hill Reservoir restoration. Longtime BAIA board member. Led fight to retain 100 parking spaces on Chestnut Hill Dr. 1954 Comm. Ave. preservation. Tired of seeing all of our efforts going unheard.
Ciommo: Three legislative accomplishments of which you're proudest?
Ciommo: Worked with Council President Ross to sponsor ordinance for no more than four unrelated students. It is just an arrow in the quiver all the tools we need to deal with absentee landlords. Hearing on comprehensive database of property owner information to hold them accountable.
Also out-of-state license plates. I want transportation department to have ability to make people in our city accountable for out of state plates. We're accountable, both insurance and lost fines.
Narodick, you've only lived here for a couple years, yet are running for seat that deals with very specific local issues. What have you done?
Lot of issues will be institutional issues. I've had to deal with them personally. Bedbugs and landlords. City, apartment owners are unresponsive.
Furey and Selvig: You both founded Brighton Neighbors United. What separates you two?
Furey: I have a decade of committment to this community working on other issues. And long history with BAIA.
Selvig: Longtime friend of Abigail's, I think we share a lot of the same views. We never talked about who should run or who shouldn't.
Selvig: One of the different things I've done is work with Latinos en Accion. Unfortunately there are people who don't feel like they're properly represented.
Narodick: The longer things stay in one place, the more buttressed they become. The one thing I offer no one else can is a clean slate.
Is an elected official put into office to make decision on his best judgment or act on behalf of his constitutents?
Narodick: Combination. Needs to be more engagement, more open forums between elected officials and consitutents? But needs to be a trust between community and elected official. Transparency.
Furey: The fact you were chosen to begin with you're more in line with residents right off the bat. Bottom line, you're always supposed to look out for best interests of your neighbors.
Selvig, two years ago, you ran against Ciommo. What did you learn from your failed bid?
Selvig: Learned to ditch the boxing globes. I learned the value of an organization. Institutional expansion issue. Ciommo, no more than four rule is unenforceable, there has not been one single complaint followed up or lodged. Symbolic, completely useless. Secondly, on plates, we're missing out on excise tax.
Ciommo: Should Michael Kineavy resign, be fired or keep his job?
Everybody should follow the letter of the law, let's see what the investigation says.
Correction: There are three violations working through ISD. One in Allston/Brighton, two in Mission Hill. They are test cases. The reason we went to four unrelated was because there was a law about four unreleated people, which was found unconstitutional.
Furey: I worked very hard last year to get hold of public records and have found the entire process at City Hall broken. I think it should give all residents pause. These are people being paid by our tax dollars and they are not being held accountable to the city.
Selvig: Kineavy and Ciommo's office: Was his office exchanging e-mail with Kineavy. Formally asked today.
Ciommo: I have currently over 8,500 e-mails in my computer. It is an arduous task. I've asked me staff to do a cursory review. I will comply even though the request wasn't a formal public records request. It will take many hours of staff time, which unfortunately will take my staff away from constituent work.
Narodick: Difference between candidate and a politician. I wish we could stop hearing so much anger from this table and focusing on issues.
Zoning and development: Last month, the Globe wrote about Menino's strong hand in development and planning. Should the city allow property owners allow to build as of right or step in and veto plans.
Furey: I don't think the problem is people wanting to build to zoning. It's always people trying to go beyond zoning codes. Zoning by right sounds good to me.
Selvig: Zoning by right means they're building to code, so that's fine. You should stand by allowed use.
Ciommo: This may be the only time Alex and I every agree on anything.
Narodick: We need to decentralize the Boston Zoning Commission on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis.
Narodick: Other problem is the BRA. The root of that problem, however, is in state law, unfortunately. I would work to restructure and redevelop the BRA.
Furey: I still believe that sticking with current zoning is a better place to start than these projects that are always looking for variances. I also know that nothing is always black and white. There should always be some review.
Selvig: How long does it take to do an e-mail search for somebody's name? 30 seconds.
Ciommo: I have dozens of folders with files in each folder that need to be reviewed accurately. I'm going to be thorough and accurate when responding to a legal question.
In Allston/Brighton, lots where owner tears down a single house to put up multiple units. Is this good for the tax base?
Selvig: Yes, good for the tax base, but is it good for the neighborhood? Not the same.
How can city better enforce apartment inspections?
Ciommo: Great question. Units in abhorrent condition? How do you inspect a unit where somebody moves out Aug. 31 and somebody else moving in Sept. 1? Maybe we need to have a "statement of condition" made public and reviewed, rather than trying to enforce a law that may be unenforceable with thousands and thousands of rental units.
What should the city do about illegal parking lots?
Narodick: We can't talk about driveways without talking about public parking. City needs to make permit process for driveways easier. I would make the zoning and building permit process much easier for homeowners.
Should be more or less resident-only parking streets? If so, where?
Furey: Tough question because somebody will get mad on one side or another. Resident-only spaces will hopefully force people with out-of-state plates into compliance. Really is a battle against students bringing cars into the city. Perhaps we should be working with colleges to keep students from bringing cars into Boston.
Ciommo: I was part of effort to get Lakeshore Rd. residents to get resident parking permits tailored to their needs. Four residents for every residential parking spot in the city of Boston.
Narodick: High-density buildings are not good for the tax base - they consume too many resources, decrease neighboring property values. Landlords don't live within five miles of building should be required to have an agent on site.
Furey: Denser property short term gain because you lose the tax base in the long yard. I would push to have some paved over yards reverted back to yards.
Selivg: 100 folders, still take 30 seconds to do a name search.
Charlesview redevelopment project: Is proposed project integrated or segregated housing?
Ciommo. Been here for 40 years. I believe proposal needs more work. Needs to be dispersed further. It's a work in progress. No longer as dense and tall as before.
But is it integrated or segregated housing?
45% of units are seniors, in decrepit conditions. 37% are paying market rates.
Are Charlesview residents being held hostage in decrepit units by the community?
Narodick: That's a tough question to answer. You're talking about two separate communities that have been mismanaged for years. We have to hold Harvard's feet to the fire for better plan and to get better housing.
Furey: No, they are not being held hostage by community. If anything, being held hostage by Harvard. The substandard housing part is the responsibility of Charlesview itself, not the community. Mark has said this project should move forward. Once this is approved, Harvard has no incentive to do anything further. BC all over again. Harvard is sitting on 20+ acres, this project needs a few more acres and this could be a vibrant and wonderful community and Harvard needs to do that.
Does Charlesview have correct mix of units?
Selvig: Yes. Stop concentrating all the poor people in one place. I'd like to see it well mixed, yes?
Ciommo: How can we get new Charlesview and the open space the community wants? That's what I'm working toward.
Selvig: We canvassed Charlesview. 42 households. We found almost half didn't really want to move, but better conditions for themselves. Will Harvard really committ to build those new units? Look what they did with the science center.
Narodick: We have a situation where the Harvard project has been completely mismanaged by the city. We have to reform the PILOT program.
Furey: I don't think it's a diverse project. We're returning to a failed urban policy of clumping lower income people in one group.
What two new businesses are needed in Oak Square?
Narodick: We're lacking in galleries, we're lacking in studios, in firsthand bookstores. How to? Look at zoning, local colleges with art programs. We want it to be the bedrock of our communities for the next few years?
In Brighton Center?
Furey: I would love to see a Trader Joe's. One great destination market. A gallery, bookstore, something would be recreational for younger people.
In Allston Village?
Selvig: Allston Village is a tough one. It's a pretty good example of businesses flourishing where there's business to be had. One of the most diverse dining experiences in the world. Adam Smith's invisible hand definitely at work here.
Along Western Avenue?
Ciommo: Many opportunites along Western Ave., unfortunately, they're owned by Harvard. Trader Joe's. We had a plan to bring Trader Joe's here, try to put it near parking lot of Minehan's.
How to bring them in?
Narodick: Work with local universities. Allston Village, are you kidding me, it's 80% restaurants and bars. That's not an economy, that's a food trough.
Selvig: Reinvent yourself and brand Allston Village or Brighton Center as a green shopping district. Environmentally conscious shoppers could go knowing there'd be no plastic bags and the like.
Ciommo: We have two able folks in Main Streets programs working to recruit and retain businesses in both areas.
Furey: We don't have a great transportation system. It's not structured in way to bring outside people into the community to shop. New rail systems, etc.
School rezoning. Should AB have its own school zone?
Furey: I go back and forth on this. I don't necessarily support the plan at this time. Big concern is closing more schools. We are bringing kids in from elsewhere now to fill seats.
Narodick: Yes, but ... First, need assurance we won't lose local schools. Also, ESL kids need access to schools outside area for best and fullest education possible. Need more charters and pilot school.
Ciommo: Do you support betterment of AB schools at expense of Dorchester and Roxbury schools, as might happen with five-zone plan?
Absolutely not. All of the $10 million in savings from busing should be funnelled into those communities. Parental involvement vital.
Would you support AB zone even if it meant closing AB schools?
Yes, I would. If elected, I would send me kid to a public school. If there are no children to fill those buildings then they shouldn't be kept open.
Would we be going back to rich vs. poor issue? Back to 1975? Rich neighborhoods want local schools; poor ones want school choice.
Ciommo: Busing was needed for desegregation in the 1970s. However, our neighborhoods are now diverse. In 1968, AB was pilot for business. We need to be a pilot for moving away from busing.
Furey: We are at risk of moving backward.
Narodick: Segregation isn't just racial. It's economic and cultural as well. We need greater overhaul of entire BPS. Increasing funding for extracurricular activities.
Selvig: One of the reasons I really advocate for neighborhood schools is because I have a son. Lifelong friendships with kids from the playground. If you don't have something that weaves communities together like schools, your sense of community goes away.
Alternatives to cars. What would you do to make public spaces safer and more accessible for cyclists and pedestrians.
Narodick: I don't own a car. We need to bring commuter rail to AB. My top priority would be commuter stops in both Brighton and Allston. More fines and enforcement for drivers to protect bicyclists.
Ciommo: Good example: North Harvard from Western Ave. to Soldiers Field Rd., new bike lanes. It's time for commuter rail to come to Allston/Brighton. Everett Street site would probably serve us best in the long run. We're sick and tired of the commuter rail going from Newton to Yawkey Way without stopping.
What traffic measures should city experiment with in AB?
Furey: Look at Market Street, improve light timing. Pushing for more bike lanes, push for public transportation.
What needs to be done to get people to/from new commuter-rail station?
Selvig. Obviously, bus service to where they live and work. BC and Harvard have incredibly high number of people driving to work. That shows up in our traffic in a daily basis.
Narodick: North Harvard bike lane is still just a parking lot. There are start of a solution, not the end solution. I'd rather see local market than Trader Joe's.
Selvig: There is Model Hardware on Harvard Ave. A number of small stores aren't related to alcohol and food there. I have pledged to bicycle or take public transporation to City Hall if elected.
Ciommo: Traffic cameras from Oak Square to Comm. Ave., down Cambridge, Market streets. One of first measures I took was to meet with city transportation engineers. Very close to synchronizing all the traffic signals from a downtown center, which will improve transportation.
Furey: Commuter rail: We want a transportation system that moves people around AB, not just a single train station.
What two or three changes or improvements would I see four years from now?
Selvig: I would like to see real improvment in Boston Public Schools, see families moving to Boston because of the schools. Quality of life issues: Rats, absentee landlords, real close look at how we're spending our money. Universities really should be ponying up a little more.
What would you do differently from current city councilor for Allston.
Rats. I compare it to a blizzard. It's been four or five months now since it's been on the front page of the Times, and yet nothing has changed.
Appropriate for Ciommo to co-sponsor hearing on BC master plan given his conflict-of-interest statement?
Narodick: No. Even the appearance of a conflict, he should have abstained. Not an issue of the man, but of the system.
Ciommo: It was a hearing about the BRA, no vote taking. I was approached by Councilor Yoon. I was the only one there that has attended all the meetings.
Will you pledge testify on behalf of residents, not institutions before the BRA?
Universities have plenty of paid people advocating on their behalf. If we don't ahve somebody representing us there, we're really going to lose.
Parks and open space?
Doesn't always take a lot of money. All these large projects, you need to include green space.
BC newspapers said AB is in decline. That a fair comment?
They're not the only ones. We have concrete problems, they haven't gotten the financial attention, resources that other neighborhoods get.
What are the problems in the Cleveland Circle/Aberdeen area and what will you do?
I'm pushing BRA to release funds for lighting that was secured during the Reservoir renovation. Should be done soon. I'm also proud of the Cassidy Field fieldhouse reopening.
Does the mayor have too much power? If so, what to do?
Yes, I do. Should be a few more checks and balances. Councilor Yoon proposed hybrid elected/appointed school board, a good idea.
Are charter schools a solution to problems in the BPS? What else could be done?
Furey: Very prickly issue. You're asking me citywide, I'm not running citywide, I keep coming back to the same problem again, of underenrolled schools. I don't see where we have room for additional schools right now. Edison School. Sometimes more choice can lead to less choice. We have lost four schools in five years, we have no more room for losing schools.
What's at root of problem with Boston schools?
Narodick: We have to make sure we have kids in desks in the morning. We can't be putting cart before horse on this one. More after-school arts and athletic programs, after-school vocational programs. Low costs, high impact.
What to do to repair deep divide over BC dorm placement?
Ciommo: Brighton campus was not approved for any dorms. I ran on that in 2007. We are 500 beds shy of 100% on-campus housing of students on campus. That will free up and stabilize people's lives in those areas. Coupled with making AB its own school zone, then we'll be able to attract and retain families.
How to empower community to work against absentee landlords with bad-behavior tenants?
Selvig: This is not a neighborhood in decline. Best thing you can do is make sure you're documenting any incidents and you're reporting things to ISD and really following up on it. We can't rely on city to do everything for us.
How should universities contribute to the neighborhood?
Narodick: Local universities do provide a lot of benefits. Public access to university pools. Civil and criminal litigation clinics at local law schools. Organizations get students into the neighborhoods. Treat universities different than students.
Ciommo: I've been serving community my entire adult life. I know how to get the job done. As youth worker, director of Veronica Smith Center, as city councilor. Working together with EMS to get improved ambulance response times, improve traffic safety around Gardner school, LEED-certified Brighton library, the Brighton High football fieldhouse. I will continue to fight for AB school district. Respond to today's concerns while maintaining vision for tomorrow.
Selvig: I'm a parent, I'm committed to sending my child to the Boston public schools. I been a community activist for many years. I've planted trees, I've cleaned up parks, I've represented my neighbors at City Hall. I'm a businessman, I can look at the city budget in a different way. I can also look at novel ways to increase revenues and efficiencies. Integrity: As your city councilor, we may not always agree on everything, but you will know everything I say will be done in spirit of openness, representing you. Will not take money from people who do not have our neighborhood's best interest at heart.
Furey: Mark said he need to screen his e-mail. Public records are public records. This year you spoke about your Ways and Means work. This year, we borrowed $45 million from rainy-day fund. That won't be available next year. You absolutely did not provide a voice for a large part of the community on the BC issue. Stalled construction, rats, underenrolled schools, lack of green space, institutional expansion. Is this really how we want our community to go? Charlesview? bunched up apartments in a neglected concrete neighborhood.
Narodick: I will reflect every ounce of your issues at City Hall. I have experience no one else here has dealing with institutional expansion. But I'm talking about solutions, not problems. If you don't like my idea, that's OK, we can work together to find a solution. This shouldn't be about political theater, it should be how to make our community going forward. Not everyone here is a candidate, there are candidates and there are politicians at this table.