Friday, December 12, 2008


Students Push for Composting

By Chelsea Rice

BROOKLINE— While visiting relatives in San Francisco this summer, Eli Bloch admired the city’s recycling and composting systems.

The sophomore at Brookline High School and Roi Arkori-Karlinsky, a fellow sophomore, approached town officials early this month to propose a change in recycling. But officials at the Solid Waste Advisory said town composting and single stream recycling systems weren’t possible for another two years because of a lack of land resources for composting and lower paper quality the recycling will produce.

“So for now we thought a good place to get started was the high school,” Bloch said.

Brookline schools have increased their recycling by 50 percent this year, and more than tripled their output of paper recycling, according to the Solid Waste Advisory Committee. But high schools have been less successful than the elementary schools, which have designated recycling faculty members and promoted education with field trips to the recycling centers.

Students in the Environmental Action club are trying to create a compost program at the school in the next year to reduce trash levels and to save the town money.

“I wanted to make a bigger impact and not just do it in the school,” said Karlinsky, who joined the environmental club last year after his history teacher showed him how humans are using up the earth. “It is kind of scary the way we are wasting the resources.”

Seventy percent of American trash is compostable, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Last year, the town collected 10,990 tons of trash, which cost $156 per ton to dump in landfills, according to the Solid Waste Advisory Committee.

The town is trying to reduce the waste in landfills, said Ed Gilbert, the town official on the committee.

At the high school each week, students in the environmental club empty the paper recycling bins in the classrooms and the comingle (all plastic, glass and aluminum) receptacles on each hallway, which the town provided this year.

“I like the idea of kids taking care of their surroundings,” said John Dempsey, a retired principal and member of the committee. “It teaches them that they aren’t above taking the trash out.”

Despite the benefits to composting, the committee said Brookline does not have an area large enough to compost the town’s food waste. The mayor implemented single stream recycling (which does not sort recyclable materials) in the City of Boston this year. Although it is more convenient, it would earn $12,000 less town revenue a month, according to the committee’s research.

“We just don’t have the capacity to do it yet,” Gilbert said.

In the schools, the committee said that the main difference between the progress at the elementary and high schools is the students.

“It’s because [high school students] are already involved in so many activities,” said Adam Mitchell, a member of the committee. “It needs to be institutionalized at the administrative and custodial level.”

School custodians said they are already understaffed and cannot help more. If the students want recycling efforts to increase, it should be their responsibility, said Bob Larkin, senior custodian at Brookline High School.

The committee recommended that Bloch and Karlinsky organize an audit to engage the students and encourage them to get involved.

“A majority of kids do not recycle, because it’s a hassle, or they don’t really care or they don’t really know,” Karlinsky said. “People are reckless and they don’t tend to listen, but you do get through to some and it makes it worth it.”


Slow Advances in Campaign Transparencies
By Chelsea Rice

BROOKLINE —The transparency around campaign financing will soon receive a technology boost, but town leaders are still frustrated with a lack of campaign financing regulation.

Elected officials’ campaign financing records are still manually scanned into computers and posted in large files onto Brookline’s town website. The Committee on Campaign Finance, which formed five years ago in response to growing campaign expenditures in selectmen races, met on Sept. 24 to outline plans for a software system that will make collecting, processing, and viewing the data easier. In 2003 the committee found the old forms inadequate by state ethics standards, said officials.

“The database would allow the committee and any interested citizen to find out about who is doing what, who is giving heavily, how much [the candidate] is raising and what percentage is coming from outside Brookline,” said Frank Farlow, the chair of the committee on Campaign Finance.

The state government implemented a similar system in 2004, according to the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission’s website.

“This isn’t something that’s new,” said Craig Bolon, the finance committee’s designated software developer. “It’s just about the same thing they’re doing all around the country.”

Nancy Daly, chair of the Board of Selectmen, said the new system seeks to make campaign financing sources more accessible and easier to understand.

This data system would increase the efficiency which the committee and the public can monitor campaign spending, but it will still not meet the primary objective of the committee, to restrict spending in campaigns, said Farlow.

Since 2004, the committee has researched the ethics and law behind limiting the amount campaigns can spend. According to the report released by the committee, selectmen races spend the most extravagantly.

“They are much more expensive than the other campaigns,” Farlow said. “It felt excessive and people who were able to raise the most [money] basically won.”

Since the Board of Selectmen rejected the committee’s proposal to allow it to limit campaign spending, the new software system to increase transparency in campaigns has been the committee’s only task at hand. It will be another two or three years before that system takes effect.

The committee began to meet less than a year ago. Composed of five Brookline residents, the town clerk or designee, and an appointee of the Board of Selectmen, the committee hopes its new software will help it to achieve its original goals.

Housing and Development

Resurrecting Ashes at Sewall Avenue

By Chelsea Rice

BROOKLINE—Six months ago, a turn-of-the-century Victorian home on Sewall Avenue burned to the ground. Now there is an empty lot—and neighbors want to know what will become of it.

On a recent evening, the developer invited residents to a design meeting for 109 Sewall Ave. But many neighbors blamed the developer for the fire, even though Feurman is no longer a suspect, according to the Fire Department.

Because no one has yet been charged with the arson, neighbors are frustrated with the unresolved case and still point their fingers at the developer, who is building new single-family units on the lot.

“I’m totally against this,” said 60-year-old Janet Wynn, who lives at 108 Sewall Ave. “How can they go ahead and approve the new development when they haven’t yet figured out who is responsible for the arson?”

Developer Jeff Feurman, who neighbors suspect for the Victorian’s destruction, plans to redevelop the lot into a residential building with eight units, for $1.5 million each, and two affordable housing units, for $200,000 each.

The town Planning Board, which approves development plans and handles zoning, formed the design group in July to ensure the new development took into account the neighbors’ concerns.

In the brick units across the street, neighbors worry that the new development would block the sun in their courtyard, and that it will not be consistent with the neighborhood’s 1920’s architecture. Residents and architects Ai Kurokawa and Arjun Mande attend the design meetings regularly to confront these issues.

“I’m happy to be working with the neighborhood on this one,” Feurman said. “I know [the neighborhood was] upset when the old house burned down, and they obviously just needed to point the finger at somebody, but now I want to make sure they are happy [with the development].”

Since the last meeting in September, Feurman and the design group have negotiated the building’s height, proximity to the street, and entrance. The design is now the primary concern.

The group’s next step is to reform the new design that Feurman presented Oct. 21, which was “too contemporary and almost institution looking,” said Lara Curtis, a senior staff member of the Planning Board who attended the recent design group meeting at the Old Lincoln School.

Feurman lived behind the old house when he attended Boston University and wanted to buy it for the past 20 years. Feurman said he used to call the owner on a regular basis, waiting for the house to go on the market in his price range.

“The Brookline Tab flat out asked me if I burned it down,” Feurman said. “I couldn’t believe they would ask me such a thing.”

“I was devastated [when the house burned down],” Feurman said.

Feurman denies the arson accusations and said he has lost money from the ordeal. According to Lara Curtis, a member of the design group from the Planning Board, zoning limits the new development to a smaller scale than the original house.