At a debate at WGBH tonight, Craig Cashman and Liz Breadon made one of their last pitches to voters on why they should replace Mark Ciommo, retiring as the District 9 (Allston/Brighton) city councilor after 12 years. Whoever wins will serve two years.
Among the issues they discussed:
Breadon said the neighborhood's affordable-housing crisis was what led her to announce her candidacy even before Ciommo announched his retirement. She said there are currently 17,000 people on waiting lists for affordable housing in the neighborhood, that the "affordable" units developers of thousands of new units are not actually affordable for many current residents and that the problem is only worsening due to "extortionate speculation" by out-of-town investors.
Breadon said the city needs to up the percentage of new development projects that are set aside for affordable housing from the current 13% to as much as 20%, in part because, unlike some other neighborhoods, Allston/Brighton does not have significant numbers of city-owned vacant lots on which such housing could be built. But she said some projects should go even highter - she pointed to the large Stop & Shop Allston Yards proposal, which she said should be at least 25% affordable, in part because the company already owned the land.
"I think we all feel the suffocation of the development going on in this community," Cashman said. But he said the neighborhood does have government-owned spaces that could be built on for affordable housing, especially after creation of a "community housing trust" that would collect funds from developers for such projects. He pointed to little used DCR land on Leo Birmingham Parkway and land next to the fire station on Chestnut Hill Avenue. "These parcels exist." He suggested that the Jackon-Mann School has enough land to allow for both a new school and housing for the middle class.
Holding institutional land owners to account
Both said some of the neighborhood's large instutions are not really fulfilling their voluntary Payment in Lieu of Taxes payments to the city - in particular Boston College.
Breadon said city assessors need to revalue BC's land - something she said hasn't been done in ten years. And institutions need to better account for the benefits they say they're providing. It's good that BC is providing scholarships for Boston residents, but how many and to whom, she asked.
Cashman said he would force BC and other large institutions to pay the full value of their PILOT payments by threatening to hold up the required BPDA approval they need for any expansion. "Most of them are still trying to expand," and holding up the approval they need would sent a clear message, he said, adding that neighborhoods without large non-profits are earning more in community benefits from private landowners than Allston/Brighton is from the colleges and other institutions with land in the neighborhood. He noted the idea would work particularly well with Harvard, which is seeking BPDA approval for its massive Allston Landing proposal to remake the old Allston rail yard. "We should be having that conversation now," he said.
Cashman called on the state to accelerate development of West Station at the former Allston train yards, which he said would allow not just for another stop on the Worcester Line but as the beginning of a new crosstown line across the Charles River and into and beyond Kendall Square. But he said the more important thing a city councilor could do is advocate for ways to speed up bus service in the neighborhood, from looking at the possibility of bus-only lane and even streets and traffic-signal changes that would turn lights green for oncoming buses. He said Boston also needs to regain a seat on one of the boards that oversees the T.
Breadon said she's aghast at the "huge inequalities" in public transit - such as workers at a local nursing home who spend 90 minutes getting there from their homes in Roxbury and Mattapan. She acknowledged there's a limit to what one city councilor can do, but said that that's where organizing comes in - just like when 500 people showed up one night to save the Faneuil library branch.
Breadon said she supported at-large Councilor Michelle Wu's proposal to charge for residential parking permits if the money raised can be invested in such things as bicycle infrastructure. But she said to really free up spaces for residents, the city needs to address all the Brookline, Newton and out-of-state college students she said not clog up valuable parking spaces in the neighborhood. "It's past time that we address the issue of so many people parking in our neighbrhood who aren't residents of our neighborhood and people from out of state" and ensure that only people who pay excise taxes to Boston can park here.
Cashman opposed the proposal, at least for a resident's first car, saying the city shouldn't be taxing residents even more. He said the city needs to post more streets as "resident only" and to go after people who obviously live in Allston/Brighton but who register their cars elsewhere - he said he and his wife paid $817 in excise this year for their 2018 Highlander while the guy around the corner with the New Jersey plates on his Mercedes is paying Boston nothing. He said establishing a maximum visitor period and then strongly enforcing that would work particularly well with, say, a BC student facing a call from his parents about the bill for towing his car away from Foster Street.
Cashman said he would work with business owners in the neighborhood's business districts to try to get businesses partnering on sharing their existing spaces. He pointed to the almost aways empty Citizens Bank lot in Brighton Center as an example of a lot that might prove valuable for evening valet parking at nearby residents.
Breadon said the city needs to do a better job just putting up signs pointing people to existing municipal lots, such as the one behind the Corrib in Brighton Center or the one behind Blanchard's in Allston. Not everybody knows they're public lots, rather than belonging to the businesses in front of them, she said.
The role of a district city councilor
Breadon said part of her job would be to encourage alliances between Allston/Brighton residents and people in other neighborhoods with similar issues to create greater advocacy on key issues. She pointed to Mission Hill as another neighborhood beset with issues related to institutional expansion. She said she would call on her 20 years as a community activist, on such issues as keeping the Faneuil branch library open and finding a new use for the Presentation School, to fight for such issues.
Cashman said he would focus on constituent issues, right down to something like a situation on Etna Road, where during some door knocking, a resident said he really wanted to see stop signs installed at the intersection with Elmira Street. At the same time, though, he said that after 12 years as a district liason for state Rep. Michael Moran, he realizes that getting anything done takes somebody on the inside, who knows which buttons to push and levers to pull. He said he knows who to call at City Hall and the State House to get things done. "There's no loearning curve for me at this point."
Breadon, a physical therapist, said her job would make her equally adept at community services, because a key part of her job is not just helping patients with direct physical care, but in connecting them and their caretakers with additional services.
Both agreed the process for replacing the Jackson-Mann School has been awful and that BPS simply needs to do a better job both at coming up with a plan to ensure the neighborhood actually gets a good new school and that parents are brought in the loop so they can plan on what to do when the school is torn down.
Both also said the current test system for getting into exam schools needs to be re-evaluated, in part to ensure that poorer BPS students get the same sort of test prep as affluent kids. Breadon suggested adding a point system - a kid who had come up from kindergarten in BPS would get extra points towards exam-school admission.
Breadon also called for more resources for Madison Park, the city's only vocational school, which she said is failing to prepare its students for jobs in the booming Boston economy. She compared Worcester vocational school, which has a waiting list of 200 students, with Madison Park, which she said is so poorly regarded it has 200 empty seats. She addded that Brighton High School, where 65% of the students are either in special-education or English-learning programs, should get more resource from BPS.
Cashman called for expanding the BPS early childhood programs - and said colleges in the city could help BPS make that happen.
Breadon cited the need to better fund Boston public schools - Boston shouldn't have schools where drinking fountains are connected to lead pipes and where the heating doesn't work - and making Allston/Brighton schools safer.
Cashman agreed on the need for fully funding schools, but said he is also concerned that Boston maintain its current good bond rating, because should that decline through too much spending, the city would be unable to meet other priorities - such as building a new Jackson-Mann.