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PAX 2023 Newsletter

Co-Chair’s Column – Marty Rosenthal

As always, I’ll first recap some recent PAX actions and successes. In no particular order:

  • Strong lobbying of the Select Board to appoint a qualified, internal Chief of Police candidate, resulting in the selection of Jennifer Paster.
  • With a recent Board vote: (i) recognizing the current housing affordability crisis, including in Brookline, and (ii) acknowledging that we’re watching Mayor Wu’s proposal and related discussions with particular interest, (iii) supporting Gov. Healey’s stated support for locally debated and enacted rent control/stabilization, and (iv) urging Brookline’s leaders to ASAP form a committee to study potential Brookline rent control/stabilization proposals.
  • Board members Bob Weintraub and Julie Johnson worked for months on a PAX 60th Anniversary Identity Statement – it’s on our website (
  • Supported legislation granting undocumented MA residents the right to obtain drivers licenses.
  • Endorsed (and worked hard for) Board Member Tommy Vitolo, a longtime progressive Brookline leader, who won a decisive 62-38% victory in a high-profile primary. We also backed public defender Mara Dolan for Governor’s Council. We’re delighted she’s running again!
  • PAX co-sponsored last June’s Boston-Cuba Solidarity Coalition and Boston DSA’s online event, “60 Years of Resistance: Perspectives on the US Blockade of Cuba”
  • With (both previously PAX-endorsed) Bernard Greene and Nancy Daly, and strong PAX support, we worked hard to pass last Fall’s Article 31, putting to rest 3 years of seriously flawed attempts by the Town’s Diversity Commission to adjudicate complaints (crazily parallel to existing HR and Police procedures) by Commissioners who admit they lack necessary skills.

Our 2023 endorsements

Speaking for both the forest and bottom lines of PAX Board’s supermajority endorsements, and adding some opinionated trees of my own, Town government, especially the Select Board, has been stressed for several years, not by lack of effort, but by insufficient experience, inadequate collaborative leadership, and huge divisiveness, including among progressives. One corrosive symptom has been enabling abysmal morale in our (always improve-able, as many of us have been doing) exemplary Police Department, epitomized by a misguided and disastrous crusade to hire an outside Chief. (Google: “Brookline Chief Gonzales” if you dare) We welcome the appointment of Jennifer Paster as our new Chief, and suggest the worst may be over, in part, by in 2022 electing Mike Sandman, and more recently by electing Bernard Greene Select Board Chair.

And so, for 2023, we enthusiastically endorse John VanScoyoc and Paul Warren for Select Board. Yes, we’ve occasionally disagreed with each of them. Nonetheless, they are, individually and collectively, the two best candidates.

John can be more fiscally conservative and protective of taxpayers than PAX; but he’s very solid on climate, supports our unions (including Police) and is respectful of our neighborhoods. He listens well, and often finds sorely-needed common ground. He may hold the record for most meetings voluntarily attended by a Select Board member. His long service, including as Advisory Committee Chair, is obviously a significant plus.

Paul’s also left his mark, as an active Town Meeting and Advisory Committee member. Outspoken and passionate, he’s also pragmatic, and shown great leadership skills, including as a founder of Brookline by Design, which, as measured by last year’s election results, most of Brookline supports. We’ve disagreed with Paul on cannabis dispensaries, but we agree on most policies, and we sorely need his substantial executive experience and leadership skills.

Arden Reamer is a relative newcomer to Town government, and we’re more troubled by her policy choices than we are of John’s and Paul’s, like opposing Article 31 with her anti-union, anti-good-government votes. She’s also supporting a reckless rezoning of Harvard Street. These, and a lack of experience in Town government, show she just isn’t ready for Brookline’s top job.

For School Committee, the seat vacated by Jennifer Monopoli is competitive, and we enthusiastically endorse active Ridley School parent Chris Mutty. The eight remaining School Committee members have endorsed Chris’ opponent.  Our School Committee, which can be far too debate-averse, would benefit from Chris’s independent voice.

For Housing Authority, Susan Cohen is a progressive no-brainer. A former PAX Board Member, professionally and personally she’s been an affordable housing advocate for decades.  Her opponent’s lived experience notwithstanding, broader skills and experience are required to be an effective member of the Brookline Housing Authority. Sue has hard-earned another term.

Our Town Meeting endorsements are based on a combination of voting records, questionnaire answers, and personal knowledge, and this year’s reflect a mix of incumbents, and enthusiastic newcomers. We’ve endorsed 77 candidates out of a total of 129 running for 87 open seats. 

Vote YES on Question 1 (Pierce School)- Lisa Sears, PAX Board member

The most controversial of the Ballot Questions, Brookline desperately needs a new Pierce School. For educational, equity, and financial reasons, Brookline voters must vote YES to fund it.

Pierce houses 700+ K-8 students in a building designed for 550. 250+ kids and the library function daily in one, multi-story open space, without walls, a difficult learning environment. Pierce is inaccessible to children and adults with mobility impairments. Kids with hearing or other limitations cannot fully participate at Pierce–they must be reassigned to schools further away. Voting YES would approve a 21st century, modern, safe, accessible, and appropriately-sized new school, and will ensure that Brookline receives state reimbursement of approximately $36 million.

Question 1 presents the most cost-effective way to quickly resolve Pierce’s flaws. There is no realistic, less expensive alternative. Opponents argue, speculatively, that Pierce’s issues could be addressed for less, by renovating Pierce, or building on a nearby park. The Town studied both options, and rejected them, for very good reasons. Renovating Pierce to meet only safety requirements would cost nearly as much as rebuilding, while reducing capacity — and leaving accessibility problems unresolved. Another opponents’ “proposal,” building a school on a Town park, would require complicated land transfers; even then, the park is really not large enough to accommodate the school. And, parks are precious, especially in very dense North Brookline. Further delay will only increase costs and prolong an inequitable learning environment. Public schools have been a very high PAX priority for our now six decades. Pierce is a disgrace. Kids are being disserved. If not now, when? No more studies. It’s beyond time for ACTION!

Vote YES on adequately funding both School and Town operating budgets

Questions 2a and 2b – Brookline has an operating budget gap, in which our School and Town expenses grow faster each year than our Town revenues, given legal limits imposed by Proposition 2½, a Reagan-era state law. Failing to pass the operating override will cause devastating cuts to Town and School services, including teacher layoffs, and cuts in critical Town services, and stifle the introduction of important new programs, including townwide composting.

Vote NO cannabis dispensaries’ licenses cap – Question 3 – by Donelle O’Neal, Board member

PAX, for decades, pushed for legalizing cannabis, Lacking organized Question 3 opposition, Neil, Marty, and Board member Donelle O’Neal wrote the Town’s No argument.  Question 3 is the latest effort of persistent, vocal, well-intentioned anti-cannabis activists to limit Brookline cannabis sales. Brookline voted 61-39% to legalize cannabis, and Town Meeting has consistently voted against unreasonable restrictions.  Question 3 proponents misleadingly argue that Town Meeting voted to restrict licenses, but many TMM’s merely thought that voters should decide. Brookline’s granted four of its five authorized licenses, and a new Cannabis Equity Policy likely will reserve another for Social Equity applicants, partially mitigating adverse, racially-tinged impacts on populations disproportionally harmed by prohibition, from 1936’s Reefer Madness, through Nixon’s War on Drugs, and beyond. Limiting licenses won’t reduce consumption, including by teens for whom it’s obviously risky. It would just foreclose a Social Equity license, and shift some purchases to Boston, reducing needed tax revenue.

The Elephant (on Harvard St)Neil Gordon and Marty Rosenthal, PAX Co-chairs

Perhaps the most important and long-term impactful vote(s) Brookline Town Meeting in 2023 will be zoning changes to comply with the MBTA Communities Act, which might require a minimum land area of 41 acres, and multi-family unit capacity of almost 7,000 units. To reach this goal, the Planning Department included not only Harvard Street, but contiguous Stearns Rd, Littell Rd, Alton Ct, St. Paul St., Webster Pl, Kent St., Station St., Stedman St. and Beals St.

The proposed Harvard St. Plan eliminates requirements for commercial space, including on first floors. It allows, by right, replacing current businesses with first floor residential units, or maybe parking, ignoring the need for open space — for mostly luxury housing.

Development by right would seriously threaten existing, mostly local businesses, mostly walkable (including for nearby seniors) —  and the commercial vitality of Harvard Street.

The proposed plan will likely also reduce our limited supply of moderately priced housing, and disrupt neighborhoods. When developers have free rein, money talks, like luxury units replacing more modestly priced ones.

We and others have lobbied for modifications to deadlines and guidelines, and the identification of less drastic options for complying. We believe that viable alternatives exist, e.g., a plan that doesn’t rely on trusting developers to do the right thing for anyone but themselves. A viable alternative could comply with the law, and at the same time let us craft a better plan, including for significant parts of Harvard Street, adding sorely-needed truly affordable housing, while protecting the business district, neighborhoods, and our commercial tax base.

Important update: After considerable pressure from PAX Board members and others, the Select Board appointed a committee, chaired by former Select Board member Dick Benka, to study and present alternatives to Harvard St.

Progress on Beacon HillTommy Vitolo, State Rep. & Board Member

The 193rd Session of the Massachusetts House of Representatives is in full swing: bills have been assigned to committees, hearings have begun, and the FY24 budget debate has begun. I’m thrilled to continue serving as Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws and as a member of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs, the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development, and the House Committee on Steering, Policy, and Scheduling. Over the past several months, I’ve been hard at work expanding my progressive policy portfolio. I’ve filed 30 pieces of legislation that focus on gun safety, racial and gender equity, building electrification, commuter transit benefits, supporting our seniors, and more.

I am proud to live in a state with strong gun safety laws. Continued mass shootings and recent Supreme Court rulings have made it clear that we must do everything we can to keep residents of Massachusetts safe from gun violence. This session I filed H2359 An Act to prohibit carrying firearms in sensitive places with Representative Linsky (Natick). This bill would prohibit the possession of firearms in sensitive locations, including buildings used for government administration, locations providing health services, places of worship, libraries, public playgrounds, parks, schools, locations providing youth or developmental services, locations providing mental health or addiction services, homeless shelters, colleges and universities, public transportation, airports, bus and train terminals, bars, stadiums, theaters, museums, casinos, active polling places, public sidewalks being used for special events, and shopping malls.

Creating a more equitable Commonwealth begins with recognizing the biases that have been codified within our laws. H1811 An Act relative to petit treason, filed with Senator DiDomenico (Everett) eliminates “petit treason” from Massachusetts General Laws. A legacy of English colonial rule, a petit treason occurs in Massachusetts when a servant kills their master or mistress; when a wife kills her husband; or when a clergyman kills his superior. Mark and Phillis, two enslaved people who murdered their enslaver in 1775 in Charlestown, were tried and convicted of petit treason in Massachusetts and brutally executed. Petit treason remains on the books as a racist and misogynistic result of our colonial past and has no place in our Massachusetts laws today.

To meet our climate goals, we must electrify all buildings in the Commonwealth by 2040 and the best place to start is with new construction and major renovations. H3236 An Act sparking the construction of 21st century building filed with Senator Payano (Lawrence) ensures that newly constructed buildings have a reduced carbon footprint as compared to current building codes. The legislation requires the next iteration of the Stretch Energy Code to require building to be ready for solar panels and for the Specialized Stretch Energy Code to require solar panel installation for all buildings where solar is practical. All new government buildings would be required to comply with the Specialized Stretch Energy Code. The bill also requires that when the base code is updated, it must include all the energy efficiency requirements of the prior Stretch Energy Code.

Expanding our existing commuter transit benefit program to include individual MBTA fares, Regional Transit Authority (RTA) fares, and bikeshare memberships is essential to making this program regionally equitable and inclusive. H2973 filed with Representative Owens (Watertown) and Senator Keenan (Quincy) expands the current commuter transit tax deduction to include MBTA and RTA transit, bus, commuter rail, and ferry fares, as well as bikeshare memberships. The bill also allows more people to take advantage of the deduction by lowering the threshold eligible for deduction from $150 to $50.

It is essential that we support older adults in aging in place while also ensuring that municipalities have access to the tax revenue needed to provide vital services. To address this issue, I filed H2974 with Representative Rogers (Cambridge) and Senator Jehlen (Somerville). We seek to improve the current senior property tax deferral program by (a) eliminating the requirement that the senior be a 5-year resident of that home and a 10-year resident of Massachusetts, (b) increasing the income eligibility to the same standard of eligibility for the senior circuit breaker tax credit, (c) reducing the default interest rate from 8 percent to a rate based on recent state or local bond rates, (d) delaying the interest rate increase to 16 percent from the day of the senior’s passing to one year later to allow family members the time necessary to settle the estate, and (e) requiring the municipality to inform participants of their current balance at least annually.

I’m excited to continue working on these bills and many others. Together with my colleagues in the Progressive Caucus, I will work to move the Commonwealth toward more progressive outcomes related to climate change, the safety and reliability of our transit system, education from pre-K to higher ed, and equity and justice. Please don’t hesitate to reach out about these bills, another policy, or anything else that may be on your mind.

Protecting Reproductive Rights – Val Frias, School Committee member

The June 24, 2022, U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization returned the issue of abortion access to the states, and shortly after the Dobbs decision, new and so-called “trigger” laws in 26 states meant that as many as 33 million persons capable of being pregnant do not or will not have access to safe abortion services. At the same time, many of the states restricting abortion have also passed laws banning or restricting gender-affirming care. In response, the Governor of Massachusetts in July 2022 signed the law “An Act Expanding Protections for Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Care.” That Act, put forward by the ROE Coalition of Reproductive Equity Now, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU and building on the advances of the previously passed ROE Act, anticipated the influx of pregnant people from abortion-banning states seeking care in Massachusetts and, crucially, protects abortion providers and patients from out-of-state lawsuits and extradition. While many are confident that, with those Acts, Massachusetts is a “safe haven” for abortion and for gender-affirming care, even here we still have challenges from anti-abortion individuals and organizations, as well as a vocal and hostile population opposed to gender-affirming care.

Municipalities have therefore been urged, if possible, to take local action affirming a local commitment to reproductive and gender-affirming care. The city of Salem, MA, has done so with a local ordinance, and Brookline Town Meeting will soon take up a proposed by-law that borrows from the Salem ordinance’s language. Brookline has a compelling governmental interest in promoting public health and protecting people seeking or providing reproductive health care services against harassment and legal penalties from states where such services have been curtailed, eliminated, and/or criminalized. By enacting a by-law, Brookline will be unequivocal in its commitment to enforcing the state’s safe haven provisions. The proposed bylaw is a natural partner to Brookline’s first-in-the-nation 2019 by-law ensuring free access to menstrual products, and this new proposed by-law puts these provisions together in a single by-law addressing reproductive and gender-related health care and equity of access, explicitly including transgender and gender-diverse communities.

Late Breaking News: Most recently, a federal court judge in Texas struck down the use of mifepristone, an FDA-approved drug used for medical abortion. In the U.S., the less invasive and effective medical abortion in the first trimester accounts for more than half of all terminations. An appeals court has temporarily reinstated use – with significant restrictions, including that the pill can only be prescribed by a doctor and cannot be mailed, meaning women will have far less access. As this case winds its way to the Supreme Court, enacting a local by-law is all the more critical. 

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