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Town Meeting ’08 Session Two

I take notes during Town Meeting. They are not official in any way. As I listen to people speak, I scribble notes. I’m sure that, at times, I mishear or misunderstand the speaker, but my notes represent what I hear at the time. I then publish the notes every night after the meeting. I do go back and make a few edits as errors are pointed out to me.

I do not try to reproduce my entire notepad for this online version. Sometimes I relay a quote from a specific speaker. Most of the time I only summarize the discussion. At points I give a purely personal opinion; those are clearly labeled like this: Personal note.

The meeting started a few minutes after 8. Charles Gallagher played the national anthem on the piano. Reverend Christine Elliot of Calvary Church, United Methodist gave the invocation.

Moderator Leone reminded that only town meeting members could be on the first floor (with exceptions). He described the voting procedure for the Assistant Town Moderator later that day.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Clarissa Rowe set the next meeting time for May 5. She also announced that the Amber Alert had been resolved and the baby found.

Gordon Jamieson gave a series of announcements about recycling and other environmental programs within the town.

Article 5 – Sign Permitting, part two. Dick Smith moved to reconsider Article 5. He said he had originally voted against it because he didn’t think there had been enough time and debate of proposed amendments. Town Counsel John Maher said that he believed the proposed bylaw was indeed legal, and had consulted with the attorney general’s office. Arlington Redevelopment Board (ARB) Member West explained several amendments that the ARB would propose if the article is reconsidered. He talked about the importance of “esthetically pleasing” signs in town. A speaker was against the original motion and advocated not reconsidering; another was just against reconsidering. A speaker advocated a revote given the questions on the eligibility of certain voters in the first vote. The question was moved. 105 people voted to reconsider the article, and 72 were against. Since reconsideration requires 2/3 vote in Arlington, the article was not reconsidered. The ARB sits on the right side of the hall (facing the front), and I generally sit in the right-hand seats. When standing votes are counted, someone counts the “front of the room” and other people count the sections of the seats. Based on what I saw/heard tonight, it looks like the ARB had been counted twice; Stephen Gilligan was counting them in the “right seats” and the front counter was counting them as “front seats.” If that was true on Monday (and I can’t confirm that), then the “yes” vote on Monday was inflated by duplicate counts of the ARB who all voted to support their motion.

Article 2 – Reports. The article was taken from the table. Charlie Foskett gave the report of the Capital Planning Committee (just in paper, with the verbal to come later). He also asked the Symmes Advisory Committee to be dissolved since the ARB is running the show now. The committee was dissolved.

Article 6 – Neon Signs. With Article 5 failed, Article 6 was voted no action.

Article 7 – Blade and Bracket Signs. With Article 5 failed, Article 7 was voted no action.

Article 13 – Sandwich Board Signs. ARB Member Roland Chaput explained that the article was not ready and would be back next year. Voted no action.

Article 14 – Truck Signs. ARB Member Roland Chaput attempted to explain the article. He said it was to prohibit trucks-as-signs, where the sign was their whole purpose of existence. It would not affect trucks-with-signs, like a regular advertisement on the side of a work vehicle, and the truck actually carried people and equipment or cargo. There was a question about whether it regulated political speech, and Counsel Maher again said that limiting such speech was a bad idea. Note to any reading ARB members: please make sure to write political speech exceptions into future signage articles. Zoning that limits political speech is wrong, it is not enforceable, and it makes it hard for people like me to vote for your articles. And this isn’t a newsflash, either – a quick check of my notes shows that the issue has been in 2004, 2005, and 2006 Town Meetings. There were questions that lead Kevin O’Brien to say that this bylaw only applied to vehicles parked on private property. Chaput later said that it applied to any vehicle that wasn’t moving – private or public property. I spoke to this and gave a series of questions to lead people through this conflict. Really, a very frustrating point. The ARB did not have their act together. They did not have a common understanding of the effect of their proposed bylaw change! Based on what I heard, I think Kevin O’Brien has it right. This zoning change would not affect the sign-trucks that drive through town, or even park on Mass Ave. The bylaw would only affect trucks parked in private lots. Think of someone who isn’t allowed to have a billboard on their property, but parks an 18-wheeler instead and paints it. That would be illegal under this proposal. Several speakers spoke against the article and asked questions about the effect of the bylaw. Several of the speakers said some pretty silly things. One person suggested this bylaw would violate the Interstate Commerce Act; he didn’t have the vaguest clue what he was talking about, and was just trying to scare people into voting against the article. Another suggested that if this article passed some truckers would be unemployed and end up in soup kitchens. Tommy Caccavaro said that “If you don’t like the way Arlington is now, you should move out of town.” Really? If I want to help make Arlington a better place, I should move out? Sorry, I’m sticking around. Gregory Flaherty of the Zoning Bylaw Review committee, and a proponent of the original article spoke. He said that he had thought the bylaw affected trucks on public road. Now that he understood that he didn’t, he thought the article was moot. The article failed. I voted against. The political speech problem, the confusion about what the effect was, and my basic aversion to regulation made this an easy vote.

Article 4 – Election of Assistant Town Moderator. Rich Carreiro and William Logan each spoke for a few minutes. After the break, Rich Carreiro was announced the winner 122-60. I may have the vote count wrong by a few votes.

Article 15 – Home Rule Legislation for Affordable Housing. Clarissa Rowe and Chris Loreti explained that this legislation would enable the town to make deed restrictions on affordable housing in the Symmes project be permanent, not temporary. Those restrictions would apply to families with income up to 120% of the median household income. I spoke against the article because I questioned wisdom of the public policy that provides housing pricing restriction for such a large fraction of the population. I did not want to make that policy permanent. I want to do that speech over again, but with more preparation! I had half of my argument researched, but hadn’t realized how threadbare the other half was. Here’s the short version of what I’m trying to say: It’s one thing to try to provide affordable housing to the small, poorest fraction of the public. It’s another to try to subsidize housing for 2/3 of the population. This proposal does the latter, and it makes the policy permanent. Brian Rehrig, speaking after I did, said that I was opposed to the affordable housing policy. He was both right and wrong. I wasn’t trying to fight the whole policy; I was trying to fight this expansion of the policy. In the final analysis he is correct. I think a better solution for affordable housing is to build more housing. Simply subsidizing some segments of our existing housing stock is an expensive dead-end. But that’s the big picture. In the very specific scope of this article, I was trying, very poorly, to fight an expansion and extension of the policy. I have a slew of other thoughts on this debate, and how I could have made a better case, but I’m running out of time tonight. Several speakers were in favor of the policy. They preferred that there be no “windfall” when the affordability expires. They wanted to preserve the “benefits of the Symmes agreement.” Alan Jones made an amendment to remove some of the more inflammatory language from the first article. Kevin Koch made an amendment to make all of the affordable housing restrictions permanent. Koch’s argument failed. Jones’s argument carried. The main motion carried, 155-3.

Article 16 – The Selectmen are still discussing this, and the article was tabled.

Article 17 – Town Meeting Warrant Opening/Closing. Clarissa Rowe and Town Meeting Procedures Committee Member John Worden explained that the Selectmen were at least partially addressing this through their own internal rule changes. The warrant will remain open until closer to Town Meeting. Voted no action.

Article 18 – Permit the Moderator to Limit Debate for Certain Issues. Worden explained some of the reasons for a it. A series of speakers were opposed to it. The reasons ranged from it being not needed, harming a core value of town meeting, violating the sense of free speech, and preventing debate on important issues. The article failed.

Article 19 – Creation of Affordable Housing Trust. Selectman and Affordable Housing Task Force (AHTF) Member Jack Hurd explained that the Board of Selectme’s recommendation of no action. The article has language problems, as also noted by the Finance Committee. He said that any incoming money would be collected and protected in a proper fund. A vote on a trust would come in the future. Patricia Worden proposed a substitute motion that would create a trust fund, and asked for an extra 4 minutes for her speech, which was granted. Over the next 14 minutes she accused the Board of Selectmen of neglecting their fiduciary responsibility, accused the Finance Committee of not responding to her questions about potential liability, denied that a trust would have any liability for the town, demanded that the AHTF be dissolved, claimed that she had information that a developer on the Brattle Street 40B development had an “inside track,” and claimed that the town would lose a million dollars or more over the next year if the trust was not created. She also said that the Community Preservation Act was not relevant to the discussion. She believes that the trust fund, controlled by trustees, was the appropriate governmental vehicle (along with the Arlington Housing Authority) to manage Arlington’s affordable housing work. Charlie Foskett spoke next and said that the trust would certainly carry liability for the town. He invited members to look at the authorizing legislation and make their own judgement. He suggested that the trust’s power to hire, fire, enter contracts, purchase property, and manage property were activities that inherently carried liability. He asked a question of Town Counsel, but the meeting adjourned before his answer. I will absolutely be voting no action. I’ve talked to several members of the AHTF, and they all believe that a special account will be enough. There will be no money lost. The trust is not needed. As far as I can tell, only the Wordens think this is a good idea.


Comment from RichC
Time: May 1, 2008, 6:15 am

Arlington REDEVELOPMENT Board, not Arlington RETIREMENT Board.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 1, 2008, 9:00 am

Fixed, thanks.