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The RMV, and Why I Can't Stand It
I bought a motorcyle in 1999. I didn't ride it too often, but it was fun when I did. It gave me mobility that my bicycle couldn't always provide. I put it up for sale last fall. I advertised it on craigslist, fielded a few emails, had a few visitors, and sold it to a nice woman in western Mass. This is where the story gets unhappy.
When I signed the title over to her, I signed it over with a mileage of 8300 miles. The problem is, the title listed a mileage of 43,000! It should have read 4300. The original title that I'd obtained in 1999 was wrong, but I'd never noticed. I'd got the title and filed it away without a second thought. So we're clear: I'm partly at fault in all of this. I should have noticed the error on the title and corrected it then, back in 1999.
When she tried to register the motorcyle, she couldn't. The RMV wouldn't give her a title. Of course, this was a problem for her. She couldn't register or insure the motorcycle, and couldn't ride it.
We filed an application for a correction of the title. We paid the fee. I signed a statement in front of a Notary Public that said, under penalties of perjury, that I swore the mileage on the original title was in error.
It was the winter, so no big deal - no motorcyle riding. I got a letter from the RMV saying that the application had been rejected. It was a form letter with some check marks. I wasn't clear about the problem, so I called the title division's help number from the letter. They said that they needed a statement from the previous owner that the mileage was in error. We'd already filed that, so I couldn't figure out why the application was denied. The person told me to re-apply.
I had a morning off from work (I was on the late shift). I called the number again and asked if I could resolve the issue by going to the RMV in person and dropping off the forms. I was told that I could. So, later that week I went to the RMV in downtown Boston. When I got there, the woman took my paperwork and went into the back room. She came back and told me that I had to talk to the title division, and that I couldn't do this in person. I asked some questions, took my paperwork, and went to the back of the room. I used my cell phone and called the title division a third time, told them what had just happened, and told them where I was. They told me that I had to provide a notarized statement from the person that I had purchased the motorcyle from. I told them I didn't have the person's contact information. They told me to check my records. I told them I didn't have the information anymore, but they did - it would have been on the original title. The person on the phone told me to ask the RMV main desk. So, I concluded my call, and waited in line again at the RMV. The person at the desk told me that she couldn't provide the information on the previous title holder. I explained the story. She still didn't help. She pointed to her boss's office and told me to ask there. The supervisor explained that federal law prohibits her from providing the title information. I left the RMV.
I tried to track down the original owner of the motorcycle. This isn't easy. I talked to they guy once, seven years ago. I have his phone number in my notes, but there is no answer. The bill of sale didn't have his address. I even drove around the town I bought the motorcyle (Leominster) and tried to find his house, but I couldn't. I wrote a new application for a new title, a new check for the title correction fee, and signed a new, notarized statement under penalties of perjury that stated the mileage when I bought and sold the title. I sent it signature requried to the title division of the RMV in Boston.
According to the Post Office website, I mailed it on May 19. It got to the Boston Post Office the next day. Today is May 30, and no one has even picked it up. There have been 6 full business days since it arrived, and the RMV hasn't even signed for the mail. Check it for yourself at the USPS website enter receipt number 2301 3460 0001 9516 9888.
So, here I sit, waiting for the RMV to read its mail. I'm hoping that the two $25 checks buy me a remedy for the mistake I made in 1999. I'm hoping they read my mail (eventually) and come to conclusion that I'm a truthful person, I've put my name on the dotted line, and I've done diligence to confirm my statements.
The really sad part of this story isn't mine. I got my money. It's the woman I sold this motorcyle to. She's owned the bike for almost 8 months, and she hasn't been able to ride it. If nothing else, I hope the RMV helps me straighten this out for her sake.
Tour de Mac
Bobby Mac is a minor legend in Boston/New York cycling circles. He's on the rainy side of 55 years old, legally blind, and bikes thousands of miles every year. He developed most of his reputation helping the Boston/New York Aids Ride. He still works vigorously for AIDS research, but there is a ride this spring in his name: the Tour de Mac. I'm traveling this weekend, but I ponied up some dough - don't you think you should too?
This is sponsored by one of my favorite Arlington businesses: Quad Cycles.
I was in New Orleans for JazzFest a couple of weeks ago. (It's an annual pilgrimmage that I could go on for pages about). I was standing in line at one of the food stands, waiting for the next batch of gumbo to be ready (mmmmmmmmm. gumbo.). Another guy walked up and asked if they had any gumbo, and I said it would be a few minutes. I was wearing my Red Sox hat, and he asked me what the score for yesterday's game was. He asked if I was from Boston, and I told him I was from Arlington, just outside Boston.
He said he lived in Arlington, too.
Now, I ask you, what are the odds that with a town of 42,000 people, at a festival of 60,000 people, in a city of 250,000 people, that the two people waiting in line for gumbo live less than two miles apart, but 1500 miles away?
His name was Mike Duke. He's a musician who has performed at Jazzfest, but this year was enjoying the fest and doing a few gigs at night. Anyone have his email?
Town Meeting 2006
Here are my notes for Town Meeting 2006.
Article 20 - Venner Road
I learned a lot more about this article (which will probably be voted on May 8) from people at tonight's Selectmen's meeting. I haven't heard the whole story yet, but I'll relay it as I understand it at this time. In 1942, the town "took" the right to expand the roads over the lot without actually taking (owning) the property (The town paid $2100 for the limited propery right that it purchased). In the last 65 years it has become clear that the town doesn't need the right to expand anymore. Things like Route 2 made the requirement obsolete. Now, the owner wants the land back so they have room/can fund a handicap-accessible addition that is accessible for their aging patriarch. Tonight, the Selectmen voted 3-2 that they would do this, but only if they get 50% of the proceeds of any sale.
This seems very excessive to me. It would be one thing if the town owned the land, or even had the right to access the land, but it doesn't. It only has the option to build roads. For reasons that aren't clear to me, the selectmen have decided to use this to lever as much money as possible out of the land. The town can legally block development with the property right that it holds. But, that right isn't actually as valuable as 50% of the proceeds. Requesting 50% feels like we're taking advantage of the property holders' situation. I'm reminded of 2002's Article 25. The town realized that it held a negotiating card, and began to behave like a robber baron, extracting money regardless of value. I hope we can avoid that in this case.
I won't be surprised to see a motion on Monday to simply concede the property rights for free. That isn't quite fair either. In 1942 the town paid the owner during the "taking." The rights have a value, and the value isn't zero.
I'm hoping that someone proposes a middle ground. During the debate tonight, some selectmen advocated $20,000 for a specific set of conditions on the property. Those sound reasonable, and I think I'd be in favor of any terms along those lines.
50% is too high. $0 is too low. There is a happy medium to be found on Town Meeting floor.
The Cost of Symmes Settlement
The Symmes lawsuits are settled. It appears that the last major obstacle to the development on the Symmes site is past. But what was the cost of that settlement?
Over the next several years, there will be hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours spent in Arlington trying to provide housing for lower income people (also known as "affordable housing."). There will be many more thousands (millions?) paid by people who buy housing in Arlington at prices higher than they need to be. The next time you hear someone complain about the cost of housing in Arlington - tell them to complain about the Symmes development.
I'd like to thank the voters of Precinct 11 for their support on election day. I will strive to make you proud that you voted for me.
Asking For Your Vote on April 1
To the voters of Precinct 11:
Iíve served as your Town Meeting Member for 4 years. Iíve researched issues, sought input from people in our precinct, and done the job with diligence and integrity. My voting record and reasoning are available here on my website - click the links on the left-hand navigation. I believe that you'll read that I'm thoughtful and rational. I take the job seriously. My attendance over the 4 years is one meeting short of perfect.
I respectfully ask for your vote in the election on April 1.
Vote Yes on April 1
The town votes on Saturday whether to increase the sales of liqour in Arlington. There hasn't been too much debate on this. The late addition to the ballot inhibited the creation of any serious support or opposition. The Advocate wrote a story about it.
I heartily endorse YES votes for both questions. The last time the town voted to create liquor licenses for restaurants, it started a dining renaissance in town. I'm sure the opponents of that change made dark predictions about crime, underage drinking, and drunk driving. The predictions did not come true. I don't think this round of licenses is any more likely to lead to problems.
I trust the selectmen to be smart with the new licenses, both restaurant and liquor. Wouldn't it be nice to have a place in town to pick up a bottle of wine? Somewhere to pick up your supplies for the party, without going to Lexington or Medford? I hope it can happen here.
Superintendent Levenson and FY07
On Monday the new schools superintendent, Nate Levenson, presented his budget to the Finance Committee. When we walked into the room on Monday I didn't have an opinion about him either way. I had heard a few generally positive reports about his performance, and I had heard about the mini-controversy about his contract. His budget presentation blew me away. When he left the room, I was a convert. He has earned my respect and support.
It started with the budget document that I received a few days before the meeting. (A less detailed, but still good-quality version of the budget is available on the schools' website). The budget was easy to read. It showed where the money actually would go. It showed the changes that he was making. It showed why he suggested those changes. It was a document that made the budget transparent and understandable by virtually anyone who read it.
In person, he stepped through the priorities that he and the school committee had committed to. He explained the limitations of his funding. He showed how he could re-allocate the money that he had to better align with the goals that had been stated. He showed the areas where he was spending less and where he was spending more. He mapped each choice to his goals.
This was the key point of the presentation. He didn't simply do what was done last year, and add three percent, and announce new initiatives. When I argued against the overrides in 2003 and 2005, I argued that the town wasn't being smart about its priorities. The town is spending money based on what it spent last year, not on what it actually needs and wants. Money is being wasted on services that aren't that important. Superintendent Levenson took his budget and did exactly what I've asked for. By defining priorities and spending to support them, he's spending the town's money wisely.
If the Town Manager is doing this type of evaluation, it's being done somewhere that I can't see it. The town-side of the government (as opposed to the "school-side") needs to apply this type of rigor.
This presentation helped me make up my mind about I should vote for in Saturday's election for School Committee. Anyone who could see the potential of this man and hire him has earned my vote. I'll be voting on Saturday for Sue Sheffler and Jeff Theilman.
The Risks of Symmes
As most everyone knows, the development of the Symmes property is being delayed by two lawsuits. A few (four) Arlington residents have essentially stopped the project in its tracks.
The town is incurring large costs because of the delay, and the costs are growing. For every month that the deal is delayed, the town pays interest on the money it borrowed to buy the property. Every quarter that the deal is delayed, the town does not receive the expected property tax revenue. These are costs that will never be recovered. Each month the deal is delayed, the revenue from building permits is delayed. This cost will be largely recovered, eventually, but not entirely. This adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
There has been some hand-wringing about how a few individuals are holding the entire town hostage. There is a sentiment that these individuals are responsible, and they should be pressured to drop the lawsuit. I think this blame is misplaced. The original mistake was when the town bought the land.
The town should not have risked its money this way. It was inappropriate to put the taxpayers on the hook for what was essentially a real estate investment. Didn't people realize that a lawsuit was almost inevitable? Did the risk of changing property values, lawsuits, and interest rates just not seem like a big deal? When the town bought the land, it became a developer. The town does not have the skills to be a developer. Furthermore, it doesn't have the legal protections of a developer. If this lawsuit were against a private individual, they could counter-sue for tortious interference. The town has no such protection, and has no recourse.
I'm told that the land court takes two years to resolve cases like this one. I hope it doesn't take that long. I hope the case settles, and the town stops losing money. And, I hope we learn our lesson. I hope this near-miss teaches the town not to get involved where it shouldn't.
How Town Meeting is Raising the Cost of Housing
It is intuitive to me that the more regulation and restriction that the town imposes on building, that fewer and fewer building projects will be undertaken. This crimps the supply of housing and, inevitably, the price of housing rises. (See Supply and Demand on Wikipedia if this relationship isn't obvious). When items come up at Town Meeting that restrict new construction, I judge them with a skeptical eye. There is a high standard to be met before I will favor a restriction.
Unfortunately, during Town Meeting debate, I usually don't have any hard data to back up my position. It's clear to me that development restrictions lead to high housing costs, but how do I prove that to the other members of Town Meeting? Happily, someone has recently completed a study of the effects of regulation on housing costs. The Globe story about the report is here: Housing slowdown blamed on local rules. The actual report can be found here: Land-Use Regulation and Housing Prices: A Study Based on Data from 187 Communities in Eastern Massachusetts. And, for a special Arlington twist, a detailed report on Arlington's development history: In Arlington, aversion to apartments turned the tide against growth (they want your email address to register, but that is it).
It is frustrating to me, at Town Meeting, that the same people stand up and support these restrictive articles, and simultaneously complain about the cost of housing. It would be one thing if someone stood up and said, "I'm in favor of this. It's going to keep our town small. I know that means high housing prices, but I'm willing to pay them, and I accept that the side effects." But that isn't what happens. The same person will stand up and say "We have to protect our wetlands! We have have to protect our open spaces! I abhor high density housing!" and then, on the next article, stand up and say "Why is it so expensive to live in this town? Why won't the town do something to lower the cost of housing?" These people need to understand that their actions have repercussions.
A quick review of my notes (see left-hand navigation for links) shows that Town Meeting has voted on several zoning restrictions in the past few years. Special Places zoning, modifications of the Wetlands bylaws, noise regulations, modifications of the inclusionary zoning bylaw, and other specific zone changes have all been considered. In each case, a proponent of the change claimed that there was no cost to the town. Now, I have the ammunition to rebut that claim. There is a cost, and it is paid by all of us.
Seat Belt Law Rides Again
An article in the Globe last week sparked the writing juices. Stricter seat belt bill back on table, read the headline. The article is about activity on a proposed law that would permit police officers to pull drivers over and ticket them simply because they weren't wearing a seat belt.
Before you read what I have to say, please know that I wear my seatbelt, every time I drive. I'm not arguing that wearing a seatbelt isn't a good idea; I agree that seatbelts are important and help keep you alive. My argument is about whether you should cross the line that separates "it's a good idea for you" from "it's a law and you go to jail eventually if you don't follow it." (I always wear seatbelts in the passenger seat, too, but I confess there are a few exceptions when I'm in the back seat of a car.)
The arguments in favor of the law range from classic statements of "I know what is better for you, so I'm going to make you do it," to bad logic, to nonsense.
I reject that the government can know what is better for me with certainty, and I reject that it is correct to enforce its opinions. It is not appropriate for the government to play the role of nanny. The government should be non-intrusive and minimalist. Liberty is best preserved when the government acts only when it must.
The bad logic can be amusing. "Representative Ruth B. Balser, a Newton Democrat and a cosponsor of the bill. 'It's been demonstrated when people don't wear seat belts, there are more fatalities. So if more people wear seat belts, the roads will be safer.'" No, Ruth, that's not the way it works. The roads are equally safe, whether there are seatbelts in use or not. Individuals are more safe when they put on seatbelts, not the roads.
Bad logic is by no means restricted to Democrats. "Proponents, including Governor Mitt Romney, say the law would increase safety, cut back on medical costs, and ultimately reduce auto insurance rates." I'm not exactly sure what it means to "increase safety," so I'll skip that part; I invite the Governor to show me how he measures "increases in safety" and then I'll respond. I do understand what it means to save on medical costs and lower insurance rates. Consider the following statement: "Mandatory toothbrushing would cut back on medical costs and ultimately reduce dental insurance rates." It's equally true as Romney's statement, right? So why isn't he advocating mandatory toothbrushing, mandatory hand-washing before dinner, and making sure you wash behind the ears? He isn't recommending these things because he recognizes that they are intrusive on individual privacy and freedom. I wish he'd understand that his seat belt law is bad for the same reasons.
The Patriot Act, Senator Sununu, and Party Politics