Water meter and privacy

When the Boston Water & Sewer Commission sent notices seekking to enter customers’ property to install higher-technology meters, I requested a statement as to whether new meters do or do not contain devices potentially violating people’s privacy. The response was to threaten to shut off the water service, and with it our heat, on March 6. With the sage advice of the American Civil Liberties Union I arranged for a new meter to be installed — killing a shut-off in 10-degree weather. Separate I have written Water & Sewer’s general counsel about the privacy question.

At this point my greatest concern is that whereas private utilities have not been able to shut off customers in winter months for decades, the city of Boston can and will. I can’t believe I am writing these words in 2017! When it comes to the erosion of our civil liberties may be well to “think globally.” But I believe our first imperative must always be to act locally.

David A. Mitell, Jr.

Jamaica Plain resident

Gas leaks are bad

The National Grid trucks that have been out on Centre Street for months may slow down traffic a bit, but I am glad they’re there, because I know they are fixing leaks in our underground gas pipes (some of the oldest in the nation), and preventing unhealthy and climate-disrupting methane from leaking out all day every day and polluting the air my child breathes. “Natural” gas is not clean. Its eighty times more powerful a global warming agent than carbon dioxide when it’s first released, its toxic to humans, and its killing our city’s trees. Growing public pressure and new regulations – such as the new city ordinance sponsored by Councilor Matt O’Malley — are pushing the utilities to move faster to repair gas leaks.

But we still have a long way to go, with 1,462 active gas leaks in Boston, 95 of which are in Jamaica Plain (see http://www.heetma.org/squeaky-leak/natural-gas-leaks-maps/). And unfortunately, state agencies are missing key opportunities to keep the pressure on. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Public Utilities (DPU) have both proposed regulations recommending that the state track progress by simply estimating emissions from our aging natural gas infrastructure based on inadequate national studies, rather than actually measuring  it here in Massachusetts. Since the leaked gas is methane, a greenhouse gas on steroids, any mistake in estimating emissions would have a big impact.

What’s the problem with DEP and DPU plans to estimate emissions? A 2014 Harvard/Boston University study by Kathryn McKain measured natural gas in the atmosphere over Greater Boston, and found more than eight times the amount of natural gas in the atmosphere than the DEP had estimated for that year.

DEP and DPU should not estimate. They should check their results by measuring emissions from large leaks and in the atmosphere, rather than patting themselves on the back prematurely. The health of our children and families depends on it.

Sandy Huckleberry 

Mothers Out Front volunteer 

Jamaica Plain resident

Stigmatize drug use

Fentanyl was found in nearly 75 percent of Massachusetts overdose deaths, according to a recent newspaper article I read. Our current response to this epidemic is more aggressive law enforcement and more and better treatment for addicts. While these responses are all to the good, they don’t seem to me to address the cause of the problem. It isn’t foreign supply; it’s American demand.

In 1960, about 42 percent of Americans smoked cigarettes. Today, fewer than 20 percent of Americans smoke. What happened? Surely, the Surgeon General’s report linking cancer to cigarette sharply reduced smoking. Taxes helped: when I was in graduate school, a carton of Camels (10 packs of 20 cigarettes each) cost $2.10. Today a pack of Camels costs around $10.00.

But it was more than fear or expense. We stigmatized cigarette smoking. Most of us have internalized the belief that smoking is for losers. It’s dangerous, it’s dirty; it’s smelly. It’s bad. But back in the 1950s, smoking was cool and sophisticated. That has changed.

In 1972, the federal government started a poster campaign that pictured a slovenly middle-aged man, with long, greasy hair parted in the middle and grubby clothes. He was puffing on a cigarette. They caption: “Smoking is very glamorous.” Just Google that caption and you can see him for yourself. He’s disgusting. If you have ever seen that poster, you still remember it.

I was smoking a little more than three packs a day back then. I bought two cartons almost every Saturday. That poster didn’t make me quit, but it made me admit to myself that smoking was disgusting, smokers were disgusting, and by extension, I was disgusting. I didn’t quit until 1984, but I never thought smoking was cool or sophisticated after that. I felt guilty when I smoked in front of non-smokers: they were right and I was wrong.

We need to stigmatize drug use in a similar way. We need call out people who routinely get stoned. A couple of beers or a little weed from time to time—that’s one thing. Only that’s not what is happening, and we all know it. A great many users are heavy users: they are getting buzzed several days a week. There are 20 million alcoholics in this country, according to Alcoholics Anonymous. Most of them knew very well they were alcoholic years before they admitted it publicly and quit. It’s the same with drugs. How many million people are smoking too much pot or getting high on some other drug?

Non-users today give users a free pass. We don’t stigmatize them. We should. Let’s sequester 5 percent of the budget of our endless and futile War on Drugs and use it to make war on users for using. Make users ashamed for “needing” drugs to get through the day. Make them admit they are second-rate employees. Confront them: users do have a negative impact on others—especially on the lives of others who have the misfortune of loving them. Who really believes that drug use is a victimless crime?

Jonathan Slater

Jamaica Plain resident


Investors of 64 Allandale St. project should be known

Needing 50+ variances for less than two acres at 64 Allandale Street is unbelievable – that is hard to do! Nearly every building guideline had to be ignored. Of course, height was waived so that the 45 foot tall townhouses would be seen throughout the eastern quarter of Allandale Woods and what is supposed to be a secluded Boston park.

Opponents of this project are not opposed to development. They simply want the single family zoning enforced.

Despite opposition from six city councilors, every near-by neighborhood association and council in JP, Roslindale and West Roxbury and several hundred people at three BPDA public meetings, the ZBA approved 50+ variances with no demonstration of hardship. They essentially granted $20 million in additional property rights to the Wonder Group investors regardless of the environmental costs and risks to Allandale Woods

Everyone is asking, “Who has the juice?”. The project’s private investors are unknown. Do they have relationships with the Mayor? Have they made contributions to his campaign? Have they held fundraisers for him? Have they hired lobbyists?

In the interests of transparent city government, the public deserves to know whom they are. Such a disclosure requirement should be standard for any project that requires such wide and exceptional departure from the law. If a project is building within the zoning guidelines or requiring just minor changes, then disclosure of investors is clearly not required.

Tony LaCasse

Friends of Allandale Woods Coalition

Roslindale resident

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