All Waltham City Council meetings, along with all municipal meetings in the state's 351 cities and towns, are governed by the state's Open Meeting Law, a series of laws described in Massachusetts General Laws Chapter MGL 30A that legislate how public meetings should be run.
However, our elected Massachusetts State Legislature enjoys an exemption from the state's Open Meeting Law - the same law to which City Councils, Boards of Selectpersons and most other governmental bodies must adhere. The irony is ripe. Our elected state representatives, making laws about what should constitute "open" meetings, and then exempting themselves from the very laws that they create. George Orwell would be very proud.
The actual language that exempts the State Legislature from the Open Meeting Law can be found in Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) Chapter 30A.
MGL Chapter 30A, Section 18 defines a "public body" as follows:
"Public body, a multiple-member board, commission, committee or subcommittee within the executive or legislative branch or within any county, district, city, region or town, however created, elected, appointed or otherwise constituted, established to serve a public purpose; provided, however, that the governing board of a local housing, redevelopment or other similar authority shall be deemed a local public bodyvided, further, that the governing board or body of any other authority established by the general court to serve a public purpose in the commonwealth or any part thereof shall be deemed a state public body; provided, further, that ''public body'' shall not include the general court or the committees or recess commissions thereof, bodies of the judicial branch or bodies appointed by a constitutional officer solely for the purpose of advising a constitutional officer and shall not include the board of bank incorporation or the policyholders protective board; and provided further, that a subcommittee shall include any multiple-member body created to advise or make recommendations to a public body."
See above that our "general court", another name for our state legislature, is specifically excluded.
What does that mean from a practical standpoint? Our elected State Legislature can close the doors, and they frequently do, to any of its meetings on Beacon Hill at the call of the presiding officer. Hence, there is no transparency, there is no accountability, as there is no public meeting. How we are having this discussion in the year 2020 escapes me.
Under the state's Open Meeting Law the Waltham City Council is required to hold public meetings, with the rare exception of executive session matters. Executive Session addresses 10 very narrowly defined matters. Otherwise, the meeting MUST be open to the public to attend.
A final note - even municipal Executive Session deliberated matter minutes must be ultimately approved by the body and released to the public as per Massachusetts Open Meeting Law. Unfortunately our State Legislature is not bound by these regulations.
The recent Covid crisis has demonstrated the need for better food security and food sovreignty. One strategy is to encourage more farming and hence more locally produced food.
I was the primary sponsor of a resolution to urge the City Council to protect the last remaining large farm in Waltham - the 58 acre UMASS Field Station at 240 Beaver Street. This parcel of land was given to the Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1923 by the Trustees of the Cornelia Warren's estate. Cornelia Warren was the greatest benefactor in the history of Waltham.
I am happy to report that the City of Waltham acquired the southern portion of the former UMASS Field Station on March 1st, 2022. These 28 acres abut both Beaver Street, Marianne Road and Linden Street.
The UMASS Field station is where the famous Waltham Butternut squash and Waltham Broccoli were invented and where significant research was conducted on corn by Dr. Walton Galinat. The name Butternut was coined by Charles Leggett of Stow who stated that the squash tasted “smooth as butter, and sweet as nut”.
Today the bulk of the UMASS land on Beaver Street is farmed by Waltham Fields Community Farms (WFCF). In 2019 alone WFCF donated 32,000 pounds of vegetables and fruits to food shelters in the greater Boston area (worth approximately $87,000). Some of the other tenants at the farm include the Waltham Land Trust, Boston Area Gleaners, Mass Farmers Markets, Grow Native Massachusetts and Community Gardens.
Waltham has acquired the 4 acre Arrigo farm on Warren Street. Waltham is currently using one acre as a tree farm for its Foresty division.
Waltham has recently begun clearing its 5.7 acre lot on Woburn Street to restore the historic Wellington Fields at 735 Trapelo Road. This 5.7 acre of land has frontage on both Trapelo Road and Woburn Street and was acquired by the City of Waltham back in 1998 as a result of a lawsuit.
This mushroom shaped parcel is adjacent to the historic 1779 Wellington House (at 735 Trapelo Rd) and the Waltham Engine 8 Fire Station (at 699 Trapelo Rd). Wellington Fields will include walking paths, wildflower meadows, orchards and beehives. Historic rock walls, old growth perimeter trees, and specimen trees will be preserved.
The City of Waltham annually pays nearly $1.5M in state aid assessments for public transportation services from the MBTA. See the City Auditor's Budget Webpage for more info. The actual FY2020 amount was $1,435,534 which equates to $22.97 per resident (using an estimated 2019 population of 62,495). This annual payment by the city is separate from the individual fees paid by riders taking either the MBTA commuter rail or various bus services.
Despite this large annual fee Waltham is underserved in public transportation. There are many problems such as the following:
There is a severe lack of public transportation for areas in North Waltham. This is a contributing cause to the vehicle congested that Waltham faces. If you live in one of the following neighborhoods, streets or institutions you have no nearby MBTA public transportation options:
Having little public transportation services in Waltham increases traffic, and increases the cost for residents who must use Uber and other ride sharing services. When there are huge gaps in coverage throughout Waltham, we are not getting enough value for our annual $1.5M payment to the MBTA.
Other cities in our Commonwealth have comprehensive public transportation. Why not Waltham?
Below are the monthly and single-trip MBTA fares for Waltham Residents:
|Commuter Rail (Zone 2)||$232||$7.00|
|Subway & Local Bus||$90||$2.90|
As you can see from the table, a Waltham resident working in Boston, Cambridge or Somerville first has to travel from their neighborhood via bus to the Commuter Rail station on Carter Street. They would then board an expensive commuter rail to North Station. Hence the total round trip daily cost for a Waltham resident using public transportation is $18.00. Contrast that with a Newton resident who would pay $5.80 for round trip or a Watertown resident who would pay $4.00. There is an equity issue here and Waltham residents are on the losing end of this equation.
There are very few covered bus shelters in Waltham. Covered shelters protect commuters from rain, snow and severe weather, and thereby indirectly encourage ridership. Two glass shelter were recently installed on Wyman Street by a private developer. Other nearby cities and towns have bus shelters protecting their commuters. Why not Waltham?
Finally, Waltham lacks an all weather, heated and cooled, transit station at Carter Street. I recently submitted a resolution concerning this matter. The all weather station would include public restrooms, digital displays with live train and bus schedules, visitors center, full ADA access, coffee shop, newstand and public wi-fi. Other cities in Massachusetts have modern transit stations. Why not Waltham?
North Waltham bus routes go north/south towards Carter Street and the Waltham Common. However, many of the residents living in North Waltham work in Cambridge, Somerville and Boston. A more efficient route would be bus service along Trapelo Road, linking North Waltham with Waverley Square. Why Waverley Square? - Because Waverley Square has both a commuter rail station going to North Station as well as the 73 Bus service to Harvard Square, which then has the Red Line connection.
The existing 73 Bus could be extended from Waverley Square up Trapelo Road to the intersection of Lexington Street. There are many thousands of units of housing within a quarter mile of the Lexington and Trapelo intersection. The 73 Bus line frequently uses LNG buses, so it would not be mandatory to run the electric lines up Trapelo Road.
copyright © 2020 George A. Darcy III - All Rights Reserved