Why Progressives Should Be Wary of Brookline By Design

Hello Neighbors,

Walking around town, you’ve likely seen lawn signs for “Brookline by Design” (BBD). Maybe you received a letter in the mail from the group with a list of their endorsements. At first glance, it would be understandable to assume this is a group supportive of progressive causes. “Let’s make a plan” is an innocuous enough slogan — and the materials give lip service to values like “diversity,” “community,” “sustainability,” and “affordability.”

We, the undersigned, are a group of more than 60 progressive neighbors, community organizers, and elected officials who feel an obligation to speak up. To speak up about what we think community-driven planning and forward-looking housing policy actually look like, and how Brookline By Design’s plans fall short. To be clear, we know that many BBD endorsees are thoughtful individuals with good intentions, and we aren’t describing them in the following statements. This letter is primarily about the politics of Brookline By Design’s decision- and policy-makers.

245 Town Meeting seats will be on the ballot Tuesday, May 3rd. And you, the voters of Brookline, deserve to have all the information before going into such a consequential election.

Housing and planning policy

Brookline by Design’s materials say that planning policy should be community-driven and prioritize affordable housing. We agree, but don’t find BBD’s plans or decision-makers to be oriented towards those goals.

To truly attain such ends requires explicit, concerted efforts to involve the people who feel the brunt of bad planning policies — including renters (51.5% of town), working-class homeowners, public housing residents, and BIPOC families. And people in Brookline have been doing that.

In the last year, the Town and community members have put enormous effort into the Housing Production Plan forums, the Brookline Community Foundation’s ARPA Community Engagement report, and the Town’s Disparity Report. Each describes an urgent need for increased affordable and low-income housing. Their work clarified that many of our residents are in dire situations that need solutions now.

Responsible, farsighted, and (most notably) inclusive planning requires material commitments and policies that uplift and empower renters, working-class homeowners, public housing residents, and BIPOC families. We don’t see any of this reflected in the actions of BBD’s leaders or their organization’s policies.

These policies and commitments could include community land trusts, housing cooperatives, repairing public housing units in disrepair, lobbying our State-level elected officials to bring back rent control, and affordable housing overlays. These are measures BBD has not expressed interest in supporting.

In absence of concrete policies (like the ones listed above) that would materially center community-driven planning and equity, we worry that the tack BBD is taking will not sufficiently regulate developers. We feel their policies don’t articulate a vision for Brookline’s built environment beyond reflexively saying “NO” to every project.

If Brookline is to be serious about, for example, curbing fossil fuel consumption and making our built environment more sustainable, we need to be more active and imaginative than just keeping things the way they are. We don’t only need more affordable housing, but we need affordable housing that is fossil-fuel free — with easy access to public transit, and a built environment more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

We must articulate (and organize around) a positive vision when it comes to planning and housing. Otherwise, developers will just set the terms of debate, something BBD purports to oppose.

Lack of commitment to racial justice

We understand that to attain housing justice we must achieve racial justice — in process as well as outcomes. They are not separate issues. For this reason, it feels important to point out that many of Brookline by Design’s members have failed to address racial discrimination in Brookline as elected officials or have directly contributed to it. With this in mind, we are concerned that their housing policies will not sufficiently align with values like racial justice and economic inclusivity, diversity, and equity.

Brookline By Design’s candidate committee includes current and former Select Board members who voted to fire two police officers who alleged racial discrimination in the Brookline Police Department. They also terminated Gerald Alston, a Black Brookline firefighter who faced prejudice and retaliation.

Many of BBD’s incumbent endorsees could have helped prevent this saga from being so drawn-out, damaging, and costly to the Town — and to the people who suffered this injustice. These Town Meeting Members had multiple opportunities to do right by Mr. Alston, which many did not take.

For instance, there was legislation at the Spring 2020 and then Fall 2020 Town Meetings to end the Select Board’s pushes to overturn court rulings in favor of Mr. Alston. But 88 of Brookline By Design’s endorsees voted NO on at least one of those articles and 58 of them voted against both pieces of legislation. Also, BBD has even endorsed the Town Meeting candidacy of the former Brookline Town Counsel who defended Brookline’s retaliation against Alston and who repeatedly encouraged the Select Board to continue its costly, racist litigation against him.

Last year, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled in favor of Mr. Alston, and Brookline subsequently settled for $11 million. Four of the six incumbent Town Meeting Members on BBD’s steering committee declined to vote YES on Mr. Alston’s settlement; a settlement that finally ended this racist debacle once and for all.

It gives us great pause that Brookline By Design has involved and endorsed individuals who share much responsibility in failing to adequately address such racial discrimination. The collective history of Brookline by Design’s leadership, makes it difficult to expect equitable planning that departs from Brookline’s red-lining history enough to meet the urgent needs of our more vulnerable residents.

Conclusion

For these reasons, we question Brookline by Design’s ability to lead the charge on long-term and truly equitable, inclusive planning. In many respects, Brookline By Design seems to be the new branding of the same group of cliquish, longtime residents who have been making decisions on Brookline’s built environment for decades. The same residents who are more inclined to resist the change necessary to meet the stated needs of Brookline residents.

Genuine affordable housing advocates want to live in an aesthetically beautiful and sustainable environment with plenty of green space as well. This doesn’t need to stand in the way of moving with urgency to address the housing crisis.

So, before you vote on Tuesday, May 3rd, please consult the materials and recommendations of other organizations in Town besides Brookline By Design, such as the Brookline Equity Coalition, Brookline for Everyone, and Biking Brookline.

Sincerely,

[Signatories listed in alphabetical order by last name]

Mariela Ames

Scott Ananian, TMM p10

Miriam Aschkenasy, Select Board member

Bonnie Bastien, TMM p5

Jeffrey Benson, TMM p3

Lee Biernbaum, candidate TM p9

Ryan Black, TMM p6

John L. Bowman, candidate TM p10

Barbara Brown

Deborah Brown, TMM p1

John Card, candidate TM p1

J. Malcolm Cawthorne

Joseph Chafins, candidate TM p13

Savyon Cohen

Tyler Daddio, candidate TM p8

Ashley Eng, candidate TM p9

Abby Erdmann

Roslyn Feldberg, TMM p10

Raul Fernandez, Select Board member

Zoraida Fernandez

Wendy Friedman, TMM p5

Charlotte Gaehde

Lilly Gaehde, TMM p10

Steffi Gaehde

Jesse Gray, TMM p10

Martha Gray, TMM p11

Anne Greenwald, TMM p8

Simon Grossman, candidate TM p7

Donna Healey

Eric Hyett, TMM P10

Zsuzsanna Kaldy, candidate TM p11

Jonathan Klein, TMM p10 (candidate TM p17)

Matti Klock, candidate TM p9

Janet Kolodner

Michael Kushner, candidate TM p12

Joan Lancourt

Jody Leader

Alec Lebovitz, candidate TM p8

Sean Leckey, candidate TM p3

Bob Lepson, TMM p9

Kim Loscalzo, TMM p10

Omar Mabrouk, candidate TM p5

Wendy MacMillan TMM p4

Ariel Maddocks, TMM p10

Becca Mautner, TMM p11

Sarah Mautner-Mazlen

Bob Miller, TMM p8 (candidate p2)

Amy Newell

Mariah Nobrega, School Committee member and TMM p4 (candidate p3)

Maya Norton

Kimberley Richardson TMM p2

Elizabeth Schafer, TMM p10 (candidate TM p17)

Luciana Schachnik

Katha Seidman

Jennifer Segel

Karen Shashoua

Lisa Shatz, TMM p11

Colin Stokes, candidate TM p7

Danny Stone, TMM p10

Naomi Sweitzer, TMM p10

Ada Tadmor, TMM P13

Emy Takinami, TMM p10

Carlos M. Tamayo, candidate TM p2

Anne Trecker, TMM p6

Rachel Watson, candidate TM p1

Anne Weaver, TMM p11

Chi Chi Wu, TMM p7

Kea van der Ziel, TMM p15

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