The Future of Newton

We will be discussing development issues on tonight's episode of Common Ground. Will pursuit of tax revenue lead to dense new development that exacerbates overcrowding in our schools and traffic on our streets or will a vision of sustainable growth take hold of our planning process? As part of tonight's discussion, we'll look at the proposed Riverside and Newton Centre ("Firefighter's Triangle") developments in addition to examining the big picture questions.

The show will be live at 8:00 PM on NewTV's Blue Channel. Panelists will include Alderman Greer Swiston, John Sisson, co-cahir of Newton Villages, Newton Centre Neighborhood/Parent Activist Lisa Ganley-Leal, and Josh Krintzman, President of the Newton Lower Falls Neighborhood Association.


Newton Marriott Sold

The Marriott on Commonwealth Avenue in Newton was recently given a Special Permit by the Board of Aldermen to build an expanded ballroom (actually, they built first, then got the permit later, but that's another story). Apparently, the expansion and accompanying renovation added enough value to make the hotel worth $77.25 million, the amount it was sold for to Chesapeake Lodging Trust, according to a press release issued yesterday.

I have many fond memories of this hotel, which has been a Newton institution for generations. In recent years, it has been the go-to location for fundraising events for non-profits and former Mayor Ted Mann used to have his annual party there every year.


Newton's Don Berwick Gets Recess Appointment to Top Health Post

Newton Highlands resident Don Berwick's appointment to head the Medicare and Medicaid programs faced an uncertain future in the Senate until President Obama announced Tuesday that he will bypas the Senate and use his recess appointment powers to install Dr. Berwick this week.

This is exciting news, since Don Berwick is a brilliant visionary health policy leader who will do great work in transforming and modernizing our Federal heatlth care programs for the poor, disabled, and senior citizens. I expect that within a year, he will implement reforms that make these agencies more efficient and responsive. He will also be an invaluable voice in overall health care policy. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if after his stint as Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Dr. Berwick is promoted to Health and Human Services Secretary.

I feel much better about health care reform knowing that Don Berwick will be on the team making it happen. Congratulations to Dr. Berwick and to President Obama for his wise decision!


Municipal Electricity Bill Moves to House Ways and Means

After years of being stalled in the legislature's Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, the Municipal Electricity Bill has finally been voted out of committee. It now requires action by House Ways & Means before it can move to the Full House and Senate for consideration before the legislative session ends in a few weeks.

The legislation, which has been recdrafted as H4792, would simply the process by which a city or town can create a municipal electric utility ("muni") similar to those in Concord, Wellesley, Braintree and more than 40 Boston-area cities and towns. Under current law, it is techinically possible to create a muni, but the process is so complicated and convoluted that it is not practical. Also, under existing law at the conclusion of the complex process, the local monopoly electric utility (in our case, NSTAR) can effectively veto the transfer of assets, even after a price for those assets has been set through the law's adjudicative process.

Having a muni in Newton would save ratepayers (including residents, businesses and the City of Newton government) millions of dollars every year. It would also improve customer service, reduce down time, and would simplify the process of making environmental improvements (undergrounding utilities, local solar power generation, etc.).

Please call or email the chairman of the committee, Represenative Charles Murphy, at 617-722-2990 or and urge him to support speedy passage of the legislation. For more information on the bill, please visit the Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice web site.

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