News in brief

Freeze and hold tight

October 26, 2008
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The town officially froze all not-yet-approved hiring this week in reaction to state budget cuts announced last week by Governor Deval Patrick. Anticipating that the Legislature might pass the governor's proposal to extend deadlines for joining the state health insurance plan, Town Administrator Richard Kelliher also recommended reopening negotiations with the town unions to do so. The first talks were scheduled for Thursday. If the unions sign on, Brookline could save roughly $3 million, according to Kelliher's estimates. He noted that state revenues could continue to shrink, and that local aid might yet take a hit this fiscal year, which started in July. Selectmen approved his recommendations, making this the earliest the town has ever instituted a hiring freeze.

Going for the green clean
Getting harmful cleaners out of schools and town offices has joined several other "green" proposals slated for the Nov. 18 Town Meeting. Introduced by Town Meeting member Thomas Vitolo of Precinct 1, the bill would require healthier, "Green Seal" products be used in all municipal and school buildings unless they can be shown to be ineffective. Health Department head Alan Balsam has already endorsed the proposal, noting, "health-related side effects associated with the use of some traditional cleaning products, particularly among those with asthma, multiple chemical sensitivities, and allergies." The Health Department building uses only Green Seal products, and all but the School Department's gum- and graffiti-removers carry the approval, Vitolo said. "We want to get everyone buying the best product and using that." The Board of Selectmen voted to make it policy last Tuesday.

WordGirl defines animation
Future animators and their parents are invited to view "WordGirl" of PBS "Kids Go" fame on Nov. 9 . The Watertown-based animation studio Soup2Nuts will present animation artists, directors, and two never-before-released episodes of the verbose 10-year-old super-heroine and her simian sidekick, "Captain Huggy Face." The human guests will show how they create their shows, answer questions, and teach youngsters how to dance the "Captain Huggy Face Dance" Seating is limited, and WordGirl gifts are limited to fans under 10. The fun starts at 10:30 a.m. at 290 Harvard St.

Got a news item from Brookline? E-mail Andreae Downs at

Preparing for a surge in homelessness
At its Sept. 21 meeting, the Cambridge City Council recognized the need to develop a preparedness plan as the city begins to feel the effects of a sour economy. Massachusetts statistics show that a recent surge in homelessness has overwhelmed the state's shelter capacity. Under Massachusetts law, the state is required to find shelter for every eligible family seeking it. According to a policy order that was passed on Monday, all members of City Council agreed that the city must be proactive in preparing for the ways in which this national and statewide trend in homelessness might impact local families. City Manager Robert Healy will now look into the short- and longterm impact the current economic crisis will have on homelessness in Cambridge.

Rooftop racket rattles residents
The City Council has sided with Area 4 residents in a battle over noise. The Licensing Committee has found that Idenix Pharmaceuticals on Hampshire Street is in violation of the city's noise ordinance between the hours of 6 and 7 p.m. on weekends. Noise from the building's rooftop equipment is the culprit. Idenix appealed the ruling of the commission, citing economic hardships. But the council - which found that Idenix's stock went up almost 200 percent over the last year - went on record on Monday to oppose issuing Idenix a variance to relieve them of the responsibility to obey the noise ordinance.

Meeting on biohazards to be televised
In lieu of the regular Dec. 1 City Council meeting, a special televised City Council meeting will be held to specifically discuss biohazards and lab safety in Cambridge. The meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. and will have a public hearing format on CCTV. The large biotech project in East Cambridge will be addressed, and public comment is encouraged.

Got a news item from Cambridge? E-mail Jennifer Schwartz at

Mayor issues belt-tightening measures
There's no hiring freeze, but a chill is certainly descending on city employees. In an Oct. 21 memorandum obtained by the Globe, Mayor Joseph Curtatone ordered several changes in municipal operations in response to the previous week's state cutbacks. According to the memo, state aid makes up 34 percent of the city's revenue base. Until the city has a better idea of the state's plans, the only positions that can be filled are "those that are essential to maintain public health and safety, or that directly enhance the city's revenues." In other money-saving measures, nonunion employees will have to shoulder more of their healthcare expenses starting Nov. 7, paying 20 percent instead of 15 percent. The city will postpone some capital improvement (not yet determined) to prioritize essential projects such as the fire-damaged East Somerville Community School. Curtatone also directed department heads to review all planned purchases to see what could be cut or postponed, and to restrict overtime to "the most necessary and unavoidable use."

Green caffeine
Bring your travel mug: The Bloc 11 coffee shop in Union Square has thrown out its trash cans. Judging that nearly everything thrown out could be composted, washed, or reused, the café is piloting a "zero-waste" system, according to environmental consultant Vanessa Rule. Patrons do still have a place to put their leftovers: a bus bin that employees sort through afterward. According to a sign on the wall, some fairly unlikely items can be composted: to-go cups, straws, takeout cutlery, and all food waste. Bloc 11 celebrated its first birthday this month. If the system succeeds, owners Jen Park and Tucker Lewis may extend it to the big, busy, and bustling Diesel Café.

Got a news item from Somerville? E-mail Danielle Dreilinger at

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