A representative for the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) presumably stood up the East Berkley Neighborhood Association (EBNA) for the third month in a row. The BTD representative was scheduled to appear at the Tuesday, April 6 meeting to discuss the imminent reconstruction of Harrison Avenue between Herald and East Berkeley streets.
“It really feels like as a neighborhood we are getting the runaround here,” said Ken Smith, EBNA president, “and I think it’s time we step up and make something happen.”
Smith, who also asked for support on this from Sophia Wang of City Councilor Ed Flynn’s office, added, “We’re not going away, so he needs to hear us loud and clear.”
Kim Crucioli, the City’s liaison to the South End and Bay Village, said she had reached out to the BTD for an update on the project.
“There doesn’t appear to be an active contract for the project,” said Crucioli, who added, “The former contract had closed out a while ago.”
As the city is now “nearing completion on the street work,” Crucioli said, “The main thing is they’re not trying to fix the street when construction is still going on.”
(In an unrelated matter, Crucioli also said she would forward the request to the city for the installation of “no smoking” signs at Peters Park.)
EBNA board member John Connelly requested that the BTD representative return to the group with a PowerPoint or some other visual presentation on the project.
Connelly said the Harrison Avenue Plan was finalized and paid for in 2015 and a public meeting followed, and that the current plan was also finished and announced as part of the City’s fiscal ’21 budget before the pandemic struck.
Councilor Wu’s mayoral bid
City Councilor Michelle Wu, the first candidate who announced her intentions to run for Mayor of Boston, was also on hand at the meeting to discuss her ongoing campaign.
Councilor Wu, who is now serving in her fourth term, said as the oldest child of two immigrant parents from Taiwan who moved to Boston in the early ‘80s, she “had always been told to stay away from politics.” But when her mother began struggling with mental illness, Councilor Wu, who was then finishing up college, became the guardian of her younger siblings and had to learn to navigate an often broken system to connect with services for her family. And this disconnect, she said, is what prompted her to attend law school and later enter city politics.
Councilor Wu, who now lives with her husband, their two children and her mother at her Roslindale home, said the first thing she did upon assuming office in 2014 was to visit emergency shelters citywide, as she vowed to do during her campaign.
“I had been to Long Island just a few weeks before the bridge was shut down, and saw how rickety it was,” she said. “Having seen what was there and how quickly it was dismantled by the city without a plan precipitated [the ongoing crisis at Mass Cass].”
Councilor Wu said the “bottom line” isn’t just to address the symptoms of the problem, like picking up discarded needles, but instead to address the substance abuse problem itself, as well as housing instability.
Moreover, Councilor Wu pointed out the need to “decentralize” services, which, she could be achieved by helping community health centers to overcome what she calls the “licensure hoop” so they too can offer services.
“Calling it the Mass Cass problem leads to solutions that are myopic and shortsighted,” Councilor Wu said. “We need a citywide coordinator response, and we need point of accountability standing right next to mayor.”
Councilor Wu added that she “refuses to point fingers at other cities to say other people should step up more,” but she also said she isn’t convinced reopening Long Island, with its ballooning bridge cost, is the best solution either.
“The largest concentration of beds is on Long Island, but the last administration had no plans to move them back there,” said Councilor Wu, who added that the city should also be exploring water transportation as an alternative to rebuilding the bridge.
With Boston now in completion nationwide for investor dollars, Councilor Wu also looked to city government for outreach to fill all the currently vacant storefronts and added that recovery from the pandemic includes getting small business back, as well as the return of more-regular MBTA service.
“We need to have proactive leadership to address the issues in an intersectional way and bring together every community,” Councilor Wu said.
Police and other matters
Captain Steve Sweeney of District 4 said crime was down 27 percent in the district from the same timeframe last year, noting a 57-percent decline in larcenies to motor vehicles; a 34-percent decrease in robberies; and a 29-precent drop in residential burglaries.
Additionally, the number of commercial burglaries in the neighborhood fell to 13 from 22, said Captain Sweeney, while, in contrast, incidents of auto theft rose to 28 from 24 year-to-date last year, which commonly occurred when an Uber Eats driver left his car running when they ran into make a delivery.
Captain Sweeney also said while it’s less common now for people to leave their car doors unlocked, they were still falling prey to “smash and grabs” by leaving valuables out in plain site in their vehicles.
The neighborhood has also seen an uptick in instances of graffiti since the last EBNA meeting on March 2, said Captain Sweeney, with extensive damage reported around the Blackstone School.
“We have an idea of who kids are, but we’re still investigating,” he said.
Regarding Peters Park, Captain Sweeney said that while “things are looking good there now,” he’s still hoping to get some addition officers on bicycles in that area, if resources allow for it.
As for dirt bikes seen speeding on East Berkeley and Albany streets, Captain Sweeney requested that concerned citizens not give chase if they witness any, but instead to notify police if they see large groups riding dirt bikes or ATVs gassing up or pulling into a public garage with U-Haul trucks where they sometimes park overnight.
Captain Sweeney also said a firearm had been recovered earlier that day in the Cathedral area across from Foodies.
‘These things pop up,” he said, “and hopefully it’s not a sign of things to come and we’ll have a quiet springtime.”
•In another matter, the EBNA’s business spotlight was on Venegas and Company, a kitchen design studio located on the second floor of Jordan Lofts at 477 Harrison Ave.
Donna Venegas, the company’s proprietor, said they uprooted from their former home at Boston Design Center about five years ago to build out the 5,000 square-foot showroom they occupy today.
Venegas said she’s “excited to see a design district developing around [her] front door” and hopes other businesses would follow suit.
Venegas also extended an invitation to the EBNA to use her showroom for future meetings or functions.
Representatives from [solidcore], a small exercise studio located at 345 Harrison Ave., were also scheduled for the EBNA meeting, but ultimately didn’t attend.
•Restaurateur Jeffrey Gates briefed those in attendance about his latest venture Brasserie, which will soon open in the former home of Gaslight at 560 Harrison St.
Brasserie will be open seven days week, Gates added, but the restaurant plans to “hold off for about a month” on Saturdays and Sundays.
•The EBNA also bid farewell to Chris Wells, a longtime member of the organization who recently succumbed to cancer.
Smith, president of the EBNA, described her as “a true neighborhood advocate, an activist” who was a friend to many in the neighborhood, himself included.
Meanwhile, Smith said he hoped the organization would resume in-person meeting in June, but September seems like a more realistic bet, since the group doesn’t typically meet in July or August.