Councilor Wu's Proposal To Abolish The BPDA (65-pp. report)

JumboBuc

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This could really go either way.

Replacing the BDPA with a "community-focused" approval process that would end up getting nothing approved in practice (see: San Francisco) would be a negative. But taking away power from the BPDA by liberalizing zoning (see: Minneapolis) and giving out fewer special permits as a result would be a positive.

I haven't read Wu's entire report (pdf) yet, but in my quick skim I see some points that appear to be in support of a more restrictive approval process while others that appear to endorse a more generous one. At a very high level, however, a lot of her rhetoric does sound very NIMBY-inspired.

As always the devil is in the details, and we'll see how this all shakes out. I look forward to reading the whole report this evening.
 

Equilibria

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Rather than immediately replying with your predictable, knee-jerk bombast, you should take a look at the actual report. There's a lot in the Boston development process that needs improvement, even if you think we've got a supply shortage.
This isn't a plan, though, it's a campaign platform. Marty ran on abolishing the BRA and did. Wu is running on abolishing what Marty did, and if she wins she'll establish the same thing under a different name, wasting yet more money on the rebrand.

She wants to beat Marty. Marty is pro-development. Many people in Boston are anti-development. Ergo, she will be anti-development.

And excuse me if Wu's unworkable populism in this department ("the MBTA should be free!!) leaves me somewhat less than optimistic about her.
 

DBM

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Thud.

I briefly skimmed it earlier today--it's well-written, thoughtful, well-researched (copious endnotes!). Not just some campaign gimmick for a wannabe mayoral candidate.

(Although presumably it would make an excellent campaign prop, with Wu thumping it/brandishing it on podiums everywhere on the campaign trail...)

Nothing new as far as I can tell; just a handy synthesis of decades of blunders, lowlights, gross abuses, and assorted criminal misdeeds.

Fun historical tibit on p. 43: at least three Boston mayoral candidates have proposed abolishing or radically overhauling the BRA/BPDA: Kevin White (1970), Ray Flynn (1983), and Marty Walsh (2013).
 

meddlepal

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Before we get too far into the discussion, it would be nice if moderators could commit to keeping this thread on track and clean up folks that take political / ideological pot shots (you know who you are).

My big fear is that this will grind development to a halt in Boston by making the process even more opaque than it is now. Right now experienced developers in Boston know the process and the stakeholders. Without the BRA... it's not clear who has the final say... the community is fickle, and nobody posting here is unaware of the NIMBYism that runs throughout the region. It's not a good system and I don't think anyone will argue it is a good system, but it's the devil anyone who needs to know actually knows. There's something to be said for keeping the status quo.

On the other hand, if zoning was overhauled across the city to be appropriate for the size and needs of modern Boston and the approval process was significantly streamlined so that it could be a simple yes/no determination in most cases then I would be heavily in favor of abolishing the BRA. Set reasonable height maximums across the entire city from downtown to the far south and western edges of the city. Eliminate parking requirements and zone for high density around transportation hubs. Eliminate union favoritism etc. I also liked Wu's other recent suggestion of adding an Urban Planner or two to the Zoning Board which currently of all things has a union representative.

I'm a little bit skeptical of Wu's interests here. A mayor proposing this kind of sweeping change would be one thing. A city council setting up for a mayoral run... a bit more eye brow raising.

Fun historical tibit on p. 43: at least three Boston mayoral candidates have proposed abolishing or radically overhauling the BRA/BPDA: Kevin White (1970), Ray Flynn (1983), and Marty Walsh (2013).
I suspect one of the problems here is that once you are mayor you realize all the power in Boston is being in control of real estate. That control is what makes the Boston mayor the most powerful politician in Massachusetts after the Speaker of the House. Without this power the Boston mayor is not very important and cannot control the regional and prioritization dialogue in the same way that they can currently.
 

etik

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I found these two Twitter threads a good overview (and critical look):



For all the calls of broader comprehensive plans, electeds and neighborhood associations are all too keen to abandon them once houses start going up (see: Southie IPOD). Our politicians should be confronting their constituents's tendencies towards exclusion, but too often they pay them lip service. We'll see which this document shapes to be.
 

Coyote137

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The BRA was never abolished, it was simply rebranded, which is what you're pre-accusing Wu of doing. I also don't think she would be "anti-development" - if you listen to what she's saying, I think you'll find that she's not a NIMBY. She may not be as pro-development as the people on this board, but that's probably true of pretty much any candidate.
 

Equilibria

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The BRA was never abolished, it was simply rebranded, which is what you're pre-accusing Wu of doing. I also don't think she would be "anti-development" - if you listen to what she's saying, I think you'll find that she's not a NIMBY. She may not be as pro-development as the people on this board, but that's probably true of pretty much any candidate.
I'm not saying she's a NIMBY, I'm saying she's a politician who will inevitably be looking for votes from NIMBYs.

And you can't simply "abolish" the planning agency of a major city. She's not proposing to. She's proposing to create a new planning agency that would have different procedures, less authority, different procedures, and fewer staff. In other words, she's rebranding and reorganizing the BPDA, which is precisely what Walsh did.
 

odurandina

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People in the Globe comments section are accusing Wu of being bought and paid for by the nimby billionaire and his minions. Someone might have even suggested people should look into the cozy relationships w/ some members of the City Council.
i was somewhat taken aback by those posts. But, i'm open to conspiracy: if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks likes a duck-- then, maybe it's a duck. The City Council seems to be guided more by cronyism lately, choosing to be the trunk of the nimby tree. Wu is the leader. These frauds aren't protecting anything holy, or seeking fairness in the (development) process. They use a host of trendy slogans, complete w/ the friendly Marxist talking points. Even climate change must now be invoked to "fix the corrupt world of development." Who appointed these people experts of everything: why not leave development to the people educated in actually performing it? Isn't that the best way to go about it?

Dating back 30 years, the BPDA seems to have exerted its will far less than the previous 30 years (quite a demarcation point i've hit here :)). Overall, the BPDA does a good job at finding the middle to a fair (realistic) process. If anything they lean quite to the nimby side. MT, Winthrop Square, SST, 1 Dalton, Garden Garage, Copley Tower, & Central Wharf, mostly in the heart of the High Spine are the most obvious exceptions. i'm sure you all can think of a few more.
Some are driven by narcissism and ambition to rule. i think Wu is well placed in the category. She decided being paid for by rich nimby assholes is a perfectly acceptable method in which to gain power.
 
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George_Apley

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Before we get too far into the discussion, it would be nice if moderators could commit to keeping this thread on track and clean up folks that take political / ideological pot shots (you know who you are).
Speaking for myself, evidence-based argument is always preferred to partisan, ideological, and/or uneducated sniping.
 

George_Apley

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Moved some posts over from the General Boston Discussion thread. If it makes for odd reading, that's why. Due to timestamps, DBM's original post is now Post 3. Sorry for any confusion.
 

Nakedi

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I'm not as well versed in the details of public policy as others here seem to be, but I read the report and listened to Wu on Boston Public Radio today, and I don't understand the marxist or Wu is getting in bed with the NIMBYs rhetoric upthread. The core of what Wu is proposing seems to be a separation of powers-- that planning and development would no longer live within the same agency. Having citywide zoning that flows from a citywide master plan seems to me it would have a good chance of mitigating at least some NIMBY influence over development, and I would think that consistency and predictable zoning and development processes would be favorable to many developers.

And in regards to cronyism, I would also think that consistent, citywide planning, zoning, and development processes would reduce the mayor's power to direct development to most favored developers, neighborhoods, or steering unwanted development away from certain influential areas.
 

odurandina

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Speaking for myself, evidence-based argument is always preferred to partisan, ideological, and/or uneducated sniping.
George,
i'm involved in the process. i attend the meetings and listen to the professional obstructionists, and speak to them directly and cordially. i do what i can to point out when they're wrong, or being unfair to the young people coming up.... i'm familiar with their tactics. Some of their points are valid. The city faces numerous challenges of its economics and physical infrastructure.

As to becoming an educated sniper:
i can only speak for myself. But what are working people, busy raising families supposed to do to act as a fair, counterbalance to retired nimby's able to devote all their free time to thwarting positive change in Boston? They just don't have the time to compete with them and the iag crowd.

Re; Wu:

There seems to be a cozy relationship between Wu and the overlords of these highly organized individuals who pack the iag's on big impact projects.

i lurk on the online City Council meetings sometimes ahead of key EDIC Board meetings, listen and read public comments--and numerous offerings Wu has made for the big projects over the past few years.

Winthrop Square is Downtown Crossing. Wu wasn't going to stop it. She wanted it to go 400'. Doesn't stop there. She's always either completely against these projects, suggests unworkable fixes, or parrots the Galer, Frazee talking points.

Worse, there's an insincere tone elsewhere, not much different than Tito Jackson's obstruction, but dressed up way more. It's sweet talking and clever. But, She's taking the nimby route to gain notoriety with the millionaire crowd, eager to build her resume and nobility as a fighter for the people. She's not representing the little guy, or posturing to improve the process. Far from it. She'll put development and efforts to solve the housing crisis back years.

This could really go either way.
No. it won't go "either way." It's reasonable to hold the opinion the BPDA leaves much to be desired. But abolishing it, and getting this so-called "people's process" will only bring out the retired folk, with all their free time to remove the reasonable voice (the EDIC Board), and put an end to development.

Re-zoning? That'll be the day. Worse, and far more significant: Projects are often years in the making, require studies, millions in investment and consulting with engineers and highly qualified professionals at the BPDA to get projects off the ground. Intricate planning goes in long before the public unveiling/s.

Wu will add extreme uncertainty and risk. Developers, all but the biggest players will opt out of the process for parts unknown....
(what other choice will they have?)

You're not only killing the latter part of that process. You're dropping a bomb on the pipeline. The old BRA of 1959 hurt people. No BPDA, will have a similar, catastrophic effect on Boston and set the City back years, while we wait for Wu to be gone--and something akin to Walsh/Golden's BPDA to return.

Sorry: There is a price to pay for wrecking a City's ability to provide a clear path to development--with real consequences. People, especially the most economically at risk will be hurt by accepting Wu's reckless agenda...

My point of view isn't extreme. She's simply not qualified or earned the right to blow up Boston. There's no nice way to dress up a mugging. Dress up nice and charm people. When you mug the process and hurt them--you're a thug.
 
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Beton Brut

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Councilor Wu visited my neighborhood council yesterday evening. I spoke with her on issues of displacement related to condominium conversion and demolition/upsizing of existing multi-family housing stock. I think you'll agree, this unregulated practice is sawing rungs off of the property ladder for many potential home-buyers (i.e. a mortgage partially funded by income from one or more rental units), and creating density at the exclusion of market-rate rental opportunities for families. We also spoke about the need make historic preservation at the community level a priority; I further explained that 350 Boylston is an object lesson in the sort of ill-considered BRA/BPDA/ZBA approval process that needs to be thrown right in the garbage. And for those among you who have accused me of NIMBY-ism, I offered that opportunities for extreme height (i.e. One Dalton +, downtown garages and the length of the Pike "trench") should be used to insure preservation and affordable housing priorities across the city.

Councilor Edwards, who represents my neighborhood, also spoke on reforming the ZBA (in membership and process). Though I didn't speak with her directly, I spoke to some of her thoughts on the (perceived, or perhaps real) rubber-stamping of approvals for "exceptions:" in regard to the kind and quality of projects I see on the streets where I live, there's little "exceptional" about them in form, materials, design ethos, or socio-economic benefit to the established community. If these boxes aren't being checked, we're driving the wrong way with both feet on the gas pedal.

Back to radio silence...
 
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