Weston, the richest town in Massachusetts, with by far the wealthiest zip code, has taken the COVID-19 related hoarding of precious resources to the next level- open space. With schools/offices shut down for much of the population and social distancing in place, the opportunity to spend some time outside is a necessity and essential for the well-being and mental health of many. People who don’t have a big yard of their own rely upon public open space to meet their need for this resource.
Cat Rock Park is a beautiful and accessible piece of woodlands in Weston. It’s is a haven and an outdoor lifeline for people living in that area- especially those, unlike most homeowners in Weston, who don’t have yards. Late last week, the town of Weston announced two things that are now prohibited from Cat Rock: unleashed dogs and people from out of town.
Hoarding resources during a crisis is wrong and that’s what this is. According to the notice on the town website, the front page of the Weston Forest and Trails website, and local media: “visitation will be monitored.” Not sure what that means, but to have the police, or whatever public employee gets this miserable job, wandering around Cat Rock Park trying to decide who does and doesn’t look like they are from Weston is a really great use of public resources during this time of emergency! And probably not particularly safe for the person who has to do it. This really shows as much disrespect for whoever has to do the job of monitoring visitation as is does for those being barred from the park. I’ve heard from people who were there in recent days that there were official types questioning and shooing away non-residents, though unleashed dogs were still in abundance. Wonder if people from other communities would be allowed if they were held on a leash by a person from Weston?
Weston officials seem to not realize that Weston residents carry the same viruses as the dreaded unwashed masses from outside the town borders. In fact, perhaps because of the presence of a large Biogen office in the town, Weston is considered a local hotspot for Corona. As of two weeks ago Weston had 15 confirmed cases and 80 people in quarantine. At this point, it almost goes without saying that the real numbers are much much higher. As we have had woefully inadequate testing it’s impossible to say for certain, but it would be reasonable to think a person from Weston is more likely to be carrying COVID-19 than someone not from that town. Banning people from out of town doesn’t even solve the safety problem at the park, though it surely brings town officials a lot less angry phone calls from Weston residents than closing it would.
Lest you think that this is some isolated one off- see here for video from last week of the Weston School Committee chair and a Weston Selectman discussing fining people not from Weston for using parks that are already closed, but giving people from in town multiple warnings:
If you don’t want to watch the video, here are the lowlights-
Weston School Committee Chair Alex Cobb: “We did hear that there was definitely an outside group that came and used it [a closed park]. My recommendation would simply be, no warnings for out of town residents, you know, put up signs. If anybody’s there run the license plates, fine them, you know, just make it really strict and, you know, you want to put bio-hazard signs up too? Great, by all means.”
Weston Selectman Harvey Boshart: “I would agree that, you know, maybe a warning the first time but after that, you know, you need to start giving written warnings and possibly fines. I think that folks from out of town, you know, we should be a little more stringent, you know, with them because they’re clearly ignoring, you know, the signs that are out there. I think some of the local residents may, you know, come drive down the road. But, if you’re from out of town and you read that sign, you know, again it’s all blatant, you know, disrespect for the signs and we need to take a little bit of a harsher tone.”
To summarize- locals, who presumably would be the most familiar with the signs and local closings, should get 3+ chances. People from out of town should get their plates run and a fine with no warning because of “disrespect for the signs”. Sounds fair! To be clear the Selectmen didn’t actually put this in writing or anything, but it’s easy to see how a tone is set.
This also illustrates why people fortunate enough to be wealthy sometimes get the idea that they don’t have to follow the rules- they, in fact, often don’t have to follow them. Even when the rules are technically equal, the unwritten rules are in their favor. In normal times this sense of special entitlement is unjust and aggravating, in times like these it is a danger to people’s health in more ways than one.
BTW- Selectman Harvey Boshart is the same guy who was recently in the news because was on an email chain with fellow Selectman when the other Selectman ordered a town employee remove the fact that the board discussed a large potential development on that Selectman’s property from official minutes to hide that fact that this was discussed from the public. Of course, he didn’t stop the cover up or even say anything- but look out people from Waltham or Wayland who want to take a walk in the woods because you will get zero tolerance!!
If Cat Rock Park, or any park, is too crowded to be safe it needs to be closed. I expect that that is what will happen eventually with Cat Rock Park, likely sooner rather than later. But by not taking the right step first, by trying to hoard for the few what is badly needed by all, Weston showed their prejudice and actually has put their own residents at greater risk. Next time they should just build a wall.