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Pic Of The Day #272

Morning light, Compo Beach (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

Vaping: One Westporter’s Story

He vapes in school. He vapes at home. He’s addicted, and he knows it.

He is a high school student from Westport. His father asked for anonymity. But he wants his son’s story told.

Vaping — using e-cigarettes — is a national phenomenon. It’s a $6 billion a year industry, growing at an annual rate of 42%.

It’s happening under the noses — literally — of adults.

Part of the reason is that the devices don’t look like cigarettes. There are many ways to vape. Most popular now are pen-shaped rechargeable devices. A refillable tank holds a pod with a liquid flavor compound. The liquid — which may contain nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerine, and flavorings — is vaporized by a heating element. Aerosol delivers a buzz to the user.

A variety of vaping devices. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

“Juuling” — named for the most popular e-cigarette — is particularly easy to hide. Juuls look like USB devices (and can be charged via USB ports). In the eternal cat-and-mouse game that pits teenagers against adults, Juuls are particularly innocuous-looking. And there is no distinctive smell.

That’s how some youngsters vape in school. And in their parents’ cars.

The Westport teenager was introduced to vaping several months ago. Since then, his grades have gone downhill. He’s lost interest in his favorite activities. All he cares about, his father says, is making sure he has his Juuls, and when he can vape next.

Juul being charged on a laptop. (Photo courtesy of Staples High School collaborative team)

There are at least 2 convenience stores in Westport that sell easily, willingly and happily to minors, the father says. (As with tobacco cigarettes, it’s illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors.)

His son’s addiction is so strong, the father notes, that he spent money from holiday gift cards on Juuls. “Planning, preparing and sneaking are now his main focus,” the father says. “He believes his own lies.

“This happened pretty fast. He never gave us a problem. He’s a friendly kid, popular. He liked sports and music.”

The father knows that not every teenager who vapes gets addicted. “Some kids can do it once a week. But this nicotine really caught him.”

Juul pods: empty (left) and full.

His wife has found “hundreds” of pods hidden around their home. One pod lasts his son 3 days.

His son asked his father to buy Juuls for him. “He wanted cucumber flavors,” the man says. “What are they putting in their mouths?”

“I don’t understand why more people aren’t talking about this,” he says. “I know this is not just a Westport problem. It’s all over.”

Some parents, he says, “sweep it under the rug. They don’t want to admit their kid is Juuling.” Others have no clue. “My own kid probably charged it on his laptop, right under my nose,” he admits.

Staples High School principal James D’Amico is well aware of the problem. Administrators talk with PTA and staff members about it. They get questions about how vaping relates to the no-smoking policy (it’s included — and students have been suspended for violations).

The school is preparing a statement that includes signs for parents and staff to look for. In addition, security guards and grade level assistants are increasing their monitoring of bathrooms.

However, D’Amico notes, “the hideability, and the use of social media to set up places to meet means we’re playing whack-a-mole.”

The principal adds, “We can’t solve this as a school alone. It needs to be a partnership with parents and the community.”

Meanwhile, the father of the high school student says, “I’m worried what happens if he gets bored with this. Where does it lead — opioids? This is a good kid. He’s smart. He’s fun. But he’s ruining his health, his body and his mind.”

‘Tis The Season To Pay Taxes

The ink is scarcely dry on the Republicans’ new tax bill. But Westport tax collector Harry Whiteley has sent this message to residents: Changes will affect your 2018 federal tax return.

He explains:

Both the House and Senate passed federal tax plans that impact deductions on property taxes that all Westport residents need to consider. The new federal tax law allows individuals to choose how to utilize state and local property and income tax deductions. In 2018, there will be a $10,000 cap on the deduction for state and local property taxes or of income and sales tax.

These taxes are due in 2018. However, they may be paid in advance — before January 1, 2018 — so they may be deducted under current IRS rules:

  • 2016 Grand List 3rd installment real estate taxes (due 1/1/2018)
  • 2016 Grand List 4th installment real estate taxes (due 4/1/2018)
  • 2016 Grand List 3rd installment personal property taxes (due 1/1/2018)
  • 2016 Grand List 4th installment personal property taxes (due 4/1/2018)
  • 2016 Grand List supplemental motor vehicle taxes (due 1/1/2018)

These are the only taxes for which pre-payment may be applied.

Payments may be made in person at the tax collector’s office in Town Hall, through Friday December 29 (by 4:30 p.m.). Town Hall offices are closed Monday and Tuesday, December 25 and 26.

Payments by mail must be postmarked by December 31. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if a receipt is desired.

To view and pay your bills online, click here.

If your real estate taxes are escrowed (paid by your bank), you must contact them to discuss payment scheduling.

Taxpayers should consult with their personal tax advisor to confirm that the early payment is appropriate.

Happy holidays!

[OPINION] Intersection Issue Trumps Daybreak Approval

This Thursday (December 14, Town Hall, 7 p.m.), the Planning & Zoning Commission discusses a proposal for 12 homes on the former Daybreak Nursery property. Earlier today, “06880” described the project. Neighbor Bonnie Dubson opposes the idea. She writes:

Daybreak Nurseries is sited at a crossroads: the notoriously dangerous confluence of Main Street, Weston Road and Easton Road. It is the unavoidable cross-your-fingers blind merge, hope-for-the-best junction that is an unfortunate part of our daily commutes.

A plan has been proposed to develop the property, which is within spitting distance of the Merritt Parkway Exit 42 interchange. The specifics of the plan are not important here. Suffice it to say that the proposal has both proponents and detractors. But regardless of the details, this Westporter believes any proposal concerning the Daybreak property should be tabled until Westport and the Connecticut Department of Transportation remedy this dangerous intersection.

Over the years, plans have been floated to upgrade the intersections’ existing stop signs to traffic lights, or create a series of traffic circles, but not one of these measures has been implemented.

A roundabout proposal for the Main Street/Weston Road/Easton Road intersection. Click to enlarge.

The time to act to mitigate this unsafe intersection is now.

Now is the time for a “Longshore moment” – such as in 1960, when the town’s leadership envisioned the future benefits of purchasing the private club and then opening it to the public.

While we will never get an 18-hole golf course out of the 2.18-acre lot, the former nursery presents a golden opportunity to re-envision and redesign the Exit 42 gateway into Westport.

We have a chance to repair a dysfunctional intersection and inject some much-needed green space into this corner of town.

Several new homes are proposed for the former Daybreak Nursery, at the corner of Main Street and Weston Road.

Westport’s leadership can opt to be near-sighted and rubber-stamp this development for the short-term gain of bolstering the town’s coffers. Electing to do so is tempting, but this choice is riddled with unintended consequences:

Exacerbated traffic; an intersection that poses imminent danger to drivers and pedestrians; huge liabilities for the town because this imminent danger is actually avoidable.

An intersection makeover requires finagling, and working with state agencies. It will take a huge investment: time, money and patience.

Let’s ask ourselves: What is our shared vision for the future of Westport?

Mine is simple: I want to preserve the small-town character and integrity of Westport, and the safety of its residents. Voting to approve this development means that the Daybreak intersection may never be fixed. Once something is built there, the opportunity will lost.

Approving the development is tantamount to throwing our hands in the air and saying, “oh well, there is nothing that can be done.”

But I think our elected officials can rise to this challenge. They won’t duck and run when things get tricky.

“Daybreak” signals new beginnings and fresh starts. Daybreak is ready for an intersection do-over. Act now.

Pics Of The Day #235

Sure, the Pic of the Day is supposed to be a Westport photo. But Stew’s is an honorary Westport store — and the Leonard family has l-o-o-n-g roots here. Merry Christmas! (Photos/Randy Christophersen)

Sir Stanley Matthews: The Westport Connection

Stanley Matthews was one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. But because his sport was soccer, many Westporters have never heard of him.

That’s a shame. But now, everyone here can join the rest of the world in celebrating a man so revered for his skill, sportsmanship and stardom that he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

And the reason Westporters will know about this amazing man — one who played in the brutal English First Division until age 50 — is because local residents made a full-length film about him.

The group includes Matthews’ son, Stanley. Yes — the same Stanley Matthews Jr. best known in this area as a tennis pro.

Since its video-on-demand release in the UK in October, “Matthews: The Original Number 7” has earned rave reviews. BBC and Sky Sports are negotiating for broadcast rights. American rights are under negotiation too.

Westport’s involvement with Matthews dates back 40 years. In 1977 Joe Pierce — a native of Scotland who became was an early FCIAC soccer star at Stamford’s Rippowam High School — was playing on a local amateur club.

One day, teammate John Gould — a Westporter best known as a drummer with the Average White Band — brought a friend: Stanley Matthews Jr. At 18 the younger Matthews had been a 3-time junior Wimbledon champion. He beat Ilie Nastase in the French Open, at the height of the Romanian’s career.

Matthews Jr. was a very good soccer player. But he was even better at tennis. He relocated to Weston, and bought the 4 Seasons Racquet Club in Wilton. He and Pierce became good friends.

For all his accomplishments, Sir Stanley’s story had never been fully told. But 3 years ago, Pierce decided it was time to give him the treatment he deserved.

There was a lot to tell. He was the first “modern” soccer player: He trained by running on sand and adhered to a strict vegetarian diet, while his teammates caroused and drank beer. And although he was the oldest player ever to represent England internationally, he lost 6 of his best years to World War II.

Stanley Matthews (left) was a wizard with the ball.

After retiring in 1965, he spent time in the townships of South Africa. Apartheid was in full force. But Sir Stanley taught black youngsters how to play — and formed a team in Soweto that, against all odds, headed to Brazil to compete.

“He was the first global sports superstar,” Pierce says. “He was the Babe Ruth of soccer, with the worldwide appeal of a later player like David Beckham.”

As a boy in Scotland, Pierce watched movie newsreels with the news of the day. They showed all the important people: Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Charles de Gaulle, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe. And Stanley Matthews.

“He was a mythical figure for me,” Pierce says.

Joe Pierce

With the help of Stanley Jr., Pierce unearthed vintage footage of Matthews playing with Stoke City and Blackpool, 2 of England’s best — and most blue-collar — mid-century clubs.

Pierce — whose film title is executive producer, and who for a time ran Intensity Tennis Club, a rival to Stanley Jr.’s 4 Seasons — wants every young soccer player in the US to see the film. They need to learn about the roots of their game.

But, Pierce insists, it’s aimed at non-fans too. Matthews’ humanitarianism is an integral part of his story.

Sir Stanley died in 2000, age 85. More than 100,000 people lined the streets of Stoke-on-Trent to pay tribute. His ashes were buried beneath the center circle of Stoke’s stadium.

Today — thanks in part to a Westport connection — Sir Stanley Matthews’ life and legacy live larger than ever.

Remembering David Cassidy

When David Cassidy died last week, millions of fans mourned the loss of a popular culture icon.

Dave Robicheau mourned the loss of a fellow bandmate, and friend.

A Boston native, Robicheau moved to Westport 7 years ago with his wife Deb. She was Davy Jones’ manager.

Robicheau was connected to the ex-Monkee too: For 15 years, he played guitar on Jones’ tours. He also performed with former Monkee Mickey Dolenz, Bobby Sherman, and Herman’s Hermits’ Peter Noone.

When Jones died in 2012, Cassidy did a tribute show in Miami. Robicheau played with him. For the next 5 years, they worked together.

Dave Robicheau (left) and David Cassidy.

“He was a great musician and friend,” Robicheau recalls. “He seemed happiest before a show. When he went onstage, he was the David Cassidy everyone knew.”

Audiences — primarily women — loved how the ’70s singer’s music made them feel. “TV is a powerful medium. People remember his face in their living room,” notes Robicheau, referring to Cassidy’s role as Keith on “The Partridge Family.”

David Cassidy, in the “Partridge Family” years.

His singing career was bubblegum. His biggest hit was “I Think I Love You.” But, Robicheau says, he toured a lot longer than many “hipper” musicians.

His guitarist — who had not been a big Cassidy fan growing up — learned to appreciate the singer’s broad, long-lasting appeal. He discovered too that Cassidy was even more popular in the UK than the US. His cover of the Rascals’ “How Can I Be Sure” never charted here, but rocketed to #1 there.

Robicheau last saw Cassidy a month ago, in Chicago. Now, of the 3 Davids — he, Cassidy and Jones — he’s the only one left.


Carson And Connor Einarsen’s “Silent Beat”

In 2013, Carson and Connor Einarsen made “Ryan Hood.” The 60-minute film cost $40. (They rented jackets for police officers).

Two years later, the brothers filmed “An Inconsistent Story in Stealing” here. That was more ambitious. Written by Carson, the neo-noir movie featured a former thief sucked back into the town she despises, to hunt down something she stole long ago.

With 17 speaking parts and 40 locations, it cost $4,000.

Carson (left) and Connor (middle) Einarsen, directing “Ryan Hood.”

Now Carson and Connor are moving up in the film world. “The Silent Beat” will be filmed in Georgia.

It’s more expensive too. The projected cost is $13,500.

Connor calls “The Silent Beat” “a live-action feature film that tells a small, intimate superhero origin story.”

The hero has incredible hearing. He listens to things no one else can, including an old radio that talks to him. When his best friend disappears, he dons a helmet and cape to get him back.

There’s a reason the young men are filming in Georgia. Carson — a 2012 Staples High School grad, and film and TV major at the Savannah College of Art and Design — now teaches film at Gatewood Academy, a private school in Eatonton.

Connor (Staples ’10, Carleton College with a major in cinema and media studies) is happy to travel south to help.

The new film was written — over nearly a dozen drafts — by Carson. He set it in the 1980s because that was a time of advanced analog technology. The world was about to go digital — but no one knew it.

“It was a time before total connectivity,” Carson notes. His characters are isolated — but not in the way modern technology has made us become.

In the ’80s, Carson says, “you couldn’t just pull out your cellphone and call someone. You had to talk face to face.”

He was not alive in the 1980s, of course. He used a writers’ group as “consultants” on the decade. (They told him, for example, to call a certain type of sneakers “Chucks,” not “Converse.”)

“The Silent Beat,” in the planning stages.

Filming begins November 27, and runs through December 20. When it’s done, Carson hopes it makes the festival rounds.

It’s perfect for those audiences: “an action-adventure film aimed at young adults nostalgic for the ’80s,” Carson explains.

You know: those days when life was so uncomplicated.

But before there was a YouTube to show his promotional video, and a Kickstarter website to help raise the $13,500 the young filmmakers need.

(Click here for a Kickstarter link to Carson and Connor Einarsen’s “The Silent Beat.”)


Time For Turf

Darien has built lots of them. New Canaan too. And many other Westport-type towns.

They’re not McMansions. They’re not Starbucks. In fact, they’re not even buildings at all.

They are turf athletic fields.

(“Turf fields” are actually artificial — not grass. With new technology, they’ve come a long way from “Astroturf.” They’re even more advanced than just a few years ago.)

Westport lags behind our neighbors in turf fields. We’ve got just 4: Staples football, Jinny Parker (Staples field hockey), Wakeman B at Bedford Middle School (soccer and field hockey) and PJ Romano at Saugatuck Elementary (football and lacrosse).

They’re 10 years old, and will be resurfaced soon.

But a group of Westporters is working to turf 2 fields that — ever since Staples High School was built in 1958 — have been grass: the baseball diamond, and Albie Loeffler soccer field.

It’s a momentous change. But its time has come.

The Staples baseball diamond last April. Bad weather forced the Wreckers indoors for most of pre-season. They started their schedule after only 4 outdoor practices.

(Full disclosure: As Staples’ boys soccer coach, I’ve been a grass purist all my life. But I’ve changed my tune. Now I’m helping plan the project.)

The two fields — set between the turf football and field hockey fields, behind the school — have a lot going for them. Spectators enjoy great views, from seats on a steep hill. The backdrop of trees behind the fields is beautiful in spring, spectacular in fall. For 6 decades, fans have enjoyed fantastic games played at both sites.

(Including, of course, this great season that the girls soccer team has had. They won again last night — and play Ridgefield on Saturday for the state championship. Go Wreckers!)

But the fields are nearly 60 years old. They don’t drain as well as they should. They are closed far too long after the snow melts, or it rains. Constant use has worn them down.

Loeffler Field, mid-season this year. Despite constant maintenance by the Parks & Recreation Department, the grass is showing its age. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Turfing the baseball and soccer fields would allow them to be used longer, and more often — and by more groups than access them now. The baseball field could accommodate Little League, and more travel teams. Loeffler Field would be opened up to Westport Soccer Association players who now struggle to find space.

The fields would be showcases for the town. Young athletes would play right at the high school — and begin dreaming of days when they’d wear the Staples “S.”

It’s a great plan. But the cost is $2.2 million. And there is no money for it in either the Board of Education or Parks & Recreation budget.

The project would be privately funded. This won’t be paid for by bake sales. We’d need a capital campaign, and the help of some big-time donors.

A preliminary plan for turf on the Staples baseball diamond and soccer field.

Right now, Board of Education policy prohibits naming the fields after a corporation or living individual. We’re exploring ways to change that.

But the most immediate needs are to raise $10,000 for a survey and soil tests before snow falls, and $100,000 for engineering and other plans by March 1. Those funds would also cover the permitting process. If all goes well, construction could start in June. The fields would be ready by fall.

Why now? With the football and field hockey turf fields slated for replacement this summer, we’d have economies of scale. Just as importantly, there would be easier access to the hard-to-reach site than for a stand-alone project in 2019.

A great group of baseball and soccer folks is working on this project. But we’re not professional fundraisers. Anyone interested in helping secure the initial $10,000, the next $100,000 — or who has expertise running a capital campaign to raise $2.2 million — is invited to email

We need your help. Let’s talk.

And next year, we’ll invite you to throw out the first pitch, or kick the first ball.

[OPINION] Bonnie Dubson: Putting The Town On Public Notice

Bonnie Dubson is a founder of the Coleytown Conservation Coalition. She’s concerned about 2 things: the way legal notices are posted, and the development of the former Daybreak Nursery property at the Main Street/Weston Road intersection.

Both issues are related. Bonnie explains:

The legal notice that piqued my interest was there – on page C13 – buried in the back of the real estate section, on a text-heavy black and white page.

I got lucky and found it, but only because all the stars aligned.

I do not subscribe to the local newspaper, and public notices such as the one I spotted announcing a public hearing on a proposed development in my neighborhood are not placed in online news outlets.

A legal notice about the proposed Daybreak development, in the Westport News.

Connecticut law requires public hearing notices be published in “a newspaper having a general circulation” in the municipality where the land that is the subject of the hearing is located. It specifies notification must be posted at least twice, and between 10-15 days prior to the hearing.

My notice, concerning the proposed “small home development” at the site of the former Daybreak Nursery appeared in the Westport News on November 3. The hearing is slated for tomorrow (November 16, 7 p.m. in Town Hall).

I considered myself notified. At least I thought I did. Then I tried to spread the word to friends and neighbors I thought might want to attend. “I don’t think so,” they said, pointing out that the notice was not posted online at the Town of Westport website.

So I went to the Town of Westport calendar to see for myself. The notice was conspicuously absent. I assured friends that yes, the matter of 500 Main Street was on the agenda for November 16, and that I had seen it in the Westport News. I even emailed them a digital clip of the legal notice.

But the seeds of doubt had been sowed by the absence of online information.

Several new homes are planned for the former Daybreak Nursery, at the corner of Main Street and Weston Road.

After phone calls and prodding on social media, the legal notice appeared on the Town of Westport website – yesterday afternoon. That was a full 11 days after it was published in the paper.

This is 2017. We live in a digital age. Failure to post legal notices online puts Westport residents at a disadvantage. How can we have an open public forum, and make sure residents’ concerns are heard, if the general public is not informed about upcoming hearings?

Furthermore, publishing a public notice in the newspaper but not following up online creates confusion. Like me, residents will ask themselves, “will there or won’t there be a hearing?”

Due process requires that government give proper notice to individuals before making any decision that would impede upon those individuals’ rights or property interests. The purpose of these notices is to alert those who may be affected by the proposed action and inform them of its nature so as to allow them the time and opportunity to prepare for and attend the public hearing.

The majority of Westporters get their news online and through social media. I believe the Town of Westport should recognize that, and ensure these vital notices are published simultaneously, both online and in print. Only that will ensure that the underlying purpose of public notice has been fulfilled.

The last of Daybreak Nursery was carted away in March.