Below are my thoughts and positions on various topics relevant to Newton today, and tomorrow.
ACCESS TO PUBLIC TRANSIT: I am committed to collaboration, cooperation and patience to improve the public transit services we have in Newton: commuter rail, subway, buses and accessibility. Newton has been talking with Mass. DOT and other agencies around the need to improve transit availability in Newton and I continue to participate in these important conversations. I will keep coordinating with our state legislators to push for improved service on all three aspects of public transit: bus routes and stops, commuter rail scheduling and stops, and Green Line T subway service. Having both commuter rail tracks, in-bound and out-bound, running simultaneously will help with the availability of stops throughout the day and week. Physical accessibility is an ongoing priority. I will continue to collaborate with Newton Commission on Disability and the Mass. Office on Disability, along with State Representative Kay Khan, Mass. DOT, and others to keep pushing forward to make the stations, trains, subways, and buses fully accessible and will adequate stops.
AGGREGATION AND RENEWABLE ENERGY: Thanks to Green Newton, 350.org, Mothers Out Front and State Rep. Kay Khan for helping me learn more about this topic. Through aggregation for purchasing clean electricity, the City has set the standard by choosing aggregation for municipal electricity, while giving residents the choice to opt in or out. While a few dollars a month toward clean energy is a worthwhile choice for many people, it’s unfeasible for some who struggle to balance a household budget, especially with high housing and utility costs. Prices will fluctuate over time, but right now there are price savings for being part of Newton's Power Choice. Residents are automatically part of the program but have a choice to opt out if they choose. It's an important step in reducing the use of fossil fuels and helping with climate change. Newton Power Choice will add 46% energy from local wind and solar sources, bringing Newton to exceed its goal of 60%, to 80% renewable energy which is the highest in the Commonwealth. Check it out at https://masspowerchoice.com/newton and choose to opt up to 100% clean and local electricity.
CITY CHARTER: As an observer of the City Council for over 30 years, I believe that a smaller council would be more effective. At the current size of 24, our City Council is the largest in Massachusetts (the average size is 10 for other cities in MA). This is unwieldy, leading to delays and unnecessary work, some of which can well be done by other bodies, including city department staff and existing boards or commissions. At-large Councilors are all committed to their wards and neighborhoods and well represent those local concerns.
CLIMATE ACTION: Environmental issues and climate change are urgent matters. The City Council has a role in showing leadership and behavior-modeling, through a range of policies that can show how a municipality can take a pro-active and multi-pronged approach. The wide range of climate change related issues that can be highlighted through policy-making and citizen outreach include: making alternative forms of transportation more available, reliable and safe compared to single occupancy car trips, reducing greenhouse gases in public facilities and vehicles, installing ground and roof-top solar panels, exploring how Newton may host wind generation on selected sites, reducing waste at the source, maintaining our street tree canopy, reducing the plastics we use, and how compact, smart-growth near public transportation, creation of Passive House technologies and construction benefit the environment are but a handful of the arenas the Council can show leadership on. I use Newton's Climate Action Plan as a standard and goal to evaluate many proposals, and agree that we should aim for carbon neutrality to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions.
I support mixed-use, transit oriented development, fixing gas leaks, reducing waste, switching to renewable energy, making small, daily personal decisions in the direction of environmentally sound changes. A relevant quote from a friend: "There is overwhelming consensus behind planting more trees, promoting electric vehicles, and adopting energy efficient building standards. Yet some self-styled environmental leaders pull back from approving well-located, well-designed, energy-efficient mixed use development, which our Climate Action Plan makes clear is an essential part of our response to the climate change crisis. To lead on environmental issues in these times means not picking and choosing which climate actions are convenient or politically expedient to adopt."
The Massachusetts Sierra Club endorsed me in July 2019 as "an environmental champion".
COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT: Increasing commercial, office, lab science and research, shared work spaces and retail development in Newton is desirable for a number of reasons: to gain taxes from these uses that help offset our overly-heavy reliance on residential property taxes, to enliven the streetscape with a variety of uses to attract residents, to offer employment opportunities.
Improving transportation access and a supply of workforce housing are interconnected and can expand Newton's commercial, retail and cultural vitality. These co-dependent issues are a roadblock to hiring and keeping workers, which contributes to the lack of transit and housing close to employment, according responses of Newton Needham Chamber members- from small “mom and pop” independent merchants and retailers, to larger technology and life sciences companies. I co-docketed an item before the City Council to find and support ways to keep small, independent and local businesses in Newton.
Newton is on the cusp of being a destination for laboratory and science research laboratory uses in several locations, which will diversify commercial development, add employment opportunities, while bringing additional revenue in terms of tax dollars.
COVID-19: The worldwide coronavirus pandemic affected all of us in ways that pushed our abilities to adapt our work and family routines, keep up to date with the constant changes in statistics and recommended safety protocols, try to stay healthy. In Newton, we witnessed difficulty, confusion and hesitancy about getting students back into the schools physically while they sorely lagged academically and suffered emotionally. Assuring that the school buildings were safe in terms of ventilation and air quality, the ability to socially distance physically, vaccination availability and COVID testing for teachers and staff all contributed to the difficulties that parents, guardians, teachers, administrators and students themselves wrestled with.
City Council business went virtual for the most part, with all Committee and full Council meetings occurring via Zoom, and made available by NewTV. We will take some of online and virtual options forward when we get back to in-person meetings, as resident participation increased for Newtonians to watch and be part of our municipal deliberations from their homes.
Many local businesses suffered, including restaurants, gyms, shops, child care programs to name a few. I worked on solutions for curbside and al fresco/outdoor dining, shared streets, helped create a Newton Coalition for Children and Families where I serve on the Steering Committee, avidly support the #DineLocal campaign. Let's stay vigilant about keeping ourselves and others safe as we now transition into being vaccinated and trying to claim a new normal.
DOG PARKS: Newton has a gem of in off-leash dog walking parks. I support continuing it and expanding designated areas for dog walking to other appropriate locations, distributed throughout various sites in Newton. These designated dog parks serve the needs of dogs, their owners and walkers, and other residents who want fresh air and exercise with or without canines present. A combination of on and off-leash, fenced and not-fenced areas serve our canine companions well! All license and off-leash tag fees and fines collected go directly back into dog park related programs, staff and site maintenance (fencing, new grass, etc.).
ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY: I’m committed to Newton’s environmental health and sustainability. The Sierra Club endorses me for my commitment to protecting the environment. I'm honored to be the only candidate they endorse from Ward 3. From street trees to pocket parks, sustainable development, high performance buildings, solid waste and recycling, source reduction, renewables, stretch energy codes, solar panels, electric powered city vehicles and charging stations, identifying and fixing gas leaks, waste reduction, and aggregating municipal electrical energy and improving transportation options: we need this multi-pronged approach to energy and the environment.
GAS PIPELINE LEAKS: Thanks to coalition building amongst several environmentally oriented groups including Green Newton, the Multi-town Gas Leaks Initiative, and with a particular shout-out to the awareness and advocacy being done by Newton’s Mothers Out Front (MOF), we have a collection of volunteer groups and organizations focusing on this issue. MOF helps identify gas leaks, and presses National Grid to repair them as soon as possible. Newton does not have the money in its budget to do all these repairs, nor should it be solely responsible. Working with the DPW, National Grid, private groups and individuals makes for more progress than leaving it to any one entity.
Education for residents around electric, thermal heat pump, and induction alternatives to gas for heating, cooking, clothes drying etc. is in the works and should be expanded.
GREEN and OPEN SPACE: As a practicing landscape designer trained in landscape architecture, land use and site planning, and the City’s first Open Space Coordinator, I am wholly committed to enhancing Newton’s green space. We have active, passive and conservation areas all to be maintained, improved, and expanded whenever possible. There are sidewalk berms, pocket parks, full-sized parks and playgrounds, wildlife corridors, waterways, walking and biking paths, rail–trail adjacencies, street trees, green and bike way connections to our waterways, and municipal grounds as parts of our overall green space. I am particularly hopeful about the possibilities of increased greenways access to the Charles River, as a public/private venture. Protecting and increasing our city tree canopy is very important.
I support and participate in city-wide open space master planning, including the connectivity of various open spaces. We can look at how Complete Streets combines storm water runoff and retention, planted areas, sidewalks, benches, lighting, separation of bike/pedestrian/vehicular users, safe accessibility and increase to the urban tree canopy together. Better suited, often native, and various species of street trees, set in locations more likely to ensure long term success than a 2’ wide sidewalk strip squeezed between asphalt and concrete, now being used vs. the monocultures and exotics planted 30-50 years ago. Use of native plants vs. exotic or invasive plant materials is goal I champion that aligns with Newton's Climate Action Plan, as well as creating food and habitat for wildlife. The Parks and Recreation Dept. and Conservation Commission have my support. The Newton Conservators is an amazing volunteer group committed to the "protection and preservation of natural areas … for the enjoyment and benefit of the people of Newton for scientific study, education, and recreation.”
GUN CONTROL AND FIREARMS: A recent proposal for a gun store to open in Newtonville brought the topic of firearms and weapon sales to the forefront. Newton has not had any gun shops in many years. The spate of mass shootings in the U.S. heightened concerns about access to weapons and gun control. Federal law allows for the sale of guns, so the Mayor, City Law Department and City Council looked into legal ways to restrict potential locations and hours of operation for gun stores. A restrictive ordinance was passed in early June 2021 that will prohibit the proposed store, while making any other applicants at a location within three small and distinct areas come before the City Council for a Special Permit, which will need a 2/3 vote. Exploring an outright ban is going.
HISTORIC PRESERVATION: Preservation of historically significant structures and landscapes is an extremely important part of maintaining our connection to the past, and changes over time. We need to be able to protect these valuable assets and markers of Newton's history. The City Ordinance that covers this, Chapter 22, was put into place in 1993, has not been reviewed in any substantive way until now. There is a balance to be weighed for protecting important historic resources with individual property rights, other goals of the City such as affordable housing and economic development. For instance, is any structure 50+ years old worthy of consideration to be historically significant? That makes most of Newton properties being under the review of the Newton Historical Commission if owners want to apply for a partial or full demolition. I spearheaded a review and update of the historic landmark and demolition delay ordinances, in order to make them more clear and comprehensible. I nominated 128 Chestnut St. West Newton, 145 Warren St. Newton Centre for landmarking, and strongly support the Grace Church tower project.
In my professional work, I design projects with historical preservation components and goals (several on Frederick Law Olmsted original designs), and have a staff consultant with expertise in this area when appropriate. I believe in the value of historic preservation, but also want us to consider how preservation aligns with other city goals.
HOUSING: I am a longtime advocate for creating diverse housing options to meet the needs of all incomes, abilities and ages. Newton has a demand for more affordable housing units, as does the larger region. Finding a variety of ways to meet this need is one of Newton's major challenges. Mayor Fuller joined with other Boston Metro area leaders who are committed to creating more affordable housing; I applaud and support that goal. As one of the original members of Newton’s Housing Partnership and former Chair of the Newton League of Women Voters Housing and Land Use Committees, I organized public forums to educate residents about the need for more diverse and fair housing options, advocated on behalf of numerous proposals before the City, hosted and led conversations on this topic, worked with and for CAN-DO and Newton Community Development Foundation (NCDF), and provided pro bono landscape design and fundraising work for those organizations. Engine 6 is a local group doing education and advocacy around housing in Newton and the intersections with transportation, sustainability and social justice. I'm proud to have been an early Steering Committee member before being elected to the City Council.
I am committed to educational and advocacy efforts, as well contributing to the zoning review process in the City and within City Council to help make changes that will expand the housing options for all incomes and ages. One of my priorities is to facilitate and encourage coalition-building among various groups with different missions towards the common goal of sustainable development and the creation of diverse housing: ownership and rental, to meet the range of needs for families, seniors, millennials, employees, city workers. We need to work on these efforts to stop squeezing out Newton’s middle class, families, lower income, younger and older residents. I support the current effort to create a Housing Trust Fund.
INFRASTRUCTURE: As a member of the Newton City Council's Public Facilities Committee, I regularly learn about our crucial, if unglamourous, infrastructure: roads, streets, sidewalks, water, stormwater, sewer, utilities and wireless connections. Improving and maintaining these networks is paramount to help improve decades of neglect on maintenance. Continuing the improvements is a top priority for me. Coordinating pedestrian, bicycle, vehicular movement, in conjunction with water, sewer and storm drain improvements, synchronized with city and other public utilities, is necessary. The latest roads paving and maintenance program being used by the Dept. of Public Works offers short and long term benefits. Simultaneously we must maintain our urban canopy of street trees and accessibility for all users. Housing and transportation are intertwined with infrastructure, and all need to be considered as interwoven systems and needs.
MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION: Unseen, invisible needs face many Newton families dealing with mental health and addiction issues. The stigma is so strong that silence and isolation prevail. Many of us have a family member or friend that struggles with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, a learning disability, alcoholism, co-occurring disorders, or substance use disorder (SUD).
Newton’s opioid crisis is as critical as the nation’s. Our own opioid fatality rate went up over 140% a few years ago, and COVID-19 has led to an increase in SUD deaths. It happens here too. It is unacceptable. Vaping, kratom, and fentanyl laced cocaine are newer insidious substances our middle and high school aged students have available to them. With recreational marijuana now legal and for sale in Newton, the time is ripe to ensure that adult-use cannabis doesn't make its way into the hands of minors. We can and must do more to educate and support families to help them learn more about these issues and their own role in recovery. Join me in the effort to stop the stigma. Education and support for family members has shown greater progress for both those members and outcomes for the loved one. Newton can do better. My efforts center around providing support and help for the families of those struggling with substance use disorder.
Re-allocating funds and City staffing to better address mental health is one of the issues being addressed in the Police Reform Task Force. Police should not be the only response; using appropriate professionals with mental health training is a better direction.
MIXED USE DEVELOPMENT: I very much support zoning redesign goals, as our current ordinance is outdated and often hard to comprehend if not adhere to. How those goals get translated into practical zoning ordinances that can clearly and fairly shape change is the stage we're at now. Criteria set out to encourage compact, pedestrian-oriented, mixed use, village life should include:
A variety of transportation options are available
Services and amenities exist to meet needs of residents
Each proposal transitions well into existing, surrounding area
Active street front enhances local businesses and pedestrian activity
Single floor living, accessible to people of all abilities
Additional public open space is created
Sufficient set back from existing uses
Housing for a mix of incomes and ages, with a variety of housing types and sizes
Create a beneficial environment for residents and not adversely impact traffic
Each proposal needs to be considered on its own merits, how well it fits with zoning criteria, and that overall benefits to the city outweigh disadvantages. Creating more public open space should be required, and is one of the advantages of compact, “smart development”. How to balance input from abutters with what is for the general welfare and benefit of the entire community is always a difficult process, that encompasses listening to all perspectives, learning from professionals, doing my own research, and forging a well-considered opinion for each specific proposal.
MUNICIPAL REDUCTION OF GREENHOUSE GASES: I support the installation of solar panels on roofs of municipal buildings, which is currently being done. We should look at that for every existing and all new construction of public buildings. For larger private developments, we need to consider requiring rooftop solar as a condition of granting Special Permits. Ground-mounted solar canopies also can have a significant role. Despite being a relatively built-out city, there are locations where this is appropriate. Residential homes and private businesses also play a part. Newton has a home/private sector program that is relatively successful but could use a boost of more outreach and citizen education. As solar technologies improve we will see more ways to include both roof-top and ground installations.
The City-owned vehicle fleet is being replaced in a scheduled manner by vehicles that reduce emissions and are more efficient, ultimately aiming to go all-electric. Due to budget constraints that timeline is not showing full conversion within the next few years. There are very few appropriate sites for wind generation in Newton. Eliminating incineration and importantly lowering the need for it by reducing waste is paramount.
PASSIVE HOUSE: Passive House is a strict building efficiency standard that can be a key contributor for addressing climate change. It is increasingly being required, especially for new construction buildings, and well worth the Newton City Council considering as a condition in some Special Permit applications.
It's a highly effective path to Net Zero and Net Positive. It’s not just for houses—passive building works for schools, offices, hotels, multifamily, and high-rises too.
Passive House certified buildings use quantitative metrics to ensure five building-science principles:
The building envelope is extremely airtight (4-5 times more air tight than required by MA Energy Stretch Code), preventing infiltration of outside air and loss of conditioned air.
Continuous insulation throughout the building's entire envelope without any thermal bridging.
High-performance windows (often triple-paned windows) and doors - solar gain is managed to exploit the sun's energy for heating purposes in the heating season and to minimize overheating during the cooling season.
Bring in much more fresh air than required by code with balanced heat- and moisture-recovery ventilation.
Much smaller heating and cooling system.
This leads to construction that reduces a building's overall energy use by 40%+ compared to a new construction building built to MA Energy Stretch Code requirements and most LEED levels. To meet Massachusetts' climate goals, we need to ensure that all new construction is extremely efficient. Passive House is an excellent tool to do that. MassSave has incentives to help owner's build and certify to this standard.
PLANNING AND ZONING: Newton is becoming more forward thinking and pro-active in its planning. Rather than respond to proposals in a re-active way, we should determine and put to paper what we want Newton to be. Overall master plans for the city should encompass smaller master plans for specific neighborhoods and villages, as each has its own character. The Pattern Book details existing characteristics worth protecting that set the contextual foundation to shape future changes. Zoning redesign is still underway, an on-going process for zoning ordinance review and update. Improved guidance for homeowners and developers, simplifying the permitting and review process, is in the works. There is no current proposal to eliminate single family housing across Newton, yet the City is looking at where appropriate locations to permit multi-family housing may be, perhaps in village centers where public transit exists. Concerns about tear-downs and inappropriate development may be solved through context-based zoning, keeping the scale and character of most residential neighborhoods. Newton’s Comprehensive Plan lays out a vision that we should continue to implement.
POLICE REFORM: It is evident through recent police violence nationwide, and in our own city of Newton, that police reform is needed. I am a strong advocate for discussing and working with the Newton Police Department to improve community safety, and to build/rebuild a foundation of equity/equality.
Issues that need to be dealt with include racial profiling, police response to mental health episodes, and abuse of force, while maintaining community safety as the #1 goal. I support the Mayor’s establishment of a Police Reform Task Force, but wish that there was more specificity in the Final Report about what a community policing and a community safety model could actually look like. Reallocating financial, departmental and staff address societal needs and balancing community safety with restorative justice should:
improve relationships between police and the community,
support the work of the Police Department and other relevant staff
ensure racial, ethnic, economic and gender equality in police dealings
engage and coordinate with trained mental health professionals to de-escalate situations
provide accountability and training
Systemic changes to our health care system need to take place across the country, such as better access to mental health services, available and affordable health insurance that covers mental health and addiction.
POLLINATORS: Native plant materials play an important part in the plant pollinator system that helps boost biodiversity and environmental sustainability. Installing recommended plants that provide food and habitat for animals as part of the pollination process on both private and public land is an initiative I am involved with. This effort helps further our environmental sustainability goals, requires less water and maintenance, encourages biodiversity, and animals such as bees and butterflies.
SENIORS/OLDER PEOPLE/AGING IN PLACE: With a projected population growth that will bring Newton to over 1/3 of its residents being age 60+ within the next decade, we must work to promote the goals of enabling those who choose to live here the ability to do so. Newton is a designated Livable and Age Friendly Community. Let’s continue to meet the broad spectrum of needs. This includes advocating for seniors and their families, following the strategic planning done by Newton’s Department of Senior Services and the Newton Council on Aging. Housing, services, programming, safety, walkability and access to amenities collectively are needed.
The physical building of the Senior Center is not able to house the terrific and expanding services and activities aimed at older people ages 55-100+. Plans for a new Center for Active Living (NewCAL) that will encompass multi-generational programs and services, are in the works to replace the existing building at the current site. The programming and building configuration are being re-addressed.
SHARED STREETS: One of the carryovers from the pandemic that needs to be incorporated beyond COVID is the concept of shared streets. This had been implemented across American and in Europe for years, but has become more apparent as a way to safely gather and move all users outdoors during the coronavirus. Rather than have every street be geared only or mainly toward motorized vehicles, the street is shared by pedestrians and bicyclists as well as vehicles, slowing traffic to create safer conditions, improving accessibility and walkability, creating more inviting and well-used outdoor spaces that may also incorporate mini parklets, landscaped areas, outdoor dining, artwork and community gathering.
VOTING RIGHTS FOR YOUTH: I am excited to see civic engagement by Newton teenagers and young adults, students at the middle school and high school levels. The "Generation Citizen" programs in all four NPS middle schools, and the Center for Civic Engagement and Service at Newton North provide students with exposure and advice on how to become a part of community service, civics, advocacy and leadership. It makes sense to take this civic engagement to the next level and allow people ages 16 and 17 the right to vote in local elections. Towards this goal, I support the Vote 16 Newton effort (which mirrors Vote16USA, an national campaign to extend voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds), a non partisan, student-run campaign to lower the voting age in Newton for municipal elections.
WASTE MANAGEMENT AND ZERO WASTE: We are far from achieving the Zero Waste goal, but that strategy is the path to stay on. Reducing waste at the source of consumption is the best way to attain zero waste. In the meantime we work towards improving our recycling, and how to dispose of waste generated. Eliminating incineration was a critical step forward. Reduction at the source is so important, and that goal is an ongoing initiative.
Simultaneously, we’ve got recycling (trash, yard waste, solid waste, etc.) and household hazardous waste to deal with. Sorting these categories is a first step, having the resources to deal with each “destination” is another. Newton continues to work on its offerings, but some areas can use improvement. Within the Department of Public Works is an Office of Environmental Affairs, so there are human resources to connect with. Several current City Councilors (I've heard us referred to as The Green Team!) are committed to net zero and associated environmental goals that I align with. Education for residents about what can be recycled or not is ongoing, as the recycle market keeps changing. For example, Newton will initiate a curbside textile recycling program in the near future, which both takes material out of the waste stream as well as brings income to the City. There is a city-wide goal of reducing Solid Waste that I support and coordinate with. I'm excited to be collaborating with youth involved in climate action, from Newton North and South High Schools, and the Boys and Girls Club.
ZONING REDESIGN: I believe that through the next stage of zoning review, we can find the tools to address and balance needs that oftentimes appear in conflict, such as historic preservation, open space, housing and commercial development. Context-based zoning, and using a Pattern Book which uses the existing surrounding as a guide to appropriate development, can help direct us. Zoning contributes to exclusionary housing practices and can help reverse that outcome. There is no plan to "eliminate single family zoning" across the city. Net Zero is one of the criteria that should be embedded into our zoning regulations and development requirements.
WHY VOTE FOR ME?: As a multi-issue community leader for over 30 years, my credibility and reach is strong in Newton. Being an elected official as a City Councilor gives me an even greater ability to affect positive change; I am able to VOTE on matters that come before the City. I believe in the value of community participation, listening, and collaboration, combined with facts and doing my homework. I bring a voice of civil discourse to often contentious and challenging issues.