I am completing my first term as a Councilor at-Large from Ward 3, and truly love this job! Having an engineer’s mindset – i.e. relying on data to analyze and solve problems – is a useful perspective on the City Council.
Zoning and Development
Zoning determines what kind of buildings can be built where. And it is complicated! During my first term, zoning has taken much of my time, as it should, given the importance of our zoning code and my role as a member of the Zoning and Planning Committee. Because of my analytical approach I have become the “go-to” Councilor when residents or even other Councilors have questions about the implications of various zoning change proposals. For example, when the Planning Department and several Councilors sought to eliminate single family only zoning last year by claiming it would produce more affordable housing, I crunched the numbers and found that this would simply exacerbate the trend of more expensive housing being built in Newton. I also led on changing the zoning to eliminate “snout houses” where the garage dominates the streetscape. Next, I want to tackle tear downs being replaced by McMansions.
I have produced numerous videos, breaking down the proposed zoning to an understandable format. I’ve presented to many groups and always look forward to discussions. My latest video is featured below.
I’m for reasonable development and density, but I believe the city needs an overall plan, not just silos like Washington Street, Needham Street or Riverside Vision Plans. I believe it is important to have a fiscal, infrastructure and traffic analysis before we vote for zoning changes that will affect everyone in the city. And before undertaking radical changes, I believe we should consider a more targeted approach – what are the problems with the current zoning, and can we fix those without rewriting our whole zoning code? Many residents I have heard from would like to see us reduce teardowns, increase thoughtful development in our village centers, increase affordable housing, and ensure that new housing is environmentally sustainable. Let’s focus on those goals first, and see how far we get with a targeted approach. I also have supported, and will continue to support, increasing our commercial development in appropriate areas and at reasonable sizes. It is taxed at a higher rate than residential development and will help us address our fiscal challenges related to our unfunded liabilities in pensions and retiree health care.
We need more affordable housing in our city for the people most in need. This includes increasing our inclusionary zoning requirements, especially in large developments; expanding accessory apartments including more by right; creating an Affordable Housing Trust so, when opportunities arise, we can be more nimble; lowering our local preference to increase diversityin affordable housing and more. And it is not enough to just provide housing. Certain populations require additional services so for projects like the Armory in West Newton, include wrap around services in the building for the tenants.
Maintaining and improving our infrastructure is one of the fundamental tasks of local government. As your City Councilor, I will continue to work to:
- Make our streets and sidewalks safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists.
- Build a new, improved senior center.
- Preserve our green spaces and improve tree preservation.
- Improve our active recreational facilities. Our athletic fields have been neglected and need increased funding. We must rebuild Gath Pool and improve access to Crystal Lake (the latter two are of particular interest to me since I spent eight years as a swim instructor, lifeguard, and swim coach). Lights are failing at Albermarle
Environment and Climate Change
Newton is a leader when it comes to environmental sustainability, but there is so much more we can do. I support requiring solar panels, electric vehicle chargers, electric heat and cooking, and passive house standards in large projects, via special permit. While state law does not currently allow a city to require that new or renovated homes be fossil-fuel free, Newton can educate architects and builders on how a project could include sustainability, including passive house standards, in its design. I also support expanding our tree canopy, and investing in our parks and open spaces so that Newton can maintain its reputation as “the Garden City.”
There are also many actions that we can take as a community and as individuals that are far more effective at reducing climate change impacts and improving climate change resiliency from signing up for 100% solar and wind electricity, insulating our homes, eating less meat, reducing food waste, and more. An informative website explaining these actions: https://www.drawdown.org/solutions-summary-by-rank.
I’m a strong proponent of public education! My children went through the Newton public schools and I volunteer in them from robotics to the Child Assault Prevention (CAP) program.
After this difficult year, we need to rebuild our trust and confidence in our public schools. I have been a consistent voice for re-opening our schools and restoring in-person instruction and signed both letters from the City Council supporting opening the schools this year. Newton is known for our exceptional schools. I will continue to advocate for them. I also want to eliminate or significantly reduce school bus pass fees to promote equity, advance our climate action goals, and reduce congestion in Newton.