Massachusetts

District 1 Candidates on Sustainability and Diversity

District 1 members on the Amherst Town Council will represent the North Amherst Precincts 1 and 3. There will be two District Councilors. 

Question 1

Amherst, Northampton and Pelham are currently discussing Community Choice Energy. Is this an idea you support? What are the advantages and disadvantages that you see?

SHARON POVINELLI

It’s in our best short and long term advantage to convert as much of our energy use to renewable sources as possible and I applaud the Western Mass CCE for bringing this discussion forward. This program is tangible. It gives people the opportunity to make a choice about the kind of energy they want to see developed and used; including local solar and wind energy. It’s an opt out program funded by redirecting fees that would otherwise go to the incumbent utility company and power supply program.

CATHY SCHOEN

I support the concept of Community Choice Energy to pool our community’s group purchasing power to redirect electrical supply to renewable sources and achieve long-term rate reduction. A three-town CCE (municipal electric aggregation) could accelerate use of renewable energy sources, improve energy efficiency and lower energy costs for towns and participating households. In concept, I see no disadvantages. Based on the variety of CCE organizations others have formed, we would need to determine how a local CCE might operate. I look forward to learning from efforts by Amherst’s sustainability coordinator and others with expertise as they explore options. I support the town authorizing a plan to assess the potential for Amherst.

SARAH SWARTZ

Yes, this is an idea that I would support. The advantages would be: that people would become more knowledgeable about what sources of alternate energy they have at their disposal, they would help make more informed decisions when it came down to supporting alternative energy sources being built in their community (solar, wind power, etc), and alliances between towns would strengthen community bargaining power (no pun intended) with energy providers.

NICOLA USHER

CCE is an idea I support. I have more to learn, but based on my initial research and understanding of the risks and benefits I believe it to be a progressive, environmentally, and fiscally responsible solution that can help build community - all values I support. As with any new initiative bringing significant change and involving multiple stakeholders, challenges will include educating and informing the community, particularly with regard to costs and opting out which will all be further complicated by involving an agreement among multiple towns with different forms of government and population sizes. While data from communities in California is inspiring I think residents, especially those that may be less financially secure will be concerned about their bottom line impact (i.e. monthly cost) so that would of course need to be thoroughly evaluated and shared.

 

Question 2

How will you explain to voters the initial costs and long-term savings of new Town-owned buildings under the Zero Energy Municipal Buildings bylaw?

SHARON POVINELLI

As with the question above, the sacrifices we make today have huge impacts on how our children’s children will experience their lives on the planet. Savings is often heard as a monetizing aspect of green energy but “saving” is ultimately the goal of renewable energy. In a similar way that one “pays one’s self first” while saving for retirement, we must pay now for the future ability of later generations to enjoy life.

CATHY SCHOEN

Amherst’s zero-energy bylaw for major, new municipal buildings is a far-sighted, wise investment for our town – both financial and environmental. Although the initial costs of a new building will be higher – 8 to 10 percent range – this cost will be spread-out over multiple years through long-term bonds similar to mortgage payments. Once the building opens, each year the town will reap savings on energy costs – from building designs that conserve energy and lower supply costs. By year 16 – based on projections – the savings exceed the annual costs. The cumulative savings over time will pay for the costs incurred for zero energy construction. In addition, new ZE municipal buildings by design will provide more comfortable and healthier places to work and, in schools, for our children to learn.

SARAH SWARTZ

A person would only need to show the initial outlay of money for a building and then what it ends up costing (or not costing) for the next 10 or 20 years thereafter.

NICOLA USHER

As with any complicated bylaw (which most are!) we should operate under the assumption that the "average" citizen doesn't have the time or desire to give it multiple readings and intimately understand all the specifics (as council members should) so our job is to provide succinct, easy to digest, cost/benefit analysis to constituents that clearly outlines upfront and long-term costs and where applicable also allows individuals to see in real dollars how it may impact their expenses (e.g. online home owner tax calculator). I would like to see a one page FAQ available online and in print (similar to what Mothers Out Front already has online but even more condensed and specific to Amherst) and I think we ought to create explanations and presentations for each building impacted which would be included in any community engagement/discussion on large capital projects.

 

Question 3

What are your ideas for making Amherst more affordable for low and moderate income renters and owners?

SHARON POVINELLI

Our housing stock should reflect our population needs.  We need more affordable housing and we also need the current housing we have to be more affordable. Density in our downtown and village centers helps convert student rentals in our neighborhoods back to year round, owner occupied housing. It also adds revenue to the tax role. But affordability is more than just a housing issue. Access to quality food, healthcare and bus routes are equal pieces of this puzzle. As we increase the population in our centers we need focused discussions concerning small business and entrepreneurial growth to create jobs and vibrant centers.

CATHY SCHOEN

Achieving more affordable housing is a challenge with no simple solution. Amherst is losing affordable housing for moderate and lower-income families as market pressures drive rents up and investors buy and convert owner-occupied homes into multi-person rentals. The new apartment complexes downtown could take some of the pressure off by providing additional student housing. However, the very high rents – more than $1,500 for a studio per month – may drive rents even higher across Amherst’s rental market.

A more affordable housing balance will require a multi-faceted approach that addresses both the demand and supply side of the housing market. In addition to initiatives planned by Amherst’s Affordable Housing Trust that I support, several actions could improve our housing balance. 1) Modify zoning by-laws related to affordable housing to reduce exceptions for large projects and require that projects either provide some units for low/moderate income renters or pay into a fund to finance rent support. 2) Increase the supply of student housing on UMass-owned lands with a public-private partnership to ease pressures on neighborhoods and homes for low and moderate income families. 3) Encourage development of cluster/co-housing – designed for affordability.

SARAH SWARTZ

I believe that Amherst must be made more affordable for low and moderate income renters and owners. I would follow a very fiscally responsible policy in Capital Projects so that taxes are held at a reasonable rate. I am also a proponent of building (or renovating current structures) that are reasonably priced or designated low income for a long length of time or in perpetuity. I would demand living spaces that are LEED Certified and afford people space (yards!), privacy and dignity.

NICOLA USHER

We need a holistic approach to development that enables us to densify downtown and village centers, free-up single family homes for families as opposed to student renters, and increase our commercial tax base - this should include reevaluation and implementation of the master plan and encouraging mixed-use developments that have affordable and moderate-income units.

 

Question 4

If elected, what will you do to increase racial and class diversity in town government - from Council to committees?

SHARON POVINELLI

Amherst is made up of individuals and families from a broad range of socioeconomic levels. As we form this new town government, it is important we set procedures, policy objectives and goals which can engage with and address the needs of the full spectrum of Amherst residents. In keeping with this, set forth in the Charter, the Participatory Budgeting Commission is tasked with resident participation in the budgetary process. Additionally, many of the current 50 boards and committees will continue. I would encourage participation on these boards and committees and strive toward communication and transparency.

CATHY SCHOEN

Amherst has a diverse community with concerns that vary by economic status, race/ethnicity, age (seniors, young children), and occupation such as farmers. Without Town Meeting as a way to learn about issues and participate in decisions, appointments to boards, committees and advisory groups will be an important path and opportunity to be part of town-government and to speak from different perspectives.

If elected, I will seek to broaden participation and will work the Council to be responsive to needs of community members who are under-service, at risk or unheard. To keep the Council connected to people we represent, I will support and participate in neighborhood associations, which we are beginning in District One. Associations enable discussions of issues of shared concern, a conduit for engaging with the Council and town government, and opportunities to learn in advance and be heard on key decisions facing the town.

Increased diversity on the Town Council will require lowering structural barriers – resources and time - to run for election and to serve if elected. Anyone with a full time job and/or responsibility for young children will be hard pressed to campaign and participate fully on Council unless we lower the barriers to entry.

SARAH SWARTZ

This is the most important thing that needs to be accomplished. Over and over I hear people saying that they are not only not heard by Amherst government, but feel patronized or ignored. I would make sure that Districts had regular meetings with constituents that were at a time that takes into consideration that people work and also need help with child care and transportation. I would make a serious and concerted effort in outreach to people and communities who are feeling disenfranchised. In addition to larger meetings of Districts I plan on being available at local places, at regular times, for people to come and meet with me individually about their ideas and concerns.

I also think that there needs to be policy put in place that helps low to moderate income individuals actually run a campaign. People need support (technological support for websites, Facebook pages, brochures, etc.) and financial help in order to take time off of work to run.

NICOLA USHER

As a working parent of a multi-racial school-aged child I am uniquely positioned and personally invested in concerns about diversity and representation on this council. Local government needs to be accessible to those without the privilege of time - whether to serve or as constituents. I plan on continuing to have one on one conversations with people from various backgrounds about why they choose to participate or not and about what they may perceive to prevent them from participation.

My priority is avoiding making assumptions about why or why not certain people may not be at the table and to focus on finding out why. We need to meet people where they are at which means conveying information in various formats, locations, and times - having a robust virtual presence will work for some constituents while needing to be physically accessible will be preferable for others - they key will be different approaches for different needs and wants.

 


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.