Massachusetts

District 2 Candidates on Sustainability and Diversity

District 2 members on the Amherst Town Council will represent Precinct 2 (vote at North Fire Station) and Precinct 6 (vote at Fort River). 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?

PATRICIA DEANGELIS

The advantages I see are many: local control over where our electricity comes from; potential for electricity savings (California communities using CCEs are providing electricity from 20% - 80% more renewable sources than their local power company and at rates equal to or lower than that company) greater potential for meeting the green power goals of Amherst and the other communities in the CCE; an opportunity to work collaboratively within our region. Disadvantages come primarily from lack of consumer understanding, which would need to be addressed to insure that the vast majority of electric customers are in the program.

LYNN GRIESEMER

I completely support Community Choice Energy for Amherst, Northampton and Pelham. CCE will significantly reduce the carbon footprint of our towns and help provide cleaner cost competitive energy to residents at all income levels, businesses and government.

VICTOR ANDRES NUNEZ-ORTIZ

Community Choice Energy is an initiative I will support as it will have a tremendous impact on our global environment, local economy and the way residents view renewable energy. Advantages to this initiative include long term lowering electric rates, reducing green house gas emissions, purchasing power for the residents, and will create more jobs. In order for this initiative to move forward we should consider having town wide communication with residents about this and we would need to make sure it will be affordable for low income families. Some of the disadvantages to this idea are that we would be one of the first communities in Massachusetts to take on such a big project in which case I would also support a feasibility study to make sure our concerns about this idea are answered.

PETER VICKERY

Electricity providers operate in a highly regulated and complex market, and the price of electricity in Massachusetts is higher than in states that are competing with us for business. I am open to persuasion but very wary both of introducing another layer of arbitrage and of the stability of the market for renewable-energy certificates. Before committing, I would like to see evidence that CCAs work as intended in both California and in Massachusetts over the course of at least a decade. Cambridge and Somerville only started their CCA experiments in 2017, and in Melrose the program has been suspended, so those experiences are not particularly instructive.

 

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?

PATRICIA DEANGELIS

The climate crisis is going to continue to cost money. We can spend our money on increasingly devastating climate disasters, or we can spend it now on development that can help mitigate those disasters in the future. We can spend it on buildings that do not use the burning of any fossil fuels and that are built to require the minimum of heating and cooling so that total energy requirements are reduced. We cannot escape the costs of the effects of global warming already upon us but we can and must act now so that we do not increase them. Zero energy municipal buildings are valuable not only in themselves but also as a demonstration of sustainable development. In the long run, spending more now to create zero energy buildings is both environmentally necessary and fiscally sound.

LYNN GRIESEMER

Working with Mothers Out Front and the Town of Amherst, as one of the eight people who negotiated the Zero Energy Municipal Buildings Bylaw, which passed the last Town Meeting with a resounding vote of 149 to 2, I think of it is a great example of finding better solutions through listening and collaboration. As chair of the Department of Public Works/Fire Station Advisory Committee, I carefully studied the bylaw to make sure I understood its cost implications. While the bylaw calls for an initial capital investment in renewable energy, it includes a cap on the expenditure and allows for various options for meeting the energy needs of municipal buildings. Overtime, the initial capital investment will yield a strong return in terms of an initial investment, reduce energy costs, thus paying for the investment with savings. Similar to placing a solar array on your roof or back lot – an initial investment produces both economic and environmental paybacks.

Along these lines, I would also like the Town of Amherst to explore the establishment of a Zero Energy Trust Fund that would be taped as a source for initial capital investment in renewable energy (thus not passing this on to taxpayers as part of the initial capital costs). the Trust Fund would be refunded by the savings on energy overtime, thus making the Fund a constant source for renewable energy for Amherst Town Government.

VICTOR ANDRES NUNEZ-ORTIZ Zero Energy Municipal Buildings bylaw was adopted in May 2018 in which any new municipal building built must be Zero Energy, which means that each building would be able to produce its own annual energy consumption. The initial cost of these projects are and will be expensive but the long term savings outweighs the initial investment. This is in part because the according to Zero Energy Amherst, Zero Energy buildings will be producing its own renewable energy costing the tax payer minimal expense in the long run.

PETER VICKERY

I would explain that new municipal buildings and additions projected to cost $2 million or more must obtain electricity that is not from fossil fuels (e.g. natural gas) and that if the building’s own renewable-energy system exceeds 10% of the total project costs the Town will have to purchase renewable energy elsewhere “so long as the per kilowatt hour cost is less than or comparable to the per kilowatt hour cost of utility-provided electricity in the first year of the contract.” The putative long-term savings will depend on the price of electricity over the long-term, which remains to be seen.

 

Question 3

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

PATRICIA DEANGELIS

I am a strong advocate of the Community Land Trust Model. This model can bring home ownership within reach of lower income families while at the same time retaining for the community the inherent value of Amherst geography. The Amherst Community Land trust has developed home ownership opportunities for a number of current Amherst residents. With continuing town support these opportunities can be increased.

In addition, I would advocate for enforcing/changing zoning regulations so that any new development be required to include some affordable units. As I’ve said in many other places, Jonathan Wright’s Greenfield development and the Pomeroy Lane Cooperative area great examples of mixing market rate and affordable housing, creating in the process economically diverse neighborhoods -- another goal I hold for a future Amherst.

Additionally, we need to reduce the tax burden on home ownership in Amherst. I have heard from too many people that owning a home is Amherst is becoming untenable as a result of these taxes. I think at least a part of the solution to the tax burden is to elicit additional support from the colleges and university that occupy such a significant portion of Amherst’s property through a Public/Private Compact like the one created by UMASS Boston and the city of Boston.

LYNN GRIESEMER

As President of the Board for the Amherst Survival Center, I’ve seen how easy it is for low-income residents to see their ability to afford living in Amherst slip away.

One import step town government can take is to control the property tax burden placed on both renters and homeowners. Sensible economic development that promotes vibrant a vibrant downtown and village centers – and makes the town a better place to live and work – can broaden the tax base and blunt the sense that Amherst is just too expensive to live in. But economic development must fit our values, which requires careful balancing our support of small local businesses and respect for our small-town character. I also support our programs – locally and in partnership with the state – to preserve and expand affordable housing in town, and believe that must remain a central feature of our Master Plan.

VICTOR ANDRES NUNEZ-ORTIZ

Affordable housing in Amherst is one of the most important issues facing our town, and it is a reason many of our town employees and university employees decide to buy or rent in the surrounding towns.

1) An idea I would propose is to the development of small Zero Energy homes thats are affordable for moderate income families and individuals.

2) Increase the tax base by allowing chain like businesses to set up shop and i would even consider a small retail shopping mall

3) Begin conversations with UMass, Amherst College and Hampshire College to build more single family homes on campus for their students which would free up homes around town for working class families and individuals.

PETER VICKERY

Amherst needs more homes across the board, for renters and buyers of various incomes. The price of homes in Amherst depends on the interplay of demand and supply. If the demand continues to rise but we suppress the supply (e.g. by discouraging the construction of new homes) housing that low and moderate-income renters and owners can afford will become scarcer. That is the outcome I most wish to avoid, so I want to ensure that the policies we adopt do not make the situation worse. We need to see how effective (or counterproductive) our current inclusionary-zoning bylaw proves over the next few years. If elected, I recommend that the council commission a rigorous analysis of the bylaw’s efficacy; study the subsequent report; and then decide how, if at all, to modify the bylaw.

 

Question 4

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

PATRICIA DEANGELIS

In order to increase racial and class diversity on the council, committees, and boards, I would actively reach out and engage with people, who because of the color of their skin or the dollars in their pockets, have been left out of decisions that affect their lives. As a councilor, I will actively pursue people of color, laborers, farmers, the elderly, people who are physically challenged, and others who have been silenced or left out, to serve on our boards and committees. My goal of creating citizen advisory committees, composed of the people impacted by Council votes and priorities, would help to make all voices heard as we research, analyze, and address, issues of sustainable development, economic and environmental justice together.

Experiences I have had living in a diverse and collaborative community, my work in solidarity with immigrants who are facing deportation and on issues of environmental and social justice, my volunteering at the Amherst Survival Center and in the Alternatives to Violence Project in a Connecticut Prison have helped me to acknowledge and understand the toll racism and classism take on all our lives, but especially the lives people of color and people needing social supports to raise their families.

LYNN GRIESEMER

My experience with the Amherst Survival Center also gives me a deep awareness of the different racial and class diversity challenges facing our community. Section 3.3(d), the new Amherst Charter states that "the Town Manager shall appoint a Community Participation Officer to increase participation in local government by diverse residents as described in Section 3.3(c);" and that is a good start. But it is only a start.

As a Councilor I will work with the Town Manager and the Community Participation Officer to increase efforts to engage citizens of racial and class diversity to participate in the Council and committees as well as district meetings which are required (and desired) as part of the Charter. And I will closely monitor diversity when filling seats on Council-appointed bodies (e.g., Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals) and consenting to appointments made by the Town Manager to other bodies.

VICTOR ANDRES NUNEZ-ORTIZ

If elected one of my goals is to get more people of color interested in public office and government

1) by increasing the awareness of importance of public office

2) Improve outreach efforts to minorities in town

3) be easily available to residents who have questions or concerns . I will also work towards making sure that committees and boards are being filled by a diverse group individuals to better reflect our residents.

PETER VICKERY

Regarding the racial and class diversity of the council itself, that is a function of the race and class of the candidates. I do not know how to increase the racial and class diversity of candidates, and am happy to listen to suggestions. With regard to racial and class diversity of committees, I will actively encourage residents from all backgrounds and walks of life to volunteer.

 


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