Massachusetts

District 3 Candidates on Sustainability and Diversity

District 3 members on the Amherst Town Council will represent Precincts 4 and 10 (vote at the Bangs Center). 

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?

STEPHEN BRAUN

I support actively exploring the CCE option with our neighboring towns, and, if necessary, funding the technical report that will be needed to make rational decisions about its viability and sustainability. This is a complex issue that will require careful thought by the town. As a former Finance Committee member I am as concerned about the potential economic impact on our citizens and businesses as I am optimistic that a CCE could help us reach our shared goals of weaning ourselves from fossil fuels.

JOHN PAGE

 

DOROTHY PAM

Programs to encourage and help finance renewable energy, public and private relationships where homeowners and businesses can sell back all of their excess energy, and energy conservation all must be supported. Community Energy Choice can be very important as we transition to more renewable energy sources, working with Eversource and National Grid to make sure that needed delivery systems are well maintained. We must decrease reliance on fossil fuels to create energy self-sufficiency here in New England.

GEORGE RYAN

I like the idea of choice and any choice that includes cleaner energy sources is attractive and a boon to the environment. I have some concern about the reliance on electricity since a good portion of the current production of electric power is fueled by coal. I would need to be convinced that the electric power that is being generated is not being primarily generated by coal-fired power plants.

 

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?

STEPHEN BRAUN

Many people are familiar with the idea that sometimes you need to pay extra up front for something in order to reap long-term savings. For example, in deciding to buy a slightly more expensive, but more energy-efficient, refrigerator the buyer can at estimates for power consumption, cost of electricity, and estimated lifetime of the appliance and see how quickly the initially higher cost will be "paid off" and how much long-term savings will result. The same logic applies to zero-energy buildings constructed by the town.

JOHN PAGE

 

DOROTHY PAM

One pays more to get a well built fuel efficient car. The savings are realized every week at the gas pump when one spends less to go just as far. When one looks at the big picture and examines the reduction in pollution of the environment, the savings are seen as even more important. In like manner, Amherst must continue to be a leader in building zero energy buildings and institutions like Hampshire College to be an example for others to follow. Paying more up front is hard, but when more people are doing something, prices go down so that it is cheaper for us all to do the right thing in the long run.

GEORGE RYAN

Zero energy buildings will cost more to build than conventional buildings -- upwards of 10% more. But over time the initial upfront costs will be paid back and then some, beginning around the 16th year of operation. At that point the yearly energy savings will more than pay for the upfront costs. To say nothing of the benefit to the planet.

 

Question 3

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

STEPHEN BRAUN

As demonstrated with the new development in North Amherst on the former Cowls land, the town can work with developers and other levels of government (state and federal) to create the economic incentives and supports needed to make below-market-rate housing a reality. Such partnerships are essential because the market itself will not get the job done--which is why we need leaders who are committed to taking the time and energy to make affordable housing an ongoing priority.

JOHN PAGE

 

DOROTHY PAM

There are many types of affordable housing, and Amherst must be proactive on all fronts. No new apartment buildings or developments should be built in the town of Amherst that do not have affordable housing of some kind--not just in exchange for a variance, but as of right. I strongly support the creation, preservation, and maintenance of safe, decent, and affordable housing for low and moderate-income individuals and families. These should be diverse and inclusive developments with a variety of ages and incomes, where residents have easy access to services and transportation, developments that relate to the scale and ambience of surrounding communities. The Housing Trust Strategic Plan's call for enhanced SRO's (studios with kitchens and baths) must be coupled with necessary on-site services and common indoor and outdoor social spaces.

GEORGE RYAN

I fully support making the former East Street school site available for an affordable housing project. I support the creation of a 40R zoning district in the downtown and/or village centers that would allow for more denser development than current zoning allows. In other communities this has proved to be an effective tool in helping create lower and middle income housing. Long term we need to look at ways we can assist first-time homebuyers who want to live in Amherst but are currently priced out of the market.

 

Question 4

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

STEPHEN BRAUN

First step is to identify barriers currently limiting participation by non-majority individuals. That will require some organization and effort to create forums for folks to talk about what those barriers are. Some, no doubt, are cultural, and some are logistical. We can work on both types of barriers (although the logistical ones, such as offering childcare or transportation, are easier and faster to accomplish than changing the culture of a town government). That doesn't mean cultural change can't happen--it can, and has--but cultural change has to start with leaders who appreciate the degree to which their own relative privilege can bias their understanding of issues important to those who are not so privileged, either because of race, sex, education, economic background, or any other form of difference.

JOHN PAGE

 

DOROTHY PAM

We must make efforts to reach out to people who have not been participating in Amherst government by removing the barriers to their participation by making sure that information, child care, and transportation are easily available. It is not enough to make a statement, put up a sign, or say "You are all welcome."

Town Councilors must seek out new people representing different cultures, races and ethnicities, neighborhoods, ages, interests and livelihoods to serve on committees if the town government is to be truly diverse and representative. Serving on Town committees is a good path towards being elected to the Town Council.

We also have to realize that many people with children are just not available to go to meetings because they are either working, shopping, cooking, eating with their family, or putting children to bed. We all know how important these simple activities of daily life are in the life of a child. So providing childcare is important, but it is not a complete answer.

The solution is, therefore, more outreach on the part of Town Councilors who must set up fact finding meetings in places and at times convenient to the residents to find out their thoughts and wishes about upcoming matters so that their council members can represent them well at Council meetings. I hope to work with district residents to set up regularly scheduled gatherings where issues can be presented and discussed in informal settings.

GEORGE RYAN

I think all of us want a town government which resembles the community it serves. As someone who spent the last 12 years on Town Meeting and who knows a good number of people who have served on Town committees and boards I know the kind of personal sacrifice such service entails, both in time and energy. But for those prepared to make such a sacrifice we as a Town should do what we can to make it possible. The new charter has a provision for a community participation officer who will be tasked with broadening the level of engagement in town government. And certainly any elected official, such as a Councilor, should do his or her part to reach out to those who might not otherwise consider it and encourage them to become engaged.

 

 


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