District 4 Candidates on Sustainability and Diversity

District 4 members on the Amherst Town Council will represent Precincts 5 (vote at the Bangs Center) and 9 (vote at Wildwood School). 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?


I support sustainable, locally sourced green energy that is affordable. Community Choice Energy might be great for Amherst and should certainly be considered! I look forward to learning more about Community Choice.


Supporting CCE will continue to protect our environment while reducing the need for energy sources that pollute our air and water. Increasing home and municipal energy conservation needs to be a priority. Educational forums to inform residents and town department about how to achieve energy efficiency must be part of this plan. All parties need to have their voices heard on how to move forward.


I fully support ongoing discussions around Community Choice Energy (CCE). I see two advantages. First, because electricity supply can be purchased in aggregate for the municipalities there is the potential to use the buying power of the area to negotiate lower rates and less rate volatility. This could help residents better budget their utility costs.

The second advantage is the potential to increase the share of clean energy in our electricity portfolio. I am concerned by the Trump administration’s efforts to undo Obama’s climate policies. And here in Massachusetts I was deeply disappointed that the legislature did not adopt the Massachusetts Senate’s more ambitious Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) 3% annual rate increase. If we want to see a more rapid shift here in Amherst towards 100% renewable energy we will need to take action at the local level. CCE could play an important role by demanding a greater percentage of renewable energy than currently required by the state. Many municipalities in Massachusetts have already done this using a range of models and renewable energy requirements. I am encouraged by Greenfield, which provides customers 100% renewable energy at a rate lower than Eversource basic service for residential and small business ratepayers.

While I see few disadvantages, I do believe we have to ensure that new electricity supply rates negotiated under CCE are low or comparable to existing rates. In many towns with CCE their rates are lower, but in others CCE has come with a small cost increase. As with any decision on energy, we must protect our low income ratepayers for whom even a small increase in their utility bills can break their budget. At the outset there will likely also be administrative costs and time of municipal employees that we must consider.

I am very interested in becoming involved with discussions around CCE and investigating the different models Amherst could use to move us to a town electrified by clean energy.


I don’t know enough to comment on this. I look forward to learning more during the campaign, and through the new government.


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?


I’m proud to have voted in favor of this bylaw. I believe that the Town of Amherst can and should be a leader in progressive climate activism.  Our Zero Energy Bylaw, including initial costs and down-the-road savings, can be better explained with charts and visuals that provide details. The town council will be creating committees and subcommittees to address these matters.


The town should work towards retro fitting existing buildings to achieve ZERO energy policies. I will work to ensure that all new structures are required to have a ZERO energy policy in place as well as LEED certification. Initial costs and outlays will be incurred, and eventually there will be significant savings in energy costs. Also, our town will have a cleaner environment in which we live. Home owners can reduce their cost for energy if they work towards more efficient dwellings. Landlords of renters need to be educated on the advantages to them for energy conservation.


The Zero Energy Municipal Buildings Bylaw is one tool in Amherst’s efforts to reduce our town’s carbon footprint. The bylaw embodies an important goal: making sure new municipal buildings do not contribute to climate change. But there is a cost premium on zero energy buildings and town residents may be reasonably concerned that the bylaw will inflate the costs of badly needed capital projects like our fire station and public works building. While zero energy buildings cost more upfront, those initial investments are recouped over the lifetime of the building through lower operating costs and utility payments. To assuage the concerns of residents, the design and planning process of major capital projects must be open and transparent to the public, and solicit public feedback so that residents have a full understanding of the costs and benefits of the new buildings.

It is also important to note that the revised bylaw passed by Town Meeting in 2018 contained new safeguards for the town so that the bylaw does not make new buildings cost prohibitive. This includes stipulating that the on-site renewable energy systems do not cost more than 10% of the project cost. This revised bylaw is also an example of how government could and should work collaboratively with its citizens. The bylaw was the result of representatives from the town and a citizen advocacy group coming together to address concerns in the original bylaw. The end result was a law that both sides could support, that kept the original law’s intent of producing net zero energy buildings, and that offered certain protections for the town so that the bylaw didn’t impede new projects. This is how government should work. As we implement this new bylaw we should be open to further collaborations to tweak it if we find it is not working as intended by following this approach.


After significant input, Town Meeting recently passed 2 by-laws that will affect the upfront cost of new municipal buildings—Percent for Art and Zero Energy. I support the processes that led to these progressive regulations, that will help make our community more beautiful, resilient and sustainable. I voted in favor of both The Zero Energy by-law well intended (I voted for it), it could have unintended negative consequences. It is easier and cheaper to design and build a net-zero building on an open field (far from bus routes) than it is to construct one on an infill site in downtown. But that would increase other kinds of energy use. We don’t want to encourage sprawl! I support the development of a holistic climate action plan, that will look at energy use, sustainability, and resiliency comprehensively--not as single by-laws that are unrelated to other by-laws and policies.


Question 3

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


The Town Council is responsible for appointments to the Planning Board as well as the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The current Planning Board and Zoning Board have given endless waivers and special permits to private developers without requiring energy efficient standards while neglecting the needs of low and moderate-income residents. We need a Planning Board that cares about all Amherst residents.

In addition, our current zoning laws require too little of developers.  A new Planning Board will need to change the laws that are not working in the best interest of Amherst residents so that our town can grow holistically, sustainably, and organically.


Instead of building high rise apartments, small cluster housing for low and moderate-income renters and owners need to be built. Turning the East Street School into affordable housing should be considered. Developers need to be encouraged to build more affordable housing through reasonable tax incentives. I would seek out developers who understand the need for low and moderate housing options.


As a non-student renter, I know how difficult Amherst’s rental market is. With rental vacancy rates at less than 1%, and rents higher than surrounding communities it is difficult for low- and moderate-income renters to find adequate and affordable housing. This is one of the reasons I decided to run for Town Council. As someone who has grappled with Amherst’s difficult rental market, I believe that renter voices belong at the table as Town Council discusses how to address housing. I see housing as one of Amherst’s most pressing challenges, and the first Town Council must make housing one of its primary priorities.

To stabilize Amherst’s housing market and bring down rents we need to increase housing production. But I am also an environmentalist, and want to ensure that new housing developments don’t come at the expense of open space or conservation land. We have a lot of housing units to create and I want to make sure their creation doesn’t put intact forest or working farmland under the bulldozer. This is why I support increased density and infill development in our village centers. Infill development allows us to develop land that is already disturbed, and increased density allows us to fit more people into less space, reducing the amount of land needed to house people and constraining sprawl. Further, dense village centers around transit hubs (like Amherst Center) help create communities where people can rely less on cars and more on walking, biking, and public transit. This is the most environmentally sustainable way to meet our pressing need for housing.

Beyond increasing density in village centers, we also need to utilize the tools we have to secure affordable housing, including our inclusionary zoning bylaw and our affordable housing property tax credit. These two initiatives can help increase our affordable housing stock and make sure that new housing produced is not exclusively luxury rentals.


Amherst needs to increase and diversify its housing for all income levels. I am particularly interested in modifying the zoning by-law to encourage owner occupied mixed-use buildings in the heart of downtown that will be occupied by actual families of all income levels. I also would like see UMass and Amherst collaborate on new housing on university drive, via public private partnerships, that will help relieve the pressure on rentals in Amherst's university area neighborhoods. I have worked on these issues directly as an architect. My proposal for net zero affordable housing--in Northampton-- can be found here: http://www.northamptonma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/9486/Stephen-Schreiber


Question 4

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


Town Manager will appoint a Community Participation Officer who will conduct outreach efforts to increase participation by underrepresented residents as well as a Residents’ Advisory Committee. District Councilors should also take personal responsibility to reach out to religious and educational institutions, as well as other organized groups, to identify diverse residents who would be interested in being involved in town government.

Then, most importantly, the District Councilors must actively support residents in getting and staying involved, which includes being taken seriously and being valued. We must do better at attracting a diverse membership to all of our committees.


I would reach out to all school parents to encourage them to be more active in town government. There are many obstacles for people to get involved in town government. These include transportation issues, language barriers, babysitting costs, and little time for involvement because of work obligations. I will meet with various members of the community and ask how town government can be more welcoming to them. Given the diverse student population, reaching parents would be a good starting place. It would also help if our teachers and administrative staff reflected this diversity.


Amherst is a diverse town and I am committed to seeing that diversity reflected in our government. There are two avenues through which I will seek to increase diversity. The first is through the Community Participation Officer (CPO). The new charter creates the CPO to increase participation in government by diverse residents, with a focus on underrepresented populations. While the charter specifies the goals of the position, the logistics of the role are largely left to the discretion of the town manager. It even leaves open the possibility for an existing employee to take on that role. If elected, I will commit to advocating for a CPO that is a standalone position, that has adequate and secure funding, and that takes on focused and visible actions with clear deliverable to achieve the goals of the position. I will use my influence as a councilor in confirming town manager appointments to ensure our CPO is qualified and push for the CPO to come from an underrepresented group.

The second avenue is through district meetings. I have committed to holding more frequent district meetings than mandated by the charter. I also will hold these meetings in locations throughout the district and on different days and times to try to bring in as many residents as possible. This means hosting meetings in places like Amherst Housing Authority complexes to engage these communities in our government, and at different times to bring in people who may not work typical 9-5 jobs.


I am the founding chair of the UMass Department of Architecture which has a remarkable record of recruiting one of the most diverse architecture faculties in the US. I will use that experience and commitment on Town Council. Amherst needs to mindfully assist its diverse committee members, and find way for those members to participate if other obligations seem like obstacles. And it needs to support the committees' work.


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