Pages tagged "Amherst"

  • District 5 Candidates on Sustainability and Diversity

    District 5 members on the Amherst Town Council will represent Precincts 7 (vote at Crocker Farm) and 8 (vote at Munson Library). 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?

    SHALINI BAHL-MILNE

    I fully support Community Choice Energy (CCE). I see the following advantages of a CCE:

    1. Consumer Benefits: A CCE can collectively bargain and procure greener electricity at competitive rates. Further, they are not-for-profit entities, so they can pass on the benefits to consumer rather than shareholders in traditional investor-owned utilities (IOU). It also gives more choice to customers, especially low-income households and renters who don’t have the financial capacity or ability to install their own solar panels. CCEs put pressure on IOUs to remain competitive so it benefits non-CCE members as well.

    2. Environmental Benefits: CCEs can choose larger quantities of renewable energy resulting in lowering greenhouse gases. In California, for example, A UCLA report found that CCEs reduced 590,000 tons of CO2 in 2016, without changing consumption of energy among Californians.

    3. Local economy: CCEs provide education, job-trainings and new job opportunities in the community.

    I don’t see any disadvantages in the policy itself but it’s implementation may involve challenges such as consumers’ fearing change to a new system or feeling like the government is forcing them to opt in. Such challenges can be overcome by educating people and dispelling any fears they may have. There may be other challenges in implementation such as “capacity costs” and “exit costs” that would make CCEs pricing more volatile. For example, In California CCEs are encountering the challenge of how their customers leaving the utility will be allocated the above-market costs of legacy contracts purchased on their behalf or “exit fees.” I don’t know if this is something that CCEs in Massachusetts will have to deal with as this would make their prices more volatile that would be hard to explain to customers. For proper planning and successful implementation of CCEs in our region it will be helpful to get more information about the regulatory risks and IOUs response to CCEs.

    PAUL BOBROWSKI

    I support this idea. As 1 of 3 representatives from Amherst to the Hampshire Council of Governments back in 2002, I prepared a 107 page report to the Town Manager on municipal aggregation. I worked on a similar effort at HCOG before Amherst left the Council, and was one of the drafters of an early version of HGOG's administrative code governing electricity aggregation.

    DARCY DUMONT

    I am a founding member of Western MA Community Choice Energy (WMACCE), and I think “Community Choice Energy Plus” is one of the most exciting projects under consideration in the Valley and in the state. When implemented it will provide cheaper, renewable energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, I wholeheartedly support it!

    The CCE Plus program under consideration by Amherst, Northampton and Pelham has three components: 1) Basic CCE - which entails the bulk purchase of electricity for the three towns, while increasing the amount of renewable energy in that mix, 2) the gradual creation of more and more locally owned and controlled renewable energy, and 3) the provision of targeted, local energy efficiency services. The combination of the three components will dramatically bring down our regional greenhouse gas emissions, boost local jobs and the local economy, and save on residential, business and town energy costs. In the face of looming climate change impacts, it will provide maximum local climate resiliency.

    Currently, I attend the Multi-Municipal CCE Task Force, which meets once a month and includes town staff from Amherst, Pelham and Northampton, UMass Clean Energy Extension and members of WMACCE. Once Amherst has a Sustainability Committee appointed, it will have a role in providing outreach to residents to educate them about the program. California has been on the forefront of the CCE Plus movement and we hope to replicate its success in the Pioneer Valley. The only disadvantage that I can think of is that it will take a while to get the program up and running at full capacity, with all components on line, but it is another project that will pay off manifold in the future.

    SAMUEL MACLEOD

    YES, I fully support this idea. Community Choice Energy is an exciting idea worth considering. The advantage is clear in that municipalities (Amherst) can lead the inevitable transition to a clean energy economy that will benefit everyone. Residents and businesses can contract for “green” electricity which will boost the demand for local renewable projects. The three member-towns will be able to purchase in volume as a group directly from the suppliers at preferable rates. Residents can choose whether to participate or retain their existing supply source. The disadvantages would be the administrative costs related to managing the transition. We will need to discuss this thoroughly in the community. I look forward to becoming your Council Member and advancing this exciting initiative. My wife Laura is an active member of Mothers Out Front and I appreciate their efforts including this questionnaire.

     

    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?

    SHALINI BAHL-MILNE

    I am committed to working towards making Amherst a carbon-neutral community. I will study the best practices examined and reported by independent agencies such as Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) and the MA State Zero Energy Building Task Force and speak with the concerned committees and experts to get scientific data before communicating with the residents about the costs and long-term savings of Zero Energy (ZE) Municipal Buildings. The argument presented in the Zero Energy Amherst website for ZE buildings is that after the 16th year, the savings from the conservation measures to design a ZE building and renewable energy use will outweigh the cost of borrowing extra money to invest in a ZE building (the extra cost is assumed to be 10%). 

    Based on my correspondence with the people involved with ZE Bylaw, the data on their website is based on an estimate of the Hitchcock Center in Amherst, which is a single data point and I don’t know if there has been any effort to compare the estimates used in the graph with the actual costs and savings associated with the building. It is also important to know the assumptions made to arrive at those calculations and the costs included.

    A frequent concern I am hearing from residents is the affordability of building ZE schools. In order to respond back to these concerns in an informed manner, I would need to know the breakdown of costs involved in building a ZE school and how the bylaw proposes meeting the upfront additional costs. Are there grants that can support the building of a ZE school or do we have revolving loan funds for efficiency investments? Can we show the actual costs of the more efficient renewable energy systems and design are less than people fear?

    The successful deployment of ZE public buildings requires a comprehensive plan involving immediate and intermediate steps. NEEP, for example, created a roadmap to ZE public buildings that identifies critical next steps and intermediate steps to be taken in the next 10-15 years to make ZE buildings a widespread practice. Even though the ZE bylaw only applies to public buildings in Amherst, it’s successful implementation depends upon having a practical and feasible roadmap, much like the one other regions are adopting. Some of the suggestions based on best practices for immediate steps noted in NEEP’s report are:

    1. Develop an information campaign: A comprehensive information campaign conveying is needed to communicate a consistent message to a broad audience about the latest research and developments in ZE buildings and renewable energy. This needs to be a well-planned effort coordinating the efforts across local organizations such as Mothers Out Front.

    2. Promote the development of exemplary public buildings: We can overcome the initial market resistance by promoting the ZE public buildings such as the ones highlighted on Mothers Out Front website.

    3. Documentation of ZE public buildings: The ZE public buildings should be carefully and thoroughly documented by an independent third party through out the different stages of building the ZE building. The Hitchcock center used as an example by the Zero Energy Amherst website should provide the documents depicting the costs and savings across the main phases of the project.

    4. Post occupancy data gathering: NEEP recommends a post occupancy study of ZE building energy use after three years of completion. Have we done that for the ZE buildings in Amherst?

    5. Implementing stretch building codes: These can help lay the groundwork for broader building codes over time.

    As a District Councilor, I promise to do my research and stay objective and transparent with my findings. I would like to support the committees working on sustainability to ensure that we are rigorous with our research and have a comprehensive plan based on best practices successfully deployed in other communities to move towards a net-zero community. Further, I would like to see the creation of non-judgmental spaces for all stakeholders to be heard and invite relevant expertise to ensure that we are making thoughtful choices that supersede our personal opinions. Finally, as district councilor I will ensure that residents have a venue to share their concerns and have correct and timely information.

    PAUL BOBROWSKI

    There will be some initial costs, but after the program is up and running we will be able to choose green energy sources with a potential savings of up to 20% based on some analyses.

    DARCY DUMONT

    I was part of the workgroup that brought you the Zero Energy Town Building Bylaw and am very excited that Amherst has taken the lead in modeling sustainable town buildings. Other towns are now looking to us as the vanguard in this area.

    Amherst has made a commitment to dramatically reduce its carbon emissions. That is what we need to do on behalf of our children and future generations who face the oncoming climate crisis. We must make Amherst resilient in the face of climate impacts that are already here. The Zero Energy bylaw is just the first step in the town’s efforts to get us there. Controlling emissions in our new town buildings is something over which we have control and can do first.

    I want to note that the Zero Energy Workgroup overestimated the initial costs required to bring buildings up to zero energy standards. The real costs could be less than estimated, and it is built into our strategy to seek grants, if needed, to cover any additional initial building costs.

    With zero energy buildings, the long term savings for the town will be real and substantial - this is because we will be producing all of the energy we use. We will have no energy costs for these buildings and the savings will come back to Amherst residents, to be used toward other priorities for our district and town. Zero energy buildings are an investment in our future.

    SAMUEL MACLEOD

    Quite simply, the additional expenses that occur in the construction phase will be offset over time by future energy savings. The town will purchase renewable energy systems spending no more than an additional 10% of the building cost. Those renewable energy systems will then reduce the expenditures each year in the future as we will be producing our own energy. Once the initial expenses are retrieved it will be somewhat like receiving interest on a principal investment. We know that climate change is happening. Placing Amherst on the solid path towards sustainability makes environmental and economic sense.

     

    Question 3

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

    SHALINI BAHL-MILNE

    The cost of housing is impacted by the demand and supply of housing in Amherst. Over 4,000 students live off-campus in Amherst and UMass has projected an increase in demand from student renters for approximately 2,000 beds by 2020. Further, most non-student renters can’t compete with students’ ability to pay. The Town can alleviate the shortage of affordable housing for low- and mid-income residents by addressing the problems on the demand side as well as supply side.

    The Amherst Housing Market Study in 2015 has good recommendations in this regard. On the demand side, I would look at innovative solutions such as Private Public partnerships that allow UMass and Amherst College land to be leased out to private developers for student housing. That would free up off-campus housing for other populations and also generate revenue for the Town. UMass Boston and Northeastern are examples for such partnerships.

    I support creative and appropriate development initiatives to increase the supply of housing for the Amherst community. We have seen from recent approved projects that increased density can allow for our community affordable housing goals to be met. Encouraging mixed income and mixed-use developments in areas designated by the town’s Master Plan will allow for a diverse mix of housing to serve those at a range of incomes.

    Amherst has been a leader in using new tools to encourage affordable housing development. In 2016, Amherst adopted an affordable housing tax incentive which was the first of its kind in the Commonwealth. 40R is a tool that has been successfully used in several Massachusetts communities to create mixed income and mixed-use developments in or adjacent to commercial centers. Helping developers understand and utilize these benefits in addition to providing expedited review process for Project Eligibility can incentivize developers to focus on workforce and affordable housing. With careful planning by our town staff, boards and community members we can craft a 40R district that will support our community goals.

    The town has an opportunity to help encourage affordable housing development by selling its underutilized parcels in appropriate locations a nominal price to developers who specialize in creating this type of housing. I would like to see the successful implementation of inclusionary zoning. I will support the work of the Amherst Affordable Housing Trust to ensure that the homeless, low income, and mid-income residents including our teachers, nurses, fire-fighters, and employees in local business have affordable housing in Amherst.

    PAUL BOBROWSKI

    My record is clear on housing, having worked on the Planning Board and helped pass early inclusionary zoning, having agreed to rezone scarce business-zoned land for residential with the guarantee of affordable single-family homes in perpetuity, and having served on the Board of Commissioners of the Amherst Housing Authority. I've already answered a housing survey, stating that I would support a 40R district and other efforts to create more affordable units in town as long as such efforts fit into Amherst's master plan.

    DARCY DUMONT

    One of my biggest concerns is making sure that Amherst families are not priced out of town by rents or house values that are too high. The housing that was once intended for low income rentals has become much more expensive due to the influx of UMass students and their ability to pay higher rents into the rental market. Additionally, the average home price in Amherst is far more than many low to moderate income residents can afford. Homeowners living on fixed incomes may simply be forced out by high property taxes.

    I support increasing the number of affordable rental units and the number of affordable, moderately sized and sustainable homes to purchase. I will support the Amherst Housing Trust’s efforts to bring groups and individuals working on these goals together and their efforts to raise funds to meet those goals.

    I want to involve affected people in the process of finding solutions to these problems. I propose encouraging the development of “green” homes similar to those developed by Wright Builders in Greenfield. The Green River Commons are moderately priced, small, sustainably built one level condos. Similar homes in Amherst would add to housing stock available to low or moderate income residents.

    If elected to the Town Council, I would support:

    • the release of an RFP to allow a small, affordable housing development on the site of the East Street School, which would require that the Town sell the property to a successful bidder at nominal cost,
    • the development of studio apartments for low income individuals (less than 80% AMI),
    • the development of a 40R district within Amherst that would allow for denser development than is otherwise now allowed by Town zoning bylaws.

    In addition to these proposals, a percentage of affordable housing for families and individuals should be included in all new developments. Each new development should be sustainable, and in keeping with the character of the town or neighborhood.

    With respect to the lack of affordable housing, I would be open to discussing a change to progressive taxation in Amherst. I have had frequent conversations with homeless residents and families in Amherst when volunteering at the Craig’s Doors/UUSA community breakfast on Wednesday mornings and have seen what hardships many have had to endure just to live from day to day, especially during the winter. In addition, for 10 years I worked as a legal representative of people with mental illness, including many homeless people seeking community housing, and I am therefore aware of the issues involved. I would support electing a Democratic Governor who will provide a line item in the state budget rather than an “earmark” for our Amherst legislator. If that doesn’t happen, we will need to work with our new State Representative and Senator to advocate strongly for full funding of at least $200,000 annually to directly address this issue. We, as a Town Council. can put the pressure on both the Governor and the two Houses of the legislature, as well as work with the established local activists to mount a citizen campaign.

    I would strongly support the development of housing options for homeless residents, ideally mixed in with other types of housing. Supported affordable housing has a high rate of success. Again, I propose getting input from affected homeless residents about any plan. I wholeheartedly encourage the continuation of the Amherst Police’s good and supportive work with Craig’s Doors.

    SAMUEL MACLEOD

    There is no simple solution but there are some things Amherst can do to help. Housing prices are a function of supply and demand and Amherst is a desirable place to live. This is likely to continue. Amherst can: 1) minimize the rate of property tax increases which impact affordability for owners and renters alike; 2) enforce inclusionary zoning and require setting aside units for qualifying low and moderate renters in future large residential rental projects being built; 3) consider incentives and zoning that will enable the building of smaller units in localized areas;. 4) collaborate with the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust. The community will need to be included in any discussions.

     

    Question 4

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

    SHALINI BAHL-MILNE

    I am a person of color and have lived in three countries - I was born in India, grew up in the Middle East, and have been in the US for 17 years. I understand and appreciate diversity. As District 5 Councilor, I will reach out to low-income residents, immigrants, and people of color to understand the challenges they encounter in participating in our local government including committees. I will also do my best to share with them the importance of participating in Town Council and committees. I will work with them to come up with solutions and resources that help them participate.

    I would like to also create clear channels of communication that are accessible to diverse populations. These might include monthly opportunities to meet with me – at times and locations that work for them – as well as online opportunities to stay in touch. I would like to create safe and collaborative spaces for people with diverse backgrounds to feel a sense of belonging in our community. For example, one idea that came up in speaking with the owner of El Comalito and her son was to host an annual neighborhood party in South Amherst Village to bring together the local businesses and residents to share their stories and develop a caring community. I will also do my research to look at how other college towns are increasing racial and class diversity in Town government.

    PAUL BOBROWSKI

    The key to me is effective outreach. I would go to areas in town that are under-represented and hold forums in my district. If that is ineffective, I would identify and approach people who could act as liaisons with such communities and reach them that way. I would propose to the Council a mentoring program whereby we can bring new, inexperienced and possibly reticent people into government, working side by side with elected council members, to be part of our next generation of representatives.

    DARCY DUMONT

    Being a responsible white person in a multi-racial society requires ongoing learning and development. While I’ve learned a great deal about diverse races and cultures through my work as a teacher in Holyoke, I know that I need to continue to grow in awareness, understanding, and ability to act for justice. I will require this of myself and advocate for ongoing training for the Council and for other town boards and committees.

    The new Town Council will appoint most of the Boards and Committees in town government. I will strongly advocate for the Council to immediately adopt a policy that calls for our appointments to reflect the diversity of the town with regard to income level, gender, race, home rental/ownership, etc. This will require that we work together as a Council to develop strategies to grow the pool of candidates for appointments from underrepresented groups.

    The Charter also creates a new paid town position of Community Participation Officer. I will insist that we hire someone with extensive experience and skills in building relationships with, and fostering involvement of, members of traditionally disenfranchised groups.

    In my own district, I will not only make myself available frequently and at times convenient for working people, but I will also take the initiative to seek out opportunities to go to meet with, and listen to, a diversity of constituencies and seek out local leaders in each of our many communities.

    SAMUEL MACLEOD

    It is important to remember that the town council has the authority to approve appointments. Awareness, communication, and outreach are very important. The town charter provides for a number of mechanisms including the appointment of a Community Participation Officer. Recognizing the need is a good start but the town must commit to and follow through on an ongoing basis with substantial efforts.

    When I become your Council Representative I will ensure and provide clear avenues for communication including web-based access for all. Regular forums in the community will help but there will still be many residents who will be unable to participate. Most importantly therefore, I will reach out personally to try and bridge the gap of inclusion. For many residents there are barriers of time availability, transportation, and family obligations. I will engage with existing and new contacts with active community members to assist with outreach.

    I have been reaching out and including Amherst’s under represented communities for years as a coach, mentor, (chauffer!), and board member/officer of the Amherst Youth Soccer Association. I encourage you to ask anyone affiliated with the program about the extent of my efforts and involvement.

     

  • 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

    Community Choice Energy is an idea I would support. Advantages are it gives consumers more choice about how their energy is created. More importantly, it reflects the values of our community of coming together to create environmental change on the policy and personal level. I see no disadvantages, given that it still provides avenues for customers to pay status quo rates. This policy would encourage consumers to play a more active role in shaping their energy system around them.

    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

    The initial costs of new Town-owned buildings under the Zero Energy Municipal Building Bylaw are an investment and will be paid off in the long-term. Massachusetts and Amherst should be leaders in environmental justice and this is one way that Amherst can model for other communities how to make a financial prudent and just decision. I would provide voters will a comparable example that I have done a lot of work on: food-insecurity in families and children. I did 18 months of research on the SNAP program, school lunch, and food insecurity in children and families in the Honors College at UMass. Ultimately, we got to go to Beacon Hill and advocate for policy changes. I had the pleasure of meeting with then Senate President Stan Rosenberg to discuss the Kids First initiative. Making sure children have antiquate and healthy diets can contribute to better attendance and performance in schools, help develop a healthy and productive citizenry, and prevent a burden on the healthcare system later in life. The logic is the same: positive changes often require upstream investment but the rewards can be bountiful and even generational.

    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

    We need to build. We cannot be stymied by NMBY attitudes. Not every location will be perfect for housing projects, however, we must continue to build housing to meet the demand in Amherst. Moreover, I would act in accordance to the Master Plan and head the suggestions of the 2015 Housing Market Study which suggests denser development in the downtown and village centers. I would like to look further into 40R districts and the possibility of a University overlay district. Having districts with a mission of focus may help us address some of the many housing needs that face Amherst.

    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

    The burden is on us, the candidates, to meet people where they are at and engage them in the democratic process. That means whether at school functions, bus stops, or the super market engaging friends and strangers alike in conversations on the pressing matters of the town and introducing them to ways they can get involved. Every school and civic group I have been apart of, many which I later became a leader in was on where a peer dragged me to a meeting. That is what it takes. I also means using alternative methods for communication and seeking public input like meeting in the spaces and times of local organizations that are not traditionally included in the conversation. Not everyone can commit to being on a committee but everyone should be a part of the process!

    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.

     

     

  • 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.

     

  • 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.