September: What You Autumn Know
It’s been a full summer, but I hope you had time to relax and disconnect a little. For me, September is even busier, but I wanted to be sure you knew about the bigger issues before Council & the city this fall.
A citizens’ initiative petition to lift the winter overnight parking ban is on the Public Safety & Transportation Committee agenda for Wednesday, Oct. 6, just after 7 pm.
My committee took up a similar proposal earlier this year and held it (report here) in order for a working group to take on some of the unanswered questions.
Those questions remain unanswered. I am proposing a temporary trial lifting the ban to see how that works. My goals are to maintain safety for emergencies and for people outside of cars, along with equity and fairness.
To allow councilors to fully deliberate on this item, I will not be taking public comment at the meeting, but welcome email comments ahead of time (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Council is close to voting on a proposal to allow housing and more height in village centers. And to meet the state MBTA Communities law by allowing more homes near transit. I have been following the process and support the general goals—to put more people near transit and shops in order to support both, to reduce driving by creating more walkable village centers, to allow smaller property owners to change their own buildings in more ways, and to do our part to start to address a severe shortage of homes in our region by allowing more of them, particularly 3-4 unit homes.
There’s more detail on the city’s Planning Website, including maps of every village as of the latest version. And there’s a citizens’ one-page explainer that may be even clearer.
While no plan will be perfect, this one has been discussed extensively, and the Zoning Committee has not only taken comment, it has made changes as a result. If you have particular changes for a Ward 5 area that you would like considered, or if you want to weigh in with me on your thoughts, feel free to send me an email.
Our schools need more money in order to offer teachers staff support and competitive salaries—and to keep up with inflation. I support that, which is why I supported the operating override.
Earlier this month, we learned that Newton won a longstanding tax case, and, also, that we didn’t spend as much as expected last year (it didn’t snow, among other things). That means we have one-time funds of about $40m. Let me be clear—we can spend one-time funds in several ways, including on more needed repairs to schools and other city assets. But if we dedicate it to ongoing expenses (raises, aides) and we don’t get lucky every future year from now until our $307million pension obligation is paid off, then we will be in worse shape when this $40m is gone—and will have to lay off more teachers and aides.
The mayor has an intriguing plan to create more school funding by putting $24 million in an interest-bearing account. It’s not the equivalent of a $4.5m operating override and resultant 2.5% growth, but it might help. Several school committee members have asked me to support this. A few of my trusted colleagues have argued that inflation will eat the interest and come for the principle, so we should spend this money now instead (recent data on inflation trends is, thankfully, encouraging).
I know that we are having trouble spending capital funds this year. Finding new staff in any department this year is a challenge also. So, I am inclined to give the mayor’s proposal further thought, and to ensure that it is structured to benefit our schools in the long run.
It’s re-election time, and three of my at-large (elected citywide) colleagues and I face a challenger. You can vote for two at-large councilors in each ward. I ask for your vote.
Sign up for a mail-in ballot, or ensure you can vote early or on Nov. 7 here.
It would help me serve you better if I have colleagues who understand Newton’s issues in all their complexity. As of now, my Ward 5 colleague, Deb Crossley, and my colleagues in Ward 6, Alicia Bowman and Vicki Danberg best fit that description. They work hard and share my concern that we keep Newton safe and resilient into the future.
There are also four ward races that only ward residents can vote in. I have been impressed by Dan Gaynor (Ward 2), Doris Ann Sweet (Ward 4), Martha Bixby (Ward 6). And the incumbent in Ward 8, Holly Ryan, is a trailblazer, a working-class advocate, and a champion for her Ward 8 constituents.
Please vote on or before Nov. 7.
Newton residents who qualify can now participate in the Bluebikes Income Eligible program at a significant discount.
Get even more informed:
It’s true that there is more news in Newton, and that my updates can’t cover it all. If you’re interested in keeping abreast of the issues from multiple perspectives, here are some resources:
Mayor Fuller’s newsletters arrive weekly and regularly scoop my updates.
Fig City News’ volunteer reporters provide city government and wider community news
The Newton Beacon has a paid editor/reporter and is a good source for Newton news.
The Charles River Chamber has a newsletter from its director, former TAB editor Greg Reibman, which I find informative.
Hope to see you soon!