Water: the mystery history

...traffic calming, parking, more...

3/28/20244 min read

Along with March hares and daffodils, this is a time of many holidays (Easter, Purim, Holi, Ramadan…). Whatever you observe, I hope it is meaningful and filled with community.

In this update, I focus on stormwater—which will be on our minds as well as in our streets and basements for some time to come.

I will also briefly cover:
Traffic Calming
Short items
Office Hours


A few weeks ago, a neighbor reported that hundreds of gallons of water was entering basements on her street.

This was in the dryest month of the winter—February—and these homes sit near the top of a hill. They thought a water main was broken.

But testing revealed it was groundwater.

A little sleuthing and this neighbor discovered these homes were next to a stream. Why didn’t they know this already? This stream was put underground in a pipe over 100 years ago and paved over to make a street possible.

The city isn’t responsible for groundwater flooding, no matter where it might come from—so the neighbors hired a contractor to reroute the water away from their basements. (By the way, if you see regular basement flooding, the state wants to know about it for a state-wide map of groundwater. Survey here.)

But we also have no idea if the old culvert might be blocked. In fact, we don’t know the state of most of our stormwater pipes.

Right now, the city is focused on meeting EPA requirements to remove nutrients from stormwater—something we and our neighboring communities must start implementing this fiscal year. This was covered in a presentation to councilors earlier this month.

But ensuring the current system is functional would save many homeowners, who bought near unseen waters, thousands of dollars. (Find out if you are near one here.)

Fortunately, Newton has a stormwater fee. The advantage of a fee over a tax is that non-profit properties, such as colleges, also have to pay. The City holds these fees in a separate fund—but it’s not enough for the coming surge in needed stormwater system spending.

Remember that a functioning storm system is flood insurance. And a cleaner Charles opens up recreational options there.

Traffic Calming Ahead

One of the most frequent requests I get are for safer roads and crossings. So I was thrilled to see DPW’s Transportation Division present its latest Traffic Calming Prioritization report, which includes both what’s been done, what is still getting built, and future priorities. You can find the draft and see where on the list your street might be by scrolling to the bottom of this. Is your street not listed? That’s because it’s either not in Newton’s control, or nobody has yet asked for traffic calming (to do so, use the City’s 311 system).

The challenge ahead is to find funding, as our current budget for traffic calming is $350,000/year.

Newton’s Overnight Parking Ban will be on your November ballot.

The ban is a seasonal reminder that the city streets are for everyone, not just for those who have wheeled vehicles (or other bulky items) that their garages, basements, and driveways don’t easily accommodate. It was kept for the winter, we are told, to ensure adequate passage for snow plows and fire trucks. But our Public Works and Fire departments have told Council they don’t need a ban for that purpose, since the city already has an ordinance requiring cars be moved in an emergency (including a snow emergency).

Over 500 residents have contacted Council to complain that the ban is inconvenient and inequitable.

It is, in any event, a blunt instrument.

Councilor Grossman & I docketed language to begin a discussion about a more targeted parking program(s) that might meet some of the same needs the parking ban currently fills.

PS&T will be looking for your input on the goals any such program might set, as well as ideas on how best to meet them.


Responding to hateI agreed with and signed  on to a letter about vandalism at local homes. Everyone should feel safe in Newton, and I thank our police officers for taking these incidents seriously.

Another fatal fire—this week saw the third fire in the last 4 months that took a Newton resident’s life. It’s a reminder of why we pay for fire services. And as my electrician recently noted, we all need to keep our smoke alarms current and be mindful of, if not avoid, powering things long-term with extension cords.

Tax talkCouncil and the mayor met March 7 to discuss our priorities for the next city budget. As I mentioned in my last update, the next few years of school budgets (more than 60% of our spending) are covered, but a gap is looming. The mayor noted the need for an override before Fiscal 2027 and two additional possible budget busters—solid waste disposal and stormwater. Stay tuned.

Road work: Waltham Street is already getting new sidewalks and then paving and new crosswalks; Petee Square (Oak and Chestnut) begins in early April for a safer square; that same week construction should start on the western end of Commonwealth Ave. (near the Marriott to Ash Street), restoring a pedestrian and bike path on the north side and two lanes for cars.

Resources: How does housing development affect school enrollment?
Presentation on next year’s school budget. School impacts here.

1. I know the presentation says 54%, but once you include crossing guards, school building bond payments, school nursers and social workers, pensions and retiree health, the percentage goes north of 63%.