Mothers Out Front – Sustainability and Diversity Survey

Mothers Out Front recently asked all candidates for their positions on sustainability and diversity. I am thrilled that many groups are asking these questions ahead of the election. You can find all candidate answers here. My answers are below.

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?

Community Choice Energy is an idea I support. Giving residents a choice for who supplies their electricity generally has a net benefit, since it creates competition. Further, it allows residents to make a choice on something other than cost, including which provider purchases the most electricity from renewable sources. When I lived in Colorado, I was able to choose to purchase all of my electricity from renewable sources, even though it cost me slightly more. Here, it’s hard to find information on the choices I have. Further, affirmatively having to make the switch results in less people doing so. With CCE, residents would not only have a choice of electricity providers to be able to choose based on cost or other factors, like which one provides the most energy from renewable sources, but their default provider would be the community-based one.

Given that a CCE program, as currently being discussed between Amherst, Northampton, and Pelham, would be run by local residents, it would potentially be more likely to choose to purchase more energy from renewable sources, since residents have already expressed a desire to transition to more sustainable forms of electricity use. Also, it would not prevent residents from adding solar to their own houses, as net metering would still be available. At this time, I don’t see any disadvantages to offering CCE, but as the matter progresses further along, there may be some that are brought to my attention.

Are you committed to the Zero Energy Municipal Buildings bylaw? What do you want voters to understand about your stance? [this was the original question submitted to the candidates]

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? [This was the revised question that appears on their website]

I am committed to supporting the Town’s purchase and use of energy that is generated from renewable sources. The Zero Energy Municipal Bylaw that was passed by Town Meeting is one way of helping the Town move towards generating all of its own energy use itself, whether it generates long-term savings or not. And, any explanation of the associated additional costs or potential savings must include an explanation of why the Bylaw is important and what the Town is doing to work towards more sustainable energy use.

The Zero-Energy Bylaw may not be the most efficient way for the Town to move towards 100% renewable energy use. For example, installing solar arrays on the capped landfills would provide much more energy for the Town, covering many more buildings than any small installation of solar panels on one building can. By building a large solar array (or looking into hydro-power at the Puffer’s Pond dam or wind turbine installations), the Town may be able to generate all the electricity it consumes with just one project. Sometimes, a larger project is better.

Yet, at the same time, I believe it is important when building new buildings to build them in the most sustainable way possible. That includes not just ensuring that they use the least amount of energy as possible for heating and cooling, but also that we install energy-generating equipment where logical, like on roofs. But, I recognize that not all projects will have the ability to install such equipment in a large enough quantity to generate the total energy needed while also keeping the installations to as small of an additional footprint as necessary (like putting them just on the roof). Adding ground-mounted solar panels to each building project, and thus taking up much appreciated grass and open space on each project’s land, just to ensure that the project generates all of its electricity doesn’t seem to make as much sense to me as installing a larger array off-site that can provide electricity to that building and many others. When looking at zero-energy and renewable energy policies, we need to consider economies of scale, too— not just items on a project-by-project basis.

We need an energy policy in Amherst that looks at the end-goal — reducing the Town’s carbon footprint to as little as possible — and then creates and establishes a comprehensive plan to get there. While the Zero Energy Municipal Bylaw is one cog in the wheel, it can’t be the only cog, and we must be willing to enact other policies to get there and we must be willing to modify that bylaw if at any time the bylaw no longer serves the comprehensive plan as intended.

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

Affordable housing in Amherst is not only one of the most important issues facing Amherst today, but also one of the toughest issues to solve. Any approach to making Amherst more affordable will require a multi-prong, comprehensive strategy that includes a variety of areas. This includes at least three items: (1) diversifying the Amherst property tax base; (2) increasing the housing supply in Amherst across many types of housing; (3) using best practices in design and planning to ensure that any new buildings maintain the character of the town, both in look and feel.

Currently, Amherst’s tax base is over 90% residential. Due to this high percentage, any state-allowed commercial property tax rate adjustments have a very minimal effect on the residential property tax rate. If Amherst is able to increase the percentage of commercial properties in Town, that state-permitted tax rate adjustments might have a greater ability to lower the residential tax rate.

Amherst’s housing supply has been nearly stagnant over the last two decades, despite significant growth in both resident population and student population at UMass. This has resulted in economic pressure on the housing supply—and increase in demand without a corresponding increase in supply drives prices up. According to the 2013 Housing Production Plan, there are significant needs for the following:

  • family rental housing, particularly for families with very low income;
  • smaller affordable units for individuals;
  • appropriate housing for students to reduce demand on the housing market in Amherst;
  • preservation of existing affordable rental units;
  • affordable home ownership for families of low and moderate income; and
  • housing for at-risk and special needs residents who require special services and handicapped accessibility.

 

As a Town, we need to address all of these significant housing needs. Doing so in a responsible manner may help to make housing more affordable in town.

And of course, we must aim to preserve the character of Amherst, while simultaneously working towards making housing more affordable. This means we should not sacrifice our commitment to open space, recreation and conservation land. We should also adopt form-based zoning, which provides the planners in Town a means of ensuring that new building projects fit into the character of the neighborhoods in which they are built.

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

I will work to recruit and encourage diverse candidates to apply for committees. I will take a comprehensive approach to the appointing power of the Council, ensuring that appointees to committees are not only qualified, but also represent a diverse cross-section of Amherst. I will work towards fully funding the Community Participation Officer position, then ensuring that the person appointed to the position puts a priority on involving a more diverse group of residents in Town government. This includes not just encouraging diversity on committees and the Council, but also ensuring that the Council and Town have partnerships with apartment complexes, leading non-profits, and businesses in order to host meetings, forums, informational sessions, etc. in locations and at times that are more likely to draw non-traditional participants in our government. Through the Community Participation Officer’s requirement to report to the Council, I will also be able to continue to make regular requests to Town staff, boards, and committees to ensure that they reach beyond the traditional times and places to hold meetings, in order to “go where the people are”.

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