|This month’s update starts out with a shoutout to the Horace Mann physical education teacher, David Tynes. Last month Mr. Tynes was inducted into the Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame for his work coaching special needs athletes. Mr. Tynes has also been a fantastic PE teacher for generations of Horace Mann students, including my kids. He teaches them not to compete against one another, but to compete against themselves, and he urges parent coaches not to use exercise as a form of punishment; you will never hear Mr. Tynes tell a kid “drop and give me 20” for misbehaving. He also drills kids on the importance of healthy eating, staying active, and never taking up cigarettes. David Tynes is a special individual and it is wonderful to see him get this recognition.
Second Meter Option May be Coming
Many residents have expressed frustration that they are charged a sewer fee on water that is used for irrigation rather than flushed down a sink or toilet. Mayor Warren’s administration has spent many months working on a different method of charging residents for water, and the Board of Aldermen will soon be voting on this change. (Here is a summary of the very thorough presentation and discussion we had about the topic at an Oct 1 Public Facilities Committee meeting; I am noticing that the link to archives is not working right now…check back tomorrow or email me and I can send you the report as an attachment) While many will cheer this change, it is important to understand that if a second water meter is allowed and fully implemented, approximately $6.7M in sewer fees, now collected based on outdoor water usage, must be recaptured through adjustments to the sewer rates. In other words, the City will still have to pay the same amount of money to the MWRA that it does now, so the lower amounts paid by some homeowners for some usage will have to be made up elsewhere.
Medical Marijuana Dispensary Approved
The Board of Aldermen voted 21-2 Oct. 20 to approve 697 Washington St. as the site of Garden Remedies, a medical marijuana dispensary. Note that we were voting not on whether medical marijuana should be allowed in Newton, as that was passed via ballot initiative in 2010 (with 63% approval statewide and 72% in Newton), but whether this site was an appropriate location. The petitioner agreed to several conditions including a police detail for the first week and also a limit on how much product can be dispensed on site. The latter condition is in order to limit how much cash patients will be forced to carry. Because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, patients may not purchase even the medical variety with a check or credit card. Garden Remedies told the Board that state regulators told them they would not be allowed to have an ATM on site. I think that is a misguided decision and am working with my colleagues on the Board to draft a strongly worded letter to the state Banking Commission to urge them to reverse this decision. With an ATM on site there would be no need for patients to carry any cash. That would enhance the safety of our neighborhood, while still allowing patients to access a medical product that will reduce their suffering.
As I reported last month, I am interested in loosening the restrictions on creating an accessory apartment within one’s home. I believe this can create more affordable housing without the massive density of a 40B project, and also allow aging homeowners to stay in their home, by providing them a source of rental income. A recent study by the Senior Citizens Fund of Newton (here is a power point version) found that:
I believe this demonstrates that a lot of Newton seniors have been here a long time, would like to stay here, but increasing financial pressure may make it hard to do so. Easing restrictions on accessory apartments may be at least a partial solution. An accessory apartment subcommittee within the Zoning and Planning Committee, headed up by my Ward 2 at-large colleague Marcia Johnson, is researching what other communities have done, and is coming up with recommendations for changes to our zoning ordinances.
- 23% of residents age 60+ live alone
- Newton households headed by residents age 65+ have a median income of $61K, with over 25% of residents 65+ reporting incomes < $25K/yr
- 63% of respondents age 50+ have lived in Newton 25 yrs or more, and 49% have lived in their current homes that long
- 88% of seniors stated it is important to stay in Newton as long as possible; 78% would like to remain in their current village as long as possible.
Election Day is Tues November 4
The general election is right around the corner! Regardless of how you plan to vote, I hope you do plan to vote. If you think it will be hard to get to the polls that Tuesday, you can vote absentee. My recommendations:
Newton-only Ballot Questions
- For governor I will be voting for Martha Coakley. Not only do I think she has been a terrific & hard-working Attorney General fighting on behalf of consumers and child protection, I also think she is best-positioned to continue Governor Patrick’s record of fiscal reform. I wrote a piece on just this topic for Commonwealth magazine.
- For the ballot questions I will be voting “No on 1, Yes on the Rest.” Our roads and bridges are in poor condition and the gas tax is a necessary source of funding. The bottle bill is about reducing litter along our roads, parks and streams. Paid sick time seems like something a modern society should ensure workers, and it makes for a healthier workplace.
Newton voters will face 2 additional ballot questions. These are non-binding but still send a message to your elected officials how you feel.
I will be voting yes. Having seen the City sell off schools decades ago and live to regret it, I believe we should only take the decision to surplus land after a vigorous public discussion, and a public vote would ensure that.
- Question 5: Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to vote for legislation to require that a majority of the voters in a municipality approve the sale of any municipally owned real estate containing more than 7,500 square feet of land?
I will be voting YES on this as well. I am a strong supporter of affordable housing, but I believe some of the 40B projects, such as the Court St project, go too far in terms of size and density. I believe there should be some effort to ensure that the resulting development actually fits within the neighborhood scale and character.
- Question 6:
Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to vote for legislation that would allow local elected officials, in communities that have taken steps to promote affordable housing at a local level, to have binding input regarding density, required parking, and other project characteristics to the extent that those changes would help to protect existing neighborhoods and businesses from negative impacts on infrastructure and public services, when a local zoning board of appeals is deciding whether to approve an application for a comprehensive permit to build affordable housing in that locality under Chapter 40B of the General Laws?
Reminder: No Right During Pedestrian Countdown!
If you have been pulled over while making a right hand turn onto Washington St from Walnut, I feel your pain. It turns out it is ILLEGAL to turn while the walk sign is on, even when there are no pedestrians anywhere to be seen. There are often police officers stationed on Washington to catch offenders… consider yourself forewarned. (I am looking into enhanced signage, because I believe many people do not know about this rule)
My office hours are this Friday, October 31, 9-10am at the Senior Center, 345 Walnut St in Newtonville. (Extra points if you come in costume and bring me candy!)