Government transparency to empower citizens

I and many others have struggled to find a single source of truth that clearly describes and articulates the reasoning behind various projects in Waltham, as well as the government's inner workings. Residents are frustrated with even seemingly uncontroversial projects, like the recent changes to the lane infrastructure on Lexington St., because of miscommunication and misinformation. Waltham needs an easy-to-navigate and up-to-date website that clearly documents the wonderful activities and efforts that our public servants and citizens are engaging in. This will build a greater sense of community that I know we are all seeking during these divided times.

Supporting local entrepreneurs & small businesses

From conversations with local business owners, there is a perception that Waltham is a hostile environment for small businesses. I would like to make Waltham a place where small businesses can thrive. In particular, I know that there are entrepreneurs that want to create spaces of play and fun for families on Moody St. that have been unable to, due to confusing and burdensome regulations that are perhaps targeted at large companies. I would like to work with other councillors to reduce some of the regulatory friction.

City planning for intentional & smart-growth

Nearly every resident I have spoken with has expressed concerns about the impact that recent and upcoming construction projects will have on traffic and the school system. The Open Spaces Plan from 2015 and the Transportation Master Plan from 2017 consider how specific problems (such as self-driving cars) in each area could be addressed in the future, but a holistic view of the city we are building towards is not currently available to the public. I intend to work with other councillors to hire a city planner to create an integrated, long-term city plan.

State of the art education for a better future

The most pressing issue is the construction of a new high school. The current facilities do not meet the demands of our growing city and is at risk for accreditation. As city councillor, I would work with the school committee, school board, and mayor’s office to identify the roadblocks that are preventing the city from making use of the best location for the new high school, and work collaboratively to make progress towards actually getting the best location. I’m open to other perspectives, but from my own research, the Stigmatine site is the best potential location that is under consideration. The previous proposal was prepared solely by the Fathers at Stigmatine was dismissed by Rome, but I believe that a collaborative proposal where all parties can state their needs and make a compromise will be the best move forward. 

The Fernald buildings have historical restrictions and suffer from mold due to the wetlands they were built on, and the high school’s current location is simply too small, and would have a detrimental impact on the children of Waltham for the 3+ years that construction will occur. Furthermore, Fernald will be best used to remember the lives of those that lived on the property and the those who were lost as Councillor Darcy has suggested.

Outside of the new high school site issue, I want to better understand the needs of the students and their families at Waltham public schools, and to identify the kind of support educators need from the city. I will cultivate relationships with and solicit policy feedback from parents and teachers.

As a professional in the tech industry, I have a strong interest in the amount of exposure to STEAM fields -- particularly computer science, coding, and engineering -- that Waltham schools provide to our diverse student population. Expertise in these fields can lead to lucrative opportunities in some of our country’s most booming industries. I believe society at large will benefit from an influx of diverse perspectives into STEAM fields, as people of color, women, and people from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds adapt technology to address problems that are invisible to (or ignored by) the largely white, male, wealthy technologists that dominate the industry today.

A greener community

There is a great deal of room for improvement for Waltham to become a more environmentally responsible city. I would, in coordination with the other councillors and the mayor, re-apply to the state government to become a designated Green Community. This will provide the city funds for environmentally and economically advantageous upgrades, such as solar panels on parking structures and insulation in municipal buildings. As city councillor, I would collaborate with the city bike committee, Bay State MA, and similar groups to make Waltham a Bike Friendly City, which would reduce carbon emissions and make Waltham a safer city for all. The Transportation Master Plan outlines many steps to make Waltham more bike- and pedestrian-friendly, which is in the best interest of residents of all abilities and businesses in the area.

I intend to introduce private [1] [2] [3] and municipal [4] proposals for city-wide composting, which would reduce the amount of methane emitted from organic matter in our landfills. I would like to engage the community in composting and collaborate with the urban farming groups in the city, such as the Waltham Fields Community Farm and Meadowscaping for Biodiversity, by providing the nutrient-rich soil for their projects.

The more I speak with residents, the more I hear that Waltham’s recycling facilities need improvement. Many buildings do not seem to offer recycling, or residents are not aware that recycling is available. This relates to the communication and transparency issues I will discuss later in the survey. In order for residents to be empowered in their community, they need to be informed about the tools and services available to them.

Celebrating and supporting our diverse community

Many cities of comparable size to Waltham, such as Framingham and Belmont, have established Human Rights Commissions to investigate discrimination in various areas, including housing, policing, and employment, at the local level. I believe this is a critical first step to addressing racial justice issues -- we cannot fix problems we have not yet identified.

I believe that protecting our immigrant residents includes protecting their family members from forcible removal, to the degree that we can at the local level. The police department should formally and publicly state their existing policy of collaboration with ICE, including which types of criminal warrants will lead to an immigration hold/detention. The Welcoming City ordinance should be updated to prohibit city employees from asking residents about their immigration status, and from discriminating against anyone seeking city services regardless of immigration status, ancestry, race, ethnicity, national origin, color, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender variance, marital status, physical or mental disability, or religion. Newton and Seattle both provide great examples of strong, progressive welcoming ordinances.

We can also support our immigrant residents by providing municipal documents and other materials in multiple languages -- Spanish would be a good start, as over 8% of Waltham’s population is Hispanic. We must continue to support celebrations of the diverse cultures that make Waltham such a wonderful place to live.

Finally, we must elect and appoint diverse officials, and actively recruit citizens from diverse communities to serve on our governing committees. It is through our combined efforts that we will be able to design a welcoming and supportive city for all.

Housing and affordability

The issues surrounding housing are very complex and will require a multi-pronged approach. The cost of living in Waltham is increasing at an alarming rate, displacing some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Housing costs are increasing across the MetroWest area because there is a housing shortage. The shortage can be addressed with development projects that increase the city’s available housing, ideally by renovating existing and abandoned structures throughout the city. In order for the developments to actually address the city’s affordability needs, the City Council needs to reduce the number of exemptions from inclusionary zoning laws which permit builders to circumvent Waltham’s affordable housing quota requirement. With only 1291 designated affordable units (including 35 from WATCH CDC) for a general population over 63,000, we will never meet our affordable housing needs unless the City Council increases the percentage of affordable units in every new development to at least 15% (from 10% currently). Furthermore, because Waltham is not meeting the state’s affordable housing quota under Chapter 40B, the local government has limited power to approve new projects. Increasing the local affordable quota for new developments will help us meet the state’s quota, and restore power to city council and the zoning board, an important step for long-term city planning.

While more housing is built to meet demand so that prices eventually fall, the issue of short-term displacement can be addressed by protecting tenants. To start, there should be limits to the percentage increase that landlords can impose year over year on their tenants. I’ve personally heard from residents who have experienced 21% rent increases from one year to the next. This can result in residents moving every year and, after several years, driving residents out of Waltham, out of retirement, or worse. In addition, given the boom in construction throughout our city, tenants need protections so that they are not forced out of their homes by owners that want to sell.  

The policies mentioned above, however, do not address homelessness. The number of homeless families in Massachusetts has doubled in the past 9 years; the Community Day Center of Waltham on Felton Street serves hundreds of people each year. I plan to contribute part of my salary as city councilor to the Community Day Center and the Middlesex Human Service Agency, while I work with council and the mayor to better fund and support the great work these groups are doing to help our city’s homeless population.