LETTER: Council Candidates Respond to Concerned Watertown Homeowner’s Questions

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Watertown’s Town Hall.

Dear Editor,

Like last election, the Concerned Watertown Homeowners Association asked the At Large candidates a series of YES/NO policy questions that will effect our community. Their answers below. As always we thank them for their time and candor, and hope this helps voters make informed decisions on voting day. We did not receive answers from candidates Michelle Cokonougher and Clyde Younger

John Labadini
President
Concerned Watertown Homeowners Association.

The following is the letter sent to candidates and their responses:

Greetings At Large Candidates and congratulations on your endeavors to serve our community!

In that spirit, The Concerned Watertown Homeowners Association is once again asking candidates to weigh in on questions that will possibly affect homeowners and renters in our community.

Per our phone conversations, the questions are as follow and please answer Yes or No. You’re welcome to explain your answer if you wish. We’ve included candidates longer/detailed explanations at the end.

1. Would you vote to enact Residential Design Guidelines that would give the town more control over what you can and can’t do to your property
Polomba-YES
Bays-YES
Donato-NO
Gannon-NO
Mello- NO

2. Would you vote to make Watertown a Sanctuary City?
Polomba-YES
Bays-YES
Donato NO
Gannon-NO
Mello NO

3. Would you vote to increase the recycling pick up to every week rather than every other week?

Polomba YES
Donato-YES
Gannon-YES
Bays-YES
Mello-NO

4. Would you vote to enact a noise ordinance that included banning leaf blowers?

Bays-YES
Polomba-NO
Donato NO
Gannon-NO
Mello-NO

5. Would you vote to enact an ordinance that requires new roofs on single and two-family homes to be solar-paneled?

Bays-YES
Polomba-NO
Donato-NO
Gannon-NO
Mello-NO

6. Would you vote for a Tax Override for WHS? (All YES)
Polomba-YES
Donato_YES
Gannon-YES
Mello-YES
Bays-YES

7. Would you vote to allow and regulate Airbnbs? (All Yes)

Polumba -YES
Donato-YES
Gannon-YES
Mello-YES
Bays-YES

John Labadini
President
Concerned Watertown Homeowners Association

Candidates additional comments below:

Anthony Donato
1. Would you vote to enact Residential Design Guidelines that would give the town more control over what you can and can’t do to your property.
No.

The building and zoning codes offer objective standards against which a project may be reviewed.

I fear that design guidelines would be too subjective and I do not feel that the Town should have the ability to tell residents what style of house they should build or what type of materials or finishes should be used.

2. Would you vote to make Watertown a Sanctuary City?
No.

I believe that Watertown is and always has been very welcoming to immigrants. Our residents hail from more than 50 countries and speak over 40 languages. I think those numbers are even more staggering when you consider that Watertown is just about 4 square miles.

I want everyone in town to feel safe, regardless of their specific immigration status and I want our citizens to feel secure that they can contact the Watertown Police Department to report crimes or other issues, without fear of an immigration status check.

There is no set definition for Sanctuary City and no two local ordinances are the same, but what they do have in common is that they are written policies.

I am supportive of the Watertown Police Department’s General Order with regard to Immigration Legal Issues, which I believe is a strong, written policy that makes clear the WPD’s role in the enforcement of immigration laws.

Chief Lawn and the WPD spent a considerable amount of time drafting this order and it was done in a collaborative manner with many concerned citizens and citizen groups offering suggestions and input.

3. Would you vote to increase the recycling pick up to every week rather than every other week?

Yes.

However, the Town is approximately halfway through a five-year contract and I believe any change would need to be negotiated as part of the next contract as the current contract has been relied upon for budgetary purposes.

Although we only have bi-weekly pick up, I believe Watertown diverts more tons from trash to recycling than many neighboring cities/towns.

I would also like to remind residents that the Town offers the option to purchase a second recycling toter through the DPW for $90, which would effectively allow for weekly recycling under the current contract.

4. Would you vote to enact a noise ordinance that included banning leaf blowers?

No.

I think that hours of operation for leaf blowers should be regulated along with all other ground maintenance equipment, but I would not support the banning of leaf blowers.

5. Would you vote to enact an ordinance that requires new roofs on single and two-family homes to be solar-paneled?

No.

6. Would you vote for a Tax Override for WHS?

Yes.

The Three Elementary Schools Project will be completed within the confines of Proposition 2 ½ and the Town’s annual operating budget.

Unfortunately, the construction of a new high school cannot be accomplished within the Town’s annual operating budget.

Built in 1929, Watertown High School is one of the oldest school buildings in the district. In December, 2017, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) accepted Watertown into their Building Program and if the debt exclusion vote is approved, the MSBA will cover approximately 48% of the cost to build a new high school.

7. Would you vote to allow and regulate Airbnbs?

Yes.
Short term rentals, such as Airbnb, are not currently permitted in the Town’s Zoning Code. However, we know that short term rentals exist here.
Rather than turn a blind eye to them, I would like to see the operation of short-term rentals become legal for residents while also protecting the safety of renters and residents, ensuring that the primary use remains residential and will not be a detriment to the character and livability of the surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Caroline Bays
1. Would you vote to enact Residential Design Guidelines that would give the town more control over what you can and can’t do to your property?

Yes. I feel we should only create an ordinance limiting someone’s freedom when their actions negatively impact others or the community, but how we alter our properties strongly impacts our neighbors and the rest of the residents in town. How often have you heard people complain about the look and feel of Pleasant St? This is because the new buildings are built too close to the street and create a closed in city feel. Just a simple setback could have solved the problem. But it is not just aesthetics that are an issue. The Residential Design Guidelines ensure that when we alter the outside of our properties it is done in a way that does not destroy the value of our neighbor’s property by creating an ugly eyesore. What we do with our properties doesn’t just affect how pleasant our neighborhoods feel, it affects the value of our neighbors houses. The Residential Design Guidelines protects all of us.

2. Would you vote to make Watertown a Sanctuary City?

It depends on the definition you are using. I would not make Watertown a place where undocumented immigrants can claim sanctuary. That was never the intent. The term “Sanctuary City” is actually a misnomer. By supporting Chief Lawn’s existing policies, I support making Watertown a “Safe Community” which is the intent of all these laws and ordinances throughout Massachusetts. Safe Community policies make our community safer and create a welcoming environment for immigrants. I want to live in a town where immigrants, regardless of legal status, feel free to walk outside without harassment and where everyone is free to call police when they are a victim of a crime. These policies not only ensure that immigrants are safe, but that the rest of us are safer as well. When crimes go unreported, we are all less safe and we need to ensure immigrants feel they can call the police if they witness, or are victims of, a crime. I believe town council should officially support the policies outlined by the police. As the elected officials of town we need to show leadership and let our community know that everyone is welcome here and we will do what we can to protect the health, welfare, and safety of all our residents.

3. Would you vote to increase the recycling pick up to every week rather than every other week?

Yes, I would consider it. Many residents have more recycling than normal trash. We need to provide the necessary services for disposal of all trash. However, I would like to see increased education about what can and can not be recycled since many residents are engaging in “aspirational recycling” (i.e. hoping something can be recycled and putting it in the recycling instead of the trash where it really belongs). In addition, since China stopped taking recycling from the U.S., we don’t know if our recycling is actually being recycled. I would like to ensure that our recyclables are recycled, as well as encourage responsible recycling. The Watertown contract comes up for renewal in a few years. I hope the recycling industry has improved it’s recycling rate by then, in which case I will enthusiastically vote for weekly recycling.

4. Would you vote to enact a noise ordinance that included banning leaf blowers?

If banning leaf blowers were an option I would vote for it, however, I want to propose a compromise. We can allow leaf blowers that emit 65 decibels or below like Newton did. There are commercial leaf blowers that are rated at that level. I don’t want to put anyone out of business, but right now I am measuring leaf blowers at 90-95 decibels and I have seen employees of landscape companies working without ear plugs, which is a safety hazard. When I sit in my yard, my decibel meter measures between 75-90 decibels for the entire time my neighbor’s lawn service is there. Sounds above 85 decibels are harmful to the human ear. This is not just a matter of quality of life. Residents are truly suffering from leaf blowers. Extreme noise is a public health issue as well as an employee safety issue. We need to protect the residents of Watertown from this public hazard.

5. Would you vote to enact an ordinance that requires new roofs on single and two-family homes to be solar-paneled?

Yes. It’s a smart idea and financially benefits people in the long run. I believe that the climate crisis requires action now and in some cases we need to sacrifice. But the good news about solar panels is that nobody has to lose in the equation. The homeowner will actually get back more than the initial investment and the planet will benefit from increased solar installations. This is a win-win. People put in insulation, low-e glass windows, and more because it saves them money. Given the long-term cost savings, I predict that some day solar panels will be seen as necessary as insulation.

6. Would you vote for a Tax Override for WHS?

Yes, enthusiastically! We absolutely need a new high school and I would gladly pay 2 1/2 percent more for such an asset to the community and especially for the education of our children. Through responsible fiscal management we are building two brand new elementary schools without a tax override, but we can not do the same for the highschool. We will need to pass an override to build a top notch highschool built for the 21st century – and our children deserve it!

7. Would you vote to allow and regulate Airbnbs?

Yes. I think Airbnbs, also called short term rentals, are a great asset for individuals who own a house and have the space to rent part of it out. However, the en-masse buying of property by for profit companies has been destroying neighborhoods in cities such as Boston, New York, and D.C. We must ensure that we protect our neighborhoods from such a blight. So I would like to see short term rentals allowed only in owner occupied or owner adjacent units (i.e. room in a house, an in-law apartment, or a unit in a two family). I think it’s important to allow people to make extra money from their property if they can. However, allowing people who have never even lived in Watertown to buy up our properties, drive up the cost of housing, and then profit from allowing tourists to live in large numbers in our neighborhoods is not good for the town.

Tony Polomba

1. Would you vote to enact Residential Design Guidelines that would give the town more control over what you can and can’t do to your property?
Yes, but within limits and focused on the new building’s design so that it complements the style of the homes in the neighborhood.

2. Would you vote to make Watertown a Sanctuary City?
Yes, I would support a Town Council resolution or a similar resolution establishing Watertown as a welcoming city. This is a logistical extension of the Watertown Police Department’s immigration policy that was created in cooperation with Watertown Welcomes Immigrants a coalition of community organizations and individuals.

3. Would you vote to increase the recycling pick up to every week rather than every other week?
Yes, it is time to revisit our trash and recycling contract with Republic and discuss weekly recycling pick up, possibly as a pilot in certain parts of Town or for a certain period of time.

4. Would you vote to enact a noise ordinance that included banning leaf blowers?
No, but I would support restricting the hours when leaf blowers can be used and, more importantly, require that blowers used in Town be equipped with the last technology designed to reduce noise.

5. Would you vote to enact an ordinance that requires new roofs on single and two-family homes to be solar-paneled?
No, since it is unrealistic to assume all roofs would be candidates for solar panels.

6. Would you vote for a Tax Override for WHS?
Yes. We have the opportunity to build a new high school or renovate the existing high school with the state paying approximately 50% of the total cost. The remaining cost would be raised through a debt exclusion, which is something the Town has done in the past.

7. Would you vote to allow and regulate Airbnbs?
Yes. I would vote to allow short-term rentals in Watertown and to regulate them to make sure they are safe and meet public health and building codes, and do not remove rental units from the market.

Jimmy Mello

1. Would you vote to enact Residen al Design Guidelines that would give the town more control over what you can and can’t do to your property
No 2. Would you vote to make Watertown a Sanctuary City?
No, I believe Police Chief Michael Lawn’s policy regarding immigrants will suffice I also believe that town does not need to have a Human Rights Commission either.
3. Would you vote to increase the recycling pick up to every week rather than every other week?
No, at this me it is not feasible for the town to do so. If there was more of a need to do so then I would support it if it was cost effec ve.
4. Would you vote to enact a noise ordinance that included banning leaf blowers?
No,
I know at this me a noise ordinance is being reviewed. I don’t believe they should be banned, but I might support the hours that they might be used.
5. Would you vote to enact an ordinance that requires new roofs on single and two-family homes to be solar-paneled?
No, I believe that should be totally up to each individual homeowner. In some cases the companies that install solar would tell you its not worth it do to the amount of sunlight on a par cular property or neighborhood.
6. Would you vote for a Tax Override for WHS?
Yes,
a new High School is long overdo for Watertown and I would strongly support it. 7. Would you vote to allow and regulate Airbnbs? Yes

John Gannon

1. Would you vote to enact Residential Design Guidelines that would give the town more control over what you can and can’t do to your property
No.

2. Would you vote to make Watertown a Sanctuary City?

The Watertown that I grew up in has always been a welcoming place to everybody. That is why I support the Town Council’s current policy of supporting Watertown Police Chief Michael Lawn and the men and women of the police department’s long-standing practice of not asking residents their immigration status when calling the police for help. When it comes to matters of public safety, we want all residents to be comfortable to call for assistance.

We in Watertown do not ask anyone their immigration status when they ask for help from our police or firefighters, and I think that’s a good position. No one should fear getting help in Watertown, and I hope if I was in need, no one would hesitate to call the police for me because they feared for their own safety.

3. Would you vote to increase the recycling pick up to every week rather than every other week?

Watertown can serve as a lead in fighting the impacts of climate change. If there is a demand from our residents, we should be helping them recycle more often, or assist them in accessing additional recycling toters.

4. Would you vote to enact a noise ordinance that included banning leaf blowers?

As with the consideration of implementing any new regulation, we can strike a balance between regulating the actions that hinder the peace of certain residents without limiting other people’s day-to-day activities.
When implementing a new regulation, we must also consider how the regulation may be enforced. Does the enforcement agent know what behavior is seeking to be limited, can the enforcing agent be present during every violation? Watertown’s present noise ordinace mainly limits the hours in which noisy activities can take place. There’s always room to improve regulations that enhance the quality of life for our neighborhoods, and I think we should hear views from all perspectives on how we can work together to make our neighborhoods more liveable. Banning certain activities automatically that many neighbors depend upon as part of their day-to-day lives, though, is not something that I can support.

5. Would you vote to enact an ordinance that requires new roofs on single and two-family homes to be solar-paneled?

As I noted earlier, Watertown can and should take a stand in reducing climate impact. I fully support making it easy for residents to save energy, and Watertown is performing well in aggregating our collective purchasing power to increase the use of alternative energy systems in every home across town. We can even choose to purchase power from 100 percent renewable energy sources. These are ready solutions that do not require placing solar arrays on overy residential roof; for example, climate change also involves planting trees, that may not be compatible with solar arrays.

6. Would you vote for a Tax Override for WHS?

With construction of a new Watertown High School, there will be important legislative options to consider. As your Town Councilor, and proud alum of Watertown High School, I will advocate for building a brand new high school in a different location that will ensure we prepare our high school students with great educational opportunites, as well as provide them with healthful environments that faciltate open space and collaborative environments. We will also need to work as a community to ensure we receive our fair share of state funding, as well as to achieve full funding for our students’ futures. It will be the Town Council’s job to provide effective communication on how vital our schools are to our future as a community. I will utilize my background as both a Watertown graudate and as a municipal attorney who has overseen the legal efforts on constructing quality schools in many Massachusetts communities to make sure we build a first-class high school our own students deserve.

Yes, we are going to have to pay Watertown’s share of the new high school. However, with my background as a municipal finance expert, I would advocate forna plan that increases the Town’s residential tax exemption amount so that Watertown residents will not bear any extra costs on their tax bills to fund the Town’s high school construction share. First class high school, no extra costs to residents: A win, win all-around.

7. Would you vote to allow and regulate Airbnbs?

Our Town Council needs to regulate this issue. As a member of the Watertown Zoning Board, my board was recently presented with a case where an out-of-town owner of a two-family with five bedrooms in a residential neighborhood was using a management company to fill the house with daily short-term rental housing occupants. Imagine how this house, and others like it, would quickly destablize a Watertown neighborhood, and remove rental housing from Watertown residents who would contribute to the community. In addition, I have seen Watertown properties listed for short-term rentals on the web. I checked some out, and with my knowledge of the State Building Code, the State Fire Code and the State Sanitary Code, I’m concerned about the number of safety code violations that I observed. I have no qualms with the existing Watertown Zoning Ordinance on short-term rentals that allows families, seeking to remain in Watertown, to rent out a room occasionally. I would not support turning Watertown neighborhoods into resorts.

9 thoughts on “LETTER: Council Candidates Respond to Concerned Watertown Homeowner’s Questions

  1. Mr. Labadini, I did not receive a letter regarding this. I continue to live at the same address as during the last election and have the same email address at which you were able to reach me during the last election. I do not know why you were not be able to reach me. My answers would be as follows: 1. Yes, but only with significant resident involvement in the process. 2. No. 3. No. I think a better option would be to provide additional recycling totes to those who need them. 4. No. 5. No. 6. Yes. 7. Yes.

    • Sounds like the Concerned Homeowners weren’t concerned enough to do their homework. If you can’t contact Michelle or spell Tony’s name correctly then I think that you don’t really have an investment in fairness.

  2. While I appreciate the opportunity to not only give a “yes” or no” but also to explain my answers, I am sincerely disappointed that the Watertown Concerned Homeowners Association could not spell my name correctly throughout the questionnaire. My name is spelled PALOMBA. In some places it is spelled POLOMBA and in others POLUMBA.

    I have been on the Town Council for ten years, my name has appeared on Town Council stationary since being elected. It is on the many orange yard signs throughout Town, it appears at the bottom of my emails, it is in my email address and on my email web site. There seems to be do excuse not to spell it correctly, let alone spell it incorrectly twice, in this questionnaire. It is disappointing and disrespectful.

    • Sincere apologizes Tony!! I meant no disrespect and it was my mistake, not anyone else from the Concerned Watertown Homeowners Association. Thank you for participating in our Q and A, and thanks for pointing this out to me. I’ll do my best to make certain it does’t happen again.

      John

  3. Thank you to Michelle for answering these questions. This set of questions and the answers have been very helpful to me in determining who to vote for. I won’t vote for someone that thinks it’s OK to tell me what to do with my house in terms of solar panels, etc.

    Not too long ago a family member that is also on a city fire department talked to me about the dangers of solar panels in terms of a fire and how it can interfere with knocking down the fire faster. Solar panels should be a choice the homeowner makes and not one dictated by a Town Council Member decided she knew better than the homeowner as to what was more appropriate for their own home.

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