Residents heard from the District B Council candidates at a recent Candidates Forum, but there were some left over questions. Here are the answers from the four candidates.
The Preliminary Election for District B is on Thursday, Sept. 17. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Only voters in precincts 4, 5 and 6 (who vote at the Philips School and Hibernian Hall) can participate.
You can see how candidates responded to many other questions on the replay of the Candidates Forum on Watertown Cable Access by clicking here.
Last summer the Council was presented a petition for a moratorium on new large construction. The moratorium would have allowed the town planning and zoning offices to complete vision, guidelines, and zoning changes before granting new permits. The motivation behind the moratorium was to prevent Arsenal Street from becoming like Pleasant Street. How would you vote on such a moratorium today if you were elected/re-elected, and why?
Patty van Dinter: One of the responsibilities of the Town Council is to listen to what the residents are saying and do what is best for our town. I believe if enough residents signed a petition for a moratorium then there is reason to take a serious look at it.
I believe if more information was needed so that the residents and the council felt more comfortable about the projects proposed for Arsenal Street, then I would have voted for the moratorium so as to give all parties the time to gather that information.
We do not want to continue over developing our town.
Kevin MacDonald: I would absolutely respect the wishes of the citizens of town and have voted yes on a moratorium. We have limited land in a great location so there is no rush. Those who wish to develop will always be there. The Council are not experienced in the potential pitfalls of development. They need to respect and listen to those they represent. Time and time again they make decisions which are not in the best interest of the town.
Years ago, they had the Arsenal property and, rather than use that land for a new fire and police station, sold it to developers for the promise of tax revenue. Recently, with the knowledge that a new high school was on the horizon, the town had an opportunity to explore securing the land off Arsenal St by domain for just such a project. If that had happened, we could have built a new high school there and sold the old high school to a developer. Instead, they once again fell for the promise of tax revenue and missed a great opportunity.
Pleasant St is a great example of this. The Council “thought” they made proper decisions on the zoning of Pleasant St. But, 3 weeks ago, had to amend the zoning guidelines because of the explosion of high rise “meets the standard, but not what we wanted” projects. They need to stop, take a breath, and figure out how to best proceed.
Lisa Feltner: Development in Watertown has not only accelerated but is fundamentally different than development of the past.The new developments are large and will impact the quality of life for residents bringing new traffic, increased pressure on police, fire and other services. They will also change the landscape for the public. As such, the existing ordinances, planning processes, zoning and permitting are inadequate to protect the interests of existing residents and businesses.
Three of nine councilors voted in favor of the moratorium, though not the incumbent district B councilor. A well crafted moratorium was an emergency measure needed at that time, so if I had been the councilor when this happened, I would have worked with other councilors and residents to create a moratorium – a temporary pause – on really large projects along the commercial corridors, while trying to avoid potential negative effects of a moratorium. There was misinformation about the effects of a temporary moratorium, and I researched and brought to light what was allowed under State law. I strongly believe the town would be in a much better position today if we had paused to bring in Gamble Associates and a transportation planner and create the design guidelines and other forward looking planning initiatives before asking the planning and zoning boards to judge individual projects.
The incumbent district B councilor was not engaged with the residents throughout the planning process; she fully supported the 202-204Arsenal/58 Irving (Cresset-Hanover) project, and did not explain her votes. I spearheaded the call for coordinated and cohesive planning for the Arsenal Corridor before the Cresset-Hanover project was brought before the Planning Board. Because concerns for enhanced planning and updated zoning went unheeded, project proposals proceeded, and the petition for a temporary moratorium was generated. I realized that since we only had the support of three Town Councilors (Dushku, Palomba, Falkoff), we needed to petition again for planning resources to focus on Arsenal, which could then be used as a model for other targeted areas in Watertown. As President of Concerned Citizens Group (CCG), I convened a design advisory group to give concerted and thoughtful recommendations to new design guidelines and zoning amendments. I want to see amazing places developed for the amazing people I know and continue to meet in Watertown. This advisory group also advocated for residential guidelines and zoning changes during this process. At the time, it was determined to limit Gamble Associates effort to commercial properties, thus a volunteer committee including me, Councilor Palomba, Susan Steele, Maria Saiz, Tia Tilson, Yasmin Daikh, and others formed to address residents’ concerns about protecting neighborhoods; Gamble Associates have begun working with the Department of Community Development and Planning (DCDP), residents and the Town Council subcommittee on Economic Development and Planning to expand the effort.
As your Town Councilor, I would research and weigh the true impact of any petition for a moratorium,communicate with and fully appreciate the concerns of the petitioners, and vote accordingly to represent the majority of voters in District B as well as what is in the best interests of the town.
Cecilia Lenk: Managing future development and ensuring that we preserve the character of our community is of the utmost importance to me, as it is to many other residents. I have been a leader on the Council in pushing for reform of zoning and increasing public input in the development process. I have worked to provide the Town’s Community Planning and Development staff, and the Planning and Zoning Boards with the tools they need to better manage large scale construction projects, not only on Arsenal Street, but elsewhere in the Town. Last summer, I was pleased to work with my colleagues on the Council to address development concerns and voted to fast track the creation of Design Guidelines that would assure that these large scale projects meet the community’s vision for these major corridors. Subsequently and with considerable public input, we have passed zoning changes in response to the Comprehensive Plan for Watertown and the Design Guidelines. We also recently re-zoned the Pleasant Street corridor because the existing zoning did not work.
Describe what approach you would take as a councilor to voting on a labor union contract. What factors would you consider and in what order of priority? How would you weigh one town union’s contract with another?
Lenk: Every day, public employees in Watertown keep our streets safe, clean, and healthy and contribute so much to the character that makes our community so special. My goal is always to ensure that our workers receive compensation and benefits that are equitable, sustainable, and commensurate to similar positions in our peer communities.
Feltner: Town labor contracts have to balance the financial means of the town’s tax payers with the need to provide first class services and reward the hard and vital work of teachers, first responders and other town employees.
Contracts with individual bargaining units have to be seen in context. We need to take into account the compensation paid by neighboring and comparable municipalities, the town’s ability to recruit and retain the best employees, the contract and pay history of Watertown’s employees, and the experience of what effect any single contract will have on the other contracts.
The final vote is not where the council gets to be creative; at the final vote it is too late to influence what comes before the Town Council as a contract proposal. I would seek a collaborative approach early on, beginning with discussions with the Town Manager about goals and limitations. Recognize that the Manager is the town’s negotiator, and work with him or her to reach equitable solutions.
van Diner: All contracts are important and each one should be handled on its own merits. It is important that both sides be able to sit down, listen to each other and work together to come up with terms that are fair, agreeable and manageable to all parties.
MacDonald: Per the Home Rule Charter section 1-3 “the legislative branch shall never exercise any administrative power and the administrative branch shall never exercise any legislative power”. That makes it crystal clear that it is the Town Managers job to handle a labor union contract, not the Councils. If the manager is not getting the job done, or not getting it done well, the Council needs to step up and remind the manager that he works for them and this is a major part of his job description. Councilors voting based on “fairness” to other unions are overstepping their role and ignoring the rule of law in this town. Plain and simple, contract negotiations fall under administrative duties, not legislative, and are expressly assigned to the Town Manager, not the Council.
We share ownership of many roads with the DCR. For instance, the DCR has a plan in place to allow parking all along one side of Charles River Rd. and N. Beacon St. for people to park and ride their bike to Boston, without any consultation with the town. How would you work with them on managing use of our roads?
Feltner: DCR should have worked closely with Watertown in establishing the Park&Pedal Program. The State announced the program without community input. While the State touts the benefits to Boston and Cambridge of having a reduced number of commuters in vehicles, they seem fine with amassing commuters’ cars into large parking lots in Watertown. I’m against any plan that makes our neighborhoods bear the burden of a regional problem or that hurts the character of precious parkland.
State officials must not act unilaterally, must respect town residents in both the process and the outcome, and must protect the irreplaceable and historic parkland in their control.
Watertown is a community largely committed to a cleaner environment. We are working to reduce air pollutants and storm water runoff. I have led community meetings to learn about stormwater management and other issues, and this has helped support the vision development statement for my neighborhood. This vision development statement came out of a series of discussions I led as President of CCG, which enabled constructive dialog with the citizens and the DCPD.
The decision to allow commuters to park in Watertown is part of a larger problem – that of the funneling of vehicles from Belmont, Waltham and Newton through Watertown to avoid paying higher tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike or avoiding narrower streets in other communities. We hope that the State will address this problem, possibly even by altering the Mass Pike fee structure that encourages drivers to get off the Pike and cut through Watertown.
Watertown is striving to become a walkable, bikable, transit-friendly town, but parking and transit issues can’t be handled in a piecemeal way – the town must get more transportation planning expertise (traffic, transit, parking), get out in front instead of being reactive, and create a multi-pronged approach to these issues that makes sense for the people who live and work here.
van Dinter: It is very important that Watertown has a voice about the parking that was listed for Charles River Road and North Beacon Street being allowed for the Park and Pedal program. Parking is already a major issue for our residents; adding additional non resident parking will make the issue even worse.
The Town Council is responsible for looking out for our residents. If this project is moving ahead then a meeting with the DCR and Park and Pedal representatives about the following issues needs to happen before we as a town agree to participate.
Important Questions for DCR and Park and Pedal representatives would be:
- How will this be monitored so that people are actually using the spaces for their intended use?
- What checks and balances are in place to keep over flow off the residential streets so our residents are not negatively impacted?
- Who will patrol this area and the surrounding streets?
- Watertown has a town wide 2 hour parking limit. Will the town be compensated for ignoring this in the Park and Pedal areas?
MacDonald: If the DCR is launching a new program it is there job to reach out to us, not the other way around. Watertown has a 2 hour parking limit on all of their roads in town. This is only enforced overnight in the winter and/or when a citizen calls and complains. If the DCR did not clear Park and Pedal with the town, the parking enforcement agents should ticket those cars in violation. I do not wish for my town to become a parking lot to help ease Boston congestion. Ticketing violators would not only send the message immediately that we will not be ignored, but also add revenue to the town. Knowing that countless commuters park in the East end and off Galen St only to catch a bus downtown and leave their vehicle all day is unacceptable.
I propose a FREE resident parking sticker which would exempt excise tax paying Watertown residents from the 2 hour limit. This would clearly identify those who live here and park in front of their homes, from those who use our streets as a free place to park and commute via MBTA. This would add much needed revenue to the treasury via more residents registering their cars in town, plus revenue from parking violations from those who do not.
Lenk: Traffic is one of the most pressing issues facing Watertown. I am proud of my recent work to secure funding for the Town to address traffic, including the hiring of a traffic consultant. I am strongly pushing the Town to hire this position immediately to look at traffic throughout Watertown, analyzing our many problematic intersections and roads in town to alleviate congestion and make our streets more passable. I will continue to address traffic issues with the Town and Council to assure improvements to traffic flow in the near future. But, DCR’s proposed “Park & Pedal” program will only worsen our traffic problems by encouraging more cars to pass through our neighborhoods and streets.
When I first learned of DCR’s proposal, I immediately contacted our Town staff and state legislators. It is very unfortunate that DCR neither sought public input nor informed the Town of the plan in advance. Although I support making our streets more accessible and safer for cyclists, Watertown can not handle the extra traffic and parking this program will bring to our community.
We as local and state elected officials continue to work with DCR to find a better solution that will be acceptable the people it will most directly impact — our fellow Watertown residents.