Councilor At-Large Candidate Q&A: Susan Falkoff

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Susan Falkoff, candidate for Town Councilor At-Large.

Susan Falkoff, candidate for Town Councilor At-Large.

Susan Falkoff seeks re-election as Town Councilor At-Large in the Nov. 3 election.

Watertown News asked candidates a series of questions.

1) If elected, what will you make your top priority for the first six months of your term?

If I have to pick just one I will say Residential Design Standards since the ball is already rolling on that and I will want to pay close attention. David Gamble, who did such a good job (and won an urban design prize from the Boston Society of Architects) on standards and guidelines for larger developments, is working with the Planning Department and the community to determine what guidelines we might implement that would encourage projects that protect the character of our neighborhoods. As he freely admits, this will be an even tougher job than the first one since it’s also important to protect homeowners’ rights. If I could have a second choice, I would say we need to look more aggressively at how to manage the increased traffic we are seeing from all the new development and I will advocate for a full-time transportation planner.

2) Despite having information on the website, and email blasts available from Notify Me, residents complain about not being informed about what’s going on in Watertown. How can the town connect more with residents and get out information about key projects, votes and more?

Most important, I would like to see the website better organized so that residents can find information without searching so hard. I would also like to be sure it is kept up-to-date and made more attractive. The “Notify Me” section is helpful but what if we were to fine tune it so that, for example, you wouldn’t get every message the Planning Department sends out but only meetings that concern, say the east end of town and aren’t held on Wednesday or Thursday when you are working.

I’m not sure how interactive social media would work but I am open to investigating options. I personally have an email list for Town council news updates and if you would like to be added to it, let me know at There is evidence that people actually read my messages and find them helpful.

3) Would you support a tax override or debt exclusion to raise taxes beyond the Prop. 2 1/2 limit? If so, what projects or areas would you want the override or exclusion to fund?

I am open to considering an override and think the most likely reason would be to fund new school construction.

4) What would you do to help seniors and others struggling to afford to live in  Watertown? 

Developing more housing options is another top priority for me. According to the 2013 Housing Production Plan, 1 in 3 Watertown households are low income (defined as earning less than 80 percent of $94,400, the area median income). Forty percent of these are elderly households. We need to work harder to reach the state goal of having 10% of our housing units be affordable. The newer large developments are composed of mainly studio and one-bedroom apartments, with high rents, that tend to attract a transient population. We should explore ways to incentivize building a wider range of housing types that would attract young families or seniors who no longer need large homes but want to stay in Watertown. We can support seniors who want to age in place through emergency repair and rehabilitation/modification programs.

5) The Residential Design Guideline process to change the zoning for Watertown’s residential neighborhoods recently began. What kinds of rules would you like to see include and which would you not want to see in the guidelines?

I like the idea that if we specify what design elements go with a certain architectural style or neighborhood, we can bypass the cumbersome special permit process for projects that use these features. I realize you can’t legislate beauty but some of the new housing is poorly or generically designed and not in character with its neighborhood. I am very much looking forward to figuring out what kinds of aesthetic protections are realistic, fair to homeowners, and enforceable.

6) What do you think will be the next big issue that is not yet on the town’s front burners?

Members of the Stormwater advisory committee tell me that complying with new EPA rules for Stormwater management will take a substantial effort — including investments in our underground infrastructure.  What’s underground is unseen so the public isn’t aware of the deficiencies in our sewers and storm drains. Yet, whatever leaks from our sewers into the groundwater or gets into our storm drains eventually flows into the Charles River, our greatest asset.  We need to assess our infrastructure needs and determine how to meet the expenses associated with updating and maintaining the underground systems.

7) Tell us about yourself, your family, your life and what qualities would make you a good Town Councilor.

I moved to Watertown to raise a family. When my children were young, during the Reagan years, the threat of nuclear war seemed imminent and I became involved with issues of peace and environmental safety. Starting as a grassroots activist, I was later appointed to the Arsenal Reuse Committee and spent a lot of my life learning about military toxics. Our work in Watertown became a national model for citizen involvement in environmental restoration; a military publication quoted me as saying, “I used to think it’s us against the US Army but now I talk of working with the installation officials to ensure the proper cleanup…There was much mutual progress to overcome but we’ve made a lot of progress. Isn’t that how peace begins?” Once my role on the Reuse committee was completed, I became a member of the Conservation Commission and, in 2003, first ran for town Council.

My undergraduate degree is in the history of art and that background is one of the reasons I am so excited about working on the look and character of our homes and neighborhoods. In my current professional life, I am a social worker with a private psychotherapy practice in Watertown. I’ve had a lot of practice listening to people’s concerns and looking for ways to solve problems. I care that Watertown continues to be a welcoming place for both long-term residents and newcomers, for families, single adults, and seniors. I value our cultural, social and economic diversity.

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