Councilor At-Large Candidate Q&A: Tony Palomba

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Tony Palomba, candidate for Town Councilor At-Large.

Tony Palomba, candidate for Town Councilor At-Large.

Tony Palomba 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?

1. Facilitate increased public participation in the creation of a Transportation Management Association (TMA) in cooperation with the Watertown Public Transit Task Force.

2. Adopt residential design guidelines and introduce residential design standards as zoning amendments.

3. Establish a state-of-the-art dog park at the Grove Street entrance to Filippello Park in cooperation with the Watertown Dog Park Task Force.

4. Continue W.A.T.E.R. town (Watertown Access to Treatment, Education and Resources for Substance Use Disorders) education and awareness activities to address Watertown’s opioid epidemic.

5. Reintroduce a proposal that requires the Department of Community Development and Planning (DCDP) to create a mitigation report for all large residential and commercial developments.

6. Build greater awareness and understanding of the tools available to residents to preserve the character of their neighborhoods in cooperation with the Neighborhood Advocacy Committee.

7. Advance the present part-time position of a Social Services Resource Specialist to a full-time position.

8. Propose and adopt a resolution requiring the Assessor to publish, on a quarterly basis, the increase in tax revenue as a result of the increase in value of new developments and redevelopments, both residential and commercial.

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?

1. Redesign the Town’s web site to improve user access to information including access to administrative policies, proposed ordinances and updated planning documents.

2. Create a comprehensive, on-line Town calendar that is updated on a weekly basis and includes not only upcoming meetings such as Town Council meetings, meeting of Town boards, commissions and committees, but information about deadlines (e.g. property tax payments) and activities (e.g. trash and recycling pick up, flu shots). Each entry should be linked to a more in-depth description including meeting agendas. This calendar would compliment and serve as a portal to department specific calendars and listings such as the Library and WCA-TV calendars.

3. Request that the School Department create a similar comprehensive calendar (i.e. entries beyond dates of meetings) and provide links to the Town’s and School’s calendars on each of their sites.

4. Undertake a major campaign to market the Town’s and School’s websites through social media, paid ads in the Watertown Tab and on-line news outlets, and inclusion in all Town mailings (e.g. tax bills, abutter announcements, street and sidewalk repair and closing announcements, etc).

5. Offer “How to Use the Town’s Web Site” workshops quarterly (30 – 45 minutes) at different locations in Town.

6. Bring Town government to the residents by conducting Town Council meetings and meetings of the Town’s major boards, commissions and committees at locations throughout the Town including, but not limited to, community rooms at large residential developments.

7. Offer “This is Your Town Government” workshops quarterly (60 minutes) at different locations in Town. This workshop would provide residents about overview of Watertown’s type of government, the role of the Town Council and School Committee, town departments, etc.

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 would not support a tax override or debt exclusion at this time, though I would consider that later if the Town is able to partially fund, through the Massachusetts School Building Authority, a new school, mostly likely a new high school. I do support placing a question on the 2016 ballot asking residents to vote in favor of the Community Preservation Act (CPA). I have been participating in the CPA Working Group since the fall of 2014 to develop the educational tools to reach Watertown voters. In short, the CPA would levy a 1-3 percent (the Working Group is proposing a 2 percent levy) surcharge on your real estate tax bill, both residential and commercial property. There would be exemption for seniors and those with low-incomes. The Commonwealth would match, by a certain percentage, the amount raised by the surcharge. It is estimated that Watertown would have access to approximately $1,750,000. These funds can only be used for three types of projects – open space and recreation (athletic fields, playgrounds, tree planting, community gardens), Historic Preservation (archiving of historic documents and photos, preservation of historic monuments, renovation of historic buildings) and affordable housing (rehabilitation and new construction of homes that helps seniors and young families). The CPA funds would be administered by a committee comprised of representatives from the historical, housing and recreation departments as well as additional at-large members. The recommendations for the committee and the distribution of the funds would be approved by the Town Council. Over 150 cities and towns have passed the CPA including our neighbors in Waltham, Arlington, Somerville, Newton and Belmont.

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

Watertown is quickly becoming a desirable place to live resulting in higher prices for home purchases and for rents.

1. Increase the percentage of affordable units for all projects with more the five residential units from 12.5 percent to 15 percent by amending Watertown’s Inclusionary Zoning regulations. Approximately a year ago the Town amended the zoning regulation to increase the percentage from 10 percent to 12.5 percent.

2. Consider adjusting the definition of “affordable housing” so the cost of the units available through the affordable housing program is in line with what eligible individuals and families can afford.

3. Pass the Community Preservation Act and allocate a portion of the funds available in FY17 to providing down payments for 3-5 homes for low-income families that are drawn from a lottery.

4. Work with the Metro Community Development Collaborative to access grant opportunities and submit applications for the creation of new affordable rental units in Watertown and home repair programs targeting seniors and low-income home owners.

5. Consider increasing the residential exemption for homeowners from the present 20 percent to 25 percent.

6. Advocate for increase state funding for the development, in partnership with local communities, of new affordable rental housing.

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?

Similar to the guidelines and standards for developments over 10 units, there may be guidelines which residential developers are encouraged to follow and standards which become part of the zoning code and therefore must be followed. To a large extend Gamble and Associates, the firm hired by the Town, will make this decision in cooperation with the Department of Community Development and Planning. I support the following whether as guidelines or standards, 1) increasing the lot size for a single or two-family home which is presently 5,000 square feet, 2) decreasing the percentage of the lot that is impervious (presently is 85 percent), 3) increasing setbacks, and 4) increasing buffer zones. In addition I support a modified approach of form-based zoning that would offer a series of a specific styles and dimensions for additions, dormers, porches, etc. based on the existing styles in the neighborhood. The guidelines and standards should also address issues not directly related to the dimensions of a new building or modification a of existing building such as the tree canopy in the neighborhood and should encourage direct and frequent communication between a developer and residents of the neighborhood. At this time I would not required a developer to need a special permit in order to build in a residential neighborhood.

I would like to note that there are additional tools to help preserve the character of our neighborhoods besides residential guidelines. These include: 1) administrative policies, regulations, ordinances, zoning overlay districts, as well as neighborhood conservation districts. I urge residents to attend a town wide forum, “Preserving our Neighborhoods” on Thursday, Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the Middle School Auditorium where a panel of experts and community activists will discuss these tools in detail. The forum is being sponsored by the Neighborhood Advocacy Committee and the Town’s Department of Community Development and Planning.

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

I approach this question with the assumption that the issues of development, transportation/transit, school funding, the opioid epidemic and the topics addressed in this questionnaire and at past candidate forums are considered “front burner” issue. Given that, then the next big issue is how to allocate the increased revenue that will be forthcoming from large commercial and residential developments. I believe this is a question that deserves to be discussed by the residents of Watertown in a series of well-planned and carefully facilitated community meetings that allow for the exchange of ideas and suggestions. In addition to one-time increases in revenue from permits, there will be substantial ongoing tax revenue from properties that are being developed or will be developed in the coming years. Residents should have a say in how these revenues will be spent.

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

I have lived in Watertown with my partner, Ann Munson, since 1994. Our two children, Nathaniel and Joanna, who were born at Mt. Auburn Hospital, attended Watertown Public Schools. Nathaniel graduated from Watertown High in May and Joanna left the system to attend Meridian Academy in Jamaica Plain in 2014. I have been an active member of the Watertown community for many years before I was elected to the Town Council in 2009. I have played a leadership in Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment since 1995 and have worked both as a staff member and a volunteer on numerous political campaigns on the local, state, and national level since 1986. I served as the Policy Advisor for Boston City Councilor Rosaria Salerno and on her campaign staff during her 1993 mayoral race. In addition I worked the field of prevention and public health for over 17 years.

I continue to participate in the life of Watertown since I was elected to the Council as a member of the Steering Committee of the Watertown Youth Coalition, the Social Services Resource Specialist Advisory Committee, the Watertown Public Transit Task Force, the Neighborhood Advocacy Committee and the W.A.T.E.R. Town (Watertown Access Treatment, Education, and Resources on Substance Abuse Disorders) coalition.

I believe my years of political and community activism, my commitment to encouraging and fostering resident involvement in local government, my willingness to learn from the experience and the wisdom of others as well as my adherence to the principles of compassion and fairness have made be an effective Town Councilor.

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