L’Shana Tova! Happy New Year to those who celebrate. May this be a sweet year. And happy fall to all.
Local overdose/mental health calls
Local overdoses, mental health calls Every quarter, the Public Safety & Transportation Committee, which I chair, reviews data from the Police Department. Our latest review focused on police calls related to mental health, domestic abuse and substance abuse (full report here).
The data is concerning: mental health calls seem to be increasing (the 2022 data in the chart is only through August), perhaps reflecting national trends.
In addition, overdoses, including fatal ones, appear to be increasing year over year locally and statewide.
One reason appears to be the increasing contamination of illegally obtained drugs with fentanyl. State data shows that 93% of overdose deaths have fentanyl present. The NIH has found fentanyl in powders like cocaine and other street drugs.
In December, PS&T will talk with Chief Carmichael and Health Commissioner Linda Walsh to get more in-depth information about the city’s response to substance abuse disorder and mental health calls: the Crisis Intervention Team.
Cool articles I’ve read this month (please feel free to share your recommendations!):
Safety Zones This month I was pleased to nominate and vote for three additional 20 mph safety zones in Newton--these zones are applicable where we see a lot of people walking or biking and need traffic to go slowly. They have been hugely popular with nearby neighbors.
Albemarle Road near Day Middle School & the new Early Childhood Center
Allen Ave near Richardson Field
Beethoven Ave near Zervas School
Brandeis Rd near Newton South HS
Chestnut St. from Bobby Braceland Park to Upper Falls Village Center
East Side Parkway near Cabot School
Ellis St. near Hemlock Gorge
Lincoln Street near Newton Highlands village & Hyde park
Walnut Street near Newton North HS & Newtonville center
Lake Ave near Crystal Lake
Homer St. near City Hall & the Library
Watertown through Nonantum center
All of these were championed by the councilors from the ward, and many were also suggested by the School Transportation Working Group.
Our next PS&T meeting is Oct. 19. I am planning to include discussions about traffic calming efforts so far, and what we have learned about how well various installations have worked.
Chestnut St. between Beacon and Commonwealth will remain a construction zone through the spring. The city doesn’t have a sidewalk contractor or a paving contractor yet. So hold on and take it slow in this stretch!
Other Council News
The council proposal, which I signed on to before all the details were spelled out, would extend the penalties to all trees over 55” in diameter at breast height, and allow neighbors to weigh in against cutting.
Our mature trees provide more than shade and beauty: they absorb carbon and suck up stormwater, soften noises, provide habitat. But is the balance of increased oversight and penalties right? How much is too much to pay to cut down a tree? Should we waive the fee for cutting trees like Norway Maples, which shade out native trees that provide more habitat and food for local birds? What else should we know?
I welcome your thoughts!
It's almost the start of a new school year and a busier working session in City Hall. Here's what you need to know:
Village Center Zoning
Village Center Zoning
You have a chance to weigh in on village center zoning redesign starting Sept. 1st. As you may recall, Council has been discussing what zoning changes would make our villages more vibrant, sustainable, attractive and would allow enough housing to meet the mandates in the MBTA Communities law (MCL).
If Newton meets the MCL zoning requirements--which are designed to lower carbon emissions from transportation and create needed new housing--the city will then also be able to require all-electric new construction. The latter is important consumer protection for homebuyers who otherwise might have to retrofit boilers, kitchens and appliances to meet evolving climate mandates.
Village center structures will be more attractive if Newton can remove costly parking mandates (requirements to provide parking spaces based on number of housing units or seats in a restaurant, for instance) from zoning. Mandated parking is what makes modern structures massive (or surrounded by heat-absorbing pavement) and unduly expensive. Currently, Council regularly waives parking requirements near village centers and the T in special permits, but the permitting process adds uncertainty and expense. And any zoning that requires special permits to build near the T will not pass MCL muster.
The Zoning committee saw several examples of what could be constructed in our village centers now, and what modest changes would allow--I think the changes result in buildings that better fit Newton’s villages. Another proposal is to include robust design review, which I think makes a lot of sense. Having design professionals make decisions is more predictable than facing an elected body--and that’s perhaps why no other Massachusetts municipalities have elected bodies making those determinations. There were a total of 12 recommendations that the Zoning committee approved--you can read about all of them on the zoning website, where you can also weigh in with your own thoughts. Please do!
To maximize reductions in traffic and emissions -and build stronger communities--I would like to see the city also plan more proactively for 15-minute neighborhoods.
After my last newsletter, several people asked about plastics recycling. The thing is--this changes all the time as the market for various materials changes. Best practice, according to Newton’s Director of Sustainable Materials Management, Waneta Trabert, is to consult the state’s Recycle Smart website. They update daily.
It is still true that black plastic is too hard to “read” for the sorting machines, so those takeout containers aren’t really recycled (I will use them to gift cookies). Plastic bags get caught in the machinery and cost Newton in fines from the recycling depots--but if you take clean, dry plastic bags to most grocery stores, they can recycle them. They are used in composite lumber! Plastic drink (and other) pouches can’t be recycled.
Rule of thumb: if it’s otherwise a bottle, container, jar, tub with a lid or a jug, it can go in the recycling bin. Clear plastic is preferable to colored--in fact clear plastic cups can go in the bin, but not colored ones.
Fabrics: To find out where bins are, visit Helpsy.co . Wearable clothing is re-sold, and Newton will get a percentage. The rest can be shredded and used as insulation and in various paddings.
Recycling something else? Check here.
Cool environmental articles (please feel free to share your best reads):
Chestnut between Beacon and Commonwealth should see gas work finished by mid-September and the beginning of sidewalk construction. Once sidewalks and curb ramps are finished, the road will finally be paved.
Waverly and Ward will be rough until water pipe repairs are finished.
Washington Street from West Newton to Newton Corner should get new pavement in September. Also Washington in Lower Falls. Intersections:Crafts at Walnut is now more of a T intersection--much safer for kids walking to school. The new berm will be planted once the drought lets up.
Waltham at Derby will see traffic calming work to improve sight lines and safety. Meadowbrook at Fox Hill is getting drainage improvements.
August--Climate items; 128 changes
Climate items Following votes in Congress and at the state Legislature on climate action, I am feeling hopeful. How about you? Locally, despite the heat, there are few things happening that may help:
Almost every month I write constituents about a topic before the city