June was a busy month. Here's a progress report
Police in focus
Surfacing Structural Racism
Budget Passed June 23
This was a particularly difficult budget, in part because of Covid-related reduced revenue and forecasts. Schools were held harmless, although I worry about the use of one-time funding (carry-over dollars from last year) and the administration's assumption that state funds would be as generous as they were last year. Another worry is the additional cost of opening schools in the fall—however that looks.
Cuts to the library and parks were particularly hard to accept. Council persuaded the mayor to restore Sunday hours, although we don’t yet know when we can safely enter the building.
Overall, however, the mayor’s proposals cut where Covid would also have meant less spending—or were in areas where we could pause our progress (on roads, tree planting) for a year without reversing our previous gains.
Police in Focus
One budget that was proposed to increase was the police. After the murder of George Floyd, and police using excessive force on people protesting, we started getting what eventually would be more than 400 emails asking us whether this increase reflected Newton's values. Newton's stand-out on Washington Street, and the report of a Newton resident that police had drawn a gun to stop him as he walked to the grocery store underlined this sentiment.
We all want a police force--or public safety force--that all our residents feel is protecting their safety and well-being.
I signed on to the following:
So this summer and fall, the Public Safety committee will continue to focus on this department, to get our questions answered and to assist the task force in its work.
Structural Racism and Zoning
Another area where our ordinances disadvantage people of color is in limits on housing production. I have been continuing to attend discussions on zoning redesign, although I no longer sit on the Zoning and Planning committee.
This week, the committee considered whether to allow multi-family residences within a half mile of transit. Currently, 81% of lots within 1/2 mile of Green Line stops in Newton are zoned exclusively for single-family homes. 51% of those within 1/2 mile of Commuter Rail are. I argued that the city should allow more kinds of housing (the NYT today concurs)
It makes sense to build density near transit. If we want to lower our transportation carbon footprint (pre-Covid at approx. 30% and rising), we need more residents and business near transit.
I noted that the maps of where multi-family housing is allowed now roughly correlate with redlining maps showing the “hazardous” and “definitely declining” neighborhoods (like Upper Falls and Nonantum), where banks were discouraged from lending.
This weekend, Richard Rothstein explicitly called out zoning as a tool of structural racism:
“Segregation increases as voters enact local zoning codes to prevent new home-building, but those in desperate need of housing can’t register to vote in the no-growth towns that ban them. That’s structural racism.”
Speaking of housing near zoning, the Riverside special permit process continues apace. We will soon be working on a final council order. All of the documents to date are here.
Here’s what is proposed:
I am still concerned that Grove Street serve all users better—not having a bike lane along the golf course side will mean cyclists will either double the time it takes to pass the development or will have to ride with cars and trucks.
Email me to set up a time to chat on any of the above.