The Issues At Hand
The beautiful farmland at the UMASS Field Station, 240 Beaver Street Waltham MA, 2020
Protect Our Remaining Local Farms
The recent Covid crisis has demonstrated the need for better food security and food sovreignty. One strategy is to encourage more farming and hence more locally produced food.
UMASS Field Station
I was the primary sponsor of a City Council resolution co-sponsored with the Councillor McMenimen and former Ward 6 Councillor Nabulime to urge the city to protect the last remaining large farm in Waltham - the 58 acre UMASS Field Station at 240 Beaver Street - in perpetuity..
This parcel of land was donated to the Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1923 by the Trustees of the Cornelia Warren's estate. Cornelia Warren was the greatest benefactor in the history of Waltham.
The UMASS Field station is where the famous Waltham Butternut squash and Waltham Broccoli were invented and where significant research was conducted on corn by Dr. Walton Galinat. The name Butternut was coined by Charles Leggett of Stow who stated that the squash tasted “smooth as butter, and sweet as nut”.
Today the bulk of the UMASS land on Beaver Street is farmed by Waltham Fields Community Farms (WFCF). In 2019 alone WFCF donated 32,000 pounds of vegetables and fruits to food shelters in the greater Boston area (worth approximately $87,000). Some of the other tenants at the farm include the Waltham Land Trust, Boston Area Gleaners, Mass Farmers Markets, Grow Native Massachusetts and Community Gardens.
We are hoping that the state legislature adopts the Senate version of the bill, advocated by Massachusetts Senator MIchael Barrett, which will protect all the acreage of the UMASS Field Station as farmland in perpetuity.
Increase Affordable Housing
On June 24, 2019, I submitted a resolution with Councillors McMenimen, Mackin and former Councillor Nabulime to increase the affordable housing percentage from 15% to 20% for projects requiring a special permit from the Waltham City Council. On September 14, 2020 at 7:30pm the Waltham CIty Council is hosting a public hearing to discuss and hopefully pass this 20% increase. The public is welcomed to attend and to speak. Note that Waltham is still approximately 700 units short of their state mandated 10% affordable housing threshold.
This 20% percentage increase would only affect large housing developments over 18 units. This increase would target the very large developments, similar to the Merck (Main & Moody), the Edison (Cooper St.) and Currents on the Charles (36 River St.).
Waltham is in dire need of more affordable housing for its city workers, its teachers, its fire fighters, its service workers, its recent immigrants and its senior citizens; We need to demonstrably increase housing opportunities for all Waltham residents and to allow people that work in Waltham to live in Waltham. The PDF of the Resolution is shown below.
Add Full Transparency to Our State Government
All Waltham City Council meetings, along with all municipal meetings in the state's 351 cities and towns, are governed by the state's Open Meeting Law, a series of laws detailed in Massachusetts General Laws Chapter MGL 30A that legislate how public meetings should be run.
However, our elected Massachusetts State Legislature enjoys an exemption from the state's Open Meeting Law. The irony is ripe. Our elected state representatives, making laws about what should constitute "open" public meetings, and then exempting themselves from the very laws that they create. George Orwell would be proud. The actual language that exempts our Massachusetts State Legislature from their own Open Meeting Law can be found in Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) Chapter 30A.
What does that mean from a practical standpoint? Our elected State Legislature can close the doors, and they frequently do, to any of its meetings on Beacon Hill at the call of the presiding officer. Hence, there is no transparency, there is no accountability, as there is no public meeting. How we are even having this discussion in the year 2020 in the "Birthplace of the American Revolution" escapes me.
Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis, and namesake for our world class Brandeis University in Waltham, was quoted in a 1913 Harper's Weekly magazine "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman". We need more sunlight in Massachusetts.
Improve Our Public Transportation in North Waltham
The City of Waltham annually pays nearly $1.5M in state aid assessments for public transportation services from the MBTA. See the City Auditor's Budget Webpage for more info. The actual FY2020 amount was $1,435,534 which equates to $22.97 per resident (using an estimated 2019 population of 62,495). This annual payment by the city is separate from the individual fees paid by riders taking either the MBTA commuter rail or various bus services. Despite this large annual fee Waltham is underserved in public transportation. There are many problems such as the following:
Lack of Services and Coverage
There is a severe lack of public transportation for
areas in North Waltham. This is a contributing cause
to the vehicle congestion that Waltham faces daily.
If you live in one of the following neighborhoods,
you have NO nearby access to MBTA public
Lawrence School neighborhood
Meadow Green Nursing Home
National Archives at Boston
Snow Ridge neighborhood
Waltham High School and Kennedy Middle School
Waverley Oaks Road
Trapelo Road - all Streets West of Route 95
Having little public transportation services in Waltham increases traffic, and increases the cost for residents who must use Uber and other ride sharing services. When there are huge gaps in coverage throughout Waltham, we are not getting enough value for our annual $1.5M payment to the MBTA. Other cities in our Commonwealth have comprehensive public transportation. Why not Waltham?
Fares are Disproportionally Expensive
Below are the monthly and single-trip MBTA fares for Waltham Residents:
Monthly / Single Trip
Commuter Rail (Zone 2): $232 / $7.00
Subway & Local Bus: $90 / $2.90
Local Bus: $55 / $2.00
As you can see from the table, a Waltham resident working in Boston, Cambridge or Somerville first has to travel from their neighborhood via bus to the Commuter Rail station on Carter Street. They would then board an expensive commuter rail to North Station. Hence the total round trip daily cost for a Waltham resident using public transportation is $18.00.
Contrast that with a Newton resident who would pay $5.80 for round trip or a Watertown resident who would pay $4.00. There is an equity issue here and Waltham residents are on the losing end of this equation.
Lack of Shelters and Transit Station
There are very few covered bus shelters in Waltham. Covered shelters protect commuters from rain, snow and severe weather, and thereby indirectly encourage ridership. Two glass shelter were recently installed on Wyman Street by a private developer. Other nearby cities and towns have bus shelters protecting their commuters. Why not Waltham?
Finally, Waltham lacks an all weather, heated and cooled, transit station at Carter Street. I recently submitted a resolution concerning this matter. The all weather station would include public restrooms, digital displays with live train and bus schedules, visitors center, full ADA access, coffee shop, newstand and public wi-fi. Other cities in Massachusetts have modern transit stations. Why not Waltham?
Bus Routes are North/South, instead of East/West
North Waltham bus routes go north/south towards Carter Street and the Waltham Common. However, many of the residents living in North Waltham work in Cambridge, Somerville and Boston. A more efficient route would be bus service along Trapelo Road, linking North Waltham with Waverley Square. Why Waverley Square? - Because Waverley Square has both a commuter rail station going to North Station as well as the 73 Bus service to Harvard Square, which then has the Red Line connection.
The existing 73 Bus could be extended from Waverley Square up Trapelo Road to the intersection of Lexington Street. There are many thousands of units of housing within a quarter mile of the Lexington and Trapelo intersection. The 73 Bus line frequently uses LNG buses, so it would not be mandatory to run the electric lines up Trapelo Road.