Precinct 1 Meeting - Nov 5th, 2020

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Meeting held via video-conference, to discuss the warrant for November's Special Town Meeting, and anything else of interest to the precinct. About 11 people attended.

Amos Meeks gave a presentation on Article 5, which was submitted by the Clean Energy Futures Committee and a group called Clean Heat for Arlington. The Select Board set a goal of getting Arlington to Net Zero by 2050. The broad strategy for doing this is to electrify everything, and green the grid. Approximately 60% of Arlington's carbon emissions come from buildings, and the rest comes from transportation. Most of the building emissions come from residential heating.

Article 5 would prohibit fossil fuel piping in major renovations and new construction. The idea is to promote heat pumps for heating and cooling. Heat pumps are affordable and efficient, and they're able to work at temperatures as low as -15 degrees. Dense affordable housing is leading the way in adopting heat pumps. The Housing Corporation of Arlington uses air source heat pumps in their new construction.

There are exceptions where fossil fuel piping would be allowed. Cooking and medical labs, for example. There will be a waiver process to handle situations that aren't contemplated by the bylaw.

There's a question about the threshold that would trigger this bylaw. A major renovation (as defined by the commercial building code) would trigger it. Major renovations involve 50% or more of a building's gross floor area. The threshold would be 75% of GFA for residential renovations or construction.

There's a question about what happened in Brookline. Brookline proposed a similar measure as a bylaw amendment. The attorney general struck down Brookline's bylaw change, after determining that it was pre-empted by three different state laws. We're submitting this article has a home rule petition, which effectively asks the state legislature to change the state laws. It's a different way of doing the same thing.

Someone asks Amos if he's expecting push-back. Amos says there's one individual who wants to ban oil heat, but continue to allow natural gas; he seems to be the loudest opponent. The pandemic has made it difficult to do outreach, and we haven't been able to do as much of that as Brookline did.

Greg Dennis presents three articles that were put forward by the election modernization committee. These are articles 9, 12, and 13.

Article 9 would extend the life of the election modernization committee by another year, add two seats, and give voting rights to all committee members.

Article 12 would change the way Arlington conducts elections for town meeting. Each year, we elect four people for three-year terms. It's common to have partial (i.e., one- and two-year) terms on the ballot, when people move away or have to give up their seat on town meeting. At the moment, each of these is a separate race. We're proposing one contest. The three-year positions would go to the candidates with the most votes, two-year positions to the next highest vote getters, and one-year positions with the next highest. Lexington and Stoughton conduct town meeting elections this way. Arlington uses this process after redistricting: all twelve positions are on the ballot at once, and the longer terms go to the candidates with the largest number of votes.

Article 13 would introduce ranked choice voting (RCV) for town elections. It would be used for single-seat positions with three or more candidates, and multi-seat positions when there are more candidates than seats. Greg gives an example where plurality voting produced an odd result: Fall River's mayor being both recalled and re-elected in the same election. Greg shows a set of examples to illustrate how RCV works. RCV ensures that winners get a majority of votes, it avoids vote splitting and spoiler candidates, and should boost voter turnout.

There's discussion about Article 6, which would establish a study committee to determine whether Arlington's police department should have a civilian review board. Attendees note that this article would not establish a civilian review board; it would merely study the option of doing so.

The final topic is Article 8, which would establish a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust (MAHT). This article is still being heard by the select board, and we don't have the final language yet. Steve Revilak summarizes MAHTs based on a presentation that the housing plan implementation committee gave several weeks ago. The main benefit is that an MAHT gives a municipality a pool of money to spend on affordable housing, without needing town meeting to approve each expenditure. There are a lot of ways this could be used: direct rental assistance, buying buildings and turning them into subsidized housing, grants to organizations like the Arlington Housing Authority and Housing Corporation of Arlington, or purchasing property and placing it in a community land trust.

Establishing an MAHT is the first step of the process. Funding the MAHT is another matter. Last spring, there was a warrant article to adopt a real estate transfer tax, but that article wasn't carried forward to this special town meeting. Concord adds a surcharge to building permit fees, and that money goes into their MAHT. Cambridge and Somerville impose a per-square-foot surcharge on commercial developments over a certain size, which is similar to an impact fee.

Another aspect we'll have to figure out is prioritization. A buildable lot in Arlington is worth around $450k, based on current assessor's data. That limits the amount of affordable housing that can be created in single- or two-family districts. Only 15% (or so) of Arlington's land area is zoned for more than two units per lot; there's not a lot of land to work with.

Finally, we'd have to figure out how the MAHT will work in conjunction with affordable housing funds from CPA. Some municipalities take their CPA funds for affordable housing and transfer that into an MAHT. But that's not the only approach. The Select Board should continue the MAHT hearing on Monday.