Town Meeting - Nov 18th, 2020

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Second night of Arlington's Special Town Meeting. Conducted via remote participation.

Article 5 - Fossil Fuel Infrastructure. Deliberations continue on Article 5.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher is in favor of Article 5, and would like to address it from the affordable housing sector. Ms. Kelleher is the executive director of LISC, which provides support at the intersection of affordability and sustainability, particularly in the areas of reducing costs and carbon footprints. This type of ban is feasible for both affordable housing and multi-family housing. She likes the focus on electric HVAC, because the market has numerous options available in that space. The article also provides waiver authority, to handle extenuating circumstances. Ms. Kelleher points out that the Housing Corporation of Arlington is currently building two projects that will use this kind of electric heating.

(Rod Holland) Mr. Holland likes this article a lot. He thinks it will allow us to get something beneficial from gut rehabs and teardowns.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson thinks the article is positive and well-crafted. He'd like clarification about the exemption for hot water heating.

(Amos Meeks) Mr. Meeks says that exemption is for hot water heating systems in large buildings. For those types of systems, there isn't a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks if this article is similar to the one Brookline passed.

(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) Mr. Heim says this is similar to the Brookline bylaw. The attorney general rejected Brookline's bylaw due to conflicts with state law. So, this one will be filed as a home rule petition.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks if we'll need a 2/3's vote.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says we'll need a simple majority vote.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks why this isn't a zoning bylaw change.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim acknowledges that this bylaw isn't completely exclusive of the provenance of zoning. He says the changes proposed by this article would be entered under Title VI of the town bylaws, which deals with private property and the building code.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson is happy to see different thresholds for commercial and residential buildings. He asks how many mini splits have been installed in Arlington so far.

(Michael Byrne, Building Inspector) Mr. Byrne says there haven't been a lot of them installed so far.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson thinks we might need a bit of a nudge here. He notes that the town offers a way to opt-up to 100% renewal electricity through the community choice aggregation program.

(Josh Lobel) Mr. Lobel is in favor. He says that climate change is real, and we have a limited amount of time to mitigate it. Why should Arlington take this up? Because we don't have state or federal leadership. Mr. Lobel says there are around 35--40 places around the county that have adopted similar measures. In Brookline, a similar proposal passed 207--3. The technology to do this is already available; we're not forcing the industry to create it. Installing electric heat in new buildings now avoids the need to retrofit them later.

(John Deist) Mr. Deist is strongly in favor, because climate change is a great impending disaster for the world.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein is a registered architect. He says that mechanical engineers who design interior spaces are already switching to air source heat pumps. We'll have to move very quickly in order to get to net zero by 2050.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden says he's in favor of this article and was moved by Mr. DiTullio's statements. He thinks we should think about the legacy we're leaving. He says this article will go off to the state legislature, and you can be sure that the gas industry and developers will have the best lobbyists that money can buy. Mr. Worden says it's important to do what we can on a local level. He thinks there are three things we can do. First, we should stop the war on trees, and stop people from cutting them down with gas chainsaws. Second, we have to stop the teardown endemic. Those aren't electric backhoes tearing down old homes. Third, the biggest project we've seen in decades is the new high school. We were told it would have geothermal heat, and now it won't. The state legislature will call us hypocritical for using gas heat in the new high school.

(Sophie Migliazzo) Ms. Migliazzo rises in opposition to Article 5. She thinks this process will be unfair, and that it should be done at the state level. She's also concerned that the waiver provisions will make the notion of clean heat wishful thinking.

(Leba Heigham) Ms. Heigham moves to terminate debate.

Motion to terminate succeeds, 212--29.

Article 5 passes, 225--18--2.

Article 6 - Establishment of Police Civilian Advisory Board Study Committee. (John Hurd, Select Board Chair) Mr. Hurd says this article will form a study committee, to examine whether the Arlington Police Department should have a Civilian Review Board. Mr. Hurd urges passage of the motion that appears in the Select Board report.

Two amendments have been proposed.

(Christa Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher's amendment would change the Police Chief and Diversity Equity and Inclusion Director from voting to non-voting positions. Ms. Kelleher believes it's essential to have the Police Chief and DEI director on the study committee, because their experience and insights will help. She feels that making them non voting members will protect them, provide comfort to other members of the committee, and increase the chance that the study committee's recommendations will be accepted.

(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray's amendment would allow the DEI director to choose a representative from the citizens police academy (rather than the police chief). She would also add a study committee seat for someone with legal experience. She thinks that a civilian review board should be structures so that marginalized people will use it.

(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar notes that this vote is about establishing a study committee. He says he's in favor of studying anything.

(Ed Tremblay) Mr. Tremblay says he's heard that the police department has a review board in the work. He'd like to hear about that process.

(Julie Flaherty, Police Chief) Chief Flaherty says she's not opposed to police oversight and she supports the governor's police reform bill. She thinks Article 6 is the wrong approach. Arlington has one of the most progressive police departments in the nation, particularly when it has come to handling the opioid crisis. It's been over ten years since the police department has received an excessive force complaint. Ms. Flaherty says that Arlington's police department has been accredited since 2008, and that accreditation is a voluntary process. She says the police department isn't perfect, but it doesn't have problems with excessive force or community trust. She says her department works with the community to solve problems, and that they recognize the value of feedback. It's a good department and Ms. Flaherty is proud to lead it.

(Ed Tremblay) Mr. Tremblay asks who would be on the chief's review board.

(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says the board would include members from the Human Rights Commission, the Rainbow commission, the Disability Commission, students, business owners, town counsel, and a member of the Select Board. She hope to have that review board formed in the next couple of months.

(Ed Tremblay) Mr. Tremblay says the chief seems to be taking this seriously. He thinks it's not a bad thing to let her review board form and see how it goes.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein is the author of Article 6. The study committee would look at whether Arlington needed a Civilian Review Board. He thinks it can co-exist with the committee the chief is forming. He says that Article 6 was endorsed by a number of groups, and the study commission will be similar to what the chief has proposed for her review board. Mr. Weinstein doesn't believe the study group will interfere with the chief's committee. The study committee should look at whether there should be a review board that's independent of the police department. He says that excessive force complaints are not the only way to measure a police department. He supports both amendments.

(Bill Berkowitz) Mr. Berkowitz believes the study committee can lead to a better police department, through dialog with the police department. He sees no downside in having a study committee, and nothing to lose in getting a recommendation.

(Christopher Wilbur) Mr. Wilbur reads an email that he sent to Chief Flaherty. (paraphrasing) "Dear Chief Flaherty, I intended to ask you about Article 6. I'd like to know if you've polled your police officers about the article. I'm concerned about the effect this might have on your officer's morale. Some officers might be supportive, but some may see this as a way to agitate, and to drive a wedge between the town and police department". Mr. Wilbur says that Chief Flaherty sent a positive response. He'd like to know if she's polled her officers about article 6.

(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says the union understands the climate and are trying to get reforms passed. She believes the police department should have a voting member on the study committee. Regardless of the outcome of this article, her department will continue to conduct fair, professional policing.

(Phil Goff) Mr. Goff moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes, 182--58--1.

Kelleher amendment passes, 162--77--2.

Dray amendment passes, 148--90--4.

Article 6 passes, 205--26--3.

Article 7 - Envision Arlington Updated Language. (Greg Christiana) This article is a minor change to bylaw wording. "Vision 2020" will be changed to "Envision Arlington" and "Goals" will be changed to "Values".

(Scott Lever) Mr. Lever says the statements called "Goals" are relatively fixed, and Envision Arlington doesn't plan to change them without public input.

(John Ellis) Mr. Ellis moves the question.

(Scott Lever) Mr. Lever proposes an administrative change to the main motion.

(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) Mr. Heim notes that this article changes a small portion of Article 15 in the town bylaws. The remainder consists of changes to Envision Arlington's charter.

Vote to terminate debate passes, 231--10--2.

Article 7 passes, 242--3--1.

Article 8 - Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund. (John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says that Article 8 will create a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF), and that the main motion was recommended by the Housing Plan Implementation Committee and Finance Committee.

(John Gersh) Mr. Gersh has three amendments to propose. He says he supports the trust but would like to make a couple of changes. First, he'd like to change the definition of "affordable" to match the definition used by Arlington's inclusionary zoning: 60% AMI or less for rental units and 80% AMI or less for owner-occupied units. He also wants to ensure that only Arlington residents can serve on the funds board of trustees, in order to maintain local control. Finally, he doesn't support using trust money for 40B projects. He says that 40B developers ignore our bylaws, cannibalize our industrial districts, and make profits to the detriment of us. He says that 40B developers build luxury units. He says we should be funding the Housing Corporation of Arlington and the Arlington Housing Authority instead. The goal is to have the ability to move quickly, but 40B projects are big and slow and often contentious. He believes his amendments offer an opportunity for a pure affordability play.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher is a member of the housing plan implementation committee. Her amendment would change the AHTF's purpose statement so that it's definition of affordability matched the definition in the Community Preservation Act. She says that Mr. Gersh's amendment has identified a possible source of confusion, and the CPA and Arlington zoning bylaw have different definitions of affordability. He'd like the fund trustees to have maximum flexibility, and would prefer to adopt the CPA definition. The CPA definition would allow funding to be used for projects restricted up to 100% AMI. This flexibility is already in the CPA. Ms. Kelleher would like to see the committee prefer low-income housing, but still have the ability to address under-served groups at higher income levels. Ms. Kelleher says that most affordable housing projects require 6--10 different sources of funding. These sources come with different requirements, and are very complex to manage. She says that 40B requires market rate units in order to subside the affordable ones. She says there's a 20% limit on 40B developer fees. In Weston, excess developer fees from a Weston 40B allowed for the creation of more affordable housing.

Ms. Keller doesn't have strong feelings about Mr. Gersh's second amendment, but she's very opposed to a prohibition on 40B projects. She understands that the town had a bad experience with the Mugar's 40B proposal. She says that the Housing Corporation of Arlington's Westminster Ave project was done as a friendly 40B, and Mr. Gersh's amendment would make it impossible for the AHTF to fund similar projects in the future. She urges town meeting not to take tools out of the toolbox. We should have a longer discussion when the trust is developing its goals.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton urges town meeting to leave the tools in the toolbox. He thinks that 40B is a tool we can use, and removing it would be foreclosing on an opportunity.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton is very much in favor of this article. She prefers to see the tools left in the toolbox, and asks people to vote no on Mr. Gersh's amendments.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt says there's a general need for this fund. Ms. LaCourt is a member of the finance committee, and worked on the membership language with Al Tosti. She asks if Mr. Gersh's intent is to prevent (say) a future Housing Corporation of Arlington director from living outside the town.

(John Gersh) Mr. Gersh says yes, that it the intent of local control.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt asks if, as written, the article would open up membership to non-local housing organizations.

(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) Mr. Heim says there are two criteria for the Trust's board members: that they be residents of Arlington, or that they be members of a local housing organization. As written, trustee positions would not be open to non-local housing organizations.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt asks town meeting to vote down the Gersh amendments, because they reduce the amount of flexibility in the trust. She says that money is leverage; if the AHTF is providing money to a project, then we'll have leverage over how that project is done.

(Robert Martin) Mr. Martin moves the question.

Vote to terminate debate passes, 182--52--1.

Vote on Gersh Amendment #1 (requirement that the AHTF only be used for projects at 60% AMI for rentals or 80% AMI for owner-occupied) fails, 66--166--6.

Vote on Gersh Amendment #2 (requiring all trustees to be Arlington residents) fails, 56--179--5.

Vote on Gersh Amendment #3 (prohibiting the AHTF from funding 40B projects) fails, 51--172--12.

Vote on Kelleher Amendment (using the CPA definition of affordability) passes, 170--53--11.

Article 8 (as amended) passes, 221--13--4.

Meeting adjourned to Monday Nov 23rd.