Sixteen of the 18 people running for seats on the Framingham City Council participated in a forum Friday night where they discussed sustainability issues for the city.
FRAMINGHAM – Promoting the use of hybrid vehicles, outfitting all city-owned buildings with solar panels and investing in a community choice aggregation program were a few of the ideas that City Council candidates discussed during a "green forum" Friday night at First Parsh Church's Scott Hall.
With the threat of climate change an increasing concern, the forum served as an opportunity for candidates to discuss how they plan to tackle the city’s environmental and sustainability issues.
Moderating the night’s discussion was Sustainable Framingham Lead Aimee Powelka and Michael Croci of Transition Framingham. Both organizations were sponsors of the event, along with the Parish Climate Action Team, the 350 MetroWest Node and the Massachusetts Sierra Club.
In an attempt to streamline the discussion, candidates were divided into six groups and answered just one of the moderators’ six questions, which were sent to candidates ahead of time.
Building with “net zero”
District 5 candidate Noval Alexander and District 2 candidate Cesar G. Stewart-Morales were asked how they plan to require large new developments be built with sustainability in mind.
Alexander said the city should place a temporary moratorium on all new apartments and large buildings so that the council can determine the best way forward.
“We need to sit and figure out how this is going to affect our environment, how to integrate transportation, recycling, city services and the like," said Alexander, currently a School Committee member. "I believe that would be the first thing right off the bat.”
He also said the city should provide more incentives for developers and residents to take advantage of sustainable infrastructure.
Stewart-Morales said he would favor requiring that all new development be built using a “net-zero standard.” That would require each new building that's more than 10,000 square feet to produce as much energy as it consumes through the installation of renewable energy systems, such as solar panels.
“The best time to (install those systems) in a building’s life cycle is right at the beginning,” Stewart-Morales said. “It’s very difficult to retrofit a unit and cost-prohibitive.”
District 9 candidate Tracey Bryant, District 7 incumbent Margareth Shepard and District 1 candidate Joe Norton were asked how they would go about calling on employers and developers to provide shuttle services to and from public transportation sites to alleviate traffic.
For Bryant, the problem extended further than just not having enough shuttle buses, although she did agree increasing those services would help.
Bryant, also a current School Committee member, said she would propose the creation of a committee made up of transportation experts and community members who would work to solve Framingham’s largest traffic issues.
“Most of the problem is not so much people trying to get to the commuter rail,” she said.
Shepard proposed creating an additional parking lot in downtown, an area of the city that sees a lot of traffic.
She also said she would favor providing some type of incentive to city employers to help provide public transportation.
Norton said the ideal way to decrease traffic is for the city to adopt a model where most people who work in Framingham also live and spend their free time there as well.
“If you can walk to work, walk to where you hang out and then walk to home, you don’t need to be driving all over the city, so I think we need to rethink the way we design our cities,” he said.
He also mentioned how the city should team up with companies that already offer shuttle services, such as Bose and MetroWest Medical Center.
Buying renewable energy
District 5 candidate Robert Case and District 2 candidate Richard Finley were asked about the potential benefits of the city “going out to bid to buy electricity on behalf of its residents and small businesses. “
Case was very much in favor, noting that it was something Framingham "should have done a long time ago, when Town Meeting passed the resolution for 100% renewable energy.”
He claimed that neighboring towns such as Natick, Sudbury and Ashland had already adopted a model in which the municipality buys the energy on behalf of its residents and provides them with an option of using 100% renewable energy.
While Finley wasn’t against the idea, he was more hesitant, noting that electricity rates fluctuate and that he didn’t want to tie property owners down to a certain plan.
Low-income residents and renewable energy
District 7 candidate William Lynch, District 3 incumbent Adam Stiener and District 1 candidate Christine Long were asked to describe how they would help lower-income residents be more sustainable and take advantage of renewable energy programs.
Lynch said anything the city can do to help lower-income residents be more energy-efficient would be better than doing nothing.
“Framingham has to get on the ball and practice what they preach,” he said, noting that appropriate department heads must start communicating with those groups more often.
Steiner noted the city should start aggregating solar energy and other renewable-energy sources so that every resident could opt in to choose where to receive electricity. Additionally, he said solar panels should be required for multifamily complexes and that the city should be partnering with local businesses to provide free reusable bags to customers.
“I’m always forgetting my reusable bag and I know you do, too,” he said. “They should be there to take at no cost."
Long said she was particularly qualified to address the situation because she works for the Newton Housing Authority.
"We have 13 development sites and we share $1.2 million in grant money for energy-efficient hot water (and) heating systems," she said.
She said the City Council needs to work with landlords of low-income homes to promote sustainable infrastructure.
Using state aid
District 8 candidates John Stefanini and Mario Alvarez and District 6 candidate Philip Ottaviani were asked what particular projects in the city they think could take advantage of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s proposed $1.3 billion Green Works Infrastructure Program.
Stefanini listed a number of ways the city could take advantage of funding, from installing more solar panels throughout the city to community composting.
“Given the fact that we do nothing, that would be everything” he said.
Alvarez said climate change resilience should be a major priority, and the city should invest in such ideas as converting non-emergency vehicles into electric vehicles.
Ottaviani said that with state grant funding, the city could place solar panels on every municipal building and sell the energy back to residents.
The city could also use that money to buy more electric vehicles and expand the sustainability coordinator’s purview, he added.
Environmental advisory committee
The three at-large candidates - incumbent George King and challengers Janet Leombruno and Gloria Pascual - were asked to outline how they would implement a citizens advisory committee directly focused on environmental issues.
Pasucal said she would work to pass an ordinance that would allow the council to work with the sustainability coordinator to outline a plan that would help the city reduce its carbon footprint, educate the community and bring members of the community together.
Leombruno said she supported an environmental advisory board, since many neighborhoods seem to not get the attention they need.
In King's estimation, the City Council needs to have a detailed discussion about the role an advisory committee will have. He said committees are often formed and end up accomplishing very little.
Candidates also addressed six audience questions during the forum, tackling topics such as recycling, gas leaks and bicycle trails.
Of the 18 candidates running for a seat on the council, 16 participated in Friday's discussion. Absent were District 4 City Councilor Mike Cannon and Neidy Cuellar, who is running for a seat representing District 9.
The city election is Nov. 5.
Cesareo Contreras writes about environmental issues and technology for the Daily News. He can be reached at 508-626-3957 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cesareo_r.