These questions were asked by members of the Facebook group Malden (MA) Politics and compiled by Prisco Tammaro.
1. Would you support a plan and provide resources to have Committee of the Whole, Subcommittee and License Board meetings be live streamed and archived for the public?
Gary Christenson: Not only would I support such a plan, but as chair of the Municipal Building Committee for the new City Hall, I have made it a priority to ensure that each conference room on the first floor, where these type of meetings will be held, is wired and setup to be live streamed and stored online for future viewing. I believe this increases transparency in government by enabling a greater percentage of the public to be able to find out what is taking place in real time while also preserving the meetings so that they may be reviewed at a later date. I am confident that with the new technology in place it will allow the public to be informed and engaged without the limitation of having to be there in person at the actual time a meeting takes place.
John Matheson: Yes, I support more visibility of public meetings and will provide the resources needed to accomplish this. The residents have a right to know how their government is working. When residents have increased access to these meetings, it results in better policy making and fewer deals that benefit the politically privileged.
2. What additional steps do you think the City could do to create more transparency in governance?
Gary Christenson: Our administration as a whole has been a leader in using technology to make government more transparent and accessible. We have utilized various social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to keep residents informed while providing a means to address questions and collect feedback as a form of Citizen Engagement. One initiative that I know we will continue is our Facebook Live forums where we field questions of City officials and departments in real time. We also plan to expand and improve our new website which has significantly increased the amount of public information available through modules such as the Public Meetings Calendar, Agenda Center, and Bid & RFP Center. Moving forward, we will also be transitioning our City Ordinances to a web-based service. This will allow ordinances to be easily navigated, searched and referenced as well as reveal historical information showing how a particular ordinance evolved over time.
John Matheson: 1. Residents deserve to know if and when the mayor plans to fix their street. As mayor, I will inventory every street, sidewalk and public tree for quality control, and include the public in a participatory process that is fair to everyone. 2. Water/sewer rate increases should be advertised and televised. Presently, the mayor and his three appointees conduct these changes in his office with no public attention. 3. As mayor, I will appear before the Finance Committee to answer questions about the annual budget. This is the most important form of transparency, and it was abandoned six years ago by the current mayor. 4. As mayor, Malden will post 25 MPH speed limit signs and improve enforcement. Our mayor has been slow to act while residents pay the price. Two years ago, street sweeping fines were doubled while residents aggressively fined $1 Million without fair notice of the rules.
3. Malden River is being redeveloped. How do you suggest we plan to make the banks of the Malden River accessible to the general public?
Gary Christenson: The 2017 Open Space and Recreational Plan identified increased access to the Malden River as a community priority. To accomplish this, in addition to ensuring that the mandates of M.G.L., chapter 91, are enforced, I would support amending our zoning to create a Malden Riverfront Overlay. This would establish consistent standards for any potential development of properties that abut or are adjacent to the River. Some of the proposed zoning measures would include increased setbacks from the current riverbank; inclusion of connective public pathways to and along the River; and, requirements for landscaping, benches, signage and lighting. In addition, we also need to continue collaborating with our community partners, such as the Friends of the Malden River and the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA), who play an important role in advocating and working to encourage public access while promoting the River as a key recreational amenity.
John Matheson: We are blessed to have riverfront property. This is a valuable asset that has been neglected for too long. Some dedicated residents are starting to make a difference, but they cannot do it alone. Instead of being inaccessible and polluted, The Malden River can be transformed into a popular Riverwalk destination. As mayor, I will immediately begin to join all of the public and private stakeholders, to:
- pursue state and federal funding to clean the water;
- adorn the banks with benches, a boat launch, and beautiful natural landscape that people will want to visit;
- create a public entrance to the river center through the DPW yard; and
- Conduct a feasibility study for a public ferry shuttle to Boston Harbor.
4. How many housing units do you think is appropriate for the land at the former Malden Hospital?
Gary Christenson: I don’t think the situation at Malden Hospital is as simple as naming a number of housing units that anyone in particular would support. Ultimately, the solution that is right for the site is one that the property owner, community and City can come together and agree on. That may be no residential units. The only way we will find that out is with a more collaborative approach, led by the new Ward Councilor for Ward 3, than that which has taken place over the past eight years under the current Councilor. It has proven to be easy, and will continue to be so, to stop any proposed redevelopment of the site. What is more difficult is to lead the parties involved in a give and take. This takes time and effort, but is truly the only way to get to the answer asked.
John Matheson: After conducting the broadest public engagement in city history, I state with certainty that residents prefer a modest number of condos or cottages for seniors and veterans. Most of the 18 acres could then serve our need for more open space, since Malden has the 5th least per person statewide. This addition of natural public land will give our residents boundless opportunities for the future. Our records speak for themselves. Since 2013, I protected this community from a massive apartment development that was privately negotiated by the mayor. It began as 400+ units, with 550+ cars, and zero affordable units. He continued to pursue this plan even after it was soundly rejected by the voters.
Bad policies such as this are finally starting to change because someone is holding the mayor accountable. That accountability will expire on 11/5, and the future will very much depend on who our next mayor is.
5. What can we do to increase the number of trees in the City, and preserve the existing stock we have?
Gary Christenson: I am committed to making sure we set aside funding for tree plantings so that we can continue to plant over 150 new trees each year. The removal of any tree is a drastic measure and we will work to improve the process we developed to preserve our existing stock and make informed decisions. In addition to community input, each tree is now reviewed by an arborist, is re-evaluated once the sidewalk is removed and roots exposed, and, is then re-assessed to consider alternative options for ADA compliance. We are also focused on protecting trees during construction as well as replacing those that cannot be retained. Although we have made progress, there is more work to be done as far as long-term planning, including completing a tree inventory. In the meantime, we will work with the advisory committee formed by the City Council to establish policies and best practices.
John Matheson: Trees are a valuable asset. Beautiful streets are important, and trees are an integral part of that. I have championed this issue on the City Council by drafting Malden’s tree care ordinance, initiating our Tree City USA certification, and starting Malden’s annual Arbor Day where we dedicate and plant a city tree together. With a new mayor, Malden will finally have a dedicated Parks Department. We will conduct a citywide inventory of all public shade trees, and create a diversity of tree stock that includes disease resistant native species. We will grind out tree stumps, fix tilted sidewalks, and plant and prune trees everywhere it is needed. Every street will benefit, and the resulting beautiful streetscape will improve neighborhood pride and property values. There are many grants available to pay for this important work and the new administration will prioritize grant writing.
6. What plan would you have to relieve traffic congestion and improve transportation in Malden?
Gary Christenson: Traffic is a function of many variables. The truth is, there is no simple answer. I have supported alternative transportation modes during my time as mayor and will continue to do so. However, I also recognize that vehicle usage continues to increase. Families that just 20 years ago had one, maybe two, vehicles, now find themselves with three or even four. I hear it from residents every day who struggle to find parking. This year, I added a Transportation Planner to Engineering who will proactively research, plan, and oversee multi-modal transportation initiatives. This person will also review traffic signalization, look at ways we can increase our capacity during peak times especially for school generated traffic, and lend their expertise to City Boards and Departments. Our primary goal is to allow for safe and easy travel for motorists as well as pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities.
John Matheson: We will restrict the use of side roads as cut throughs by nonresident commuters. We will also take a comprehensive approach to improving all modes of transportation, including walking, biking, parking, and public transit, without making it more inconvenient to drive a car. Apartments have overcrowded our roads, and we desperately need to improve traffic flow with updated signal timing. The USDOT recommends adaptive signal technology that measures and adjusts to traffic in real time. This is proven to lessen stop-and-go wait times by up to 20%, while reducing CO2 emissions, gas consumption, and driver frustration. We will also conduct a citywide audit of parking spaces to add parking where possible and take away the problem spots. After paying excise tax, gas tax, registration fees, inspection fees, tolls, license fees, and insurance, Malden residents deserve a mayor that makes this a priority.
7. What percentage of units in new developments should be allocated to affordable housing?
Gary Christenson: Several communities have adopted inclusionary zoning to leverage the private sector housing market to create affordable units for low-income residents. Each of the local policies varies depending on the particular community’s affordable housing needs and real-estate market. The success of inclusionary zoning hinges on a well-crafted policy that sets goals and percentages using informed local data. We recently committed to conducting a financial feasibility analysis to help us better understand the impacts and make sure we are designing a policy and proposing percentages that will fit the specific needs of our community and the realities of our housing market.
John Matheson: Malden has added thousands of new apartments, while our mayor failed to negotiate any affordable housing. This explosion of high-rent units has a depressing effect on the state aid that Malden schools need. This was a major mistake. As mayor, I will end this neglect and ensure that Malden maintains a 10 percent stock of affordable units. Moreover, we will create opportunities for residents to buy their own home, affordably. Malden has lost thousands of great senior citizens who downsized their homes only to find they have no affordable options to stay in Malden. Therefore, we will pay particular attention to seniors and veterans, and make Malden a place where people will want to stay.
8. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) projects that Malden will see demand for an additional 3,852 units between 2018 and 2030.
Do you feel Malden should attempt to meet these projections? Otherwise what quantity of additional units should Malden plan to build for 2030?
Gary Christenson: Projecting future housing demands and assigning numbers to it, in the middle of an unprecedented building boom, is a recipe for trouble. I believe that we as a City need to do what makes sense for us, based upon community input, collaboration with the City Council, and detailed information that helps inform us as to the impact of those decisions. That is a fluid process. We should not be setting targets at any one point in time.
John Matheson: The purported housing demand is merely a product of politicians and their connections with apartment developers. In reality, the developers got very wealthy, while the cost of living for the rest of us went up faster than household income. One connected developer was even given a $2 million tax discount for nothing in return. More apartments are crowding our schools. The high rent charged by these apartments has made Malden appear to be a more affluent community, which has a depressing effect on the state aid that Malden schools need. At the same time, we lost after-school program funding, raising costs for struggling families. This model has to change. Malden has enough people, apartments, and cars for the foreseeable future. The mayor supports the MAPC housing production, and just last October, he signed a pledge to build more apartments. Conversely, I will focus on economic growth through new businesses.
9. As an elected official, what is your philosophy: is it your responsibility to follow the will of the voters; or do what you think is best for the people?
Gary Christenson: I think it’s both. It starts with being in touch with the voters every day, being so involved in the community, that as a public official you have a great feel for the will of the people. Engaging with voters at local events, returning phone calls and emails timely, and being willing to listen to all members of our community is what forms the foundation of being ̃in touch.” However, there are times when a public official has to do what’s in the best interest of the long-term future of the city and that may be at odds with the will of the current voter. Good leaders know the difference.
John Matheson: The mayor and I disagree on this. I put Malden Hospital to a vote, and 79 percent of people wanted more open space. He ignored the people, resisted open space, and continued to push for a dense apartment development. After 70 percent of residents voted for change to the blue trash bag program, our mayor promised that change if elected. He broke that promise. In June, our mayor endorsed a ban on all plastic grocery bags in Malden beginning in January. Meanwhile, I proposed giving the voters a choice on the subject. In a democracy, government is supposed to serve the interests of “The People.” We need elected people to decide laws and budgets that require time and research. However, some questions are easily understood and are of broad public interest because they affect our daily lives. In those cases, the voters should decide. That is true government by “The People!”
10. Who is your Campaign Committee?
Gary Christenson: One of the differences for me between this campaign and my past campaigns is that I had to engage help to manage the campaign. The job of Mayor is demanding and it simply wasn’t an option to divert attention away from the day-to-day needs of the city. My campaign is led by the Campaign Institute, a local firm that has worked on many Malden campaigns. More importantly, they are supported by dozens of energetic community members, who have helped us enthusiastically connect with thousands of voters personally over the past several months.
John Matheson: Our team is comprised of volunteers from diverse backgrounds. We include men and women of different ethnicities and religions. Our team members include professional tradespeople, attorneys, accountants, and small business owners. No one is paid. All of our important decisions are made as a committee. We are grassroots. Our donors and volunteers are great Malden residents we met on the campaign trail. We are funded by many small donations, which I personally match dollar for dollar. Nearly all of our funds go to printing and postage to educate the public on the issues facing Malden and our solutions for them. Our goal is to empower people with facts and information. I chose to give up my Council seat, pension, and law practice because I love my hometown, and I want to apply my education and experience to serve all the residents of Malden.