Amanda Linehan is a candidate for Ward 3 City Councillor.
These are Amanda’s answers to questions that Malden Votes sent out to all candidates. They have not been edited or abridged, except where noted below. Here is the PDF version of these answers.
What is your vision for Malden?
My vision of Malden is of a welcoming, inclusive city that is planning strategically for the future without leaving anyone behind. I envision a city my daughter and future generations can be proud of: a place that is caring for the environment, prepared for a changing climate, full of well-used parks and abundant trees, with a Malden River and waterfront that is open to the public, all supported by reliable, fast public transportation that makes car ownership an option, not a necessity. I envision well-funded, enriching schools, a diversity of housing types so that everyone can enjoy the stability of a healthy home, and a balanced, transparent city budget heavily informed by citizen participation, supported by a strong commercial tax base.
What experiences have prepared you to serve on the city council?
I’ve spent my career in public service and community planning, and I am an expert in communication, civic engagement, and management. I work full time as Communications Director for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council in Boston, overseeing an all-female team of experts in press, marketing, social media and visual design, and I serve on the Board of Directors for the Malden Redevelopment Authority and the Asian Community Development Corporation, which serves Chinatown, Quincy and Malden. I also co-chair a national group of communications directors who work in urban planning, sharing professional tips and tools to do better outreach and civic engagement on local projects — the same kind of decisions a City Councillor must communicate every day.
My life’s work has been creating and preserving homes that working people can afford, revitalizing public spaces like parks, city squares and neighborhoods, and fighting for better MBTA service, environmental protections, and equity and opportunity for all residents. I understand the challenges and opportunities facing the city because I live them every day; I ride the MBTA each morning, I send my daughter to Beebe and I see the tradeoffs our amazing teachers must make to offer a high quality education with limited resources, and I know I couldn’t qualify to buy my own home anymore because our housing market is so intense. I’m committed to fixing our roads and our budget and our communication from City Hall to residents, because I cope with these issues just like you do. Just as important as my résumé is my track record of collaborating across all levels of government — from municipal to the State House and regionally — to build relationships, listen to others, problem solve and communicate clearly. I take the long view, I lead collaboratively, and I will always, always return your phone call.
Over the past four years, what actions of the city council did you most support or oppose, and why?
I’ll start with the measure I opposed the most, because I spurred me to make a run for office: the failure of a proposed inclusionary zoning ordinance 2.5 years ago, after months of groundwork and advocacy and coalition-building among seniors, affordable housing advocates, the faith community and more. I realized that if a no-brainer policy like requiring developers to include homes that everyday people can afford fails, it’s time to get some new leadership in power in the city.
Some of the things I’m most supportive of include the step to hire a transportation planner for the city this past year, because we are way out of step with comparable cities in that regard, and are losing opportunities as a result; I also applaud the Council for finally bringing a public comment period to their meetings. I’ve made use of this numerous times since it launched last year and consider it extremely valuable and well- managed.
Which social issues do you care about, and why? How would you advocate for those issues?
Affordable housing and preventing widespread displacement is really my top issue and has been consistently over time, because I believe that having stable housing is absolutely foundational to an individual’s health, safety, ability to work, and access to opportunity.
I am thrilled to see an inclusionary zoning proposal, security-deposit assistance program and affordable housing trust fund move forward from Council to Ordinance Committee under the oversight of MRA planning staff, and will use my time on the Council to advocate for these to be implemented and added to with a reasonable short-term rental policy, exploration of a transfer fee, and a proposal to allow accessory dwelling units in owner-occupied dwellings.
On a scale broader than the municipal level, I see preparing for climate change, Medicare for All, and Universal Child Care as key issues we must address quickly. On a local level, we could make strides and fill gaps in these areas by continuing to invest in addiction recovery services and in health services in our high school, auditing our municipal HR policies and practices to make sure they are inclusive of caregiving responsibilities, and rolling out a robust plan to help Malden reach Net Zero by 2040.
What concrete steps can Malden make to address our environmental challenges, whether global or local?
I believe our environmental issues fall into two buckets: preparing for the future and maintaining what we have now.
As a city, we must craft a strategic plan to commit to becoming carbon neutral by 2040, and we must complete our MVP process (Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness), which is a state program that supports cities in building their climate change resilience. Completing this program will open Malden up to grants and new programs. I’d like to see us designate at least a portion of one person’s time in City Hall to overseeing our energy and environmental goals, so that we don’t miss regional opportunities. I believe we should further prepare for our environmental challenges by reducing waste through encouraging recycling, educating residents about how best to recycle, and implementing curbside compost.
Locally, there are many issues that affect our air, waterways and green spaces which have a daily impact on residents’ lives, and in aggregate affect the fate of our climate. Ensuring we protect our urban tree cover and grass parks both go a long way toward preventing urban heat island effects, and also contribute to cleaner air. I also would like to see us add shade and water features to all of our parks, including those we will build in the future, in anticipation of warming temperatures.
I think we can’t address environmental challenges without discussing the top carbon contributor, which is the transportation sector. So many voters I’ve talked to have told me that they moved to Malden for its proximity to the MBTA and in the hopes of reducing their car dependence, but have found themselves frustrated with the poor pedestrian infrastructure linking neighborhoods to busses and trains, as well as the increasing unreliability of the T itself, and for parents a lack of transportation to our schools. We as a city must stand up against cuts to bus routes, must fight for better investment in the MBTA, and must actively add protections for bicyclists around the city so that those who would like to choose non-car transportation can do so.
I also believe Malden should explore municipal electricity aggregation, a process in which the city would purchase electricity in bulk from a competitive supplier offering ambitious amounts of renewable power to all customers, who would be free to opt in or out. We should also launch a robust public outreach agenda to educate renters AND owners on energy efficiency upgrades they can make in their homes, including residential solar, appliance updates, renter-friendly community choice utilities, sustainable renovation advice, weatherization, even help choosing electric vehicle charging options. Compiling this information into a digital toolkit helps residents adopt green initiatives and sends a strong message about our community’s environmental priorities to potential residents.
Malden is a diverse city with many marginalized communities. What initiatives would you implement to support these communities?
[Due to space limitations, this question did not fit in the Google Form Ms. Linehan submitted. She graciously sent it as a separate email. It does not appear in the PDF.]
We have a duty to support our marginalized communities, and local government must take the lead in empowering all who live in Malden. We can do this through real-time language and Deaf/blind interpretation at meetings, translation of materials, committing resources to bringing our digital products and civic websites up to full ADA/Web Accessibility Standards (WAS), providing childcare at key meetings, offering surveys and meetings at different times of day and days of the week to accommodate non-traditional work schedules, partnering with trusted community and cultural groups to do effective outreach to underserved populations, taking care to host meetings at accessible locations that don’t put vulnerable communities at risk, and providing cultural competency and implicit bias training to our City Hall and school staff. We should also examine our zoning code for exclusionary, racist ordinances and biases around, for example, household definition. I’ve worked as hard as I can to model these behaviors and choices with my campaign literature, website, event locations, use of social media, and door-knocking strategy. I know the new City Hall has technology that will help facilitate many of these steps and I commit to finding financial resources to getting us further along toward these goals.
How will you address Malden’s affordable housing crisis?
I am a supporter of adopting a long-overdue Inclusionary Zoning ordinance, which would mandate affordable units be built in any future housing development. We should aim for the most aggressive policy the market can support, and I would push for at least a 15% affordability. We should also create an affordable housing trust fund, compelling developers to pay into this fund in lieu of actually building affordable units and taking at-risk parcels off the speculative real estate market. We could devote monies raised by the Community Preservation Act to this.
I believe we also need a sensible and proactive approach to short-term rentals in Malden now, before they start to affect the price of long-term rentals. We should reward responsible hosts who already operate in Malden and bring tourist dollars to our neighborhoods, while not losing sight of the need to capture revenue from non-owner-occupied short term rentals that take needed housing off the market. Malden is still a majority low-income community, and nearly 70% of our low-income residents are cost-burdened, paying more than a third of their income to housing. Our current zoning around housing is quite restrictive and doesn’t allow a lot of creative and innovative housing options, such as artist live-work, car-free housing next to the train, and accessory dwelling units, sometimes called in-law suites. We also have many large homes that might be a good fit for condos, but no mechanism in place to subdivide larger homes into smaller units to alleviate the pressure on our housing market.
What are your long term plans for expanding tax revenue?
I see a lot of potential in adding to our commercial base in key locations such as the National Grid site downtown, strategically along Commercial Street as we reopen the Malden River to public access and revitalize many of the underutilized parcels in that area, and in smaller city squares throughout Malden that are ripe for small business investment. We will likely see a ripple effect from the new breweries and retail opening in the ground floor of the new City Hall, and there’s further potential for new jobs and tax revenue in the clean energy sector, which we could work to attract. I would like to make sure that we recertify homes receiving the residential tax exemption on a more regular basis so that those who have moved out of the city full time no longer claim the exemption, while also more effectively doing outreach to new residents so that all qualifying homeowners don’t miss out on this excellent tool for keeping home-ownership in Malden more accessible.
Would you implement any changes around our city’s parking systems?
The MRA has conducted several parking studies in recent years that have helped adjust our parking rates downtown to ensure spaces are always available and turning over frequently downtown and in other city squares for visitors patronizing businesses. We also brought on a new parking facility manager this year that is more up to date on current trends in parking and who can help bring in more revenue that could be used to modernize the garages and keep them as attractive and clean as possible. We are also auditing the handicapped spaces available to make sure that they meet 21st century accessibility requirements. I’m watching the upcoming changes to our permit parking system very carefully. I am hearing a lot from voters who live just outside the commuter permit zones, expressing concern that they are already witnessing out-of-town drivers park on permit-adjacent zones all day for free to walk to the train, and so I believe we may have to broaden our commuter zones a bit or move toward a citywide permit system during more hours of the day. Overall, I feel street parking in Malden has gotten better over time, with more spots available downtown when I want to go out for dinner, and more responsive city officials in the new parking department. I would like to see us revisit our parking requirements for new businesses and residential developments. Study after study has shown that we consistently over-build parking because our zoning rules haven’t been updated in decades, and unused parking is land that could be anything else — a park, an affordable unit for a local teacher or police officer, bike parking, benches, you name it. Younger generations are driving and owning cars at ever-lower rates, so we should plan for preferences shifting away from private vehicles and give some people the option of living car free, especially next to the train. Finally, we need to move much faster in adding EV charging stations around the city.
Some infrastructure challenges that face our city are degraded roads, lead pipes, and gas leaks. What initiatives would you implement to address these issues?
I want Malden to develop a paving action plan that identifies revenue to direct to roads, lays out an ambitious timeline, and prioritizes neighborhood streets with maintenance of main arteries. I know and trust our DPW staff and I know the city is working through a backlog of repairs and pavings, but I believe there is more revenue we could tap from the casino, from future cannabis sales, from a potential airbnb fee and from TNC fees collected on uber and lyft. I feel strongly that TNC fees should go toward complete streets projects whenever possible, not just paving projects, and I think Malden should join other municipal leaders in calling on Beacon Hill to increase the too-low fees we levy on Uber and Lyft rides. The fees right now don’t even offset the traffic caused or the ridership diverted from public transit, and Malden stands to gain a lot from a fee increase because we are one of the largest trip origination destinations in all of Greater Boston. I’d like us to align lead pipe replacement with street openings, which can more quickly address gas leaks hand in hand with paving, and require utilities to notify residents of lead lines when they are ripping up streets to address gas leaks; I’d also like to open up lead pipe programs run by such places as the MRA to a broader income band so that more residents can make use of it. We must also market these programs more effectively and in more languages. Finally, I think there is potential additional revenue we could extract from our real estate market by imposing fees on property flipping and investment properties to make a dent in the public safety threat presented in having a widespread backlog of lead pipe replacement.
What do you think should be done with the Malden hospital site?
[Due to space limitations, this question did not fit in the Google Form Ms. Linehan submitted. She graciously sent it as a separate email. It does not appear in the PDF.]
Malden Hospital presents a unique challenge and an exciting opportunity for Ward 3. As a community, we have a once-in-a-generation chance to work together to craft a community-guided vision for the property, and I am excited to work on it with the neighborhood.
Recently, Melrose-Wakefield, the owner of the parcel, notified our city that plans to partner with Fellsmere Housing Group to build apartments at the site are no longer moving forward, which gives us an opening to start fresh negotiations about the site. With my background in community planning, public service, management, negotiation, and civic engagement, I have the right skills to work with Medford and Malden together on a solution for this site. I know that, even if we don’t own the land, we have the leverage to fight for what we want and deserve here. I believe this gives Malden an opportunity to create a new sense of place within a shared neighborhood.
I’ve been excited to learn more about the ideas and community input that Friends of Fellsmere Heights have gathered over the past few years, especially their proposal to blend some housing with green space at the site. I support redevelopment of the site that includes housing at an affordable price, targeted to our community’s most in-need residents — such as downsizing seniors and young folks just starting out — as well as new open space like fields, parks, playgrounds, splash pads, walking paths connecting this site to the pond below, and preservation of trees.
It is also important that we limit the additional traffic we create here, and that we place a high importance on boosting the Route 99 bus service that offers transit access to the site, as well as explore shuttles to the T, new bike lanes, and the best pedestrian safety infrastructure available. If we can find opportunities to add community space, or attract members of our creative economy to invest here, then we may also be able to benefit from new revenue as well.
Now that Massachusetts has legalized recreational marijuana, would you encourage dispensaries in Malden? What would you do with the revenue?
Yes, in fact I wish we had moved faster in this regard, because we now have businesses on our city border with Melrose that may sap potential revenue from Malden. I’m glad we have applications moving forward through our local process, although I do have equity concerns. At this point I would like to make sure that the successful applicants whose businesses move forward are welcomed into the community and that their parcels are able to be seamlessly integrated with future redevelopment and revitalization plans in the areas where they locate. I believe this presents an excellent revenue opportunity; while the initial revenue intake is likely to taper as the industry evens out statewide, we can plan for both the one-time spike from opening sales and the long-term revenue outlook concurrently to invest in our schools, road upkeep and lead pipe replacement program. While our community impact fees are likely to cover our local expenses related to traffic and public safety, we could look to use long-term tax revenue on infrastructure improvements that would benefit the community as a whole.
What is your vision for promoting civic engagement and increasing voter turnout in our city?
Civic engagement keeps elected officials responsive to community needs and wants, opens the doors of government to the public, and ensures transparency in decision making and policy development. I have more than a decade of experience in public sector communication and outreach and I want to improve the way our city government communicates with residents.
I plan to hold regular Ward 3 meetings where residents are invited to talk about what’s on their mind, which currently happens inconsistently or not at all; I will communicate regularly on Twitter, Facebook, other social media platforms and e-newsletter, and have already acquired the handles on many platforms for Ward 3; I will partner with the School Committee to publicize district news & events; I’ll advocate for greater translation of city materials so that every Malden resident can access the services they need; I’ll push for childcare and in-language interpretation at important city meetings so that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in civic life; I’ll support a requirement that all executive committee meeting minutes be reviewed at least every six months; and most importantly I will always return your call, because a Councillor pushing for accessible government should walk the walk.
I view the role of City Council as leading the way on equity and inclusion citywide. I’m an experienced manager with 15 years of expertise in hiring, recruiting and retention of diverse candidates; I’m a proponent of diversifying City Hall, the school department, and the composition of our elected and appointed boards and commissions to better reflect our city’s demographics. I believe representation matters in positions of education and public service, and will advocate for more modern HR policies that broaden the pool of applicants, provide more flexible ways of demonstrating skills and experience to ensure candidates apply who reflect the makeup of the city they will be serving, and allowing for more effective recruitment and retention of candidates with caregiving responsibilities by updating our policies around remote work, flex hours and job sharing. I view this as a key goal for the City Council and am in favor of offering mandatory training in cultural competency, racial bias, and equity in hiring in retention for department heads, to foster an environment of shared work toward the goals of inclusion in Malden.
How can we increase citizen engagement in city council meetings?
At a minimum, we should stream and record our Council, subcommittee, and School Committee meetings so that anyone can view from home or at a later time; this should be simple to accomplish in the new City Hall. I’d also like to see us explore offering childcare, even just for the public comment portion of the meetings to start, and I’d like to see an option for residents who work nights to have other options for giving the Council in-person feedback. When elected I plan to hold biweekly office hours in the community and I’d look for ways to have drop-in input sessions for residents to engage with major policy changes and decisions facing the city. I would also like the Council to invest in a robust survey and engagement tool such as Qualtrics which allows multiple language translation and survey answer aggregation regardless of language used. We aren’t reaching so many of our constituents and in cases like web surveys we lack the tools we need to do a better job, but a one-time investment in a shared program that all Councillors could use would be money well spent to bring more voices to the table in decision making. As I’ve mentioned many times, I would like to see much more expansion of translation and interpretation for city meetings and materials.
Everyone grows up holding personal biases. Please share an anecdote about a time that your own biases were confronted, and how you responded.
As someone who manages several websites, including my spouse’s professional portfolio (MarkiLinehan.com) and numerous public sector websites such as mapc.org, I’ve been embarrassed to find that pages I thought were accessible to those using screen readers were in fact completely useless. I remember one meeting in particular many years ago where I was brought into another state agency to instruct their communications team on transitioning their website to Drupal (a content management system), and in front of everyone, a very junior staffer from the other agency pointed out that several of the graphically designed reports we had spent a lot of money producing were in fact not tagged, and even worse the project was funded with federal dollars so we were REALLY out of compliance with ADA. Nobody on my team or our agency’s staff had ever grappled with low vision, which meant we had not considered the seriousness of assuming everyone can see websites the same way, and obviously we weren’t baking it into our hiring and recruiting efforts very well, either. Needless to say, I took that seriously and have never again hired a digital vendor who was not proficient in exceeding accessibility standards, and my staff and I underwent several training sessions to teach to our gaps. It still didn’t prevent me from needing to be reminded to add image descriptions manually on social media this campaign cycle, but I understand that only by being open to others educating us can we improve our areas of weakness.
I was very lucky to undergo racial equity training this past year and it forced us to understand the ways in which we’ve experienced privilege, and to directly confront the things that make us uncomfortable about how the world experiences us. For example, the instructor asked every non-POC in the room out loud, “what do you love about being white?” and everyone had to answer, nobody was allowed to skip a turn or duck the question. It was intense! I took Harvard’s online implicit bias test in advance and was really shocked that (among other things) it said I exhibited a bias against mothers being as proficient as men in the workplace — even though I AM a full-time working mother! I spend my career mentoring young women in succeeding in a male-dominated work world, and that really showed me how much I had internalized the very messages I’d worked so hard to move beyond. In the end, I think it made me a better advocate and more aware of the biases that I carry and which impact me all the time, whether or not I’m aware of them.
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