For those who don’t know my background: I’m an almost lifelong resident of West Newton. I graduated from the “old” old Newton High School in 1973, went on to graduate from MIT with a bachelor’s in Economics, and earned an MBA at the University of Chicago. I spent most of the 1980s living in Detroit, working for General Motors, before figuring out that what I really wanted to be was a newspaper photographer. Since 1989, I’ve been a photojournalist at the Lowell Sun.
I became active in public affairs in Newton almost by accident, by attending a Programs & Services Committee meeting to speak on another issue, hearing a discussion of the soon-to-be-passed Tree Preservation Ordinance, and learning about the dire situation of Newton’s public trees (which I’d previously taken for granted). Trees seemed like a discrete, manageable area where I could be of service, so I joined the Urban Tree Commission, and later became a founding director of the Newton Tree Conservancy, and president for the last two years. Since 2010, working with groups of neighbors, we’ve planted almost 800 trees. Trees in turn led to my early interest in the issue of gas leaks, and getting them fixed.
I also became increasingly concerned about the issue of teardowns, and the resulting tree removals, wastefulness, and loss of many of Newton’s most affordable houses. I value the economic diversity that Newton has had since my parents moved us here from Scituate in the late 1950s, and watch with dismay as one by one, Capes like our first house in Newton, or bungalows like the one I live in now, are demolished, replaced by houses two or three times as big and expensive.
I’ve written about these issues as a Village 14 blogger, and joined with other residents with similar concerns to form the Newton Villages Alliance, to provide information and advocate for policies and decisions that will help preserve a middle class in Newton.
I’m running for City Council for the same reasons I did not wait for an open seat to run for Alderman-At-Large two years ago. I want voters to have a choice, and I believe residents need more advocates on the City Council.
As one example, I was appalled that 2/3 of our City Council voted for the Orr Block rezoning with a “devil strip.” State law gives residents the right to petition for a 3/4 threshold to approve an unwanted zoning change. The developer’s devil strip (the non-rezoned strip) made him his own abutter, circumventing the clear intent of state law, and 2/3 of the City Council let him get away with it, putting the financial burden on the real abutters to finance a lawsuit to enforce their rights.
On more routine Land Use items, residents get short notice on projects that the City’s Planning Department and applicants have been working on for months. Too many residents are having to hire their own attorneys, architects, surveyors and arborists to do what zoning should do — protect themselves, their property, and their trees, from the adverse impacts of adjacent development.
Rising taxes, increased traffic, crowded schools, and vanishing trees and backyards have many people asking whether Newton is still the Garden City, and wondering whether they want to stay or can afford to stay.
I’m not giving up. And I urge others not to give up, either, because all the good things about Newton are worth fighting to preserve.
Instead, vote. If you’re a Village 14 regular, you probably already do, so convince your friends and neighbors to vote. Local elections are where our individual participation has the most impact. I ask for your vote on November 7, and your support as I work for a financially and environmentally sustainable Garden City. Please visit my website, juliamalakie.org for more information.
I also urge you to vote No on the proposed new charter, to preserve the “representative” part of representative democracy, the ward-elected councilors. The proposed charter would concentrate power in fewer hands, eliminate dissenting viewpoints on the Council, and make it more expensive for everyone to run for City Council, because every race would be citywide. It’s no benefit to be able to ‘vote in every race’ as proponents argue, if your preferred candidates are swamped in every race by voters from the rest of the city.