Over 300 Newton voters took the survey posted here last week to give their feedback on some of the big issues facing Newton. 

A note on process: The survey was first posted on Village 14, and included mostly the issues that have been hotly debated on Village 14 in the past few months. Based on comments from V14 readers, a question was added on the size of the city council, people were given the option to write in their own answers, and to get a wider cross-section of respondents, it was also posted on Newton Facebook groups, Next Door Newton, and Newton neighborhood Google groups (74% came from these other sources). 

According to the demographic information collected, the respondents represent a wide range of ages and locations. 88% of respondents report voting in the last municipal election, which is more than double the rate of Newton voters overall. A review of all the individual responses showed only two likely signs of multiple voting (since deleted), though some more may have slipped through (If anyone would like to look at the underlying responses to look for signs of manipulation, let me know). Though it is decidedly NOT a professional, scientific survey, it does represent the views of more than 1% of the voters who voted in the last municipal election.  These issues are all complex and nobody should see this as a roadmap for council action, but it is a snapshot of where these 300+ voters see things today.

The survey results are here

Here’s the original survey if you want to see the questions or respond:

What are your takeaways? Are the respondents on the right track? Did people making comments have any bold new ideas? Is our city council focused on the right issues? Should they be explaining their programs in a different way to get more support?

The survey is fairly dense, and doesn’t lend itself to the usual hit and run commenters (except those wishing to make potshots discrediting the whole effort, of course). I thought I’d give you my take on the highlights:

Schools – Maintaining top schools is the top priority for over half of respondents. A majority of respondents want Newton to pay teachers more and settle the union contracts, along with other city workers. Close to half of those who support higher pay are willing to vote for an override to get the money, though more want it to be reallocated from other parts of the budget.

Roads and Transportation – This is a close second in voter’s priority. The survey asked what Newton should do NOW to improve traffic (not wait for MBTA which is unlikely in the near term). The most popular item was limiting development to limit traffic, though the opposite idea of building more transit-oriented village centers was also popular, but less so. Experimenting with shared-ride shuttles to/from transit stops and village centers also got a big thumbs up.

Budget – This is the third most important priority for respondents. The most popular idea for strengthening city finances was far and away increasing commercial development to increase the tax base, which was a bit of a surprise since only a few of the city council candidates have been talking much about this.

Affordable Housing – This was the fourth highest priority. Despite frequent expressions of support for affordable housing, few respondents want to prioritize new housing over commercial development and the vast majority of respondents either don’t want more large developments at all, or want half or more of new space in developments to be commercial. These preferences would limit new affordable housing or new housing in general below what is currently contemplated.

Climate Resilience – Even though this was the lowest priority of the five choices, there was still strong support for Newton’s Climate Action Plan, particularly if taxes or costs to residents is low.

Development –  Opinion is split between those who want to stay the course on more development and those who would like to slow it down. However, a slight majority want to “slow it down” or “keep density in Newton the same.”

Zoning Re-design – Most would rather keep zoning as it is or make specific changes to solve specific problems rather than re-zone every property in Newton.

NewCAL – Respondents support improved senior services, but support is weak for the current scope of the plan or the idea of locating a new center on parkland. Opinion is split on where to locate, but the largest group supports renovating the current senior center and other existing buildings.

Marijuana Zoning – Most support making some changes to current zoning. Most popular are prioritizing low income Economic Empowerment licensees over big Wall-street-backed applicants, and expanding zoning options to include more affordable, less visible manufacturing zones. 

Size of City Council– Most support reducing the size of the city council, and most of those who do support want to keep some ward represntation.

Webster Woods Acquisition – Over half support this acquisition, but there is a large number who aren’t sure about the new proposal yet.