Mayoral Candidates Tackle Climate and Environmental Issues at Latest Forum

A forum centered around climate and climate justice issues was held for the mayoral candidates on June 1, hosted by several of the city’s environmental organizations and endorsed by more than 50 organizations citywide.

Five of the six mayoral candidates, including John Barros, Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi-George, Jon Santiago, and Michelle Wu attended the forum, but Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who is also running for mayor, was not in attendance.

The candidates were asked several questions about climate related issues in the city, ranging from retrofitting buildings to creating more bus and bike lanes to creating green jobs. Candidates were also asked about “the unequal impact of climate change” in the city, along with pollution issues.

Transportation was a key topic of conversation, and candidates were asked what they would do to build more bus and bike lanes and make transportation more green.

“This has been a major piece of advocacy for me,” Wu said. “It’s also a matter of life and death for far too many.”

She said that creating dedicated bus lanes is important, as is continuing to build out safe bike lanes for residents. She also talked about  coordinating projects across the city to ensure that these types of lanes are made possible.

Jon Santiago said that as an avid bike rider himself, he has been hit by a car while riding a bike. As an emergency room physician at Boston Medical Center, he has also “treated countless people who have been struck,” he said.

Santiao said that transit access is an issue of equity, public health, and also an environmental issue. He said he is a “longtime believer in increased transportation funding,” and safer bike lanes are needed. Santiago also said he would push for more transit oriented developments in the city to lessen the need for cars.

Annissa Essaibi-George said that if elected mayor, she would create a Transit Task Force and push to expand the city’s electric bus fleet, particularly when it comes to the city’s school bis fleet.

She also said that she would not cut service on trains, “especially those serving low-income communities.”

Andrea Campbell said that closing transit deserts in certain areas of the city, “especially in communities of color,” is a priority for her, as is constructing more dedicated bus lanes. She said that free bus access is also something she stands behind and feels is feasible. She also encouraged residents to read her plan, which is available on her campaign website, and includes “specific things that the City of Boston could do” about these issues.

John Barros talked about creating a “coordinated network” with more safe bus and bike lanes that would increase service for residents. He talked about connecting bike lanes to rapid transit as well, and said he would work with the state on making that possible.

When it comes to retrofitting buildings, candidates were asked how they will address the need for many buildings in the city to be retrofitted to help fulfill the city’s goal of becoming carbon neutral, as well as how they might address displacement of residents that could occur during the process.

“Development remains one of the most potent emitters in our city,” Santiago said. He said that as mayor, he would “invest in technology and funds and programs to make sure we are planning for a clearer future” as well as provide developers with incentives to build greener.

He said doing things like installing solar panels and heat pump systems that would “push us away from a fossil fuel system” are things he would consider, and when it comes to existing buildings, “we have to act with urgency.” He said that prioritizing retrofitting “is something I’ll take on from day one.”

Essaibi-George said that it’s important to create “more opportunities for open space and green space.” She continued, “too often, we let climate action be led by people from outside our city,” and she said that creating opportunities for residents to create their own homes will also be a solution to the displacement issue.

Campbell said that as mayor, she would make sure communities of color are at the center of conversation around this issue, and “make sure they’re not displaced at he same time,” She said that programs and resources need to be made available so smaller landlords are able to retrofit the homes they own. She, along with Essaibi-George, said that the federal money that is being made available right now can help.  “For me, it’s also about jobs,” Campbell added.

John Barros talked about “supporting small businesses,” and taking a look at financing, including “using the future energy savings and paying ow in cash what we project we would be saving in the future,” he said.

He said that when it comes to retrofitting Boston Housing Authority units, he said the creation of a residential stability fund would help people move and come back if that was necessary. He also said that he does not want to displace residents through tax increases once the retrofittings are complete, and “providing the right types of tax incentives to keep people in their homes” is something that’s important to him.

Wu said that “this is a place where we need the people power,” and creating an urban conservation corps would be beneficial. She also said that making sure people are trained and there is equitable access to resources. She said that “corporatization of the green infrastructure changes we need” is not the answer.

Candidates also discussed Article 37 of the Boston Zoning Code, which has to do with “green buildings and climate resiliency” and how it relates to larger projects across the city, including the Suffolk Downs development in East Boston and the Massachusetts General Hospital project.

Candidates like John Barros and Jon Santiago suggested amendments to Article 37 to bring it up to date with where the city is now as far as climate resiliency. Barros said that Article 37 needs to be triggered in smaller projects, and an “environmental justice checklist” needs to be introduced.

Santiago said that Article 37 was created in 2007, but much has changed since then. He said he is committed to retooling Article 37” along with reviewing the city’s entire zoning code to ensure that climate resilience and environmental justice is included on a wider scale.

“More than 70 percent of the city’s carbon footprint comes from the building sector,” Wu said, and the rest comes from transportation. She added that more than 80,000 buildings would have to be retrofitted “to stay within the limit” of carbon emissions. “We have to get it right from the outset,” she said. “I fully support the net zero buildings push…it should not be a voluntary resilience checklist that the [Boston Planning and Development Agency] considers.”

Essaibi-George said that “net zero buildings, specifically in development, isn’t as costly as people think.” She also called for “multiple voices at the table” during the process, and ensuring that enough attention is paid to Boston Public Schools buildings as they make up the “majority of city-owned buildings” in Boston. She said that school buildings need to be renovated in a “thoughtful” manner.

When it comes to larger development projects, she said that engaging the community is imperative as they are the ones directly impacted by these developments, and that experts are involved.

“We don’t hold folks accountable,” Campbell said, adding that she “supports the provisions of, the spirit of Article 37,” but “action” needs to be taken. She also said that smaller landlords and owners of buildings are provided with the necessary resources to abide by Article 37 to ensure equity.

There were many other questions that residents wanted to ask candidates on the topic of climate and environmental justice, and Bob Tumposky of 350 Massachusetts said that all candidates will receive a list of the questions so they are made aware of what issues are important to residents.

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