Meet the candidates for Alderman-at-Large from Newton's Ward 5 Brian Yates
As the longest serving member of the Board of Aldermen and a lifelong resident, Ald. Brian Yates knows a thing or two about Newton and its government.
Yates, who first took office in 1987, is a sixth-generation Newtonian. He said it’s his experience on the board and memory of the changing ways of the city that make him the right fit for another term.
"One of the unique things I think I can say I bring is deep roots and institutional knowledge," Yates told the TAB last week.
An example of his experience on the board and in the city, Yates cited the role he played in establishing neighborhood branch libraries in Waban and Auburndale. He said his failed attempt to help establish a library in Upper Falls gave him the tactical knowledge to help those other groups, while his understanding of the village values pushed him to fight for the libraries.
Yates also cited his experience with the so-called "unbuildable lots" and his defense of residents who successfully challenged the city’s policy change to grant building permits on certain older, vacant lots. He said he had institutional knowledge of a city ordinance preventing such permits, so he and Alderman Lisle Baker filed a court brief in support of the residents’ appeal of the permits.
One of the most talked about issues in Ward 5 this year has been the failed Engine 6 proposal to establish studio apartments for the chronically homeless in Waban. To support affordable housing going forward, Yates said one of the most important things that can be done is to take steps to help maintain housing options for existing residents who are being priced out of the market and forced to relocate either due to financial or physical constraints.
He cited a discount he offered as part of the board that would offer decreased water and sewer rates for certain residents with financial constraints, and he suggested subsidized memberships to groups like Newton At Home, which helps seniors and others with physical constraints remain in their residences.
"I hate to see anybody forced to leave the city because either disability or because of lack of ability to pay," said Yates. "We do need to deal with that."
Yates said another focus of his if re-elected would be to bring the Main Street program of the Nation Trust for Historic Preservation to the city to help revitalize the village centers by forming grassroots partnership with businesses, residents and government officials.
One of the major looming issues in Ward 5 is the "add-a-lane" project on Route 128 set to get underway next year. Yates said he was wary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation modeling in regard to traffic impacts. He said he was among those who put pressure on MassDOT to do traffic counts on neighboring roads before and during construction to better understand and manage the impacts.
There are limits on what the aldermen can do in a city where a strong mayor form of government, Yates said, but if he had his way he would like to see better coordination between the city departments and an increased focus on project management and leadership staff to oversee city projects.
Going forward he said he was looking forward to the first phase of a sewer water project spearheaded on the board by Crossley and Alderman Ruthanne Fuller to help ease fears of those living in the area of Quinobaquin Road who dealt with major flooding issues several years ago.
Alderman Marcia Johnson wrote in letter to the TAB editor, "Brian’s accomplishments on the Board and as a volunteer leader in Newton have been remarkable."
Johnson called Yates a mentor to many board members and cited Yates’ advocacy for limits on development, being a problem-solver for business development, his efforts to preserve Hemlock Gorge, his work establishing historic districts in several villages, and his leadership in making Newton one of the first official "green communities" in the state.
Calling himself a "zoning junkie" who has served on the Zoning and Planning Committee since he 1987, Yates said he wants to see the continued effort to reform the city’s zoning ordnances. In particular he said he wants to see substantial map changes to residential zones to make land more conforming.
Another zoning reform he mentioned would be parking changes that allow village center employees to park at houses of worship just beyond the current restrictions during the weekdays in order to free up spaces for visitors to the commercial areas.