Given the climate crisis, the next 10 years may turn out to be the most important decade of the 21st century. Massachusetts is setting ambitious goals and legally binding targets to drastically cut carbon emissions by 2030, on the way to zero net emissions by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of climate change

Cities and Towns must participate in this work to ensure success. This undertaking will bring not only challenges but also tremendous opportunities as they strive to transition away from fossil fuels in a just and fair way that benefits all residents.

Our Select Board will be expected to lead the work here in Needham. Green Needham therefore asked the candidates running for the Select Board to answer a series of questions to help voters understand their perspective on these critical issues. We thank them for their responses.

Each question is followed by the answers as submitted by each candidate. We have also provided each candidate’s complete responses in separate PDFs for your reference.

1) Although climate change is a global issue, it has very real local impacts (e.g.: severe weather, air quality, and health). Where does our climate crisis rank for you on our Town’s priorities?  Please share your personal and and/or professional experiences working in this area, if any.

Lakshmi Balachandra

Extremely high. I was an Environmental Studies major as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago and wrote an undergraduate thesis on the Economics of Recycling for Non-Profit Organizations. My first job was with a recycling consulting firm (Corporate Conservation) that helped businesses implement recycling processes within office buildings and companies in the Boston area. I am committed to reducing my own carbon footprint and implementing energy efficiency anywhere I can in my daily life. I put my name on the waitlist to get a Prius – which I still drive. I believe as a community there is so much more we can do to expand the use of renewable energy sources and decreasing our carbon footprint wherever possible.

Moe Handel (Candidate for re-election)

This ranks high and is one of my personal priorities for the Town. The climate crisis threatens our sustainability, and I support reducing, and ultimately eliminating, our dependency on fossil fuels. I was an early supporter of Needham’s ultimately-successful effort to become a Green Community. I supported our Board’s adoption of energy efficient and environmentally sound operations for the Town, residents and businesses. On a personal level, I have installed solar panels on my home along with a solar battery, and drive an electric car.

Marcus Nelson

Though my priorities lie mostly with racial equity, small businesses and education/youth development, climate change affects us all. The issue of our changing climate extends beyond race, class, gender, housing and education. This is an issue that should unite us as we work towards a solution.

Serge Zdanovich

Did not respond.

 

2) What specific measures will you advocate for in your first year on the Select Board, to continue Needham’s great achievements like the 12-acre solar array on our capped landfill and our Green Community designation?

Lakshmi Balachandra

I don’t have specific measures in mind, as I’m learning the legislative process, but I would advocate for many more ways that the town could both pursue green energy solutions as well as mandate/require new construction to have renewable energy, low carbon footprint considerations and recyclable material sourcing – in particular for government buildings. For example, what ‘green’ requirements were put into place when building the new police station and fire houses in town? These are two town buildings that should be outfitted with the only green materials, considering the tax dollars being used to build these structures.

Moe Handel (Candidate for re-election)

This is not my first year on the board. I will continue my efforts to support solar solutions for Town operations, and for the increased availability of charging stations for both the public and the Town’s fleet. I support the construction of solar canopies in Town and school parking areas. I will continue advocating for clean energy/solar capability in new construction, and in retrofitting as appropriate for older Town buildings.

Marcus Nelson

I fully support Needham becoming a Green Community. In my first year on the Select Board, I seek to draw inspiration from neighboring towns who have implemented successful sustainability measures. (There are many examples discussed below) Take the Wellesley Tree Bylaw, for example. This piece of legislation seeks to discourage the destruction of trees. It does so by classifying protected genres of trees that, if taken down, must either be replaced in the form of new planted trees or be made up for in a contribution to the Tree Bank. Working in collaboration with towns that are already doing this work at a high level, could be great for the town of Needham.

Serge Zdanovich

Did not respond.

 

3) The Commonwealth has adopted aggressive plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Next Generation Climate Bill currently under debate on Beacon Hill (S.13 – An Act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy) would codify a roadmap to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, with 2030 and 2040 targets along the way. As a Select Board member, would you interpret this law as conferring any responsibility on our Town? How will you help Needham rise to meet the responsibility you see, if any?

 

Lakshmi Balachandra

Absolutely. There are many ways towns spend money and “emit” pollutants, like through town vehicles and the town buildings. We could perform an audit of town owned and/or operated buildings and fleets to review how we fare on the net zero considerations and then seek the requisite grants/support from the state to meet the new bill’s considerations.

Moe Handel (Candidate for re-election)

Any state-mandated targets will require towns to participate in the effort. Irrespective of the law, however, I believe that we all have a responsibility to strive meaningfully to meet net-zero emissions. I would certainly be supportive of meeting realistic targets, but I will reserve judgment on specific solutions until the state’s targets are defined. Our efforts must be guided by our capacity to make realistic adjustments to meet those time lines.

Marcus Nelson

Our town needs to take the necessary steps to become more active in preventing climate change. I would like to see a designated Town Green Manager to assess our current finances to support Green efforts, and find ways to maximize our impact in this area. I interpret this law as the state guidelines for local action. The changes we need to make to reach the goal of net zero emissions by 2050 will occur on the local level as well as the state and national levels. These guidelines are not recommendations, they are based on science and truth and they are a call to action. Needham will be prepared to support and abide by state efforts to reduce emissions.

Serge Zdanovich

Did not respond.

 

4) A number of our peer Towns (including Wellesley, Weston, Lexington, Newton, and Concord) have prioritized sustainability, developing Climate Action Plans and applying resources (committees, dedicated staff) focused on it.  These communities understand that savings can help offset costs./p>

(A): Do you think the time has come for Needham to implement a similar structure to prioritize sustainability? If yes, what do you envision? Paid staff dedicated to sustainability? A standing Town committee?

 

Lakshmi Balachandra

100%. I have been working with Equal Justice in Needham (EJN) to obtain, review, and report on our public safety practices, and the number 1 lesson from our intense efforts in obtaining the data (we had to pay $1100 to obtain public reports!) is the dire need for oversight. There is clear racial bias from our local police, and the operations are outdated and obviously lack transparency. Thus, EJN will be recommending a citizen’s committee/commission on public safety to both ensure data is collected as well as reported and what modernization practices are being put in place. In a similar fashion, I would strongly advocate that a committee could be established to first take an audit of green metrics we could track and then implement to manage/review. We could seek town funding to support an administrator to oversee the management of these efforts. The benefits would far outweigh the costs, and there may be state and/or federal funding to financially support these expenses.

Moe Handel (Candidate for re-election)

We are already applying some resources to this issue with current positions and well qualified personnel. I have met with sustainability officials from other towns, and am also open to establishing a specific sustainability position in our Town organization.

Marcus Nelson

The time has certainly arrived for Needham to stand up for the climate. I envision at the very least a dedicated position created to align town actions, if not an entire committee. This individual or group of individuals will be responsible for directing finances to where they can be best used to support the growth of a sustainable community. This individual or group of individuals will also be responsible for taking inspiration from other towns and existing policies, and matching them up to what we as a Needham community can do. They will also investigate new ideas about sustainability to inspire our neighboring towns in return.

Serge Zdanovich

Did not respond.

(B): Would you support the Town of Needham formulating a Climate Action Plan?

Lakshmi Balachandra

I am astonished a community like Needham does not have one already. This is depressing to learn. A climate action plan is long overdue.

Moe Handel (Candidate for re-election)

Yes – I do believe that the Town should be developing a Climate Action Plan. This plan should involve the appropriate Town bodies – including the Planning Board, the School Committee, and Permanent Public Building Committee, along with the relevant town departments – DPW, Community Development, and Economic Advisory Committee. I would note that we should also seek creative expertise from Olin College, and work with organizations like the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and others to explore regional solutions and economies-of-scale.

Marcus Nelson

Yes, I would like to designate a Sustainability Coordinator like the town of Natick has in their administration. I will prioritize creating a safe and healthy environment for ALL people in the town of Needham.

Serge Zdanovich

 

5) Needham has an impressive capital plan for both renovating existing buildings and constructing new ones. Although the new Sunita Williams School has solar photovoltaic panels, those were added due to favorable construction costs – they were not incorporated into the initial design. Likewise, energy efficiency is part of the design for the new Public Safety buildings, but they are not designed to be “green buildings.”

 

(A): As our elected representative, will you actively support prioritizing sustainability best practices in our design, construction, and procurement processes, including for projects already in our capital plan? For example: Would you support requiring that solar PV be incorporated into the design for, and be installed on, all new municipal buildings where technically feasible?

 

Lakshmi Balachandra

ABSOLUTELY.  This is embarrassing that we have not followed through on green energy building in these public buildings.  As I mentioned earlier – this is an area that the town simply MUST be engaging in the latest and greatest environmental building materials.  I would push hard to make sure such endeavors are not only proposed but are then implemented!!  Solar panels on ALL the buildings would be my first goal, whether new construction or not…

Moe Handel (Candidate for re-election)

Yes – although there is an initial cost issue, I believe that it can be overcome by factoring the long-term energy savings into the municipal operating budget.

Marcus Nelson

I would like to see all new municipal buildings “go green”. I’ve joined Green Needham.

Serge Zdanovich

Did not respond.

 

(B): Would you support a net zero energy use target for new municipal buildings?

 

Lakshmi Balachandra

100%. If we can’t do this through example by the town’s efforts, it is not reflective of our community’s mindset. It’s 2021 and climate change is a forefront concern for many Needham residents.

Moe Handel (Candidate for re-election)

I would, and believe that they can be cost-effective over time (see above).

Marcus Nelson

100%.

Serge Zdanovich

Did not respond.

 

6) What role can the Select Board take to encourage or require sustainable design and construction for residential and commercial buildings?  Please describe your vision.

 

Lakshmi Balachandra

Any new construction should be required to have solar at the very least, and strongly supported to pursue non fossil fuel energy sources for heating/cooling. This seems like something we could mandate as well as fiscally support through the many state programs that support these efforts. I would certainly like to research this further, but it seems that the Select Board could certainly influence the requirements for renovation and construction accordingly. I do not know the answer to if this is possible, but I’m sure there are folks in your organization that would be able to guide this process and offer recommendations as to what measures could be crafted and enacted.

Moe Handel (Candidate for re-election)

I do support the goal, though I also think we need to develop a full understanding of what the “ask” is for this. I believe that the Select Board can and should explore ways to achieve it by developing a consensus as to the benefits – both to the environment and the users of these buildings. There may be density bonuses and/or fast track permitting that could be brought to bear, and we should be looking for other incentives for sustainable development.

Marcus Nelson

My vision would include moving toward and advocating for Energy Efficiency, Green Building, Clean Energy, Sustainable Transportation, Clean Water and Vibrant Green Spaces, More Local Food, Less Waste, and CrossCutting Priorities.

Serge Zdanovich

Did not respond.

 

7) As the Town works to cut carbon emissions and help Needham residents adapt to the damaging effects of climate change, what can the Select Board do to ensure that the process is fair and benefits all residents regardless of income, race, or ethnicity?

 

Lakshmi Balachandra

This is tricky as there are many financial benefits in the longterm from installing renewable energy systems but the upfront costs can be challenging. Thus, the town could carve creative financial support systems – through grants and other cash incentives – for those who have financial challenges to meet a renewable mandate should such a measure be able to be passed. If green systems are the goal, the inherent costs cannot be a limitation for those with lower income. To ensure others are not “left out” we also need to widely communicate any programs the town creates to assist the implementation of green/higher cost practices. Such communication would be important to reach ALL residents as many are simply unaware of town grants/support offerings.

Moe Handel (Candidate for re-election)

I believe that every policy or regulation we adopt needs to be vetted for the effect it will have on social and racial equity. This includes being more sensitive to the placement and impact of infrastructure projects, and encouraging neighborhoods in the town to understand and participate in and benefit from the process.

Marcus Nelson

Use of a Green transportation to reduce emissions and increase energy efficient mobility around town. I would like to support diverse communities by making green options available. (solar panels for low income housing, etc)

Serge Zdanovich

Did not respond.

 

8) Please address anything else you’d like to include or let voters know why voting for you is a vote for our sustainable future.

 

Lakshmi Balachandra

One of the biggest lessons I learned from being an Environmental Studies (with Economics) major is the role of policy in driving environmental policies.

Moe Handel (Candidate for re-election)

Sustainability isn’t just about power generation. It also means that we need to plan forward and readjust our infrastructure, building, drainage, and other standards to cope with increasingly frequent climate related events. Town planning should not focus only on immediate goals, but also build in the resiliency we will need as conditions change. This requires working with surrounding towns to make sure that we are part of a comprehensive regional approach to dealing with the consequences of climate change.

Marcus Nelson

City of Newton has a 5 year climate action plan 2020-2025…any new school that goes up should be built to energy efficient standards.

I’d like to partner with large companies like Tripadvisor in a town energy aggregate program–like Natick has. Buying into cheaper energy. We have so many companies, let’s involve them. Electricity Aggregation Program. Moving away from gas to water power, look into how it ties into MA more widely. Going for net zero. New buildings should have green components, LEED certified, more electric car incentives and charging stations around town hall, in the square…

I would like to work with Michael Greis and Stephen Frail…towards a 5 year Climate Action Plan…get the board to commit to this and assess carbon footprint and move forward in that direction.

Serge Zdanovich

Did not respond.

 

Share