Special To The Chelsea Record
City Manager Tom Ambrosino was a featured speaker at the virtual “Regional Climate Collaboration: A Metro Mayors Celebration” that took place over Zoom.
Mayors and managers from 15 Metro Boston cities and towns gathered to celebrate the five-year anniversary of their Climate Preparedness Commitment, discussing ways the region can be prepared for an equitable, climate-forward recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virtual conference took place over Zoom, touting accomplishments the group has made since signing a 2016 commitment to become a net zero carbon emissions region by 2050.
The group met five years ago, in the wake of Super Storm Sandy, to form a “Climate Preparedness Taskforce” to address vulnerabilities in the region’s shared critical infrastructure, and to support local climate preparedness and mitigation efforts now underway. Since that time, more than 100 climate mitigation actions have been completed by the 15 communities in the task force, including preparing for intense heat, installing solar arrays, drafting local vulnerability plans, electrification of vehicle fleets, LED streetlight conversions, adding renewables to the grid, municipal compost programs, and more.
“At the time that we formed the task force, very few communities had the staff to tackle their climate risks or to prepare for the future on their own, and we knew that the effects of a changing climate didn’t stop at municipal borders,” said Rebecca Davis, Deputy Director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), which staffs the Coalition. “We feel that there’s a very important role cities and towns can play in tackling the climate crisis, and that the policies and actions taken at the local level really help inform policy at the state and federal level.”
Ambrosino presents his remarks at forum
Rebecca Davis, who moderated the event, asked Ambrosino specifically about how he approaches equity in climate change.
“We’re certainly a community disproportionately impacted by COVID, but also a community that is sort of impacted disproportionately by climate change,” began Ambrosino. “We’re surrounded by water on three sides, so we’re particular vulnerable to coastal storms.”
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Ambrosino said some scientific data suggested that by the year 2070, “90 percent of our property tax base will be at risk of flooding.”
“So certainly this a major concern to the City of Chelsea and something that we pay attention to,” added Ambrosino. “We are really trying to prioritize and emphasize equitable outreach and engagement.”
The city manager said all meetings on climate change and all informational materials are in multiple languages.
“We try to take into account that we have a real digital divide here, so not everyone is capable of engaging remotely – that makes things particularly difficult in this COVID era. We can’t assume that everyone has the digital access that more advantaged individuals have,” said Ambrosino.
He said the city also tries to involve environmental justice groups, particular GreenRoots under the direction of Roseann Bongiovanni, “as co-managers in a lot of projects so that we can really reach the community in a different way.”
“When it is possible, we actually try to compensate members of our minority community to contribute to engagement with their life experiences,” said Ambrosino. “So in all those ways, we try to ensure that engagement is equitable. And I’d say as we think about how we recover from COVID and thinking about green infrastructure and green energy projects – we’re trying to do that in a way that has an equitable lens on it. Like the city of Newton and other communities, we’re deploying municipal aggregation, a renewable energy component, because we think that’s going to benefit some of our economically disadvantaged residents.”
Ambrosino said the city is working with GreenRoots on a micro-grid project “that would protect our most vulnerable assets and our most vulnerable residents from natural disasters and ensure that they would have continued electricity.”
Ambrosino also noted the existence of the new North Suffolk Office of Resiliency and Sustainabilty that will be based at Chelsea City Hall and is supported financially by the Barr Foundation. The communities of Revere and Winthrop are partners in the North Suffolk Office that is a regional endeavor.
Ambrosino’s vital focus on climate change and its impact on Chelsea was demonstrated by the fact that three members of his staff, Public Works Commissioner Fidel Maltez, Housing and Community Development Director Alex Train, and Senior Project Manager Ben Cares attended the virtual conference. Based on presentations by other community leaders, it appeared that Ambrosino was the only city administrator to have three other representatives from his staff in attendance.
Ambrosino credited Maltez, Train, and Cares “for working very hard to launch this Office [of Resiliency and Sustainability].”
“The important thing about it is that the first order of business for that office is to conduct a racial equity assessment so that we can be sure that the projects on which that office is going to focus will be climate projects with the maximum equity impact,” said Ambrosino. “We are trying to do this work in an equitable way and those are some of the examples that come to mind.”
Mayors Coalition was established 20 years ago
Established in 2001, the Metro Mayors Coalition includes mayors and city and town managers from Arlington, Boston, Braintree, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Melrose, Medford, Newton, Quincy, Revere, Somerville and Winthrop. Leaders from these communities all gathered for a roundtable discussion at Friday’s event, taking turns highlighting past successes and discussing ways to craft a post-COVID recovery that is green, resilient, and just for all residents of the region.
“I remember how daunting it felt to take an ambitious commitment to net zero. We didn’t know how to get there, but we knew that we were willing to lead,” said Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, who chairs the Metro Mayors Coalition. “Somerville now has an integrated, climate-forward plan that empowers residents to take action on climate change, and we passed zoning that encompasses net zero in the building code.”
Somerville has also prioritized electrification of its municipal fleet, including energy conservation in public bids, transit-oriented development, adding bike lanes, bus lanes and pedestrian improvements.
Each community in the coalition committed to undertaking at least three actions in five years, and every single Metro Mayors member achieved that; in fact, the entire coalition has completed individual Municipal Vulnerability Plans, and all are designated as Green Communities by the state.
The Metro Mayors region is home to 1.4 million people and hosts critical regional infrastructure potentially vulnerable to climate change impacts, such as the MBTA, Logan International Airport, the Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Charles River and Amelia Earhart Dams, the Island End River and food distribution center in Chelsea, and several energy facilities. Many of those regional sites are now priority resilience areas for Massachusetts thanks to advocacy by the coalition to elected leaders.
“From the outset we realized all levels of government need to work together,” said Davis.
Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides offered recorded remarks at the event, thanking the Metro Mayors Coalition for its work to push the region toward net zero and applauding the region for making strides to reduce emissions even during a pandemic. Sec. Theoharides told viewers EOEEA is hoping to work with MAPC and the Legislature to design a future funding solution to support cities and towns in the challenge of meeting shared climate goals. She also announced that a new round of MVP funding will be released in the next few weeks.