A Voice for Citizens, a Force for Change
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September | 2021
Message from the Steering Committee
A Message From This Month's Chair,
Trish Farrington
I once thought we might have a book sale this summer or an opening meeting at the Women's Club. I was even ready to wear lipstick again and visit a museum. But as baseball great Yogi Berra said,"It's like deja vu all over again."
  
However, as the League has proved so many times during the past one and a half years we have persevered through our usual calendar and events using virtual technology.  All with amazing success.  (Yay Zoom!) 
 
As you probably know, all town offices in Amherst are open for election. Three years ago I remember the candidate forums, district meetings, organizational planning, lots of sweat and searching for microphones and chairs. This year will be different but candidates will still need to be introduced and to answer questions, an election guide will still need to be printed, voters will still need to be registered. Virtual doesn't mean we don't need help putting it all together. This may mean it's your chance to volunteer for a short, simple job, to share your expertise, to join with someone else in the league to accomplish a specific task. I didn't know myself what I could do so I emailed Bonnie Isman (chair of Voter Engagement). She set me up with a job on a day that fit my availability. You could get in touch with her or Cynthia Brubaker or Kathy Campbell. Remember that the League's mission is to keep democracy going. Here's our chance to make it happen.

Opening meeting is Thursday,September 23. I always liked going to the Women's Club, seeing people, chatting with them, enjoying delicious snacks, and hearing and learning from an interesting speaker.  Some things will be the same: the meeting will start at 7:00, but join Zoom at 6:30 to catch up with friends and maybe meet new members: Register here. The  speaker will be a member of our League, Sudha Setty, Dean and Law Professor at Western New England University; the title of the talk is “Democracy and the Rule of Law: the Challenge of Restoring, and Restoring Faith, in U.S. Institutions.” Three out of four of my favorite parts will still happen. Unfortunately, the refreshments will be up to you.

We carry on, leaving nothing out as we make accommodations. As Yogi Berra said, "If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be."

~ Trish Farrington
In Memoriam
Mary Jane Laus
The Steering Committee regrets to report the recent death of Amherst League member Mary Jane Laus. We send our most sincere sympathy to her family and friends. We are grateful for her many contributions to the League and to the community.
Mary Jane was a long time and dedicated League member. She served as Vice President as well as on several committees. She was a member of the camera crew, along with Alice Swift, that televised numerous League meetings.

~ Phyllis Lehrer
News from our Committees
VOTER ENGAGEMENT
THIS LOCAL ELECTION WILL BE VERY IMPORTANT!

Did you know that ALL the seats on EVERY elected board will be in contention?!

This includes the Town Council, the Jones Library Trustees, the School Committee, the members of the Housing Authority and the Oliver Smith Will Elector. All will be on the ballot. Not every single seat will be contested but a large number will be. 

We will have our Election Guide in the Amherst Bulletin at the end of October as usual; the Town of Amherst will have information on the candidates on its website, Amherst Media will have each candidate give a short presentation on why they are running and the League will have Candidates Forums featuring candidates in contested races.

Plus we have an important referendum on how to proceed with plans to renovate and remodel the Jones Library. This is a lot to absorb and be informed about. We will do our best, in a year when everything must be done electronically instead of at in-person, to help voters.

Here is just a bit of the information you will need to follow our local elections. We will have more information for you in the next two months. Stay tuned!
Make a Plan to Vote in Amherst Elections  
Here are important dates for Amherst elections. 
The League's biennial Election Guide will appear in the October 29 edition of the Amherst Bulletin. Under the new Charter, the Town of Amherst provides space for all candidates to post their general Candidate Statements on the Town website's Bulletin Board. This allows the League's Election Guide to focus attention on issues of particular interest to the League, such as climate change and racial justice. Each candidate will be asked to respond to 2 questions for the print edition of the Election Guide. All candidate responses will also be available on the League's website. League members will also have the opportunity to ask their own questions during the Candidate Night programs and District Meet-ups. 

The following question will be printed in the Guide without a recommendation from the League: "Shall the following measure authorizing a borrowing for the expansion and renovation of the Jones Library, as voted by the Town Council on April 5, 2021, be affirmed?"  Amherst Media will sponsor a forum to present the arguments for and against the library project, but the League has not conducted a study of the subject and has no position. 

Many thanks! to Voter Engagement team members Cynthia Brubaker, Kathy Campbell, Marla Jamate, Joan Rabin, and Janice Ratner who worked on composing appropriate questions for all candidates. 
Candidates' Forums

The LWVA will host on-line Candidates' Forums for all contested races in the upcoming Amherst Municipal elections. Some of these webinars will be live-streamed by Amherst Media. All will be recorded and will be available on Amherst Media’s YouTube channel approximately 48 hours after the event. Amherst Media will also be rebroadcasting the events on their public access channel.

Questions from the audience can be submitted through the Q&A function during the webinar or sent in advance to election2021@lwvamherst.org. We will have question screeners, just as in a live forum, to edit/combine questions and forward them to the moderator. Each forum is designed to allow time for six questions.
Please check our website for up to date details.
~ Contact Kathy Campbell, Cynthia Brubaker, or Bonnie Isman, election guide coordinator, to get involved.  
SUSTAINABILITY AND CLIMATE ACTION COMMITTEE
Fuel Bills
Biomass: still!

Many thanks to SACAC member Martha Hanner for her reasoned argument in support ofH3333/S2197: An Act to prevent biomass energy to protect the air we breathe. The testimony, approved by the Steering Committee, was submitted to TUE (the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy) in connection with the hearing on the 13th (the deadline for written testimony came after TUE’s virtual hearing.) Please note: The Legislative Action Committee (LAC) has been unable to take a position on these bills because of the resource constraints of an all-volunteer group. 

These bills remove the category of “biomass,” aka wood pellets, from inclusion in eligibility for renewable energy credits. It amends MGL Chap. 25A, 11F, Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard for Retail Electricity Suppliers by striking the words "wood" and "woody biomass" wherever they appear in the RPS under the definitions of renewable energy.   It removes the fiction that wood burning can be part of sustainable forestry practices and eliminates all renewable energy credits from any facility that does this. LAC summary of H3333/S2197 is here: look under Environment-Natural Resources for bills numbered H3362/H3333/S2193 at this link.

Our Senator, Jo Comerford, was a co-sponsor. You might email her a thank you.
Preventing Nuclear Accidents Webinar and Bill

The Plymouth and Cape Cod Leagues recently sponsored a fascinating (and frightening) webinar on the deplorable conditions of nuclear waste storage, Our Nuclear Future: Keeping Massachusetts Safe from Nuclear Accidents. Two League members detailed current safety violations at Plymouth and subsequent ramifications. They outlined concrete action steps we can take including how to advocate for H.2254/S.1507An Act Relative to Monitoring Dry Casks of Spent Nuclear Fuel. Click this link for the recent Action Alert. The webinar is available at this link.

Four million Massachusetts residents live within 50 miles of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth. Amherst and surrounding municipalities are within the fifty-mile emergency planning zone for Vermont Yankee with its spent fuel casks. 

A Joint Committee on Public Health hearing on the bill was held on June 22, 2021. Sen. Jo Comerford is co-chair of the Committee and a co-sponsor; consider writing to request that the bills be reported favorably out of committee and brought to the floor for a vote. You might also email your representative to ask for her/his support. This is a bill that needs to get out of Committee.

~ Susan Millinger
RACIAL JUSTICE COMMITTEE
Greetings from the Racial Justice Committee! This entry is from our RJC member, Renee Moss.

My name is Renee Moss and I am a relatively new LWVA member and I have been a member of the Racial Justice Task Force (now Committee). I am also on the Board and the Leadership Team of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership (www.truthschool.org)

The new Fall catalogue is live and on the website at truthschool.org. This catalogue is quite an incredible offering of close to 50 classes, taught by extraordinary trainers of local and national renown, as well as many new young trainers. As always, all of our classes are FREE and amplify the leadership of Black, Indigenous people, and People of Color; they lead all Truth School classes or teach in bi/multi-racial/cultural teams. Because we are on Zoom now, we are able to include trainers and participants from other parts of the country and Canada. You can go to our website to register for classes now at truthschool.org
In September alone, there are several classes that are particularly relevant to important issues for the League. I want to bring these to your attention:

  • Jennifer Moyston, who works for the Town of Amherst is teaching a 2 part series on Strategies for Developing a Diverse Staff or Board and Strategies for Maintaining a Diverse Staff or Board on Sept. 28 and 29. Jennifer has been involved with the Racial Justice Committee of the Amherst League, was featured in our Brown Bag Session and has been part of the Racial Justice Network hosted by the Amherst League Racial Justice Committee.
  • New trainer, Dr. Kathy Bullock, from Berea College in Kentucky, who is a teacher, performer and scholar who specializes in African American Music will be teaching a class on Black Suffragists’ Role in the Suffragette Movement on Sept. 30.
  • Shanique Spalding and Carrie Baker will be teaching Barriers to Reproductive Justice in Western Mass on Sept. 24.

*****

We will be continuing the Brown Bag Series on October 23, 2–4 pm. The RJTF, now Racial Justice Committee (RJC), will be presenting about our work. Please let us know if you have any programming ideas or requests. We’d love to hear from you!

~Marcie Sclove
Chair, Racial Justice Committee (RJC)
HOUSING
HOUSING IN AMHERST IN THE FUTURE

What might future housing look like in Amherst? Will there be “enough” for various demographic groups? Who will it be for? 

Amherst Neighbors, the League of Women Voters, and the Town’s Affordable Housing Trust, sponsored a recent forum on all those issues. The forum was taped and can be seen at this link.

Here is a quick summary:
There is a severe housing shortage, not just in Amherst but many places. Two main factors have caused the general problem: population changes that create greater demand for housing and a lack of housing production. Locally, we have an additional factor: the growth of UMass enrollment over many years without corresponding growth in housing for the students brought to the area. 

Although housing production surged in the 1960s and 70s, as the University grew substantially, housing production then came almost to a halt, with declines in numbers of units built in the 80s and again in the 90s. Between 2000 and 2009 only 227 new houses were built. In the most recent 10-year period, a bit over 1,000 housing units were built, and 240 units in 2020. 

In Amherst, from 1990 through 2010 there has been a small shift in the proportion of people of various ages. The largest cohort continues to be people between the ages of 18 and 24, but that percentage is smaller than it used to be. The proportion of adults aged 25 to 45, and of children 17 years old and younger have both gone down. People 65 currently comprise the smallest group but is the one that is growing. We are becoming more and more a community of college-age and retirement-age people, with fewer families with children of school age. 

Between 1990 and 2020, population diversity by ethnic group has increased; although Amherst’s is still about 75% white, non-white populations are increasing. In immediate neighboring towns the populations are generally 80% to 90% white. 

The League has previously heard about the problems caused by the great number of students who must live off campus. Currently, UMass enrollment is 28,000; there are 14,000 housing units on the campus. The university has announced plans to build 1,000 new units, but it has recently removed 600, so the net gain will be 400.

As enrollment exceeds the availability of housing on campus, the competition for a place to live forces people of all ages and categories to look far afield. Prior to the pandemic the rental vacancy rate was 3%; some new graduate students have had to go to Springfield to find housing. Large percentages of renters are “cost burdened” (paying more than 30% of their income for housing) or “severely cost burdened" (paying more than 50% of income for housing costs). Evictions are increasing. Some home owners are also cost burdened. There is a sellers’ market now, with both investors purchasing houses to rent and people moving to Amherst from wealthier urban areas due to Covid.

Recent new housing units have mostly been high-rent apartments; also, investors are buying houses in neighborhoods and renting them to groups of students. Some of the apartment buildings include “affordable” apartments for people who meet the official guidelines for subsidized units; more are planned but not yet built. Also the town is working on plans for some subsidized units. However, overall, there will be few opportunities for families or for older adults wanting to down-size from their current home. 

We also heard that, nationally, homelessness is increasing among people 62 years old or older; in fact that is the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. The local homeless shelter, Craig’s Doors, served 49 people age 62 and older in the past four years; 11 of these people were 70 or older (the oldest was 78).  The number of women over 62 this past year was nearly double the average of the three previous years.  In addition, there are increasing numbers of homeless families. 

The Town Council is currently considering adopting a Housing Master Plan. The proposed plan includes a goal of building, in the next five years, 250 units for households earning less than 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for the Springfield metropolitan area (which includes Amherst). The proposed policy also includes within 5 years reducing the percentage of cost-burdened renters to 50%, of cost-burdened home owners to 20%, and reducing the number of homeless. 

A different but related issue is making existing housing better, both for comfort, cost and climate reasons. There is a program for retrofitting heating systems and weatherization for low-income apartments. Unfortunately there is not a similar program for the many condominium associations in town. 

Massachusetts is “graying” rapidly. In Amherst, by 2030, the cohort of the population increasing most rapidly is expected to be people over 80 years old. The Donahue Institute has reported that Massachusetts has the highest percentage in the country of single adults living alone, and that of those 62% have incomes that are lower than what is required to meet their needs. Given economic disparities, the issue is worst for people of color. The most frequent reason for calls to the Amherst Senior Center was when people (or their families) realized they could no longer live independently and were looking for programs or places to help them. Eight-three percent of elderly who need help get it from their families.

The final topic was whether the town can and should develop a new rental project for housing for elder adults, including some subsidized units. The most likely type of facility would be one with independent living for the residents and staff on site to coordinate activities and health care services delivered by outside agencies. Land along West Pomeroy Lane at the former Hickory Ridge Golf Course might be a possible site. 

Of course the Affordable Housing Coalition is always glad to have more people become involved about these or related issues. 
~ Elisa Cambell
CONNECTICUT RIVER BASIN COMMITTEE
UPDATE ON RELICENSING OF CONNECTICUT RIVER DAMS

An important part of this relicensing process is the public comment period. Expected to happen this summer, it has been further delayed, probably until November. This delay was requested by First Light Power Resources, owner of the two dams in Massachusetts (Turners Falls, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project) being considered for relicensing. Stay tuned for further updates.
SOURCE TO SEA CLEANUP — SEPTEMBER 24–26

Next weekend is the 25th Annual Connecticut River cleanup event organized by the Connecticut River Conservancy. Last year this event collected 34.9 tons of trash! This total included 946 tires, 10,654 beverage containers, 13 mattresses and 86 furniture items. Categories of trash include construction materials, styrofoam, electronics & appliances, auto parts, pharmaceuticals, scrap metal and toys. 1,363 volunteers, organizations and individuals did all this work. The River breathed a sigh of relief to have all this trash removed! For more information see: ctriver.org or Google “Cleanup Chronicle."

~ Elizabeth Davis
LWVMA News
Catch up with “Meet the Specialists”

If you missed or want to review one of LAC’s “Meet the Specialists” presentations, which have been very informative, you can find them here:
  • Women’s Issues (Aug.11) View the recording here.
  • Criminal Justice (Aug. 25) View the recording here; link to the slide deck here.
  • Elections (Aug. 26) View the recording here.
Virtual Lobby Day for VOTES Act Oct. 6

Please plan to join LWVMA and our partners in the Election Modernization Coalition for a virtual lobby day to support the VOTES Act Wednesday, Oct. 6, noon to 1:30 p.m. We're still working out the details, but will have a way for you to contact your own legislators during the event. Registration information will be coming soon. 

The VOTES Act, S.459, was reported out of its joint committee in July and is currently in the Senate Ways & Means Committee. We don't know exactly when it will be brought to the Senate floor for a vote, and we are hoping all the provisions in the original bill will still be in the bill reported out of Ways & Means. The lobby day will push to have the intact bill voted on in the Senate and then sent to the House so that these important election reforms can be enacted before the temporary extension of the pandemic election rules expires December 15.

Virtual "Day on the Hill"...Coming in October

LAC is planning Day on the Hill, our lobby day for League members to advocate for League bills with their own legislators. The event will be virtual this year and held mid- to late October. The date will be announced once the speaker is confirmed. Featured bills will be:

  • Elections and Voting: The Votes Act H.805/S.459
  • Environment and Climate Change: H.3302/S.2155 (Promotes offshore wind)
  • Education: Affordable Early Education and Childcare H.605/S.362 (The Common Start bill) 
  • Healthcare: Medicare for All in Massachusetts H.1267/S.766
LWVUS News
LWVUS on Texas’s New Abortion Law and the response of SCOTUS

Here are LWVUS’s President Deborah Turner’s comments about the Texas abortion law and the Supreme Court’s response in the September 9 League Update:

“Last week we saw what feels like the time turning backward, but we must not be dismayed.

The Supreme Court failed to intervene on Texas’s new abortion law criminalizing abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. This infringement upon women and those who can become pregnant intersects with many of the issues we advocate for, especially racial and economic justice. Limits on reproductive health services disproportionately affect Black, brown, and low-income communities, therefore upholding and perpetuating income inequality and white supremacy.  
The League believes every person deserves access and the privacy to make their own reproductive choices, and we will continue the fight for reproductive justice in Texas and across the nation. Read our statement with LWV of Texas in response to this ruling.

On Saturday, October 2, the ‘Women’s March’ will convene in Washington, DC, with sister marches around the country to defend reproductive rights in light of the SCOTUS ruling. LWVUS plans to support the march by showing up in person and promoting it across social media. We encourage Leagues to determine if participation makes sense for their League at the local level…”


The National League is not ignoring the Climate Emergency

LWVUS joined partners on a letter to House and Senate leadership that urges them to address the climate crisis in the budget legislation. The letter urges leadership to focus on sustainable energy and not provide subsidies to aging uneconomical nuclear power plants. 
LWVUS Events of Interest

Sept. 23, 7 p.m. ET September DEI Webinar revisits the webinar on inclusive holidays held last fall. A related reminder: Hispanic Heritage Month begins on Sept. 15! LWVUS will be celebrating the month by highlighting staff and League members with a blog and on social media. President Turner encourages us to celebrate leaders within our League and community who identify as Latinx or Hispanic.
  
LWV's federal and state legislative and litigation priorities from the 2021–2022 fiscal year.

SPECIAL NOTE:

“Leagues in the News” in the Sept. 9 League Update spotlighted Amherst’s own Lucy Benson, including a link to the article in The Daily Hampshire Gazette
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e-BULLETIN STAFF AND CONTRIBUTORS IN SEPTEMBER
The Editor of the LWVAmherst e-Bulletin, Jessica Ryan can be contacted here. The Associate Editors are Trish Farrington and Susan Millinger; Assistant Editors are Janice Ratner, Phyllis Lehrer, and Kay Fite who checks the links. Contributors to this month's e-Bulletin include LWVA members Cynthia Brubaker, Elisa Campbell, Kathy Campbell, Elizabeth Davis, Trish Farrington, Bonnie Isman, Phyllis Lehrer, Susan Millinger, Renee Moss, and Marcie Sclove. Material on LWVMA and LWVUS comes from the website lwvma.org and the newsletter League Update, respectively, selected by Susan Millinger.