Zac Bears

General Questions

What is your vision for Medford?

I believe in a Medford that is affordable for working families, builds strong community by bringing together people with a wide range of experiences, and welcomes newcomers while protecting current residents from displacement. We deserve functional and well-maintained city and school buildings, roads, and sidewalks.

We deserve well-funded public schools where every student has the resources they need to thrive. We deserve to have big property developers play by our rules and invest in the city for the long-term.

As we move into the future, Medford has the opportunity to expand our thriving community and ensure we have the public services every resident deserves. That’s going to take real work, planning, and commitment from everyone in our community. We can only do it together.

What experiences have prepared you to serve on the city council?

I have been involved in city government as resident for most of my life, as a student in Medford Public Schools and by attending meetings of the city council and various city boards.

For the past three years, I have served as the executive director of a non-profit organization that advocates for fully-funded public education both at the K-12 level and our public community colleges and state universities. In this role, I represent thousands of students, workers, and families by studying and developing policies, speaking with the news media to educate the public, and delivering extensive testimony at State House hearings and other public meetings.

I understand how government works, how to talk to people about the issues they care about, and how to engage communities to take action to accomplish a shared goal. We are about to move into years of negotiations with developers who see Medford as the next place where they can make a buck. Our community will need to stand united to ensure that new developments fit our vision for the city and provide Medford the community benefits we deserve. I know I can help make that happen.

Over the past four years, what actions of the city council did you most support or oppose, and why?

There is a lot to be proud of in Medford over the past four years. I’m glad we’re finally getting the new Medford Public Library that residents deserve and support the city council’s decision to approve the project. The city council has also been forward thinking on a variety of environmental issues, from solar energy to community energy aggregation and supporting our parks and the Mystic River. I also think the hiring of new City Clerk Adam Hurtubise went through a robust process and provided a great result.

However, I oppose the city council’s lack of action to accelerate the construction of a new fire station. Many of our city and school buildings are in disrepair, but we can’t afford to wait until 2026 for firefighters to have safe working conditions. We can do better.

We also need to do better on zoning and property development. Everyday residents who want to make a change to their property have to jump through hoops, but big out-of-town developers have the resources to force our hands and get what they want. We can’t afford for this to continue when it comes to the Mystic Avenue Corridor. The city council needs to engage residents to build a real vision for Medford, and then make sure we have the leverage to negotiate with big developers so new projects provide fair community benefits and fit our vision.

I’m disappointed that the city council has not moved forward on a charter review process since the 4 to 3 vote several years ago. It is long past time to review the city charter and move away from all at-large city council and school committee seats. We need fair representation, and many cities in Massachusetts are being sued and forced to change how they elect their city officials. We should get out ahead of the issue and avoid any future problems.


Social Issues

Which social issues do you care about, and why? How would you advocate for those issues?

Right now, protecting the rights of our immigrant neighbors, combatting racist violence and discrimination, and the epidemic of substance use disorders are major crises that face our city and our country are three of the most important social issues we need to address.

I am proud that Safe Medford and the Medford Police have agreed on policies to protect immigrant communities. We need to push the state government to implement laws like the Safe Communities Act that protect public safety and make sure that immigrants aren’t afraid to report crimes or serve as witnesses.

Racism and hatred are on the rise in this country. Recently we have seen incidents of racist violence in neighboring communities. We need to speak up and say that racism and hate don’t have a home in Medford, and we need to advocate for policies at the state and federal level to combat the growing threat of racist violence and terrorism, as we’ve seen in many mass shootings over the past several years.

The opioid crisis and substance use disorders are hurting our community and our area. I am glad that the city has joined lawsuits against opioid distributors and is working with other cities on how to tackle this. We need to continue lifting up and investing in the many advocates in Medford who are working to help people suffering with this disease. We also need to make sure that the city and schools have all the resources they need to help individuals and families who need help.

What concrete steps can Medford make to address our environmental challenges, whether global or local?

Medford should set a goal of moving to zero emissions or “net zero” status as quickly as possible. We should also make sure that all public buildings are outfitted with solar panels or otherwise purchase energy from renewable sources. All new property developments must have mandatory renewable energy requirements. Medford can also work more closely with the state to make sure residents know their options when it comes to putting solar panels on their house.

In addition to energy, Medford also faces some unique resiliency challenges. Many parts of Medford sit in flood plains that will be more likely to flood as climate change worsens. We need to make sure that we have a citywide plan for what to do in case of an emergency, how we can mitigate it, and how we ensure that new developments are designed with resiliency in mind.

But Medford can’t solve the climate emergency alone. The climate crisis is accelerating, and climate scientists know that we don’t have much time left to protect Earth as we know it. We need to support national and global solutions like the Green New Deal to transform our energy system and economy to prevent massive global disaster and avoid trillions of dollars in economic damage that will be caused by climate change over the next several decades if we don’t take action now.

Medford is a diverse city with many marginalized communities. What initiatives would you implement to support these communities?

Medford’s diversity isn’t reflected in its city government. Plain and simple. Our all “at-large” system of electing city councilors and school committee members is widely held to be racially discriminatory, and many other cities are facing lawsuits to force them to change this. We need to implement a charter review to add ward-based city councilors and school committee members.

We also need to make sure that all city resources are provided in the many languages spoken and read by Medford residents. Right now the city website isn’t translated, and many city and school departments don’t have all the resources they need to provide information in multiple languages. We need to engage every resident in city government, and that takes more resources than we’re providing now.

 


Economic Issues

How will you address Medford’s affordable housing crisis?

Medford has a deep affordable housing crisis, and it will take the entire community working together to fix it. The most immediate step Medford needs to take is creating a Five-Year Strategic Plan for New Development. What I heard in recent Community Development Board and City Council hearings is that our community isn’t 100% against or for density. Residents want to ensure that new development is part of a strategic plan, that there’s a good mix of commercial and residential construction, and that there is real buy-in—both from the neighborhoods where these new buildings are going up, and from the city as a whole—around a shared vision that addresses the very real concerns of residents.

Our plan must ensure that Medford remains truly affordable to working families. Medford needs to use its leverage to negotiate for units that are available to people of all incomes in big new developments, not just affordable units and luxury apartments. We can demand more than 15% “affordable” units just for people below 80% of area median income. We need to look at higher percentages, and include housing units for people who are working class and middle-income too. The city must create a community land trust, which is a non-profit organization that can purchase properties and keep units at below market rates and avoid speculative transactions by developers who are trying to make a quick buck. We should explore changing zoning to allow owner-occupied units to build duplexes or a second unit on existing lots wherever reasonable.

Currently, the way Medford is conducting zoning and development gives a lot of leverage to big property developers. We should learn from mistakes of Somerville, Cambridge, and other cities to get ahead of the developers in negotiating strong Community Benefits Agreements where they pay significant sums to fix our city and invest in it in order to earn the privilege of developing new projects in our community. These agreements could include significant contributions to a community land trust (mentioned above).

What are your long term plans for expanding tax revenue?

We all know that Medford doesn’t have enough revenue to provide the level of city services that residents deserve and need. In the short-term, we can expand revenue by increasing our commercial tax base through new developments and ensuring that any new developments have strong Community Benefits Agreements that provide significant cash payments to the city. These are ways we can raise revenue now without looking at property taxes.

In the long-term, we shouldn’t take the possibility of debt exclusions for big projects, or even a Proposition 2½ override off of the table entirely. However, I would not support either option in the short-term. Any debt exclusion or tax override would need to come with the implementation of a residential/”owner-occupied” tax exemption and other tax exemptions to protect residents. I think it’s wrong that long-term residents currently pay the same tax rate as absentee landlords and out-of-town property developers.

We can create a plan that increases revenue overall, while making sure the burden isn’t shouldered by residents who are invested in Medford for the long-term.

Would you implement any changes around our city’s parking systems?

Yes. We should explore ending the contract with Republic Parking and bringing parking enforcement back in-house or getting a better contract. Enforcement is spotty at best. I do think the city has made some improvements since the beginning of that contract.

I also think the city should work to inform residents about the process to allow for permit parking as we face more commuters using city streets to park and then take public transportation.

Some infrastructure challenges that face our city are degraded roads, lead pipes, and gas leaks. What initiatives would you implement to address these issues?

We need more revenue to address these challenges and provide the level of city services that residents want and deserve. The main reason we can’t maintain roads, stop leaks, and replace pipes is that issues are popping up faster than they can be fixed. We need to hire more workers at the DPW, and take a more aggressive stance in investing in infrastructure.

We also have big infrastructure issues with several city and school buildings. We need to fix the Fire Station on a much faster timeline than currently exists.

What do you think should be done with the Malden hospital site?

As a resident of the Fulton Heights, the Malden hospital site redevelopment will have real impacts on my neighborhood and on our city. We need to make sure that any project at the Malden hospital site fits in with a larger vision and strategic plan for new development. There is an opportunity to redevelop the site responsibly, with some new residential housing, but also by expanding and protecting green space very near to Fellsmere Pond in Malden.

The current plan for hundreds of units, many of which will be high-income and not accessible to working families, is not good enough. Also, to my understanding, the developer is only offering mitigation and community benefits payments to Malden but none for Medford. We need to engage with the Malden leadership to make sure this development provides more open space, residential development accessible to working people, and payments to Medford to mitigate any negative impacts.

Now that Massachusetts has legalized recreational marijuana, would you encourage dispensaries in Medford? What would you do with the revenue?

We should encourage recreational marijuana dispensaries to open in Medford. This is an expanding industry with opportunities to bring new revenue into the city. If we don’t allow them to open, surrounding communities will do it instead.

The additional revenue could go to many of the issues discussed above, including infrastructure, public education, and affordable housing.


Civic Issues

What is your vision for promoting civic engagement and increasing voter turnout in our city?

As a city councilor, I commit to holding regular, publicly-posted office hours at locations across the city. I am committed to making sure that each person’s voice is heard and that we make big decisions together by including as many residents as possible.

City government also needs to improve outreach to communities impacted by city government decisions by ensuring well-attended public meetings and community forums. We have to invest in a budget to increase the number of city staff dedicated to communicating with residents about major meetings, issues, and upcoming decisions. This process needs to start early, making sure that councilors and other city officials are holding community forums and listening sessions long before a final decision needs to be made by a city board or the city council. We also need to budget for the translation of all city communications into the major languages other than English spoken by Medford residents.

Medford needs new city and school websites to bring the results of the work of city government more directly to the public. As you know, the city and school websites can be difficult to navigate and information isn’t posted in formats that allow people to see it and easily share it.

How can we increase citizen engagement in city council meetings?

City council meetings are dominated by the speeches of city councilors and the testimony of city government officials. Council meetings are also under-attended. We need more residents in the room, and we need councilors to provide a greater number of intentional opportunities for members of the public to speak.

In the room, we need to provide enough printed agendas for the full audience in attendance. These agendas should also make it clear when there are options for public comment, and outline exactly what a resident should do if they want to speak before the council. It can be intimidating to speak in front of the council and the audience, especially if it is a person’s first time. Public participation can be easily encouraged by providing clear instructions on how public comment will work and when it will occur in a specific meeting.

We also need to have more notices of city council meetings and how they can be viewed on public access TV and online. Even a simple, monthly flyer for city council meetings saying the dates, times, and where a person can watch on TV or online would be helpful. Much of this goes back to budgeting for a city communications staff that can do more substantial outreach regarding all public meetings and community forums.

What is your stance on city charter review?

I fully support charter review and would vote in favor of initiating the process. We need a unified city council that will vote unanimously for city charter review.


Bonus Question

Everyone grows up holding personal biases. Please share an anecdote about a time that your own biases were confronted, and how you responded.

When applying for college, I saw affirmative action as an obstacle to getting admitted to college. But I was largely ignorant of the discrimination and access barriers faced by students of color, and only saw affirmative action from my experience as a white person. Once I arrived on campus, I learned more about the serious inequities and long history of exclusion and discrimination students of color faced when applying to college. Confronted both in class and by my peers, I began to do serious research on the subject. As a writer for my college newspaper, I was able to publish research showing that, even at a public university like UMass Amherst, Black and Latinx students were seriously underrepresented, and much of that had to do with the repeal of many affirmative action policies in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then both personally and as part of my job, I have had the chance to strongly advocate for expanded affirmative action policies and to address the long history of racial discrimination that impacts college access.