Cynthia Holland, Town Council Candidate

Cynthia Holland, Line 1A
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Common Questions
During the pandemic, we’ve all spent much more time in Verona. What have you discovered about our town?
During the pandemic, I think the thing that I have noticed the most is really that all the reasons why we moved to the Forest Avenue section in the first place still hold true. The reason why we chose to live here was because it was extremely walkable, Verona Park, the downtown district, and really just those two elements were incredibly appealing to my husband and I. And so, walking became a huge part of our routine in the pandemic. We already had one dog. And we even went so far as to adopt a second dog, because everybody needs a friend in the pandemic. My husband and I are frequently walking around the neighborhood and really enjoying that aspect of it. Just going up and down the street seeing our neighbors and our front yards and walking through the neighborhoods, that’s, that’s a tremendous asset that I think we have here. We do have a downtown area that can serve as the heart of our community, we have the beautiful Verona Park, and we can really just walk and bike and anything.

What’s the biggest problem that Verona needs to solve in the next 4 years?
I would say that the biggest biggest issue is really the fact that we’re not prepared. We’re not prepared for the future. We have an outdated Master Plan, so we don’t have a plan for the future. Right now, the plan that we have is outdated. I’d really like us to re-examine that Master Plan. We don’t have asset management plans. Our utility infrastructure is out of date. We aren’t planning for the future, we don’t have utility systems in place today that can accommodate our current needs. We really need to be planning for those things and taking sustainable actions going forward based on those plans. I would really like to be part of that solution, because I think I bring a unique skill set that others on the Council don’t currently have. Neither do any of the other candidates, because I do have this environmental and utility background with a particular focus on infrastructure.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#3355FF” class=”” size=””]…the things that we can do to be more sustainable are really going to be planning for our future[/perfectpullquote]

What could Verona do to be more sustainable?
Sustainability is a really big part of what I do. If you just think about the main part of what the definition of sustainability is, it’s actually a two-part definition: It means the ability to be upheld and defended, but also the ability to maintain something at a current rate. And so the things that we can do to be more sustainable are really going to be planning for our future. How are we going to get to 2030? 2030 is huge in terms of climate change emissions targets but we can be doing so much here at the local level to really increase our sustainability. Everybody has experienced some level of flooding in this town and wet basements, and what we can do is really enhance the stormwater water management system that we currently have. I appreciate that the current Council has actually gone to the effort of enhancing our stormwater management rules here in town, but we can also enhance that system–that alone is a utility–and really having the planning and taking those proactive steps through the Master Plan through our asset management plans are all ways that we can move toward a 2030 goal that is more environmentally sustainable and is working more toward addressing some of the environmental concerns that impact all of us, our families, our children and our small businesses. Last but not least I would also add that community energy plans are a really novel and cost-saving way that we can include clean energy into our infrastructure and possibly benefit our community at large, not just the Council and municipal buildings, but possibly even the schools as well.

Verona’s municipal budget accounts for 26% of our tax bills and the Town Council’s recent budget workshops have given us a preview of what those might be in 2021. What concerns you about the new budget and why?
What concerns me about the new budget isn’t so much the budget itself: I do feel, after watching the workshops this past winter, like a lot of effort has been put into a thoughtful budget but what concerns me is going into the future. So not necessarily our current budget, the one that the Council is going to act upon before I would even take office. What concerns me is going forward. What you would have heard in some of those budget hearings is the potential for tax appeals and some of the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on economic growth and actually economic decline because of the closings we’ve had to do because of this extraordinary public health crisis really hurting revenues going forward seeing more businesses. Closing down on Main Street is a significant concern and ultimately will have an effect on the budget. And if we look back to the economic downturn that we had around 2008 with housing crisis, it was a little bit after the bubble burst that it really started hurting New Jersey and in particular northern New Jersey. I don’t know if we’ve actually hit that peak yet, or bottomed out yet is maybe the more appropriate way of saying it. I think with tax appeals and others we might still see more of an impact even next year after I’m on the Council and this was particularly concerning for me.

In February, Gov. Phil Murphy signed bills legalizing recreational marijuana use among adults. What should Verona do about legal marijuana?
Well, this goes back to my entire platform. It really comes down to planning, sustainable action and community resilience. Verona’s had an opportunity to plan and it’s unfortunate that even at last night’s Council meeting we’ve had to delay further discussions of it until our next Council meeting. There’s an opportunity for planning and preparation for how we would incorporate this into our municipality. The way of doing that is through really the municipal Master Plan process. That is really the guide for zoning, throughout our community, and that really needs to be re-imagined and re-examined, and the discussion about cannabis needs to be incorporated into that, but it also needs to be considered in terms of our larger environmental sustainability goals as well. One of the six classes of cannabis licenses that a municipality can license is for cultivation. There’s different ways of cultivating cannabis, and one of the things to really consider is whether or not indoor cannabis cultivation–not necessarily greenhouses but the kind of warehouse indoor cultivation, that has been seen elsewhere in densely populated suburban and urban areas–is something that’s really going to be consistent with Verona’s environmental sustainability goals because that has a huge load on the electric grid, which in turn increases carbon emissions. It also puts a lot of strain on water and wastewater utilities which in Verona are municipal systems that already are aged and really need to be upgraded, and whether or not that kind of additional strain is appropriate. So that’s why you need that planning, you need to have ordinances that are geared toward taking sustainable action, not exclusively in the environmental context but in ability to be maintained. And furthermore, looking at cannabis in terms of community resilience, because, fundamentally, the cannabis legislation was designed to right a social injustice. And I think that that should be considered as well. That’s something that people in Verona do care about, but we need to look at it overall, holistically, not in one narrow lane where we should ban it outright or we should allow it everywhere. We should be really thoughtful and considerate in our approach, and the way you get to a thoughtful conclusion is through planning.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#3355FF” class=”” size=””]…fundamentally, the cannabis legislation was designed to right a social injustice. And I think that that should be considered as well. That’s something that people in Verona do care about, but we need to look at it overall, holistically…[/perfectpullquote]

Candidate-Specific Questions
You’ve worked at the state and national level. Why get involved with local government?
Because, fundamentally, all government is local. It starts here. Most of my career has been at the state and national level, but I live in Verona, and you have to ask yourself, why did she commute every day down to Trenton, but live in Verona? I live here because my family loves it. My girls wouldn’t let me move them to Mercer or Middlesex county to be closer to Trenton. That wasn’t happening. We were going to stay here. And so after a year of the COVID-19 pandemic with walking my neighborhood and talking to my neighbors and walking my dogs, I thought this was an opportunity for me to give back. And in particular, an opportunity for me to show my girls that working women and moms can be actively engaged in politics and they can see it in a very real way because this is affecting their everyday lives.

What’s a community energy plan and how expensive would it be in Verona?
Community energy plans are actually fairly novel. The state is considering providing incentives to encourage more municipalities to do this, but it’s really a holistic look at your whole community. So when I say, holistic I’m not just talking about municipal buildings and whether or not we can put some solar here, and maybe you know net meter and lower, you know the police department’s energy bill or something like that. No, it’s really about the partnership between your community. So your residents, your businesses, your municipal buildings, your school district as well really looking at that whole community and what are the ways that you can work to incorporate clean energy and realize some of the economic benefits associated with clean energy. Some of that is going to be your energy efficiency or cost savings on your municipal buildings, but those can also be shared with the school district buildings. Some of it’s going to be about planning where you can integrate more renewable energy or environmentally sustainable and useful infrastructure. So that’s going to be your EV [electric vehicle] charging, it’s could even be other things too. For example, one of the things that I was recently talking to our DPW guys about was the fact that the BPU, the Board of Public Utilities which is the state agency that covers a lot of this, is actually providing an energy savings grant for water utilities, in particular municipal water utilities, to put in leak detection equipment, because by trying to mitigate your water main breaks, and water main leaks, you’re actually saving energy and, as an ancillary benefit of that, cutting carbon emissions because you’re reducing the pumping that’s necessary to provide that non-revenue water because you’re losing all of this water through your water main breaks, etc. So I’ve been communicating to our DPW about that and I think that’s a great opportunity. Those grants are for up to $500,000. So those are the types of things in these novel savings that you can achieve through a community energy plan, and again, it’s that whole community to really appreciating the resilience that you can gain not just by being in one narrow lane.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#3355FF” class=”” size=””]Golden rule here guys: You wouldn’t want your neighbor doing that to you, don’t do it to them[/perfectpullquote]

In response to the tree ordinance and the steep slope ordinance, some Verona residents said that they should be able to do what they want on their own property. How would you convince them otherwise?
I mean, in all honesty many people make that representation until their neighbor wants to do whatever their neighbor wants to do on their property. My approach to this is that we need to come to the realization that we are all in this together. We are one community, and we obviously need to work together. There needs to be more communication and collaboration. Because if you clear the steep slopes that storm water runs downhill, and it floods out the neighbors at the bottom of the hill, if you strip all of the trees from your property, then you’re no longer absorbing through their roots all of that stormwater, it’s going to contribute to flooding on your property, and on other people’s properties. You wouldn’t want your neighbor doing that to you. Golden rule here guys: You wouldn’t want your neighbor doing that to you, don’t do it to them. These are rules that are put in place for the broader public good, and that’s really what municipal government is intended to do. That being said I will, as a lawyer, throw in that there’s always opportunities for variances If you can justify your particular circumstances. As we know, certain ordinances can be waived and have been waived at different times and there’s always exceptions to every rule. So these things are not unduly restrictive, there’s always an opportunity if you can make your case for it.

What’s an asset management plan and what would it involve for Verona?
An asset management plan isn’t costly, in and of itself. It’s just a plan for how you’re going to manage your assets, and so in this instance, the assets I’m speaking about are really our critical infrastructure like these services that nobody ever wants to think about but you do when they’re not working properly: When the water main break in your backyard or in your front yard, you really care about it. When the wastewater treatment plant isn’t working or it’s inundated and there’s backflow that gets into your basement, all of a sudden you start thinking about these municipal systems. An asset management plan is recognizing that the infrastructure associated with those utilities, including the stormwater management system. Those are assets, infrastructure that’s an asset, and you’re planning for their ongoing management, You’re planning for their maintenance, their repair. You’re recognizing that they have a useful life, that they’re going to wear out just like you have to plan for the maintenance of your car, probably the maintenance of the systems in your own house. That’s what we need to be doing as a town and that ultimately leads to cost savings down the line because we can be recognizing when things are going to be wearing out and planning and budgeting for them accordingly. That’s really what the value of an asset management plan: You’re not surprised when these things wear out, you’re prepared for it.

There are a lot of gun owners in Verona. You’ve voiced support for “common sense” gun safety measures. What does that mean on a municipal level?
On a municipal level, my involvement in Moms Demand Action has really been about children’s safety, their Be SMART campaign, and so it would be kind of encouraging responsible gun ownership. My recollection, this is pre-pandemic, is that we were intending to actually launch it going forward but of course then we had the pandemic. But we did the National Night Out, and one of the things that I really appreciated was that we had our various different essential services there, and that there was a table and they had gun locks, and they talked about gun safety and things like that. That’s always been my role because I am from a family of hunters and gun owners and my father’s a Vietnam veteran. There have always been guns in my house. That doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to guns when I want responsible safety measures taken for them. My father and my uncles have always had safes and taken a lot of precautions to protect me and my cousins, and their grandchildren going forward. That’s really what I’ve looked for and those are the types of things that I think we can do at a municipal level. Increase that education, make sure that people take responsible actions.