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Snowberg Seeks Student Representation

By Frank Dabek

The entrance of MIT student Erik C. Snowberg ’99 into this year’s race for Cambridge City Council has created a new interest on the part of students in Cambridge politics. In a way, the 22-year-old political rookie has already partially accomplished his goal -- improving student representation in local government.

“Students will never have any real power over MIT,” without government representation, Snowberg said of his motivation for his run for the council. Students “don’t have anything the administration wants” and their tuition is just a “drop in the bucket” he said, but the Institute must obey the local government.

The run doesn’t appeal to students exclusively, however -- “student interests and community interests are not that different,” he said. Snowberg points to affordable housing as an example of reform needed as much by students as by other Cambridge residents.

Despite endorsements from the Cambridge Civic Association and the Lavender Alliance, Snowberg has been criticized for a lack of experience in politics. The nascent Cambridge Progressive Forum, created as a progressive force to fill a perceived void left by the aging CCA, is also supporting him; Richard Clarey, one of the Forum’s organizers, lauded Snowberg for his positions on Town-Gown relations and rent stabilization.

In response, Snowberg, who is majoring in physics, earth atmospheric and planetary sciences, and mathematics, says that he has “held offices of responsibility” and has acquired the knowledge necessary to govern effective.

“It just takes commitment,” he said. In addition, the issues that Snowberg is focussing on are issues relating to students and universities which he understands well due to his position as a student, he says.

Affordable housing important

Snowberg is a supporter of returning rent control to Cambridge alongside other housing reforms.

“Housing is for homes, not for investment,” he said. Snowberg has proposed the creation of a landlord licensing board to govern those who rent and give tenants a forum to air disputes. He is in favor of an affordable housing trust fund partially supported by a tax on commercial developments. He would also like to require that a percentage of the units in newly constructed developments be affordable. Finally, Snowberg would work towards a just-cause eviction law.

On development, this election year’s other hot issue, Snowberg encourages the city council to “articulate a plan for the future of Cambridge.”

“Development is out of control,” he said, at the same time admitting that it was a reality that the city would “have to partner with,” because it provides such a large percentage of Cambridge’s tax base.

He sees some commercial retailers such as the oft-debated Gap doing business in the city alongside “community businesses.” To aid such merchants, Snowberg proposed a “community directory” to provide new residents with the names of small businesses in their neighborhood.

A moratorium on large developments is not a politically realistic response to development, he said.

Transportation also a plank

Improved late night transportation is another of the planks in the Snowberg campaign. Although the T will soon begin to run until 2:00 a.m. on weekends, he proposes working with the state to expand hours during the weekdays. Cambridge might also provide a shuttle to major areas of the city if the state is unwilling to run trains later at night, he said.

Alongside late-night transportation, Snowberg advocates increased support for bicyclists in Cambridge. While the city “supports bikes on paper,” more can be done. Snowberg, who said that bicycling is his main form of transportation, said that Cambridge streets are “just not safe” for bikes. Existing bike lanes are “really just double parking lanes,” he said, and he proposes elevating bike lanes or otherwise separating them from automobile traffic. Bikes might also be diverted off thoroughfares to sidestreets where large lanes would be reserved for them.

Snowberg is also campaigning for environmental issues. He serves as the president of Share a Vital Earth, an MIT environmental student group. Snowberg supports bringing more open spaces to the city, especially East Cambridge, by “creating space through down-zoning.” He also supports requiring new developments to be constructed of energy efficient materials.

Finally, Snowberg hopes to use technology, including the world wide web, to improve citizens’ access to government.