Rena Getz talks trees, housing and a run for Newton City Council

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Newton Beacon is reaching out to all candidates for City Council for interviews and profile stories. The Newton Beacon is independent and nonpartisan, and coverage does not mean endorsement.

“You come out here and you get this huge breath of fresh air,” Rena Getz said with a smile as she walked her dog, Darwin, through the Hemlock Gorge Reservation in Newton’s Upper Falls area.

She left her other dog, Wally—who many think was named after biologist and anthropologist Alfred Wallace but was really named after the late rapper Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace, a.k.a “Notorious B.I.G.”—at home since he’s not as polite with strangers.

Getz is running for one of Newton’s two Ward 5 at-large City Council seats with a platform of preserving the ecosystems and beauty of the city.

Made in Spain

Getz was born and raised in Europe. Her parents were graduate students in Spain—her father from the United States and her mother from Colombia—and they lived in London for a little while when Rena was a child.

“I was speaking Spanish with an English accent,” she laughed.

The family then moved to Washington, D.C. and later to Bethesda, Md. Getz’s father worked for the Organization of American States (a coalition of Western hemisphere nations, similar to the United Nations, formed in the late 19th century).

Getz earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry at the University of New Mexico and later went for her PhD in biochemistry and neuroscience from George Washington University.

And she met and married Paul Geltman, a pediatrician. When Paul got a position in Massachusetts, they moved north to the Bay State.

The couple lived in Brookline for a while, and Getz spent about five years working in a research lab at Massachusetts General Hospital studying neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and the mechanisms of cell death.

Finding Newton

After she gave birth to her first daughter, Isabella, and while she was pregnant with her son, Julian, Getz realized their family was rapidly outgrowing their Brookline apartment.

“I had a stroller for Isa, and I was carrying it up two flights,” she recalled. “So it was like, ‘OK we’re done here.’”

And then Julian was almost born outside along a street on the way to the hospital.

“We made it to the emergency room, though, and that’s where it happened,” she mused. “Julian came so fast.”

After her son was born, Getz decided to step away from her career to raise her kids.

“It was really too much,” Getz said. “It was kind of a sad moment, but even in terms of my work, I was paying the childcare. And that equation just didn’t work.”

So she and her husband moved the family to Newton near Boston College and spent the next two years saving and looking for a permanent house in the city.

Getz and her family moved to their current house in Waban in 1997, right after her youngest child, Ana, was born. In fact, they call the house “Ana’s house” because they first saw the house the day after Ana was born.

“My realtor left me a message like, ‘How could you go into labor? You need to go see this house!’ So as soon as I got out [of the hospital 24 hours later, I was looking at this house,” Getz said.

Running for office

This election marks Getz’s third run for a City Council seat. The first time, in 2019, she chose to run for the ward seat because Paul Coletti was running for the at-large seat she had her eye on. When she came in third place by less than a percentage point, she decided to run a write-in campaign.

In 2021, she ran for an at-large seat but came up short in that race too.

Getz, like many running for City Council seats, ironically supports the idea of shrinking the Council by getting rid of an at-large seat from each ward.

“We don’t need this many city councilors. It just gets too chaotic,” she said.

Housing and VCOD

When Getz and her husband bought their house, home prices were low enough that families of all economic backgrounds could move into the city. Now, not so much.

“I live right across from the Waban Library, so I had everything. I had the walkable neighborhood school, the village center, and I had a yard, and I was like, ‘This is it.’ We were so happy,” Getz said. “But do it again today, that’s not going to happen. It’s cost-prohibitive for most people.”

Her own street, she added, has undergone a transformation as older homes have been demolished for newer, bigger, multi-million-dollar homes.

Rena Getz, seen here with her dog, Darwin, in the Hemlock Gorge Reservation, is running for one of two Ward 5 at-large Newton City Council seats. Photo by Bryan McGonigle

If elected, Getz said she wants to promote affordable housing. But she also doesn’t think re-zoning the city’s village centers, which the Village Center Overlay District plan would do, would do anything to bring down home prices in Newton.

“I actually think adaptive reuse is a really good idea, because I’ve always supported the idea of building on what you’ve got,” she said. “New construction is environmentally really costly. And concrete is incredibly environmentally taxing.”

Getz wants to see the city act cautiously when planning for more housing and consider long-term planning that factors in environmental impacts on the city—with things like traffic, parking and stormwater runoff.

“If you increase the size of a building and you increase the impermeable surface, where is the water going to go? It’s going to go off your lot,” Getz said. “So you really have to manage the interruption in the water cycle you’re causing by your new build.”

Eco-consciousness and sustainability

That passion for protecting the environment is Getz’s main drive in running for office.

Getz serves on the board of the Friends of Hemlock Gorge Reservation. The gorge is managed by the state, but Getz said she wants to preserve nature throughout the city.

“I see this as investing in ecosystems,” she said, looking out from Echo Bridge across the gorge. “I see this as critical in terms of salvation. This is so valuable for us as a community.”

She supports a proposed tree ordinance that would institute a fine for anyone cutting down trees on their property. In fact, she wants to strengthen it.

“Old trees are incredibly important. Tree canopy is incredibly important,” Getz continued, as Darwin whined to keep walking. “The only way that you can really get some people to understand the value is to monetize it and say, ‘OK this tree is doing X amount of work, or in terms of stormwater it’s doing X to pull away water that would otherwise cause flooding.'”

Climate change, Getz added, is only going to make that trees and stormwater more relevant to city planning.

“You have to be really holistic about systems, and you have to understand that the air, the water—it’s a bigger picture,” Getz continued. “We have to pre-plan when we do our zoning, and we have to bake it in.”

Newton’s election will be Nov. 7, with early voting starting on Oct. 28.