October Ward 2 Newsletter

It’s been a rough month for a lot of us, but regardless of the current climate there’s work to be done and progress to be made at the local level. Thanks for tuning in for this month’s ward 2 update!

  • TRANSPARENCY
    • UNION SQUARE DETOUR
    • RESISTAT WARD 2 MEETING
  • ACCOUNTABILITY
    • APPOINTMENTS REJECTED, NEW APPLICANTS SOUGHT
    • OPEN SPACE AND TREES
    • ELECTIONS NOVEMBER 6
    • OFFICE HOURS EVERY FRIDAY
  • AFFORDABILITY
    • UNION SQUARE DEVELOPMENT MEETING SCHEDULED
    • POTENTIAL BOARD OF ALDERMEN VOTE ON LAND PARCEL TRANSFER FOR UNION SQUARE OCT 22
    • 515 SOMERVILLE AVE HOTEL PROPOSED
    • ZONING ROUND 2 BEGINS NOW

There’s a lot more to talk about and a lot more on our docket, but I’ll hold the rest for next month. In the meantime, please do send me an email with any questions you have, or swing by my office hours every Friday to ask your questions in person!

Thanks,

-JT Scott

TRANSPARENCY

UNION SQUARE DETOUR

Beginning in November, there will be a major traffic detour in Union Square, lasting about six months. This is part of the long-planned infrastructure work on our sewer system intended to combat the chronic flooding in Union Square. Our engineering department has the single most comprehensive traffic management plan I’ve ever seen to try to handle the disruption, but it’s still going to be a pain.

The city will be holding a community meeting this coming Wednesday, October 10th, at 6:00pm at the Union Square Police Station (220 Washington St.), to present the details of the plan, answer questions, and take feedback. I’ve already been spreading the word on social media and expect heavy turnout for this, and I have confidence in Jess Fosbrook and the engineering team to answer the questions we all have.

More details on the project can be found at http://www.somervillema.gov/somervilleave

RESISTAT WARD 2 MEETING

The city communication department’s Ward 2 ResiStat meeting has been scheduled for October 30th at the Argenziano Cafeteria. Pizza and snacks at 6pm, meeting starts at 6:30pm. I look forward to hearing the updates. While we’re talking about resistat, though: the only way the city can get data for making good decisions is by analyzing 311 calls and reports.

I have been loving the 311 App on my phone, and use it all the time to report potholes, broken sidewalks, and rat sightings. Even though I walk everywhere and spend time on every street in Ward 2, more eyes and ears are better. Please join me in reporting all the issues you see in Ward 2!

ACCOUNTABILITY

APPOINTMENTS REJECTED, NEW APPLICANTS SOUGHT

As Chair of the Board’s Committee on Confirmation of Appointments and Personnel Matters, I have worked diligently to reform the entire appointments process here in the city of Somerville since being elected. That hard work is paying off as we are seeing some long overdue changes – and accountability – on our appointed boards. This was one of the big themes I heard from voters during the campaign and during the first several months of my term, and I’m glad to be delivering on my commitment to you.

At our August 28th meeting, the Board voted with me in denying the re-appointment of one member from each of the Planning Board and the Somerville Redevelopment Authority. Several others are stepping down and declining their re-appointments. The era of rubber stamps at City Hall is over; the time for accountability has come. I’m proud of this work, but it has just begun. With an active – and activist – board, we can do more. I look forward to it.

I thank the departing members for their long service on these boards, and look forward to new appointments by the Mayor who bring fresh perspective to these boards and who reflect the priorities of the Somerville of today.

Applications are currently open for 8 different and vital commissions, and I encourage you to apply! If you would like to serve on one of these commissions, find out more at https://www.somervillema.gov/commissionopenings

  1. Planning Board
  2. Zoning Board of Appeals
  3. Somerville Historic Preservation Commission
  4. Design Review Committee
  5. Somerville Redevelopment Authority
  6. Condominium Review Board
  7. Fair Housing Commission
  8. Somerville Affordable Housing Trust

OPEN SPACE AND TREES

As you know, I’ve been pushing hard on the issue of the ongoing tree slaughter in Somerville on public lands, which has led to 2017-2018 being the worst year in over a century for tree removal in Somerville. A public hearing was held last week which saw moving and technically detailed testimony from many community advocates. (The presentations can be seen here: http://somervillecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=2778 – I recommend seeing Chris Dwan’s presentation in particular if you only have time to see one.)

I’m not done pushing yet. In addition to the great work done by the BOA in approving $150,000 for new tree plantings this year and creating a new position for a senior Urban Forestry coordinator, I am glad to say that the process of creating a new park in Ward 2 (on Washington St) is moving forward! The appraisal for the property is expected to be complete soon, and I look forward to beginning neighborhood design meetings as soon as possible.

With determination, working together, we can move forward towards a greener Somerville and actually begin to make substantive progress towards our Somervision goal of 125 acres of new open space. But in order to do that, the administration needs to have the political will to proceed – and we’ll need to hold firm to these promises to do better. As part of that, I’ll be supporting legislation that prevents us from replacing any green and open spaces we have now with more buildings. I look forward to it, and am glad to be delivering in a small way on this important commitment for the residents of Ward 2.

ELECTIONS NOVEMBER 6

The ultimate exercise in political accountability comes at the ballot box, and elections are coming on November 6. The deadline for voter registration has passed, but please do join me in voting next month! A lot of important ballot initiatives are at stake, as well as the Governor’s race and the return of our senator to the federal legislature.

OFFICE HOURS EVERY FRIDAY

Every Friday morning you can find me on my front porch at 269 Washington Street from 8am-10am. Please come down and visit, chat with me about anything that’s on your mind in Ward 2 or Somerville in general. It’s a good time! As the weather gets colder I may move inside, but my door is open to you.

AFFORDABILITY

UNION SQUARE DEVELOPMENT MEETING SCHEDULED

The endless march towards high-rise construction in Union Square continues. Despite the incredible work of talented Somerville residents and activists to propose substantive changes, there’s no sign that feedback is being incorporated – and there is still no word on a substantive Community Benefits Agreement. Regardless, the developer is pushing the process forward: the latest plans are going to be presented on Wednesday, October 17th, 6:00-8:00pm, at the Argenziano School Cafeteria.

This meeting will be very different from previous sessions, as required by both myself and Ward 3 Alderman Ben Ewen-Campen. There will be a presentation at the start, followed by a time for Q&A that will give residents a chance to hear what questions their neighbors are asking and get a sense of what kind of changes are possible.

I’ve gotten a commitment from the developer (US2) that they will post their plan information online for review by the public at least one week before the meeting, and I hope they will honor that commitment. I am sure that with advance exposure to the designs, the brilliant and invested residents of Ward 2 will come prepared to offer substantive and critical feedback for this plan – a plan that will shape Union Square for decades to come.

POTENTIAL BOARD OF ALDERMEN VOTE ON LAND PARCEL TRANSFER FOR UNION SQUARE OCT 22

Though I have to personally recuse myself from the deliberation and vote on this item (given how close my property is to the development), the Board will be considering once again whether to transfer one final parcel the developers need for their high-rise complex on October 22. This is the last leverage point that the BOA has to ensure that a CBA is signed and that the development meets the design standards for Union Square, so it’s important that my colleagues hear whether or not you support moving the development forward at this point.

Please be sure to review the plans and send email to the Board with your thoughts about what you see and what you want. I am hopeful that my colleagues will require that the needs of the residents be met before approving this major land transfer.

515 SOMERVILLE AVE HOTEL PROPOSED

Mentioned earlier, this is a proposal for the long-empty lot on Somerville Ave near the Wings and UPS store. In stark contrast to prior ideas, this proposal is for a hotel that will bring around $500k in affordable housing contributions over $100k for Somerville’s new job training program.

In addition, it’s been a really landmark example of what can be done when working closely with the neighborhood and the developers to ensure that the neighborhood’s priorities are respected. After the first set of plans were submitted, lots of us dug in to provide feedback and the developer came back with a substantially improved plan that pulled the building back off the sidewalks, planted over twice as many trees, and is providing a much improved environment for pedestrians. In addition, they worked with us to change the driveway arrangements to mitigate the traffic impacts on an already congested part of town.

Even more exciting: the development includes high energy-efficiency standards and looks like it may become the first major construction in Somerville that includes ALL NATIVE PLANTINGS in its landscape design.

All in all, it seems like a major win for affordability and our ecology, and I am hopeful that we’ll see movement on that site soon. There’s still a long way to go – including public hearings at the ZBA and more meetings to be held – but I’m excited by this new way of working to ensure development serves the community and instead of just prioritizing the profit margins of developers.

ZONING ROUND 2 BEGINS NOW

We’ve been discussing several proposed ordinances around increasing the amount of open space and open space funding that high rise development (over 6 stories, commercial or residential) provide as part of their projects. It’s my hope that amendment is passed quickly, before we finish the full zoning overhaul.

But speaking of that, I’m glad to announce that the Zoning Overhaul that we spent so much time on at the start of 2018 is back with a new revision for consideration. The map should be in much better shape now that I’ve spent a great deal of time working closely with the planning department over the break, and we’ll be taking it up as a full Board later this month.

What I’m learning through the many meetings I’ve had all over the ward on development projects is that height doesn’t bother neighbors as much as the oppressive effects of having a building with insufficient setbacks on the sides and front. I’m not alone in embracing more height and density – and being willing to reduce parking requirements – in exchange for more room on the ground for humans, grass, and trees.

Remaining concerns in the zoning for me include maximizing green space around new buildings and ensuring that our neighborhoods can still be home to small businesses that enrich our daily lives without sacrificing the feel of old buildings that stand a bit off the sidewalk. The hotel at 515 Somerville is an example of how we can do better in design that considers our ambient environment, and I want to ensure that our zoning is written with an eye to getting more of that kind of thoughtful development.

I am going to be pushing hard and hope my colleagues will join me in approving this new ordinance before the end of the year!

There’s a lot more to talk about and a lot more on our docket, but I’ll hold the rest for next month. In the meantime, please do send me an email with any questions you have, or swing by my office hours every Friday to ask your questions in person!

Thanks,

-JT Scott

Sept 3 2018 Newsletter

Hello Ward 2! I have been enjoying the summer tour of all 11 block parties thrown in the ward so far, and hope we can get a few more in before the weather turns on us. It has been a good summer, but I’ve also been inundated with calls about the massive increase in rats, the astounding traffic congestion surrounding Union Square, the continued tree clear-cutting that is making 2017-2018 the most dramatic period of tree loss in a generation, and the stall-out of the Beacon Street Renovation.

Every Labor Day is an opportunity to remember the 30 workers who died in the Pullman Strike of 1894 – the origin of Labor Day. (That strike began because wages were cut, but rents remained too high and outpaced the workers’ earnings.) I hope you’ve all enjoyed the holiday weekend and are ready for the start of school; I know my family is excited!

With the first session of the year completed and the summer hiatus of the Board of Aldermen complete, we’re back to work at City Hall. Our first meeting back (on Thursday Aug 23) was a big one, and in it I put forward several initiatives and highlighted some major problems that the city must address.

The video is available of that meeting (as well all of our meetings including Committees) online, and my agenda items start around the 2hr 4min mark: http://somervillecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/SplitView.aspx?Mode=Video&MeetingID=2748&Format=Agenda

In this newsletter, I’m going to hit the highlights in Accountability and Transparency. The next newsletter will come back to Affordability, where there’s also lots of exciting activity that will ramp up towards the end of the year. In addition to the big picture items, there’s plenty to stay on top of with local issues including neighborhood developments and construction projects. Thanks for staying engaged!

Taken together, all of it adds up to a vision I have for what Somerville can be – a progressive and active city that prioritizes people and green space over developers and profits. Somerville can be a city that takes seriously its responsibility to provide services and rejects the neoliberal notion that private companies will deliver the benefits that our citizens need.

ACCOUNTABILITY

  • Tree Slaughter Continues
  • 2018: Year of the Rat?
  • Accountability for Appointed Boards: Redevelopment Authority and Planning Board changes

TRANSPARENCY

  • Sexual Harassment Stonewall
  • Beacon St Stallout
  • Recreational Marijuana Hearing Coming Soon
  • Bird Scooters Update
  • Office Hours Every Friday

OPEN SPACE

  • Requisition for New Park in Ward 2

And finally, ELECTIONS TUESDAY SEPT 4.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Tree Slaughter Continues

As we enter Fall of 2018 we are faced with the ghoulish prospect of having lost nearly 15% of the trees that stand on publicly-owned land in just the past 2 years. Despite City Hall’s pride in having hired an arborist two years ago and being declared a “Tree City”, those claims ring hollow as we see our trees clear-cut all over the city with insufficient plans to replace them.

This summer brought a horrific clear-cut of trees along the GLX right-of-way – far in excess of the plans presented to the public. In addition, the full scope of the High School Reconstruction became clear, as another large grove of trees was cleared to make way for an artificial turf field. Despite my Board Orders as far back as April to provide transparency as to how many trees are being removed and how many are planned to be replaced, that data has still not been provided.

Through all of this, the Mayor has declined to appoint civilian oversight in the form of the Urban Forestry Commission that the Board of Aldermen created by law in October of 2017. We are now 9 months from that time, and the 15-member commission is unstaffed and unappointed. There are many private citizens clamoring for change and ready to help the city get their hands around the problem, but their voices go unheard and messages go unanswered.

One final note: there is some discussion about bringing forward an ordinance to prevent private homeowners from removing trees on their property – and I think that is misguided. It is the height of arrogance to oversee the wholesale removal of trees on public lands and then point to homeowners and claim that they are the problem. I am opposed to putting more legal burden on citizens when our public agencies cannot even follow the laws related to tree removal – and will remain opposed until I see some real accountability and change in how the city handles its own public trees. Let’s clean up our act at City Hall.

If you are also care deeply about this issue, I encourage you to get in touch with Somerville Friends of the Urban Forest – a group that is doing some great data-driven work and advocacy around our rapidly vanishing tree canopy, and what we can do to save and restore it. (Email them at somfuf@gmail.com) Their recent article in the Somerville Times (https://www.thesomervilletimes.com/archives/85808) details the issue clearly, and spells out concrete policy actions our administration can take right now to address the problem.

2018: Year of the Rat?

I’ve been swamped with calls about rat problems in Ward 2 this summer, and I agree; this may be the year of the rat. The construction in our sewers, streets, and in many properties are disturbing the rat population and pushing them to find new homes – and our city is not responding to the problem as effectively as I’d like to see.

I spent time over the summer working with ISD on their ticketing and enforcement program for problem landlords, and have personally gotten involved to help get neglected properties to clean up overgrowth and rat havens in response to neighbor complaints. In addition, I am pushing to make our homeowner-assistance program more aggressive. It’s a disgrace when our annual assistance budget for baiting private properties is underspent by about half during a time when residents are being overwhelmed with rats.

I’ll continue to work with Ward 1 Alderman Matt McLaughlin’s Rodent Issues Committee to follow up on taking a more proactive stance to this problem and making sure that we feel comfortable in our streets and backyards.

Accountability for Appointed Boards: Redevelopment Authority and Planning Board changes

One major issue I heard constantly during the campaign was dissatisfaction from residents with the actions taken by the Mayor’s appointed Boards and Commissions. These members were frequently serving on long-expired terms and with questionable qualifications – and the actions they took with regard to permissive stances on big developers was deeply disturbing to constituents. This was particularly stark in Union Square and with the FRIT/Assembly Square affordable housing waiver, though the list of examples is long.

I’m happy to say that Accountability is coming to these Boards. Just last week, the Aldermen’s Committee on Confirmation of Appointments recommended rejection of the re-appointment of several members of the Planning Board and Somerville Redevelopment Authority, and several other members have resigned rather than stand for re-appointment. I am hopeful that the Mayor will move with all due haste to find more qualified candidates and bring them forward for appointment, so that we can get the kind of thoughtful and qualified scrutiny these major projects deserve.

I am standing and delivering on my promise to bring Accountability to City Hall. Thank you for your help!

TRANSPARENCY

Sexual Harassment Stonewall

I hope you got to read my recent letter to the Somerville Times summarizing the unacceptable state of affairs in our city’s handling of sexual harassment policy and the depressing lack of transparency in response to my requests for information. I won’t belabor the point here, but I urge you to read the article and send a message to the Board – and the Mayor – calling for immediate action. (http://www.thesomervilletimes.com/archives/85943)

I stand with the Somerville Women’s Commission and all of #MeToo in demanding that we do better to address this pervasive issue. If you want to help, please join the Women’s Commission at one of their upcoming meetings; they’re always looking for more talented and driven women to help push the conversation forward. (Meetings happen the Third Tuesday of each month at 7:00 pm, and are posted here at this link.

Beacon St Stallout

While the Communications Department (including Jackie Rossetti) have stepped up their focus on Beacon Street and are maintaining an up-to-date site for progress reports at https://www.somervillema.gov/beaconstreet, the news still isn’t good. This is Somerville’s own “Big Dig”. The expectation was set that 2018 would finally see the closure of this project, but with months of the construction season lost many residents are seeing the writing on the wall: this project may remain unfinished for another year.

When it comes to life safety measures like lighting and signage, this just isn’t acceptable. At major intersections along Beacon Street, especially on the sourthern end, signage and markings have been neglected for years “just waiting for the work to be completed” – and people are at risk. Likewise, the lack of signage and incomplete state of construction on the north end of Beacon is actively causing vehicular accidents.

Members of the Somerville Bikes Committee have sent the Mayor’s Office a very concise letter summarizing the unsafe conditions that must be remedied before the construction season ends, and I was more than willing to present that letter in our last Board of Aldermen meeting. I hope that we’ll see some response soon.

In the meantime, there will be yet another meeting of the Public Utilities and Public Works Committee on Tuesday, Sep 11 at 7pm at the Argenziano School cafeteria. Thanks to Chairman Bill White for scheduling this meeting and helping us continue to pursue answers when it comes to this ill-fated project.

Recreational Marijuana Hearing Coming Soon

While I voted against a “moratorium” on recreational marijuana sales given the overwhelming support Somerville voters gave that ballot initiative, there is good news – the zoning is ready, and the regulatory framework is currently being proposed. The Zoning proposal for recreational marijuana will have a public hearing this Thursday, September 6, at 6pm at City Hall in the Aldermanic Chambers.

A link to the Zoning Ordinance can be found here, if you would like a little light reading on the topic: http://somervillecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=4&ID=11357&MeetingID=2758

Bird Scooters Update

Bird was definitely the word for a few weeks in early August, as a tech company dumped electric scooters on our streets unannounced. The City has since gotten them to pull back, and is working on establishing a regulated relationship that ensures the company works closely with city departments to deliver safe and quality service on our sidewalks and streets – public property that we all share.

I am excited about the possibilities that these scooters have to bridge a transportation divide and provide services to neighborhoods that lack bus and T connections. In many ways, they could be part of a larger solution for transit-deprived areas. But at the same time, I feel that it is incumbent on us to continue to invest in and improve transit infrastructure at the state and municipal level – scooters aren’t going to fix every problem.

When a new “disruptive” business comes to town, it’s important to be sure that the disruption is one that is furthering our common goals. For me, I want to make sure that the businesses we partner with are paying their employees a living wage and using responsible manufacturing practices. More locally, I have the concern here in Ward 2 that our sidewalks are quite narrow – and our neighbors who need walkers or wheelchairs already have enough challenges with the condition of those sidewalks without scooters in their way as well. I also want to be confident that the companies are actually working with the city to deliver on the promises they make: in this case, to keep the sidewalks clear, pick up the scooters daily, and make payments to give back to the residents of the city where they’re operating.

While Bird has promised that here (https://www.bird.co/sos-pledge-mar272018) my understanding is that they made no such approach to Somerville before dropping scooters on our streets – and there is no mechanism in place to gather those funds or monitor compliance with their other promises. As a small business owner who started up here in Somerville – with a goal of changing the world for the better – I know that navigating city regulations can be challenging, particularly with an unusual new business. I still think it’s important to talk with our neighbors and make decisions together that work for all of us.

It’s my hope that a scooter company (be it Bird or some of their competitors) will approach the city and work with us to ensure that we can deliver creative (and disruptive) options that work for all of Somerville.

There’s still no word on when Birds will flock back to our streets but I’ll let you know as soon as I hear about a deal being reached, and I appreciate the emails I received from constituents about the whole affair.

Office Hours Every Friday

Every Friday morning you can find me on my front porch at 269 Washington Street from 8am-10am. Please come down and visit, chat with me about anything that’s on your mind in Ward 2 or Somerville in general. It’s a good time!

OPEN SPACE

Requisition for New Park in Ward 2

While we’ve heard about the goals in Somervision, the goal that gets no attention and no progress is Open Space. As we look at land being snatched up for development at ever-higher prices, and see our major projects sacrifice open plazas for denser condo development, I feel it is vital that we stand up and demand a different set of priorities from local government.

It’s easy to say we need new parks, but who wants to make one?

I say we need to do better, and I’m here with part of the answer. That’s why I put forward an order to build a park at 217 Somerville Ave, on the site of the former American Legion Post. Abandoned for quite some time, it is now a home only to rats and vermin, overgrown and untended by the new owner.

Many thanks to Miss Rose Caterino who was the first to mention to me how the old Post across the street from her should be a park – a place for kids to play, and for citizens to pause for a moment in a green space during the day. She’s exactly correct; this should be a park.

While a developer bought the land for $1.2M just a month ago (hoping I’m sure for 5 stories of luxury condos) I think we can do better. We can and should purchase that land and finally bring a park to the east side of Union Square. No more waiting for “master developers” to meet our civic needs! It’s time for us to actually move forward on creating green spaces here in Somerville.

Please join me in calling on our mayor to take the necessary steps to ratify my Board Order and move forward with the creation of this park!

ELECTIONS TUESDAY SEPT 4

Tomorrow is Election Day for our local Primaries! I hope you all get out and vote, no matter who you vote for. If you’re interested in my personal ballot markings, I have laid them out on Facebook at this link. https://www.facebook.com/jts1486/posts/10156394930890853

Thanks for reading, and please do reach out anytime!

-JT Scott
www.jtforward2.com

June 18 2018 Ward 2 Newsletter

As we get into Budget season and down to the end of the school year, there’s plenty of activity in Ward 2 before the summer legislative break.

ACCOUNTABILITY
BOA requests independent counsel to resolve appointments logjam

TRANSPARENCY
Budget Season Underway

AFFORDABILITY
Community Land Trust Task Force meetings
Clarendon Hill project moving forward

LOCAL MEETING ROUNDUP
Union Square Neighborhood Council June 18 @ 6:30
Development – 515 Somerville Ave update
Development – J.J. Sullivan building under agreement

ACCOUNTABILITY: BOA requests independent counsel to resolve appointments logjam

As the city’s legislative branch, the Board of Aldermen has the authority to confirm (or deny) appointments made by the mayor to many city positions including most department heads, many boards and commissions, and all public safety employees. This year we have undertaken an effort to improve this process and actually undertake a thorough independent review of these candidates.

Unfortunately, the administration does not feel that the Board has the authority to review any documents related to job performance or sexual harassment incidents (in the event of promotion or re-appointment), or any of the application or background materials for new hires. In the case of certain Special Police officers, the administration insists that we are not even allowed to view a resume before approving these armed public safety officers for duty with full police powers.

Without access to information about the appointments presented, this Board of Aldermen can be nothing more than a “rubber stamp”. We were elected to Do Better than that.

As a result, I put forward a measure in last week’s Board meeting pursuant to Chapter 2, Art 4, Div 4, Sec 2-121 of the City Ordinances, that the Board of Aldermen authorizes and requires the employment of other counsel to issue legal opinion and assist in resolving the questions of the Confirmation of Appointments and Personnel Matters Committee around sequencing of appointments and confirmation, and on release of requested information from the Administration for consideration by the Committee.

We are in new territory here – and the Mayor has long denied all other requests for separate legal counsel to the Board. I will let you know how the matter progresses, but it is my hope that the Board will shortly have a lawyer who can help resolve this disagreement, provide the Board with the relevant information, and move all of these confirmation processes forward swiftly.

TRANSPARENCY: Budget Season Underway

We are in the middle of the annual Budget review, where the Board is required to move line-by-line through the proposed spending by the mayor for each department in the city. The FY 2019 general fund budget is $241.7 million, a 3.9% overall increase from the 2018. Much of that increase comes in the school budget, which would increase by 5.99%.

There will be a Public Hearing on the FY 2019 Budget on Tuesday, June 26, 6 PM in the Aldermen’s Chambers in City Hall. This is an opportunity to have the full attention of the BOA & the Administration for two minutes. (Perhaps the need for an allocation for legal counsel for the Board of Aldermen, for example.)

Unfortunately, by state law, the BOA is prohibited from adding anything to the budget: all we can do is cut what the Mayor has decided to fund. With that said, it’s an important exercise in transparency and I’m learning a lot about how the city manages its money, and I encourage you to follow along online.

The proposed FY 2019 Budget is posted here https://www.somervillema.gov/fy19budget and meetings are being recorded and broadcast live nightly almost every night in June.

AFFORDABILITY: Community Land Trust Task Force meetings
I’m pleased to announce that the Community Land Trust Task Force has already met twice in June, and is pushing forward aggressively to investigate the many options in how to found, administer, and fund a sustainable and independent Land Trust here in Somerville.

I’m very excited to be working with this diverse and dedicated team of 14 community members to push forward this powerful vehicle for increasing affordability in Somerville. Our goal is to provide a comprehensive report and recommendations before the end of 2018 so that we can get a Community Land Trust established and working in 2019.

AFFORDABILITY: Clarendon Hill project moving forward
As I wrote about in my last newsletter, I had grave reservations about the plan proposed for Clarendon Hill. In short, it was a sale of 2 acres of state-owned land to a private developer and use a perversion of the 40B provisions to avoid their 20% affordability requirement in their cloistered luxury buildings. It would also allow them to tear down 216 units of public housing and displace the current residents for 7 years while they build around 250 luxury apartments before the Housing Authority could begin replacing the public housing. In addition, many of the replacement public housing units would cease to be state-funded, and would instead have federal money attached, which would invite Donald Trump’s ICE agents into our public housing projects here in Somerville. All of that would happen without requiring living wage employment standards during construction and granting an exemption from the anti-corruption public procurement processes required for every project on public land.

It was a hard pill for my colleagues to swallow, and for me it was too much. While I am dedicated to having Somerville step up and create more public housing, this is just a giant windfall for a private developer who has already announced – before construction – that they plan to flip this luxury building as soon as possible and walk away from Somerville with a massive profit. Given the timelines presented, I fear none of the current residents of Clarendon Hill will ever actually return to Somerville.

After working hard to get the city and the developer to compromise on a better deal – and seeing no movement whatsoever on the developer’s position – I made one final offer: deed restrict an additional 25 units indexed to income, even at 140k of income per year. I asked the developer to simply promise that they would not increase the rents above the level that even someone making $140,000 per year could afford.

The developer refused to do even this, saying that this would directly affect their expected profits. If that doesn’t tell you volumes about this developer, and how bad this deal is for the residents of Somerville, I’m not sure what would.

In the end, I voted NO to moving forward because of all the reasons above – hoping that my colleagues would agree, and that we’d either get a concession from the developer or find a more equitable way to get this public housing built. Only 2 of my colleagues joined me, and so the proposal now moves to the State House for approval, where I expect it will meet strong opposition from our state legislative delegation (although it enjoys the support of Governor Baker, of course).

I hope it results in housing for the current residents of Clarendon Hills. I hope it turns out better than I suspect. I’ve been wrong before, and I expect to be wrong again – and I hope this is one of those times – but based on everything I saw this was absolutely the right vote to take and I stand by it.

LOCAL MEETING ROUNDUP

Union Square Neighborhood Council June 18 @ 6:30

The Union Square Neighborhood Council is hosting a neighborhood meeting today, 6/18, at 6:30 pm at the Argenziano School cafeteria, in order to update the community on the Council’s progress in training for and negotiating a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with the Union Square developer, US2. The meeting is open to all, and I’m looking forward to hearing about how things are going!

Development – 515 Somerville Ave update
In my last newsletter I mentioned an upcoming meeting about 515 Somerville Ave. That meeting happened, but based on feedback there the developer has cancelled another meeting originally scheduled for tonight to “go back to the drawing board” on their proposal. I will let you know when I hear that a new plan is ready for consideration. I hope this parcel will see some movement on a positive use soon!

Development – J.J. Sullivan building under agreement
Another major parcel is under agreement in Ward 2 – this time the J.J. Sullivan building and parking complex that stretches between Somerville Ave and Lake Street. It’s about 21,000 sqft. They are just starting to look at the potential build out of the site and beginning to talk to the planning department about it. I’d like to make sure that they are talking to the neighbors as well to make sure that you are part of the conversation as the concept for the building comes together.

At a first approximation it may include a lot of commercial space on the ground level and 60 units (12 affordable) above them, potentially arranged in “courtyard” or “piazza” fashion with retail on the street frontages as well as the interior – like Bow Market – with housing on top.

I think it could be a very exciting opportunity to get this developer to create a pedestrian mid-block crossing from Somerville to Lake and connect two existing maker/innovation spaces – Fringe and Bow Market – and work with the city Planning and Transportation departments to get mid-block crosswalks and a raised crossing installed on Lake St that could significantly slow through traffic.

A meeting may happen on July 11th or July 12th – and I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on that and any other upcoming meetings in Ward 2!

Happy summer…
-JTS

Ward 2 Construction Update

I hope you all had a peaceful and reflective Memorial Day weekend.

Construction activities continue to ramp up as we enter the unofficial beginning of summer. I’m working on revamping my email lists to create different segments for folks who like traffic and construction updates, folks who want legislative updates, folks who just want to know about upcoming meetings, etc. But for now, I wanted to put out a quick note about all the construction that will be happening this week so you can plan ahead.

Below you will find contractor’s reports of planned construction activities for the week of 29 May 2018 in and around Ward 2, as provided by our Engineering Department. Major activities include:

Pavement Management Program – D&R Paving

  • Pavement milling (the act of removing the top 2-inches of old pavement prior to final paving) will take place on Lowell Street between Broadway and Somerville Avenue requiring parking restrictions and road closure. Please note that detours for this work and work on Cedar Street will happen simultaneously, so higher than normal volumes on Willow, Central and Porter Streets can be expected next week.
  • Pavement milling will take place on Bolton Street between Oak and Houghton requiring parking restrictions and road closure.
  • Pavement milling will take place on White Street between Elm Street and the Cambridge Line requiring parking restrictions and road closure.

Beacon Street Road Reconstruction – MassDOT and Newport Construction

  • Miscellaneous sidewalk construction on Beacon Street between Roseland Street and Oxford Street requiring parking restrictions.
  • Full depth roadway construction on Beacon Street between Dickinson and Concord requiring parking restrictions and alternating traffic.

Gas Main Replacement – Eversource

  • Eversource gas main replacement in Union Square including the Plaza and Sanborn Court requiring parking and traffic restrictions.
  • Eversource gas main replacement on Oak Street between Houghton and Prospect Streets requiring parking restrictions and road closure to non-abutters. Note that Eversource work on Oak Street will not start until D&R Paving is complete with Bolton Street.

Somerville Avenue Utility and Streetscape Improvements – Barletta Heavy Division

  • Excavation of test pits on Somerville Avenue between Bow and Medford Streets requiring parking and traffic restrictions.
  • Preconstruction surveys.
  • Removal of nine trees, generally in the area of the Plaza.

Gore Street Cambridge Sewer – J. Derenzo

  • Relocation of water main in Medford Street between South Street and the Cambridge city line requiring water shutoffs, parking restrictions, and one-way alternating traffic. The coordination of this work with GLX and activities on Gore Street, Cambridge require extended working hours including 7 to 7 on weekdays and 9 to 7 on Saturdays.

If you foresee or encounter any issues with construction activities – or if you see road-affecting utility work that isn’t on this list –  please contact Jesse Moos at 617.625.6600 x5419. Also please note that they now have an email address construction@somervillema.gov that goes to select staff in both the Engineering and Communications departments. That email address is the best one for anyone with construction-related feedback or questions to use.

Thanks,

-JTS

May 20 2018 Ward 2 Newsletter

After another eventful month, here’s another Ward 2 newsletter!

ACCOUNTABILITY
Appointments Manual Draft in Review
Clarendon Hill Development Should Be Held to High Standards
New Engineering Positions Leading to Increased Oversight

TRANSPARENCY
Public Hearings This Week
Zoning Overhaul Update

AFFORDABILITY
“Developer Tax” Approved
Community Land Trust Tax Force Forming
Victory for Tenants at Millbrook Apartments

LOCAL MEETING ROUNDUP
Memorial Week Events
Development – 515 Somerville Ave

PERSONAL UPDATE
House Fire in Ward 2

ACCOUNTABILITY

Appointments Manual Draft in Review

I wrote at length in the previous newsletter about the process we’re undergoing to reform the Appointments and Confirmation process, and am pleased to report that we have delivered to the administration our draft “manual” – expectations as a Board of the information needed to review candidates for Appointment and Promotion. We’re still awaiting the administration’s official response, but look forward to working with them to ensure that the process is transparent and comprehensive. Somerville deserves to know that your public servants are being properly considered by your elected representatives.

We do have an extensive backlog of appointments to consider, and have provided a schedule that will ensure that the most critical positions are considered quickly once the administration provides the requested materials for review.

Clarendon Hill Development Should Be Held to High Standards

In Ward 7, the Clarendon Hill public housing project is 70 years old and failing its residents, who are currently suffering in horrible conditions. It is time for us to step up as a city and state to renovate this housing and fulfill our commitment to the residents of this housing project.

Currently before the Board is a Home Rule Petition that would allow the city and state to effectively sell 2 acres of public land to a private developer and allow them to build 253 luxury apartment units on the site, using the proceeds to help fund a portion of the reconstruction of the Clarendon Hill public housing units that currently sit there. (It is technically a 99-year renewable and assignable land lease – functionally a sale.) While an argument can be made that this is a responsible way to obtain funding to renovate public housing units, the problem (as usual) is in the further details of this deal.

In this deal, a perversion of the intent of our state affordable housing law (MGL 40B) is being used to justify a reduction in the number of affordable housing units built in the luxury for-profit apartment buildings in a deal reminiscent of the shameful FRIT Assembly Row “compromise”. Of the 278 privately-built units planned at Clarendon Hill, only 25 would be subsidized and affordable – a far cry from the 55 units required by our 20% Affordable Housing law.

In addition, this Home Rule Petition would allow the private developer to avoid the responsibility to pay prevailing wage standards for the construction labor on their project. As a project only being made possible by the agreement to use public land for a private for-profit development, I find this to be extremely difficult to justify.

We have an obligation to hew to our principles. We have failed the residents of Clarendon Hill by failing to maintain this public housing in good condition, and as the state and federal government continue to retreat from this duty we as a City are prepared to step forward. However, it is just as important that we maintain our commitment to economic justice for workers – sacrificing fair wages and labor standards should not be part of the bargain.

We have been told at the Board that this private developer – and the banks that will profit from the financing of their project – have immovable constraints based on their expected profit margins. It is beyond time that we treat fair wage and labor standards with as much reverence as we treat corporate profits.

It is my earnest hope that we can work together to find a path forward that restores the public housing at Clarendon Hill in a way that does not sacrifice one principle for another. If this private developer fails to do so, I fully expect to call upon our mayor to step up and provide the necessary funding to move forward with the reconstruction of this public housing project using the funds promised (and still undelivered) from his disastrous FRIT Assembly Row deal.

New Engineering Position Leading to Increased Oversight

With construction season in full swing and impacting ward 2 heavily on Beacon Street and in Union Square, in addition to several other projects by Eversource on Preston St and paving on Bolton St, there’s a lot of construction to keep track of. Thankfully, longtime DPW employee Jesse Moos has been promoted recently to the newly created Construction Liaison & Compliance Manager position in the city’s engineering department.

You’ll see Jesse a lot in Ward 2 with his clipboard and cheerful attitude, as he’s down here almost daily monitoring the construction and keeping businesses informed as to closures and outages that will affect them. He’s also in charge of making sure we don’t have any more “heavy-equipment-til-11pm” fiascos on Beacon Street.

You can reach him with questions or complaints about road or utility work at jmoos@somervillema.gov. I’m glad to see him on the job and providing more accountability on these city projects.

TRANSPARENCY

Public Hearings This Week

We have a full schedule of Public Hearings this week at City Hall. These are chances for you to come out and let the Board and administration know your thoughts on a variety of issues we are considering.

MONDAY MAY 21 @ 6pm – Legislative Matters Public Hearing on Clarendon Hill redevelopment
As described above, a Public Hearing on the Home Rule Petition that would allow for the sale of public land to a private developer, waiver of their affordable housing requirements, and waiver of requirement for that developer to follow public procurement and prevailing wage laws will be held.

TUESDAY MAY 22 @ 6pm – Finance Committee Public Hearing on Somerville’s School Nurses
Thanks to this mayor’s inability to reach an agreement with the Somerville Municipal Employee Association union, Somerville’s School Nurses have not received appropriate raises in many years. As a result, we have lost nearly half of the dedicated nurses that have served our children in Somerville schools.

This untenable situation cannot continue. The mayor’s proposal to resolve it is to remove the school nurses from being general city employees and place them instead under the control of the School Department as non-union positions. This move would potentially allow the hiring of new nurses to replace the ones we have lost, at the cost of further undermining the union’s already weak bargaining position.

You can read the request here (http://somervillecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_LegiFile.aspx?Frame=&MeetingID=2618&MediaPosition=&ID=18220&CssClass=) and speak at the public hearing on Tuesday night at City Hall to let us know how you think we should vote on this issue.

THURSDAY MAY 24 @ 7pm – PILOT public hearing
Somerville’s “Payment In Lieu Of Taxes” (PILOT) agreement with Tufts University is expiring. Each year Somerville loses over $6.7 Million in tax revenue that the university would otherwise pay for their property in the city. In exchange, we have in the past agreed to receive a paltry $275,000 annual payment from the University.

Obviously, this is just 4 percent – a far cry from the 25 percent that the City of Boston receives from Tufts University in their similar PILOT agreement. The Board of Aldermen is hosting a public hearing so that you can tell us what you think about the PILOT agreement our mayor negotiated with Tufts this Thursday night.

Zoning Overhaul Update

There has been a lot of debate in the Aldermanic Chambers about the proposed zoning overhaul. As budget season approaches, it looks like we’ll be setting it aside for the time being and returning to it in the Fall for another look.

We held several public hearings about the zoning which were very well attended. The issue of eliminating triple-deckers and limiting most neighborhoods to two-family houses was a topic of much conversation, among many other issues. The presence of new “Fabrication” zoning to protect innovative startup-and-studio spaces for small business creation has also been a real emphasis in the current proposal.

While public comment on the current version expires on May 25th, the planning department will be taking all those comments in, revising the plan, and proposing a new version in the fall. It is my hope that we’ll be able to put important anti-displacement protections in place prior to passing a zoning overhaul to ensure that current residents will be able to remain in our neighborhood as it grows and changes.

AFFORDABILITY

“Developer Tax” Approved

The Board of Aldermen voted this week in a Committee-of-the-Whole meeting of Legislative Matters to approve a final version of the Real Estate Transfer Fee, also known as a “Developer Tax”. This would be a 1% fee on absentee landlords and corporate developers who are seeking to buy or sell properties in the city. (All owner-occupants are exempted from ever paying this tax.)

The fee will be paid directly into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which will then be able to use it to fund “limited equity arrangements, community land trusts, purpose-built housing, and other programs to underwrite the affordability of properties with a preference […] for current and recent Somerville residents and employees.”

There were over $700 million in property sales last year alone in Somerville, and this is a way for us to capture a small amount of our runaway market and use those dollars to help fun much needed programs to stabilize current residents in housing long-term and increase homeownership in our city.

The next step will be for this item to be approved formally this Thursday and sent to the State House for approval there, before returning to Somerville for drafting the details of the final ordinance. Thank you for your discussion, comments, and engagement during this process!

Community Land Trust Tax Force Forming

I’m very excited to announce that a task force is being assembled by the administration to explore the best structure for a Community Land Trust here in Somerville. I’ve written about and advocated for this extensively, and this is a great next step.

I’ll be serving on this task force, and am glad to say that Ward 3 Alderman Ewen-Campen has been selected to co-chair this important effort. With all the work on my plate, I can use all the help I can get! I look forward to getting rolling with this Task Force soon, and coming forward with a clear direction to get started with this vital, community-controlled affordable housing initiative.

Victory for Tenants at Millbrook Apartments

I was happy to speak at Rep Mike Connolly’s campaign kickoff event last week, and tell the story there of our victory at Millbrook Apartments. The largest apartment building in Ward 2, it was completed just 2 years ago. Now the 100 rental units there have been proposed for condo conversion – the largest such in Somerville. Thanks to the efforts of the tenant organizers and Rep Connolly, we were able to fight back against this mass displacement and ensure that residents got their concerns addressed.

Today I can tell you that every low-income subsidized housing tenant (20 units in total) will be able to retain their housing permanently instead of being displaced. Today, I can tell you that every market-rate tenant will be receiving moving expenses plus $10,000 cash compensation from the developer for being displaced.

This is a massive victory – the kind that comes only when we all work together. Even better, it paves the way for a new Condo Conversion Ordinance in this city that will protect residents in the future and slow down the constant stream of condo conversions that plague our neighborhoods. I hope that we’ll be able to put an ordinance on the mayor’s desk for signature before the end of 2018.

LOCAL MEETING ROUNDUP

Memorial Week Events

I was glad to attend the 2018 Somerville Heroes Salute at the Holiday Inn on Saturday honoring fallen veterans, and the American Legion Post 18 Veterans’ Ceremony this Sunday morning placing flowers and wreaths at each of the monuments lining Highland Ave. Both events were well run and the Heroes Salute was particularly well attended.

My father retired a Colonel in the USMC and was a decorated combat veteran in Vietnam who is buried in Arlington, and my family has a long history of military service – I particularly understand that these ceremonies are important remembrances for the families of veterans. Unfortunately, the city cancelled the Memorial Day Parade originally scheduled for this afternoon due to inclement weather forecast.

There will be one more event this week, on Wednesday night May 23rd. Titled “Honor and Remembrance: A City Remembers” and held at the Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery (located on Broadway across from Clarendon Hill Towers), this is a 1 hour ceremony. At the end of the day, the gathering will call the roll of the 69 heroes interred in this cemetery as a way to acknowledging that Somerville never forgets its heroes. As each name is called, a bell chimes and a flag is placed at the grave and a candle is placed alongside the name that particular hero. (A committee meeting I am chairing was previously scheduled for this evening, so I will not be able to attend personally.)

Development – 515 Somerville Ave

I was as surprised as many of you to receive a flyer for a neighborhood meeting this Wednesday May 23rd at 6pm in the St. Anthony’s Community Room at 12 Properzi Way to discuss a proposed development at 515 Somerville Ave.

Most of you know this site as the empty lot across from Rite-Aid on Somerville Ave, formerly targeted for eminent domain as a site for a new fire station. The owner has a new proposal at the planning department which you can see here ( https://www.somervillema.gov/sites/default/files/Plan%20Set%203-9-18%20(reduced).pdf ).

Unfortunately, I am chairing a committee meeting that night, and all of the other local aldermen (Hirsch and Ewen-Campen) will also be in that committee. It is my hope that another neighborhood meeting will also be scheduled so that we can attend and hear the neighbors’ feedback on the plan. In the meantime, please do feel free to send me an email to let me know what you think about the proposal.

PERSONAL UPDATE

House Fire in Ward 2: Many of you are aware of the fire on Washington Street just outside of Union Square on May 2. I was at City Hall having a meeting about environmental protection and Conway Park when I got the call that my house was on fire.

Thanks to the quick action of the Somerville Fire Department – with special thanks to Ward 2 resident Fire Lieutenant Blanca Alcarez who was first on the scene – the fire was extinguished before it took the entire house. None of my family were home, and no one was harmed in the fire. The cause was determined to be a spontaneous trash fire due to some rags used to wipe down furniture with Linseed Oil. (I’ve learned a lot about Linseed Oil recently!)

Over the past 3 weeks I’ve been working with insurance and the Inspectional Services Department to ensure that the structure was sound, and am glad to announce after a period of homelessness that my family is able to return to our house. Be it ever so soggy-and-somewhat-charred, there’s no place like home.

Everyone knows someone who has been through a house fire, and it’s an unsettling experience. Many thanks to the community members and friends who reached out over the last few weeks and opened their homes to my family to give us a place to stay while we were displaced. Reconstruction will be a long process, but at least we can stay in our home during the repairs.

I’ll be having office hours this Friday at Brickbottom, and hope to return to my regularly scheduled Office Hours each Friday from 8-10am at 269 Washington Street starting in June.

Thanks for reading!

April 18 Newsletter

It’s been another busy few weeks in Somerville! I’ve hosted many neighborhood meetings about local development, the citywide zoning overhaul, and city infrastructure construction. It’s great to see so many of you getting engaged at the neighborhood level!

In addition, it’s been a busy Committee schedule at the Board of Aldermen, with big pieces of legislation getting a lot of attention and major reforms happening in the way we process public safety promotions and appointments. In addition, the Board took a very close look at an unprecedented request by the Mayor to create $2 Million in new city employee positions outside of budget season.

There’s also been a lot of deliberation around a proposed Transfer Tax, and there are several other large items under consideration by the Board.

Recaps of all that, plus a quick review of upcoming meetings, are in this edition of the Ward 2 Newsletter!

ACCOUNTABILITY
Police and Firefighter Hiring and Promotion Process Improved

TRANSPARENCY
New Positions Proposed at City Hall, midyear funding requested

AFFORDABILITY
Real Estate Transfer Fee discussed
Right-To-Purchase gets a first round of consideration

LOCAL MEETING ROUNDUP
Zoning Meeting Recaps
Somerville Ave Streetscape
Beacon St Construction
Union Square “D-2” Meeting, April 19
Somerville Spring Clean-Up, April 21
Traffic and Transportation in Union Square, April 24
Office Hours Update

ACCOUNTABILITY – Police and Firefighter Hiring and Promotion Process Improved

Our public safety employees – firefighters and police officers – are some of the most critical positions the city hires. It may not be well understood outside of city government, but every police and fire hire is an appointment by the Mayor. The details of that process are pretty arcane, and while Civil Service is intended to ensure that applicants are treated fairly and ranked by qualification, the fact is that Somerville doesn’t have the greatest history when it comes to complaints with the Civil Service Commission. This link shows three cases the city has been involved in just in the past year when it comes to hiring practices around the police and fire departments.

As Chairman of the Confirmation of Appointments and Personnel Matters Committee, I have undertaken with my colleagues to reform the process by which these critical hires are approved to ensure that these positions receive appropriate consideration and that the hiring process has sufficient review. Since coming into office, this committee has reviewed five police promotions, two new firefighter hires, and nine new police hires. In the course of those, we have uncovered concerning issues regarding the ways these appointments are made, and are pushing to put in place further reforms to our city’s process.

When it comes to Firefighters, our use of a Reserve List (that has a several year backlog) is causing a situation in which new highly-qualified applicants who take the civil service test cannot be hired, and both the Massachusetts Superior Court and the Civil Service Commission found that our process included favoritism towards relatives of city employees and unjustly bypassed candidates for employment. Making matters worse, the Reserve List process we currently use means that no justice is available for the bypassed candidates, and they won’t be hired as firefighters. We are working to find a solution that brings more equity to this process and do better moving forward.

In terms of police promotions, our review resulted in the first known case of a promotion being denied by the Board. This was a serious step undertaken with only the gravest concerns. I am proud of the process we created and the consideration that my colleagues on the Board gave to this important matter. The people of Somerville deserve to know that the hiring process is equitable and thorough.

I want to extend my congratulations especially to Ward 2 resident Lysander Amado, who was recently hired as a Somerville firefighter! Lysander grew up here in Somerville and played football for Somerville High School, and his family are long-time residents of Washington Street. He has been serving in the US Army and is up for promotion to Sergeant. In addition, he speaks four languages (!) and I have confidence he’ll be a great addition to our Fire Department. Welcome, Mr Amado!

TRANSPARENCY – New Positions Proposed at City Hall, midyear funding requested

In March, the administration put forward 20 new non-union positions to be created in the city government covering a great many positions. Many of my colleagues joined me in expressing concern over this unprecedented expansion of city payroll outside of the usual budgeting cycle. With a Board consisting of 5 new members who have never participated in the city budgeting process before, I felt it was important not to over-commit creation of new salaried permanent positions without a thorough explanation of how it would impact next year’s budget and the city’s complicated financial outlook.

With that said, the case for several of these positions was compelling – particularly as it relates to the upcoming construction season which is landing hard on Ward 2 with major projects on Beacon St and Somerville Ave, as well as other utility work throughout the ward. In the end, the Board voted to approve only six positions, mostly related directly to this season’s major construction work:

  • Engineering Division : Construction Liaison and Compliance Manager (vote: 11-0)
  • Engineering Division : Construction Project Manager (vote: 10-1)
  • Transportation & Infrastructure Division : Streetscape and Public Space Planner (vote: 9-2)
  • Water & Sewer Department : Director of Finance & Administration (vote: 7-3)
  • Engineering Department : Project Manager (vote: 6-5)
  • Communications Department : Construction Information Officer (vote: 6-5)

As you can see, these votes were contentious – and it’s a sign that this Board is taking the job seriously. Fortunately, even with such apparent disagreement on the Board the mood is quite congenial, and I’ve had a blast getting to work with my new colleagues.

AFFORDABILITY – Real Estate Transfer Fee discussed

The Board had a Public Hearing that was very well attended, and I’m happy to say that the feedback was heard and that we are making important progress. At our last meeting, the Board moved unanimously to pursue a strategy introduced by Alderman Stephanie Hirsch in which all owner-occupants (both buyers and sellers) are fully exempt from paying the 1% fee – the fee would only paid by developers, investors, and absentee landlords.

We’ve still got a lot of work to do with six more meetings scheduled over the next month to work on the details. In addition, another Public Hearing will be scheduled in May so that residents can provide input on a more detailed proposal that is closer to its final form.

In terms of “what will this money be used for”, that’s a big part of my concern. The proposal I’ve been hammering on since the first days of my campaign has been a Community Land Trust that helps Somerville residents become Somerville homeowners – and it’s a perfect way to deploy these funds to help Villens stay here and raise families in the city we all love. I’ll keep working with my colleagues and the administration to ensure that this money goes to fight displacement and help current residents stay in this city.

AFFORDABILITY – Right-To-Purchase gets a first round of consideration

In addition to all of this work in the Legislative Matters Committee on the Transfer Fee (which you could also call the “Developer Tax”), we also spent a fair amount of time discussing the Tenant Right-of-First-Refusal (or Tenant Right-To-Purchase) bill. This would create an opportunity for tenants to purchase the homes in which they currently live, if their absentee landlord decides to sell the building to a developer. While the mayor’s office proposed an initial version that had a lot to object to, a small group of local residents and my colleague in Ward 3, Ben Ewen-Campen, have been working with me to write a draft that more closely matches our intent.

You can see the current draft at this link: http://jtforward2.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/DRAFT-3.29.18-Tenant-Opportunity-to-Purchase_BW.pdf

Just like the Developer Tax/Transfer Fee, this right would not trigger for owner-occupied homes – only for absentee landlords. In addition, the right of a homeowner to keep the property in their family is preserved. At the same time, this bill provides an immensely important opportunity for existing tenants to buy their property outright (perhaps even with assistance from the Transfer Fee revenue via the Community Land Trust) or to work with another non-profit affordable housing developer to buy the home and remain in Somerville, rather than being displaced for more “luxury condos”.

We’ve still got a lot of work to do on this, and I’ll be continuing to work on the proposal over the next few months. I’ve met with a lot of constituents about the idea already, including the Small Property Owners Association, and want to make sure I hear everyone’s thoughts. We’ll bring it back to the Board for consideration later this year, and I assure you that there will be plenty of meetings set aside for public comment and review before acting upon it. In the meantime, if you’ve got thoughts on the current proposal linked here, I’d be happy to hear them.

ZONING MEETING RECAPS

I hosted a series of neighborhood meetings through February and March to get residents together and have small group conversations about neighborhood issues and citywide issues with zoning. Dan Bartman from the Planning Department was able to attend most of them to hear your thoughts first-hand, and he thought they were really valuable! While there were a ton of different viewpoints in the room, and frequently serious disagreements, the end result were some fabulous conversations and some real consensus about a few points.

First, most of us are very leery of major out-of-town developers. The risk to our neighbors and our neighborhoods of displacement is real, and we’re all feeling it. Trust in city government to act in our interest to protect us is low. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that we can articulate very clearly what we love about our neighborhoods, in ways that I think will shape the zoning positively. We want to preserve people more than buildings – and so affordability is a key priority for people. Our small businesses and local services are treasured parts of the community – and everyone wants to make sure Market Basket stays here forever, if possible. Finding ways to improve the zoning and allow small businesses to start up and operate along our main streets (Prospect, Beacon, Washington, Somerville) in the existing building types is important to many of us.

Finding ways to enable reasonable growth without turning our neighborhood into a condo-flipper feeding frenzy is high on everyone’s mind. This theme was also evident in the public hearing, and I’m happy to say that I’ve had more meetings with the Planning Department to try to work these ideas into the next draft of Zoning. At the moment, it appears that we’ll continue to work on this as a Board for several more months as time allows, but that ultimately the Zoning proposal will expire at the 90-day window and be resubmitted as a new draft with a great many changes incorporated from our neighborhood meetings to be taken up again in the Fall.

I for one am glad that we’re taking the time to get it right – and hope that we’ll be able as a city to put some strong anti-displacement measures in place to ensure that the growth in Somerville is something that all of us are still here to enjoy in five, fifteen, or fifty years.

BEACON ST CONSTRUCTION

Beacon Street work is once again underway. We had a productive meeting of the committee on Public Utilities and Public Works at the Argenziano on April 2, though we still don’t have all the answers I’d like about how construction has been handled there and the removal of Beacon Street’s trees. With the construction beginning again, unfortunately we’re already seeing that Newport isn’t necessarily handling business in the way we’d hope. I’ll continue to push for tighter schedules and more accountability in this process, and am grateful for the help of some seriously engaged neighborhood activism around this!

Speaking of which, there is a tree hearing concerning the six remaining trees on Beacon Street on MONDAY, APRIL 23rd. It will be held at the Public Safety Building at 220 Washington Street, starting at 6pm. Based on what I heard at the PUPW Committee meeting, this is your opportunity as a community to demand a change in the plans that preserves any of those trees – rather than removing them and replanting them. It would be a very expensive change process to undertake, and would require the city’s transportation department to request those changes, but that’s the reason why we have these hearings – to get you the information, and hear what you want done.

In the meantime, I’ve also put in several board orders to address ongoing safety and visibility problems along Beacon Street (including at Durham, Park, and Eustis), and will continue to follow up on every concern you bring to me!

SOMERVILLE AVE STREETSCAPE WORK

Construction is happening right now in Union Square as well, starting at Webster and Somerville and moving east towards McGrath. We had a decent meeting back on March 18th and a tree hearing on March 25th. There will be another tree removal hearing on May 2nd. Rather than try to recap all of this information here, I’m going to post this link where the city has done a bang-up job of getting information posted online from these meetings, and keeping us informed of future meetings: https://www.somervillema.gov/unionsquareinfrastructure

I absolutely commend the folks up at city hall for doing a great job on communicating information about this important project both to residents and to business owners in Union Square, in cooperation with Union Square Main Streets!

UNION SQUARE “D-2” MEETING, APRIL 19

US2’s First Design & Site-Plan Review Meeting for the “D-2 Parcel” (aka the lot at the corner of Prospect and Somerville Ave that formerly had Anestis Metals and A-1 Radiator) is happening tomorrow! Thursday, April 19th, 6-8pm, Union Square Police Station (220 Washington St.)

Late last year, the Union Square Developer, US2, obtained a “Coordinated Development Special Permit” from Somerville’s Planning Board, clearing the way for them to begin design work on specific parcels within Union Square – the first of which is the so-called “D-2 block”. This Thursday’s meeting (hosted by US2) will be their first presentation of preliminary design work for the buildings and public space planned for D-2. You can read US2’s press release for the meeting at this link (https://mailchi.mp/somervillema/demolition-review-law-meeting-3277473); they “will show preliminary schematic plans, and [seek] community input as a first step in the Design and Site Plan Review process for the D2 buildings and civic space.”

As you all know, these buildings are part of a large-scale redevelopment of Union Square. This series of community meetings on the D-2 block are therefore likely to be very important, and I hope many of you are able to come.

I know both myself and the Ward 3 Alderman will be in attendance to see the plans and provide input – and hear yours. The City is not hosting these meetings, but I hope US2 has included time for members of the public to be heard and to hear each other at the meeting.

SOMERVILLE SPRING CLEAN-UP, APRIL 21

The Somerville Spring Clean-Up is happening this Saturday, April 21st, 10am. Ward 2 meet-ups are happening at the ArtFarm location at 10 Poplar St, at the South St Farm, and at the Quincy Street Open Space., 14 Quincy St.

I hope you can join me for this year’s annual clean-up! It’s gonna be great – here’s the City’s press release, which contains all the information you’ll need:

“The annual Spring Clean Up is a city-wide clean up and gardening day spread across 12 different sites throughout Somerville. Come out to get our public spaces ready to be used for the spring and summer ahead! Please RSVP at https://goo.gl/forms/EQVcnxzkJhVCRLpQ2

Schedule for the day:
9am-10am: Kickoff & breakfast provided by Comcast at the Boathouse at the Blessing of the Bay park.
10am-12pm: Cleaning at sites around Somerville
12pm-2pm: Community BBQ lunch provided by Mayor Joe Curtatone and the City of Somerville at the Boathouse. Includes interactive activities for kids and adults! Enjoy music by Rose and the Wild Edibles!

Come for the entire time, or go straight to any of the cleanup sites to volunteer! If joining for breakfast and/or lunch, volunteers are responsible for their own transportation from the Boathouse to their cleanup site and back.”

TRAFFIC AND TRANSPORTATION IN UNION SQUARE, APRIL 24

We’ve had a lot of work done lately, and a lot more coming up. While we had good meetings about trees and the Somerville Ave streetscape work, there’s a lot of other changes that have happened in the last year (and are coming soon) that deserve their own time as topics for public review. Here’s the meeting that Brad Rawson with Traffic and Infrastructure is hosting at the request of myself and Alderman Hirsch.

If you’re interested in transportation around the Union Square and Inman Square neighborhoods join us at a forum on Tuesday, April 24, to talk about projects and issues. The forum will be broken down into five subject-specific segments so you can drop in for a topic you’re most interested in or stick around for them all. The schedule will be:

6 to 6:30 p.m. – Informal drop in
6:30 to 7 p.m. – Lincoln Park neighborhood traffic and safety
7 to 7:30 p.m. – MBTA bus service planning and Route 91 proposal
7:30 to 8 p.m. – Union Square traffic signals
8 to 8:30 p.m. – Prospect Hill neighborhood traffic and safety

The forum will be held in the Academy Room at the police station, 220 Washington St. For more information, please email transportation@somervillema.gov.

OFFICE HOURS UPDATE

Now that the weather isn’t absolutely miserable, I’ve been out in the neighborhood again knocking on doors and talking to neighbors. Quite frankly, it’s the best way I can reach out to hear from you – and I don’t want the only time you see me to be in a public hearing or during a campaign.

With that said, I’m still hosting Office Hours every Friday morning from 8-10am at my home office: 269 Washington St. There’s been a lot of great conversations there about city policy and some amazing ideas from ward 2 residents. If you’ve got anything on your mind, please do stop by any Friday morning and say hello! (You never know who else from the neighborhood you may see here.)

Thanks for making it through this long newsletter – even at such great length, I know there’s plenty that I haven’t covered. If you’ve got questions about anything going on in the ward or at City Hall please just come by on a Friday morning, shoot me an email, or give me a call – I’ll be happy to come chat.

Beacon St North/Duck Village Zoning Meeting: Saturday, March 17 @ 2-4pm

Hi there, just a quick heads-up that I’ll be hosting yet another neighborhood zoning meeting this weekend, this time focusing on the Duck Village and Beacon St neighborhoods north of Washington Street.

Time: 2-4pm, Saturday March 17

Location: 35 Prospect St, CrossFit Somerville

I look forward to seeing more of you there – and I’ll be out in the neighborhoods putting flyers on the doors today and tomorrow to let everyone know!

Zoning Meeting Schedule Update

Hi folks! A full newsletter is in the works, but for now I just wanted to update you on the times for this weekend’s zoning meetings in case people are looking online for the info.

This Saturday, March 10, I’ll be hosting two back-to-back zoning meetings, each focused on a different neighborhood:
1:30-3:30: Beacon St South, from Washington St to the Cambridge Line.
3:30-5:30: “South of Union”, including the South/Ward St, Prospect/Norfolk, and Oak/Houghton neighborhoods.

Both meetings will be hosted at CrossFit Somerville, 35 Prospect Street. We’re putting flyers on every door in the neighborhood to get word out to the people who live there, and I hope to see you there!

Lincoln Park Traffic and Parking Update, Feb 16

I know I just put out a very long newsletter earlier this week, but here’s some more detailed updates specifically on traffic and roadway issues that people have been asking about around Lincoln Park.

As a reminder, there’s lots of ways to get in touch with me: email, phone, or even drop by my weekly office hours every Friday from 8-10am, at 269 Washington St. (In fact, I’m typing this up as I sit here waiting to see if anyone stops by today. 🙂 ) There’s also a meetup being set up for March 20 at 7pm.

One more thing before I dive into the traffic and parking stuff: if you live in the Lincoln Park area, please attend the zoning neighborhood meeting next Saturday, Feb 24 from 3pm-5pm – at CrossFit Somerville, 35 Prospect St. We’ll be talking about the zoning specifically as it pertains to the Lincoln Park area and how it affects what you can do with your home and what can be built in your neighborhood. I’m preparing graphics and posters to help understand and discuss the proposed zoning.

TRANSPORTATION UPDATES

The transportation department is interested in a neighborhood meeting to listen to concerns and update the neighborhood about the data they’re collecting, but I know y’all are anxious to hear about what direction things are moving. Here’s my notes from the most recent meeting – and I’ll be sure to let you know when a neighborhood meeting is scheduled.

Washington and Webster Intersection

Six months into the change to these intersections (and two-way traffic on Prospect and Webster), the Transportation department has been hearing our complaints and measuring the traffic to see what impact the changes have had.

While the good news is that overall vehicles moving through Union Square has gone down 25%, and no increase in accidents, there have been some negative impacts. In particular, getting through the Webster and Washington intersection has been worse. (Reality didn’t match the city’s projections.) The need seems apparent for protected left turns onto Bow and Webster, and the pedestrian crossing has gotten substantially more scary – a finding that is supported by the data on how many “pedestrian/car conflicts” measured in the crosswalks.

The goal was to keep the light cycles short, keep cars moving, and allow pedestrians to cross more frequently. The unintended result was jammed intersections due to conflicting left turns and crosswalks that never really feel safe.

Solutions for this will need to include either re-timing the signals to allow a “virtual protected left” (by staggering the green lights) or installing new stoplights that have a Left-Arrow. The Transportation Dept is looking at both of these options, and is also considering a return to the “all stop” lighting pattern that would allow the crosswalks to feel much more safe. This is especially important considering the heavy child foot traffic to and from Prospect Hill Academy, Argenziano School, and the CAAS Head Start.

Reprogramming the signals will cost money and time in engineering effort, and installing new Left-Arrow lights would cost somewhere north of $10k. Any change to the light cycles requires the city to commission more engineering review time to try to make sure the light changes don’t cause worse downstream problems.

Change is coming, though. According to the city, they are looking at getting some changes in place to the Washington intersections and Webster and Prospect Streets by the end of March. 

SIDE STREET TRAFFIC METRICS

The question of “where did that 25% of cars in Union Square go” is a concerning one especially for Lincoln Park, Concord Square, and the Houghton/Oak neighborhoods where people have been reporting increased traffic.

In order to measure this and make a plan to address it, the city has acquired a bunch of new “roadway tubes” that they can lay down on side streets to get accurate counts of traffic volume, type, and speed for low cost (relative to the cost of a city planner standing around on a sidewalk all day with a clipboard).

They have started by looking at Perry, Concord, Webster, and Springfield, and will hopefully be showing us more of that data in an upcoming neighborhood meeting.

91 BUS ROUTE and INMAN SQUARE

The news is less hopeful here from my perspective. We saw some data on number of pickups and dropoffs along Springfield and in Concord Square. The MBTA seems to be convinced of the value of straightening that route and increasing frequency of the 91 bus, rather than maintaining the jog down Springfield.

Brad Rawson and city staff will be meeting with the MBTA again next Wednesday as part of what he described as “building working relationships” and to discuss the 91 route (among others) as transit continues to change in and around Union Square. He was not interested in having aldermen present at that meeting, but I’ll be looking for an update from him late next week.

One good piece of info out of this discussion was that Mike Tremblay from the city’s transportation department is attending every meeting of the Cambridge city working group that has been developing the Inman Square changes. We can’t necessarily dictate what happens there, but I’m glad we have city staff in the room and will be having more conversations with Mr Tremblay to stay updated – and keep you updated as well.

WEBSTER STREET PLAN

The news is better here. After a long season of Eversource gas work on the east side of Webster, and the removal of parking on both sides between Union Square and the Cambridge line, traffic on Webster is moving faster and the roadway is a mess.

Currently, Eversource is on the hook to re-pave their half of Webster Street and that is planned in the spring. The city doesn’t have an exact timeline on that, but we’ll be putting pressure on Eversource to get it done in April rather than June. At the same time, the city will be trying to resurface the west side of the street to get it all done in one pass.

After the road is resurfaced, the plan is to paint bike lanes on each side and install more of the “flex post” markers that we’ve seen in Union Square. This will make cycling and driving in this stretch safer – and the presence of the visual markers will hopefully also reduce speeds back down to normal on Webster Street.

The removal of parking on Webster has definitely pressured parking along the side streets nearby including Tremont, Norfolk, and Columbia. I have a board order in requesting additional parking enforcement, and will be asking for data about how many tickets are being written down there for non-resident parking in those areas.

SIDEWALK REPAIR SEASON

Sidewalk repair season is coming! While 311 is still a great way to let the city know what you’re concerned about I also encourage you to copy me on the email confirmation you get from the city.

DPW will be going out and fixing issues as reported, but if there’s a lot of need for sidewalk fixes in a particular stretch of road a better approach may be a comprehensive sidewalk reconstruction coordinated with Engineering and Transportation. Hearing from you will help me get that conversation going – and maybe get us all better sidewalks.

EVERSOURCE GAS WORK on OAK ST

I have heard from a few people about some late night work on Oak Street. That was in fact a gas leak, and they sent emergency crews out to jackhammer around midnight to get the leak fixed. This has been a persistent issue down there, and I’m hopeful that they found the problem this time.

With that said, communication and cooperation with Eversource has been a sore spot all over the city for quite some time. At the most recent meeting of the Public Utilities and Public Works Committee, we passed a restriction that doesn’t allow the city to issue permits for non-emergency gas work until Eversource has presented a concrete communication plan for the neighborhood. I’m hoping that will encourage some more neighborly interactions with Eversource and increase accountability in the process.

I’m following up with Eversource and the city administration on continuing Oak Street work and hope to have some more information in the next update!

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see y’all soon!

-JTS

February 11 Newsletter

Welcome to the third newsletter on city matters and information relevant to Ward 2! There’s a lot going on, and in the interest of having a cohesive way to follow these concerns I’ll be breaking this newsletter up into 4 broad areas of interest correlating to the main points of my campaign platform (Affordability, Transparency, and Accountability) as well as matters relating directly to constituent services and city activities that directly impact Ward 2 and its residents.

It’s been a busy first month on the job, and we’re getting a lot done. The new Board is putting in long hours, with multiple committee meetings and full Board meetings running until midnight. Almost every night of the week is packed with meetings to push these reforms forward – and I also attend Zoning Board of Appeals meetings that have Ward 2 projects on the agenda to support neighbors who have projects they’ve had approved in a neighborhood meeting, or to support neighbors who are opposing certain aspects of a proposed project. Starting in late February I’ll be adding weekend gatherings to discuss the zoning changes coming for the neighborhoods.

It’s a lot, but it’s important work – and it’s vital that we have active representation pushing this agenda forward and staying ahead of the changes in our Ward (and our city) so that we don’t just get run over by them.

  • AFFORDABILITY
    • Tenant Right-of-First-Refusal Update
    • Community Land Trust Update
    • Transfer Fee Proposal: Feedback Requested
    • Zoning Meetings: Density and Neighborhoods
  • TRANSPARENCY
    • Expanded Recording and Broadcast of Committee Meetings
    • Development Meetings
      • 10-12 Ward St
      • 140-150 Line St
      • 374 Somerville Ave
      • 312R Beacon St
      • 265 Washington St
  • ACCOUNTABILITY
    • Reform of Appointment Processes for City Employment
    • Office Hours for Ward 2
  • WARD 2 MATTERS
    • Community Benefits and the Union Square Neighborhood Council
    • Somerville Ave Streetscape and Sewer Reconstruction
    • Allen St Open Space/Playground Meeting
    • Street Changes and Traffic Management
    • Urban Agriculture Ambassador Training

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AFFORDABILITY

Tenant Right-of-First-Refusal Update

The need to create tools for current residents to fight against their own displacement – and become long-term homeowners in Somerville – only gets more urgent every day. This week we learned that the state-wide measure proposed by Somerville’s Rep. Denise Provost at the State House (H.3017) for the tenant right of first refusal was “referred to study” – in effect, it died in committee. Although the Housing Committee gave a great deal of time and attention to the bill throughout the year, they did not move forward with a favorable report. This means that the state enabling legislation for a tenant right of first refusal will not be moving forward this legislative session. It can be re-introduced during the next session, which starts in January 2019.

This means it’s more important than ever for us to move forward with a Home Rule Petition to create our own ROFR law that addresses Somerville’s needs. We’re not alone in this fight – Boston is making moves to do the same thing, and the Legislative Matters Committee of our own Board of Aldermen has been making this initiative a priority. I hope to see this Petition sent to the State House before the end of March.

Community Land Trust Update

Along the same lines, the process  of creating of a Community Land Trust is taking its first steps forward in the Housing and Community Development Committee meeting this Wednesday at 6:30pm. My Community Land Trust initiative is on the agenda, and I look forward to working with Chairman Ben Ewen-Campen and the rest of my colleagues to get a task force in place to begin working on this important way to make the existing housing in our neighborhoods affordable for working-class people.

Transfer Fee Proposal: Feedback Requested

One frequent question that gets asked is “how are we going to pay for all of this?” And it’s a good question to ask. Right now one of the best short-term opportunities to increase city funding for housing affordability is a Transfer Fee that would tax home sales in Somerville by 1%.

From 2010 to 2016, there were nearly $4 BILLION in home sales in Somerville (with another half-billion in commercial property sales), and the majority of these sales were condos. We all know this hot market shows no sign of cooling off, and sometimes it feels like the entire city is for sale. A simple 1% tax on these transactions could raise $7 MILLION each year – and that would go a long way to funding badly needed programs to stabilize and enhance our neighborhoods.

The average cost of a home in Ward 2 has increased over 10% each year for the past 7 years. Thanks to the way compounding growth works, it costs now double what it cost just 7 years ago to buy a home in Ward 2, making homeownership for tenants in the neighborhood a quickly vanishing dream.

Right now, this proposal is being debated in the Legislative Matters Committee – and I am looking for your input. If you want to read the details of the implications of all this growth in Somerville, there’s a great report the City administration put out last year at this link: http://jtforward2.com/transferfeeanalysis/

I think it makes a lot of sense to harness some of this runaway growth and use it to ensure that the people who live here can afford to stay here long-term. What do you think?

Zoning Meetings: Density and Neighborhoods

One other major change that will affect everyone living in Somerville is the proposed zoning ordinance overhaul. Every parcel in the city will be affected, and it’s absolutely crucial that we get it right when we draw the maps and set the rules that will shape our neighborhood for generations to come.

You can see all the details at the city’s website for the overhaul, www.somervillezoning.com. However, it’s a lot of information – about 800 pages! – and not all of it is relevant to your neighborhood.

That’s why I’ve been working on reducing the problem down to simple-to-understand graphics and will be hosting meetings that break down the big complicated problem into smaller questions that we can talk about as neighbors. I’ll be letting you know about these meetings by dropping fliers off at your door, but the first several that I’m scheduling are listed here:

1) LINCOLN PARK – Saturday, Feb 24 from 3pm-5pm – At CrossFit Somerville, 35 Prospect St

2) SPRING HILL WARD 2 – Saturday, Mar 3 from 3pm-5pm – At CrossFit Somerville, 35 Prospect St

3) South St/Prospect St/Oak St – Saturday, Mar 10 from 3pm-5pm – At CrossFit Somerville, 35 Prospect St

The goal of these meetings is to hear from you about what you want in your neighborhood and what you want from the zoning overhaul process. If you’d like to help flier for or facilitate these meetings, please email me! I hope to see you there!

TRANSPARENCY

Expanded Recording and Broadcast of Committee Meetings

I’m pleased at how many of you are keeping track of what happens through the city’s meeting portal at this link. Through there, you can see live and archived video of every Board of Aldermen meeting.

But that’s not enough – most of the work happens in all those committee meetings. Just this past week, the Rules Committee passed a new directive that will mean every committee meeting will be archived (most with video) and available online.

Now when you ask “how did we let this happen?” you’ll be able to see the answers. Every discussion, every committee meeting, will be open and permanent public record. I’m proud of the work we’re doing, and I think you deserve to know who’s fighting for you in these committee meetings. No more back-room deals, no more hidden decisions; sunlight is the best disinfectant. (See more great quotes from Justice Louis D. Brandeis at https://www.brandeis.edu/legacyfund/bio.html)

This is an important step for transparency, and at minimal cost to taxpayers – the equipment already exists for it. I’m very glad to see this become a reality thanks to the hard work of Aldermen White, Rossetti, and Davis.

Development Meetings

There’s a host of upcoming developments that are being proposed and considered for approval by the Zoning Board of Appeals. Here are just a few of them – many of which have had neighborhood meetings to gather input and shape the plans for the buildings.

  • 10-12 Ward St – community meetings complete, plans online.
  • 140-150 Line St
  • 374 Somerville Ave – community meeting held Monday Feb 12, significant changes expected as a result of feedback there
  • 312R Beacon St – neighborhood coffee meetup coming soon
  • 265 Washington St – significant changes underway due to feedback recieved, new plans expected end of February

You can find a list of all projects online at https://www.somervillema.gov/departments/zoning-board-of-appeals – search for your street and see what’s being planned in your neighborhood. If there’s something surprising there, get in touch with me and I’ll gladly help put together a neighborhood meeting so that we can listen to each other and work with the developer to make sure what’s built serves the neighborhood well.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Reform of Appointment Processes for City Employment

Checks and balances are a vital part of the way our system of government operates. They are built in at the federal, state, and even local level. Especially in a “strong mayor” system like Somerville’s it is vital that our elected representatives take their duties seriously and serve to ensure that the public interest is being served well.

Continuing the work of my colleague Alderman Lance Davis in the previous legislative session, I’ve put in place comprehensive reforms to the way city appointments are reviewed. Previously, the Confirmation of Appointments Committee has been described as a “rubber stamp”. For anyone who has ever seen a State House or White House appointments process, you know it doesn’t have to be that way.

With scandal, corruption, incompetence, and sexual harassment being increasingly visible issues at every level from private companies to the White House, we can not tolerate it here in Somerville. It’s important for me to say that we will Do Better and put in place strong processes to ensure that we do.

Following through on my campaign promise of increasing accountability in our local government, I have moved quickly as the Chairman of the Confirmation of Appointments and Personnel Matters Committee to begin installing a thorough and fair vetting process for all mayoral appointments in the city – including police, fire, boards, commissions, department heads, and other city employees.

We began that work with some urgent police promotions that were decided at the end of January by the Board of Aldermen after reviewing the information presented in the Committee. I am enormously impressed by and grateful for the support of Police Chief David Fallon and the rest of the city staff that worked hard to ensure my colleagues had the information they needed to make strong, informed decisions about appointments that set the character of law enforcement in our city.

In the most recent Board meeting, I also put in an order that will ensure that the processes for reviewing all appointments are clear and well-documented, so that citizens will know what is being considered and candidates will know what to expect. It will also hopefully serve as a template for future committees (and Chairs, and Boards) to follow to ensure that the scrutiny of this moment does not simply pass along the wayside in the future.

I am proud of this simple yet important step to guarantee that we hold the people appointed to public service to appropriate standards.

Continuing this work, the Board will also be taking up creation of an official Code of Conduct for city employees and elected officials. I look forward to raising the bar for what we expect of ourselves – and each other.

Office Hours for Ward 2

I’m interested in hearing from you – and from my email and phone records, you’re not shy! Another great quote from Justice Brandeis: “The most important political office is that of the private citizen.”

I’ve gone out to meet dozens of you in response to your calls and emails, and I plan to continue to do so. But sometimes you’ve got something on your mind and just want to talk – maybe even about what you saw in the Board meeting you were watching online the night before!

In order to make sure you always feel like you can reach me, I’m setting up weekly office hours where you can just drop in to talk. I’ll be available every Friday morning from 8-10am in an office at my home: 269 Washington St. Come on by to bend my ear!

WARD 2 MATTERS

Community Benefits and the Union Square Neighborhood Council

I’ve been a part of the Neighborhood Council formation process for many years, and I am very glad to see the Council ratify their bylaws and begin to do the serious work of preparing to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement with US2, the developer benefiting from our city’s infrastructure investments in Union Square.

The USNC hosted two “CBA Summit” meetings in the past week, and by all accounts they were engaging and active meetings. And no surprise: these are important issues being discussed that will shape the future of our neighborhood here in Union Square.

Requiring that major developers pay their fair share and address community needs is an essential part of making sure that development benefits the community – not just enriches the developers.

This is true not just in Union Square, but also all over the city as redevelopment efforts continue all along the future GLX stops. What we do here in Union Square will resonate throughout the city, and it’s important for all of us to get involved and make this the best process it can possibly be.

I was proud that the Board approved the resolution put forward by myself and Alderman Ewen-Campen congratulating the Neighborhood Council – and everyone involved – on the work they have undertaken so far and the encouraging them as they begin the work ahead. http://somervillecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_LegiFile.aspx?Frame=&MeetingID=2593&MediaPosition=&ID=17779&CssClass=

I appreciated all the public comment and private conversations that people had with me around this Council and the Resolution, and I’m counting on continuing those conversations for years as we work together to get the best solutions we can craft.

There’s a lot to do, and we’re all better off with more voices involved. I encourage you to attend these meetings! The next USNC open meeting will take place on Thursday, February 15 at 7pm at the Argenziano School Cafeteria (290 Washington St.).

Somerville Ave Streetscape and Sewer Reconstruction

Major construction is coming to Somerville Ave this summer. The city will be hosting a meeting on Wednesday, March 14th to detail to project and let us know about timelines. (Time and location for that meeting still TBD.)

It is anticipated that the construction will last for 3 full years. While it’s going on my understanding is that no road will be completely closed, but there will be lane reductions and it will massively impact our neighborhood. The end goal is to dramatically improve our stormwater handling capacity and ensure that we never again have significant flooding in the Union Square area.

I’ve seen the plans in advance, and look forward to working with business owners and residents in the area to mitigate the impacts of this important project. I will continue to provide updates as they are available to make sure residents can plan ahead for the changes this project will bring.

The city’s website doesn’t have much current information at the moment, but I am told that it will be updated soon with significant details: https://www.somervillema.gov/UnionSquareInfrastructure

Allen St Open Space/Playground Meeting

The first of three community meetings was held on Monday, Feb 12. This is a chance for the city to re-examine the community garden space on Allen St and include a small toddler play area that would be an immense boon to the kids enrolled at the Head Start program across the street at CAAS.

Right now those kids have to walk a third of a mile to the nearest play areas, and cross many busy intersections to get there. Having a play area in the neighborhood addresses some urgent equity issues. It’s also a chance for us to re-examine how we integrate community gardening areas in our open spaces to include more interaction and exposure to agriculture to the public.

It’s also a time to listen carefully to the concerns of the neighbors, who organized actively in 2003 to ensure that the parcel became a community garden instead of a plastic playground. There are a lot of views and needs to be balanced, and I look forward to the next two meetings as a chance to work together and reach consensus on a design that serves our community well.

There will be two more meetings, and when the next one is scheduled I’ll be publicizing it here. (I anticipate it will be in early March.)

Street Changes and Traffic Management

I get a lot of messages from residents of Ward 2 concerned about a wide variety of traffic management questions and problems arising from city street changes.

The removal of parking on Webster has had some major impacts, and the redesign of the Prospect and Webster intersections with Washington Street have also resulted in some serious questions and need to be revisited. Prospect Hill Academy traffic is boxing in residents on Kingman Road. Likewise, proposed changes in Inman Square will have impacts on Springfield Street and the Concord Square area.

For each and every one of these messages, I respond personally and follow up with city staff to make sure they’re aware of the issues and find out where we are as a city in terms of addressing it. Most often, my approach is to listen to the residents and work with you to find creative ways to address your concerns. As needed, I get city departments involved to make changes. As a last resort, I place Board Orders to get our call for needed actions on the record.

I’d like to make the process more transparent and easily trackable – improving the way we communicate as a city around infrastructure changes is going to an ongoing point of emphasis for me this term.

Beacon Street Trees

The mystery of how every tree on Beacon Street got removed – despite every public assurance that this would not happen – has still not been resolved. The Public Utilities and Public Works Committee that I serve on will be having a very special meeting in Ward 2 on March 12 where we will try to get to the bottom of it.

I am hoping that representatives of every agency involved in the process will be present so that we can untangle this puzzle and finally get the answers that the residents deserve. Stay tuned for for info on the time and location for that meeting, which will be advertised as part of the city’s official meeting calendar.

Urban Agriculture Ambassador Training

The city is accepting applications for the 2018 Urban Agriculture Ambassador Program class! Each year 20 residents get free urban agriculture training from Green City Growers in exchange for 30 hours of volunteer work in gardens around the city.

If you’re interested in learning how to grow food in the city, visit http://www.somervillema.gov/urbanagambassador. Applications are due March 1, and training will be held on Saturday, March 24, 31, and April 7, and 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.