Sept 1 2022 Newsletter

Hi Ward 2! I hope you’ve had a great summer. September is here, and we’re welcoming many new neighbors today. Ward 2 is over 80% tenant occupied, and we’ve seen truly astonishing rent increases in recent months. This underscores both how important it is for us to greet our new neighbors and help them become a part of our community – and also how critical tenant protections (and rent control) will be to ensuring that they can remain with us for more than one or two lease cycles and contribute to our shared civic life.

According to our recently expanded Tenant Rights Act, tenants have to be provided with information about the city and their rights within 5 days of moving in. You can find that packet in 6 languages here: https://somervillema.gov/ohs – but in addition to all the great information in that flyer, there’s still lots to know about the neighborhood like “how does street sweeping work?”, “what’s trash day?”, and “where’s the best place to park on a snow day?”. It’s a great thing to do to say hi, get to know your neighbors, and help them get a smooth start in this new home.

With the summer ending and school starting, the legislative session is also resuming. I got to spend a little time traveling this summer (and will probably have a few stories to share in future newsletters about comparative budget priorities in other municipalities as a result) but weekly office hours continue (every Friday morning from 8-10am at 269 Washington St and gotomeet.me/JTScott) and there’s lots of things I’ll be working on in the coming months.

Perhaps most impactful to all of us is news that next year’s municipal paving contract will be focusing mainly on Ward 2! The centerpiece of that work is going to be the Western Washington Street repaving. I held my first neighborhood meetings about this back in 2019 and have been working hard to make sure that this gets prioritized – and also that the design will accommodate neighborhood needs as well as emphasize cyclist and pedestrian safety. I’ve seen early drawings that include concrete-separated bike lanes, bus stop improvements and raised crosswalks at some intersections, but the presentation of the city’s proposal will happen on Wednesday Sept 28 at 6pm. It will be a great place to learn more and provide your feedback. You can find more information at somervillema.gov/westernwashington including previous meeting recordings and a link to join the meeting on Sept 28.

In addition, we have an opportunity in that paving contract to implement speed humps and other structural traffic calming measures on some of our neighborhood streets. The City is already considering Perry St, Dane St, Calvin St, and others for speed humps to slow down cut-through traffic, and I’m pitching to include Newton, Concord, Scary Way, and more. But nobody knows our streets like the people who live on them, so if you have ideas about what streets really need speed humps to slow down reckless drivers please send those ideas to me at jtforward2@gmail.com. I’ll make sure the mobility department hears about it! I’ve long said that no amount of enforcement can create long-term change in speeding; to do that we need structural change on our streets. This is an important opportunity for us to prioritize safety for young and old alike on our streets and sidewalks, and I hope to hear from you about where we can create impactful interventions in our neighborhoods.

Aside from that big project, there’s plenty to consider in the legislative session. I continue to push this administration to pursue funding for sewer and stormwater improvements in the ward, and to move swiftly on the creation of a brick-and-mortar Safe Consumption Site supported by real treatment programs and staff to address the continuing opioid epidemic in our city. I also will not rest in my calls for completion of ArtFarm and the park at 217 Somerville Ave, and the creation of more affordable housing including building municipal public housing and funding the Community Land Trust. 

I’m also working on improving our zoning code to require more green space in new construction by trading height allowances for significant park creation, funds for establishing a Community Center, and increased affordability in those projects for residents and businesses alike. Two major focuses will be finishing the Brickbottom Neighborhood Plan and beginning work on the Union Square East Zoning Overlay that will cover Allen, Linden, Merriam, Rossmore, and Mansfield streets – more to come on those efforts in future newsletters. The Union Square Neighborhood Council continues to be one of the most immediate ways that you can find out about projects and directly negotiate Community Benefits with the major projects coming to Ward 2, and I encourage you to get involved at https://sites.google.com/view/usnc.

Finally, I’m excited to be going to City Hall tomorrow to cast my Early Vote in the statewide Democratic Primary tomorrow. Tomorrow is the last day for early voting in person, and you can find out more info at https://www.somervillema.gov/departments/elections/early-voting.

Tomorrow, I’ll be casting my votes in contested races for:

  • Lt Gov: Tami Gouveia has shown up in Somerville and is the clear progressive choice in this race.
  • Atty General: Shannon Liss-Riordan has walked the walk and fought for worker’s rights in the courtroom, and I have confidence that she’ll make a great Attorney General.
  • Sec’y of State: Tanisha Sullivan is a civil rights lawyer who understands the importance of voting rights – and managing our state’s elections is one of this position’s most important jobs.
  • Auditor: Chris Dempsey is by far the superior choice and has been endorsed by several of my colleagues, not least of which because he hasn’t made a habit of voting with Republicans in the State House for years.
  • State Rep: Erika Uyterhoeven is a friend and colleague that has spectacularly stepped into the role Denise Provost served for years as the “North Star” of progressive policies in the State House. She has stood and delivered for Somerville and I look forward to fighting alongside her for material change that we need for our neighbors.
  • And – though not contested –  I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that I’ll be delighted to vote for Ayanna Pressley and Pat Jehlen as well. Both are inspirational to me in their own ways, and people that I’ve been honored to work with on substantive issues for several years.

I hope YOU get out and vote – either Friday morning at City Hall or at your polling place on Tuesday Sep 6 – and just as importantly I look forward to seeing you at upcoming neighborhood meetings and weekly office hours.

See you soon,

-JTS

Stormwater Meetings and More: Ward 2 March 2022 Update

Hi Ward 2! First off, I was glad to take a ride on the new GLX from Union Square to go support our neighbors at CAAS’ Anti-Displacement Community Press Conference on Monday. You can read about the powerful event and hear from your neighbors getting pushed out by rent increases here, and if you or your neighbors are facing massive rent increases please reach out. CAAS and other community partners are helping tenants form unions and organize to prevent displacement while we call on the State House to allow us to enact more legal tenant protections.

Also, I can cheerfully report that the infamous “Green Line Boylston Screech” is in fact present on the new GLX, lending the whole experience a sense of vida real.

There’s a lot of meetings coming up in the next few weeks and a ton of activity on the horizon. Here’s a few updates on recent activity and a heads up on coming meetings:

• Union Sq Streetscape Planning Recap from 3/21
• Ward 2 Flooding Meeting TONIGHT 3/23 at 6pm
• Lake St Park Design Meeting 3/31
• 99 South St Lab + Open Space Meetings 4/6

Union Square Streetscape Redesign 3/21

This was an interesting meeting. I know we’re all exhausted by the years of utility and streetscape work in Union Square, but the administration is considering even more work, including to Bow Street, the Plaza, and Somerville Ave (again) between Webster and Prospect. Options presented included removing the parking lot in front of the Indo, turning Somerville Ave into “busway-only” (shown at right), and fully pedestrianizing Bow St, closing it to vehicle traffic. You can sign up for updates at https://voice.somervillema.gov/union-square-p-and-s, and should be able to watch the recording (and take a poll!) there soon.

Ward 2 (and 3) Stormwater Meeting TONIGHT, 3/23 at 6pm

Another exciting one that is close to a lot of people’s hearts (and basements), tonight the Engineering Department is hosting a meeting presenting proposed projects to address the root causes of flooding and prepare for ongoing Climate Change. You can learn more at somervillema.gov/drainageplan, and register for the Zoom meeting tonight at this link.

Lake St Park Design Neighborhood Meeting, 3/31 @ 6pm

This meeting is to talk about designs for a brand new park on Lake St, behind the old JJ Sullivan Plumbing building – and it’s entirely due to the efforts of neighbors down there during 2018 and 2019 to negotiate a better building and more open space from the developer. I’m very curious to see what options are on tap, and absolutely hope to see many of you there so that you can help determine what the neighborhood park you made possible ends up looking like to serve your needs best. The meeting registration will be at tinyurl.com/LakeStParkNM1

99 South St Lab Building and Thoroughfare Meetings, 4/6 at 6pm (and 7pm)

This is a meeting to get neighborhood input on the second major lab building in Boynton Yards, to join the currently occupied building at 101 South. In addition, we’ll be talking about the new street design there and providing feedback to Planning Staff and the design team. NOTE: awkwardly, Planning Staff has advised that unlike previous meetings we’ll need to use 2 different links for what is functionally one meeting, due to legal requirements. So please sign up for both, and you’ll get links to join them each.
6pm: “Thoroughfare 1” at tinyurl.com/BoyntonTF1NM1
7pm: “99 South St” at tinyurl.com/99SouthStNM1

These aren’t the only meetings going on in the next few weeks, just a few that you’re not likely to find posted online anywhere else that are particularly important to folks in Ward 2. If you want to see even more meetings happening in the city and ways to get engaged, somervillema.gov/events has a running calendar. As always, I also encourage you to drop in to my Virtual Office Hours every Friday from 8-10am (4 years and running!) and follow me on Twitter for even more up-to-the-minute updates on events and news in the Ward.

February 2022 Newsletter

Hello Ward 2!

It’s a new year and I’m honored to continue to serve as your Ward 2 City Councilor. As much as there have been big changes in the personnel at City Hall, the problems we face here haven’t changed – and there’s still an absolutely massive amount of activity, from construction to planning. Here’s 3 big meetings coming up in the next few weeks that I want you to know about:

EVERSOURCE SUBSTATION PLANNING: WEDS FEB 23 @ 630pm
Online at https://zoom.us/j/86899621640 – use passcode 480754 to enter

Eversource is proposing to place another massive above-ground transformer at the lot right across from the new T stop. I’ve heard concerns about placing another transformer here, requests to put all electrical infrastructure underground, worries about the site being vulnerable to flooding, and irritation that the infrastructure there might block future extension of the Green Line out to Porter Square. (An extension like that would also require MassDOT revamping the Prospect St and Webster Ave bridges over the track.) This Eversource project will require a Special Permit to proceed, and the first chance to get your feedback in is now!

WASHINGTON STREET PAVING PLAN: TUES MAR 1 @ 6pm
Online at https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0pf-GqpzsuGdJEF4gu2p4RelgQ2YBMCuaE%C2%A0

The Pilot project to add bike lanes, add bus slip lanes, and remove some parking took place back in fall 2020. While it wasn’t perfect, the goal of a pilot like that is to learn what works and what doesn’t. Now the Mobility and Engineering departments are eager to take in those lessons and work quickly towards finally getting Washington Street repaved, long overdue.

This meeting is a chance for you to let the City know what you want to see changed and improved in the final design – and what you consider a “must have” for the future of Washington Street. There are a lot of options! The fastest is just a simple repaving with new line markings, but I’ve heard requests for burying all the power and utility lines, for curb-separating the bicycle lanes, for adjusting the pickup-dropoff area at Argenziano, for extending the bike and bus lanes through Beacon Street, for improving crosswalks and signals, and for creating floating-bus-stop islands that will help shorten pedestrian crossings. Each piece can add cost and time, but it’s important to me that the people who live near Washington (and/or use it daily!) get their priorities taken into account, even if it stretches the project timeline. That said, maybe the road condition is so bad that we’re all willing to let some design goals slide in favor of just having a passable street and sidewalks again. I want to hear from YOU about what’s most important.

I have invited the Argenziano school community as well, and hope that this meeting will have some interesting and thoughtful discussion that guides the Engineering and Mobility Departments’ decision making for the design and timeline.

86 PROSPECT UPZONING NEIGHBORHOOD MEETING: WEDS MAR 2 @ 6pm
Online at https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/6794907514033541648

The owners of 86 and 82 Prospect Street have a problem: the two properties are zoned differently, but they want to build one project on both combined lots. One is UR (4-story apartment buildings by right) and one is MR5 (up to 5 stories mixed-use, but requires significant neighborhood meetings and Planning Board approval). They’d like to combine these parcels for a future project, and are requesting that the zoning be changed to MR5 for both parcels – understanding that this means working closely with the neighbors to make a project that works for the neighborhood.

I’ve long said that any zoning changes will require engaging with neighbors first, so this meeting is a step to hear what the owner is considering and – most importantly! – to hear from you about what you want to see on this site in order to support a zoning change. I hope you’ll come and share your thoughts with me and the owners, before it goes to the Planning Board and Land Use Committee.

REFLECTIONS

2021 was an incredibly challenging year in Ward 2 with gobs of development activity, utility work, and serious flooding. Both housing and food insecurity were top-of-mind for too many residents… and it felt like the Year the Rats Won. We also had some great wins last year, including zoning adjustments to make sure Brickbottom is respected while enabling high-rise construction on McGrath Highway, and continued strength from the Neighborhood Council in getting Community Benefits Agreement from Boynton Yards developers.

With a new administration I’m hopeful that our budget priorities will change to increase Inspectional Services resources to manage these projects and get enforcement on violations, commit to the stormwater infrastructure projects Ward 2 needs going forward, create safer streets structurally, and finally devote serious funding towards building affordable housing and providing community health and safety supports. This spring I hope to hold several budget priority meetings with ward residents to make sure I can represent your must-have priorities at City Hall during budget season.

As much as things may change, one thing hasn’t: I work for you, I want to hear from you, and I still hold open Office Hours every single Friday morning from 8am-10am. Online still for now at http://gotomeet.me/JTScott, but I’m hoping in the Spring to see you once again on my front porch.

Hang in there,
-JTS

Who I’m Voting for in Somerville’s 2021 Municipal Election, and Why

(If you’re looking for who’s endorsing me, along with all of the endorsement questionnaires, videos, and policy information, click here!)

I wrote quite a bit about what I’m looking for in my endorsements in the previous blog post. Early voting starts today, and whoever you support I hope you’ll get out and vote. With all that said, here are my recommendations for the Mayor, At-Large Councilor seats, and a few Ward races.

This is an incredible group of candidates, and it’s been wonderful to get to know them more since they declared for office. One thing that each and every one of these people have in common is that I learn something from every conversation with them. They each have such amazing talents and backgrounds, and their expertise is absolutely going to be an asset to the city. I’ve also been impressed with their universal dedication to positive, policy-focused grassroots campaigns that focus on bringing more of our neighbors into the political process – rising above any negativity surrounding electoral politics.

• MAYOR: WILL MBAH
• COUNCILOR AT LARGE: WILLIE BURNLEY JR, CHARLOTTE KELLY, EVE SEITCHIK
• WARD 5: TESSA BRIDGE
• WARD 7: BECCA MILLER

MAYOR: WILL MBAH

I’ve worked with both candidates for Mayor for four years on the Council, and I’ve got nothing bad to say about either one. But when it comes to selecting our next Mayor, Will Mbah stands out to me as the clear choice for a few reasons, and I’ll highlight three of them here.

First, his clarity of vision. Deliberative bodies – legislatures – can take a long time to work around issues. It can be easy to feel as if there’s never quite enough information to make the right decision, always peripheral considerations which can cloud the issue… but on the City Council, Will Mbah has consistently been a person who has the ability to stop and bring our focus back to the heart of any given matter. He asks the question: “How is this going to help the people of Somerville?” He helps us all by reaching past the minutiae and bringing us back to the core principles we all share.

Second, his decisiveness. Decision making with imperfect information is a vital skill for an executive like our Mayor. As an environmental scientist, Will Mbah understands the value of data and careful study – but he also understands that you’ll never have all the data. In a city where things are moving fast, we need a Mayor who has a track record of acting decisively – someone who can naturally combine careful consideration with the urgency for action. Will Mbah has the professional experience to make crucial decisions in a quickly changing world.

Third, his deep compassion and the relatability that comes from his honesty. When you meet Will Mbah, you may not agree with him – but you know you’re hearing what’s really on his mind and you can feel that he is a genuinely kind person who cares for this city with his whole heart. Being able to trust a person’s word, knowing that you can rely on them to tell it to you straight – these are qualities that are essential to working together to find solutions even through disagreements, time and again. Will and I haven’t always agreed on how to approach legislative matters in our time on the Council, but I know unfailingly that he’ll work with me and everyone else in good faith. 

I believe that Will Mbah’s natural ability to bring everyone to the table, shake hands, and work together is a trait that transcends skill. In a time when we’ve all suffered from the pandemic and years of increasing divisiveness, that’s the sort of positivity and unity that I think we need at the helm. I hope you’ll join me in voting for Will Mbah for Mayor of Somerville.

AT-LARGE COUNCILOR: WILLIE BURNLEY JR, CHARLOTTE KELLY, EVE SEITCHIK

For At-Large City Council we each have up to four votes. There are some fine people running, and I think we can all find something to admire about each of the candidates – but these three to me stand out for my endorsement and I’ll take a moment to tell you what I think makes each one a valuable addition to our City Council.

AT LARGE: WILLIE BURNLEY JR

There may not be a more savvy candidate in this election than Willie Burnley Jr. He’s observant, thoughtful, and decisive. He’s reached out to and even organized towards a common goal with people who might not seem to be natural allies, and that’s part of what makes him special. In my time working with Willie, he’s been unflinchingly willing to challenge my opinions; he’s also been ready to change his mind sometimes after a thoughtful conversation. In City Hall, Willie is a person who can shift conversations towards equity in a powerful way both with my colleagues and among city staff who are working on issues every day.

Willie’s experience with Sunrise and the campaigns of Sen Markey and Sen Warren have given him a sophisticated understanding of both how movement building works and how building coalitions to achieve real results is done. His lived experiences have rarely if ever been represented at City Hall. Having someone like Willie Burnley Jr whose internal compass is so unerringly pointed towards justice is a perspective that no amount of reading or theory can replace… and it can make a difference in people’s lives. I hope you’ll be marking your ballot for Willie Burnley Jr.

AT LARGE: CHARLOTTE KELLY

Charlotte Kelly’s professional resume is beyond impressive. If you care about results, Charlotte’s the person you want on your team. Very few people can lay claim to achievements as large as having built and led a statewide coalition to fight for more equitable public schools and colleges, securing more than $1.5 billion dollars in state funding for K-12 schools across Massachusetts. That’s just how Charlotte Kelly rolls.

Many of the issues facing Somerville can’t be tackled at the local level alone. Charlotte Kelly’s work as an organizer fighting for education justice has shown that she knows how to work at the state level to create change while building a movement here at home. Her broad support from environmental groups and her understanding of the importance of a strengthened working class shows that she’s the kind of leader who can help build a stronger, more prosperous Somerville for everyone. I’m excited to cast one of my At-Large votes for Charlotte Kelly, and ask that you join me in supporting her.

AT LARGE: EVE SEITCHIK

The job of a legislator – of a City Councilor – is to craft laws that implement policies. Both sides of that are important: a poorly written law doesn’t achieve its goal, and a well-written law without clear policy goals rooted in our values only worsens inequity. Eve Seitchik understands fundamentally that our values are not negotiable, and our city is not for sale. Eve knows that in this beautiful and diverse city full of colorful characters, it’s important to always keep in the forefront the purpose of government: to serve people, not profit.

In my time knowing Eve, I’ve seen time and again that their decision making always comes back for a final check-in with their underlying principles. That’s an incredibly valuable reflex in the challenging processes of crafting legislation and managing the city’s budget, and it echoes some of what I’ll miss in Will Mbah’s presence on the City Council. Eve’s bravery in naming and confronting injustice is impressive, and their organizing work has touched on so many campaigns which have all been bound together by a common thread: we need a city, a society, a world that works for all of us… and it won’t happen unless we come together to demand that we collectively do better. That resolute focus is something that Eve will bring to the City Council, and it’s one of the biggest reasons I’m voting for Eve Seitchik. 

WARD 5: TESSA BRIDGE

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working alongside Tessa Bridge for years on issues that make a difference for Somerville residents – like affordable housing, fair wages, and education. She’s analytical, organized, effective, and willing to speak uncomfortable truths. I’m a better activist because of the work we’ve done together.

Beyond understanding the need for action to address our climate and housing crises, Tessa Bridge clearly sees the underlying inequalities that have gotten us here. She knows that our solutions cannot be founded in the same policies and biases that created the problems – and that’s an important foundation to have when considering how to approach the billion dollar problems facing this city in the years to come. Ward 5 deserves thoughtful and independent representation on the City Council, and I can’t imagine a finer representative than Tessa Bridge for Ward 5 in the coming election.

WARD 7: BECCA MILLER

Becca has run one of the most impressive campaigns in the city this year. Her prior work on food insecurity demonstrates an impressive track record of getting results from an often absurdly complicated set of government bureaucracies by combining grassroots organizing with legislative advocacy. Similar to Councilor Mbah, she has a clarity of vision and a sense of urgency which will be an absolute blessing for the residents of Ward 7 who are counting on their local representative to advocate for what’s right alongside them. 

I’m excited to work with Becca on the City Council. She has incredible hustle, strong experience bringing people into the democratic process, and the commitment to transparency and inclusivity necessary to do outstanding work for the people of her Ward. Ward 7 deserves a Councilor who will speak plainly, listen honestly, and bring the residents directly into the decision making process. I’ve seen what it takes to be an effective Ward Councilor, and she has it all.

Thoughts About Municipal Government; or, What I’m Considering when Making My Endorsements in 2021

Hello Ward 2! We’re just a few weeks from our 2021 municipal election, and I’ve been asked (quite a few times) to write out my official endorsements in long form, with justifications for why I’m supporting these candidates.

But before I get to the individuals, and why I’m supporting them, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the bigger picture of how we approach municipal affairs and why that matters to me when making these individual choices for endorsements.

The past 18 years of the Curtatone administration have seen city government grow significantly more complex (“sophisticated and data driven”) but we have also seen city services and maintenance degrade over that time. The city’s data tracking and data management initiatives have won awards from various industry groups, but those awards mean nothing to residents watching their city decay around them even as it prices them out of their homes. To us as residents it doesn’t matter how well-calibrated our street-condition model is if the City isn’t actually paving sidewalks and streets… and we’ve averaged about 1 mile per year recently. Unfortunately, I see a city that spends more money and effort studying problems than on fixing them.

Another consequence of this approach has been the gradual privatization of public goods and public works. I could cite the rinks or the SCATV building in Union Square when it comes to physical public buildings and spaces. I could cite the city’s street sweeping, sewer repair, tree care, parks maintenance, trash collection, and recycling contracts on the services side. All of these things should be the business of the city, employing Somerville residents, paying a living wage, and providing the benefits we all deserve. That’s how we build a stronger working class here in Somerville, and it’s how we can get our city taken care of properly. After all, no one is more motivated to take care of your neighborhood better than the neighbors who live there; that’s who we should be employing at DPW and other departments, not bidding these jobs to out-of-town or out-of-state contractors.

In short, we’ve seen the consultant and management budgets explode over the past 18 years, while critical city maintenance positions have seen stagnant wages and reduced benefits which result in a condition now where our DPW and Water/Sewer departments are dangerously understaffed and struggle to meet the basic requirements of the jobs we need them to tackle. Similarly, instead of relying on robust resident input from our volunteer Commissions (like Fair Housing, Human Rights, Commission for Women, Commission for People With Disabilities) the City has defunded these Commissions and come to rely upon consultant reports and contracted expertise instead. This puts decision making farther from the “ground level”, and we can see the results all around us.

We face enormous challenges and projects locally – stormwater and sewer infrastructure, street and sidewalk reconstruction, city building overhauls and repairs, building public housing, building senior housing, gaining full ADA compliance, and much more. We can continue to bid these jobs out to lackluster results (see how badly Beacon St was mismanaged, how hard it has been to get paving contractors to fix bad jobs, problems with school upgrades and contracts), or we can commit to rebuilding our capacity here in Somerville to take care of the daily nuts-and-bolts of city government and maintenance.

This is a problem that we will need to revisit at the core principles to resolve, and it directly connects to equity. We can set and meet equity hiring goals as a City; we can’t guarantee that with contractors. We can build a diverse, deep, and talented team of skilled labor, technical, and managerial talent here at home, if we commit to hiring, training, and retaining that talent as we face these issues. We truly do need to Build Back Better. We need a mayor who is committed to changing how we tackle these issues, and we need City Councilors who understand these fundamental principles and are willing to stand firm and insist upon them when bonding (borrowing) requests come forward.

We’ve been “studying” these problems for decades. It’s time for the city to get to the work of fixing them. We’ll make missteps as we do that if we really begin to act with urgency, but every day that we continue along our current trajectory sees us get farther from the goal of a robust local working class that takes care of our infrastructure and neighborhoods; every day sees more of our neighbors pushed out, priced out, and just plain walking away as they feel the City isn’t here to take care of them anymore.

That’s what I think we need in our Mayor and City Councilors: people who recognize the basic responsibility of municipal governments to care for the city and its residents, and who recognize the ways in which our City has failed to do so for the past decade and more. We need Councilors who understand at their very core that municipal government is a vehicle for creating more equitable access to services and opportunity, for creating more stability and security, and for creating a place where we are each free to live in peace and pursue our own happiness.

Along with that shared understanding, I’m also looking for Councilors with the passion and skills to implement good policy through zoning and ordinances, and the determination to use our budgetary authority to ensure that those policies are being implemented by the Mayor’s administration – whoever that Mayor ends up being.

With that in mind, I’ll be following up with another post shortly sharing my endorsements for the Mayor, At-Large Councilor seats, and a few Ward races.

Flooding, Stormwater, Climate Change, and a Billion Dollar Infrastructure Problem

Flooding is on everyone’s mind right now: we had a Flash Flood event on Thursday and are braced for Hurricane Henri’s rains this week.

But flooding – and stormwater management, and our sewers – have been on my mind for years. Today I’d like to let you know what we’ve been doing in the City for the past 4 years to prepare for these storms, and what we can do better in the next 4 years.

Well over half of Somerville’s sewage and stormwater drains through Union Square. Almost all of it does so through our 100+ year old combined sewer system. Updating that system isn’t just about preventing the sinkholes and collapses that we’ve been seeing increasingly over the past 10 years as regular maintenance has fallen by the wayside; we need to engage in massive improvements to our underground infrastructure to handle the storms of today and tomorrow.

You already know how bad the flooding is; like me, you probably spent Thursday and Friday mucking sewage out of your basements, businesses, and sidewalks. Unfortunately, climate change means our problem will only get worse. If you haven’t read Somerville’s 2017 Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, I recommend it. It’s a stark picture of Somerville’s future if we don’t act with urgency. Fortunately, since it was published we are already underway on projects intended to address some of these issues.


UNDER CONSTRUCTION NOW

Fortunately, we’re already underway to the tune of $140 Million in projects on what I describe as “Phase 1, Phase 1a, Phase 2, and Phase 2a” of “How to Stop Ward 2 from Flooding”.

Phase 1: Somerville Ave Union Sq Project

Cost: $63M
Timeline: 2018-“Finishing Soon”
Storage Capacity: roughly 250k gal
What it is: Giant 14’x8′ box culverts for stormwater drainage, the main outlet for the future separated system in Somerville. In the meantime, those act as an overflow tank for flood events. This is why we haven’t been able to get through Union Square for the past 4 years.
What else?: new separated bike lanes, wider sidewalks, raised ped crossings, more trees

Phase 1a: Poplar St Pumpstation Project

Cost: $50M
Timeline: 2022-2025
Storage Capacity: roughly 4.5 Million gallons
What it is: Basically a 4-story building, below ground, topped with a pump station connecting it to the MBTA’s drainage line in the event of an overflow. This is the big “buck stops here” project which is the catch-all for flood overflow at the end of the line of the Phase 1 project (and about half the city). Provides about 1/3 reduction in floodwaters in Lincoln Park and Duck Village areas, also.
What else?: the long promised “ArtFarm”, about 2 acres of green space including arts and agriculture area in Ward 2

Phase 2: Spring Hill Separation Project


Timeline: 2022-2025
Cost: $30M
Area: 65 acres of sewer separation, about 20k linear feet of sewer and stormwater drain lines
What it is: Separating stormwater from our sewer lines uphill of Union Square, including the Spring Hill piece of Ward 2. This will help reduce the “surcharge” flooding – when the pipes fill up and start ejecting mixed sewer floods onto our streets and sidewalks – and will add drainage capacity to the whole system. It connects into the Phase 1 pipes and pump station.
What else?: new sidewalks, raised ped crossings, new bike lanes, over 180 new trees

Phase 2b: Lake Street Storage Tank

Cost: Free (paid for and built by the developer of 346 Somerville Ave)
Timeline: Now-2023
Storage Capacity: 100k gallons, roughly equivalent to 10 tractor-trailer tankers underground
What it is: Underneath the new public park being built on Lake St as part of the 346 Somerville Ave project, a sizable overflow tank to help reduce flash flood events on Lake Street. Will create several new stormwater connections at the low point of Lake Street and immediately improve drainage on Lake Street.
What else?: new pedestrian connection from Bow Market to Olive Square, new public park of roughly 10k square feet, 100 new residential units, 20 new affordable units.


RELIEF COMING SOON

So that’s what’s already funded and in the construction pipeline. Those projects alone will reduce flooding in the Lincoln Park and Duck Village area by about a third, but to completely eliminate flooding we have a few more projects that have already been through preliminary design and are working towards “shovel ready” status. That’s phases 3, 4, and 4b, and I’m working with my colleagues on the City Council, the Mayor, the Engineering team, and state and federal delegations to secure funding and accelerate the timelines on these projects for the ward. If we’re going to fix the flooding in Somerville and Ward 2, we need to ensure these projects move forward as fast as possible.

Phase 3: Duck Village/Perry/Washington Project

Cost: ~$30M+
Timeline: Future, potentially 2024-2026
Storage Capacity: roughly 1M gal
What it is: Full sewer and stormwater separation for Duck Village and the surrounding area, added 18″ stormwater main for Washington St, new 1M gal flood overflow tank in Perry Park serviced by a 30″ line. Will practically eliminate flooding in the area.
What else?: new sidewalks, raised and shortened ped crossings, new trees, finalized version of the Washington St Bus/Bike pilot project.

Phase 4: Lincoln Park South Neighborhood Project

Cost: ~$30M+
Timeline: Future, potentially 2025-2027
Storage Capacity: roughly 2.75M gal
What it is: Full sewer and stormwater separation for Duck Village and the surrounding area, new 2+M gal flood overflow tank in Parca Portuguesa/Concord Triangle. Can connect to the new Boynton Yards infrastructure and overflow tank. Will eliminate flooding in the area.
What else?: new sidewalks, raised ped crossings, new trees

Phase 4b: Boynton Yards Project

Cost: $50M for the tank, more for the pipes; paid for substantially by developers but built by the City
Timeline: Phased, 2022-2027
Storage Capacity: roughly 2.75M gal
What it is: Full sewer and stormwater separation for Boynton Yards, new 1.5M gal flood overflow tank. Can connect to the new Boynton Yards infrastructure and overflow tank. Will eliminate flooding in the area.
What else?: all new sidewalks and streets, new South Street extension all the way to Webster, raised and shortened ped crossings, new trees, 2+acres of green space, public parks, and outdoor performance venues as well as a new expanded home for Groundwork Somerville


A Green New Deal for Somerville

Since getting elected in 2017 we’ve already started over $100M into approved and funded projects, with well over $100M more planned for Ward 2 in the next 6 years. These projects will dramatically reduce flooding in our neighborhoods, but they do move at the speed of “subsurface infrastructure projects”, which does take time and can be hard to live with while it’s underway.

How the City implements those projects can have a profound impact on more than just the flooding mitigation and our environmental responsibility to not discharge sewage into our streets and the Mystic River though.

Last week, Senator Markey was in Ward 2 to announce the provisions of his Green New Deal packages in Washington DC, including the new Civilian Climate Corps. Working with Sen Markey and Rep Pressley in Washington, it’s my goal to secure funding for these projects and for a massive job training and full employment program for Somerville. Rather than spend these hundreds of millions on outside contractors alone, this is a transformative opportunity for us to rebuild a robust working class in Somerville, training residents in trades for these climate and infrastructure jobs and putting them to work for decades.

Because the work of infrastructure in Somerville isn’t limited to this quarter of a billion dollars in subsurface projects. To completely repair and update our sewer system is fully a Billion Dollar Problem that will take well over a decade. To completely update our water infrastructure and prevent future breaks is another half-billion. To pave our streets, currently in horrible disrepair, is another half-billion dollars – and we’re only paving 1 mile a year currently. To refit our city buildings to bring them up to ADA standards and make them energy efficient is close to a half-billion dollars as well.

In order to tackle all these issues we’ll need political will and collaboration with our federal colleagues – but more importantly to the future of Somerville’s residents we’ll need to be committed to using local labor and going the extra mile to build a strong and diverse working class that earns enough to live in this community.

In the meantime, hang in there Ward 2. Please keep calling 311 to report flooding, keep clearing your storm sewer drains when you see them blocked, keep helping your neighbors get through these storms. The city has published some tips on how to handle flooding, and we have strong requirements in zoning and other ordinances for new construction to not make our stormwater problems worse, but long-term this isn’t a “personal responsibility” type of problem. Our flooding issues are a system-wide infrastructure challenge, and I’m already working with a great team to fix it. With your support, we’ll get it done in this decade.

June 2021 Ward 2 Newsletter – Budget Hearing Tonight

Hello Ward 2! It’s been a while since my last newsletter in September, and I’ll admit that the pandemic has been challenging for me and my family. (We haven’t had a babysitter in 15 months!) Still, we’re all healthy and my oldest child is coming into the final weeks of Virtual Argenziano Kindergarten having learned an incredible amount thanks to the amazing staff at SPS – what more could I ask for? I hope you and yours are well and fully vaccinated.

The business of the city marches on, and today is the Public Hearing on the FY22 Budget for the city. This is an important inflection point, so if you have spending priorities that you want the Council to press for this year it’s incredibly important to send public comment to the City Clerk or attend virtually at 6pm to have your say!

As the Chair of the Finance Committee, I’ll be spending every night in June on the $270 Million annual budget review with Councilors White, Rossetti, Mbah, and Ballantyne. There’s also a few meetings and neighborhood events coming up to let you know about as well as updates on the Washington St Bus/Bike Lanes pilot project and the future of virtual meetings. Finally, I’ve got an important update about this year’s election, which will be one of the most important in decades in Somerville. Read on for more!

Fiscal Year 2022 Budget

Every June we approve the budget (and tax rates) for the coming year. So far we’ve spent 9 hours in the last two nights beginning the budget review, covering Immigrant Affairs, Finance, Communications, Inspectional Services, Infrastructure, and Engineering and over a dozen more departments. We’ve been hearing stories of hardworking city employees doing their best during a very difficult time, and looking to what resources they need to serve the city better in the coming year.

If you’d like to see the entire budget for yourself and look through individual departments, you can see all the information here at somervillema.gov/fy22budget.

While I’m glad that the School Department is getting an 8% increase in their funding for this year, that decision comes from the School Committee’s recommendation to the Mayor. The City Council is responsible for the review of how the other $202M is allocated this year.

What we’re hearing about our city’s infrastructure won’t be surprising to you: our sewers, water lines, city buildings, and roads are in terrible disrepair and require significant investment. We all notice the roads and sidewalks especially: over half are in need of full reconstruction and repaving, and another 30% need maintenance now to prevent them from deteriorating to that point. Repairing all of this adds up to a $2 Billion price tag:

Water: $500M in repairs needed

Sewers: $1B in needed repairs and stormwater drainage separation, $100M of it critical to address currently collapsing sewerlines

Roads and Sidewalks: $220M

City Buildings: $100M in critical upgrades for ADA accessibility and building code compliance, another $200M in needed maintenance.

Unfortunately, the city spent only $5,000 on paving in the past year, and currently is budgeting only $90,000 for next year. A request from Engineering for $500,000 for emergency road and sidewalk repairs has been denied by the Mayor, but I’m working to get it back into the budget now; we need to start addressing this situation instead of kicking the can down the (potholed) road for another year.

If you’d like a taste of the (sometimes dry) process of discovering and reviewing our infrastructure needs, you can use this link to check out the last 45 minutes of this meeting where we discussed these budget items.

“Re-imagining Policing”

Despite bold promises from the mayor last year and a mandate from the city to re-allocate funding to other city services, the mayor has proposed to increase the police department budget by $1.5M this year. Even though the process of “re-imagining policing” that was promised a year ago has not even been started, the mayor is proposing to build a new police HQ building at a cost of $60M this year.

The City Council has been advancing legislative reforms in the past year, including passing a facial recognition surveillance ban, passing a law limiting surveillance technology use within the city and providing Council review of new technologies, and beginning the process of establishing a Civilian Police Commission and Review Agency to receive resident complaints and review discipline cases. Now that the Director of Racial and Social Justice has been hired (in April 2021), the City Council will be working with her and the community to bring that Commission into law.

However, we have a long way to go and to date the only demands of the BIPOC community to have been partially met has been a temporary suspension of the School Resource Officer and STEPS programs (both of which are “police in schools” programs) and the beginning of mobile vaccination clinics and focused multilingual outreach in East Somerville.

PUBLIC HEARING TONIGHT @ 6PM

Tonight the City Council is hosting an online public hearing at 6pm to hear your input on the city’s spending priorities for this year. You can register online at this link, and as the Chair I will work to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.

In addition, every one of our meetings is livestream broadcast and recorded for future viewing. You can find them all at this link and I’m grateful for the dozens of residents that regularly keep an eye on the city’s business.

As always, you can also follow me on twitter for more timely updates, or some of the local residents that frequently tweet recaps of City meetings like @DerrickAndADog or Ward 2’s own @Somershade1.

Virtual Meetings and Office Hours Update

In the past 52 weeks alone, I’ve hosted 56 online city meetings with 2,290 active participants in total. That’s in addition to my weekly office hours which I’ve been hosting virtually during the pandemic every Friday from 8-10am, which usually average about 10 people stopping in per day to ask questions and chat about neighborhood and city issues.

We’ve seen many more people be able to participate in local govt processes thanks to not having to hire a babysitter or come down to the police station (or up to City Hall) for a meeting. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen a decline in the number of seniors who participate and the digital divide is real in Somerville, since we lack municipal broadband access. (I’m working on that.)

My hope for the end of 2021 is that I’ll be able to host all neighborhood meetings in a hybrid format, allowing both in-person and online participation. I’m pressing the city right now for funding for both the hardware as well as live simultaneous translation services so that our meetings are more accessible and get the broadest possible engagement. 

For now I’m using my Office Hours to try to work on what a successful hybrid meeting looks like and started the in-person aspect again last week! Feel free to stop by my front porch at 269 Washington Street or login online any Friday morning to have a chat about our city and the issues you care about.

Washington St Bus/Bike Lane Update

It’s been about a year since the city put down the bus/bike lanes and removed some parking spaces on Washington Street. I’ve been out the last few weeks canvassing neighbors who live on Washington and within a block on either side to get your feedback on the new street layout.

The city has recently done updated traffic and parking counts to gather data on how the changes are impacting residents, but I find nothing replaces talking to people who live here in person to get a real sense of how these changes are working out. What works? What doesn’t? What needs to change?

So far the feedback is mostly about problems with pickup/dropoff at Argenziano, a desire to continue the bicycle lanes between Dane and Prospect, and a general impression that parking is still available within a block or so, even if it takes an extra few minutes or a block or so longer walk than it did previously. I also hear a lot of folks want all the overhead utility/electrical lines buried; that’s going to be a big lift for us to organize for, at roughly $1M per mile of buried utilities, but I’m ready to fight alongside you to get it! I want to hear from as many of you as possible to get more of your feedback.

The final street layout and repaving – including sidewalks, crosswalks, and curb changes – won’t happen for another year or two, so this is our chance to get our input in and get it done right. If you haven’t seen me at your door, feel free to email me or drop in to my office hours to tell me about how you’ve experienced the new Washington St layout and what you’d like to see next!

Neighborhood Events and Meetings

There’s a bit of a lull in neighborhood meetings as I will be occupied every weeknight this month with budget review, but we do have some upcoming events:

Big Gay Dance Party

The city’s Big Gay Dance Party returns this Friday from 6:30-9 in Union Square Plaza. DJs, dancing, and the strange experience of being social with other people.

Somerville Firefighters Memorial Service

This Sunday at 9am at the 651 Somerville Ave Fire Station (formerly the W2P3 polling location) will be the annual Somerville Firefighters Memorial Service. Click the link for more information.

Union United’s Union Square Developments Walking Tour

At 1pm Sunday June 13 starting in the Union Square Plaza, Union United (the group that introduced and organized for five years to get a Community Benefits Agreement in Union Square) is hosting this Walking Tour to inform neighbors of the four large commercial developments that are already in the city review process. Check out the link for more details.

July 1: Neighborhood Meeting regarding 1 McGrath Hwy Hotel Development

There will be a meeting on July 1 at 6pm to view an updated proposal for a hotel development on the site of Sav-Mor Liquors. The project had previously had approval several years prior, but this new revision apparently includes a pedestrian access to the Community Path and a shared driveway with the proposed lab building at 15 McGrath Hwy next door. I look forward to seeing the plans with the rest of you, and hearing your input; you can register for the meeting at https://tinyurl.com/1McGrathNM1 or click here for the full link.

Municipal Elections this year: SEPT 14 and NOV 2

This year we are seeing Mayor Joe Curtatone stepping down, as well as long-serving Councilors Bill White, Mary Jo Rossetti, and Mark Niedergang. With these vacancies, and the declaration of mayoral candidacies by Councilor Katjana Ballantyne and Councilor Will Mbah, that means that there are 5 vacancies on the City Council: 3 at-large, and 2 wards. 

This citywide election will have a critical Primary Election on September 14, and the final Municipal Election on November 2. This will be the first time in almost two decades that we’ll have a new Mayor here in Somerville, and it’s an amazing opportunity to shape the City Council moving forward towards a more equitable and stable future, including pushing for public housing, community-owned housing, and expanded local hiring for much needed infrastructure work – Somerville’s own Green New Deal. I’ve already endorsed candidates for the 3 At-Large vacancies and the two open Ward seats, as well as for Mayor – but I’ll send another email about that later in the summer.

A challenger has also declared their intention to run for the Ward 2 City Council seat. I’m happy to see folks get engaged in this process – before I ran in 2017, nobody had challenged the seated Alderman in 14 years. That said, I’m proud of the work I’ve done to increase affordability, transparency, accountability, tenant’s rights, green space creation, housing stability, constituent services, financial oversight, and above all working to ensure that development benefits the community instead of just enriching developers in the city over the past 4 years, and I’m asking again for your support to continue representing Ward 2 in the next term.

If you like what I’ve been doing and want to get involved with a yard sign, canvassing, or in any other way, please do get in touch and consider making a donation to our re-election campaign. After budget season concludes, I look forward to another beautiful summer knocking on your doors and chatting with you about the future of our city!

Sept 14 2020 Update

Hello Ward 2! It’s impossibly hard to summarize the last 3 months – we’ve all been in it together, though. As we begin to launch the new school year and careen towards a national election that has everyone on edge, let’s try to keep kindness in mind. Having patience and love for our kids, our neighbors, and ourselves will go a long way to helping us all get by.

There have been more calls lately about neighborhood problems, and everyone does seem to be a bit more “on edge”. Frustrations are high and stresses are compounding, as we enter our seventh month of pandemic restrictions. It’s understandable, and I’m feeling that way too.

The rash of racist graffiti in Ward 2 hasn’t been helping, and it’s absolutely disturbing to see it pop up. Thankfully, DPW and local residents alike have been covering it as soon as it appears, and a group of neighbors are planning a Black Lives Matter mural in response here in the ward.

I’m extremely proud of the ways that our neighborhood has come together to help each other – be it through MAMAS (Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville) or just checking in on the neighbors, it’s important to stay in touch and support each other.

Now that we’re past September 1, we all have some new neighbors. I encourage you to reach out to them! We were all new to the neighborhood once, even if you were born here. Tell them about this newsletter, help them understand how to access city services, neighborhood mailing lists, anything to help get them oriented to Somerville and let them know how we do things here. We never know if new neighbors will be gone in a year or lifelong friends, but we never get a chance at the latter if we don’t reach out. I know I’m baking a few batches of cookies this week for my new neighbors, and will be including some flyers for information and local connections.

One thing that’s been incredible to see is the strong desire for everyone to stay engaged through online participation. Our Budget Hearing on June 24th may have been the most attended city meeting in a century, with many hundreds of you logging in not only to watch, but participate with public comment. Running a meeting that large was definitely a challenge, but getting to hear everyone out was essential and rewarding.

We see that kind of engagement in neighborhood meetings as well. There haven’t been as many for developments lately, but I have hosted a series with dozens of participants each (better than in-person meetings used to get!) for Boynton Yards, Gateway (Glass Stop) Innovation Center, Brickbottom/Chestnut St, and Joy St. The last is especially inspiring, as artists there banded together to face the scary prospect of having their building acquired by a developer. I’m happy to say that they’re now working together to build a strong relationship with that new ownership that emphasizes the importance of these artists to Somerville and secures a long-term home for them – not displacement.

We have a few more Neighborhood Meetings coming up, as well. As with all of these meetings, the questions are “what would work for us”, as in “how can this project make the neighborhood – and the city – work better for the residents”?

• 373 Washington St (Training Room) – Weds, Sep 16 @ 6:30
Link to join: https://tinyurl.com/TrainingRoomZoning
This is not the standard “Special Permit” kind of meeting – more an open discussion to gather the neighborhood’s preferences. I had zoned this property as Fabrication; the developer who owns it and Anna Moran’s house next door (zoned NR) would like to consolidate those parcels and change zoning to match, or accommodate a larger project. The question to the neighborhood is “what do you want to see here?” I’m hopeful for a well attended discussion that both gives the developer a solid idea of what the neighborhood wants, and a mandate for going forward (whether that be keeping the existing zoning or making a change).

 • 64 Webster Ave+ (across from Webster Auto Body) – date and link TBD, possibly Oct 5
This is proposed to be a project that sits in the Boynton Yards Overlay district, a large lab building with office. There are questions for the neighborhood about heights on Webster, traffic and loading patterns, and whether or not to support a zoning change to allow for a slightly different internal configuration of the building.

I also really encourage you to check out the online meetings of the Committees of the City Council. It’s never been easier to see both the agendas AND the discussion, and to get engaged in local government! You’d be amazed how much gets covered and how much influence YOU can have in your city.

If you’d like the Cliff’s Notes, several local folks on Twitter have accounts that follow and livetweet meetings of the Planning Board, ZBA, City Council, and more. For civic engagement, it’s a nice way to dip your toes into the information flow to follow @Somershade1, @3deckerlaura, and @DerrickAndADog for live recaps of public meetings and rundowns of upcoming agendas. And of course, you can follow me @JTforWard2 for much more frequent updates than a quarterly newsletter! I announce neighborhood meetings, city news, and more, including occasional cute pictures of my kids.

Finally, as always, every week I host office hours every Friday morning from 8-10am, and I welcome you to join me by going to https://gotomeet.me/jtscott any Friday.

Be well and be in touch,

-JTS

June 11 2020 Newsletter – BUDGET and WATER/SEWER RATES

Hello Ward 2,

I hope everyone is staying healthy and adjusting as best as we can to a COVID world. I know it’s been hard for my family, and the last few weeks of watching our nation coming to terms once again with the horrific impacts of racism, especially in our policing, has also been wrenching. Black Lives Matter, and across the country people are demanding change to reflect that.

Here in Somerville that demand is coming in a lot of forms. “Just Us Somerville” is a newly-formed POC organization that hosted a powerful vigil in East Somerville last Sunday. I really encourage you to watch this video of all of the speakers – it’s only one hour – but even if you can only spend 8 minutes, I ask you to watch the section starting at 33:30 in, where Kenia lays out the simple and clear demands coming from POC here in Somerville about what needs to be addressed.

I’ll be perfectly clear: I think this is time for us to listen and follow the lead of our Black and Brown neighbors. While the inequities of our system impact all of us, this moment of uprising demands that we lift up their voices instead of pushing them aside or talking over them. That’s why I’ve spent the last week and then some working with Black and Brown elected and community leaders here in Somerville to understand some of those needs, and begin the work with them to translate those needs into legislation that addresses them. This resolution Clr Will Mbah is putting forward with myself and Clr Lance Davis is a good first step, with more to come.

We don’t need a consultant to tell us the problems, and the solutions are rooted in the work that those communities have been doing for a long time. We just have to listen, and then put our money where our mouth is when we say Black Lives Matter.

Especially as we approach budget season and set the priorities for our COVID-19 impacted budget, it will be critically important for my colleagues and I on the City Council to ensure that Somerville’s spending reflects the demands of its residents.

As Chair of Finance Committee, I’ve been pressing the administration to release more details sooner – but the uncertainty of this situation has left us a situation in which we will not be receiving the budget to review until June 19th – just 11 days before the end of the fiscal year.

I will be holding a public hearing on June 24th, the very first available day allowed by state law after we receive the budget. I will want to hear from many of you in person, just as the City Council has been getting your emails in the last week, about how you want your money spent.

I’ll try to do everything I can to get you a summary of the changes we see this year, and I encourage you all to watch the special meeting of the City Council scheduled for June 19th to see the mayor’s presentation and get your first look at the full budget, including the budget for Somerville’s schools.

At the Finance Committee meeting tonight, June 10, we did get a tool that lets us preview this year’s budget projections. You can see it at somervillema.opengov.com/transparency – and I can tell you that I’m personally disappointed in what I see.

  • Housing Stability: DOWN $82k from $688k to 606k – a 12% drop
  • Arts Council: DOWN $56k from $573k to 517k – a 9.8% drop
  • Veterans Services: $30k, from $770k to $740k – a 3.9% drop
  • Libraries: DOWN $50k from $2.176M to $2.126M – a 2.3% drop

    …and of course, the question many of you are asking by now:

  • POLICE: down a total of $45k, from $16.824 Million to $16.779 Million – just a 0.3% drop.

Just 3/10ths of a percent.

I welcome all of you to take a look at the data there, and to tune in on the 19th of June when we receive the budget, and to come tell us what you think on June 24th at the public hearing. I can assure you that the City Council will be deliberate and careful in its consideration, and I will not hesitate to reject an unacceptable proposal that does not present substantive change.

In the meantime, the Mayor has also proposed a significant rate increase on water and sewer charges: 7.5% and 2.5% respectively. As recently as one month ago, I had been told that there would be no rate increase at all, so this has come as somewhat of a shock. YOU as a resident have a right to have your voice heard, and the sewer department has scheduled a public hearing on the Water and Sewer Rates for THURSDAY JUNE 11 at 6pm. You can watch the presentation and provide your feedback by going to https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/5546959603551196943 on Jun 11 – which by the time I send this email out is probably today!

There is much more to talk about, and even more important listening to do. As always, I host office hours every Friday morning from 8-10am, and I welcome you to join me by going to https://gotomeet.me/jtscott any Friday.

I hope to get out another email before long to tell you all about the Neighborhood Meeting we held for a commercial development in Boynton Yards and updates about reopening schedules and protocols. For now I felt it was important to keep you informed about the important and time-sensitive conversations happening right now around the city’s budget, but stay tuned for more information.

In the meantime, I appreciate all of your passion and love for this city and your neighbors. Stay safe, stay connected, and I’ll see you soon.

-JTS

April 2020 Newsletter

Hello Ward 2! It’s been 6 weeks since my last email, and it feels like it’s been a long year. The local, state, and national situation has been changing daily – sometimes twice a day – as we have tried to find the right path to keeping people safe during this global pandemic.

( TLDR: Come to Virtual Office Hours Friday morning 8-10am )

Twitter and Facebook have been good tools for staying informed with all of the rapid changes, and the city’s central information hubs at www.somervillema.gov/coronavirus and www.somervillema.gov/coronavirushelp have been great repositories for the many policy updates as well as resources that the city is making available for residents. The School Department has also been amazing, providing computers, food, and diapers for families that rely on schools for access to these basic needs. And those efforts are expanding with the newly announced “Somerville Cares” program being administered by the City and CAAS. (See https://www.caasomerville.org/somerville-cares-fund for details.)

In short, though, we’re working to get people the help they need to do the right thing and stay inside. There’s no good reason for anyone to go hungry or lose their housing right now. If you are worried about it, please give me a call and I’ll get you help.

In the last 4 weeks we’ve transitioned all city business to online formats and even public hearings are being conducted by web conference. If you’d like to listen in to the weekly briefing the City Council receives, the Public Health and Public Safety Committee is meeting every Monday for several hours of information, discussion, and planning. (Our next one will be Tuesday, due to Patriots Day.) You can see the meeting schedule at https://somervillecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx – I encourage you to check out an agenda and tune in. If you can’t catch them live, you can see the replay there as well. For example, here was this Monday’s meeting.

One of the most inspiring efforts I’ve been involved with has been Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville – www.mutualaidmamas.com – a truly local movement to get people connected and supported in their neighborhoods. This all-volunteer crew is doing amazing work to support people and has even staffed a 24-hour hotline. In the early days of this crisis these neighbors helped people who were falling through the cracks, and continue to be an amazing example of what we can do for each other.

I’m not going to even attempt to recap all the information available on those websites in this newsletter – I already tend to make these too long. But even while all of that is happening to try to keep city government moving and working for you, the usual business of living and getting by continues.

I’ve gotten calls from people needing help with food or having landlord troubles; fortunately I’ve been able to connect people to resources to help with that. I’ve gotten calls for masks and hand sanitizer, and the local Mutual Aid networks have been able to deliver. Questions about water bills, tax bills, and filing for unemployment assistance come in, and I’m happy to answer them.

But there’s other (maybe more mundane) things that people worry about: a construction crew working despite the current ban, a restaurant too crowded for safe operation, trash starting to build up due to street sweeping being delayed… those are real issues too, and I’m happy to take your calls and get those issues addressed.

The fact is that without comprehensive testing (which we have not gotten and will not be getting soon) we have no idea the full scope of the epidemiology we’re dealing with, and it’s very likely we’re going to be in this “social distancing” situation for a long time.

What that means to me is that we can’t just tough it out and “try to get by a little while longer”. We can’t put off the problems we see until things “return to normal”. Trust me, with two small kids at home, mortgage, and a business that is shut down for the duration – I feel the strain that we’re all dealing with. But hoping it goes away won’t get us through.

Whatever problems we face now, we need to figure out a way to fix them – or at least make them bearable. We need to help each other figure out the rent, food, bills. We need to figure out work, whether that’s working from home or working as safely as possible at “essential jobs”. For small businesses, we need to figure out how to keep everyone safe and supported so that when this does end there will be businesses to return to.

That’s why I’m hopeful about the work the entire City government is doing, and the measures we’re pushing with our State delegation (Sen Jehlen and Reps Connolly and Provost here in Ward 2), and the conversations with our Federal delegation – especially Ayanna Presley and Ed Markey – that will move towards a sustainable and supportive path forward for everyone.

That’s also why I’m happy to take your calls and work on finding solutions with you. While we may need to stay at home for everyone’s safety, we can’t just “wait it out” – we have to work together to find a way to get us all through this protracted mess.

That means that we’ll find ways to have neighborhood meetings. We’ll stay connected. I’ll find ways to honor my commitment to you for transparency and accountability. That’s why tomorrow morning I’ll be hosting Virtual Office Hours from 8am to 10am as a way to make sure y’all can just come on in and have a conversation, like we had every single Friday morning from January 12 2018 to March 13 2020.

(Link to join Virtual Office Hours is here – drop in and say hi! Please join from your computer, tablet or smartphone anytime from 8-10am Friday morning at https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/602652581 )

The work doesn’t end just because the world has changed: even last night I was proud to see three appointments confirmed to the Planning Board, reaching the conclusion of a very long saga bringing accountability to one of the worst boards in the city. As Finance Chair, I’ll be working hard with my colleagues and city staff to find a way through this crisis, provide the help we all need, and still keep the city afloat through the next few years.

I know we’re all doing the best you can, just like the rest of our neighbors. Thanks for being in it with me, and let me know when you need help.

-JTS