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

March 2, 2020 Newsletter

Hello Ward 2!

It’s been a minute since my last newsletter. We’ve been pushing hard to get Union Square back online, and I’m thrilled to say that traffic is now flowing freely through the Washington and Webster intersection. Unfortunately, businesses down Somerville Ave towards McGrath continue to feel the pinch, and Target has (if possible) become even more mercenary about parking enforcement in their lot. Please don’t park there – you’ll get towed! I’m urging the Mayor and the Office of Economic Development to negotiate space there for neighborhood and local business parking, but until we get that the Target lot is a waste of land that is costing many residents a $170+ tow charge. Now, on to some better news…

AFFORDABILITY

  • New Zoning Code Now in Effect
  • New Affordable Housing Under Construction
  • New Jobs and Commercial Revenue Proposed for Union Square East

TRANSPARENCY

  • Conway Park Artificial Turf Recap
  • Marijuana Law Needs an Update
  • Office Hours Every Friday

ACCOUNTABILITY

  • The People’s Budget – coming soon

PRIMARY ELECTION COMMENTS

AFFORDABILITY

New Zoning Code Now in Effect

With the advent of the new Somerville Zoning Ordinance, it’s my hope that we’ll see more dense housing built in the squares, and less development pressure for “condo flips” on quiet residential streets. Since the zoning overhaul passed, I can say that the number of ZBA hearings for developers looking to turn affordable 2-and-3-family homes into 3-, 4-, and 5- unit buildings on quiet residential streets has dropped to zero.

If nothing else, the relief this provides to neighborhoods who have been under intense speculation pressure and tenants who risked displacement has been a valuable result. The ordinance is still new, and I’ve already got some places where it needs tweaking (Relieved Use Limitations in “Pedestrian Street” areas) and some places where the job isn’t finished yet (the Overlay Districts for Union Square East, Brickbottom, Innerbelt, and more need robust neighborhood planning processes before being ready to roll out). But all in all, I’m glad it’s done and I’m already seeing increased focus on the squares and major arteries.

New Affordable Housing Under Construction

One of the places people have been skeptical about our zoning work over the past few years has been in the 20% affordable housing requirement. In the old code, developers could dodge it by making buildings of 5 units or less. But I am happy to say that in Ward 2 there’s a project getting built right now on Prospect Street at the old Franny’s Auto Body site that will include underground parking and 20% affordable housing units.

This is a big win for the many households in Somerville earning less than $124k/year. Why that number? Because that’s the number that qualifies a family of 4 for one of these “affordable” units.

Affordable housing isn’t a handout… it’s a reality check, a small step we can take to keep families here who are being left behind by a real estate market run amok. I’ll keep pushing for more.

New Jobs and Commercial Revenue Proposed for Union Square East

One final project that I want to make you aware of is the “Gateway Innovation Center” project being proposed for the Glass Stop lot near Target, on Somerville Ave. We had a first neighborhood meeting last week that was well-attended, standing room only. The Union Square Neighborhood Council published a good summary of the discussion both at the meeting and online, and I encourage you to check it out.

The project’s website is already out-of-date as the developer works to incorporate early feedback from Brickbottom residents and the folks who attended that first meeting, but suffice to say it’s a 1.3 million square feet of 100% commercial development, including lab space, office space, a hotel, and over 1.5 acres of interior arts and community space. It will contribute nearly $10 Million to our Affordable Housing Trust Fund and substantial funds into Somerville’s job training program as well as substantial commercial tax revenue that the city needs going forward. And all the parking is underground!

If you’d like to get involved in the conversation, feel free to swing by my office hours to tell me your thoughts (the developer also tends to stop by most Fridays to hear from people) or get involved with the Union Square Neighborhood Council, who will also be involved in shaping the development.

TRANSPARENCY

Conway Park Artificial Turf Recap

I will always fight for what my ward constituents need – and I’m very aware of the pressing impacts of climate change. On Conway Park, I fought hard for grass and was outvoted. I lost this fight for Ward 2, and I’m sorry.

But just as important is ensuring that we don’t lose this fight for the next 200 years, foisting this toxic burden onto our grandchildren, by failing to clean up this property and the PCB toxins on it to the “standard of care” expected by the EPA and DEP: 36″ remediation. We should not repeat the city’s mistakes of 2001 and earlier by ignoring the presence of harmful chemicals under and on our playing fields.

Even if you want your kids to play on artificial turf in 2023, please join me in demanding that we fully clean up this site to that their kids can choose what works best for them and their world. Please don’t kick this toxic can down the road.

From the Somerville Journal article: “Ward 2 Councilor J.T. Scott, who voted against approving the design services funding, wanted the city to pursue a 36-inch remediation so they did not rule out a natural grass field down the line. That change would carry a delta of $1.2 million, but Scott argued that a future generation would have to spend much more to tear up and re-remediate the entire site in order to put natural grass down.

“I don’t support an option that seals away our future choices,” said Scott. “The Board of Alderman’s decision to create Foss Park in the late 1800s, instead of allowing that land to develop, is a decision that we are still dealing with now 150 years later. These decisions have consequences beyond our terms and certainly beyond our lifetimes. Even if synthetic turf is judged by my colleagues as the best for the next 40 years, that won’t necessarily always be the case. I want to make sure remediation is done to guarantee that the site has the most flexibility.””

Marijuana Law Needs an Update

I’m still proud of our groundbreaking Adult-Use Marijuana Ordinance, and the robust nature of it is shown well when compared to the version in Cambridge which just got struck down by a court challenge. Our equity-focused ordinance still stands!

However, I’m disappointed that of the many applicants in the city, only a very few reached the Licensing Commission for consideration. The creation of a “Mayor’s Advisory Committee” as a gatekeeper for applicants was not contemplated by the ordinance, and its role in keeping minority operated businesses out of the city is directly opposed to the aims of the ordinance the City Council crafted and passed into law.

Shaleen Title at the state’s Commission (her Twitter is a great follow) is working on fixing this serious problem – and locally, the City Council is proposing measures to strengthen the transparency and equity provisions of our ordinance to ensure that Somerville can lead the way in building an equitable cannabis industry here – one that reflects a commitment to redressing the harm of the War on Drugs.

Office Hours Every Friday

My weekly office hours continue at 269 Washington St, and the crowds have still been active through the cold winter. It’s always a good conversation, and a chance to get to meet some neighbors who are active in pushing for a better city. I hope you’ll come on by and join the conversations from 8-10am any Friday.

ACCOUNTABILITY

The People’s Budget – coming soon

City Council President Matt McLaughlin announced the “People’s Budget” initiative in his inaugural address, and appointed me as the Chair of the Finance Committee to help see that work get done. Work is already underway to begin compiling a comprehensive set of recommendations to reshape the way our city allocates our tax dollars.

Over the past 16 years, we’ve seen the city’s spending priorities change drastically. It’s time to have a more balanced approach to building a city budget. We can’t just let the Mayor be the first, last, and only word in how the city spends money.

To that end, the City Council will begin discussing the People’s Budget in Committee soon – but the more important work will be in outreach to people in our community who don’t come to public meetings and far too often are left out of the conversation.

If you’d like to help with analysis or outreach to community members and organizations, please send me an email and let me know how much you’d like to be involved. I’m excited by this new initiative, and have high hopes that it will establish a new standard for leadership and a vision for equity that comes from the bottom up – not from the top down.

PRIMARY ELECTION COMMENTS

Tomorrow is “Super Tuesday”, presidential primary election day here in Somerville. I wholeheartedly recommend a vote for Lucas Schaber for Democratic State Committee as a local activist who has worked hard on a variety of local issues and is intimately connected to the activism community here in Somerville and in the State House.

I’d also like to take a moment to tell you about who I’m voting for tomorrow, and why.

Bernie Sanders shares my politics in a way no one else does on the national stage, from Medicare for All to National Rent Control. He’s been steadfast in his clear democratic socialist vision and has spent the last 40 years fighting for working people. When he ran in 2016, he built enthusiasm that has carried forward into teachers’ strikes around the country, youth-led movements for a Green New Deal and against gun violence, and a massive upsurge in popular consciousness about the various ways in which billionaires and corporations steal money from working-class people.

Look at this video from 2017. This is Bernie Sanders, not running for any office himself, speaking to the importance of building a movement. He came to Somerville to speak directly to the impact of local politics. Around the country, he spent time empowering, inspiring, and motivating people like me to do better and get more involved in building a more just world. No one else in this race has done that.

I’m inspired by Senator Sanders, I’m optimistic about the changes he can bring to Washington, and most of all I can see all around us here in Somerville how it is already working – and in sister cities like Jackson Mississippi , Seattle Washington, and Richmond California. The progressive laws and policy changes this city have seen in the past two years are the impact that movement building can have at the local level… impact that resonates throughout our nation.

I hope you vote tomorrow, and that you’ll consider voting for Bernie Sanders. But more important than that, I hope you’ll be inspired to do more to build a more just world for all of us.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you at Office Hours, in a meeting, or just out on the streets of Ward 2 soon!

-JTS

Election Night 2019

Hello Ward 2! On this eve of election day, I wanted to reach out to thank you for all of your support over the past two years. Even running unopposed in this cycle, I do not take for granted the responsibility you have given me to fight for our shared values and common welfare at City Hall every day. As your representative, I’ve been committed to providing more transparency and accessibility than ever, and I love it when you reach out by email, phone, or just dropping in to my weekly office hours.

I also want to thank so many of you for your work with me in those two years, and celebrate some of our accomplishments:

  • As a City Council we’ve passed sweeping tenant protections, started to put the brakes on condo conversions, banned facial surveillance technology, implemented protections for our tree canopy, and established equity measures for the recreational cannabis business that are being used as a model around the state.
  • As a neighborhood we’ve established the Somerville Community Land Trust, increased affordable housing and green space in neighborhood developments, and secured $4M in benefits from the developers in Union Square.
  • Together, we’ve increased oversight and exposed wrongdoing in the police department, brought to light sexual harassment incidents at City Hall, and brought accountability to the unelected Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Somerville Redevelopment Authority.

There’s even more to come before the end of the year, including securing funding and approval for the creation of a new park in Ward 2 near Target and a whole host of equity and affordability legislation.

All in all, it’s been an extremely impressive amount of progress in two blindingly fast years. But just as this work has required a team effort of many resident activists in Ward 2 and across the city, I also rely upon my team on the City Council to make this progress happen – and I need that team to keep making gains in the next two years.

That’s why I’m asking you not just for your vote tomorrow to affirm our commitment to progress here in Ward 2 – I’m also asking that you give your votes to a team of At-Large Councilors that will continue to work with me on these goals.

On the Council, we absolutely need to re-elect Councilor Bill White. He’s a lawyer and lifelong student of politics with multiple decades of experience, institutional knowledge, and a keen eye for detail. He’s been instrumental in helping me navigate legislative processes and fight the battles for accountability on Beacon Street, and he’s going to be crucial in helping to address the flooding situation in Ward 2. No one has been hammering home the points about our long-term fiscal situation more than him, and he’s Somerville through-and-through. He’s getting my first vote.

Next, Councilor Mary Jo Rossetti is outstanding. She is the main oversight for the High School project, and stands out alongside myself and Clr White as someone who really puts in hours of diligence on the city’s annual budget. The two of us work closely together on fiscal oversight issues, licensing, and permitting, and I’ll need her help to get our Wage Theft Ordinance enforced and strengthened. She’s my second vote.

Third, Councilor Will Mbah is a unique voice on the council. As a tenant, an immigrant, a minority, and a working parent with a full time job, he brings some real perspectives and heart to all of the city council’s deliberations that would otherwise be lacking. We’ve worked together on equity issues and in particular he’s an ally who is willing to cut through the nonsense to get to the crux of the matter on environmental issues. He’s getting my third vote.

The fourth vote is a tough one. Councilor Stephanie Hirsch has a lot of technical knowledge and a data focus that I value. She has been someone that can work with the rest of the council to get equity and affordable housing measures passed. On the other hand, Kristen Strezo is the best of the challengers. I appreciated working with her on sexual harassment problems at City Hall when she was Co-chair of the Somerville Women’s Commission. I think either Stephanie Hirsch or Kristen Strezo would serve well in the role if elected.

One strong opinion I have in the At-Large race is that keeping Jack Connolly out of office is an important goal. Please don’t vote for him. Jack served for over 30 years in various capacities as an Alderman, but the time for reactionary conservatism is past. This article summarizes some of the problems with Mr Connolly, citing his own words, articles, and campaign literature over the years: https://medium.com/@strangebuttrue/the-case-against-jack-connolly-538f57cbed46

I hope you’ll come out Tuesday and vote to affirm the progress we’ve made and keep us moving forward for another two years.

Thanks again, and I’ll see you at the polls tomorrow!

October 2019 Ward 2 Newsletter

WARD MEETING UPDATES

  • Flooding – October 15 @ 630pm
  • ArtFarm – Oct 21 @ 7pm
  • 453 Somerville Ave – Oct 23 @ 6pm
  • Star Market 275 Beacon – Oct 23 @ 7pm

AFFORDABILITY

  • Tenant ROFR Introduced for Discussion
  • Condo Conversion Law Already Having an Effect

TRANSPARENCY

  • Conway Park Artificial Turf Update
  • Office Hours Every Friday, Special Guests State Rep Mike Connolly and School Committee Member Ilana Krepchin

ACCOUNTABILITY

  • Police Hiring Changes – Cadet Program

LOCAL ISSUES

  • Washington St Design Update
  • Rats
  • Union Square Construction

Hello Ward 2! It’s been 60 days since the last update, so here’s what’s cooking as we head into the election (remember to vote on November 5) and the end of the year! We’ve got a lot of super-local Ward meetings coming up in the next week, so let’s start with those.

WARD MEETING UPDATES

Flooding – October 15 @ 630pm

Ward 2 is the flooding capital of Somerville. As they said where I grew up, we all know what flows downhill – and thanks to our sewers, most of it flows through Ward 2. With our century-old sewer infrastructure failing and climate change increasing the severity of storms, our flooding problems are getting worse. That puts raw sewage into our streets, sidewalks, and parks – and now has us under an official Administrative Order from the EPA to clean up our act, literally.

Thanks to advocacy from a group of neighbors near Perry Park, the city’s engineering department will be meeting with us tonight (OCTOBER 15) at 6:30pm in the Argenziano School Cafeteria. If you live on a street that ever floods, come out tonight to demand action – and join the local group who is working to make sure Ward 2 gets priority attention as we attack this 1 Billion Dollar sewer and flooding problem.

If you don’t make it out tonight, you can stay updated specifically by joining the Perry Park Neighbors flood action mailing list and joining their Facebook group ( https://www.facebook.com/perryparkneighbors/ ). I’ll be working with them to keep Ward 2 in focus as we make plans to handle flooding in Somerville.

ArtFarm – Oct 21 @ 7pm

Years overdue and stalled out, yet still much touted by the mayor as an increase in “green and open space”, the ArtFarm site down near Brickbottom remains largely a concrete patch. An update from the city is promised for Monday, October 21st at 7pm in the common room at 1 Fitchburg Street. I’m just as eager as the residents of Brickbottom to hear how the mayor plans to finally move this project forward.

453 Somerville Ave – Oct 23 @ 6pm

A developer seeks to replace the abandoned garage here with a mixed use structure of modest size. Please show up to the meeting October 23rd at 6pm, in the downstairs conference room at the police station in Union Square, to provide input on the design, the use, the number of units, and anything else you’d like to see in this proposal.

Star Market 275 Beacon – Oct 23 @ 7pm

The Seaport’s big developer, WS Development, is looking to replace the Star Market on Beacon Street with a very large building. This is a site that deserves a lot of thought and community input, and I anticipate this will be the first of several meetings to discuss the project and make sure the proposal benefits the neighborhood, instead of just enriching the developer.

Plans aren’t available online yet, but I encourage you to come out to this meeting Wednesday October 23rd at 6pm, in the downstairs conference room at the police station in Union Square, to check out what they have in mind and provide strong input as to what you think the best use of that site would be.

AFFORDABILITY

Tenant ROFR Introduced for Discussion

Thanks to the efforts of our new Office of Housing Stability, we are moving forward on a discussion of a blanket Tenant Right of First Refusal. This is an important measure that we are pursuing in coordination with State Rep Mike Connolly’s housing platform, and I look forward to the discussions at the City Council meetings.

If you’d like to read the draft Home Rule Petition prepared by OHS, it’s available for download here. If you’ve got input on it, I’d love to hear from you.

Condo Conversion Law Already Having an Effect

I got a great phone call from one of the most prolific developers in Somerville a few weeks back. He wanted to complain about how the Condo Conversion Ordinance was affecting him. What I heard was how the Condo Conversion Ordinance was protecting our neighborhoods from skyrocketing costs and development pressure.

You see, just a year ago he could buy a two-family house and finance it with a bank mortgage based on the projected sale price of 3 fully converted condo units. With condos going for 800k here, that’s $2.4M expected value, that he could use 75% of to finance the purchase and construction. Even if he offered to buy the house for $1.2M, he still had 1.5M in free money left over from the bank, plenty to finance the entire condo-gut-and-rebuild at no cost to himself.

Let that sink in. These transactions that frequently displaced our neighbors and put construction on our streets for months on end only cost the developer only a $250k down payment – and then they got to reap the profits.

Things have changed now that our Condo Conversion Ordinance is in effect. Now the bank won’t lend based on an assurance of turning a 2-family house into 3 condos. The max loan he can attain is based on the sale cost of a renovated 2-family house – probably at most about $1.2M. That makes the cost of preying on 2-family houses and displacing our neighbors too high for him, and the profit not worth it.

This law is working as intended. People who want to own multi-family homes and rent out the extra units can still do that – and won’t have to compete with developers to buy a house. Those rental units will stay more affordable, because they won’t need to cover a huge mortgage. This Condo Conversion Ordinance is pushing developers away from our neighborhoods and getting them to focus on larger projects in the squares, where we can work to build a city that works with transit and negotiate projects that actually improve our neighborhoods.

Bottom line: it sounds like the era of developers making easy profits by pushing out our neighbors may be finally over.

TRANSPARENCY

Conway Park Artificial Turf Update

It certainly is hard to get the administration to go on record about what they plan to do with Conway Park. However, at our last Open Space Committee meeting, I managed to do just that – and wasn’t happy with the answer. As long suspected, the city continues to push forward with a plan to convert the largest natural green space in Ward 2 into a plastic field.

In my view, this is shortsighted and dangerous – and I will oppose it at every step. But I’ll need your help to succeed. Here’s two big reasons why this is an important fight:

First, these fields are toxic and wasteful. We know the materials used contain poisons that leach into our soils and wash into our waterways – but what isn’t as often considered is that the artificial turf fields also have to be replaced every five years or so, or they end up looking like the tire landfills that they actually are. This creates even more waste and cost for the city.

Secondly, these fields are bad for the health of everyone on them and around them. While the net impact of Heat Island Effect on ambient temperatures in the neighborhood may be hard to quantify for any single field, it will have an impact on summer cooling costs in money and energy for the people who live nearby. But more crucially, it has a critical health impact on the kids who play on these surfaces. Even on a nice 80 degree day, surface temps on artificial turf fields exceed 120 degrees while natural grass stays at about 78 degrees. On hotter days in midsummer, surface temps can hit 200 degrees! This is a recipe for potentially-fatal heat stress on the kids who are using these fields.

This study by the New York State Department of Health ( https://health.ny.gov/environmental/outdoors/synthetic_turf/crumb-rubber_infilled/fact_sheet.htm ) spells out a lot of the reasons why these artificial turf fields are bad for our kids, and a terrible replacement for the natural grass that has served Conway Park well for the past 50 years. Let’s make sure the city doesn’t make a costly mistake that we’ll all regret.

The answer for our city’s field shortage isn’t replacing our grass with a toxic health hazard. The answer is to actually invest in creating new field space for youth athletics. Rooftop fields (a fine place for artificial turf installations) and new fields in Brickbottom are ideas I’m pushing at the City Council to get our youth athletic needs addressed without putting their health at risk.

Please join me in this effort by sending an email to me and the mayor telling us what you think of the plan to turn Conway Park into plastic.

Office Hours Every Friday, Special Guests State Rep Mike Connolly and School Committee Member Ilana Krepchin

Weekly office hours continue at 269 Washington St, and as the weather gets colder we’ll move inside from the porch to the office. I’m excited to announce that I’ll be joined on November 1 by Ward 2 School Committee Member Ilana Krepchin, and on November 8 by State Rep Mike Connolly! I hope you’ll come on by and join the conversations from 8-10am on those days.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Police Hiring Changes – Cadet Program

The city is looking to address the diversity problem in our Police Department (no female senior officers, overwhelmingly white police force) by instituting a “cadet program”, hiring high school seniors into an extended part-time training program for the police department. The positions would be paid, part-time, and the cadets would not be armed or invested with arrest powers. However, it may be a great way to recruit more diversity into our department and insure that new officers have already fully embraced a community-policing mindset that emphasizes de-escalation.

With that said, there are some serious gaps in the proposed implementation by the administration that I’ll be reviewing in the Confirmation of Appointments and Personnel Matters committee, looking at ensuring that veterans and other civil service applicants still get a fair shake and making sure that this cadet program is transparent and less subject to manipulation, nepotism, and abuse.

If you have thoughts about cadet programs or our police department in general, feel free to be in touch.

LOCAL ISSUES

Washington St Design Update

Thanks to everyone who came out to our series of three meetings in September to talk about their stretch of Washington Street and what we can do in 2021 to make it a better place for all of us. It was great to hear about what works and what doesn’t on the street, and we’ve taken that info back to work up a draft proposal of how to improve Washington Street going forward.

Expect an email sometime in November from me with a long explanation of what we heard and how we’re proposing to address it, along with a sketch map of what Washington Street could look like going forward. My hope is to test-run some changes in spring 2020 and get another round of feedback from the community before committing to a final plan for the repaving and painting that will happen in 2021.

Rats

We’ve seen some small improvement here – meaning dead rats in our streets, yards, and sidewalks – but the rats are still largely out of control. Fortunately, Chris Roche and Georgianna Silviera are active and engaged, working with local residents to bait their properties and help get our hands around the situation.

Please, continue to report rat sightings to 311 – and for more direct results, shoot me an email. I’m happy to get city staff involved to get rat poison out and write citations for absentee landlords who aren’t maintaining their properties.

Union Square Construction

It’s not that it never ends… it’s just that it hasn’t ended yet. Construction will continue throughout the winter, but it’s my hope that by Thanksgiving the main work in the square will be complete and we’ll be moving further on down Somerville Ave towards target.

There was a slight snag last week when a gas line was nicked during excavation. The leak was quickly controlled and the worst part was the smell thanks to fast reaction from Barletta Construction, Eversource Gas, and the Somerville Fire Department. No evacuations were needed.

The big uncertainty in the timeline continues to be Eversource Electric. Recently they discovered another bank of live cables running through the construction zone – lines that weren’t on any of their records or plans – and so we’ve been delayed yet again as they track down those lines and relocate them. I have been an absolute hawk on Eversource around this project, and will continue to stay vigilant and hold them accountable for project delays.

The vitality of the square – and the small businesses in it – depends on having this construction zone clear by the holiday season. I’ll continue to push with our Engineering team and Union Square Main Streets to keep us on track for a restored Union Square come winter.

In the meantime, traffic continues to be abominable due to signal timing at Webster/Prospect, Webster/Washington, or Prospect/Washington. If you’ve been bogged down there trying to navigate left turns during the detour, please send us an email to register your displeasure and call for action.

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That’s enough for today, but stay tuned – I expect to have another update in November as we get ready to close out the year. See you soon!

JT Scott – Ward 2 City Councilor

Office Hours Every Friday 8-10am

    at 269 Washington Street

857.615.1532  www.jtforward2.com