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.

=-=-=-=-=-=

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

August 2019 Ward 2 Newsletter

Hello Ward 2! Thanks for tuning in for this big end-of-summer update. The summer months are a bit slower here just due to the legislative recess, so this is going to have some light recap and more forward-looking info… but we’ll be back at City Hall 4 nights a week starting about a week from now, on Aug 22.

The end of the legislative recess is just the second-most-exciting thing happening soon, though – my second child is due literally any day now, and I’m excited to meet the newest resident of Ward 2! Since I don’t have any baby pictures to share yet, let’s get right into it…

AFFORDABILITY

  • Condo Conversion Ordinance In Effect
  • Tenant ROFR Coming Up Next

TRANSPARENCY

  • 5G “Small Cell” Deployment Update
  • Office Hours Every Friday
  • ACCOUNTABILITY
  • Wage Theft Ordinance Update
  • Voting Rights HRP Updates

GREEN SPACE

  • Tree Removal Ordinance In Effect

LOCAL ISSUES

  • Washington Street Design Meetings: Aug 17, 24, 31
  • RATS!
  • Sacramento Street Underpass Repair Underway, Beacon St Star Market targeted for redevelopment
  • Sewer Backups, Flooding
  • Development Updates

=-=-=-=-=-=

AFFORDABILITY

Condo Conversion Ordinance In Effect

As of now, Somerville’s new Condo Conversion Ordinance is in effect! It provides significant new protections that will prevent tenant displacement and help people who are displaced find new housing. It also provides a powerful mechanism to turn tenants into homeowners and create permanently affordable housing instead of leaving the floodgates open for more “luxury condos”.

It’s already under attack by a group of real estate types here in Somerville, but I’m not planning to back down – and I know you’re standing with me.

These rights only work if you know about them and can demand that the law be followed, so please help me get out the word by educating yourself and telling all of your friends and neighbors about this incredible new set of anti-displacement measures. The web site to learn more is at https://www.somervillema.gov/condo-conversion along with a FAQ of the details at https://www.somervillema.gov/sites/default/files/condo-conversion-ordinance-faq.pdf – check it out!

The fight won’t stop here. We still need a robust Tenant Right of First Refusaland more of the measures put forward by State Rep Mike Connolly (see https://www.repmikeconnolly.org/connolly_introduces_housing_for_all_agenda), and I’ll be working with him and our community of activists to make more strides forward! Communities all over the country are instituting emergency “rent freezes” (capping rent increases to 3%) to help slow displacement, and I think it’s time that Somerville takes a close look at that as well.

TRANSPARENCY

5G “Small Cell” Deployment Update

5G is getting some discussion now, especially with FCC rules in effect basically mandating its deployment across the country. According to an FCC ruling, city councils like ours are not allowed to consider potential health impacts when approving grants-of-location for small-cell 5G radio towers. In effect, approval is mandatory. The City Council was first informed of applications for 5G installations at our last meeting, on July 11, when we were told that approval was required or that we would be subject to lawsuits from the applicants. (This late date is concerning to me, given that the Mayor apparently executed a Public Right of Way License Agreement with the applicant all the way back on 27 September 2018.)

This means that as a Council we can only require aesthetic restrictions when granting approvals for these installations, and only if we have published these in advance. Other municipalities in the country have responded more aggressively to this issue. While the FCC ruling is being challenged in court, it remains in effect until those cases are concluded. This means that unless the Somerville City Council passes an ordinance immediately to spell out a process for reviewing applications and instituting design standards for installations, all manner of new attachments will be sprouting from our utility poles soon – or even new dedicated poles being added to our sidewalks.

I’m disappointed that the administration was not more proactive at getting the City Council involved in this process. My goal now is to have an ordinance in place promptly to avoid many of the problems that these installations have had in other places – like noisy backup generators and cooling fans – as well as placement and aesthetic guidelines that preserve our sidewalks.

Ward 2 Resident Matt Glaser is concerned about the rollout of 5G in Somerville, and is hosting his own neighborhood meeting about it at 7pm on Wednesday Aug 21 at the Police station in Union Square at 7pm. I plan to be there to answer technical questions about the situation and hear what people think about 5G deployment in Somerville.

Office Hours Every Friday

The front door to my house at 269 Washington Street is open every Friday Morning from 8-10am to y’all, and it’s usually a lively time! First come, first served – and with a lot of people and a variety of concerns getting discussed, the conversation is always interesting and it’s a great way to hear what else folks in the Ward are concerned about.

In 2018 I hosted 46 of these Office Hours days, and so far in 2019 my door has been open literally every Friday morning. (Full disclosure: if my partner is in labor delivering a baby, I’m going to just have a sign on the door and will catch you next week.) Whether it’s getting caught up on a meeting you missed, talking about pending legislation, strategizing for future traffic calming projects, planning for upcoming streetscape designs, or any other thing that’s on your mind… come on down, have a seat, and let’s talk about what’s on your mind.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Wage Theft Ordinance Update

Thanks to the hard work of a team of local activists, an updated Wage Theft Ordinance has been proposed and is getting discussed in the License and Permit Committee. Councilor Rossetti and I intend to move quickly on this item, though there’s a lot of legal legwork still to come to get it implemented. We plan to take it up in our next committee meeting on September 11 at City Hall.

Voting Rights HRP Updates

As we see nationally, even when there is serious malfeasance happening in elected office the legal system and separation of powers is not enough to check abuse. The ultimate “check and balance” is at the ballot box, and that’s why it’s essential that we get more people voting!

Here in Somerville we’ve put forward two Home Rule Petitions expanding the right to vote in municipal elections to residents 16 years of age and older, and are still considering expanding the right to vote in municipal elections to residents who are not citizens of the US.

We’re still waiting to get state approval on that, but if you’re a citizen 18+ in Somerville it’s essential that you get registered… and that you get out to vote! I don’t have an opponent on the ballot this year, but the Mayor and the At-Large City Council seats are contested in ward 2. High turnout means everyone’s voice is getting heard, and that’s vital. Please, make sure you are registered to vote by Weds Aug 21 and get your neighbors registered as well! Then, please go to the polls in our upcoming September primary and November general elections!

You can find out more dates and details in this article (https://somerville.wickedlocal.com/news/20190813/somerville—are-you-registered-to-vote-in-municipal-elections) or at the city’s election department website here ( www.somervillema.gov/elections ).

GREEN SPACE

Tree Removal Ordinance In Effect

The Tree Removal Ordinance that will prevent mass tree-removal by developers – while still allowing resident homeowners to maintain their properties – is now in effect. The city staff responsible for administering the process are still hammering out final implementation details, but if you see a developer clear-cutting a lot, please call me immediately. I can go down there immediately and have Inspectional Services issue a stop work order until they are educated about the ordinance and comply with it.

LOCAL ISSUES

Washington Street Design Meetings: Aug 17, 24, 31

Right now the water main is being repaired all down the length of Washington Street from Union Square to the Cambridge line. This has pushed back the repaving of Washington Street until 2021, but it is giving us a good opportunity to re-imagine what Washington Street can look like in the future.

I’m real tired of the city’s top-down approach to planning our streets, like we saw on Powder House and on Beacon Street. It’s a recipe for needless conflict and I don’t think it produces great outcomes. No one knows how Washington Street works better than the people who live on and near it.

So to help get ahead of this particular project, I’m hosting a series of three neighborhood meetings to talk about how Washington Street works now, and how we can imagine it being better in the future. Every Saturday for the next three weeks (Aug 17, 24, 31) I’m hosting neighbors at CrossFit Somerville, 35 Prospect Street, from 2-3:30pm to discuss traffic patterns, intersections, bus stops, and parking on Washington Street.

We’re flyering in sections – first from Union to Perry, then Perry to Dane, then Dane to Line, just to try to get some good conversations going among people who live near each other… but if you miss one of the meetings, feel free to come to any of the other ones! (Special thanks to Alex Frieden, a ward 2 neighbor who is helping to put together these meetings!)

RATS!

Just this morning I pulled three more dead rats out of my yard. That’s the good news. The bad news is at night, sitting on my porch, I can watch them running around and fighting. The burrows are everywhere, and based on the amount of calls and emails I get I know this is a problem all over the ward.

Fortunately, dead rats means the city’s baiting program is working… but it only works if we spend the money and spread the bait! For the last two years there have been tens of thousands of unspent dollars left over in the city’s rat abatement budget lines, and I’m not having it this year. If you have rats in your yard, please call Chris Roche at 617-625-6600, extension 4328. He will come out to your house, look for signs of rat activity, and place poison bait boxes to help cut down on the population. If you don’t get an answer right away, feel free to give me a call too.

In addition, some streets are just under siege. The city’s newly hired rat specialist, Georgianna Silviera, has been active in going to meet neighbors and walk their streets with them to identify patterns and work with folks about how they can get large infestation areas under control. She’s spent a fair amount of time in Ward 2, but if you’d like to arrange a block meeting with her please reach out to us both – me at jtforward2@gmail.com, and Ms Silviera at gsilveira@somervillema.gov – and we’ll be happy to schedule a time to get folks together.

Sacramento Street Underpass Repair Underway, Beacon St Star Market targeted for redevelopment

It’s exciting to see the work happening, and I look forward to a refreshed, cleaner, and safer underpass soon! At the same time, the owner of the Beacon Street Star Market site has begun to look at what they want to do with it in the future.

If you live near there and have strong opinions about what does – and doesn’t – work about that Star Market on Beacon Street, please reach out in email or come on down to my office hours to chat about it. Nothing’s going to happen there without a LOT of neighborhood input – that’s how I roll – and getting into the conversation early is the best way to shape the process.

Sewer Backups, Flooding

It’s true that there’s a lot of sewer work going on in Union Square to increase capacity and reduce flooding going forward, but there’s also sewer collapse and repair work happening all over the ward. Just in the past month I’ve been working on reports from Park Place, Lake Street, Washington Street, Kingman Road, Adrian Street, and Beacon Street.

If you see flooding on your street or have sewer backups in your house, please call the sewer department to report it at 617-625-6600 extension 5800 – and call 311 – and call me for that matter. I want to make sure we’ve got all eyes on the sewer problems down here in ward 2.

Development Updates

Summer was a busy time to get caught up on neighborhood meetings on new development projects, and there’s more on the way. These are the best way to shape what happens in your neighborhood, so please come when you see a flyer from me!

You’ll get a flyer on your door if you live anywhere near a proposed site for development that requires a special permit (which is almost everything at this point). If you’d like to know more, swing by office hours or shoot me an email and I’ll gladly get you the details on what’s being proposed. At the moment, I’m looking at hosting meetings in the next few weeks about:

  • 2 Adrian St (8/20)
  • 14 Carlton St (8/26)
  • J.J.Sullivan Plumbing (TBD)

I hope to see you soon!

April 2019 Ward 2 Newsletter

Hello Ward 2! Thanks for tuning in for this big update. There’s a lot of things going on as always, let’s dive right in!

AFFORDABILITY

  • Condo Conversion Ordinance Passed
  • Community Land Trust Kickoff Party June 12
  • Sewer/Water Bills to Increase 6-7.5%

TRANSPARENCY

  • Neighborhood Meetings Update
  • Office Hours Every Friday
  • Budget Season Starts June 6

GREEN SPACE

  • New Park at 210 Somerville Ave (American Legion Post)
  • New Park on Lake Street

LOCAL ISSUES

  • Traffic and Parking Updates
  • Sacramento St Underpass Repair Funded
  • State Senator and Representative Newsletters
  • Development Updates

=-=-=-=-=-=

AFFORDABILITY

Condo Conversion Ordinance Passed

On March 28th, the City Council passed Somerville’s new Condo Conversion Ordinance. This law goes into effect on July 31st of this year, and it provides significant new protections that will prevent tenant displacement and help people who are displaced find new housing. It also provides a powerful mechanism to turn tenants into homeowners and create permanently affordable housing instead of leaving the floodgates open for more “luxury condos”.

I encourage you to download and read the full ordinance here to get all the details! In short, this ordinance does a few big things (and a bunch of smaller things, too):

1) Relocation Assistance – if you are getting displaced because your landlord wants to turn your unit into condos (or sell to someone who will), you now have the right to receive $6,000 in cash for relocation assistance to help deal with the first/last/security of finding a new place.

2) Extra Assistance for Elderly/Disabled/Low-income – if you make less than $57k/yr living alone, or less than $73k/yr for a household of three people, or are at least 65 years old or live with someone who is, or are disabled or live with someone who is, you have more protections: up to five years to stay in your current home at your current rent. During that time, if the landlord wants to convert into condos they must first help you find a new apartment in the City of Somerville which rents for the same or less than what you’ve currently been paying in rent. In addition, you’ll get $10,000 to help with first/last/security and relocation costs.

3) Tenant Right to Purchase – if you don’t want to leave your home to see it turned into condos, you now have the right to purchase it instead “as is” and go from tenants to homeowners. This right can also be used in conjunction with the city or a designated non-profit corporation that will maintain the apartment as permanent affordable housing, like Somerville Community Corporation or the newly-forming Somerville Community Land Trust.

These rights only work well if you know about them and can demand that the law be followed, so please help me get out the word by educating yourself and telling all of your friends and neighbors about this incredible new set of anti-displacement measures that are going into effect this year!

Community Land Trust Kickoff Party June 12

Speaking of the Somerville Community Land Trust: since talking this thing up during the entire campaign I’m thrilled to share the progress that our working group and incipient founding team have been doing is getting it off the ground!

I’m enormously proud of this team effort, and really believe that it is a big part of the long-term solution to our affordability problem here in Somerville. With Councilor Ewen-Campen and a team of dedicated community activists, we are moving from a concept into reality!

The Land Trust team is hosting a kick-off event on June 12 at the JFK school at Cherry and Elm (near Porter Square). Event details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/419372978627184/

You can find out more about Somerville CLT, and how Land Trusts work, at https://www.somervillecommunitylandtrust.org/

Sewer/Water Bills to Increase 6-7.5%

Engineering Director Rich Raiche delivered a presentation recently to the City Council that spelled out the massively overdue sewer and water system problems the city is currently facing. Years of neglect have led us here – with a centuries old system that is costing us more money in emergency repairs, as you have certainly noticed from all the sinkholes opening in our streets from collapsing sewer lines. Even now, the city is discharging sewer overflows directly into the Mystic River, and if we don’t stop soon it will lead to even more expensive fines from state agencies.

In addition, the water system is also very old, including lead service pipes in some places that desperately need replacing and valves that must be serviced before they lead to catastrophic failures. We’ve been lucky so far on this front, but it’s just a matter of time before a lack of replacement leads to serious issues citywide.

Those of us who live in Ward 2 know better than anyone that this problem is widespread, and that fixing it is neither easy nor cheap. Duck Village is underwater in any good rain, and every neighborhood in the ward has its own water management problems. Every other block seems to have had a sewer sinkhole this year. Most of the city’s sewage flows through our ward, and we don’t need it in our streets and basements. We need a lot of work done, and we need it soon.

The good news is that our new Engineering and Capital Projects director is extremely competent and has a strong team getting a plan in place to address these problems, and is taking a long view in how to put all the pieces together. The bad news is that it costs a lot of money, and it’s going to take a long time to implement these fixes.

I’m pushing for two big ways to help residents deal with these costs. First, adding even more tiers to a progressive water rate structure will help keep costs down for households that strive to reduce their water usage. Already we have a system in place that charges a lot less for the first gallons and a lot more for major users – but we can make that even more aggressive and I’ve already got an item in committee looking at that. Second, we have approval from the state to implement a 35% residential exemption on the water and sewer bills. That’s approved – but not yet implemented by the city’s Sewer and Water department. You can be certain that I’ll be hammering on this point during our upcoming budget meetings, and will get a date committed for when we’ll see that residential exemption on our water and sewer bills.

But make no mistake, this work needs to happen. I have no intention of seeing Somerville turn into Flint Michigan. Everyone deserves clean water, and we’ll all be better off financially if we can proactively fix these sewers before they collapse. This work sits at the intersection of financial responsibility and climate change, and I will work closely with the Engineering team to make sure the work gets done in a timely and cost-effective manner.

For all the details on the extensive work our system needs and the Engineering department’s plan to address it you can see the slides at this link.

Video of this presentation is also available online. This was a 5+ hour meeting of the finance committee, and the presentation starts about 4 hours into the video if you want to fast-forward to it.

For the financial details, a detailed presentation on that is available here.

TRANSPARENCY

Neighborhood Meetings Update

You’ve probably noticed that you’re getting more flyers for neighborhood meetings. That’s because since coming into office, I’ve insisted that every developer that wants to build in Ward 2 have at least one meeting (and usually several) to work with neighbors to ensure that the development benefits the neighborhood instead of just enriching the developer. Getting residents involved before these projects go to City Hall for approval has been resulting in dramatically improved results for the folks who live here.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours in the past year handing out flyers and knocking on doors to let you know about these meetings, targeted to get the word out to the folks who will be directly impacted by each project. In 2018 alone, I hosted 48 of these meetings specifically about developments in the ward – and so far in 2019 I’ve hosted another 13 already, with more planned for May.

There’s a ton of pressure from builders in this ward, which makes it vitally important that we all get involved to shift the power away from dollars and towards your doorsteps. If there’s a development planned for your block, you’ll know about it before it gets there… and as long as I’m in office, you’re going to have a real voice in what gets built.

Office Hours Every Friday

The front door to my house at 269 Washington Street is open every Friday Morning from 8-10am to y’all, and it’s usually a lively time! First come, first served – and with a lot of people and a variety of concerns getting discussed, the conversation is always interesting and it’s a great way to hear what else folks in the Ward are concerned about.

In 2018 I hosted 46 of these Office Hours days, and so far in 2019 my door has been open literally every Friday morning, all 18 weeks. Whether it’s getting caught up on a meeting you missed, talking about pending legislation, strategizing for future traffic calming projects, planning for upcoming streetscape designs, or any other thing that’s on your mind… come on down, have a seat, and let’s talk about what’s on your mind.

Budget Season Starts June 6

On June 5, we’ll be delivered a 240+ page book of the Mayor’s proposed budget for the 2020 fiscal year that starts in July. On June 6th, we’ll begin a series of 4-nights-a-week budget hearings to discuss it, and at the end of the month, we’ll be expected to vote to approve the city’s budget to keep the gears turning.

In Somerville, our City Council cannot add budget items or allocate funds – we can only cut line items or amounts. But with that said, the budget review is an enormously important time to make sure we’re getting a clear view into how our tax dollars are getting spent and what priorities the Mayor is funding.

During the 2019 budget hearings (June 2018) it took 48 hours in 12 meetings. In the end, I was able to personally identify and cut $1,132,866 in overruns from the city budget. I look forward to giving the same level of detailed attention to the proposal coming this year. Budget season is a great time to get a look into how the city actually spends the money.

GREEN SPACE

New Park at 217 Somerville Ave (American Legion Post)

Back in August of 2018, I submitted order 206486 calling for the city to purchase the former American Legion post at 217 Somerville Ave for use as a new green space instead of more luxury condos. So far, the mayor has yet to respond to this request, despite petitions and repeated calls for this important step to reaching our green space goals.

This is still on the table, so please feel free to reach out to mayor@somervillema.gov and let him know that public investment in creating green space in ward 2 is important – and that we have to act fast on opportunities like this.

New Park on Lake Street

Another new park is possible, this time thanks to the neighborhood meetings about development I talked about earlier. A developer purchased the JJ Sullivan plumbing building on Somerville Ave, and came to the neighborhood with a plan for two 5-story condo buildings and a lot of parking about 6 months ago. Thanks to a lot of meetings and conversation with the neighbors, we are closing in on a very different plan that will instead produce a much smaller-footprint single building that brings 19 affordable units to the neighborhood and a 8000+ sqft public park on Lake Street.

The details aren’t finalized yet, and nothing’s going to happen until the neighbors are happy and the plan goes before the Zoning Board of Appeals. But I’m excited about the possibilities we’re exploring here and really pleased with the positive results we can get when residents get involved and bring their passion and expertise to neighborhood negotiations.

LOCAL ISSUES

Traffic and Parking Updates

This newsletter is already very long, but I’ll just say that we’re all living in the middle of a construction nightmare between Inman, Union, and the GLX – not to mention the various dumpsters and cranes working on projects in the neighborhoods. It’s a rough time, but our Engineering team at construction@somervillema.gov and the good folks at DPW are working hard to keep streets clear and respond quickly to bad situations.

So far in 2019 I’ve had to address situations all along Beacon St, Durham St, Park St, Dane St, Hawkins St, Oak St, Houghton St, Washington St, and a few others I’m probably forgetting at the moment. It’s always frustrating for residents to have to deal with this stuff, but I want to hear from you about these problems and will push to get the city to respond. Send me an email when you have an issue, and we’ll get to work.

Sacramento Street Underpass Repair Funded

Nothing elaborate to report here, other than that we were able to approve in late March nearly a quarter-million dollars to perform long-needed repairs and maintenance on the Sacramento Street Underpass. I don’t have a construction timetable for that yet, but the job is out to bid and I will keep you updated.

State Senator and Representative Newsletters

You may not know it, but your State Reps (Mike Connolly or Denise Provost, depending on where you live in the ward) and State Senator (Pat Jehlen) also have newsletters they send out from time to time that can help you get a peek into the legislative priorities at the state level. I highly recommend checking them out!

Senator Pat Jehlen

(Senator Jehlen’s website is also very active with news updates: https://www.patjehlen.org/news )

• Rep. Denise Provost

(Rep Provost also posts thoughtful commentary on her website: https://www.deniseprovost.org/ )

• Rep. Mike Connolly

(Big Mike’s blog is also really great: https://www.repmikeconnolly.org/blog )

Development Updates

There’s more development meetings coming your way in Ward 2, and you’ll get a flyer on your door if you live anywhere near them. If you’d like to know more, swing by office hours or shoot me an email and I’ll gladly get you the details on what’s being proposed. At the moment, I’m looking at hosting meetings in the next month about:

  • JJ Sullivan Plumbing
  • Hawkins St Garage
  • 303 Beacon St
  • 24 Hanson St
  • 471 Somerville Ave

…and of course, Resistat on May 15. I hope to see you soon!

-JT Scott

Jan 2019 Newsletter

Hello Ward 2! Welcome to the first “snow emergency” of the season. Remember, it’s a “park even” year… There’s a lot to cover here today, and my sidewalk won’t shovel itself, so let’s get started!

AFFORDABILITY
• Property Tax Assessment Deadline Jan 31
• Community Land Trust Report Released
• Condo Conversion Public Hearing Jan 31
• Sewer/Water Bills to Receive Residential Exemption

TRANSPARENCY
• B&E Crime Spree in Ward 2
• Office Hours Every Friday

ACCOUNTABILITY
• Reserve Lists and Civil Service Hiring Updates
• Wage Theft and Campaign Finance
• SRA Major Change Approved

GREEN SPACE
• Urban Forestry Committee Finally Established
• Tree Removal Ordinance Underway

LOCAL ISSUES
• Development Neighborhood Meetings Update
• Union Square Neighborhood Council Elections Feb 2 and 4
• Voting will be February 2 (Saturday 12-4pm) and February 4 (Monday 7am-8pm)

AFFORDABILITY

• Property Tax Assessment Deadline Jan 31

Property Taxes in Ward 2 are skyrocketing this year as property values climb thanks to the overwhelming number of home sales to condo developers in the past two years. The way Assessments work is an increase based on your property type indexed to average sale prices in the prior few years. What that means for you is that if your property has been assessed with a major price increase this year, we can fight that by requesting the City Assessor to come out and visit your home to give a proper assessment.

If you haven’t done any recent home improvement, there’s no reason for you to be seeing a 20%+ increase in your home value for tax assessment. I implore you to please file an abatement application – the City Assessor has committed to come out personally to every request in Ward 2 and revalue the properties appropriately.

The application can be downloaded HERE and must be emailed to the Assessor by Jan 31, so please fill it out and let your neighbors know as well.

One last point: if you’re a senior on fixed income, you may also qualify for a raft of other abatement options. Please check those out at THIS link. 

• Community Land Trust Report Released

I’m proud to announce that the Community Land Trust Working Group that Alderman Ewen-Campen and I have been working on since mid 2018 has finalized its recommendations on how to proceed in establishing a truly independent and democratic Community Land Trust here in Somerville. This was a major campaign platform item that I probably spoke with you about at your door, and I’m thrilled that we’re moving closer to its creation. The full report can be read here, if you’re interested in 12 pages of the details – but be assured that more announcements on this important affordability tool will be coming soon! And if you’d like to get involved, please send email to SomervilleCLT@gmail.com to join the mailing list and lend a hand in creating this exciting new organization. 

• Condo Conversion Public Hearing Jan 31

Coming soon on Jan 31 is the Public Hearing on our new proposed Condo Conversion Ordinance. This is an important step that will strengthen tenant protections in our outdated ordinance to match those I helped the residents of Millbrook Apartments negotiate back in early 2018. The hearing will be at City Hall at 6pm on Jan 31, and I invite you all to come out and hear about the ordinance, and give us your opinions. Details on the ordinance can be found on the city’s website at this link

• Sewer/Water Bills to Receive Residential Exemption

One final crucially important affordability improvement for homeowners is the extension of our Residential Exemption program to your sewer and water bills. Resident homeowners can now apply for a 35% reduction in their Sewer & Water bills, thanks to a Home Rule Petition put forward by Alderman White and backed by the entire Board. This is a big win for folks on fixed incomes!

TRANSPARENCY

• B&E Crime Spree in Ward 2

There have been 15 break-ins reported in Ward 2 in the past 6 weeks, in what constitutes a crime spree for our quiet neighborhood. Available here is a lot of information put together by the crime analysts at Somerville PD. I met with the chief and lead analyst on this Friday – following yet another break, this one reported Jan 17 on Harold St – and they are taking a lot of measures to work on this. 

There is one suspect whose photo has been distributed by the city (white male, heavyset, age 50s, white hair); there may be a second suspect active as well. To this point the break-ins have been mostly during the day and seem to be well-cased to take place when no one is at home.

From the flyer: “Over the past month, Ward 2 has experienced a small spike in residential house breaks. In response, the Somerville Police Department has taken measures to address prevention as well as conduct robust investigations
of each incident. The department has issued directed patrol to enhance police presence in the neighborhood based on timing of previous breaks. All sworn Officers have been provided information relating to geographical and temporal patterns of the breaks as well as investigative details that may aid in detection. SPD Detectives have made strides in investigations and have enlisted the help of the public to identify a possible suspect based on surveillance images.”

To this and their other tips, I’ll add a few things specifically that you can do to help:

1) Keep your eyes out for your neighbors. I know it’s hard in a world of AirBNB and dog-walkers to know who “belongs in the neighborhood”, but if you see a white man with a rolling suitcase, call SPD’s non-emergency line (617-625-1600) and report it so that they can follow up with you if a break-in is reported in the area. The general M.O. of the break-ins is entry through a front door or window, exit with a rolling suitcase from inside stuffed with valuables.

2) Register all of your electronic devices that have tracking mechanisms (like Apple devices) and record the serial numbers. If someone takes one of these, SPD can work with Apple via subpeona – or your own “where’s my iPhone” style tracking – to locate your device and possibly the suspects.

3) If possible, vary your daily routine. The suspects may be casing targets for some time before breaking in.

My house was broken into and burglarized back in 2015, and I understand how devastating this can be. I know the SPD is working hard on this, and hope that we’ll have some resolution. Regardless, please do get renters or homeowners insurance and do what you can to keep your neighborhood safe.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any concerns, and pass this information along to neighbors

• Office Hours Every Friday

Just as a reminder: there’s no more accessible Alderman in the city than yours truly. Every Friday morning I hang out my shingle at 269 Washington Street, and welcome all comers between 8-10am. Please come down and chat about what’s on your mind! It’s usually a lively group, and the conversations are wide-ranging.

ACCOUNTABILITY

• Reserve Lists and Civil Service Hiring Updates

For a decade, Somerville has used “Reserve Lists” to abuse and manipulate the civil service hiring process. I can say that with confidence, since the City has lost multiple cases before the Civil Service Commission indicating that nepotism and favoritism warped the supposedly fair process that Civil Service hiring for police and firefighters is supposed to guarantee.

Back in 2015 the CBS I-Team did an in-depth story on the problem that you can watch here. Local activist DJ Cronin has also written a great piece published recently in the Patch that summarizes a lot of the problems with this practice, which the City is looking to once again extend to police hiring.

While the mayor claims that these reserve lists are just ways to streamline the hiring process, reams of Civil Service decisions against this same administration say differently – and I am not convinced. I have been meeting with both the police chief and the Personnel Department and conducting my own investigation into these practices, and will be subjecting this move to scrutiny in my Confirmation of Appointments committee. The time for “business as usual” has passed, and I will not stand for abuses like those of the last decade to occur on my watch.

• Wage Theft Ordinance Rewrite in Progress

Another sore point for local activists is the Somerville Wage Theft Ordinance. Passed in 2015 to great fanfare, it has literally never been enforced. In late 2018 the Herb Chambers group – which has a location in Ward 2 – was found liable for a 6-figure wage theft settlement with its workers. Unfortunately, the mayor’s administration has taken the position that Somerville’s much-vaunted wage theft ordinance can not be enforced against them.

Interestingly, Herb Chambers executives donated over $7,000 to Mayor Curtatone’s campaign fund on 11/21/18 – and have donated over $51,000 to his campaign over the years.

I am working with a team of local activists rewriting our ordinance to leave no room for ambiguity and to compel this administration to enforce the ordinance against unscrupulous employers who abuse their employees – and extend it to also ensure that subcontractors on major projects such as Assembly Row and Union Square are held accountable as well. I’ll be pursuing this work in the Licenses and Permits Committee with Alderman Rossetti at the Chair, so stay tuned.

• SRA Major Change Approved

One final piece on Accountability: recently our Home Rule Petition was approved which expands the current 5-member Somerville Redevelopment Authority to 7 members, one of whom will be an Alderman appointed by the President of the Board. This step should bring some more visibility and attention to their process, and will help ensure that the people of Somerville have a voice in the room where it happens.

Since the SRA will be vital in the future on further development plans for Boynton Yards and Union Square East – as well as the proposed new Public Safety building just over the Ward 1 line in Cobble Hill – this change is critically important and I hope Alderman Ballantyne will appoint one of the stalwart hawks of the Board to SRA, like Alderman McLaughlin or Alderman Ewen-Campen.

GREEN SPACE

• Urban Forestry Committee Finally Established

I am pleased to announce that the nominations to the Urban Forestry Committee have finally been chosen by the administration and will be submitted to the BOA for approval on Jan 24. I will be expediting their processing and plan to take them up before the end of January in my Committee on Confirmation of Appointments. While we still don’t have the complete list of the selections, I am excited to see the full list and put this enormous pool of concerned and hard-working citizens on the task of ensuring that our city starts living up to the moment when it comes to tree preservation and planting in Somerville.

Relatedly, a petition was recently put online by Chris Dwan, a ward 2 resident and outspoken activist who was one of the people tapped for the UFC, calling for the Arbor Day Foundation to revoke Somerville’s “Tree City” award status. Given what we’ve seen over the past 2 years, I’m hard pressed to disagree. Hopefully, the input of an empowered Urban Forestry Committee will lead us to stop the bleeding and reverse the damage done. 

• Tree Removal Ordinance Improvements Underway

It hasn’t been yet announced, but coming soon is a new ordinance that, similar to Cambridge, Arlington, and Newton, will protect large trees on private land. This has long been a priority for Alderman Niedergang – and one which I’ve written about skeptically in this newsletter before. After all, if the city can’t control it’s own tree removal problem, why target private home owners?

I’ve been working with a team on resolving the concerns I had, ensuring that homeowners always have a reasonable path to removing trees if needed while also doing a strong job of incentivizing developers to retain existing giants that make a neighborhood feel like more than a flash in the pan. That legislation is ready, and I’m sure we’ll see a full announcement later this week.

At the same time, I have been beyond frustrated with the tree removal we’ve seen in Somerville over the past year. As we’ve seen, our current ordinances require little restraint on our governments worst impulses, and I have been working on a major revision to Somerville’s treatment of trees on public property. I hope to have that legislation in Committee by the end of Q1.

If you are passionate about Somerville’s trees – and their important role in mitigating climate change – then I encourage you to join one of the great organizations in Somerville that are fighting for them. Green and Open Somerville and Somerville Friends of the Urban Forest have both been leading this charge, along with the Somerville Climate Coalition.

LOCAL ISSUES

• Development Neighborhood Meetings Update

In the past month alone, I hosted 8 separate neighborhood meetings regarding developments proposed for Ward 2. I think it’s vitally important for neighbors to know about what’s being proposed for their block, and ideally want their input considered before bringing those applications to the ZBA.

While Ward 2 continues to be the single most active place for condo construction in the city, I’m pleased that the developers seem to be starting to take the hint – it is no longer “open season” on our ward. These meetings are causing productive changes in development plans to increase green space and trees, improve design and traffic impacts, and in some cases even pull back from projects that would significantly damage a neighborhood.

If you get a notice on your door for one of these neighborhood meetings – not the ZBA mailed postcard, but an actual flyer – I really encourage you to come! It’s a good place to find common ground with your neighbors and I promise that your input makes a huge impact at this early stage of the process. It’s a great way to get involved and it really makes a difference.

• Union Square Neighborhood Council Elections Feb 2 and 4

Voting will be February 2 (Saturday 12-4pm) and February 4 (Monday 7am-8pm) at the Police Station for a new year and the new Board of the Union Square Neighborhood Council. It’s wonderful that we’ve had this hard-working bunch negotiating with the Master Developer in Union Square for big changes in the plan. On that list are accelerated affordable housing, increased green space, moving all the parking underground, green building standards for energy efficiency, ensuring that living wages are paid during the construction, and guaranteeing management neutrality when it comes to union organizing in the businesses that will inhabit the new buildings.

Check out the USNC’s website for more information about the candidates – who are some of your most active and civic-minded neighbors – and if you’re concerned about the future of Union Square I encourage you to start attending these meetings! Next year, it might be you on the ballot for the elected Board! 

Thanks for reading and staying engaged! I hope to see you some Friday at my weekly office hours, or you can always reach out to me at (857) 615-1532 or via email. Now, where’d I leave my shovel?

-JTS

Ward 2 Alderman (for a few more days, until Ward 2 City Councilor)