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

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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

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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)

Ward 2 Real Estate Tax – Newsletter Update

Folks, the property tax levy for 2019 is being brought before the Board of Aldermen tomorrow, and I just got a sneak preview. It doesn’t look like good news for ward 2 residents. There is a Public Hearing on the matter scheduled for TOMORROW, 11/29/2018, at 5:30 PM, at City Hall.

For renters, this may drive up rents as landlords increase rents to protect their profit margins. For homeowners, the city already has a high residential (owner occupancy) exemption at 35% – meaning that the exemption is placed at 35% of the “AVERAGE ASSESSED VALUE” of homes across all of Somerville. Unfortunately, that means that houses that see big increases in valuation see corresponding decreases in benefit from the exemption. That is exactly what is happening here in Ward 2.

Ward 2 is projected to be among the hardest hit in the city by property valuation increases. Across the board, triple deckers in Ward 2 are going to see an increase greater than 20% in property value according to my understanding of the Assessor’s proposal.

The impact on taxes for owner-occupants, including the elderly, will be even higher than 20% though. If the average assessed value is 800k and the exemption is about 300k, the remainder of 500k is taxed. When the value goes up to 1M, 700k is taxed; a 25% increase in value results in a 40% increase in effective taxes.

This is what longtime Ward 2 residents are facing. It’s a potential catastrophe, and I fear that it will drive condo conversion and further displacement in Ward 2.

Who benefits from a high exemption? Obviously, people in lower value single family homes – and people whose valuations are not increasing. (Oddly enough, the average assessed valuation of homes in Ten Hills is going DOWN this year according to the Assessor. Imagine that – taxes in Somerville are decreasing somewhere… just not here.)

I appreciate the Assessor taking the time to preview the data prior to the meeting tomorrow, but I was left uncertain on how I can proceed from here. I can tell you that the presentation will be at a public meeting, and that there will be a public hearing afterwards where all members of the public are invited to come and comment. Remember, that’s TOMORROW, 11/29/2018, at 5:30 PM, at City Hall. After that hearing, I’ll be asking a lot of questions before committing to a vote.

Now: what can we do about these increases?

As I understand it, I can’t force the Assessor to go out and raise valuations in Ten Hills to balance the burden. I also understand that we are already at the maximum amount that we can tax commercial property according to state law (a “1.75 factor” that will be referenced tomorrow night).

What I can do is tell you that if your home is hit by a large valuation increase this year without having been visited in person by the tax assessor, WE CAN FIGHT THAT. Please contact me.

The Chief Assessor has committed to come adjust the value of your home if you challenge the assessed value – if there have been no major home improvements since the last assessor visit, there’s no reason for it to take the outrageous 20%+ increase in valuation that the city is bringing forward this year. It’s very possible that we can get your property valuation (and taxes) adjusted back down. Please let your elderly neighbors know about this as well – they may not be getting my email newsletter. There are also some programs for tax deferment for elderly and low-income people, and we can explore getting people into those programs too. I’ll try anything to keep you and your neighbors from being displaced from your home by rising taxes.

These increases are coming automatically by my understanding, but we can fight them one at a time. And if that’s the only avenue we have, we’ll take it. Wherever the fight is, I stand ready to help you.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I don’t have all the answers yet, but I’m committed to transparency and I wanted you to know as soon as I heard about it. This kind of information isn’t something I want you finding out about in the newspaper or in your tax bill. I’ll provide more updates as soon as I have them.

Thanks for your trust,

-JT Scott

Nov 24 2018 Ward 2 Newsletter

  • Observances: Veterans Day Parade, Transgender Day of Remembrance
  • Somerville Ave. Detour Delayed
  • Recreational Marijuana Update
  • Land Use: Open Space Rules for Tall Buildings, Air Quality Regs near Highways, Zoning Overhaul
  • Legislative Summary: Plastic Straws, AirBNB, Demo Review
  • Local Meetings: Conway Park Update, Allen St Playground, Skate Park Hours Discussion
  • JT Scott Re-Election Campaign Event: December 1

Hi Ward 2! There’s a lot to cover here at the end of the year and this is a long update. Let’s get right into it!

Observances: Veterans Day Parade, Transgender Day of Remembrance

SomervilleCityTV’s YouTube channel is an amazing source of video of all kinds of events around the city. It’s stunning what all you can find there! If you missed an event, it’s not a bad bet to check out the channel and see if they have video. The first annual Veterans Day Parade is up there along with several related ceremonies , as are the remarks at the flag raising for the Transgender Day of Remembrance at Somerville High School. I was glad to be at all of those, and hope you feel well represented.

Somerville Ave. Detour Delayed

There is a major, six-month detour planned for Somerville Ave. near Union Square, as part of the sewer overhaul and street reconstruction. Due to Eversource’s delays in getting their utility work done, this has now been delayed until mid-December. I’ve been pushing the city to delay it past the holidays, so that the shops that rely on a good holiday season to stay in business won’t be disrupted.

We don’t have a final timetable on when the detour will go into place – and there’s plenty of construction in the roads in the meantime – but you can stay tuned at this link for all the latest up-to-date information about Union Square construction that will be continuing throughout the usual winter hiatus: https://www.somervillema.gov/somervilleave

Marijuana Update

Recreational Marijuana is in the news again as the first two shops have opened up in western mass. Both of those are existing medical shops who transitioned into recreational sales – an outcome that we anticipate here, but which I personally felt wasn’t the best we can do. The Cannabis Control Commission agreed in their guidelines for creating equity in the industry and rectifying some of the harm done by the War on Drugs.

I’m proud to say that my efforts brought regulations into effect here in Somerville that are groundbreaking in terms of their equity impact, according to the early reviews.  Our work is already being used as model legislation in Boston and other cities, and I’m hopeful that the rest of the state follows Somerville’s lead. If you’d like to know more about how this law helps encourage local business and other affected communities, get in touch with me.

The last step for Somerville is finalizing the zoning which determines where new shops can open. I am recused from that conversation due to state Conflict of Interest Law because my house is directly abutting an area under discussion for that zoning (just as Alderman Davis is, as well). I can’t help push this piece of it along, but I hope my colleagues can bring themselves to an efficient and equitable conclusion on this piece quickly.

Land Use: Open Space Rules for Tall Buildings, Air Quality Regs near Highways, Zoning Overhaul

Also in the Land Use Committee is an ordinance that would require developers of tall buildings to provide more open space in their plans – or pay into an Open Space Acquisition Fund that Somerville can use to create new parks. If we had these rules in place 5 years ago, Union Square would have more open space planned by law than resulted from the mayor’s negotiations with his hand-picked developer.

Once again, it’s an example of why we should legislate for what we want, instead of legislating against what we don’t want. Negotiating with massive developers is a losing hand for city governments desperate for revenue – and the neighborhood residents are the ones who end up paying the price. I am eager to get these rules in place, and I am pushing to do it soon. It’s time that profitable high-rise construction actually contributes to green space here in Somerville and benefits the residents, instead of just enriching developers.

In addition, there’s a great piece of legislation we’re considering that mandates new buildings near highways and busy roads have enhanced air quality management systems. The health cost of living near highways is well understood and striking: new buildings near highways are terrible for residents’ health, especially children. We need to hold developers to a higher standard that puts health over pure profit – and these new rules will do exactly that. Again, I hope we can get these rules implemented now and then rolled into the full zoning overhaul once it is finalized.

Speaking of which, the new year will be the launch of amendment season on the citywide Zoning Overhaul. That’s a big conversation, and I welcome your input. Ward 2 has some great minds, and together I know we can craft something that gets us moving forward without sacrificing our neighborhood – and our neighbors. The work begins again in 2019 on this.

Legislative Summary: Plastic Straws, AirBNB, Demo Review

One piece of legislation that just got some attention in the press was actually from the Open Space, Environment, and Energy Committee. Put forth by Aldermen Mbah and Ballantyne, it would ban all plastic straws in Somerville. I already had some initial thoughts about how this would impact health care and child care facilities, and I’ve heard a lot of concern about this from the disabled community as well. I will work with my colleagues next year to make sure that any ordinance that gets passed is one that enables conservation rather than burdening disabled folx.

There’s also a lot of items sitting in the Legislative Matters Committee. The current items prioritized by Chairman Niedergang are an expansion of the Historical Preservation Committee’s ability to block new construction projects by up to two years (on almost every lot in Somerville), and a set of regulations to restrict short-term-rental units in houses here.

On the “demo delay” ordinance, I think the first draft chokes off homeowners from pursuing renovations while doing little to actually stop bigger developers from razing our city. We need to do better than the proposed legislation, and I’ve been making the case strongly that there are other ways to accomplish our goals. It’s improved already, and I have confidence that we can produce significantly improved legislation before implementing it.

On the short-term-rental ordinance, AirBNB (and VRBO, and others) is a significant factor in taking housing units off the market and creating dangerous unlicensed hotels, and we don’t have good tools to manage it currently.

There’s a lot of nuance in this particular issue: I see a lot of good that comes from AirBNB in my neighborhood, like having a place for relatives to stay for a few weeks nearby when a family has a newborn child. But we need carefully crafted legislation that prevents abuse, protects tenants, cuts off incentive for shady operators, and still allows the kind of homey experience and flexible income that short-term-rentals can provide. I’ll be putting a lot of work into this coming into 2019, and I welcome your thoughts. Send me an email!

Local Meetings: Conway Park Update, Allen St Playground, Skate Park Hours Discussion

Three meetings in particular are coming up of specific interest to Ward 2. First, there will be an update on Conway Park’s shutdown (and mysterious re-opening) that I hope will provide more transparency. I’ve pursued every angle, including Freedom of Information Act requests, to try to pry information out of the city – and this meeting will hopefully give us all answers that we’ve been waiting far too long to hear.

That meeting will happen Wednesday December 5 at 6:30pm, in the Public Safety Building (Police Headquarters). If you can’t make it, there will be video available on the SomervilleCityTV YouTube channel listed above, and on the city’s web page dedicated to Conway Park updates.

Second, there’s a meeting to discuss the design options for an upcoming renovation of the Allen Street Playground happening Tuesday, December 18th at 6pm in the Academy Room at the Public Safety Building. If you’d like to see the plans and provide feedback, come on down!

Finally, there’s been some discussion about noise coming from the skate area at the new Lincoln Park. I am working to schedule a stakeholder meeting that brings together abutters with the broader neighborhood and the folks who use the park every week – to meet with city staff and hear each other out. Aldermen Niedergang, Rossetti, and Hirsch have also agreed to come down and join the conversation. I’m hoping to have that meeting sometime in early January, and will publish more details as soon as they’re available.

Thanks for reading this through!

If you’re excited about the work I’ve been doing and glad for the new voice in City Hall, I’ve got one more ask for you: please join me this Saturday Dec 1 to celebrate at my re-election campaign fundraising event or make a donation online.

All of the progress made this year has me hopeful, but keeping that momentum going will require that I have the resources to stay in office asking the hard questions and using every scrap of data and every parliamentary and legal tactic available to force this administration to respond to our demands. I’ve researched legal precedents, filed FOIA requests, held hearings, drafted legislation, passed resolutions, and even blocked funding requests to make sure our needs are taken seriously and addressed. Thanks to the dedicated crew of activists here in Ward 2, we’re staying ahead in this fight so far – but I need your help to push farther and do better in the next year, and hopefully in the next term.

Let’s gather on December 1st to celebrate our victories this year and rededicate ourselves to the fight ahead in 2019!

I hope to see you at Cantina La Mexicana on Dec 1 at 6pm, and I thank you sincerely for your support.

Thanks again,

-JT Scott

www.jtforward2.com

October Ward 2 Newsletter

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

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

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

Thanks,

-JT Scott

TRANSPARENCY

UNION SQUARE DETOUR

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

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

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

RESISTAT WARD 2 MEETING

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

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

ACCOUNTABILITY

APPOINTMENTS REJECTED, NEW APPLICANTS SOUGHT

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

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

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

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

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

OPEN SPACE AND TREES

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

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

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

ELECTIONS NOVEMBER 6

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

OFFICE HOURS EVERY FRIDAY

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

AFFORDABILITY

UNION SQUARE DEVELOPMENT MEETING SCHEDULED

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

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

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

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

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

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

515 SOMERVILLE AVE HOTEL PROPOSED

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

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

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

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

ZONING ROUND 2 BEGINS NOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

-JT Scott

Sept 3 2018 Newsletter

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACCOUNTABILITY

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

TRANSPARENCY

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

OPEN SPACE

  • Requisition for New Park in Ward 2

And finally, ELECTIONS TUESDAY SEPT 4.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Tree Slaughter Continues

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

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

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

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

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

2018: Year of the Rat?

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

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

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

Accountability for Appointed Boards: Redevelopment Authority and Planning Board changes

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

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

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

TRANSPARENCY

Sexual Harassment Stonewall

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

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

Beacon St Stallout

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

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

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

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

Recreational Marijuana Hearing Coming Soon

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

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

Bird Scooters Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

Office Hours Every Friday

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

OPEN SPACE

Requisition for New Park in Ward 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

ELECTIONS TUESDAY SEPT 4

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

Thanks for reading, and please do reach out anytime!

-JT Scott
www.jtforward2.com

June 18 2018 Ward 2 Newsletter

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

ACCOUNTABILITY
BOA requests independent counsel to resolve appointments logjam

TRANSPARENCY
Budget Season Underway

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

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

ACCOUNTABILITY: BOA requests independent counsel to resolve appointments logjam

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

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

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

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

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

TRANSPARENCY: Budget Season Underway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOCAL MEETING ROUNDUP

Union Square Neighborhood Council June 18 @ 6:30

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy summer…
-JTS

Ward 2 Construction Update

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

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

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

Pavement Management Program – D&R Paving

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

Beacon Street Road Reconstruction – MassDOT and Newport Construction

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

Gas Main Replacement – Eversource

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

Somerville Avenue Utility and Streetscape Improvements – Barletta Heavy Division

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

Gore Street Cambridge Sewer – J. Derenzo

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

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

Thanks,

-JTS

May 20 2018 Ward 2 Newsletter

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

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

TRANSPARENCY
Public Hearings This Week
Zoning Overhaul Update

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

LOCAL MEETING ROUNDUP
Memorial Week Events
Development – 515 Somerville Ave

PERSONAL UPDATE
House Fire in Ward 2

ACCOUNTABILITY

Appointments Manual Draft in Review

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

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

Clarendon Hill Development Should Be Held to High Standards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Engineering Position Leading to Increased Oversight

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

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

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

TRANSPARENCY

Public Hearings This Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoning Overhaul Update

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

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

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

AFFORDABILITY

“Developer Tax” Approved

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

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

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

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

Community Land Trust Tax Force Forming

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

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

Victory for Tenants at Millbrook Apartments

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

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

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

LOCAL MEETING ROUNDUP

Memorial Week Events

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

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

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

Development – 515 Somerville Ave

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

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

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

PERSONAL UPDATE

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!