May 20 2018 Ward 2 Newsletter

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

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

TRANSPARENCY
Public Hearings This Week
Zoning Overhaul Update

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

LOCAL MEETING ROUNDUP
Memorial Week Events
Development – 515 Somerville Ave

PERSONAL UPDATE
House Fire in Ward 2

ACCOUNTABILITY

Appointments Manual Draft in Review

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

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

Clarendon Hill Development Should Be Held to High Standards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Engineering Position Leading to Increased Oversight

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

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

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

TRANSPARENCY

Public Hearings This Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoning Overhaul Update

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

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

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

AFFORDABILITY

“Developer Tax” Approved

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

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

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

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

Community Land Trust Tax Force Forming

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

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

Victory for Tenants at Millbrook Apartments

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

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

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

LOCAL MEETING ROUNDUP

Memorial Week Events

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

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

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

Development – 515 Somerville Ave

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

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

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

PERSONAL UPDATE

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

April 18 Newsletter

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

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

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

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

ACCOUNTABILITY
Police and Firefighter Hiring and Promotion Process Improved

TRANSPARENCY
New Positions Proposed at City Hall, midyear funding requested

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

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

ACCOUNTABILITY – Police and Firefighter Hiring and Promotion Process Improved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AFFORDABILITY – Real Estate Transfer Fee discussed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZONING MEETING RECAPS

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

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

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

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

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

BEACON ST CONSTRUCTION

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

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

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

SOMERVILLE AVE STREETSCAPE WORK

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

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

UNION SQUARE “D-2” MEETING, APRIL 19

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

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

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

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

SOMERVILLE SPRING CLEAN-UP, APRIL 21

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

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

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

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

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

TRAFFIC AND TRANSPORTATION IN UNION SQUARE, APRIL 24

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

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

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

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

OFFICE HOURS UPDATE

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

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

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

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

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

Time: 2-4pm, Saturday March 17

Location: 35 Prospect St, CrossFit Somerville

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

Zoning Meeting Schedule Update

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

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

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

Lincoln Park Traffic and Parking Update, Feb 16

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

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

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

TRANSPORTATION UPDATES

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

Washington and Webster Intersection

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

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

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

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

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

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

SIDE STREET TRAFFIC METRICS

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

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

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

91 BUS ROUTE and INMAN SQUARE

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

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

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

WEBSTER STREET PLAN

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

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

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

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

SIDEWALK REPAIR SEASON

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

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

EVERSOURCE GAS WORK on OAK ST

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

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

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

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

-JTS

February 11 Newsletter

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

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

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

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

=-=-=-=-=-=

AFFORDABILITY

Tenant Right-of-First-Refusal Update

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

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

Community Land Trust Update

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

Transfer Fee Proposal: Feedback Requested

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

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

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

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

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

Zoning Meetings: Density and Neighborhoods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRANSPARENCY

Expanded Recording and Broadcast of Committee Meetings

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

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

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

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

Development Meetings

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

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

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

ACCOUNTABILITY

Reform of Appointment Processes for City Employment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Office Hours for Ward 2

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

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

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

WARD 2 MATTERS

Community Benefits and the Union Square Neighborhood Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somerville Ave Streetscape and Sewer Reconstruction

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

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

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

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

Allen St Open Space/Playground Meeting

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

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

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

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

Street Changes and Traffic Management

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

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

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

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

Beacon Street Trees

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

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

Urban Agriculture Ambassador Training

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

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

Jan 14 Newsletter

Hi Ward 2! It’s been an eventful two weeks, with an inauguration, the first major snowstorm of the season, the first meeting of the new Board of Aldermen, some major development projects getting proposed for the Ward, and the new citywide zoning being put forward by the Administration for our consideration.

Here in this newsletter, I’ll give more info about all of that and let you know how you can get involved as we push forward to do better here in Somerville!

  • Pushing Forward on my Platform
  • Snow Removal Responses
  • Upcoming Developments and Meetings
    • 10-12 Ward St
    • 140-150 Line St
  • Citywide Zoning Meetings
  • Committee Assignments
  • Other Items on the Legislative Calendar
  • Pushing Forward on my Platform

The first meeting of the Board of Aldermen was on Thursday, Jan 11 – and it was a busy one! I’m proud to have put forward 3 items that directly advance the platform of Affordability, Transparency, and Accessibility that I ran on. You can see all of them, as well as video of the Board meeting, at this link.

(Speaking of which, the City’s web interface for viewing these meetings is really great. You can click on any specific agenda item to fast-forward directly to video of that item being proposed and discussed.)

First was #31, a Board Order calling for a Home Rule Petition to enable a tenant Right-Of-First-Refusal law here in Somerville. You can see more and read the sample Home Rule Petition draft linked in the agenda above. I’m glad to have collaborated with Aldermen Hirsch, Ewen-Campen, and Niedergang in taking this important first step towards passing good legislation.

Second was #40, launching the process of creating a Community Land Trust here in Somerville. You can read more about these on my blog, but in short it’s a way to create real and permanent affordability in Somerville. I’m honored that the rest of my colleagues have also signed on to endorse this order and I look forward to getting to work on it.

Third was #41, a directive to OSPCD and the administration to ensure that notification for public meetings be sent to all abutters – not just property owners. This is an especially important step for transparency here in Ward 2, where nearly 80% of the households are occupied by renters, if we want to have robust public processes and ensure that everyone gets their voice heard.

Again, I’m excited about taking these first steps and I look forward to keeping you updated on how we progress towards making these substantive changes towards a more affordable and transparent reality here in Somerville!

  • Snow Removal Responses

Our first big snow of the year brought some very specific challenges to the city, and DPW was hard at work to keep the streets usable. With rapid snowfall from the “bomb cyclone”, they weren’t able to keep up as well as we’d all like, and the result in many places was a barely-open street that wasn’t plowed all the way to the curb. (My phone was ringing constantly with reports from residents.)

I’ve spoken with some folks who work for the city, and the intention is clear: with Odd-side parking this year, they are looking to plow all the way to the curbline on the Even side of our streets. What’s also clear is that this didn’t get done in this particular storm, and the post-mortem will be important to see what we can do to improve our snow response next time.

With that said, it wasn’t all bad. The city’s improved plans for snow removal via front-loaders and dump trucks proceeded throughout the week after the storm, and a lot of snow was moved to a collection point outside the ward. We also got pretty lucky with a lot of 50-degree-and-rainy days after the storm, and that has helped minimize the lasting impact.

All in all, 311 was flooded with calls and no one is entirely happy with how snow removal was handled, but I think we have an opportunity to learn from this and do better going forward. I’m happy to have already seen some positive change in DPW’s coverage of crosswalk clearing, and I look forward to working with DPW on continued improvement.

  • Upcoming Developments and Meetings

Both of these developments are in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals for public comment. If you’d like to get email alerts on when the meetings are scheduled on these projects, you can ask at zba@somervillema.gov or planning@somervillema.gov to be added to the alert list.

  • 10-12 Ward St

10-12 Ward St has had several smaller meetings in the neighborhood to help the developer and architect adjust their plans to better accommodate the neighbors. It is a proposed 24-unit development with underground parking and 4 affordable housing apartments located back near Twin City Plaza on a site that is currently an open asphalt lot. The hearing for the project will be on January 31, and you can find more information on the project here at this link.

  • 140-150 Line St

This is a 14-unit development with surface parking, straddling the Cambridge line. I have not met with this developer and can only tell you what I see in the plans, so I very much would like to hear your input and feedback on this project! It is also scheduled for the Jan 31 ZBA meeting, and you can see the plans online here.

  • Citywide Zoning Meetings

The administration brought forward their proposal for a new citywide zoning overhaul, and you can see all the details at this link. It is an enormous amount of information, and as a Board we will be going through it in many upcoming meetings of the Land Use Committee. This Committee will be meeting as a “Committee of the Whole”, so you can be assured that I’ll be in there weighing in and relaying your concerns.

With that said, I need to hear from you if I’m going to represent you. To that end, I’m setting up a series of meetings to be held in the neighborhoods where we focus on the specific impacts of zoning on each area. I’ll be putting out the schedule for these meetings as soon as I have the times and locations set, but in the meantime here’s a quick map of the general area breakdowns to be covered by each meeting:

I’m happy to be working with Alderman Hirsch on a meeting specifically for the Lincoln Park neighborhood, and I look forward to all of these as a way to help make sure that we get the zoning we need. While it was put forward by the Mayor’s office on Jan 11, it was immediately referred to the Committee on Land Use and will undergo nearly 3 months of review and revision before it comes to a vote – so let’s use that time to get it right.

If you’d like to be involved in helping to prepare for, organize around, and drive input at these meetings, please send me an email! We’ll all need to work together to get zoning right.

  • Committee Assignments

The assignments for Aldermen to the various committees have been made by the President, Katjana Ballantyne. For 2017, I’ve been assigned to serve on the following Committees:

  • Confirmation of Appointments and Personnel Matters (Chair)
  • Flood Forum (Chair)
  • Licenses and Permits
  • Open Space, Environment and Energy
  • Public Utilities and Public Works
  • Clean and Open Elections Task Force
  • Other Items on the Legislative Calendar

We’ve got a lot more on our plate besides Zoning and the specific measures I’ve already put forth. We’re also going to be looking at a great many appointed positions in the city, considering legislation around AirBNB rentals, reviewing the city’s spending plan, and getting ready for the spring construction season including all the major infrastructure projects that will launch then. If you’ve got something you want to make sure gets taken up, please do get in touch anytime.

As much as there is going on in City Hall, the most important stuff to me happens right here in the neighborhood. I’m happy to help you with questions big or small.

Thanks, and I’ll see you in the streets of Ward 2!

-JT Scott

Jan 1 Newsletter

Here’s a first newsletter with some updates and info you may be interested in.

  • Inauguration Celebration January 1
  • Campaign Wrapup Thanks
  • Upcoming Projects
    • Somerville Ave Streetscape/Sewer Work
    • Citywide Zoning Overhaul
    • Neighborhood Zoning Meetings
    • Union Square Neighborhood Council

INAUGURATION CELEBRATION JANUARY 1

You’re invited to the Somerville Inauguration! The city is hosting a ceremony at Somerville High School on New Year’s Day starting at 6pm that will feature speeches from Mayor Curtatone, Board of Aldermen President Ballantyne, School Board Chair Green, and Governor Baker. It will be immediately followed by a reception at the Holiday Inn with appetizers and a live band from 8-10pm.

You are invited to either or both! Details are online here, and the city has asked folks to send an RSVP email to inauguration2018@somervillema.gov if you plan on attending. I hope to see you all there to celebrate!

CAMPAIGN WRAPUP AND THANKS

Speaking of celebration, I’m also reaching out to say Thank You for all of your support during the campaign.

Municipal elections generally don’t draw many voters, and Ward 2 traditionally has the lowest turnout in Somerville. Not this year: we had 4x the votes cast in the last municipal election in 2015, and the highest number of votes since 1979. This was entirely due to the energy of our grassroots campaign and the tireless effort of our volunteers. As an engineer, I like data – and I can tell you that the data shows that the vast majority of these votes were cast by people we talked to face-to-face, one-on-one. I’ve always said that we can only change the world one conversation at a time, and this election really proved how powerful those conversations can be.

We truly have a political revolution here in Somerville. I was one of five new Aldermen elected, removing five incumbents – and now 9 of the 11 seats on the city council are occupied by candidates endorsed by Our Revolution Somerville. With this supermajority in place, I have high hopes for this term. We can do better for Somerville – and it’s all thanks to you.

Here in Somerville, there’s a lot of work ahead of us and I’m excited to be already digging in on it. I’m committed to governing in the same way I campaigned – one conversation at a time. In order to do the work ahead to increase Affordability, Transparency, and Accountability, I’m going to foster the creation and growth of neighborhood groups who can stay mobilized to keep those conversations going, support our legislative work on the Board of Aldermen, and continue to get new neighbors engaged in the political process. The revolution took a big step on November 7th, and I couldn’t be prouder of the results, but it can’t end here.

PROJECTS

Since the election I’ve spent a lot of time meeting with city staff and local residents, hearing more about your hopes and goals for the coming year and getting up to speed on all the projects coming up in the new year.

Somerville Ave Streetscape/Sewer Work – The city is planning a major piece of construction along Somerville Ave from the intersection at Washington and Webster all the way to McGrath starting in March or April of 2018. The city has placed the job out for bids, but still has a long way to go in terms of planning the schedule and publishing plans for traffic management during the construction. I’ll be staying in touch with Capital Projects to make sure that I can keep you informed of the plans for Union Square and Somerville Ave construction in 2018.

Citywide Zoning Overhaul – The city is also planning to propose a full overhaul of our city’s zoning code. This is an exciting opportunity to simplify our zoning code, enable more flexibility for homeowners to modify their houses, and open the way for more jobs and commercial development in Somerville. It’s also a vitally important time to make sure we get zoning that protects neighborhoods and encourages the kind of development we want to see – after all, the last time zoning got completely rewritten here in Somerville was nearly 100 years ago. The decisions that get made now will have long-lasting impacts on our neighborhoods. I expect the proposed zoning to be published in the first few weeks of January, but you can look at the preliminary draft information here.

Please take a look at it and let me know what you think of the zoning as written for your home and your neighborhood! I want to hear from you. To that end…

Neighborhood Zoning Meetings – I’ll be hosting a series of meetings in January and February across the neighborhoods of Ward 2 in order to try to get more people informed about and engaged in the process. I’ve posted an ambitious goal on my website of how to proceed, and I’d like to try to get each neighborhood involved. Right now, I’m looking at 7 distinct neighborhoods in Ward 2 as a way to break down the zoning discussion:

  • Union Square – Mansfield/McGrath to Lake/Church
  • Lincoln Park
  • Spring Hill Ward 2 – from Church to Central, north of Somerville Ave
  • Beacon St South – from Washington to Cambridge, including one block to each side
  • Beacon St North – including Harrison/Ivaloo and Duck Village
  • Prospect St/South St – including Oak, Webster, and neighboring street
  • Brickbottom

I’ll be sending more information out as those meetings get scheduled, but if you’d like to help with organizing these meetings and getting your neighbors involved in the conversation, please send me an email! We’re all going to have to work together to get great zoning that meets our needs as neighbors.

Union Square Neighborhood Council – A founding board has been elected, and you can find out all about it here. The best way to get involved is to subscribe to their announcement list and go to one of their open meetings. Anyone can attend, and we want all of your voices to be heard! The ultimate purpose of this Council is to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement with the Union Square developer US2, and to do continual community outreach to engage new people in the process of redevelopment. If you’ve been involved in Union Square development for years, or if you’re totally new to the process, please come out and/or get to know folks on the Council.

Thank you so much for your help! I look forward to working with you to do better for all of us. Please get in touch anytime.

JT Scott, Ward 2 Alderman-Elect

Transparency and Accountability: a Community-Driven Zoning process for Ward 2

Just this week I got a question from a Ward 2 resident who was fed up with the lack of transparency and accountability from the Board of Aldermen. She had contacted the Board with questions about an upcoming change to the zoning of her neighborhood along with a petition signed by 22 of her neighbors. Unfortunately, the only Aldermen who replied to her or acknowledged her message in any way were Bill White (at-large, Board President) and Matt McLaughlin (Ward 1).

So she reached out to me with the same letter and question:

“I and many of my neighbors have been losing faith in the City.  It clearly has not been looking out for the best interests of those of us who do live here, in favor of developers who do not.  The Beacon Street Reconstruction Project, the cutting of our trees, and developers being granted waiver after waiver and deal after deal have profoundly disappointed us.  In each case there is some version of “process”, usually public meetings.  However, the meetings are often held after major decisions or deals have already been made, and no action is taken as a result of the public comment. […] Before we vote, please tell us: What will you PROMISE with regard to zoning along Beacon Street, from Durham to the Cambridge Line at Inman Square?”

This post is my long answer that boils down to a very short version:

“I will ask you – as a neighborhood – what you want, and I will use that to guide my recommendation to the Land Use Committee and my vote on the Board.”

Of course, that’s easy to say… but how can we make that work in practice? That’s the long answer, below. It is in three parts. First is how I think our process needs to be better – more transparent and more accountable – and then sharing some of my personal thoughts about what I’d like to see in zoning on Beacon Street.

WHAT I WILL DO

Here’s what I’ll promise about the upcoming zoning. This is my concrete plan of how to approach understanding what is proposed, amending what needs to change, and voting on final approval that truly embraces residents input at every step of the way. I am committed to governing in an inclusive and transparent way that puts our neighborhoods and families first.

In order to get your voices heard, I propose implementing a policy similar to that of Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa in Chicago’s 35th Ward: for each zoning region that would incorporate major changes to allowed heights/setbacks/uses in an area, I would host a community meeting (or a series of meetings, if needed) to discuss and gather input on the specific zoning proposed and its impact on the community. All residents within 500 feet of the zoning area would receive a printed invitation to these meetings, and I would use these meetings to guide my input and votes on zoning.

I recommend checking out Alderman Rosa’s website about the inspiring process he undertakes in his ward to ensure zoning is determined by the community, and not by developers. I’d like to emulate that here.
http://www.aldermancarlosrosa.org/cdzd

In the case of an effective citywide overhaul, this will likely mean a separate meeting for each zoning area. However, I think this is the only way to ensure that residents are informed and included in the decision making process. I want to be clear that this is not the city’s “public process” – this will be my process to make sure I am representing the interests of Ward 2’s residents.

As inputs to those meetings, I’d want easily accessible documents to help people understand what is being discussed:

1) source material (zoning code as written)
2) comparison to current uses (how many buildings and uses in the area would be “compliant” or “non-compliant” under the proposed zoning change)
3) translation of allowed building options and layout (examples of what could be newly built under the changes)
4) some interpretation of the city’s goals/intent in the proposed change
5) preliminary analysis of the effectiveness of the proposed change

I’d also like to have an online forum for people to see all of this material ahead of time so that we are able to get informed and come with a common starting point of information. 

At the local meeting itself, I’d like to hear what residents think about the proposed changes on the following points:

a) do you feel the goals/intent are desirable?
b) do you feel the goals/intent are adequately met with the code as proposed?
c) what are the possible costs and benefits to the neighborhood of the proposed change?
d) what are better ways of attaining desirable goals/benefits without unacceptable negative impacts to the neighborhood?

As outputs from these meetings, I’d like to take with me a set of guidelines determined by the attendees that I can use to draft amendments to the proposed zoning that take into account all of the discussion at that meeting – ideally with the explicit approval granted by a vote at that meeting for or against certain changes. If this takes more than one meeting to settle on, then I say let’s take the time to discuss it and get it right.

I’d then put those amendments forth during the deliberation process at the Board of Aldermen with the neighborhood’s support and urge their adoption by the Board. With the full support of the neighborhood, how could they not be accepted?

If the majority of neighbors strongly support a set of necessary changes, I’ll be promoting those – and I won’t support approval of the zoning unless those changes are incorporated or until the community is convinced that a compromise position is acceptable. 

Now, I know this won’t be easy. For example, few people want to have a new fire station put next to their house – but the community will need a fire station someplace central. Are we willing to compromise on noise in the interest of public safety? Likewise, most people want to improve affordability in Somerville. Are we willing to compromise on building height if a project provides a large amount of affordable housing for middle class residents and artists?

We owe it to the neighborhood to hold these meetings, understand the underlying interests, and ask ourselves these questions. We can take neighborhood concerns into account and work to build consensus around a solution that serves the neighborhood and the individual neighbors.

WHY I WILL DO IT

I believe the public process and scrutiny to this point regarding zoning overhaul has not been sufficient. I have shared every one of these frustrations around developer waivers, Beacon Street reconstruction, and especially in the zoning process around Union Square, where I live and work.

I think that we can do better to incorporate the input of homeowners and tenants alike, and neighbors of every inclination, who may have differing priorities for what they want to see in the neighborhood. Ultimately, this city can be (and should be) what we make of it. I think strong neighborhood organizations can and should make a huge difference in what gets approved and built.

I believe that this can be a directly democratic process, and I have a lot of faith in the intelligence, dedication, and goodwill of my neighbors to dive into the details of these discussions. There are a lot of things to consider, and I have confidence in your ability do that if you have all the information transparently available to you. I will advocate based on my own preferences, but ultimately the decision on how I vote at the Board is going to come from the neighbors.

WHAT I THINK ABOUT BEACON ST RIGHT NOW

If you want to hear my personal opinions about zoning on Beacon St from Washington to Inman, I’m glad to break some of those down as well. I think that we need to get it right before passing it, and that what’s proposed now has some serious problems that have not been addressed. 

I’d like to see zoning that allows homeowners more flexibility to modify their homes, and I’d like to see zoning in place that prevents buildings that discourage interactions with the neighborhood. (As much as I love the people who live in 94 Beacon, I don’t think it’s the best model for what buildings can be on Beacon Street.) I’d also like to see zoning that encourages the creation of small businesses that serve the neighborhood like Thai Hut, the Biscuit, Thirsty Scholar, and more. I’d like to find ways that we can enable responsible development that creates affordable housing for low and middle income residents. I’d like to think we can do all of that without destroying the character of the neighborhood.

I’m very interested in walking down the street with a group of neighbors and a tape measure! I’d love to hear what neighbors think is desirable and objectionable on the street, and make a list of what the important factors are in preserving the character of the neighborhood including really understanding what’s actually there already.

=-=-=-=-=

It’s not going to be short or easy, but I actually think it sounds pretty exciting to work with all of my neighbors to find great solutions and make sure that the neighborhood is what we want to make of it… which is a big part of why I’m running for Alderman.

Real Ideas for Fighting Displacement Part 2: Community Land Trusts

One of the biggest problems we see around development in Somerville is that the path of development is shaped not by the residents and homeowners, but instead by the real estate developers who come in and put high cash bids on properties. If you own a home here, you have received many pieces of mail, phone calls, and even in-person door knocking asking to buy your house – and if you rent, trust me when I say your landlord has gotten plenty of those offers.

The result of this is that most homes that hit the market – and many that never even go on the open market – go through a middleman step of being purchased by a developer, rehabbed (brought up to “luxury” status), and then remarketed as a finished product. This simultaneously displaces the current residents and puts the price range forever out of reach for the former tenants – working-class and middle-class people here in Somerville.

How We Can Stop It

When it comes to gentrification, this process is the worst outcome; it only does the exact thing we want to prevent. If we want innovative and community-serving development solutions that don’t displace residents, we need to present an alternative path. That’s where Community Land Trusts enter the equation.

A Community Land Trust is a non-profit organization set up to help people buy homes affordably in their community. The way it could work here is that a potential purchaser works with the Community Land Trust to make an offer on a property. The purchase is split: the new homeowner will buy the structure itself, and the Community Land Trust purchases the land underneath it.

An Example of How It Works

In Somerville, this would mean a dramatic reduction in the cost of housing and enable many people who are currently renters to become homeowners. Recent listings in Ward 2 show “pre-rehab” 2-family homes going for $950k-1M. One nearby case that I’m looking at today (pictured here) is pretty standard: 3beds/1bath and 2beds/1bath units in a 2-family for $950,000. Looking at the Somerville Assessor’s Database, we can see that the land underneath it is valued at $390,000.

A person buying this building would be looking at a big, hard-to-get Jumbo mortgage that would not qualify for many assistance programs, and the cost would be about $4,000/month for just the mortgage. That’s developer territory – and in order to make money a buyer is going to rehab the property and remarket it at luxury rates as soon as possible.

But when you get the Community Land Trust involved, things change dramatically. Buying the property as a tenant association working in conjunction with the land trust means the cost to the new occupants would be just $560,000. Split that across two units equitably based on living area and bedrooms, and we’re looking at just $308,000 for the 3BR unit, and $252,000 for a 2BR unit.

Those are mortgages for homes at just $1,200/month and $1,000/month. $1,000/month for two bedrooms… in Somerville! This isn’t a fantasy – this is something we can do. Even with homeowner’s insurance and property taxes, this is truly affordable housing for the middle class.

The homes still sell at market rate – the owner doesn’t lose anything in the sale.
The homes go to working class people who can now afford to stay in Somerville.

What Happens in the Future?

A home purchased in cooperation with a Community Land Trust generally comes with some terms attached, particularly when it comes to resale. The point of the CLT is to keep prices affordable forever by removing the property from the speculative investment market. When a property goes up for sale – because a family outgrows it, for example – the sale isn’t at “market rate”. Instead, the housing unit is sold at the rate of inflation plus any value of improvements made to the property (home renovations) and a small percentage for the homeowner’s stewardship and care of the property. In some cases the CLT can purchase the home and simply lease it at affordable rates instead.

This means homes remain affordable forever thanks to the covenants attached to a transaction made in cooperation with a Community Land Trust.

Community Land Trusts Stabilize Our Neighborhoods

This is a way of approaching housing as a right to affordable shelter that creates stable communities instead of a get-rich scheme that displaces residents and encourages gentrification.

There are a lot of different ways to manage Community Land Trusts and the devil is in the details, as always. But we’re got lots of great examples to pull from and I have confidence that we can structure one that works for Somerville.

Community Land Trusts aren’t new. In fact, they’ve been around since the 1980s in urban areas of the United States. Bernie did it as Mayor of Burlington. This is an approach we can start using right now in Somerville. It pairs very well with a Tenant Right of First Refusal Law and it’s something I’ll be pushing to establish starting my first day in office as your Alderman.