- Observances: Veterans Day Parade, Transgender Day of Remembrance
- Somerville Ave. Detour Delayed
- Recreational Marijuana Update
- Land Use: Open Space Rules for Tall Buildings, Air Quality Regs near Highways, Zoning Overhaul
- Legislative Summary: Plastic Straws, AirBNB, Demo Review
- Local Meetings: Conway Park Update, Allen St Playground, Skate Park Hours Discussion
- JT Scott Re-Election Campaign Event: December 1
Hi Ward 2! There’s a lot to cover here at the end of the year and this is a long update. Let’s get right into it!
Observances: Veterans Day Parade, Transgender Day of Remembrance
SomervilleCityTV’s YouTube channel is an amazing source of video of all kinds of events around the city. It’s stunning what all you can find there! If you missed an event, it’s not a bad bet to check out the channel and see if they have video. The first annual Veterans Day Parade is up there along with several related ceremonies , as are the remarks at the flag raising for the Transgender Day of Remembrance at Somerville High School. I was glad to be at all of those, and hope you feel well represented.
Somerville Ave. Detour Delayed
There is a major, six-month detour planned for Somerville Ave. near Union Square, as part of the sewer overhaul and street reconstruction. Due to Eversource’s delays in getting their utility work done, this has now been delayed until mid-December. I’ve been pushing the city to delay it past the holidays, so that the shops that rely on a good holiday season to stay in business won’t be disrupted.
We don’t have a final timetable on when the detour will go into place – and there’s plenty of construction in the roads in the meantime – but you can stay tuned at this link for all the latest up-to-date information about Union Square construction that will be continuing throughout the usual winter hiatus: https://www.somervillema.gov/somervilleave
Recreational Marijuana is in the news again as the first two shops have opened up in western mass. Both of those are existing medical shops who transitioned into recreational sales – an outcome that we anticipate here, but which I personally felt wasn’t the best we can do. The Cannabis Control Commission agreed in their guidelines for creating equity in the industry and rectifying some of the harm done by the War on Drugs.
I’m proud to say that my efforts brought regulations into effect here in Somerville that are groundbreaking in terms of their equity impact, according to the early reviews. Our work is already being used as model legislation in Boston and other cities, and I’m hopeful that the rest of the state follows Somerville’s lead. If you’d like to know more about how this law helps encourage local business and other affected communities, get in touch with me.
The last step for Somerville is finalizing the zoning which determines where new shops can open. I am recused from that conversation due to state Conflict of Interest Law because my house is directly abutting an area under discussion for that zoning (just as Alderman Davis is, as well). I can’t help push this piece of it along, but I hope my colleagues can bring themselves to an efficient and equitable conclusion on this piece quickly.
Land Use: Open Space Rules for Tall Buildings, Air Quality Regs near Highways, Zoning Overhaul
Also in the Land Use Committee is an ordinance that would require developers of tall buildings to provide more open space in their plans – or pay into an Open Space Acquisition Fund that Somerville can use to create new parks. If we had these rules in place 5 years ago, Union Square would have more open space planned by law than resulted from the mayor’s negotiations with his hand-picked developer.
Once again, it’s an example of why we should legislate for what we want, instead of legislating against what we don’t want. Negotiating with massive developers is a losing hand for city governments desperate for revenue – and the neighborhood residents are the ones who end up paying the price. I am eager to get these rules in place, and I am pushing to do it soon. It’s time that profitable high-rise construction actually contributes to green space here in Somerville and benefits the residents, instead of just enriching developers.
In addition, there’s a great piece of legislation we’re considering that mandates new buildings near highways and busy roads have enhanced air quality management systems. The health cost of living near highways is well understood and striking: new buildings near highways are terrible for residents’ health, especially children. We need to hold developers to a higher standard that puts health over pure profit – and these new rules will do exactly that. Again, I hope we can get these rules implemented now and then rolled into the full zoning overhaul once it is finalized.
Speaking of which, the new year will be the launch of amendment season on the citywide Zoning Overhaul. That’s a big conversation, and I welcome your input. Ward 2 has some great minds, and together I know we can craft something that gets us moving forward without sacrificing our neighborhood – and our neighbors. The work begins again in 2019 on this.
Legislative Summary: Plastic Straws, AirBNB, Demo Review
One piece of legislation that just got some attention in the press was actually from the Open Space, Environment, and Energy Committee. Put forth by Aldermen Mbah and Ballantyne, it would ban all plastic straws in Somerville. I already had some initial thoughts about how this would impact health care and child care facilities, and I’ve heard a lot of concern about this from the disabled community as well. I will work with my colleagues next year to make sure that any ordinance that gets passed is one that enables conservation rather than burdening disabled folx.
There’s also a lot of items sitting in the Legislative Matters Committee. The current items prioritized by Chairman Niedergang are an expansion of the Historical Preservation Committee’s ability to block new construction projects by up to two years (on almost every lot in Somerville), and a set of regulations to restrict short-term-rental units in houses here.
On the “demo delay” ordinance, I think the first draft chokes off homeowners from pursuing renovations while doing little to actually stop bigger developers from razing our city. We need to do better than the proposed legislation, and I’ve been making the case strongly that there are other ways to accomplish our goals. It’s improved already, and I have confidence that we can produce significantly improved legislation before implementing it.
On the short-term-rental ordinance, AirBNB (and VRBO, and others) is a significant factor in taking housing units off the market and creating dangerous unlicensed hotels, and we don’t have good tools to manage it currently.
There’s a lot of nuance in this particular issue: I see a lot of good that comes from AirBNB in my neighborhood, like having a place for relatives to stay for a few weeks nearby when a family has a newborn child. But we need carefully crafted legislation that prevents abuse, protects tenants, cuts off incentive for shady operators, and still allows the kind of homey experience and flexible income that short-term-rentals can provide. I’ll be putting a lot of work into this coming into 2019, and I welcome your thoughts. Send me an email!
Local Meetings: Conway Park Update, Allen St Playground, Skate Park Hours Discussion
Three meetings in particular are coming up of specific interest to Ward 2. First, there will be an update on Conway Park’s shutdown (and mysterious re-opening) that I hope will provide more transparency. I’ve pursued every angle, including Freedom of Information Act requests, to try to pry information out of the city – and this meeting will hopefully give us all answers that we’ve been waiting far too long to hear.
That meeting will happen Wednesday December 5 at 6:30pm, in the Public Safety Building (Police Headquarters). If you can’t make it, there will be video available on the SomervilleCityTV YouTube channel listed above, and on the city’s web page dedicated to Conway Park updates.
Second, there’s a meeting to discuss the design options for an upcoming renovation of the Allen Street Playground happening Tuesday, December 18th at 6pm in the Academy Room at the Public Safety Building. If you’d like to see the plans and provide feedback, come on down!
Finally, there’s been some discussion about noise coming from the skate area at the new Lincoln Park. I am working to schedule a stakeholder meeting that brings together abutters with the broader neighborhood and the folks who use the park every week – to meet with city staff and hear each other out. Aldermen Niedergang, Rossetti, and Hirsch have also agreed to come down and join the conversation. I’m hoping to have that meeting sometime in early January, and will publish more details as soon as they’re available.
Thanks for reading this through!
If you’re excited about the work I’ve been doing and glad for the new voice in City Hall, I’ve got one more ask for you: please join me this Saturday Dec 1 to celebrate at my re-election campaign fundraising event or make a donation online.
All of the progress made this year has me hopeful, but keeping that momentum going will require that I have the resources to stay in office asking the hard questions and using every scrap of data and every parliamentary and legal tactic available to force this administration to respond to our demands. I’ve researched legal precedents, filed FOIA requests, held hearings, drafted legislation, passed resolutions, and even blocked funding requests to make sure our needs are taken seriously and addressed. Thanks to the dedicated crew of activists here in Ward 2, we’re staying ahead in this fight so far – but I need your help to push farther and do better in the next year, and hopefully in the next term.
Let’s gather on December 1st to celebrate our victories this year and rededicate ourselves to the fight ahead in 2019!
I hope to see you at Cantina La Mexicana on Dec 1 at 6pm, and I thank you sincerely for your support.