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

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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.

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