June 18 2018 Ward 2 Newsletter

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

BOA requests independent counsel to resolve appointments logjam

Budget Season Underway

Community Land Trust Task Force meetings
Clarendon Hill project moving forward

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

ACCOUNTABILITY: BOA requests independent counsel to resolve appointments logjam

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

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

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

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

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

TRANSPARENCY: Budget Season Underway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Union Square Neighborhood Council June 18 @ 6:30

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy summer…

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