March 2, 2020 Newsletter

Hello Ward 2!

It’s been a minute since my last newsletter. We’ve been pushing hard to get Union Square back online, and I’m thrilled to say that traffic is now flowing freely through the Washington and Webster intersection. Unfortunately, businesses down Somerville Ave towards McGrath continue to feel the pinch, and Target has (if possible) become even more mercenary about parking enforcement in their lot. Please don’t park there – you’ll get towed! I’m urging the Mayor and the Office of Economic Development to negotiate space there for neighborhood and local business parking, but until we get that the Target lot is a waste of land that is costing many residents a $170+ tow charge. Now, on to some better news…

AFFORDABILITY

  • New Zoning Code Now in Effect
  • New Affordable Housing Under Construction
  • New Jobs and Commercial Revenue Proposed for Union Square East

TRANSPARENCY

  • Conway Park Artificial Turf Recap
  • Marijuana Law Needs an Update
  • Office Hours Every Friday

ACCOUNTABILITY

  • The People’s Budget – coming soon

PRIMARY ELECTION COMMENTS

AFFORDABILITY

New Zoning Code Now in Effect

With the advent of the new Somerville Zoning Ordinance, it’s my hope that we’ll see more dense housing built in the squares, and less development pressure for “condo flips” on quiet residential streets. Since the zoning overhaul passed, I can say that the number of ZBA hearings for developers looking to turn affordable 2-and-3-family homes into 3-, 4-, and 5- unit buildings on quiet residential streets has dropped to zero.

If nothing else, the relief this provides to neighborhoods who have been under intense speculation pressure and tenants who risked displacement has been a valuable result. The ordinance is still new, and I’ve already got some places where it needs tweaking (Relieved Use Limitations in “Pedestrian Street” areas) and some places where the job isn’t finished yet (the Overlay Districts for Union Square East, Brickbottom, Innerbelt, and more need robust neighborhood planning processes before being ready to roll out). But all in all, I’m glad it’s done and I’m already seeing increased focus on the squares and major arteries.

New Affordable Housing Under Construction

One of the places people have been skeptical about our zoning work over the past few years has been in the 20% affordable housing requirement. In the old code, developers could dodge it by making buildings of 5 units or less. But I am happy to say that in Ward 2 there’s a project getting built right now on Prospect Street at the old Franny’s Auto Body site that will include underground parking and 20% affordable housing units.

This is a big win for the many households in Somerville earning less than $124k/year. Why that number? Because that’s the number that qualifies a family of 4 for one of these “affordable” units.

Affordable housing isn’t a handout… it’s a reality check, a small step we can take to keep families here who are being left behind by a real estate market run amok. I’ll keep pushing for more.

New Jobs and Commercial Revenue Proposed for Union Square East

One final project that I want to make you aware of is the “Gateway Innovation Center” project being proposed for the Glass Stop lot near Target, on Somerville Ave. We had a first neighborhood meeting last week that was well-attended, standing room only. The Union Square Neighborhood Council published a good summary of the discussion both at the meeting and online, and I encourage you to check it out.

The project’s website is already out-of-date as the developer works to incorporate early feedback from Brickbottom residents and the folks who attended that first meeting, but suffice to say it’s a 1.3 million square feet of 100% commercial development, including lab space, office space, a hotel, and over 1.5 acres of interior arts and community space. It will contribute nearly $10 Million to our Affordable Housing Trust Fund and substantial funds into Somerville’s job training program as well as substantial commercial tax revenue that the city needs going forward. And all the parking is underground!

If you’d like to get involved in the conversation, feel free to swing by my office hours to tell me your thoughts (the developer also tends to stop by most Fridays to hear from people) or get involved with the Union Square Neighborhood Council, who will also be involved in shaping the development.

TRANSPARENCY

Conway Park Artificial Turf Recap

I will always fight for what my ward constituents need – and I’m very aware of the pressing impacts of climate change. On Conway Park, I fought hard for grass and was outvoted. I lost this fight for Ward 2, and I’m sorry.

But just as important is ensuring that we don’t lose this fight for the next 200 years, foisting this toxic burden onto our grandchildren, by failing to clean up this property and the PCB toxins on it to the “standard of care” expected by the EPA and DEP: 36″ remediation. We should not repeat the city’s mistakes of 2001 and earlier by ignoring the presence of harmful chemicals under and on our playing fields.

Even if you want your kids to play on artificial turf in 2023, please join me in demanding that we fully clean up this site to that their kids can choose what works best for them and their world. Please don’t kick this toxic can down the road.

From the Somerville Journal article: “Ward 2 Councilor J.T. Scott, who voted against approving the design services funding, wanted the city to pursue a 36-inch remediation so they did not rule out a natural grass field down the line. That change would carry a delta of $1.2 million, but Scott argued that a future generation would have to spend much more to tear up and re-remediate the entire site in order to put natural grass down.

“I don’t support an option that seals away our future choices,” said Scott. “The Board of Alderman’s decision to create Foss Park in the late 1800s, instead of allowing that land to develop, is a decision that we are still dealing with now 150 years later. These decisions have consequences beyond our terms and certainly beyond our lifetimes. Even if synthetic turf is judged by my colleagues as the best for the next 40 years, that won’t necessarily always be the case. I want to make sure remediation is done to guarantee that the site has the most flexibility.””

Marijuana Law Needs an Update

I’m still proud of our groundbreaking Adult-Use Marijuana Ordinance, and the robust nature of it is shown well when compared to the version in Cambridge which just got struck down by a court challenge. Our equity-focused ordinance still stands!

However, I’m disappointed that of the many applicants in the city, only a very few reached the Licensing Commission for consideration. The creation of a “Mayor’s Advisory Committee” as a gatekeeper for applicants was not contemplated by the ordinance, and its role in keeping minority operated businesses out of the city is directly opposed to the aims of the ordinance the City Council crafted and passed into law.

Shaleen Title at the state’s Commission (her Twitter is a great follow) is working on fixing this serious problem – and locally, the City Council is proposing measures to strengthen the transparency and equity provisions of our ordinance to ensure that Somerville can lead the way in building an equitable cannabis industry here – one that reflects a commitment to redressing the harm of the War on Drugs.

Office Hours Every Friday

My weekly office hours continue at 269 Washington St, and the crowds have still been active through the cold winter. It’s always a good conversation, and a chance to get to meet some neighbors who are active in pushing for a better city. I hope you’ll come on by and join the conversations from 8-10am any Friday.

ACCOUNTABILITY

The People’s Budget – coming soon

City Council President Matt McLaughlin announced the “People’s Budget” initiative in his inaugural address, and appointed me as the Chair of the Finance Committee to help see that work get done. Work is already underway to begin compiling a comprehensive set of recommendations to reshape the way our city allocates our tax dollars.

Over the past 16 years, we’ve seen the city’s spending priorities change drastically. It’s time to have a more balanced approach to building a city budget. We can’t just let the Mayor be the first, last, and only word in how the city spends money.

To that end, the City Council will begin discussing the People’s Budget in Committee soon – but the more important work will be in outreach to people in our community who don’t come to public meetings and far too often are left out of the conversation.

If you’d like to help with analysis or outreach to community members and organizations, please send me an email and let me know how much you’d like to be involved. I’m excited by this new initiative, and have high hopes that it will establish a new standard for leadership and a vision for equity that comes from the bottom up – not from the top down.

PRIMARY ELECTION COMMENTS

Tomorrow is “Super Tuesday”, presidential primary election day here in Somerville. I wholeheartedly recommend a vote for Lucas Schaber for Democratic State Committee as a local activist who has worked hard on a variety of local issues and is intimately connected to the activism community here in Somerville and in the State House.

I’d also like to take a moment to tell you about who I’m voting for tomorrow, and why.

Bernie Sanders shares my politics in a way no one else does on the national stage, from Medicare for All to National Rent Control. He’s been steadfast in his clear democratic socialist vision and has spent the last 40 years fighting for working people. When he ran in 2016, he built enthusiasm that has carried forward into teachers’ strikes around the country, youth-led movements for a Green New Deal and against gun violence, and a massive upsurge in popular consciousness about the various ways in which billionaires and corporations steal money from working-class people.

Look at this video from 2017. This is Bernie Sanders, not running for any office himself, speaking to the importance of building a movement. He came to Somerville to speak directly to the impact of local politics. Around the country, he spent time empowering, inspiring, and motivating people like me to do better and get more involved in building a more just world. No one else in this race has done that.

I’m inspired by Senator Sanders, I’m optimistic about the changes he can bring to Washington, and most of all I can see all around us here in Somerville how it is already working – and in sister cities like Jackson Mississippi , Seattle Washington, and Richmond California. The progressive laws and policy changes this city have seen in the past two years are the impact that movement building can have at the local level… impact that resonates throughout our nation.

I hope you vote tomorrow, and that you’ll consider voting for Bernie Sanders. But more important than that, I hope you’ll be inspired to do more to build a more just world for all of us.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you at Office Hours, in a meeting, or just out on the streets of Ward 2 soon!

-JTS

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