Hello Ward 2! I have been enjoying the summer tour of all 11 block parties thrown in the ward so far, and hope we can get a few more in before the weather turns on us. It has been a good summer, but I’ve also been inundated with calls about the massive increase in rats, the astounding traffic congestion surrounding Union Square, the continued tree clear-cutting that is making 2017-2018 the most dramatic period of tree loss in a generation, and the stall-out of the Beacon Street Renovation.
Every Labor Day is an opportunity to remember the 30 workers who died in the Pullman Strike of 1894 – the origin of Labor Day. (That strike began because wages were cut, but rents remained too high and outpaced the workers’ earnings.) I hope you’ve all enjoyed the holiday weekend and are ready for the start of school; I know my family is excited!
With the first session of the year completed and the summer hiatus of the Board of Aldermen complete, we’re back to work at City Hall. Our first meeting back (on Thursday Aug 23) was a big one, and in it I put forward several initiatives and highlighted some major problems that the city must address.
The video is available of that meeting (as well all of our meetings including Committees) online, and my agenda items start around the 2hr 4min mark: http://somervillecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/SplitView.aspx?Mode=Video&MeetingID=2748&Format=Agenda
In this newsletter, I’m going to hit the highlights in Accountability and Transparency. The next newsletter will come back to Affordability, where there’s also lots of exciting activity that will ramp up towards the end of the year. In addition to the big picture items, there’s plenty to stay on top of with local issues including neighborhood developments and construction projects. Thanks for staying engaged!
Taken together, all of it adds up to a vision I have for what Somerville can be – a progressive and active city that prioritizes people and green space over developers and profits. Somerville can be a city that takes seriously its responsibility to provide services and rejects the neoliberal notion that private companies will deliver the benefits that our citizens need.
- Tree Slaughter Continues
- 2018: Year of the Rat?
- Accountability for Appointed Boards: Redevelopment Authority and Planning Board changes
- Sexual Harassment Stonewall
- Beacon St Stallout
- Recreational Marijuana Hearing Coming Soon
- Bird Scooters Update
- Office Hours Every Friday
- Requisition for New Park in Ward 2
And finally, ELECTIONS TUESDAY SEPT 4.
Tree Slaughter Continues
As we enter Fall of 2018 we are faced with the ghoulish prospect of having lost nearly 15% of the trees that stand on publicly-owned land in just the past 2 years. Despite City Hall’s pride in having hired an arborist two years ago and being declared a “Tree City”, those claims ring hollow as we see our trees clear-cut all over the city with insufficient plans to replace them.
This summer brought a horrific clear-cut of trees along the GLX right-of-way – far in excess of the plans presented to the public. In addition, the full scope of the High School Reconstruction became clear, as another large grove of trees was cleared to make way for an artificial turf field. Despite my Board Orders as far back as April to provide transparency as to how many trees are being removed and how many are planned to be replaced, that data has still not been provided.
Through all of this, the Mayor has declined to appoint civilian oversight in the form of the Urban Forestry Commission that the Board of Aldermen created by law in October of 2017. We are now 9 months from that time, and the 15-member commission is unstaffed and unappointed. There are many private citizens clamoring for change and ready to help the city get their hands around the problem, but their voices go unheard and messages go unanswered.
One final note: there is some discussion about bringing forward an ordinance to prevent private homeowners from removing trees on their property – and I think that is misguided. It is the height of arrogance to oversee the wholesale removal of trees on public lands and then point to homeowners and claim that they are the problem. I am opposed to putting more legal burden on citizens when our public agencies cannot even follow the laws related to tree removal – and will remain opposed until I see some real accountability and change in how the city handles its own public trees. Let’s clean up our act at City Hall.
If you are also care deeply about this issue, I encourage you to get in touch with Somerville Friends of the Urban Forest – a group that is doing some great data-driven work and advocacy around our rapidly vanishing tree canopy, and what we can do to save and restore it. (Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org) Their recent article in the Somerville Times (https://www.thesomervilletimes.com/archives/85808) details the issue clearly, and spells out concrete policy actions our administration can take right now to address the problem.
2018: Year of the Rat?
I’ve been swamped with calls about rat problems in Ward 2 this summer, and I agree; this may be the year of the rat. The construction in our sewers, streets, and in many properties are disturbing the rat population and pushing them to find new homes – and our city is not responding to the problem as effectively as I’d like to see.
I spent time over the summer working with ISD on their ticketing and enforcement program for problem landlords, and have personally gotten involved to help get neglected properties to clean up overgrowth and rat havens in response to neighbor complaints. In addition, I am pushing to make our homeowner-assistance program more aggressive. It’s a disgrace when our annual assistance budget for baiting private properties is underspent by about half during a time when residents are being overwhelmed with rats.
I’ll continue to work with Ward 1 Alderman Matt McLaughlin’s Rodent Issues Committee to follow up on taking a more proactive stance to this problem and making sure that we feel comfortable in our streets and backyards.
Accountability for Appointed Boards: Redevelopment Authority and Planning Board changes
One major issue I heard constantly during the campaign was dissatisfaction from residents with the actions taken by the Mayor’s appointed Boards and Commissions. These members were frequently serving on long-expired terms and with questionable qualifications – and the actions they took with regard to permissive stances on big developers was deeply disturbing to constituents. This was particularly stark in Union Square and with the FRIT/Assembly Square affordable housing waiver, though the list of examples is long.
I’m happy to say that Accountability is coming to these Boards. Just last week, the Aldermen’s Committee on Confirmation of Appointments recommended rejection of the re-appointment of several members of the Planning Board and Somerville Redevelopment Authority, and several other members have resigned rather than stand for re-appointment. I am hopeful that the Mayor will move with all due haste to find more qualified candidates and bring them forward for appointment, so that we can get the kind of thoughtful and qualified scrutiny these major projects deserve.
I am standing and delivering on my promise to bring Accountability to City Hall. Thank you for your help!
Sexual Harassment Stonewall
I hope you got to read my recent letter to the Somerville Times summarizing the unacceptable state of affairs in our city’s handling of sexual harassment policy and the depressing lack of transparency in response to my requests for information. I won’t belabor the point here, but I urge you to read the article and send a message to the Board – and the Mayor – calling for immediate action. (http://www.thesomervilletimes.com/archives/85943)
I stand with the Somerville Women’s Commission and all of #MeToo in demanding that we do better to address this pervasive issue. If you want to help, please join the Women’s Commission at one of their upcoming meetings; they’re always looking for more talented and driven women to help push the conversation forward. (Meetings happen the Third Tuesday of each month at 7:00 pm, and are posted here at this link.
Beacon St Stallout
While the Communications Department (including Jackie Rossetti) have stepped up their focus on Beacon Street and are maintaining an up-to-date site for progress reports at https://www.somervillema.gov/beaconstreet, the news still isn’t good. This is Somerville’s own “Big Dig”. The expectation was set that 2018 would finally see the closure of this project, but with months of the construction season lost many residents are seeing the writing on the wall: this project may remain unfinished for another year.
When it comes to life safety measures like lighting and signage, this just isn’t acceptable. At major intersections along Beacon Street, especially on the sourthern end, signage and markings have been neglected for years “just waiting for the work to be completed” – and people are at risk. Likewise, the lack of signage and incomplete state of construction on the north end of Beacon is actively causing vehicular accidents.
Members of the Somerville Bikes Committee have sent the Mayor’s Office a very concise letter summarizing the unsafe conditions that must be remedied before the construction season ends, and I was more than willing to present that letter in our last Board of Aldermen meeting. I hope that we’ll see some response soon.
In the meantime, there will be yet another meeting of the Public Utilities and Public Works Committee on Tuesday, Sep 11 at 7pm at the Argenziano School cafeteria. Thanks to Chairman Bill White for scheduling this meeting and helping us continue to pursue answers when it comes to this ill-fated project.
Recreational Marijuana Hearing Coming Soon
While I voted against a “moratorium” on recreational marijuana sales given the overwhelming support Somerville voters gave that ballot initiative, there is good news – the zoning is ready, and the regulatory framework is currently being proposed. The Zoning proposal for recreational marijuana will have a public hearing this Thursday, September 6, at 6pm at City Hall in the Aldermanic Chambers.
A link to the Zoning Ordinance can be found here, if you would like a little light reading on the topic: http://somervillecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=4&ID=11357&MeetingID=2758
Bird Scooters Update
Bird was definitely the word for a few weeks in early August, as a tech company dumped electric scooters on our streets unannounced. The City has since gotten them to pull back, and is working on establishing a regulated relationship that ensures the company works closely with city departments to deliver safe and quality service on our sidewalks and streets – public property that we all share.
I am excited about the possibilities that these scooters have to bridge a transportation divide and provide services to neighborhoods that lack bus and T connections. In many ways, they could be part of a larger solution for transit-deprived areas. But at the same time, I feel that it is incumbent on us to continue to invest in and improve transit infrastructure at the state and municipal level – scooters aren’t going to fix every problem.
When a new “disruptive” business comes to town, it’s important to be sure that the disruption is one that is furthering our common goals. For me, I want to make sure that the businesses we partner with are paying their employees a living wage and using responsible manufacturing practices. More locally, I have the concern here in Ward 2 that our sidewalks are quite narrow – and our neighbors who need walkers or wheelchairs already have enough challenges with the condition of those sidewalks without scooters in their way as well. I also want to be confident that the companies are actually working with the city to deliver on the promises they make: in this case, to keep the sidewalks clear, pick up the scooters daily, and make payments to give back to the residents of the city where they’re operating.
While Bird has promised that here (https://www.bird.co/sos-pledge-mar272018) my understanding is that they made no such approach to Somerville before dropping scooters on our streets – and there is no mechanism in place to gather those funds or monitor compliance with their other promises. As a small business owner who started up here in Somerville – with a goal of changing the world for the better – I know that navigating city regulations can be challenging, particularly with an unusual new business. I still think it’s important to talk with our neighbors and make decisions together that work for all of us.
It’s my hope that a scooter company (be it Bird or some of their competitors) will approach the city and work with us to ensure that we can deliver creative (and disruptive) options that work for all of Somerville.
There’s still no word on when Birds will flock back to our streets but I’ll let you know as soon as I hear about a deal being reached, and I appreciate the emails I received from constituents about the whole affair.
Office Hours Every Friday
Every Friday morning you can find me on my front porch at 269 Washington Street from 8am-10am. Please come down and visit, chat with me about anything that’s on your mind in Ward 2 or Somerville in general. It’s a good time!
Requisition for New Park in Ward 2
While we’ve heard about the goals in Somervision, the goal that gets no attention and no progress is Open Space. As we look at land being snatched up for development at ever-higher prices, and see our major projects sacrifice open plazas for denser condo development, I feel it is vital that we stand up and demand a different set of priorities from local government.
It’s easy to say we need new parks, but who wants to make one?
I say we need to do better, and I’m here with part of the answer. That’s why I put forward an order to build a park at 217 Somerville Ave, on the site of the former American Legion Post. Abandoned for quite some time, it is now a home only to rats and vermin, overgrown and untended by the new owner.
Many thanks to Miss Rose Caterino who was the first to mention to me how the old Post across the street from her should be a park – a place for kids to play, and for citizens to pause for a moment in a green space during the day. She’s exactly correct; this should be a park.
While a developer bought the land for $1.2M just a month ago (hoping I’m sure for 5 stories of luxury condos) I think we can do better. We can and should purchase that land and finally bring a park to the east side of Union Square. No more waiting for “master developers” to meet our civic needs! It’s time for us to actually move forward on creating green spaces here in Somerville.
Please join me in calling on our mayor to take the necessary steps to ratify my Board Order and move forward with the creation of this park!
ELECTIONS TUESDAY SEPT 4
Tomorrow is Election Day for our local Primaries! I hope you all get out and vote, no matter who you vote for. If you’re interested in my personal ballot markings, I have laid them out on Facebook at this link. https://www.facebook.com/jts1486/posts/10156394930890853
Thanks for reading, and please do reach out anytime!