I'm settling into this role, learning the ins and outs of the procedures, rules, etiquette, and technicalities of being your City Councilor-At-Large and a committee chair.
This is the first of what I plan on making weekly newsletters to constituents about what I'm up to and what's happening in our city.
Committee assignments were announced last month. I'm serving on:
- Finance (chair)
- Confirmation of Appointments and Personnel Matters
- Open Space, Environment, and Energy
- Traffic and Parking (vice-chair)
- Licenses and Permits
- Public Safety Building Project Building Committee
Orders & Resolutions
Three meetings in, I've introduced orders to the council concerning safe streets, snow removal, a new site for the YMCA, and schoolyards. I've also enjoyed collaborating with colleagues on resolutions around our city's response to COVID-19.
I recently announced that I'll be trying out scheduled virtual group office hours, while continuing to offer on-demand office hours for those wishing to meet individually.
SPD Enforcement Grant
After five weeks of general agreement for the new City Council, this past week saw our first real split on an issue. The item in question was a roughly $50,000 grant for the Somerville Police Department to fund an enforcement and educational program around speed, distracted driving, and seatbelt usage. I would love to see better enforcement of the laws around safety -- particularly on the state highways that run through our city -- while we're waiting on infrastructure improvements and automated enforcement that truly will make these roads safer. However, ultimately I was not in favor of this approach due to its reliance on traffic stops and troubling quotas for these stops.
So I voted to not approve this item the Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday, then took the somewhat uncommon step of moving to sever this item from the committee report during the full City Council meeting on Thursday. I again voted against this item, joining with a majority of my colleagues on the council who declined to approve this item by an 8-3 vote following a substantive discussion.
The recent record snowfall was a major challenge for our city. In addition to the lack of a state of emergency declaration by the governor that limited our city's response, this was the first major snow event for a major new plowing contractor. Snow removal performance seems to vary substantially from neighborhood to neighborhood and even street to street. DPW has promised to refine their approach for the next storm, and I've asked Interim DPW Commission Jill Lathan to come meet with the City Council and share her view of their successes, shortcomings, and lessons learned from this storm.
State Highway Traffic Safety
Our neighbors who live along our state highways -- Route 16 (Alewife Brook Parkway), Route 28 (McGrath Highway), and Route 38 (Mystic Avenue) -- have been pleading for the state to address serious highway safety issues that have seen numerous pedestrian injuries and deaths in our city in recent years. Last summer's Highway Justice Rally seemed to get MassDOT's attention and they've been implementing some welcome changes in places. We've seen safety improvements to the McGrath, including a new crosswalk at Blakeley Avenue -- and a lower speed limit and speed radar signs on Mystic Avenue. A group of officials at the city and state level continue to be engaged with MassDOT to advocate for additional safety measures to protect our residents.
Public Safety Building
As the City Council's representative on the Public Safety Building Project Building Committee, I've been coming up to speed on the project. With two years of work on the proposed PSB at 90 Washington Street, there's a lot to process by the Administration and new City Council. I've been making a concerted effort to listen to stakeholders, particularly the neighbors of the proposed site. The February 2 PSB Building Committee meeting featured a lot of public comment expressing strong opposition to the use of the site for the proposed PSB. Building a community consensus here is a tall task, but we're facing a major decision here that will impact the city for decades to come, so it's crucial that we get this right. There's a second virtual public meeting scheduled for 90 Washington Street on Wednesday, February 16 at 6 PM. Registration is required to attend.
The Charter Review Committee continues to work toward a much-needed revision of our city's governing document, our charter. They've taken up important questions like the format and balance of power of our municipal government, term lengths and limits, and how voting should work and who should get to vote. Charter reform isn't a quick process, but it's hugely important. So I urge you to please stay engaged with this one. And please take a moment to complete the Charter Review Community Survey that just launched!
Our city received $77.5 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). A total of $13 million already has been committed, but that still leaves a large chunk of those funds still to allocate. Please fill out this community survey to have your say on how you think these funds should be spent!
GLX Payment Refund
I've had a number of constituents inquire about how the city might spend the roughly $30 million in extortion payments already made to the state to keep the Green Line Extension alive. The reality is that the city borrowed to make these payments, so that debt will need to be paid down with these refunds. The good news is that this should allow the city to bond out more money for infrastructure projects.
Meetings I'll be attending this week:
Monday, Feb. 14 (6 PM) - Licensing Commission
Tuesday, Feb. 15 (6:30 PM) - Rodent Issues Special Committee
Wednesday, Feb. 16 (6 PM) - 90 Washington Street Public Meeting #2
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