What a week! Monday saw the long-awaited arrival of the Green Line to our city. After taking a joyride early that morning, I rode the GLX for an actual commute to the CAAS press conference and the official ribbon cutting at Lechmere. I thought it was an appropriate juxtaposition of elation at public transit expansion in Somerville and alarm at the harmful impact on our housing situation.
Then it was straight into City Council work: prep for Tuesday night's Finance Committee meeting and last night's City Council meeting, along with continued work planning next week's Very Special Episode of the Finance Committee.
I'm really looking forward to Wednesday night, when we're going to attempt something historic as a City Council. Following the mayor's request for input from the council on budget priorities for Fiscal Year 2023, colleagues submitted their individual budget priority resolutions. Those will be communicated to the Administration, but then we're going to go one step farther by determining and communicating our shared budget priorities for FY 2023 as a council. And that's what next week's meeting is about.
We'll be welcoming in the entire council for a Committee of the Whole meeting for Finance on Wednesday, March 30. We'll quickly run through all the individual budget priority resolutions, with colleagues given the chance to (briefly) stump for a few items near and dear to their hearts. Then councilors will vote for up to 10 items on a survey of budget priorities that will be tabulated during a recess. When we return from recess, we'll go about crafting resolutions and working out specifics for the survey items receiving the most support.
After months of planning, I'm fascinated to find out how this functions in practice -- and eager to see what we can improve on for next time. I'm also looking to this experience as informing how we might build formalized participatory budgeting like our neighboring cities are doing, to give the people a direct voice in the budget process.
Here are some other things I'd like to put on your radar:
125 Highland Avenue
I want to thank everyone who has reached out about the looming decision on whether to create the First Universalist Church Local Historic District (LHD) at 125 Highland Avenue. This issue has generated the largest volume of constituent messages so far in my time as a councilor. The vast majority of these communications have supported the creation of the LHD, but there have been salient points made by folks on both sides.
After touring the site and seeing the interior and exterior up close and in person, I concur with my colleague from Ward 3, Ben Ewen-Campen, and those who believe there is historic value to the church portion. The key questions for me now are a) whether the work required to shore up the church structurally is cost prohibitive; and b) how that space could be utilized if preserved.
I do favor allowing the demolition of the hall in the rear and amending zoning to allow for additional height -- possibly with the building step-backs now commonplace to address abutter concerns about light and shadows -- to make it possible for the developer to build more housing units. That will mean more more affordable units. But first we'll find out where the Historic Preservation Commission stands on this issue on Monday night.
Wards 1 & 4 Drainage
The final installment in the series of meetings about the City-Wide Drainage and Water Quality Master Plan takes place Wednesday, March 30 from 6 to 9 PM. I personally know all too well the residential flooding that that's becoming increasingly problematic in neighborhood around Foss Park. Climate change is only exacerbating the problem, and I'm glad to see the city working to address this. If you're a Ward 1 or Ward 4 resident, I'd strongly encourage you to attend this informative and interactive meeting that includes polls of the public on different project options and the opportunity to ask questions.
Protecting the Arts and Artists
I spoke at last night's City Council meeting about the crisis impacting our arts scene in Somerville. Every week seems to bring fresh, disturbing news about artists and makers under threat of displacement due to a rent spike or redevelopment. I introduced an order to get an update from OSPCD and the Somerville Arts Council on what is happening with the Arts Space Needs Assessment and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) report. Given how rapidly our city is undergoing change these days, we need to be acting with urgency here. Or we risk losing a big part of what makes Somerville special.
Did You Know...
Ribbon-cutting ceremonies are more than pomp and circumstance. They actually serve an important practical function in officially handing off control of the space from a contractor to the city. So if you ever saw a space fenced off awaiting its ribbon cutting, it's not just because electeds and staff want a photo opportunity first!
Board & Commission Applicants Wanted
Want to get involved in your city? Serving on a board or commission is great way to do that. We have a number of boards and commissions with vacancies. Here's an updated list of vacancies the Administration currently is looking to fill:
- Somerville Commission for Persons with Disabilities
- Somerville Housing Authority Board of Commissioners
- Somerville Commission on Energy Use and Climate Change
- Council on Aging Board of Directors
- Somerville Public Library Board of Trustees
- Somerville Municipal Scholarship Committee
If you or someone you know is looking for the next step in their career, both the City of Somerville and Somerville Public Schools have a wide variety of open positions.
Make your voice heard with these current city surveys:
- Charter Review Committee
- Bicycle Network Plan Survey
- Highland Ave Redesign Survey
- Western Washington Mobility Improvements Survey
I had to shift my weekly group office hours this Sunday to 3 to 5 PM. I expect to return to the new normal slot of 10 AM to noon on Sundays next week.
And I'm continuing to offer on-demand office hours convenient for your schedule to meet outside of group office hours. If you'd like to book a time on my calendar to meet in person or virtually, you can do that directly on my Calendly.
The Week Ahead
Here's what I’ll be attending this coming week:
Monday, March 28 (6:45 PM) - Historic Preservation Commission meeting
Tuesday, March 29 (6:30 PM) - 483 Broadway Building Expansion Neighborhood Meeting
Wednesday, March 30 (6 PM) - Finance Committee of the Whole meeting
Thursday, March 31 (6 PM) - Racial & Social Justice Department Virtual Forum
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