One of several big issues on our agenda for Thursday night's City Council meeting was revised funding for the Clarendon Hill development project. This had been a thorny issue for the previous council, barely squeaking by in large part due to objections over the use of non-union labor. When the project got the green light at the state level, a prevailing wage requirement was put in place, essentially removing the financial incentive to use cheaper, non-union labor. Last night we were asked to approve funding items for a project that is now prefabricating modular housing off site in Littleton to skirt the prevailing wage requirement.
I spoke on Thursday night about the tough situation that progressives face in instances like this, where two (or more) really noble causes are pitted against each other. In this case, it's affordable housing and labor in conflict. It's frustrating and demoralizing to be asked to choose one over the other. As with many things -- I blame Ronald Reagan and his disastrous legacy of four-plus decades of austerity. After I registered my extreme annoyance at the situation, I joined my colleagues in unanimously approving these funding items for Clarendon Hills. Because it's time to move forward with this project.
Current conditions at Clarendon Hill are completely unacceptable and have been for years. This development will bring badly need replacement of public housing that is currently, in some cases, unfit for human habitation. I don't love seeing private, market rate housing popping up on public land, but I understand that's what it takes these days to make these projects happen. The new development will give Clarendon Hill residents homes and amenities they deserve, so I'm excited to see this happen.
In addition to replacing all 216 current units, there will be 80 new affordable units and 295 new market rate units -- a ratio slightly in excess of the 20 percent affordable requirement. So this is a welcome step forward for us as a city housing-wise. I can't wait for this work to begin in earnest and for the vision to be realized. And I want to thank everyone who worked so hard to get us to this point.
Meanwhile, there's a lot happening on other fronts:
Budget Season in full swing
If I'm a little slower than usual in getting back to your email or phone call, it's because I'm fully immersed in the budget process. As Chair of the Finance Committee, I'm charged with the coordination around planning departmental budget meetings and running those meetings. I'm also learning about all of this as a relatively new councilor going through this process for the first time.
This coming week is a huge one, with nightly budget meetings Monday through Thursday.
Here's the remaining schedule for Budget Season:
- Monday, June 13: Departmental Hearings (Public Works/Infrastructure & Asset Management/Water/Sewer)
- Tuesday, June 14: Departmental Hearings (Racial & Social Justice/Parking/Strategic Planning & Community Development)
- Wednesday, June 15: Departmental Hearings (Public Safety)
- Thursday, June 16: Departmental Hearings (Finance/Human Resources/Law)
- Tuesday, June 21: Departmental Hearings (Health & Human Services/Parks & Recreation)
- Wednesday, June 22: Cut Night
- Thursday, June 23: City Council regular meeting (budget approval & end-of-year transfers)
Note: All meetings start at 6pm.
Making the law! Making the law!
As the legislative body of the City of Somerville, your City Council passes ordinances. We did that a few times on Thursday night, and I'm appreciative of the time and energy colleagues spent crafting these laws, particularly Councilors Burnley and Kelly's Ordinance Securing the Rights of Individuals Seeking Gender Affirming Care and Reproductive Healthcare. This ordinance is well-timed both in the sense that this is Pride Month and because of the legal attacks on these rights taking place right now in parts of our country. The ordinance looks to ensure that our local law enforcement won't participate in these despicable efforts by other states to criminalize these rights.
We also brought our municipal code up to speed by removing a vestigial residency requirement for city employees and tweaked some language to allow more timing flexibility around setting water and sewer rates. I'm working on a few ordinances myself -- one on e-bike regulation, one on incentivizing affordable rental rates, and one on regulating building emissions -- and it's fascinating to see how the process works behind the scenes -- and all the labor that goes into getting it right.
Funding for school building maintenance
After hearing from Winter Hill Community Innovation School staff about the unacceptable conditions in their school building, I've been hearing from many concerned constituents about the need to bring our school buildings up to a reasonable standard. I'm encouraged to see the Administration moving a total of $4.36 million into the Facility Construction and Renovation Stabilization Fund in two separate end-of-year transfers. I thank them and staff for prioritizing fixing our school buildings.
Our Infrastructure & Asset Management team currently is facing global supply chain challenges, but I know they're working hard to get these most concerning problems with our school buildings fixed as quickly as possible. It's reassuring knowing that the funding is there to make these repairs.
Weigh in on the MBTA Bus Network Redesign
I've heard from constituents about the MBTA's proposed bus network redesign. After speaking to folks involved in this process and listening to many of you, I'd describe this proposal as a shift in focus by the MBTA to doing fewer things, but doing them better. Accordingly, the feedback I'm getting from constituents tends to vary wildly, depending on whether the person in question is getting more service on their line or seeing their line cut or moved.
On Thursday, June 16 at 6 PM, the public meeting for our area's proposed changes is taking place virtually on Zoom. Feedback to the proposal will be reviewed by the MBTA and incorporated into a final bus network plan that will be shared with the public in the fall. Please register here to attend and share your views, or complete this online survey to share written testimony.
New ward map
On Thursday the City Council also voted to approve the new ward map for our city. We're adding a fourth precinct to every ward and some polling locations are going to be changing, beginning with this year's elections. When the Elections Department polling place lookup tool is updated, I'll send out word to constituents so you can make sure you know where to vote.
I want to register my strong disappointment in the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth for the delay in putting out the new state house districts. As a result, our Elections Department has been forced to spend time and money creating sub-precincts. Just a reminder that the Secretary of the Commonwealth is an elected position, and the incumbent (Bill Galvin) just happens to be up for re-election this year. I'm endorsing Tanisha Sullivan to be our next Secretary of the Commonwealth because a) she's fantastic; b) elections have consequences; and c) it's clearly time for some change in that office.
Please join me on Sunday, June 12 at 6 PM in Davis Square for an Overdose Vigil and Stand-Out. We lose about 15 to 20 Somervillians every year to opioid overdoses, and we need to act now to start saving lives. This event will pay tribute to the neighbors we've lost -- including three in recent weeks -- and express community support for safe consumption sites here in Somerville. I'm glad to see funds being put toward this purpose in the end-of-year transfers. These overdose prevention centers will save lives in Year One and we need them now.
Firefighter memorial service
I was honored to attend a two-part memorial service this morning honoring Somerville firefighters who perished in the line of duty. There was a re-dedication ceremony for the Arrow Paper Memorial honoring Firefighters Joseph Reilly and Robert Brickley, members of Engine Company Two who lost their lives on June 10, 1974. A ceremony at the Lowell Street Fire Station followed, and both events were well attended by our firefighters, electeds, and the public.
I really appreciated Boynton Yards ensuring that the memorial was returned to a prominent spot (111 South Street) in the new development there. I also was touched by the remarks from those who spoke. It hit home hearing Fire Chief Breen talk about the personal impact that day had on him as an 11-year old, whose father was there fighting that fire and was badly injured helping a colleague in distress. It was a reminder of the real risks that the men and women of the Somerville Fire Department assume every day when they show up for work, and I so appreciate them and their dedication to keeping our community safe.
Summer teen centers
On Friday, the Mayor announced the creation of three summer teen centers. This is welcome news, as I hear a lot about the lack of places to go and things to do for our teenage population. While the City works on creating a permanent teen center, this summer will see pop-up teen centers at the following three sites:
- Somerville Public Library Central Branch (79 Highland Avenue): Open regular library hours, Ages 13+
- Edgerly Education Center (33 Cross Street -- enter on Otis Street): Open 2:30 - 8 PM weekdays, Ages 14+
- *Powderhouse Park Building (838 Broadway): Open 2:30 - 8 PM weekdays, Ages 14+.
* starting July 5
Youth sports activities
Many families feel the stress of finding programming to keep their kids active. Somerville's Parks & Rec Department is offering a wide variety of programming this summer. Additionally, local soccer club Boston Vigor is running summer soccer camps at Capuano Field and BUDA has a youth ultimate frisbee summer program.
Meanwhile, we have several youth sports organizations currently offering fall program registration, including:
Did You Know...
Bonding (borrowing) items before the City Council require a two-thirds majority -- a minimum of eight Yes votes -- to pass. You can read the full rules of the Somerville City Council here.
Boards & Commissions openings
We have a number of boards and commissions actively seeking applications for vacancies. Here's a current list:
- Somerville Appointments Advisory Committee
- Somerville Human Rights Commission
- Somerville Commission for Women
- Somerville Housing Authority Board of Commissioners
In addition to weekly Sunday officer hours, I also offer on-demand office hours to fit your schedule or for those who prefer to meet separately. These conversations really are one of my absolute favorite things about this job. So please book a time to meet in person or virtually directly on my calendar via my Calendly.
The Week Ahead
I'll be busy this week running budget meetings (see above) in the evenings, but here are some other important things happening in the coming days:
- Tuesday, June 14: Somerville Commission for Women meeting (7 PM)
- Thursday, June 16: Land Use Committee & Planning Board joint meeting (6:30 PM)
- Thursday, June 16: Somerville Human Rights Commission meeting (7:30 PM)
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