We are a city under construction, and development is a big part of this.
Somerville is being transformed by major redevelopment in the Union Square, Assembly Square, Brickbottom, and Inner Belt neighborhoods, and along Broadway in East Somerville and Winter Hill. There is an ambitious plan by Rafi Properties to build a new Somernova campus on the edge of Union Square, and life science projects permitted in Davis Square that would bring some much-needed density to a transit hub -- and jobs to a neighborhood whose small businesses are crying out for more weekday customers.
As your councilor-at-large and a member of the Land Use Committee, I make a habit of attending neighborhood meetings about these proposed developments. I was at the Somernova meeting in Ward 2 and last week's meeting on a zoning amendment for 200 Inner Belt Road aimed at getting state funds for a pedestrian bridge connecting the Inner Belt and Brickbottom neighborhoods with one another and with East Somerville Station and the expanded Community Path. One thing I hear coming through loud and clear from residents is that we need to make sure this development isn't coming at the expense of beloved small businesses and our vital arts and creative enterprise community.
Growing our commercial tax base is absolutely necessary to fund the massive investments in infrastructure that the City of Somerville needs to be making after decades of chronic underinvestment and decay. But it won't count for much if we lose our soul along the way and the things that make Somerville special get displaced to make room for this development.
If we are to avoid making multi-generational mistakes and ensure we're valuing our residents, small businesses, and arts community when making important, big-picture decisions on development, it's absolutely vital that we have thorough plans for areas seeing high incidence of development. Our Planning, Preservation, and Zoning (PPZ) division has been absolutely flat out with permitting work in recent years as a result of the construction boom in the city. This has meant a lack of bandwidth in that division for the important strategic planning work that's supposed to be their bread and butter.
In negotiations with the Administration in the final days of Budget Season in June, my big private ask of the Mayor was to reallocate cut funds from her proposed budget to hire another Planner position. She listened to my plea, and I'm extremely grateful to her for that. In last night's Land Use Committee meeting, we heard from Deputy Director of PPZ Dan Bartman that this additional Planner position was filled a month ago and that this new hire already is having the desired effect as far as increasing staff capacity.
This is key because we urgently need finalized strategic plans adopted for a number of areas of the city:
- The Assembly Square Neighborhood Plan saw a draft of a final version released last year and subsequent community process around that, but we've yet to see movement on adoption.
- The Brickbottom Small Area Plan is awaiting updates, with a final version promised by the end of 2023.
- The Davis Square Commercial Area Plan also is undergoing revisions, with a public draft promised this fall.
- The Inner Belt area clearly needs an updated plan, as recent neighborhood meetings have clearly illustrated.
I'm hopeful to see progress on all of these fronts in the very near term, so we have high-level guidance on what we're looking to do in those neighborhoods. As always, the credibility of these plans will rely on the public engagement around them. So here's to a lot of well-attended meetings and representative surveying of the community!
Here are some additional things I'd like to make sure are on your radar:
Thank you to everyone who turned out for our campaign fundraiser on September 10 in the Dragon's Lair space at Dragon Pizza. I really appreciated the kind words from City Council President Ben Ewen-Campen, my ward councilor Jesse Clingan, and former mayoral candidate and my neighbor Marianne Walles. And it was great chatting with so many of you. As I write this, our campaign is about $8,200 short of what it's going to cost to do the mailers and campaign literature for door-knocking in the final month of the campaign. Please consider making a contribution through ActBlue to ensure we get our message out to voters.
Our campaign received recent endorsements from Somerville YIMBY (with a maximum 5 out of 5 rating!), United Auto Workers Region 9A, SEIU Local 509, and local political pundit Chris Dwan. We're continuing to do small, private gatherings in backyards and homes. If you'd like to host one of these events, you can sign up to do that here. And you also can request a yard sign and sign up to volunteer with the campaign.
Fall Community Meetings
Fall means City Hall Community Meetings, as a month of engagement with the community kicked off this week with the Ward 7 meeting on Tuesday, followed by Ward 6 last night. Formerly known as ResiStat meetings, these meetings are an opportunity for two-way communication between constituents and their municipal government. The Mayor, City Councilors, School Committee members, and City staff are on hand, and these meetings typically are extremely well attended.
Here's the remaining schedule, with pizza and informal conversation at 6 PM followed by the start of the meetings at 6:30 PM:
- Tuesday, October 10: Ward 4 @ Healey School cafeteria
- Wednesday, October 18: Ward 1 @ East Somerville Community School cafeteria
- Thursday, October 19: Ward 5 @ Kennedy School cafeteria
- Monday, October 23: Ward 3 @ Somerville High School cafeteria
- Wednesday, October 25: Ward 2 @ Argenziano School cafeteria
- Thursday, October 26: All-Ward Meeting in Portuguese @ East Somerville Community School cafeteria
- Wednesday, November 1: All-Ward Meeting in Spanish @ East Somerville Community School cafeteria
- Thursday, November 2: All-Ward Virtual Meeting (Zoom, with Spanish & Portuguese interpretation)
Want to help decide how the City spends $1 million in Fiscal Year 2024? Somerville residents ages 12 and up are eligible vote in our first-ever Participatory Budgeting (PB) project. Following a proposal submission phase and a review and selection of finalist proposals by Participatory Budgeting delegates, you can now vote for up to five of your favorite ideas from the community. Vote here by Friday, October 13!
I understand the concerns that participatory budget projects give elected representatives a level of absolution about tough budgetary decisions by effectively punting that responsibility back to the public. And I share the concerns about equity and whose voices are being heard. as part of a process that requires time, energy, and technological access and fluency. But I really appreciate the work put in by everyone on the Somerville PB team to address these challenges, and ultimately I'm in favor of anything that gets more people involved in democratic participation in their city and interested in the budget process.
I've received a number of questions from constituents in the past two weeks about newly-painted areas by the curb near intersections and crosswalks, as well as the removal of some parking spots near intersections and crosswalks. This "Clear Corners" work is part of the City's initiative to reduce crashes at intersections and ensure that emergency vehicles and navigate corners by enforcing the existing regulations prohibiting parking within:
- 20 feet of an intersection
- 20 feet of a crosswalk
- 30 feet of a signalized intersection
People can struggle with spatial awareness and some drivers might not be familiar with our parking regulations. So providing a visual cue for where parking isn't allowed is a good move on the City's part to help prevent parking tickets for inadvertent violations. I've been a part of some conversations with business owners who saw metered spots not in compliance with regulations removed by the City. I understand the concern about this. In the past, City staff have looked for creative solutions like shifting parking spots slightly to minimize the loss of these spots. I'm hopeful we see that approach continue here.
A new look for Union Square?
As part of the Union Square Neighborhood Plan adopted in 2016, the "25-percent design" (a term for the preliminary design phase) of the Union Square Plaza and Streetscape Redesign project was released this week. I've read a lot of feedback from the community already in email, in person, and on social media. If you haven't had a chance to look over the design's executive summary, please take time to do so. It contains some ambitious plans that really re-think how people engage with and move through Union Square. This is a really exciting opportunity to make sure we're getting one of our city's major hubs right.
Encouraging news for rent stabilization
In the community of leaders who support re-legalizing rent stabilization in Massachusetts, there's a divide about the best approach to doing so. Some groups have been working at trying to get passage on Beacon Hill and then laying the groundwork for a potential ballot question in 2026. Others want to see an urgent push to get this on the ballot right away next year. Rep. Mike Connolly, who represents East Somerville, had a ballot question re-legalizing rent stabilization certified by the Attorney General last month and is looking to collect signatures to make that happen.
I'm not sure who is right here, but I know that I like having options. And some really encouraging news came recently with the release of initial polling data that shows very solid support statewide for rent stabilization by a 2-to-1 margin. So I've signed on as a supporter of the ballot question and have committed to putting in the work to get this on the ballot and over the line with voters. Two weeks ago I gathered signatures from enthusiastic supporters of rent stabilization at FluffFest. I've also donated to help with the costs of the ballot measure. I'd encourage you to join me by contributing here.
Addressing our homelessness crisis
Davis Square and East Somerville have seen increased numbers of unhoused folks this year. Last month I met with the Somerville Public Library Director and senior staff to talk about what they're dealing with at both the East and West Branches. I was heartened to hear that the new Social Worker position within SPL is being hired. I expect this will make a real difference for everyone as we add resources where they're needed most.
Two weeks ago I met with the Somerville Homeless Coalition and toured their space in Davis Square. We talked about the similarities and differences between the two unhoused populations on either end of the city and the challenges SHC faces with the spaces they currently occupy. I asked what the City could do to help, and the responses were a physical location in East Somerville and increased funding. So I'm advocating for both to help SHC to carry out their important work. In the meantime, please consider donating to this extremely worthy cause.
MBTA Communities Act compliance
Two really important items toward the end of Thursday night's City Council regular meeting agenda have flown under the radar a bit. These were a pair of requests from the Mayor for ordinance amendments:
- Item 23-1198 allows triple deckers, among a few other tweaks to the Neighborhood Residence (NR) and Urban Residence (UR) zoning ordinances
- Item 23-1489 makes some changes to the allowed uses in a number of districts, most notably removing the prohibition on four or more unrelated adults living together
These zoning changes are needed to bring the City into compliance with the MBTA Communities Act ahead of the December 31 deadline. The good news for Somerville is that our natural density and 2019 zoning overhaul meant many, many fewer changes are required here than in most other municipalities subject to the law. But here's to (re)legalizing the triple decker that's come to serve as the unofficial symbol of Somerville!
Teele Square fire station
When an August inspection of our fire stations raised concerns about the structural integrity of the Teele Square fire station's apparatus floor, Engine 6 was moved out to the apron and Ladder 3 was relocated to another station. It feels like every week brings another body blow as our infrastructure crumbles around us. And our fire stations are some of the municipal buildings in the worst shape. It's completely unacceptable from a public safety standpoint and from a workplace condition standpoint, and this is one more urgent infrastructure priority for our city.
My colleague from Ward 7, Judy Pineda Neufeld, has been outspoken on the need to upgrade our fire stations, and she wrote about this situation in her recent newsletter. Councilor Pineda Neufeld introduced an order at our council meeting last week calling for a fire department master planning study, and I immediately signed on as a co-sponsor. I spoke to the Mayor about the situation this week, and she filled me in on the background. The bid for the repair work was released on September 21 and closed on October 4, in accordance with the competitive bidding process. A winning bidder should be selected imminently, with the work to commence as quickly as possible.
Police Chief Candidate Interviews
We've been without a permanent Police Chief in Somerville since David Fallon retired in 2020. Charles Femino came back to SPD to serve as Interim Chief, and he's ended up serving in that role for nearly three years now as we've searched for the next Chief. After a restart to the search process earlier this year, City Councilors were invited to meet with GovHR, the consultants doing the candidate search. I told the consultants that I want a progressive Chief who understands and supports the changing role of police -- who welcomes accountability while embracing modern, data-informed approached and creative solutions.
The Police Chief Search Committee has narrowed the field of candidates down to three finalists, who will sit for public interviews with the committee in the City Council Chamber at City Hall (93 Highland Avenue) on Tuesday, October 10, from 10 AM to 4 PM. The public is welcome to attend in person or virtually on Zoom. A recording of the interviews will be uploaded onto CityTV's YouTube channel the following day. This is one of the more consequential hires we will make as a city, so this is deserving of your attention.
This weekend brings one of my favorite events on our city's social calendar: the HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands. For an entire weekend the Davis Square area is full of the sounds of bands and political activism. Saturday's opening ceremony at noon kicks off a day of music in Davis that goes until 9 PM.
I'll be marching in the parade on Sunday with Somerville Stands Together, in solidarity with the Somerville Municipal Employees Association and Starbucks Workers United and promoting the drive to get One Fair Wage on the ballot in 2024. I hope to see you along the parade route!
Hispanic Heritage Celebration
National Hispanic Heritage Month ends on the 15th, and the City is hosting a Latin American and Caribbean Roots and Heritage event on Saturday, October 14 at East Somerville Community School. From 2 to 5 PM, attendees can visit stations representing different Latin American and Caribbean countries, sampling foods and viewing traditional clothing. There will be dance performances and interactive workshops and everyone is welcome!
Miyawaki forest planting
Developed by famed Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, the urban micro-forests that bear his name grow quickly and achieve remarkable density. They're perfect for tightly-packed cities like ours, where space is at a premium. Cambridge planted the region's first Miyawaki forest two years ago, and now Somerville is joining the club with one of our own behind Somerville High School.
If you'd like to join me in being a part of bringing a Miyawaki forest to our city, the planting is happening on Saturday, October 21 with a ceremony beginning at 9:30 AM, followed by the fun part of planting the forest from 10 AM to 3 PM. Learn more about the event here, and sign up for a planting shift here.
Free career training from SCALE
Since 1974, Somerville Center for Adult Learning Experiences (SCALE) offers education and support for those age 16 and older. From their regular offerings of Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning classes and High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) and Adult Diploma Program (ADP) programs to college readiness and career classes, SCALE offers a wide variety of courses out of the Tufts Administration Building (167 Holland Street). Get more information here.
All She Wrote Books on the move
I was ecstatic when All She Wrote Books opened in Assembly Square back in July 2020. Christina Pascucci Ciampa's shop felt like a welcome slice of authentic Somerville in a new neighborhood full of national chain stores. Whenever I've been looking for something new to read or a book to gift to someone, Christina and her staff (and Ruby the corgi) always have had great suggestions.
Following costly HVAC repairs and a series of large rent increases, All She Wrote Books is trading Assembly Square for East Somerville, with a new location at 75 Washington Street. There are substantial costs involved with the move, including the need to purchase furniture and build out the space, so please support a great local small business by donating to their fundraiser.
Forming in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville, or MAMAS, has been an absolutely indispensable resource in the community during the last few years. With the pandemic turning lives upside-down, MAMAS staffs a hotline and is there for neighbors in times of need.
I'm a monthly financial supporter of MAMAS because I've seen first hand the difference their mutual aid approach makes here locally. From free clothing stores to help with groceries and direct cash redistribution, MAMAS is an incredible force for good. Please consider donating or joining me with a recurring monthly contribution -- or look at any of the many other ways you can help.
Somerville Civics Quiz
How well do you know your local government here in Somerville? I wrote a Somerville Civics Quiz to test your knowledge and see how you stack up. I'll share the results in my next newsletter.
Introductory youth hockey programs
Registration currently is open for Somerville Youth Hockey's Learn-to-Skate and Learn-to-Play programs. All sessions take place at either Veterans Memorial Rink or Founders Rink (570 Somerville Avenue). Beginner classes are geared towards kids ages three to nine who have never skated nor played hockey before. There’s also a new Advanced option for kids ages nine and older who are ready for a more fast-paced introduction to the fundamentals of hockey and skating. Financial aid and some donated equipment is available. Click here to learn more and register.
Have a neighborhood email list?
If your neighborhood has an email discussion list and you'd like to have a councilor-at-large on it, please invite me or add me. I'd love to hear what's happening on a hyperlocal level and the issues our city's neighborhoods are talking about.
Come work with me!
The City Council's new Finance Analyst position does important work with the Finance Committee and around financial items (including the budget before the council, while supporting councilors' work with project-based research The ideal candidate for this role will have municipal finance experience and will be comfortable working independently, gathering and analyzing data from a variety of software programs, and creating and presenting reports. I have a whole list of research projects ready to go, so if this sounds like fun and you've got the required background, definitely apply today!
The City Clerk also is hiring a Licensing Operations Manager. This role will work with all types of licenses, and will be involved in the planning and policy, as well as supervising and guiding the administrative team in their duties. The ideal candidate will have exceptional communication skills, legal research skills, cross-departmental coordination skills, management skills, and will value both customer engagement and process efficiency.
Multi-member body opportunities
The City of Somerville's multiple-member bodies (boards, committees, and commissions) are a great way to be an active part of our city and contribute to the community. The Administration currently is seeking members for the following multi-member bodies:
- Somerville Planning Board (apply by October 31)
- Somerville Urban Design Commission (apply by October 31)
- Somerville Anti-Displacement Task Force
- Somerville Conservation Commission
- Cultural Capacity Planning (Somerville Arts Council)
Additionally, while not a City multi-member body, the Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS) is an essential part of Somerville. CAAS currently is looking for community members to serve on their board of directors. You can learn more about the opportunity here.
Did You Know...
If you're wondering about the permits for a construction project or want to look up 311 requests, CitizenServe is the City of Somerville's portal for permitting, licensing, and constituent services. CitizenServe played a crucial role in the recent happy ending to The Beacon Street Dumpster Saga.
I'll be holding office hours in Kenney Park (Highland Avenue & Grove Street in Davis Square) before the Honk! parade on Sunday, October 8, from 10 AM to 11:30 AM. So come out and talk about whatever's on your mind about our city, then join me afterward for some marching bands and activism.
I also continue to offer on-demand office hours to fit your schedule via my Calendly.
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