I've written about 90 Washington Street a number of times in these newsletters. This is because I view this project as one of the biggest decisions facing our city right now. It touches on so many massively important things, like how we spend our money, how we use our land, and what constitutes public safety here in Somerville.
As the City Council's representative to the Public Safety Building Project Building Committee, I want to make sure that the public is fully engaged with this project. I've been attending monthly PSB Building Committee meetings, community meetings, pop-ups, and listening sessions, and it's generally the same relatively small group of familiar faces at each meeting. While I'm heartened by the time and energy these folks are putting in to be so involved with the project, I'd love to see that number increase dramatically. The Public Safety Building Project Building Committee currently is working on how to broaden public engagement.
The decisions we're facing here are huge and will impact the entire city for decades to come, so I really would like to see more community members taking an interest in this project and showing up at meetings. The mayor currently has hit the pause button on the project to gather more community input. So the time to engage is now, when key decisions impacting the direction of the project still are being made. If this only shows up on people's radar when it's up for a vote in the City Council, we'll have squandered the opportunity to influence the details of what we're voting on.
The current Public Safety Building at 220 Washington Street is a former MBTA car barn, converted in 1985 to house the Somerville Police Department headquarters and Engine 3 of the Somerville Fire Department. The building is obsolete, in a state of disrepair, and the site has struggled with flooding on the fire station side. Plus this is a poor use of land blocks away from the new Union Square station on the Green Line. So we really do need to build a new Public Safety Building somewhere in our city -- and that design must be flexible so as to not lock us into any one particular model of public safety in perpetuity.
If you accept that we need a new Public Safety Building, the next logical question becomes where it should be located. The proposed siting at 90 Washington Street is based on a site selection study that is now over four years old that was done under the previous zoning. That site selection study valued proximity to a T station as a positive, whereas our community's stated values call for dense, transit-oriented development in those areas, rather than a public safety building. And the impact of including a fire station for Engine 3 both for layout and geographic response time purposes was always going to skew results.
The 90 Washington Street demonstration project plan states: "Either a portion of the Project parcel may be subdivided to allow the construction of a 'standalone' multi-story public safety complex or the public safety uses can be incorporated in a larger mixed-use building on the site." While a police station isn't going to co-exist well with residential or commercial space above it, there are examples -- including one right nearby in Boston -- of fire stations very nicely integrated into developments. So I'd like to explore the option of doing a station for Engine 3 integrated into a larger development at 90 Washington -- possibly with additional public safety components like mental health services -- and look at doing a separate public safety building elsewhere in the city.
I admit the path of least resistance here is to forge ahead with the plan to put a Public Safety Building at 90 Washington Street. Finding an alternative site for a PSB unquestionably will result in this project taking more time and costing more money, as land acquisition costs, a separate building, and construction labor and materials cost inflation will add to the price tag significantly. But I view these as investments in our shared values of smart, transit-oriented development. So I believe it's worth the extra work and money to do this right and arrive at a more optimal outcome for our city.
This is my stance, derived from having studied up on this project and from my views on land use. I want to hear where the people of Somerville are at on these questions. So please take the time to learn about this project, attend public meetings about it, and make your voice heard so the people charged with making these crucial decisions have the community input necessary to know what Somervillians want to see happen here.
Here are some other things I want to highlight right now:
Keeping the lights on
I want to thank everyone who supported the campaign financially last year. I have a strong aversion to talking about money and especially to asking people for money, but it was an expensive campaign. And the expenses have continued since Election Day, as I've looked to engage with constituents through my website, email, social media, office hours, in-person meetings, Zoom meetings, and these newsletters -- each of which carries a recurring monthly administrative subscription cost.
As a result of these ongoing expenses, the campaign bank account balance has dropped into triple digits recently. I'm looking to raise $5,000 this month to restore the campaign account balance to healthier territory. So even though it's an off year in our election cycle, I'm asking you to consider a donation to help pay for subscriptions to NationBuilder, Google Workspace, Linktree, Calendly, and Zoom that allow me to engage with you, my bosses.
Click here to donate -- and thank you for your support!
SPS superintendent vacancy
Congratulations to Somerville Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper on her recent pending appointment to lead Boston Public Schools. The Boston job is a daunting one that I've likened to being the drummer for Spinal Tap. But my experience working with Dr. Skipper here in Somerville gives me hope that she can bring the kind of change that's needed in that district. I saw Dr. Skipper's commitment to all the children and families of SPS first hand, and I'm grateful for her work in our city over the past seven years.
For those wondering what's next for Somerville Public Schools, the good news is that our excellent School Committee is on the case. Chair Andre Green and Vice-Chair Ilana Krepchin both put out statements outlining the path forward, beginning with identifying an interim superintendent, then conducting a national search to find Dr. Skipper's permanent replacement.
Affordable housing opportunities
There are 11 new income-restricted affordable housing units for sale in Somerville. The opportunity to purchase one of these units is being determined via lottery. Applications for this lottery currently are being accepted through August 1, 2022. Click here for more information on our city's Inclusionary Housing Program.
If you'd like to receive email alerts when new affordable housing opportunities arise, you can sign up for those here.
Proposed bus network redesign feedback opportunity
If you missed the recent virtual public hearing by the MBTA or have additional feedback on the proposed bus network redesign, you have another opportunity to do that on Thursday, July 7. The MBTA will be hosting an open house to engage with the public at Sullivan Square Station from 3:30 to 5:30 PM.
Somerville Arbor Day: Take 2!
It rained on Somerville Arbor Day this past Monday, so it's been rescheduled for the rain date of Wednesday, July 6:
Come to Nathan Tufts Park from 4:30 to 6:30 PM on Wednesday for a celebration of urban forestry in our city!
Spread the word
I run into folks all the time who aren't aware of these weekly newsletters. Please forward these emails to anyone who you think would be interested, or refer to them to the Newsletter page of my website, where they can sign up to receive these weekly emails themselves.
Did You Know...
A "pro tanto" is compensation paid by the commonwealth or a municipality to the former owner of a property taken by eminent domain. This payment is required to take place within 60 days of the taking of the property, and acceptance of the pro tanto doesn't preclude the former property owner from legally contesting the taking or the compensation amount in the courts.
There were no office hours this weekend on account of the holiday, but as always I have on-demand office hours to fit your schedule or for those who prefer to meet individually. You can book time with me via my Calendly to meet in person or virtually, and I encourage you to do so!
Also, mark your calendars for the morning of Sunday, July 17, when I'll be holding joint office hours with Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven at 10 AM at 11 Wesley Park in Union Square. It's a great opportunity to come talk about what's happening at the local and state levels, and where these things intersect.
The Week Ahead
Here's what I plan on attending this week:
- Wednesday, July 6 (4:30 PM) - Public Safety Building Project Building Committee meeting
- Wednesday, July 6 (6:00 PM) - Licenses and Permits Committee meeting
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