• July 2014 Update: Union Sq., Lowell St., FY2015 Budget, Fossil Fuel Divestment

    In this update:

    • Somerville Redevelopment Authority selects US2 from Chicago as the Master Developer of Union Square in a “contentious meeting”
    • Chicanes being installed on Lowell Street following the June 25th traffic calming community meeting
    • Board of Aldermen Passes $200 Million FY 2015 City Budget with Few Cuts
    • Fossil Fuel divestment resolution approved unanimously by Board of Aldermen

    Somerville Redevelopment Authority selects US2 from Chicago as the Master Developer of Union Square in a “contentious meeting”

    Last Thursday, June 26th, the Somerville Redevelopment Authority (SRA) chose US2 -- the Chicago team of Magellan Development and Mesirow Financial -- as Master Developer for Union Square. Now the City enters a 90-day period of negotiation with US2 to work out the terms and a plan for their work going forward, including a community benefits agreement.

    While I preferred the Portland OR team of Gerding Edlen or Boston-based The Abbey Group, US2 is a fine choice. I thought all three of these teams were outstanding developers and decent human beings. US2 is strong financially and impressed me with the due diligence they performed and their plans for business development and job creation in Union Square.

    Unfortunately, the actions of several SRA members and the poor quality of the deliberation at the June 26th meeting do not inspire confidence in that body’s capacity to make wise decisions about the redevelopment of Union Square. Several SRA members displayed ignorance and hostility to the Open Meeting Law as well as disrespect for the recommendations of both the Union Square Civic Advisory Commission and the City’s professional economic development staff. Don’t take my word for it -- read all about it in Somerville Journal Editor Dan Atkinson’s blow-by-blow account.

    The SRA is a five-member appointed body that has jurisdiction over parcels that are officially designated by the City and state for urban renewal. There are seven such parcels in Union Square. I will be speaking with the Mayor and other City officials and sharing my concerns about the SRA and the process at the June 26th meeting. If you have concerns about the redevelopment of Union Square, I encourage you to share them with the Mayor, me, and your Aldermen (everyone in Somerville has their own ward alderman and there are four Aldermen At Large).

    Chicanes to be installed on Lowell Street following the June 25th traffic calming community meeting

    Lowell Street

    Due to several serious accidents this year and widespread concern about the Lowell St. bridge area, I worked with City staff to organize a meeting to discuss slowing traffic between Magoun Square and Highland Avenue, especially around the bridge. Thanks to a half-dozen volunteer leafletters, 1,000 flyers were delivered to residents in the neighborhood.

    About 75 people and a half-dozen top City officials attended. Jason Schreiber, a highly-regarded traffic consultant at Nelson/Nygaard, and a Somerville resident, presented a plan for chicanes -- S-shaped curves with parking alternating on either side of the street. The chicanes plan involves only new signage and paint, no construction, so it can be modified if there are problems. On the whole, community members reacted positively. There were many good questions and lots of feedback and suggestions, especially about the need for crosswalks around the bridge and on Hudson Street. Several residents urged that safety preparations be made over the summer for the extension of the Community Path from Cedar Street to Lowell Street, which will end right on the Lowell St. bridge.

    Hayes Morrison, the City's Director of Transportation and Infrastructure, said that another community meeting will be held in the late fall, when data from the speed monitors on the bridge will be presented to show the impact of the chicanes. There will be further discussion about steps to calm traffic, if needed. If you have concerns or suggestions about Lowell Street, please contact me and Hayes Morrison ( 617-625-6600 ext. 2522, HMorrison@somervillema.gov )

    I was informed this morning that the chicanes are being implemented on Lowell Street right now: signs are being changed today and painting will be done tonight. While I am impressed at the speed with which City officials have acted, and I commend their sense of urgency, I think it would have been prudent to give the neighborhood and community some advance notice.

    Board of Aldermen Passes $200 Million FY 2015 City Budget with Few Cuts

    On Thursday, June 26th, the Board of Aldermen (BOA) approved the Administration's proposed FY 2015 City operating budget and additional expenditures for water, sewer, and other enterprise funds.

    I had considered supporting cuts to a number of positions in various departments. However, after asking tough questions, listening to two dozen passionate speeches at the Public Hearing on the budget, reading scores of emails, and talking with dozens of community members, I was convinced that the positions that I had questioned were justified.

    While Aldermen do not have the power, unfortunately, to propose additions to the Mayor’s budget, we can make suggestions. Ward 1 Alderman Matt McLaughlin and I co-sponsored a resolution, passed by the entire Board, to expand the three half-time Somerviva Language Liaison positions to full-time. The very next day, the Mayor added them into the budget which the BOA approved. This is excellent news as these three women do extensive outreach to Somerville’s large immigrant communities and help non-English speakers access City services. Since a quarter of our population is immigrants, these are important positions.

    On June 26th we got some good news about property taxes and affordable housing: the two Partners Health Care office buildings that will be built in Assembly Square will generate $5 million in permit fees and over $4 million in linkage fees for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund in FY 2015. We are also waiting for the Legislature to complete action on the City’s home rule petition to increase the residential homeowner tax exemption from 30% to 35%. The combination of the permit fees from the Partners buildings and the increased residential tax exemption would likely reduce or eliminate property tax increases in the coming year. Increasing property taxes has been a major concern for many seniors who are homeowners and live on fixed incomes and also for many small business owners.

    Fossil Fuel divestment resolution approved unanimously by Board of Aldermen

    On June 26th, the BOA passed a revised Fossil Fuel Divestment resolution that Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz and I co-sponsored. A local group, Fossil Free Somerville brought a petition signed by 129 residents to the Board of Aldermen in February in support of a resolution encouraging the City’s Retirement Board to divest from stocks and bonds in oil, gas and other fossil fuel companies. Unfortunately, the State Ethics Commission ruled that the BOA could not even discuss the resolution, claiming that we have a conflict of interest as members of the City’s pension system.

    After many months of legal opinions and discussion, we decided to move forward with a general resolution, “urging individuals, colleges and universities, foundations and governments to divest their funds from publicly-traded fossil fuel companies.” It also urged “the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives to pass Bill S.1225, requiring the Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Trust (PRIT) to freeze any new investments in fossil fuel companies and to divest from direct holdings in fossil fuel companies within five years,” which would lead to the divestment of approximately $1.4 billion.

    Mark Niedergang

    Somerville School Committee, Ward 5

    Ward 5 Alderman

    617-629-8033

    Mark@MarkNiedergang.com

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