I want you to know about some important Public Hearings in mid-November and decisions that the Board of Aldermen (BOA) will be making in the next few months. I also want to update you briefly on a couple of issues – traffic calming, and the water and sewer bill fees. I will write to you again in mid-late November with more information and my views on all of these issues.
I encourage you to attend these Public Hearings if you are interested in the issues they address. Public Hearings are informative and really interesting. We hear directly from dozens of our fellow residents and what they care about. I also encourage you to speak up and share your views and concerns (everyone gets two minutes) or to submit your testimony to the Board of Aldermen and Mayor at BoardofAldermen@somervillema.gov and Mayor@somervillema.gov.
- Public Hearing on the Mayor’s proposal on Green Line Extension (GLX) funding proposal Thursday, November 17, 7 PM, Aldermen’s Chambers, 2nd Floor, City Hall. The Mayor will present a proposal for a City contribution of $50 million to the Board of Aldermen (BOA) at our meeting Thursday, November 10th. A vote in favor by the BOA will be necessary for the City to send the money to the state.
- Public Hearing on Union Square Community Benefits Agreements and their potential to address displacement and uphold community values immediately before the BOA meeting on Thursday, November 10, at 6:30 PM. The Administration’s proposal for new Union Square zoning has been under discussion by the BOA since a Public Hearing in mid-October. There are three more meetings scheduled in November. The new zoning proposal is designed to unlock the heart of Union Square and especially the area around the forthcoming GLX Union Square station for major development. This Public Hearing is being held as a result of an official request from 138 voters who are concerned that development will cause displacement in Union Square. Only the BOA has the power to change zoning. A 2/3 vote of the BOA (8 of 11 Aldermen) is necessary to adopt new Union Square zoning (or any zoning change or proposal). On another, related topic, the Administration has announced it will introduce early in 2017 a second edition of the citywide zoning overhaul proposal. The first version, introduced in January 2015, was widely criticized and the BOA sent it back to the drawing board.
- Public Hearing on the 3rd version of the Administration’s Athletic Fields Master Plan, Tuesday, November 15, 7:30 PM, Aldermen’s Chambers, 2nd Floor, City Hall. There were several public meetings early in 2016 in which the Administration presented and got feedback on the initial version of this plan. This third version has more information about the proposed surface for each field (grass or artificial turf) and also has a far better timeline for redeveloping and adding fields. The BOA has no formal power to approve or reject this plan. However, the BOA will likely need to vote to approve or deny funds for each major field project on its own.
- Reduction in the default speed limit on most streets to 25 mph (from the current 30 mph) on November 7. You should start seeing some new speed limit signs posted in November. The City will also have the opportunity to create 20 mph “safety zones” in many areas in the near future. We are still waiting for regulations from the state Dept of Transportation on the safety zones, but I have urged the Mayor to go ahead with the safety zones using the legal authority we now have. The state legislature passed a new law in August that finally allows cities to set their own speed limits and the BOA voted in October to support the enactment of both of these speed limit provisions. The new speed limit will make Somerville a lot safer with minimal inconvenience to drivers.
- Water and sewer bill update. The Administration has added a $60 per bill fee to each of the three water/sewer bills that homeowners receive, for a total of $180 extra a year. There was no public notice, public hearing or discussion of these additional fees, and Aldermen were not notified. When people got their bills, a huge uproar ensued. The BOA has spent many hours grilling the Acting Superintendent of the Water and Sewer Department, the Mayor and other Administration officials. We have unanimously expressed our anger at the lack of public notice or discussion, and our opposition to the way the fees were imposed. While the Mayor and many City officials have apologized and acknowledged their mistakes, they have not been willing to cancel or delay the implantation of the fees, despite our urging. Currently, the BOA has no power to set water and sewer rates or fees. As a result of this uproar, the BOA is considering a revision to the ordinance that governs water and sewer charges. These changes would ensure timely public notice of any increases and also restore the power that the BOA once had (but gave away years ago) to approve water and sewer rates and fees. I strongly support this and will do all I can for the BOA to pass it this year.
Ward 5 Alderman