• Transfer fee in Legislature, GLX bridge closures, more Cedar St. construction, Clarendon Hill public housing, FY 2019 City Budget

       Cedar_St_bump-out.JPG
      Broadway Ball Square Bridge                    Cedar St Bumpout

    In this issue:

    • Real Estate Transfer Fee Home Rule Petition approved unanimously by Board of Aldermen (BOA); hearing before Joint Committee on Revenue in State Legislature Wednesday
    • Green Line Extension (GLX) bridge closures; info session in Ball Square, June 23, 9-11 AM
    • Construction on lower and upper Cedar Street to continue through the summer
    • Clarendon Hill public housing redevelopment Home Rule Petitions approved by BOA
    • Fiscal Year 2019 City Budget before BOA; Public Hearing June 26, 6 PM

    Real Estate Transfer Fee Home Rule Petition approved unanimously by Board of Aldermen (BOA); hearing before Joint Committee on Revenue in State Legislature Wednesday

    On May 24, the Board of Aldermen approved by a 10-0 vote a Home Rule Petition (HRP) for a Real Estate Transfer Fee (RETF).  The Mayor signed it immediately & it was sent to the State Legislature for their consideration.  It was assigned the bill number H4582 & sent to the Joint Committee on Revenue, which is chaired by Rep. Jay Kaufman & Senator Michael Brady.  There will be a hearing on H4582 on Wednesday, June 20, 10 AM in Room B-2.  I will be attending & plan to speak in support describing the long & thorough process that the BOA used to consider the Home Rule Petition, & the changes that we made because of the extensive public input we received.

    As you may know, the City of Somerville’s proposal for a RETF exempts all owner-occupants, both sellers & buyers, & sets a 1% fee on both seller & buyer.  So the people who would end up paying the fee would be investors, developers, absentee landlords & people who own multiple properties who live in Somerville (their home would be exempt, but they would have to pay a 1% fee if they sell their rental property).  There are also exemptions for family transfers & vulnerable seniors.  If the Legislature approves the HRP, it comes back to the BOA to craft an ordinance.  At that point, we could add exemptions, but not take any away.  The funds raised by the RETF, about $6-9 million in each of the first few years, would go into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) to be overseen & spent by that extremely competent & reputable board.  The AHTF has been funding affordable housing in Somerville for 30 years.

    Green Line Extension (GLX) bridge closures; info session in Ball Square, June 23, 9-11 AM

    On May 1 the GLX Team announced that the Broadway Ball Square bridge will be closed for 12 months beginning sometime this fall.  Many residents of the Ball Square area are understandably alarmed at the additional traffic & chaos that may ensue on their neighborhood streets due to the detours.  Concern for the businesses in Ball Square has also been expressed.

    In May, Terrence P. McCarthy, MBTA | GLX Deputy Program Manager of Stakeholder Engagement (tpmccarthy@mbta.com), wrote: “Under the design build process, a comprehensive traffic management plan is being developed. Closures detail and rerouting of vehicular and pedestrian traffic will be adjusted as the GLX progresses.  Accommodations will be made and reviewed by Medford and Somerville traffic engineers & first responders.  No details have been finalized.”  I have since heard that MBTA officials (to deal with bus detours) and state Dept. of Transportation officials are also involved.

    I have seen a very preliminary detour plan, but nothing has yet been finalized or shared with the public.  We have been told that there will be a community meeting in July to share information about the detour routes.  Many residents have joined me in advocating for keeping a small footpath over the bridge open for pedestrians and bicyclists, as the detour will add much additional walking time for pedestrians, a real physical hardship for some people.  However, so far, the GLX Team has stated that the closure of the bridge will be total.

    Somerville city officials will hold an information session on Saturday, June 23, from 9-11 AM in Ball Square at an informational/Q&A table in front of Blue Cloud Gallery & True Grounds coffee house, 713-717 Broadway.  You can stop by to learn more about the current proposals, and/or visit www.somervillema.gov/glx for updates.  To sign up for the GLX project email list, visit www.greenlineextension.org.  Also, there is a GLX 24/7 Hotline: This is the best first stop for any questions or concerns -- info@glxinfo.com, or 1-855-GLX-INFO.

    Additional bridge closures are planned through 2019 & 2020, including on Washington Street for 10 months (between Union Square & Inner Belt), Medford St. (outside of Union Square), School Street, Cedar Street, Lowell Street, and College Ave. 

    This bad news (in addition to the $50 million that the state coerced from Somerville for the GLX) is part of the price of paying for the good news of the GLX coming to Somerville in 2021. 

    Construction on lower & upper Cedar Street to continue through the summer

    The construction on our streets just goes on and on…and will for a while.  The good news is that Lowell Street is done, except for painting the roadway, which will happen in the next month.  Repainting of  the chicanes (the road markings that create a slalom-like effect, forcing drivers to pay close attention and slow down), of the crosswalks, & of other street markings should improve safety, particularly in the bridge area, which has been a major neighborhood concern for years. 

    The bad news is that both lower and upper Cedar Street will continue to have closures (lower) or be an obstacle course (upper) for several months.  Residents have mostly been incredibly understanding through months -- or in the case of lower Cedar St, years -- of disruption, but some are starting to lose their patience due to daily delays & ridiculously dangerous driving behavior by some motorists who are not familiar with the area.  I am doing all I can to work with City staff to mitigate the danger & disruption. Hang in there: the end is near!

    The Cedar Street water & sewer project on lower Cedar St. (Elm St to Highland Ave) should be done by the end of the summer.  That part of Cedar St will be closed to through traffic weekdays 7 AM – 4 PM from June 19 through the end of July.  The contractor will be redoing the sidewalks.  In late July and early August, the construction crews will add the final pavement layer & plant trees before completing the project.  Hall Street & Cedar Avenue are also scheduled to be repaved during this time. 

    On upper Cedar Street (Highland Ave to Broadway), sidewalk work continues. The roadway work includes chicanes, bumpouts, a new crosswalk at Hudson & Spencer, & repaving this terribly beat-up street.  You can see the redevelopment & major changes in the roadway in progress.  The half-dozen bumpouts have drawn much comment from neighbors, many in favor, & some against, including complaints & warnings of feared traffic accidents. (Check out my Facebook page if you want to see a looong discussion about traffic issues.)   

    Unfortunately, we will be in the middle of this redevelopment through the summer, & the current condition of the street does present dangers for drivers.  I have heard that quite a few motor vehicles have run into the bumpouts at night, including a Warwick St. resident who had to swerve to avoid a driver who was in the middle of the road. I urged City staff to put reflectors on the bumpouts so they are more visible at night, which was done right away.  However, without the paint marking the chicanes, & until some of the parking is shifted to the other side of Cedar St. (don’t worry Cedar Street residents, no net parking spaces will be lost) upper Cedar St. requires caution.  Of course, not all drivers are paying close attention, so I expect that accidents will continue, but so far, as far as I know, nobody has been hurt.

    Despite the short-term pain, I believe that the redevelopment of upper Cedar St. will improve safety & mobility for all users.  I have encouraged the critics to wait to evaluate the new roadway once it is complete & has been in use for a few months.  There will be many advantages, I believe. Traffic will be slower & drivers will be forced to be more careful and attentive.  Residents of side streets that empty into Cedar, particularly Clyde & Murdock, will be able to turn onto Cedar Street much more easily.  Bicyclists & pedestrians will be safer.  Motorists from north of Somerville who currently use Cedar St as a commuting corridor into Cambridge & Boston will hopefully get frustrated by the slower traffic & find other routes.   

    Clarendon Hill public housing redevelopment Home Rule Petitions approved by BOA

    The BOA voted on May 31 to pass two Home Rule Petitions (HRPs) to the State Legislature & voted in favor of a “conditions of award” letter that would set stringent conditions for a $10 million City contribution to the project, should it be approved by the Legislature & move forward.  The votes were unanimous on the “conditions of award” letter & the HRP that asks the Legislature to allow the state to sell or exchange a small piece of land by the rotary at Powderhouse Blvd. & Route 16 to the Somerville Housing Authority. 

    The major issue of contention on the BOA, in the community, & among labor unions, was the request to the legislature to waive state competitive bidding laws for the project.  While this HRP did not ask that prevailing wage laws be waived, the development team made it clear that while the non-profit affordable-housing developers (Somerville Community Corporation & Preservation of Affordable Housing) would pay prevailing wage, the market-rate, for-profit developer (Gate Residential) would not.  The prevailing wage issue, & to a lesser extent, the competitive-bidding issue, generated opposition from some community members & some unions & labor-union coalitions.  On the other side were affordable housing advocates in Somerville, & the residents of the public housing project, led by their tenants association, Clarendon Residents United (CRU).  A number of large trade unions reached an understanding with Gate Residential & did not get involved in the dispute.

    For me, this presented an agonizing choice between two things that I value: decent wages, good working conditions & union labor on the one hand, and decent affordable housing for some of the poorest people in Somerville, on the other.

    I have discussed some of the issues and details of this conflict & the project in previous newsletters, which you can read on my website.  Now I will tell you why I voted in favor of the controversial HRP.  (I was joined by seven other Aldermen, while three voted “No.”)  We had to weigh the damage to the tenants of the Clarendon Hill public housing project if it were not rebuilt against the damage if the development were done without abiding by state competitive bidding statutes, all prevailing wage & union labor.  A fact also weighed heavy: that if this deal doesn’t happen now, there may not be another opportunity for years or decades, & the current deplorable conditions in this public housing would continue indefinitely.

    After many hours of discussion and debate, extensive research & discussion with union leaders, & a public hearing at which many people spoke on both sides, I concluded that state competitive bidding statutes were not essential for this project to be successful & fair, & that enough protections and wage guarantees for workers were in place.  Overall, the project would be built with around 70% prevailing wage and/or union labor; the minimum wage for any work on the project would be $20 an hour; & Gate Residential would hire a reputable third-party consultant to examine their wage records & hiring practices & report to the City on a quarterly basis to ensure that fair labor practices & a commitment to minority, women, & local hiring are being followed. 

    I strongly preferred that the entire project be prevailing wage & be built with union labor, & I urged Gate Residential to do so. I believe that should be the standard for large construction projects in Somerville. However, this project would not have been possible without the market-rate housing & the for-profit developer’s financial involvement. Ultimately, the financial contribution & the guarantees that Gate Residential provided (which included some significant financial concessions) were enough to satisfy me.  However, large-scale residential & commercial developers, such as Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) in Assembly Square, & Union Square Station Associates (US2) in Union Square, should be using all union labor on their huge, for-profit projects.

    While the prospects for the controversial HRP in the Legislature are unclear because of this being an election year & the opposition of some powerful labor union organizations, I hope it passes.  If it does, it would dramatically improve the quality of life for the 500 residents (200 children) who live in the 216 units there.  I was particularly impressed and moved by the leaders of Clarendon Residents United (the tenants’ association) & the many Clarendon Hill & Somerville residents who attended BOA meetings and pleaded with us to support it.  In addition, there would be 70 new affordable workforce (middle income) housing units, & 253 new market-rate units in a redeveloped site that would be much greener, open & welcoming than the current dilapidated buildings, concrete and closed-off public housing project that exists there now. 

    Fiscal Year 2019 City Budget before BOA; Public Hearing June 26, 6 PM

    The BOA is about halfway through work on the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget.  (The City fiscal year is July 1 – June 30.)   In my opinion, the Curtatone Administration has done a superb job of financial stewardship of the City over their 14 years in office.  Although I have had some major disagreements with & sought significant cuts in some budgets, I have found the Administration to be transparent, straightforward & responsive to all questions we have asked.  In general, I have agreed with the Administration’s budget priorities, which have been the Somerville Public Schools (SPS), public safety, & hiring more staff in City departments to manage the tremendous amount of activity, construction, & change going on in Somerville.

    The FY 2019 operating budget is $241.7 million, a 3.9% overall increase from the previous year.  Much of that increase comes in the SPS budget, which would increase by 5.99%, which I wholeheartedly support.  New initiatives proposed by the Mayor include more financial support for out-of-school time programs, creation of a new Office of Housing Stability with five new staff, & additional staffing & funding for traffic calming and safety.  I am particularly enthusiastic about support for the City’s new Vision Zero initiative to make Somerville streets safer & more accessible for all; guide multimodal transportation, safety policies, programs and projects; & eliminate all traffic fatalities & serious injuries.

    There will be a Public Hearing on the FY 2019 Budget on Tuesday, June 26, 6 PM in the Aldermen’s Chambers in City Hall.  I encourage you to come and speak out about any issue you care about that is related to the Budget, which in reality, is just about anything.  This is an opportunity to have the full attention of the BOA & the Administration for two minutes when you can speak about anything you would like to be different or better that relates to City government.  Some years, few people testify, which magnifies the impact of those who do.

    Unfortunately, by state law, the BOA is prohibited from adding anything to the budget, all we can do is cut.  In my four years on the BOA, we have made cuts each year of only a fraction of 1%. We can, and do, pass resolutions at the end of the budget process asking the Mayor to add funding for certain things, which the Administration sometimes fulfills. 

    You can see the proposed FY 2019 Budget here: https://www.somervillema.gov/fy19budget.  I recommend checking out the document, which as far as I can tell, has not been posted there yet, but which I have asked the City Budget Director to put up on this webpage.  (Note, Monday June 18 is Bunker Hill Day, a City workforce, but not SPS, holiday, so it may not be up there until Tuesday.)  This is the Mayor’s overview presentation of the FY 2019 Budget, which he made to the BOA on June 6th.  An interesting & easy-to-understand PowerPoint highlights the key issues in the FY2019 Budget, & some of the key challenges the City of Somerville faces.  There is no better way to get a quick sense of what is going on in City government than to review this presentation.


    Sincerely,

    Mark Niedergang

    Ward 5 Alderman

    617-629-8033

    Mark@MarkNiedergang.com

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