(Originally published in The Somerville Times. Link to original article here.)
By Jordan Deschenes
April 26, 2017
SOMERVILLE, MA—Somerville’s Legislative Matters Committee met last Thursday to discuss four major items related to ordinances, two of which were recommended for passage by the Board of Aldermen. The meeting was cut short by a half-hour due to an ongoing City Planning Board Meeting that several aldermen needed to attend, including the Committee Chairwoman, Mary Jo Rossetti.
“We spent just under an hour’s time on this particular issue,” observed Rossetti at the end of the meeting, referring to a grant-related ordinance still in discussion stages.
“And we passed two ordinances!” exclaimed Tim Snyder, Somerville’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Two ordinances Passed by the Committee
The first ordinance that was passed ordered for the creation of a Rental Registration Program. The program would facilitate the dissemination of tenant rights information to non-English speaking city residents and impose fines on non-resident landlords who do not comply after a first-time warning.
The other ordinance recommended by the Committee would extend protections for city-owned trees from being unearthed at will by contractors. Under the new revisions, trees cannot be altered in any way unless a developer has undergone a hearing to exempt certain plots of land from tree-related protections.
CPA Grant Appropriation and the Community Benefits Committee
For the hour-long remainder of the meeting, the Committee discussed an ordinance still in progress that pertains to the handling of city grants from the Community Preservation Act (CPA) and the creation of a Community Benefits Committee (CBC).
The main intent of the ordinance is to create a semi-centralized process for individual neighborhood applicants to receive CPA grant funding. By introducing the CBC, city proponents are certain that it will establish a greater balance of power between the Neighborhood Council and the Board of Aldermen (BOA).
Notably, the ordinance’s language and structure were partially adopted from both the state CPA template and a similar ordinance passed in Cambridge.
“The Community Preservation Act has been a credible process of hearing the community needs and processing requests in a way so that everyone involved has transparency in the process to see how the decisions were reached,” said Michael Glavin, Executive Director of the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development.
“The decisions came from parts of the community, but were also shaped in accordance with criteria that were already well developed.”
As the draft currently reads, the CBC’s essential role will be as an official applicant to receive CPA grant funding on behalf of Neighborhood Councils, who cannot act individually as applicants. For a neighborhood to receive funds, a CBC-approved application has to be presented to the Mayor, who will then submit the application to the BOA for consideration. The BOA will officially decide whether or not to award a grant contract and allocate the specified Community Benefits Funds.
According to Section 1a of the draft CBC ordinance, “nine voting members who are residents of Somerville,” are able to serve on the CBC for one-year terms and are limited to a cap of only two years. Of the nine members, one must “own a small business in Somerville” and two others “shall be members of a nonprofit organization”.
Alderman William White Jr. brought attention to a correction in inconsistent wording in draft and proposed that CBC members should be “residents” of the city, and not simply “citizens” who work in Somerville but live outside of the city.
A further proposition suggested by Alderman Mark Niedergang was to include that the six remaining unspecified seat vacancies should include at least one tenant, homeowner, and resident landlord. Niedergang’s reasoning for this was because he had particular concerns that tenants would be overlooked for seats on the Committee.
The selection process for choosing CBC members will be in the hands of a three-person nominating committee, chosen by both the mayor and BOA. The mayor must appoint one member, the BOA will appoint another, and both the mayor and the BOA must agree upon the third individual.
As the meeting came to a close, the Committee was thorough in ensuring that grant funds would be distributed responsibly, especially after the funds are deposited into individual “neighborhood-specific sub accounts”. In order for the Community Benefits Committee to apply for funding on behalf of their neighborhood constituents, it must first identify Funding Priorities that have to be approved by the BOA in the form of a Funding Request and are in agreement with data from Committee-conducted “periodic needs assessments”.
To ensure that Committee data is unbiased, citywide needs assessments will also be conducted every five years. Furthermore, the existing Community Benefits Agreement also requires developers and community representatives to provide a comprehensive list of entities and cost-specific goals for individual projects.
In a brief interview after the meeting, Director Glavin explained that the ordinance is part of a larger effort to “create the capacity to form councils that directly address ground-issues and proposed developments.”
The Committee agreed to have the ordinance settled by the end of its next meeting, which will be held on May 4. Also to be discussed is an ordinance to Safeguard Vulnerable Road Users, which not finalized for the current meeting.