Month: December 2009

Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and a happy holiday season. I hope this newsletter finds you well.

This issue discusses a visit from students of the former East Somerville Community School, an important turning point in the extension of the Green Line, and legislation recently signed into law that will help Cambridge lead the way in promoting and implementing energy efficient practices.

It has been a very cold week, and with the remains of a blizzard still on the streets it will likely be a white Christmas.

Most of us are fortunate enough to have a warm place to be this Christmas, but cold weather and warm houses also serve as a reminder of those who are less fortunate. This is a season to support everyone, especially your friends and neighbors who may be struggling, with your time, energy, prayers, and caring.

Most importantly, this is a season to spend in the company of your loved ones.

All the Best,

Tim

Cambridge Leads the Way with Energy Efficiency Legislation

Cambridge Energy Alliance
1385 Cambridge St, Cambridge map

This month the Governor signed an important piece of legislation into law for the City of Cambridge: House Bill 1916 (pdf, text), An Act relative to the provision of services to the City of Cambridge by the Cambridge Energy Alliance. I filed this Home Rule petition, sent to the state by my colleagues on the Cambridge City Council, along with cosponsors Senator Galluccio, and Cambridge Reps. William Brownsberger, Jonathan Hecht, Marty Walz, and Alice Wolf.

H.1916 was enacted by both House and Senate on November 30th, then signed by Governor Patrick on Dec 4th. The bill, now in Chapter 170 of the General Laws of 2009, will go into effect on March 4th, 90 days after being signed into law. It establishes a minor exception to public procurement laws that enables Cambridge to enter into a contract with the nonprofit Cambridge Energy Alliance.

The contract will be used to support energy efficient initiatives municipal buildings, businesses, and residents in Cambridge.

The Cambridge Energy Alliance was co-founded by the city with the explicit intent of finding and implementing innovative, creative ways to cut down our energy usage and costs. Their work helps businesses, residents and government organizations in Cambridge save money and proactively work towards a more energy efficient future for the city.

I would urge Cambridge residents to reach out the the CEA to find out ways they may be able to help you with your heating bills and your energy usage. The services are cost-efficient and could be free or subsidized depending on your financial situation. More information, from their website:

CEA offers:

  • Comprehensive energy audits for Cambridge buildings, generally for free
  • Up to 30% reductions in energy bills
  • Energy efficiency upgrades with no up front cash required
  • A one-stop energy solution

Green Line Extension Maintenance Facility – Option L is best for Brickbottom and Somerville

For more detail see:
Cambridge Chronicle article 12/21/09 “Proposed Green Line garage has some worried”
Somerville News Blog 12/23/09 Residents air views on Yard 8 alternatives

Over the last year one thing has become clear: of the three options currently under study by the MBTA to expand the Green Line and site a maintenance facility, Option L is the best long-term solution for Somerville.

About 18 months ago, the EOT released a study describing around a dozen alternatives for the maintenance facility in Somerville. None of the original options were acceptable, so we asked EOT to go back to the table. As the result of pressure from state and local leaders and active community members, we have been presented with the best option yet: Option L.

The extension of the Green Line has the potential to turn the Inner Belt and Washington Street into a focal point for economic vibrancy and community development in Somerville. My goal has been, and continues to be, bringing transportation officials together with economic development leaders to ensure that the siting of the maintenance facility does not have a detrimental impact on the existing neighborhood or the potential for future mixed use development.

The current preferred alternative from MassDOT, Yard 8, could actually have a negative impact on the economic development of the inner belt region. The long-term cost to the city, in lost economic development opportunities, of building at Yard 8 is likely to be greater than the short-term additional cost of Option L (see below).

MassDOT (formerly EOT) recently released a document called the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) to discuss the project and the current alternatives for a maintenance facility.

*full pdf here, options diagram on page 27

All the options, in a nutshell:

Option #1: Yard 8
Although this has been labeled the ‘preferred alternative’ by the MBTA, I believe it is the worst of the options. Put simply, it is too close to a large residential building that houses hundreds of people. The land would be better served as part of accessible mixed-use development that would serve the new riders of the T and the current residents. Locating the maintenance facility at Yard 8 would have substantial negative consequences for both the abutters (primarily the residents of Brickbottom) and the future development of the area.

Option #2: Mirror Scheme H
Initially a promising site, further examination revealed some unexpected difficulties. Mirror Scheme H has potential to become entangled in jurisdictional issues. Although the vast majority of the site is in Somerville, it is on the line between Cambridge and Somerville. This introduces a slew of zoning and regulatory concerns that threaten to complicate the discussion, increase costs, and significantly slow progress.

Option #3: Option L
Option L would place the facility adjacent to the existing Boston Engine Terminal, farther from residents and commercial property and with a similar terminal. This would be more compatible with Somerville’s vision for revitalization of the Inner Belt area. The problem here is the price: current estimates place this at about $50 million more expensive than Yard 8. I think it is more important to do this the right way and incur the extra expense now to build on the optimal site. This site factors in the long-term development and renewal plans of East Somerville and lessens the impact on the residents in the neighborhood.

The Somerville legislative delegation has voiced its opposition to Yard 8 and support for Option L. I have made my position clear to Secretary Bowles at the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, to the Governor’s office, and to MassDOT.

Thank you to all the residents who have come forward privately and at public events to share your opinion. Please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have any questions or comments about the maintenance facility or the Green Line Extension project.

We are still in the public comment listening period of the project, so I would encourage everyone who feels strongly on the issue to submit comments on the DEIR by January 8th. If you would like to contact Secretary Bowles’ office directly on this issue, please mail:

Secretary Ian Bowles
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental
Affairs
MEPA Office
Attn: Holly Johnson, MEPA Analyst
EEA #13886
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114

Former East Somerville Community School Students Advocate for a New School at the State House

State House – Boston map
Somerville Journal article

When a three-alarm fire destroyed the East Somerville Community School over the weekend two years ago, hundreds of Somerville children were suddenly left without a school. Although we were all fortunate nobody was hurt in the blaze, the fire left hundreds of children spread across the Somerville school system missing their community school and their friends. This month, a day after the second anniversary of the fire, former students and teachers made their way to the State House to share their personal stories with Somerville legislators and advocate for immediate construction of a new school.

Roughly sixty 8th graders, who have been spread out across Somerville, joined principal Holly Hatch and other Somerville educators. Armed with their recent studies of government, letters to the Governor and legislators, and their personal stories, they gathered in State House Hearing Room B1 and made an impassioned case to fast-track the construction of a new school to replace the one they lost. Seven students and one teacher read their testimony to Representative Denise Provost, Representative Carl Sciortino, myself, and staff from the offices of Senators Patricia Jehlen and Anthony Galluccio.


ESCS student testifies to the Somerville delegation
photo credit: David Gordon, Somerville Journal

The entire delegation was impressed with the poise, courage, and maturity of the speakers and the students in attendance.

After presenting their testimony to the Somerville delegation, the students delivered letters to Governor Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). By establishing an organized coalition of Somerville legislators, educators, and personally affected residents and then targeting the key decision-makers, these 8th graders demonstrated that they have taken their studies of government seriously. This is how effective advocacy works.

The next step will be taken by the MSBA, which will certify the number of enrolled students and determine the scope of the project. It is still uncertain whether the school will be built entirely from scratch or whether sections will be salvaged and updated. The Somerville School system will need to figure out the best use of the money from the MSBA.

Our goal remains the same: we want a safe community school in East Somerville equipped with modern facilities. My office, along with the Somerville delegation, will be in continued talks with Mayor Curtatone and will continue the advocacy work started by these students with the state and the MSBA.

Their visit also included a guided tour of the State House and photos in front of the golden dome and at the Grand Staircase.

photo credit: David Gordon, Somerville Journal