By Jeremy F. van der Heiden
Last Thursday, the Somerville Board of Alderman held its regular meeting to discuss some of the goings-on around the city, including some important issues in need of action this spring and summer.
The session began with recognition of several long-time Somerville residents who had recently passed away, as well as a celebration of those who observed milestone birthdays. Following this, the Board of Alderman approved permanent appointments to three individuals entering the city’s fire department: Thomas Bellini, Eric Saulnier and Francis Otting.
Early in the meeting, the board approved a new regulation to stay within compliance of a recent ruling by the Attorney General’s office regarding attendance at BOA committee hearings. This rule states that at any committee meeting attended by less than a quorum of regular members, visiting aldermen must sit in attendance and will have some legislative power. However, if a quorum is present, visiting members must participate as members of the public and will not be allowed to deliberate.
Among the most hotly debated topics of the evening was the request to approve a new ordinance pertaining to food trucks entering Somerville drafted by the City Solicitor, Frank Wright. Many members of the board were concerned with the legality and comprehensiveness of the ordinance.
The move began with the Committee on Legislative Matters convening to assess the need for legal documentation within the city to regulate food truck driver license approval. Currently, these drivers are granted licenses by the state of Massachusetts, and can simply enter Somerville after obtaining this documentation. This ordinance, the supporters of the bill explained, brings the regulatory process to the Somerville government, and thereby protects it from potentially erroneous decisions made by the state.
With respect to the new rule regarding the Attorney General’s ruling, several aldermen spoke out stating that it had prevented them from being as involved as they desired in the drafting and general committee process of the food truck ordinance. This frustrated several members of the board, while many shared the desire to create more stringent Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks for drivers and employees looking to set up shop in the city. At present, vendors need only pass through the state’s CORI check system, which did not suffice for many of the board members.
Members of the Committee on Legislative Matters explained that the current draft of the ordinance is comprehensive enough to empower the BOA to regulate food trucks comprehensively. Vice President of the BOA Alderman White further explained that the language within the piece of legislation grants the BOA and the City of Somerville government “tremendous discretion” pertaining to the application and approval process of prospective vendors.
In the end, the board decided to send the bill back to committee, while there will be a special meeting to ensure the concerns of all members are quelled before voting on its approval at another open meeting.
Ellen Reisner, member of the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership, appeared to discuss the long-standing issue of the McGrath Highway’s McCarthy Overpass. This structure, all in attendance agreed, has served as nothing more than an impediment to the economic and societal well being of the surrounding areas. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation agreed with this sentiment in 2011, but made moves to restructure and refinish the overpass.
MassDOT held several meetings later that year and early in 2012 without alerting the public nor any of the committees which oversee traffic concerns in the city. Reisner explained that the results of the grounding study showed those involved from Somerville that the structure simply needed to go, and be removed in ways that ensure the safety of all the area’s residents and the road’s passers-by.
The BOA ultimately decided to place this matter on file, and will take further action in the coming months, as all agreed that this matter must be held up to public processes to come to an educated decision that wholly benefits the community.
After approving several community works projects and business-backed moves to improve operations within city limits, the board went into a fiery discussion of the current rodent infestation problem apparent near Lincoln Park and Central and Madison Streets. Alderman Heuston explained that this issue is of the utmost importance, as several long-time residents cited plans to put their homes up for sale because of the rodent problem.
After years of work to clear the city of these pests, the area in question has seen a marked increase of rodents, preventing residents from experiencing a quality of life in line with city standards. Absentee landlords were considered the biggest contributors to the problem, as several structures have not been maintained properly and, as a result, have become infested and fueled the spreading of what all aldermen agreed was a serious public health threat.
Alderman at Large Connolly stated that this process needs to be carried out in a joint effort of several branches of local government, including the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Health, and the Office of the Director of Strategic Planning and Economic Development. He shared the sentiment of all others in attendance that all hands must be on deck in this fight, as residents choosing to move out because of the government’s inaction is simply not acceptable.
The BOA decided to send this matter to the Committee on Public Health and Public Safety, where a strong and swift plan of action will be established.
Several items were approved regarding outdoor block parties scheduled for this summer around the city, as well as approval for an event called ArtBeat that will take place in Davis Square on July 20. Other financial matters were either approved or sent to the Finance Committee for further action.