Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Lies Somerville’s Future

 

By Judy Locchi Jacobs 

​Where do I begin? It’s been a hell of a week bouncing around from meeting to meeting—two on the same night at different locations, and at the same time. If you have experienced last minute cancellations, lack of rescheduling, and relocation of meetings – you’re not alone.

 

​Going to a city meeting is like missing half the movie – You can’t figure out what’s going on because you missed most of it – the important parts were discussed earlier. Like being alone in the dark on a scavenger hunt without a flashlight and a map.

 

​At this past Wednesday’s city budget meeting (1 of a series), Tony Lafuente opened up the meeting to share that he is stepping down as Alderman of Ward 4. A low turnout of residents – interestingly the mayor’s friends and confidants sit on the left, while most residents sit on the right. I guess we are even divided at meetings!

 

​There were 5 residents who addressed the aldermen with their concerns, praises, challenges and disappointment– 4 females (myself included) and one male. Our sentiments were somewhat similar—each complaining about lack of affordable housing and job creation. One representative of Somerville Community Corporation, asked the board to help the most vulnerable obtain jobs — the disabled and those with language barriers. Another, advocated sports teams for children who experience harsh socio-economic issues, stressing that children from working class families rely heavily on this organization. And due to increased fees, lack of availability and not being city owned, Dilboy Field presents a ongoing challenge.

 

The fourth to speak at the podium, a male resident asked, “Why is the mayor never at these meetings? Joe is never at a public hearing”. Just as he finished those words – in walks the mayor, sits in the first row, on right side of the room with SPD behind him. I wondered if he had heard his name three rooms away or perhaps he’s clairvoyant – or was it the audio device in his office that keeps him informed of what’s being said at every meeting?

 

 

I was up next and always to the point…… “I haven’t attended meetings in a while because frankly, I needed a break. It’s always the same thing – we are always told affordable housing is coming yet it hasn’t arrived. I called two of you to complain about the $300 million dollar high school because we can’t afford it. I know what’s coming, because I have the unique perspective of seeing it from the local college where I work”.  

 

My short comments where as redundant as their painfully boring discussions of budget cuts, and whatever else they said later that evening. I was out the door shortly after, but not before hearing them recite department cuts. I walked out at, “Art Council”?…….”no cuts”.

 

I got bored fast, left for the zoning meeting at the VNA about 7:30 p.m.

 

Glinda — Good witch or bad?

 

Oz: “I might not actually be a wizard…”

Glinda: “Yes, but they don’t know that” 

 

Have you figured out who Glinda is in the photo above?

Don’t worry, we’re getting close. How about the Wizard?

 

Do you remember as a child watching the Wizard of Oz for the first time, believing that Glinda was the good witch who would help Dorothy find her way back to Kansas? All she needed to get there was the tapping of the bright ruby slippers the good witch did provide. According to the people of Oz, the great and powerful wizard with the magical ability would ensure Dorothy got home to Auntie Emm and the others who loved her. Poor Dorothy, what a dope –she allowed herself to be misled, just as Glinda in real life.

 

Well, Glinda from the Wizard of Oz had proven herself worthy….she was indeed a good witch.

But Glinda in real life, seen in the photo above….that’s another story.

 

Have you wondered about the Somerville Wizard of Oz? He’s definitely not a wizard, just like the guy hiding behind the curtain pulling all the levers until Dorothy’s precious To-to, pulls the curtain to reveal a man with no real power who instead deceives through tricks, illusions, and preying on the vulnerable in order to make a living….maybe more than a living….maybe a fortune.  

 

In the movie, the great powerful Oz was only projecting something that just wasn’t there – we soon find out that he’s just a phony, yet a clever phony, especially with innocent, unsuspecting Dorothy, as well as those who believed they lacked what they inherently possessed all along, courage, heart and a brain. They only needed the encouragement of Dorothy to test themselves in order to find out.

 

The people of Oz wanted a hero, so the ordinary man behind the curtain created an illusion and deceived his followers, believing he knew what was best.

 

Let’s move on…..next stop: The VNA, Lowell Street…Zoning Meeting

My first question – Why are we having important meetings like zoning and planning on the 3rd floor of an assisted living facility for the elderly! Have these officials no shame?

 

The community room could be someone’s living room—they have six tables for the board members, attorneys , architects and “other”…because we don’t know who they are! The sign-in sheet remains at the front desk with the receptionist and probably on the mayor’s desk the next morning.

 

They call it a public meeting, yet there are only 9 chairs in the center of the tables where the board members are seated among those representing the applicant and client.

 

Does anyone else have a problem with this? And by the way, has anyone seen the crater next door, with construction trucks moving dust piles filling the air, just 20 feet from elders who are trying to enjoy some fresh air and little bit of nature in the shade.  

 


 

Soon there will be an estimated 25-40 more condos built from the one that faces Lowell Street. Where the hell did they come up with that design? It looks like it belongs in San Francisco or Phoenix. The style is so out of place for the neighborhood —

 

Did you get your flyer, “City of Somerville Zoning Overhaul”?

 

Under heading, “Neighborhoods”….“Aims to preserve existing neighborhoods while facilitating development near MBTA stops”. Where? SHOW ME………

 

 

It continues, “Ensures new developments preserve the neighborhood’s character, type and form.

 


 

“Increases size requirements and quality standard for public and private open spaces in new developments”.

 



Okay, back to Glinda….she also has a daughter and a husband that work for the mayor.

 

We share the same ward and our daughters attended the same elementary school.

 

Well, the husband attends the planning meetings or is it the zoning meetings, it could be in addition to other meetings. We don’t really know because city hall does such a fabulous job of playing this game with residents who rely on transparency, respect and accurate information. If you are not a member of the inner circle, you just don’t know.

 

Let’s move on…more nostalgia. There is a lawyer who seems to be at the VNA quite a bit, well two nights in a row this week and representing projects of clients. He use to be an alderman of Ward 5 and stepped down, citing, “family time”.

 

Former Alderman attends the same meeting Glinda’s husband attends, I’m guessing on a regular basis. I could be wrong, maybe he’s a volunteer doing his civic duty. It was interesting how Glinda became a public official, one who is dedicated to the alderman meetings but doesn’t always know which way to go on votes for pay-to-play or other important issues involving the mayor.

 

I attended the meetings about what to do with the abandoned Powderhouse Community School development project. Since 2004, it has been sitting vacant.

 

At one of a series of meetings, someone mentioned 5 developers were in the room.

 

“Why were they invited”, I asked. The property hadn’t gone out to bid. Why should they crash our party? Oh, I guess the alderman invited them since she was the host! And SPD was on duty escorting the mayor to meetings.

 

I got up to speak, addressed residents and developers, “Why are developers here? I would like you to state your names and companies you represent, because we have a right to know who you are”. The room went silent.

 

Glinda approached me, “Why are you so angry all the time at these meetings”?

 

I explained, “I don’t like the fact that developers were invited to the meeting when we haven’t even decided what the land should be used for—I mean isn’t that why we have community meetings”?

 

Glinda, the Good Witch of the North: Are you a good witch, or a bad witch? 

Dorothy: I’m not a witch at all. I’m Dorothy Gale from Kansas. 

Glinda, the Good Witch of the North: Oh. Well, is that the witch? 

Dorothy: Who, Toto? Toto’s my dog! 

 

To be continued……

 

 

2 thoughts on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Lies Somerville’s Future”

  1. Ed, I wish you the best of luck. New Hampshire is a beautiful state. I have extended family living in Littleton (White Mountains), a 3 hour ride. My family member grew up in Somerville, retired and never looked back. He said the main reason he left was that he was tired of the state taking his money and it was too expensive to live here. Some of us still have a long way to go to retirement so our options are limited– there is no where to go to escape the continued cost of living increases. If you move to a place that appears to be less expensive to live, you sacrifice good paying jobs with benefits, better health care and other services.

  2. It’s situations just like this that have me looking to cash out and move to NH. AllI can say is “Thanks” to the mayor and the current administration for making my house worth 1 million … which will buy me a nice condo in NH and put some change in my retirement fund. Affordsble housing? In Somerville thst’s a running joke!

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