Somerville/Medford News Weekly Speakup Line: 90 Washington St. City Plan

Dear Billy T and Somerville/Medford News Weekly Speakup Line,
Here is a letter sent to the mayor concerning 90 Washington St. City Plan

Dear Ms. Spencer:

Thank you for forwarding Mayor Ballantyne’s invitation to meet with the Cobble Hill residents on May 25 at 10:00 AM. I will encourage all Cobble Hill residents to attend.

To be direct, it is hard to gauge if Cobble Hill residents can expect to have a meaningful dialogue. The attachment seemingly confirms the Mayor’s decision to move forward with building a PSB at 90 Washington Street. If we are wrong, please let us know. It will be hurtful to so many if the Mayor’s May 25th reception resembles the “brown bag” deception the City sponsored at the Ralph and Jenny Center in December.

Forgive our confusion. On one hand the Mayor’s invitation expresses genuine thanks and gratitude for every resident letter and make assurances the City had taken time to consider and explore the questions we raised. On the other hand, the invitation provided a FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) attachment that failed to mention any of the questions asked by Cobble Hill residents. As upsetting, the FAQ asks the reader to consider “what else can go on this land in addition to a public safety building?” If indeed every resident letter was considered, we would expect the Mayor to know not one Cobble Hill letter supports putting a noise producing fire and police headquarters at 90 Washington Street. Not one!

After revisiting the batches of personal letters that were addressed to the Mayor since November – along with the multiple email exchanges in this string – we could not find one that ever asked the questions noted in the FAQ. On the contrary, we attended multiple public zoom meetings where Somerville and Cobble Hill residents alike sought answers to a multitude of questions related to the City’s closeted decision-making process, projected noise, enormous expense, and whether putting a PSB next to the GLX is bad public policy. Instead, the City’s FAQ largely seeks to justify the City’s decision by exaggerating a narrative of intolerable blight in search of a desperate solution rather than what actually transpired. Certainly the City’s stewardship of this land since 2019 has not been exemplary and calls into question the purpose of throwing stones from a glass house.

The FAQs were limited to the following:
1) What is the recent history?
2) What else can go on this land in addition to a public safety building?
3) Why does Somerville need a public safety building at 90 Washington Street?
4) How will the City address potential impacts of this development on Cobble Hill residents?

This deception is not a good look. It diminishes the City’s credibility and stiffens our resolve. No one enjoys being gaslighted. You might want to add the following questions to the list the Mayor might be asked to answer on May 25th. How is this deception acceptable? Who determined which Frequently Asked Questions have weight and deserve advocacy? Why is Cobble Hill being gaslighted?

Cobble Hill residents are paying close attention and want our questions answered. We cannot make our views any clearer. Among Cobble Hill’s Frequently Asked Questions to the City include how did the site selection process award 90 Washington St. points for NOT being next to a residential development? Why did the site selection committee study six possible locations of which three did not meet the minimum threshold requirements? How many daily police sirens are anticipated at 90 Washington Street? Why did the site selection committee seek no more than 30,000 sq ft but the City decided to take four acres? Did the City consider the negative impact of 2,200 annual fire trips on the City’s largest elderly community? Why does the City need to take Cobble Hill’s parking lot? Why does the City need to take the alleyway behind 84 Washington Street?

The 300 elderly residents of Cobble Hill value their quality of life and they want it protected. They don’t want a noise producing public safety building as a neighbor. They don’t want their parking lot and alleyway behind 84 Washington St removed. They don’t want a grove of trees cut down or the green space behind 84 Washington Street turned into a 200-car structured parking garage approximately 27 feet from their apartment windows.

Can we all acknowledge how very strange it is that not one resident has received a written response from the Mayor. I cannot recall a time when this ever happened before. It is shocking really. Separately, with the absence of dialogue around issues of transparency, there is growing speculation the City’s plans for 90 Washington Street cannot be justified or defended. It is believed they were hatched by the former Mayor as a heavy-handed accounting exercise unrelated to blight. As the story goes, using blight as the pretext, his Administration invoked for the first time in Somerville history the eminent domain powers inherent in a Demonstration Plan Project which allows for land taking without community input. In search of 18,000- 30,000 sq ft parcel for a new PSB, the former Administration first targeted four acres of valuable land adjacent to the Washington Street GLX station and then commissioned a site selection plan to justify the taking. The immensely valuable unused land would then be sold to deep-pocketed bio-medical interests in search of lab space to offset the cost of building the PSB.

If this plan comes to fruition, it will not be progressive, green or driven by any of the lofty principals set out in the Mayor’s inaugural address. It will be driven by money, deceit and power. Worse, it will happen by taking quality of life assets from 300 of the most vulnerable residents of Somerville.

If nothing else, the residents of Cobble Hill will be considering these possibilities when we attend the Mayor’s reception on May 25 in the parking lot at 84 Washington Street. The very same well-manicured and leafy parking lot that had been part of Cobble Hill Apartments for over 40-years before it was taken by the City in 2019 because it is a blight too great to be tolerated.


Evelyn Ortiz

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