We’ve hit the halfway point. Just before Thanksgiving, the Legislature completed its formal sessions for 2015. With that, the first year of the 2015-16 term is in the books.
As a prelude to those conversations, I plan on sending two email updates over the next week. This first one reviews my work on behalf of the 29th Middlesex District over the past year, while the second will focus on my broader legislative efforts. Please be in touch if you have comments or want more information on anything.
One of the most important roles of my office is to assist constituents who experience difficulty accessing government services or getting a state agency to take action. This past year, we helped numerous constituents obtain their unemployment benefits, MassHealth coverage, disability services, food stamps, travel visas and more. We’re particularly pleased to have partnered with Danielle DeMoss, Watertown’s Social Services Resource Specialist, and the Watertown Housing Authority to find housing for two families at risk of homelessness. We also worked with residents and local and state officials to add safety measures to dangerous stretches of road, repair broken streetlights, and yes, fill potholes.
Budget Advocacy and Home Rule Petitions
In this year’s (FY16) state budget, my office, working with the other House and Senate members who represent Watertown and Cambridge, secured:
- Further local aid increases for both communities. Since hitting a low point in FY12 due to the recession, state aid for K-12 education and local government has grown $2.1 million (24%) for Watertown and $5.4 million (21%) for Cambridge.
- Additional funding for districts like Watertown that have exceptionally high special education costs.
- Continued funding of the Watertown Police Department’s innovative mental health jail diversion program.
- Supplementary funding to enable the Cambridge Health Alliance to continue to provide high-quality care to its disproportionately low-income patient population.
My office also worked with Senator Brownsberger and Representative Lawn to pass special legislation (a ‘home rule petition”) granting the Watertown Town Council the authority to increase the residential property tax exemption up to 30%. This would help reduce property taxes for people who own and reside in all but the highest-value homes.
We are currently working on two other home rule petitions: one to permit Watertown to issue additional liquor licenses as part of its economic development strategy and the second to assist the Cambridge Housing Authority to finance a $500 million renovation of its residential properties.
In addition to constituent services and district-specific budget and legislative advocacy, a significant part of my work for the district this year focused on safe and efficient transportation, more reliable public transit, bike-ped infrastructure, and investment in the district’s parklands.
I’m happy to report that we made considerable progress toward these goals. Highlights include:
- Securing $500,000 for a study on improving traffic flow, particularly for the 71 and 73 buses, through the Fresh Pond Parkway/Mt. Auburn Street area.
- Helping to launch a $500,000 MA Department of Transportation study of the rapidly developing Arsenal Street Corridor with a focus on improving public transit options.
- Working with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to design the next phase of the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway, which will link the existing segment of the Greenway to the Fresh Pond Loop Trail, Alewife T station, Alewife Greenway, and Minuteman Bike Path. Funding for the design is a 50/50 partnership between the DCR and four area businesses and philanthropies: athenahealth, Boylston Properties, the Solomon Foundation, and the Watertown Community Foundation.
- Continuing renovation of Watertown’s Riverfront Park (along Charles River Road), including new pathways, river overlooks, and a sensory trail for the visually-impaired. (At one point this summer, the DCR brought in goats to munch away on poison ivy!)
- Breaking ground on the DCR’s Greenough Boulevard improvement project, which will narrow the roadway from four lanes to two from the Eliot Bridge to Grove St and expand the green space and multi-use path along the Charles River.
- Working with the Cambridge Plant & Garden Club to secure Cambridge Community Preservation Act funding – to be matched dollar-for-dollar by the DCR – to:
- reconstruct the historic brick walls in the northern half of Lowell Memorial Park (along Fresh Pond Parkway between Brattle Street and Mt Auburn Street); and
- remove invasives and reconstruct the pathway in Hell’s Half Acre, the last remaining marsh in the Charles River Basin (just west of the Eliot Bridge).
Looking Ahead to 2016
As I hope this summary makes clear, it’s been a productive year for the district. Many of these projects have been years in the making and I want to acknowledge and express thanks to the many residents, local and state officials, and legislative colleagues who helped make them happen. Many of these projects will also need further work in 2016. I look forward to continuing my efforts to push them forward.
I am already engaged in work on some of the key district issues in the FY17 budget, including moving state funding for K-12 education in Watertown and Cambridge to target levels set some years ago and bolstering funding for the MBTA. In addition, Cambridge is soon to kick off its master planning process with an initial focus on the Alewife area. I’m looking forward to being an active participant in the Alewife planning discussions and will push for the state to help address the traffic headaches that currently plague the area and make it more bike and pedestrian-friendly, while improving connectivity within Alewife and to nearby residential neighborhoods.
I hope this summary gives you a good sense of my work for the district over the past year as well as what’s to come. Please be in touch if you have any comments or want more information.