David W.S. Lieberman Candidate for Ward 6 Alderman Responses 2015

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1) If elected, what steps will you take to keep residents in Ward 6 informed about the municipal decisions, issues, and proposed changes that affect them: legislation and budgetary matters, proposed development, decisions by City officials, issues that surface from the community, etc.

DL: Making sure that our neighbors are informed about city and neighborhood issues is one of the major roles of our Alderman. There are a number of formal and informal ways that Somerville can better inform its residents. As alderman, I will take notes on public meetings, post them online, and email them and mail them to any interested resident. No one should have to choose between supporting their family and making a 6pm public meeting. Similarly, I will be easy to reach by phone or email or in person. During this campaign, I’ve freely given my cell-phone number out and will continue to do that as an Alderman. It is (617) 863-0311.

There are a number of technological improvements we can make as well. Although we have made strides in this regard, we should strive to ensure that all public meetings and hearings are streamed online and seek ways to encourage residents to share real-time feedback. I think we should review our city’s website with an eye towards ensuring that it facilitates easy interaction with the government. For example, I would like to see better incorporation of GIS (mapping) technology to make it easier to understand everything from what development and business permits are being sought to where people are identifying issues with 311.

a) What steps, if any, should the City take -- and what steps will you take, if elected -- to provide access to information and services to Somerville residents who have limited English proficiency?

DL: This is a very big part of making sure that Somerville works for all of its families. I met a resident off of Broadway who was trying to get city or state services for her daughter, but was embarrassed to contact the city because she didn’t think her English was good enough. First, we currently utilize Google translate to make our city’s website available in non-English languages (note that it does not translate words in images or buttons). I think at a minimum we need to supplement this by having fluent speakers in each of the City’s top five spoken languages ensure that the website is navigable in this way. I also believe that this is an area where we can harness our residents to volunteer to serve on an advisory board, both to ensure that the city’s services are accessible to all of our residents, and to offer to serve as translators and guides if need be.

2) What kinds of changes would you like to see in the nature and density of businesses and/or residences in Davis Square, and how should the City encourage those changes?

DL: While Davis Square undoubtedly will evolve and develop, I think it has reached a relatively mature state in comparison to Ball Square and other commercial centers around Somerville. Davis Square has long enjoyed a great deal of interest and participation by residents to proposed changes. I think future development proposals need to be done cautiously and in coordination with a great deal of stakeholder involvement.

a) What do you want to see at 240 Elm Street (the former Social Security Building)? What can you do as an elected official to make sure this building is stabilized and occupied by a business that people in the neighborhood will support and patronize?

DL: What I want to see is a thriving business that serves the community and not an abandoned building. I will work to ensure that all stakeholders are aware of what businesses are seeking to join our community and facilitating an open and transparent process by which new businesses can share their vision for supporting our community and stakeholders can provide feedback and together we can decide if there is a fit.

As a former prosecutor, I have no patience with developers risking public safety by cutting corners. As alderman, I would put pressure on the City and on the developer to make restoration of that property a top priority. I believe that at times the City’s focus has slipped from Davis Square to developments in Assembly and Union Square. We need an Alderman who is prepared to advocate for Davis Square and ensure that it gets the attention and resources it deserves.

b) What is your vision for the West Branch Library and what will you do to ensure that the upcoming reconstruction happens and properly serves our community?

DL: The West Branch Library has gone far too long without renovation. I was heartened by the massive outpouring of support for the renovation by Ward 6 residents. I believe the renovation will be a great opportunity to, first of all, make the library ADA compliant so that it may be enjoyed by all Somerville residents. I spoke with a resident last weekend who used to love to attend the book club at the West Branch but stopped going when it was moved to the library’s main branch due to the West Branch’s leaking roof and lack of accessibility. We need to bring this and other programs back to Davis Square. I would also like to see us expand the mission of the branch to include civic meeting and classroom space and more fully integrate the building into the civic life of Ward 6.

3) What kinds of changes, if any, would you like to see in the way Davis Square accommodates pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicular traffic?

DL: It is clear that traffic is starting to choke the vibrancy of Davis Square. Furthermore, the current traffic patterns are unsafe and inconvenient for pedestrians and bicyclists. I believe that we need a comprehensive traffic and study of the area in conjunction with the streetscapes improvement project. In general we need better and safer pedestrian crossing, better-demarcated bike lanes and bike parking, and improved traffic flow. For example, a vehicle seeking to go left on Holland Street onto Elm Street must travel all the way to Grove Street, take a left, travel down Highland and then take a right.

4) What steps would you advocate that the City take to ensure that Somerville residents benefit from the employment opportunities created by development/construction projects that receive public funding support and the businesses that come to occupy those sites? What kinds of incentives will you advocate offering to other businesses that hire Somerville residents?

DL: I support a jobs linkage fee on large commercial construction to support job training and placement programs for city residents. I also support strengthening our prevailing and living wage rules to ensure that all projects and entities that receive significant public support commit to pay their employees a fair wage.

5) If market forces alone shape residential development, we'll likely see a lot more high-end studios, one bedroom, and two bedroom units, that are too small and too expensive for Somerville families with middle-school-age or older children. If these families can't find affordable multi-bedroom housing, they will likely have to leave the city, adversely impacting community stability and our middle and high school systems. What steps will you advocate to ensure preservation and expansion of the supply of family-size housing that is affordable to low and middle-income households?

DL: I have advocated a number of policies to strengthen housing affordability. I support a revised zoning ordinance that will encourage transit-oriented development and increase inclusionary zoning requirements and will make a portion of the affordable units multi-bedroom. I support the recent increase in linkage fees and support a transfer (house flipping) tax that would direct money to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which helps fund the development of affordable housing, including multi-bedroom units. I also want to investigate providing incentives to landlords of long-term tenants to encourage them to help keep families here for the long term.

6) What should the City do to capitalize on the benefits of the Green Line extension, and what should it do to avoid or mitigate the adverse impacts on Ward 6 and other neighborhoods that it passes through?

DL: First of all, as I’m sure you are aware, the Baker administration has recently questioned the viability of the extension and suggested that elimination of the project is on the table. I believe that project is vital to the health and future of our community and I will fight any attempts to delay or curtail the project.

One of the likely adverse impacts from the development is the potential for continued skyrocketing of housing prices and rent. As noted above, this can be mitigated by a revised zoning ordinance that encourages smart, transit oriented development and an increase in the inclusionary zoning requirements to 20% affordable housing set asides. Second, investment in the community bike path along the green line is vital for the continued health and growth of Somerville. That project has also recently been threatened and I would fight to support it.

7) What steps will you advocate to make Somerville an even more environment-friendly city? Your answer can address energy use, pollution, waste, water management, greenspaces, trees, etc.

DL: As a former prosecutor of environmental crimes, this issue is very important to me. There are a number of initiatives that we can pursue. I support Alderman Gewirtz’s work on curbside composting. I also think we need to study incentives and zoning requirements to discourage the use of Impervious surfaces include driveways, sidewalks and parking lots, that increase runoff and tax our sewer system. I support the City’s increased use of renewable energy, LED lighting, and purchase of hybrid vehicles, and I would like to see increased pursuit of these programs. Given the density of our City and the scarcity of public green spaces, I would like to see an increased proportion of CPA funds allocated to green space acquisition and preservation projects.

8) What should the City do to reduce the number of drug overdoses by Somerville residents? What can the City do to address problem drinking?

DL: This issue, particularly as it relates to opioids, is reaching crisis proportions. I strongly support the policies pursued in Gloucester, in which people are permitted to report themselves and police will assist in finding treatment rather than charge them with crimes. Coupled with an increased focus on community policing, treating this problem as a health crisis rather than a criminal issue is our best chance to address it. With respect to problem drinking, I similarly think that a focus on working with residents to obtain treatment rather than criminalizing small infractions will produce the most positive outcomes. Where the drinking issue relates to university students, I think our city needs to work with Tufts and with landlords in the area to identify budding problems rather than letting these issues fester.

9) Why are you running for Alderman? What issues or concerned compelled you to run? What would you like to accomplish if elected?

DL: I am running to be the next Alderman for Ward 6 because Somerville needs a strong advocate for our families and community. Service to my community and nation has long been an important part of my life. In 1999, I left my junior year at Boston University to serve as an AmeriCorps member in City Year Boston. Every day I crossed Tremont Street — one of the wealthiest in Boston — to work with underserved students in a Boston Public School and Villa Victoria community center. At City Year, I saw first-hand the positive impact that committed individuals can have on the lives of others. I was so inspired by that idea that I spent the next year helping to found City Year, Washington D.C.

After graduating law school, I served as a prosecutor with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, fighting environmental crimes and corruption and fraud. There, I learned that the work of building a community needs to be coupled with the resolve to stand up against those who seek to profit by endangering the public good.

I believe Somerville is at a crossroads. As I go door-to-door and speak to our neighbors, I hear again and again concern that important decisions about our future are being quietly made by a powerful few —and unless we act, we risk losing the character that brought us to this community in the first place. This includes many of the issues discussed above and others I discuss on my website http://davidwslieberman.org.

10) What kind of political or community activism have you engaged in over the past few years?

DL: As noted above, I worked as a City Year AmeriCorps member in public schools in Boston and DC and later prosecuted environmental crimes and corruption and fraud with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. Since then I have continued to maintain a strong commitment to public service, remaining active in City Year as a member and former co-chair of the Alumni Board, a mentor for corps members seeking legal and public service careers, and a three-time vice-chair of the City Year Legal Breakfast, among other roles. I have undertaken many pro bono projects, including obtain asylum in the United States for an Iraqi refugee threatened by terrorists and a transgendered woman who was persecuted on that basis in her home country. In 2014, I was selected as a Boston Bar Foundation Public Interest Fellow for my commitment to public service, and in 2015 I was presented with an Excellence in the Law Award from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

11) What else about your candidacy makes you a logical choice for a progressive voter?

DL: I believe that I have the strongest background of national and community service of any candidate in this race. I also have the strongest background as a committed progressive advocate. Finally, my drive and dedication should make me a natural fit for progressive voters in Ward 6.