Addressing the COVID crisis stands as a chief concern
Mayor Katjana Ballantyne announced her 100 Day “Somerville Progress for All” agenda on Jan. 12, outlining her vision “for an administration that is inclusive and transparent, examines every issue through an equity lens, and strives to ensure progress made in the city positively affects all residents and businesses,” according to a press release. The plan focuses on seven key areas, which include but are not limited to a COVID response, social justice, and environmental sustainability. Ballantyne emphasized that handling the ever-changing front of the pandemic is a critical priority.
“First and foremost, it’s COVID,” said Ballantyne. “Many people are understandably emotional and done with COVID. But unfortunately, the virus is not done with us. We need to keep our focus on those communities that are hardest hit and on helping those residents and businesses to recover.” In particular, Ballantyne said that she hopes to create a proof-of-vaccination mandate for certain indoor spaces. The administration will focus on increasing testing and vaccine access, as well as striving to break down barriers to support that vulnerable communities may be experiencing. “We are holding clinics in schools. Our Immigrant Services department has reached out to all the cultural groups in the community, the immigrant groups, to make sure they are informed, so they have the same access to the vaccines.”
On the equity, inclusion, and social justice front, Ballantyne said that she will be launching a “Voices of Somerville” 2022 survey. This initiative will reach community members of all backgrounds and ask them about what issues have affected them in the COVID recovery process, with a focus on addressing the needs of those in low-income housing. The plan describes the creation of a Somerville Families Task Force that will help families stay in the city and connect them with nonprofit services. Ballantyne’s administration will also work with the Department of Racial and Social Justice to further advance the City’s work on addressing and ending structural racism.
“The community very clearly said to us in the past years that we have to change the system,” said Ballantyne. “… [Racial and Social Justice Director Denise Molina Capers] is doing a listening session with all the departments, so we’re in the data-collection, the listening-session mode of hearing what all the concerns are. And there will be a rollout with town hall style meetings, to start sharing back and figuring out what is the best plan for Somerville, moving forward. We’re putting out a call soon for community outreach support for reimagining the policing process.”
As part of her affordability plan, Ballantyne hopes to close the wealth gap for women, specifically women of color. She will direct $2 million ARPA dollars to a program that will strengthen resources that will help address this gap. She also intends to create “more pathways to affordable housing” by advocating for the Somerville transfer fee, the tenant right to purchase, and rent stabilization. As a way of address the affordability crisis and mitigating displacement, Ballantyne said that she will use “every tool possible that is available to us.” Environmental sustainability is another focus of the 100 Day agenda, and Ballantyne plans to raise carbon-reduction goalposts to target a net-zero, carbon-negative city by 2050.
“We would be launching a new sustainability plan for the city,” said Ballantyne. “Right now, we have Somerville Climate Forward, but it’s coming to its end. I envision being able to launch that; that would include community members, in addition to City staff and building experts, because we know that most of our greenhouse gases come from buildings and from cars. It also means not only trying to do what you can in Somerville but also playing a regional advocacy role. … We also need to look at our fleets and get on a path of electrifying everything, as much as possible, trying to do microgrids, and electricity supplies for different neighborhoods.”
Ballantyne’s plan calls for actions that will create safer streets in Somerville. To do this, she intends to “launch [an] assessment of needed investments to strengthen protected bike lanes, increase traffic control measures, address pedestrian safety measures, and expand staff capacity to work strategically across City departments.”
“Our streets should be safe for all users,” said Ballantyne. “That’s pedestrians, cyclists, and automobiles. The initiatives that have been currently worked on with the State, the State delegation, and MassDOT to skinny up the roads, to provide more lighting, are certainly initiatives that I support and will continue to be part of my administration. I’m all in there.” She added, “Eight out of 10 cars that travel through Somerville are passing through. They don’t stop at a house; they don’t stop at a business. We’ve been increasing our population, and many of our residents go to Boston and Cambridge for work. So we have to make sure our residents are able to move around on our streets as safely as possible. They should be our priority.”
Shira Laucharoen is a reporter based in Boston. She currently serves as the assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. In the past she has written for Sampan newspaper, The Somerville Times, Scout Magazine, Boston Magazine, and WBUR.