The Cambridge City Council will meet on Monday, October 17, following a two-week holiday hiatus. The agenda is posted on our Open Meeting Portal. The policy order section of the agenda is dominated by orders related to street and bike safety, prompted by last week’s fatal crash in Porter Square. I have posted separately on the bike safety orders since they comprise a record-setting 8 of 13 orders; I was the lead sponsor of 6 of them and co-sponsored another. The City Manager’s Agenda is dominated by environmental sustainability initiatives.
City Manager’s Agenda
#1 Purchase of MWRA Water: Due to the extended drought we started purchasing water from the MWRA last week. An initial 3-month supply of MWRA water (at the estimated usage rate of 10MG/month) will cost $3.6M. The fund will be appropriated from the Water Fund balance. I guess you could call this a “non-rainy day fund.” Expect an increase in water rates next year to replenish the fund.
#3 & #4 Early Voting Expenses: Early voting will begin on Oct. 24 through Nov. 4 in 5 locations. It will cost us $96.5K.
#5 Green Landscaping Equipment Purchase: Following a hearing I held on the environmental impacts of leaf blowers the DPW has decided to purchase 21 commercial-grade battery-powered leaf blowers to compare to their gas-powered blowers. DPW is also purchasing a complete array of battery-powered landscaping equipment to use in its pilot next spring of two “Green Zone” parks. The total investment in green equipment is $125K.
#6 Zero Waste Plan: We will hire a consultant to help DPW develop a plan to meet our household waste reduction goals (30% by 2030 and 80% by 2050). Curbside organic compost collection will go citywide next fall. Reduce, recycle, reuse.
#7 Low Carbon Energy Supply Study: A consultant will help us develop a strategy to meet Action 3.1 of the Net Zero Action Plan to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels through a number of methods including district energy, micro-grids, co-generation, and solar conversion.
#8 Greenhouse Gas Inventory: A community-wide inventory of fossil fuel emissions is required for all signatories of the Compact of Mayors. A consultant will complete the inventory by the end of this year to inform our soon-to-be-released updated Climate Action Plan.
#9 Energy Efficiency Outreach: A consultant will advise us on outreach toward meeting our energy efficiency and renewables energy goals.
#10 Urban Agriculture Task Force to Continue: The Planning Board supports continuing the work being performed by the Urban Agriculture Culture Task Force before adopting any ordinance. While this report doesn’t raise this question, I wonder what impact, if any, the possible legalization of recreational marijuana would have on how we decide to zone potential commercial farming. I recently read that growing commercial marijuana is a highly energy-intensive form of farming.
#11 Medical Marijuana Zoning: The Planning Board sees no reason not to expand the existing medical marijuana district in the Alewife Quad to include the location where an applicant wishes to open a dispensary on Smith Place. The Board does note that the appropriate total number of dispensaries remains to be determined. Again, the upcoming referendum on legalizing recreational marijuana could have bearing on setting this number.
#12 Legal Opinion on Impact of Recreational Marijuana Referendum on Dispensaries: I raised this question during an Ordinance Committee hearing: If Ballot Question 4 wins a majority and recreational marijuana is legalized, then will our decisions about where to locate medical marijuana dispensaries mean that we will be obligated to permit retail marijuana sales in those same areas? The City Solicitor’s memo confirms that the city may not prohibit a retail marijuana store from locating in the same zone area as a dispensary operates. Retail and medical operations may co-locate, and since medical dispensaries will have preference in the retail licensing process it seems likely they may wind up together. Further, the city may not limit the total number of retail marijuana stores to fewer than the number of dispensaries or to fewer than 20% of the number of liquor package stores without putting the limit to a local referendum. Finally a city may not demand an unreasonable community benefit fee as a condition of licensing a retail operation. All of this makes me feel that we should wait to approve any more zoning changes until after we know whether Question 4 passes on Nov. 8.
#13 Environmental Warning Labels on Gas Pumps: I proposed this idea in a policy order last spring. The City Solicitor has written a legal brief that suggests we can legally require gas stations to place such a label on their pumps so long the label contains only “purely factual and uncontroversial” language. The Council would need to draft and adopt an ordinance that specifies exactly what labeling is required and what it would say. I support moving forward with this.
#15 Racial Equity Plan: The Department of Human Services will receive funding to continue its work on a plan to promote racial equity policies and practices among its 200 employees and through its programs and services. This work will inform a future citywide effort.
#18 & #19 Fuel Assistance for Low Income Households: About $1.3M will go toward helping households earning at or below 60% of the state median income to buy heating fuel. About 632 Cambridge households qualify.
#20: City Manager Search Process Expenses: The cost of conducting various off-site interviews, the Town Hall, and legal fees requires a $25K appropriation.
Applications and Petitions:
#5 Central Square Zoning Petition: The “Central Square Restoration Petition” will re-open a debate that began with the C2 planning study (2013) and the Mayor’s Red Ribbon Commission (2011). Recommendations were made but never found their way into a zoning ordinance. The new petition follows the principles of C2 and seeks to encourage the creation of more housing, to preference local retail over chain stores, and to re-activate the Central Square Cultural District. It will be heard by the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board.
#5 The Early History of Inclusionary Zoning: Normally I do not comment on communications from members of the public, but this week there is one that stands out. Veteran affordable housing advocate Michael Turk, whose name many will recall from the fight to save rent control, has written to refresh our collective memories about the origins of inclusionary zoning in Cambridge. Read his letter but suffice to say that the Chamber of Commerce enlisted Harvard and MIT to defeat an inclusionary ordinance that would have required 25-30% affordable units back in the 1985. It took until 1998 to adopt an inclusionary requirement that yielded only 11.5% net on a 15% requirement. Now, as we try to raise the percentage to 20% net, the Chamber is again leading the opposition. Food for thought.
#1 Replace the Elevator at City Hall: I’ve never used it but it seems to be very unreliable. Be forewarned.
#3 Pilot of Flex-Post Bollards: I co-sponsored this order to immediately pilot flex-post bollards to create separated bike lanes along Mass Ave, Cambridge and Hampshire Streets.
#4 Pearl Street Bike Lane: I sponsored this order to re-open the discussion at a future committee hearing about creating a bike-bus lane on Pearl Street. In 2015 the prior Council voted against CDD’s recommendation to create this lane despite strong public support. Pearl St is designated to have a protected bike lane in in the 2015 Bicycle Network Plan. The street is currently undergoing reconstruction.
#5 Separated Bike Lanes on Mass Ave: I sponsored this order to include protected bike lanes on Mass Ave. Its reconstruction should include separate lanes and there are a number of feasible ways this could be done. Mass Ave is designated to have a protected bike lane in in the 2015 Bicycle Network Plan.
#6 Pilot Protected Bike Lanes: I sponsored this order to pilot protected bikes lanes on key sections of Mass Ave, Cambridge St, and Broadway, especially the corridor used by CRLS students. Cambridge St is designated to have a protected bike lane in in the 2015 Bicycle Network Plan.
#7 Huron Ave Protected Bike Lanes: As the 4-year sewer separation project draws to a close, Huron Ave is being reconstructed based on a plan developed in 2012. I sponsored this order to ask that we reconsider how to protect and separate cyclists with more than paint. Huron Ave serves a major arterial street and is designated to have a protected bike lane in the 2015 Bicycle Network Plan.
#8 Vision Zero Working Group: I sponsored this order to form a group dedicated to advancing and coordinating the implementation of our Vision Zero policies for prioritizing safety on our streets.
#9 Protecting Alewife Reservation and the Floodplain: I co-sponsored this resolution to convey to the Conservation Commission the Council’s opposition to creating new foot paths through the Reservation’s natural wild habitat and opposing new developments that would in any way impact the Reservation’s vulnerable wetlands and the 100-year floodplain, where flooding is predicted every 30 years.
#10 Prohibiting Wood-Fired Commercial Ovens: The health and wellbeing of residents around the Shepard restaurant, which relies on a wood-fired oven, has been severely compromised for over a year due to copious wood smoke that spews into the air 7 days a week. A wet-scrubber that the owner installed this summer in an effort to improve the air quality has made no appreciable difference. I sponsored this order to draft an ordinance or health regulations that would protect public health by prohibiting wood-fired commercial ovens. Restaurants have operated successfully in that location for decades without posing such a detriment to the health and quality of life of nearby residents; the choice to cook with wood rather than gas seems ill-considered for a restaurant in densely settled neighborhood.
#11 Restrictions for Oversized Trucks: I sponsored this order to ask for clarification of what restrictions we can legally place on oversized trucks that have been involved in several cyclist fatalities over the years. Is there anything we can do to prevent tractor-trailers, 18-wheelers and tanker trucks from passing through during rush hour?
#12 Chromium-6 Found in our Water: I co-sponsored this order to ask for more information about the presence of Chromium-6 in our water. This is a carcinogenic chemical and our samples (0.056ppb) tested more than twice the maximum level considered safe (0.02ppb) by California and the Environmental Working Group. Read more about this emerging concern.
#13 Portrait of the Mayor Barbara Ackermann: This order asks that a portrait of our first female mayor be added to those hanging in the Sullivan Chamber by Women’s History Month in March 2017. There is a colorful portrait of her in the Ackermann Room at City Hall but it is in much less formal style than those of the other former mayors in lining the walls of the Sullivan Chamber. Her memoir “You the Mayor?” is a great read.
There are 5 committee reports from hearings this fall.
#1 concerns a proposed ordinance banning the retail sale of pets (mammals, reptiles and birds), which was kept in committee for further discussion. Suggested revisions were subsequently received from a PetSmart representative after meetings with the MSPCA and the Vice Mayor and is included on the agenda under Communications. Another hearing may be scheduled to discuss this issue.
#4 concerns the future of the news kiosk in Harvard Square, which a group has petitioned to be landmarked. A task force will be formed to guide plans for its re-use and stewardship while the extent and historcal approprtiateness of physical renovations is debated.
Public Comment and Viewing Meetings:
Public comment begins at 5:30 pm. Each person is allowed to speak for 3 minutes on any agenda item except for communications from other members of the public. You may call 617-349-4280 on Monday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm to sign up to speak, or sign in when you arrive (before 6:00 pm). To submit written comments, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at email@example.com. Your comments will appear on the public record (under “Communications”) at the next regular Council meeting.
City Council meetings are televised on Channel 22-CityView and live streamed on the City Council’s website. Recorded versions of all Council meetings may be found on the city’s Open Meeting Portal.
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Jan Devereux City Councillor Cambridge, MA