The agenda for the Cambridge City Council meeting on Monday, November 21 is posted online. What follows is my summary of agenda items of most public interest.
City Manager’s Agenda
This is our first meeting since Louis DePasquale took the oath of office as city manager last Monday. We had a roundtable meeting about the Envision Cambridge planning process that same evening, so there was no regular agenda.
#1 In memory of Dorothy Steele: A tree near the main entrance of Cambridge Hospital will be dedicated in memory of Ms. Steele, who was struck and killed by a car last year while in her wheelchair. The ceremony will take place on the first anniversary of her death (3/15/17).
#3 Drought update: The amount that we spent on MWRA water last month ($913K) was a good bit less ($527K) than had been budgeted because we because we had 6″ of rain in October. Even so the MWRA’s Quabbin Reservoir was at only 80.6% of capacity on 11/1. While the drought has been downgraded from extreme to severe, reservoirs are at historically low levels, and conservation measures remain important.
#4 Bike safety work plan: This long memo lays out an initial response to some of the immediate safety improvements that we have asked for. There is progress in some areas: 1) Two very short “pop-up lane” pilots are proposed for Mass Ave. One for a block between Sidney and Douglass St and the other for a block between Waterhouse St and Everett St. The idea is to install them before winter and to learn enough to be able to roll out others in the spring but we need more clarity on how we will use this information; 2) There will be better coordination of the Bike Network Plan and the 5-Year Street and Sidewalk Plan; 3) A yearlong study of truck deliveries and possible regulations will be completed by the end of 2017; 4) A Vision Zero Working Group that will include key staff, members of the bike, pedestrian and transit committees, bike advocacy organizations and residents will begin meeting in January.
Unfortunately the manager is not recommending that Huron Ave be redesigned with a parking protected bike lane in large part because it would add another year to the construction, which has severely disrupted the entire neighborhood and its small business districts for four years. The loss of about 40 parking spaces, the fear of making the travel lanes too narrow for catenary buses and snow clearance, and the additional cost of up to $2.5M are all considerations along with the lack of crash data to support this level of protection over the already-agreed upon buffered bike lanes and other traffic calming features. I think that if we were starting on the Huron Ave project today there is no question that fully protected lanes would be recommended. It’s a lost opportunity, but many other streets need attention more acutely and picking this fight may only set us back in advocating for improvements elsewhere.
#5 Draft Ordinance for Inclusionary Zoning: At long last, we have the a draft of changes to the ordinance that would increase the required inclusionary housing percentage to 20% of the dwelling unit floor area by the second half of 2017. The petition will now go to the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board for more public hearings. Once the Council votes it into law, the rate would immediately increase to 15% and then to 20% for projects receiving special permits or building permits after June 30, 2017. I have a few questions, but getting to 20% by mid-2017 is no small feat.
Charter Right #1, Non-Citizen Voting Rights: The proposal to allow non-citizen residents age 18 and over to vote in municipal elections will come back for discussion after Councillor Cheung abruptly shut it down two weeks ago. Given the outcome of the presidential election, I feel it is even more important to give non-citizens a voice in the community.
On the Table #7, The Foundry Redevelopment: There remain questions about whether the plan under consideration by the Redevelopment Authority fulfills the vision of a community center for STEAM activities. I attended a recent meeting of the East Cambridge Planning Team where residents asked that the majority of the space be dedicated to meet community needs at no or very low cost. That may not be financially feasible unless the RFP is re-issued with the City’s financial commitment increased.
#10 Cambridge resident awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom: I don’t normally call attention to resolutions, but this award is a huge honor for longtime resident Margaret H. Hamilton. One of the designers of Apollo’s command module, Hamilton was a pioneer in software design and systems engineering, a traditionally male-dominated field. This year’s other medal winners include Bill and Melinda Gates, Frank Gehry, Robert Redford, Diana Ross, Tom Hanks, Michael Jordan and Bruce Springsteen. Here’s a press release from MIT.
#1 Smart Parking Meter Technology: This order asks for an update on the cost and feasibility of offering a smarter alternative to coin-operated meters. This was last reported on back in January 2015, and aside from the announcement of a pilot pay-by-phone program coming soon in Harvard Square, there has been no further word on if and when new technology can be rolled out citywide. I would like to see variable pricing, too.
#2 Cold weather shelters for the homeless and sobering centers: This renews a request for a report on measures to protect and serve vulnerable populations. The original order dates to June 2016 and is on the awaiting report list that the order’s sponsor, Councillor Cheung, is asking us to erase (see order #3).
#3 Clean slate for new manager? I am strongly opposed to clearing the awaiting report list, as Councillor Cheung suggests. The orders we adopted over the past 11 months reflect this Council’s policy initiatives and many respond to legitimate concerns and community needs that residents have raised. A change of city manager mid-term should not erase our efforts to be responsive public servants and thoughtful policymakers. I would hope that staff are already working on responses to many of the orders that await report, and I wouldn’t want to convey that their time has been wasted.
#4, #5 & #8 Remaining a Sanctuary City: These 3 orders all relate to maintaining our long-held status as a Sanctuary City in the face of threats by our president-elect to withhold federal founds from cities that do not cooperate with immigration officials. I co-sponsored order #5, which reaffirms our commitment to being a Sanctuary City. The foundational principle of a Sanctuary City is trust within the community: immigrants should not be routinely asked to verify their citizenship status, and should not fear they could face deportation as the result of, say, a traffic stop or a visit to a hospital emergency room. There may be as much as $12M in federal funding at risk if the president-elect follows through with some of his campaign rhetoric, and order #5 asks for an accounting of the amount. Order #8 suggest that our Nov. 28 meeting be a roundtable to discuss our Sanctuary City status.
#6 Keep bike parking corrals year-round: Bike parking corrals normally are removed at the end of November, but If Somerville can leave theirs in place through the winer, then why can’t we? It can be even harder to find a spot to park a bike when snow is piled high around street signs and covering sidewalk racks.
#7 Ordinance on Surveillance Technology: This proposed ordinance, endorsed by the ACLU, would require that the Council have the final say on what surveillance technology may be used for law enforcement. It also requires that there be public hearings when new surveillance equipment is requested, and that the police publicly report on their use of such technology.
#9 Panhandling at intersections: This order asks that we hold a hearing to look for ways to remedy some of the safety and sanitation issues posed by panhandlers at congested intersections such as Rt 16 in Alewife.
#10 Harvard Square Kiosk Roundtable? We have discussed the future of the kiosk many times this fall and are making progress with the initiation of a landmark study, the formation of a kiosk working group, and the extension of the deadline and solicitation of public comment on the RFP for a programming consultant. I don’t know what Councillor Cheung hopes to accomplish by devoting one of our few remaining meetings this year to another discussion, since roundtables do not permit public comment and no votes can be taken.
#1 Medical Marijuana Citywide Zoning: This will stay in committee while the legal department does more research into the ways that the recent state vote to legalize recreational marijuana may affect our efforts to appropriately zone medical marijuana dispensaries.
#2 Foundry Redevelopment: It was at this contentious hearing back in early October that concerns were raised about the direction this project is heading (see Calendar item #7 above).
#3 Airbnb Regulations: After several hearings on how to regulate and tax short-term rentals, we are no closer to an ordinance because our staff have their hands full with other zoning amendments. There seems to be agreement that we should do something to rein in abuses by a handful of commercial operators, but we need staff from several already overtaxed departments to work together to recommend zoning changes and an enforceable regulatory system.
Public Comment and Viewing Meetings:
Public comment begins at 5:30 pm. Each person is allowed to speak for up to 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