City Council Agenda Highlights (12/19/16)

The Cambridge City Council will hold its final 2016 regular meeting on Monday, December 19. The agenda is posted online. Our next regular meeting will be on Monday, January 9, but the Ordinance Committee will meet twice before then. On December 20 the committee will continue our discussion of the citywide zoning for medical marijuana (see 11/9 committee report), and then on January 4 we will meet to discuss the inclusionary zoning petition (see 12/16 staff memo). Both committee hearings are scheduled from 3:00-5:00pm and will be televised and live-streamed. Ordinance is a “committee of the whole” and all nine councillors are members.

Here is my summary of this week’s Council agenda.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 Funding for the Police Dept’s Focussed Deterrence program: This program will receive $100K in grant funding to continue this program for a second year. A Social Worker Case Manager at CPD will continue to work with service providers and community partners to prevent criminal activity and recidivism by chronic offenders and addicts.

#2 Funding for Traffic Enforcement: A $21K grant will fund high-visibility traffic enforcement. With with holiday festivities and New Year’s Eve coming up, the focus on impaired driving seems wise, but I hope the new 25mph limit and illegal left turns in Inman Square also will be enforced.

#5 City Hall elevator needs more repairs: This very brief report states that the rest of the elevator repairs will be completed by June. I’m a bit puzzled by the apparent lack of urgency. I’ll stick to the stairs.

#6 Sunscreen dispensers coming to parks: Next May the City will install sunscreen dispensers in 25 parks and playgrounds. The sunscreen provided will be organic and fragrance-, dye- and paraben-free. The Melanoma Foundation of New England, which is a partner in this program, reminds us “’tis always the season for sunscreen.”

#7 Extending historic preservation restrictions for The Fly Club: The Council is asked to approve historic preservation restrictions voluntarily entered into by the club’s board with the City, Preservation Massachusetts and the Mass. Historical Commission. The exterior of the 1896 building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has already had such restrictions since 1997, and this order extends the restrictions for 30 years and protects some interior features as well. Recently the Fly Club has been in the news for its determination to preserve another of its historic features: all-male membership.

Policy Orders

#1 Partners for life? This order asks that Officer Peter Neal be able to purchase his K-9 partner Rumba when he retires in January. Rumba is 4-year-old yellow Lab that has been trained to detect explosives, and the pair have worked together for the past 3 years. What the policy order doesn’t explain is that Officer Neal’s request has been denied because Rumba is young enough to remain valuable to the department for several more years. The officer acknowledges that training a bomb-sniffing dog is costly and has offered to pay for a replacement dog. Officer Neal’s family started an online petition that has over 2,000 signatures, and the story was covered in the Globe. This is a case where the lack of a clear policy has placed CPD on the wrong side of public sentiment. If the officer is willing to pay the cost of training a replacement dog, then he should be allowed to adopt Rumba. If Rumba stays on the job then he will form a bond with another officer who may also wish to adopt him when the dog ages out of active service. Apparently another K-9 patrol officer is also up for retirement next year, so the department may soon be presented with another request. CPD only has 5 bomb-sniffing dogs, so this could leave the department under-dogged. CPD should develop be a policy that spells out all the possible scenarios and the conditions and terms, if purchases are to be allowed.

#2 Landmarking the Abbott Building in Harvard Square: A citizen petition was submitted last month to the Historical Commission to landmark the “Curious George Building,” but the members have not yet voted on whether to accept the petition and initiate a study. I sponsored this order to ask the Council to go on record in support of undertaking a landmark study. There is a good deal of concern that the current redevelopment proposal could compromise some of the building’s most distinctive features, and that the protections offered by the Harvard Square Neighborhood Conservation District are inadequate.

#3 Which way should Standish Street go? In August 2015 Standish St’s traffic flow was reversed because of the construction on Vassal Lane. Some people prefer the new direction, and others think it makes turning out onto Huron Ave. difficult. I sponsored this order to ask the staff to update us on their thinking and to solicit feedback from the community before making a final decision.

#4 Section 8 residency preference: This order suggests that tenants using mobile Section 8 vouchers be allowed to retain their Cambridge residency status and wait list preference if they have to use their voucher in another city to secure stable housing following an emergency (such as the recent fire). Since the voucher is only good for a limited time this seems reasonable, as tenants with emergency status may need to take whatever is available regardless of location.

Committee Reports

There are three meaty committee reports. Each contains a lot of detail so I won’t try to summarize them.

#1 Municipal Broadband: The Neighborhood and Long-term Planning Committee heard a report on Phase I of the Broadband Taskforce’s work. The next phase starts with a consultant’s feasibility study that will determine the installation cost and revenue potential of a municipal fiber network. The committee also heard a presentation by Professor Susan Crawford of Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet and Society on the importance of equitable and affordable broadband access.

#2 Cambridge Housing Authority report on housing wait lists: The Housing Committee heard a report on the high numbers (in the thousands) of people who have applied for Section 8 housing vouchers since the list re-opened in October (the list has been closed since 2008). The CHA also reported on giving 250 housing choice vouchers to public housing residents in need of elderly and family housing.

#3 Central Square Restoration Petition: The Ordinance Committee discussed this citizen-initiated petition to encourage more residential development in Central Sq and to make other zoning changes that would boost the cultural and retail vitality of the area by adding infill density within the existing height limits (80′ on Mass Ave). The petition received an overall favorable response, but will be held in committee to work though some details.

Communications from City Officers

#1 Release of minutes from Executive Sessions. The mayor has determined that the minutes of three (of four) recent executive session meetings of the Council can be made public. Chunks of each remain redacted, however; the August 1st memo is so redacted that it doesn’t even reveal why we went into executive session on that day.

#2 Fire safety hearing from 2014: Councillor Kelley has shared an archived report from a Public Safety Committee hearing he held after a fatal fire two years ago. The report includes a good resource guide for fire victims called “After the Fire.”

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 council@cambridgema.gov and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at dlopez@cambridgema.gov. 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