Having observed two Monday holidays this month, the City Council resumes its regular meeting schedule with a weighty agenda for Monday, April 24th. When we are forced to cancel two meetings in a row, maybe we should schedule a special mid-week meeting, so that we are not tempted to hurry through a 400-page agenda like this one.
City Manager’s Agenda (31 items total)
#1 Budget summary: The proposed FY18 Operating Budget is $605,031,310 (up 4.7% over the $574,562,125 adopted in FY17). This is only the summary tables with no comparison to last year’s departmental totals or any line item detail. We will receive our budget books next week and will begin holding a series of budget hearings on Tues., May 2nd at 9:00am. All budget hearings are televised.
#2, 3, 4 & 5 Loan requests for capital projects: These four items reflect a total of $31M in loans for stormwater infrastructure projects ($20M), street and sidewalk improvements ($4M), repairs to school buildings ($2M) and updates to other municipal facilities ($4M).
#18 Strategic plan for trees: This comes in response to my request to form a Tree Task Force. The manager intends to hire a consultant to work with a task force and the Committee on Public Planting to develop a plan to “protect, enhance and expand” our urban forest and tree canopy. I will ask for more information about this at the previously scheduled Health and Environment Committee hearing on tree policies that I am chairing on Wed., April 26th at 3pm.
#21 Envision Working Group appointments: This item announces the members of four new working groups on: the Economy, Housing, Climate & Environment and Mobility. The list is here.
#28 Standardizing traffic signs and pavement markings for bike safety: As part of our Vision Zero road safety initiative, the City will seek to make its signage for bike lanes more consistent and clear. There are images and explanations of the types of signs and paint markings that will be used going forward.
#29 Sensor technology pilot: MIT’s Senseable City Lab has requested our permission to install sensors on municipal light poles on the block of Mass Ave between Vassar and Landsdowne St. The sensors would collect data on traffic counts, parking usage and air quality. There is a memo about potential “smart city” applications and how privacy will be protected as well as thoughts about how to formulate a policy for future requests like this.
#30 Surveillance Technology Ordinance: This comes in response to a proposed municipal ordinance, backed by the ACLU and other activists, that would tightly regulate the City’s use of a very broad range of technology. In light of growing privacy and civil liberties concerns and the potential for hacking, the ubiquity of surveillance technology presents many policy questions. Any ordinance needs to balance legitimate and routine needs for cameras and sensors (for instance in controlling traffic signals, enabling electronic key entries to city buildings, and issuing parking tickets) with technology that might be used opportunistically by law enforcement or criminals. The City Solicitor is proposing that we first create and agree upon explicit policies for the use of surveillance technology and then revise the proposed ordinance to give the city manager administrative authority without having to seek the Council’s permission for every new application or purchase.
#31 Chromium-6 in our water? We asked the Water Dept. to report back on the presence of this chemical in our water supply. The total Chromium levels comply with federal and state standards as well as those currently allowed in California, where concerns have been raised and the standards may be revised. However Chromium-6 does not yet have a regulatory standard in Mass, and we are continuing to monitor our levels as the EPA considers new standards. It is concerning that our water contains this chemical at the source and that it is not entirely removed in treatment. It does not appear that the current levels in our drinking water are cause for alarm, but frankly the way this report was written confused me as a non-scientist, and I will ask for clarification at the meeting. A table of the readings would have been helpful.
Applications and Petitions
#5 Common Exchange banners: The Arts Council is planning Common Exchange, a series of events, installations and performances on Cambridge Common throughout summer as well as related exhibits at Gallery 344 in City Hall Annex. Read more on the Arts Council’s website.
Policy Orders (13 orders total)
#1 Revitalize Magazine Beach: This order asks that the city partner with DCR and private donors to fund Phase II of the improvements to the western section of the park. A landscape design has been prepared on behalf of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association and the Friends of Magazine Beach. I strongly support making this park more inviting, accessible and attractive.
#2 Don’t fly the friendly skies? This order asks that the City refrain, where possible, from booking tickets on United Airlines for travel by employees. I don’t think our boycotting United is an appropriate response to the recent incident. It was egregious but I don’t think it reflects a pattern that warrants a boycott. I flew United last week for personal travel and my only gripe was that I had to pay for wifi service to be able to answer my work email in flight.
#3 Community Garden program review: I sponsored this order to review and possibly expand our Community Garden program. With increased interest in urban farming as well as a rising population, the current supply of garden plots may not be meeting the demand for space and equity.
#4 Urban agriculture: I sponsored this order to ask that CDD present draft zoning for hens, beekeeping and urban farming in time for an Ordinance Committee hearing to be scheduled before the Council’s summer recess. The Public Health Dept plans to promulgate its own regulations by June, and we need zoning ordinances to go with them. The people who want to keep bees feel especially stung by how long this process has taken.
#5 Short-term rental ordinance 2.0: This is the formal submission of the draft ordinance that we have been discussing for months, It would limit short-term rentals to owner-occupied and owner-adjacent units. I am pleased to co-sponsor Councillor Kelley’s order and think it strikes a good balance. It will go to the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board for more discussion.
#6 Keeping seniors cool: This order asks for a discussion of how to ensure that residents of senior housing are not placed in danger as we experience more frequent heat waves due to climate change.
#7 School threats and hateful graffiti: This order asks the mayor to convey a request to the School Committee for an update on the investigation into last year’s bomb threats and swastikas in school bathrooms.
#8 Do we need an app to report standing water? This order asks for “standing water” to be a category on Commonwealth Connect. Though standing water is a public health threat that may become more acute with climate change, such an app could elicit a log of complaints that we have neither the capacity nor the responsibility to address, raising un realistic expectations for what the City can do. A public awareness campaign might better serve the goal of harm reduction.
#9 Share the curb: I co-sponsored this order with Councillor Kelley to explore ways to safely share limited curb space for loading, drop-offs and bikes lanes. The Commonwealth Connect category of “bike lane obstruction” documents how often the curb is a source of conflict.
#10 Boycott the Mexico Wall enablers: I co-sponsored this order with Councillor Mazen to ask the City to refrain from doing business with any companies that provide good and services to build the US-Mexico Wall. Berkeley (CA) passed a similar order last month.
#11 Lighting on the Greenway path through Fresh Pond: I co-sponsored this order with Vice Mayor McGovern to schedule a community meeting to discuss the type, levels and hours of lighting being considered for the segment of the Greenway path that goes along the former rail line on the edge of Fresh Pond Reservation. Low-level lighting placed at path level (not overhead) during the early evening would ensure that this path can serve its intended purpose as part of a regional network for sustainable transportation without posing a threat to urban wildlife or encouraging visitors to use the rest of the Reservation after dusk. The path runs within a few hundred yards of continuously illuminated roads that carry upwards of 50,000 cars a day, a level of human interference that poses a far greater danger to the health of the people and creatures living in close proximity.
#12 Roundtable on Envision process: I sponsored this order to ask that the Council’s June 5th roundtable meeting on the Envision Cambridge planning process be televised.
#13 100% renewable energy goal: I sponsored this resolution in support of a statewide advocacy campaign by the Mass Power Forward coalition to accelerate the state’s transition to 100% clean renewable energy. The resolution asks our local legislators to continue to fight for clean energy programs, jobs and incentives, and it asks the city to redouble its efforts to go green by setting a goal of using 100% renewable energy by 2035. Cambridge is uniquely poised to be a leader on this front.
#1 Short-term rentals: This is a report on a hearing the Ordinance Committee held to discuss in general terms (again) possible regulations for short-term rentals. Once again we heard a lot of public comment asking us to limit Airbnb-type rentals so that units are not removed from the housing stock to serve as de facto hotel rooms. A representative from Airbnb testified that the company can help cities enforce limits of the number of days units are hosted.
#2 Rooftop uses in Harvard Square: This is a report on a hearing the Ordinance Committee held to discuss a proposal to exempt roof uses above the third floor in Harvard Square from the FAR calculations (roof uses on lower floors like the Felipe’s terrace are already excluded from the FAR calculation). After a discussion in which no one seemed to understand what motivated this suggestion outside the context of a broader study, we voted to leave it in committee. The Planning Board discussed it subsequently and voted not to recommend it.
Communications from City Officers
#1 School Budget recommendation: The School Committee has formally submitted its FY18 budget recommendation of $183M. We will refer this to our Finance Committee, which already has a televised meeting scheduled on this topic on Tues., May 9th at 6pm.
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