The agenda for the Cambridge City Council’s meeting on Monday, September 11 2017, is posted online. This is our first Council meeting back after our summer recess, and we will now resume our weekly Monday evening meetings. The meeting will be televised and live-streamed, as always — and over the summer the audio-visual system in the Sullivan Chamber got an overhaul. What follows is my summary of the most important items on this week’s agenda:
City Manager’s Agenda
#6, 7, 8, 10 Appropriations Related to Job Training & Immigrant Resources: Three of these appropriations will help fund education and training programs for adult immigrants who are interested in becoming home health aides, certified nursing assistants, and other health care positions. #10 will fund English and civic education classes provided by the Community Learning Center.
#9 Funding for YWCA Family Shelter and Case Management: This appropriation will provide funds for the YWCA’s new family shelter. The shelter will be located at the former Chamber of Commerce building at 859 Mass Ave., which is currently being gut-renovated for this purpose.
#12 Grant from MassDOT’s FY18 Complete Streets Program: The City Manager has asked the Council to appropriate $400,000 from MassDOT’s FY18 Complete Streets Program to fund traffic calming, new sidewalks, paving, shared bike lanes, and bike parking on Dudley Street, which is a key connector to recreational facilities and the Alewife T in North Cambridge. The Council adopted a Complete Streets Policy in March 2016, committing to designing and operating streets that are safe for all users.
#14 Speeding on Field St at Fayerweather: This order asks for attention to speeding near Field and Fayerweather St. While speeding is one of the most common concerns I hear, I haven’t received specific complaints about this block. A friend did complain about the ambiguous right of ways at the intersection where Garden meets Field and Alpine with people turning left onto Alpine across the eastbound traffic on Garden.
#15 Liquor Licenses Report & Update: These two reports, from the City Solicitor and the License Commission Chair are in response to a Policy Order asking for a plan to fairly compensate liquor license holders, the market value of whose licenses have been dramatically devalued. The reports give helpful background information and a legal analysis on this complicated issue, but do not provide a plan of action going forward. I plan to follow-up with our staff during Monday’s meeting.
#16 Harvard Square Conservation District Study Committee Appointees: The City Manager has appointed 7 members to the Harvard Square Conservation District Study Committee. Earlier this year, I asked for this Committee to be formed to review and amend the guidelines of the Harvard Square Conservation District, which were last reviewed in 2005. I welcome the work of this committee to review and bolster Harvard Square’s historic preservation protections in the face of intense development pressure.
#17 Cambridge Community Electricity Program Update: I asked for this report on the recently-implemented Cambridge Community Electricity Program.This program will save consumers money while supplying them cleaner electricity. The majority of customers chose the 25% green program, but only 507 customers (residential and non-residential) enrolled in the 100% Green option — only 7% of customers opted out of the program altogether. I plan to ask our staff what effort we will make to increase the enrollment rate in the 100% Green option and reduce overall opt-outs.
#18 New Appointment to the Central Square Advisory Committee: Tahir Kapoor has been appointed to a three year term to the Central Square Advisory Committee.
#3 Charter-righted item on public financing of municipal elections: The Council has been informed by the Election Commission that the City Council can by a simple voice vote place a non-binding question on the municipal ballot. So the citizens who brought this petition to us would not have to collect thousands of signatures to place a question on the ballot to ask voters if they support public financing, as was assumed to be the case after Councillor Cheung charter-righted this order at our August meeting.
#1 MIT Grad Student Housing Zoning Petition: This zoning amendment was submitted by a group of MIT graduate students. This petition would require that MIT build additional beds for grad students before they develop the 14-acre Volpe site. At present, MIT only houses about 36% of their grad students on campus, leaving the rest to compete for market housing or to live outside Cambridge. Because several grad students can split rent and live together in apartments that could be occupied by families with children (especially in double- and triple-deckers), working families are being displaced. I met with these students last week and am supportive of their efforts to use this opportunity to help address one piece of our complex affordability crisis. You can read more about their effort in this Boston Globe article.
#2 Curb cut at 110 Fawcett St: This driveway woulds serve is a medical marijuana dispensary next to Iggy’s in the Alewife Quad. Fawcett St has a sharp bend here. Traffic from the proposed Wheeler St connection Fawcett will converge at this bend with trucks from Iggy’s and Longleaf Lumber and a driveway to the new condos being constructed at 95 Fawcett. Fawcett St needs a hard look if it’s going to carry all this traffic safely.
#1 Denouncing Trump’s Decision to Ban Transgender Individuals from Military Service: The City Council stands strongly opposed to the Trump administration’s recent decision to ban transgender individuals from serving “in any capacity” in the U.S. Military. This is discrimination, plain and simple. In passing this resolution, the Council will go on record opposing this act of intolerance.
#2 Public Meeting Recording Standards: I sponsored this Policy Order to streamline the recording and transcription procedures of three of our Boards and Commissions. The Planning Board, Board of Zoning Appeal and Historical Commission often discuss overlapping topics, but their procedures for recording meetings are different. Only Planning Board meetings are both video recorded and transcribed by a stenographer. BZA meetings are not recorded and transcripts are often not available to the public on a timely basis. Historical Commission meetings are neither recorded nor transcribed, though minutes are taken. Especially as Cambridge undergoes unprecedented development pressure, the public deserves greater access to what is discussed during these meetings.
#4 Requesting Data on Playing Fields: I sponsored this Policy Order to better understand how athletic fields are used throughout Cambridge. We often see competition for field space, especially as our population continues to grow. Having data about how these fields are used will help us better identify gaps and areas of opportunity for all sports, including those like lacrosse and cricket, which are growing in popularity.
#6 Rindge Ave. & Cedar St. Traffic Patterns: This policy order asks for clarification and review of the traffic patterns at the intersection of Rindge Ave and Cedar St in North Cambridge. This is a popular “cut-through” intersection, especially with apps like WAZE detouring vehicles off of main streets.
#8 Central Square Police Substation: This order asks for an update on the City’s efforts to establish a Police Substation in Central Square. This matter has again come to the forefront after last week’s double-shooting on River Street.
#10 Update on Goal of 1,000 new affordable housing units by 2025: This order asks for an update on what progress has been made on the City Council’s goal of creating 1,000 new units of affordable housing by 2025. There are two new affordable housing developments in the works. 1791 Mass Ave will be redeveloped into affordable housing (there will be a community meeting on Tuesday, Sept., 12 at 7pm at the North Cambridge Senior Center). The City has also acquired the derelict Vail Court property on Bishop Allen Drive and intends to build affordable units on the site. Unfortunately, the previous owners of the building have sued the city and all progress on this project has been stalled. You can learn more about that in this Cambridge Day article.
#11 Denouncing Trump’s Decision to End the DACA Immigration Program: The City Council stands vehemently opposed to Trump’s callous decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This program protects from deportation individuals who were brought to this country by parents who were undocumented. Many of these young people know no other country as home, and threatening to deport them for actions that were not theirs is inhumane. I attended a rally outside Memorial Church in Harvard Yard this week where several DACA students spoke movingly. Our Council will be sending this resolution to our Attorney General Maura Healey, who is suing the Trump administration over this decision. Here is a helpful page on DACA facts. There are about 6300 people with DACA status in the Boston area.
#12 Update on Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Study: This order asks for an update on the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Study, which looked to create an open space plan for the neighborhood. There are major developments in this neighborhood, and it would be helpful to know what the status of open space planning is especially as the amount of open space on the Volpe site is being negotiated.
#15 Non-bicycle Personal Transportation Conveyances: I co-sponsored this order with Councillor Kelley to ask our staff to provide a detailed description of the legal requirements for non-bicycle personal conveyances, such as electric bikes, mopeds, and scooters. There is no clear legal guidance for these devices, so we’ve asked staff to provide regulatory suggestions to clarify how to incorporate them into Cambridge’s Urban Mobility planning.
#17 Fire Safety: Councillor Toomey’s order asks for the Police Commissioner and Fire chief to develop citywide alternative routes for emergency vehicles to avoid congested routes. Since most arterial roads are congested, I’m not sure what he has in mind.
#18 Cambridge Street Emergency Vehicles: Councillor Toomey sponsored this Policy Order, which asks for the City Manager to determine the feasibility of procuring new fire apparatus in East Cambridge and The Port, which he fears are too far from the Fire Department Headquarters on Cambridge Street outside of Harvard Square. There are fire stations in Inman Square and East Cambridge, so I look forward to hearing more about his concerns on Monday.
#19 Envision Cambridge Roundtable: Mayor Simmons has asked that the City Council hold a televised Roundtable/Working Meeting on November 20, instead of the regular Council meeting, to receive an update on Envision Cambridge. The draft goals will be presented at next week’s Envision Advisory meeting (Wed. 9/16 at 6pm).
#20 Transportation & Public Utilities Committee Hearing on Towing: This order asks for a committee hearing to discuss the feasibility of implementing a system in which residents receive an email notification when their car is towed with information on where it is has been towed. I would like to discuss if it is possible to send an email (or text) reminder when residents need to move their cars due to regular events, like street sweeping. For instance if the address my vehicle is registered to has street sweeping on the last Thursday of the month, I could opt in to receive a text message on Wednesday evening if I relied on street parking.
#21 & #22 Real Estate Transfer Taxes: We have two Policy Orders on our agenda that address the idea of a real estate transfer tax, which I support. The first order asks our staff to prepare a Municipal Transfer Fee Ordinance and a corresponding Home Rule Petition to implement a transfer fee on the sale of properties. In this proposal, the buyer would pay 1% of the purchase price on any amount over $2.5 million and 4% of the purchase price on any amount over $5 million. I cosponsored a second policy order which would put the City Council on record in support of H.3512 in the MA Legislature, which would allow Massachusetts to enact a fee on large real estate transactions to put towards affordable housing. This would create a statewide fee for real estate transactions in tiers: transactions between $2.5 million and $25 million would see a 1.25% fee, transactions over $50 million would be charged a 1.5% fee, and transactions over $100 million would see a 2% fee.
#23 Municipal Election People’s Pledge: This Policy Order asks that candidates for municipal office take a pledge to cap the amount of money that they can raise and spend. While I do support the idea of limiting the amount of money spent on our municipal elections, and am proud to say that I do not accept donations from special interests or real estate developers and had the highest percentage of donations from within Cambridge last cycle, I worry that this proposal is too prescriptive without any public discussion of the details. Limiting total expenditures to $35K would favor incumbents who have name recognition and systems in place. I look forward to publicly continuing this important discussion of campaign finance reform.
We have one committee report on our agenda this week, which details an August 2 Ordinance Committee Hearing regarding the Volpe Zoning Petition filed by MIT. This was the first Ordinance Committee hearing on this important topic, and we covered a great deal of information including housing and affordability, commercial space, open space, and transportation. We will continue this discussion this week with the second Ordinance Committee Hearing on Wednesday, Sept., 13 at 2:30 pm at City Hall. The Planning Board will also meet to discuss Volpe on Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 6:30pm at City Hall Annex.
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 email@example.com and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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