The agenda for the Cambridge City Council’s meeting on Monday, September 25 2017, is posted online. The meeting will be televised and live-streamed, as always. What follows is my summary of the most important items on this week’s agenda:
City Manager’s Agenda
#1 Attorney-Investigator for the Fair Housing Program: This $37,200 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will fund a portion of the salary of an Attorney-Investigator, who will work on cases for the Fair Housing Assistance Program. (See CMA item #6 below.)
#2 Pre-Kindergarten Grant for the King Open Preschool and the MLK Jr. Preschool: This $45,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care will fund professional development, curriculum enhancement, and parent involvement, as well as the purchase of supplies for the King Open Preschool and the MLK Jr. Preschool. Please note that the Council and the School Committee will convene in a televised roundtable meeting on Tuesday, October 10 from 6-8pm to discuss progress on expanding and enhancing early childhood ed options (see Policy Order #7).
#4 Porter Square Intersection Improvements: I asked for this update on potential improvements to the Porter Square intersection, which had two fatalities in 2016 (a pedestrian and a cyclist). A study was completed last year that recommended some changes to make the intersection safer for all users. A design consultant will be preparing design and construction documents for adjustments to the signal timing and minor changes to the geometric design of the intersection. Staff expect this planning process to be completed in the winter, and there will likely be a community meeting in November, along with stakeholder meetings. Construction will likely last only 4-6 weeks and take place in spring 2018.
#5 Bicycle Lane Implementation & Outreach: This response comes as an update on the status of future projects to advance the city’s cycling infrastructure and on the status of related community engagement. The Traffic staff had determined that Mass Ave between Sidney St and Memorial Drive is the most appropriate location to install the next set of improvements, likely separated bike lanes. Staff will also be selecting a low-volume street(s) along Mass Ave where traffic calming measures can be implemented. Parking and curb use studies will help inform future changes. Staff is committed to a robust community engagement process including establishing a stakeholder working group and holding public meetings. The demonstration project protected bike lanes that were recently installed are being monitored and refined. There are new painted bicycle lanes on Mass Ave. from Beech St. to Alewife Brook Pkwy, with green markings at key conflict points, and shared lane markings on streets that are too narrow for full bicycle lanes.
#6 Steps that will be taken to comply with the federal rule “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing”: The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule to clarify obligations for communities that received the Community Development Block Grant, HOME Investment Partnership, and Emergency Solutions Grant form HUD. Cambridge will have to submit its Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) in Oct. 2019. There will be a public meeting in the fall of 2018 to hear fair housing concerns.
#7 Harvard Square Improvement Fund: I asked for this update on the Harvard Square Improvement Fund, which receives payments in lieu of building parking for projects within the Square. The funds contribute to creating and maintaining public parking, open space, and other public improvements. Between 1999-2006, payments to the fund totaled $500,000. These payments were expended from 2004-2010 to pay for enhancement projects, including painting street lights and signal poles, design improvements for Winthrop St., Palmer St., JFK St., and Church St., and design services for Cambridge Common and Flagstaff Park. Monies in the fund have been fully utilized. Future projects will be considered when additional payments are received.
#8 Grand Junction Path: This comes in response to a request for information on MIT’s role in planning the Grand Junction Path in the context of whether a commitment to completing more of the path can be linked to the zoning for the MIT-Volpe site. The first segment of the multi-use path (Main St. to Broadway) opened in 2016, and the second section (Broadway to Binney St.) is currently being designed. The City has allocated $10 million for the eventual design and construction from Binney St. to the Somerville line and has been actively discussing a zoning overlay that would incentivize property owners along the corridor to help complete the path. CDD is developing a stakeholder engagement strategy for this fall and winter to continue discussions. One hitch is that MassDOT, which wishes to preserve future options for passenger transit along the same corridor, has not yet on board with the “rail-with-trail” concept.
#9, 10 & 11: Appointments to the Pedestrian, Bike and Transit Committees: There are some new members of each committee. Their monthly meetings are open to the public, and attending is a good way to learn about the issues and to assess whether you might want to apply to join yourself. The Bike Committee is organizing the annual Bow Tie Ride this Sunday morning (the group will assemble at the Main Library between 9:30-10:00 am). The Bike Committee meets the second Wednesday of the month; the Pedestrian Committee meets the fourth Thursday; the Transit Committee meets on the first Wednesday.
#13 Magazine Beach Revitalization: Since 2009 the City has invested about $1.8M in this 15-acre state park. The new spray deck is being completed and this winter the Powder House will be renovated inside. The canoe/kayak landing has been recommended for $25,000 in CPA funding for FY18. A design firm is working with DCR to finalize the design of the western portion of the park (Phase II); these renovations will cost at least $6M. The City is working with the newly formed Magazine Beach Partners and the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association on the design process, programming, and hosting community events in the park. We will continue to provide financial support for smaller, strategic improvements at Magazine Beach and ongoing basic maintenance services. The annual Magazine Beach benefit event is being held this Sunday evening at the Riverside Boat Club (tickets $75).
#14 Foundry Demonstration Project Plan: The City Manager has submitted an amendment to the Foundry Demonstration Project Plan, which the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (which has a 50-year lease on the property) has been working on with City Staff and the community for 9 months after the first plan failed to win the Council’s and the public’s support. The revised approach responds to extensive public input, and will include a significant increase in the City’s investment (to about $25M) for the renovations and ensure that more of the space is available for public and community uses. The Council must vote to approve the amended plan.
#15 Community Preservation Act Recommendations for FY2018: The City Manager has transmitted his recommendations for FY18 CPA funds. The CPA Committee voted to allocate 80% of funds to Affordable Housing, 10% to Historical Preservation and 10% to Open Space. Among the projects that are recommended for funding are: renovating Sennott Park and the CRLS tennis courts, restoring the front steps and painting the Sullivan Chamber at City Hall, and repairing Brattle St sidewalks.
#1 Community Peace Garden: The Mayor has asked the City Manager to find a suitable location for a Cambridge Peace Garden, to bring the community together after the recent shootings, stabbings, and other violent incidents in recent weeks. A Peace Garden was voted on in the first round of Participatory Budgeting but did not win. The proposal put forward had a price tag of $340,000.
#2 Support of H. 1195, “An Act protecting children from harmful diet pills and muscle-building supplements”: I sponsored this order to put the Council on record in support of this bill, which is making its way through our state Legislature. It would prohibit the sale of dietary supplements for weight loss/muscle building from being sold over-the-counter to individuals under the age of 18 and would require pharmacies to post a notice informing consumers about the dangers these supplements can have if misused or abused.
#3 Vacant/Abandoned Buildings Update: I asked for this update on a draft ordinance to prevent buildings from sitting vacant/abandoned for long periods of time (land banking and blight). The matter is currently in the hands of City staff, and the Council has heard no recent update on its progress. There has been no word on the status of this Council-proposed zoning amendment since the Planning Board heard it at the end of April.
#4, 5 Thorndike Street & Eighth Street: Order #4 asks for our staff to recommend traffic calming measures for the intersection at Thorndike St. and Eighth St., an intersection with frequent speeding. Order #5 notes that the curbs in front of 25 Eighth St. are very steep, causing difficulty for seniors. Residents of the Truman Apartments, also at this location, have expressed concern that the buildings floods during rain storms, and water pools in front of the building. Our staff will be reviewing these concerns and recommending modifications.
#6 Leaf Blower Update: I have been working on strengthening enforcement on leaf blowers, having held 2 Health & Environment Committee hearings on their use (and mis-use). Our staff have since conducted best-practices trainings, used battery-operated equipment, piloted an all-electric park, and improved enforcement efforts. I’ve asked for this update to evaluate the effectiveness of these changes, and to consider what additional changes we can make. Leaf blowers may only be used from September 15 through December 31 and from March 15 to June 15. Commercial landscapers must register with the City and follow best practices like requiring ear protection for their workers. See regulations.
#7 Early Childhood Roundtable: The City Council and School Committee will hold a Roundtable meeting to discuss Early Childhood education on October 10 at CRLS. This order asks that this meeting be televised. Note: there is no public comment period during Roundtables, but you may always email us comments.
#8 Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition’s Day of Action Events: This order encourages residents to participate in the Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition’s Day of Action on November 19. A Ride for Remembrance, Memorial Walk and Vigil will honor those injured or killed by traffic violence.
#9 Speed Limit Enforcement: This order asks for the Police Department and Traffic Department to increase traffic enforcement of the 25mph speed limit and to increase signage notifications of the speed limit throughout the City. This is probably the #1 concern residents express to me, and the Council has repeatedly asked for more speed enforcement.
#10 SeeClickFix Effectiveness: This order asks for a report on the effectiveness of the SeeClickFix/Commonwealth Connect system, an app that allows residents to report problems or concerns, such as potholes, missed trash pick ups, leaf blower violations, dead trees, etc. The app seems to work well at collecting and tracking a huge variety and number of complaints, but it may lead people to have unrealistic expectation about how quickly each compliant can be addressed.
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