City Council Agenda Highlights (1/29/18)

The agenda for the Cambridge City Council meeting on Monday, January 29, 2018, is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. The meeting begins at 5:30pm with public comment. My summary of the highlights follows.

City Manager’s Agenda

#3 Grant for Early Childhood Library Services: The manager is appropriating a state grant of $9.3K to fund workshops for parents and providers, materials, and on-site services for the library’s Early Childhood Resource Center, one of five in the Commonwealth. This complements the Birth to Grade 3 Partnership’s quality improvement plan and family engagement programs recommended in the Early Childhood Education Task Force’s 2015 report.

#6 Funding for Local Artists and Arts organizations: This $21K grant appropriation will support the Arts Council’s Artist Grants Program. See the list of last year’s grant recipients. The 2017-18 grantees should be announced soon.

#8 Grant for Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program: This $83.7K grant will support the staffing and work site costs associated with the MSYEP, which places large numbers of teens (14 and up) in summer jobs. Applications for this summer’s program will be available as of April 11.

#10 Seeking state funding for roof repairs and solar panels at Graham & Parks School: The manager is asking the Council to approve sending a Statement of Interest form to the Mass School Building Authority for $2.3M, of which about $1M would cover the cost of replacing the school’s 30-year-old roof and the remainder would pay for installing solar panels. The MSBA could decide to reimburse the City for some, all or none of these capital costs.

Calendar

Charter Right: Last week Councillor Simmons exercised her charter right to table my policy order asking for an update on the staff’s ongoing work on promoting electric vehicles, including offering more public charging stations. She expressed concerns that EVs are too expensive for people of modest means. While earlier models were pricey, today’s EVs are much more affordable. The cost to operate an EV also is less than a gas-fueled car. Plus the reduction in tailpipe emissions benefits us all. Here is a Sierra Club guide on how to choose at EV.

Unfinished Business: At last week’s meeting we debated some proposed updates to the City Council rules, which this week will be up for a vote to adopt. The most significant change is that all our Roundtable meetings will be televised and live-streamed (it was optional before). Also we plan to open online sign-up for public comment on the Friday before the Monday meeting (up to now people have had to wait until Monday to call or sign up just before the meeting starts). Based on last weeks debate there will be no changes to committee names, sizes or quorums.

Applications and Petitions:

It’s curb cut season. We have four applications before us including one from former Councillor Leland Cheung. The application for a curb cut at 41 Magazine St has prompted a request from the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association for the owner to use a permeable paving surface out of concern for reducing the heat island effect and protecting nearby street trees.

Policy Orders

#1 Snow Removal Exemption for Low-Income Seniors: This policy order from Councilor Toomey asks that this Council on Aging program be extended to seniors who own 2- and 3-family homes. The order doesn’t include any detail or explanation. This is all the information I could find on the city’s website: “Low income homeowners who are elderly or have a disability may qualify for the City’s Snow Exemption Program. For more information and to see if you qualify, call the Cambridge Council on Aging 617-349-6220. If you do not qualify, the Council on Aging can provide you with a limited list of professional snow removal companies. The Council on Aging can also provide residents who are elderly or have a disability with a list of students who will shovel for a fee to be negotiated. If you have concerns about a sidewalk that has not been properly cleared of snow please call the DPW Snow Hotline at (617) 349-4903.” I would assume that if the program is currently only open to residents of single family homes it is because multi-family homes produce income that could go toward a snow removal service, or house able-bodied tenants who could shovel in return for a rent reduction. I guess we will learn more on Monday.

#2 Adult Use Marijuana is Coming — How Will We Regulate its Use Here?: I sponsored this policy order after attending a workshop at last week’s Mass Municipal Association conference that described some of the regulatory and zoning decisions cities will face in permitting the sale, consumption and delivery of Recreational marijuana. For instance, how many retail stores do we want to license and will we permit social use establishments? Such licensed uses could start as soon as June 1, 2018, so we are asking our legal department for information on next steps.

#3 Improvements to Gold Star Mothers Park: This order grew out of the heated debate last week about the impact of Gore Street sewer replacement project, and what might be done for the neighborhood in exchange. Gore St residents were irate because the sewer serves the Cambridge Crossing (NorthPoint) development and its installation will burden them with street construction for over a year. Divco is paying for the costs, which also include upgrading the gas and water lines serving Gores St residents, and is also contributing $2.7M to reconstruct and re-landscape Gore St following the infrastructure work. At last week’s meeting Councillor Mallon noted that the Gold Star Park on Gore St is in poor condition and is asking for it to be improved.

#4 Business Improvement District in Central Sq: The city’s recent Retail Strategy Plan suggested that city support exploring the creation of BIDs or Community Benefits Districts (CBDs) to help create a sustainable revenue stream (from a tax assessment on property owners) to fund capital improvements and programming to revitalize some of the Squares. The report described CBDs, which are organized as 501(c)3s, as “much more inclusive” in their governance, so I would want to explore both options for Central Square.

#5 Publicly Available Private Spaces: Some developments mitigation plans include private spaces, such a community rooms, parklets or cafes, that are open to the public. Sometimes it is not obvious or well known to the community that such spaces exist for us to enjoy. This order asks for a list of them.

#6 High Tech Digging for Gore St: This is another order that seeks to lessen the impact of installing a new sewer line on Gore St. Trenchless technology, micro tunneling and pipe jacking are suggested. Given that sewer, gas and water lines are all being replaced I wonder how feasible this is.

#7 Community Response to the I-90 Interchange Project: Former Mayor Henrietta Davis was named as the community representative to this complex MassDOT I-90 project designed to facilitate the redevelopment of the former rail yards in Allston. She worked with the Cambridgeport and Riverside residents to develop a detailed response to the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), which this policy resolution is asking the Council to endorse and send to state officials on behalf of Cambridge residents. The deadline for submitting comments is Feb. 9.

#8 Maximize Community Mitigation Benefits related to Gore St Project: This order asks that the City commit to the suggested mitigations discussed at last week’s Council meeting including paying for residents’ parking in the First St municipal garage during construction, paying the cost of each home’s connection to the new water main, holding a community meeting sooner than next fall, and protecting street trees.

Committee Assignments Set: The mayor has announced committee assignments for this term. I am excited to chair Transportation & Public Utilities and Government Operations, Rules and Claims and to co-chair Health & Environment with Quinton Zondervan. I am a member of: Housing, Human Services & Veterans, Civic Unity and Public Safety, as well as Ordinance and Finance (those 2 are committees of the whole). Thank you, Mayor Marc McGovern for entrusting me with these leadership roles. While I am not a member of two committees that I was on last term (Economic Development & University Relations and Neighborhood and Long-Term Planning) I will make every effort to attend their hearings as a non(-voting)-member, schedule permitting. Following a spirited debate at last week’s meeting about my suggestion to make committee quorums a majority of members and increase the size of the Housing Committee, quorums will remain at two for the committees of five, and three for the committees of the whole. Housing will remain a committee of five members.

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 by going to the City Council office after 5:00pm and using the public computer terminal on the desk by the door (you must sign up before 6:00 pm on Monday). A new online system for signing up for public comment was recently launched. For now, you still have to wait until Monday at 9:00 am to sign up online, but we have proposed that it be opened sooner. Here is the link. 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