The Cambridge City Council will hold a regular meeting on Monday, February 26 at 5:30pm at City Hall. The agenda is posted online. This is a long agenda — a double dose of reports and initiatives to make up for our canceling a meeting on the Presidents Day holiday. Highlights of Monday’s City Council agenda follow:
City Manager’s Agenda
#1 AAA Bond Rating: The City Manager is transmitting a report recognizing that Cambridge has yet again maintained its AAA rating from the country’s three major credit rating agencies. We are one of approximately 33 municipalities that can claim this distinction, which recognizes the City’s sound fiscal policies and leadership.
#7 New Voting Equipment: The City Council held a public Special Meeting this past week to view new voting equipment, which will replace our outdated machines. State Law requires that we approve the use of the new equipment and the discontinuance of the old equipment 120 days before the next election (the State Primary will take place on 9/4). The new machines change nothing about the procedure of our elections, but simply update software and equipment. This communication includes information on the new machines and later in the agenda there is a Committee Report of the Special Meeting.
#8 Inman Square: There will be several more opportunities for residents to view the redesign plans for Inman Square and talk with staff about the work that was done leading up to the current design plan. There will be another community meeting on Wed., 3/7 at 6:30pm at CRLS to discuss three alternative concepts for the reconfigured Vellucci Plaza. There will be two open houses where residents can view the plans and review the presentation that was recently shown. These will be held on Thurs., 3/1 from 5-8pm at DPW (147 Hampshire St.) and Wed., 3/7 from 4:30-6:30pm at CRLS.
#10 Idling Trains: We received this response from the Police Commissioner regarding a prior request from the Council to enforce anti-idling laws in residential areas, specifically in regards to trains. The Police Department will continue to monitor, review data to understand patterns, and enhance enforcement operations. However, the fine that a local police department can levy against an idling train is only $50, per state regulation. This might not be a significant deterrent, the Department notes.
#11 Marijuana Regulations: This communication contains responses from the Law Department and the Police Department in regards to upcoming regulations on recreational marijuana use. The City law that governs tobacco use will not apply to marijuana. However, the state law that applies to smoking in public places was amended to also apply to smoking marijuana and provides for local enforcement. The Council will have to decide if we want marijuana usage regulated differently than this state law. Our Law Department has suggested that the Council not adopt any local regulations until the state rules are finalized (and there is still uncertainty as to exactly what regulations the state will adopt). The City will have to consider the following issues, and the Solicitor’s memo goes into more detail on each: zoning, taxation, host community agreements, and possible local prohibitions. The City has also submitted comments, shown in an attachment to this memo, to the Cannabis Control Commission. The Police Commissioner has also reported on the possible methods of enforcement and explains that the Department is looking into all options while the state and local regulations are finalized.
#19 and 20: Fire Safety Education Programs: The City Manager has requested an appropriation for two grants relating to fire safety education. The first is in the amount of $10,407 and will fund the Student Awareness of Fire Education (SAFE) Program that educates students on the dangers of fire and its effects on people, property, and the environment. The second is in the amount of $3,207 and funds the same program for Senior Citizens.
#1 Landmark Designation for 40 and 44 Cottage Street: We discussed this landmark recommendation at last week’s City Council meeting and most if us felt that it seemed unnecessary to landmark 40 Cottage Street, even though the Historical Commission had recommended doing so. Members of the Council wanted to give the owners of 40 Cottage one additional week to assure us that the house is not in danger of demolition or such substantial change that landmarking would be required to preserve its integrity. The house is being renovated to incorporate Net Zero energy improvements, and the owners have assured the Council in writing that they do not plan to demolish or significantly change the appearance of the house. This case seems to me like an inappropriate use of the landmarking process. If the owner of 44 Cottage Street wishes his house to be landmarked and wants all future owners to be bound by landmarking restrictions that is fine with me, however.
#2 Retirement of Elaine DeRosa from the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee: Congratulations are in order for Elaine DeRosa, who has for years been an indispensable advocate for affordable housing, public health, economic stability, and poverty prevention. Thank you, Elaine for your many years of dedication to the residents of Cambridge!
#4 Death of CRLS Teacher Sam Bixler: The City Council was very saddened to learn of the death of CRLS teacher Sam Bixler, who passed away on February 14 as a result of injuries he sustained when he was hit by a car while crossing Mass Ave late at night in January. We send our heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, colleagues, students, and the broader CRLS community.
#5 Fayerweather School Love March: Thank you to the students of the Fayerweather School, who organized the second annual Children’s March & Love Rally on February 14. I was delighted to join you in promoting love, equality, and compassion, and impressed by your speeches.
#1 City Council Meeting Broadcast Issues: This order asks for an explanation of why there continue to be problems with the audio and video quality of the online livestream of City Council meetings. Significant work was done this past summer to improve the quality of the meeting recordings and in the Chamber itself, yet issues inexplicably persist.
#2 Bike Lane “Listening Sessions” for Seniors: At our 2/12 meeting, the City Council passed a policy order asking for a new working group to be formed to review the Cambridge Street protected bike lanes. I voted against this order because this process was already in place, and this order seemed apt to take us back to debating the value of protected bike lanes. Unfortunately, the order passed at that meeting by a vote of 5-4. This new order asks this new working group to hold “listening sessions” at Senior buildings in Cambridge. I’m concerned that we again are rehashing past discussions instead of working to expand our critical protected network.
#3 & 4 City Council Meeting Changes: These two orders from the Mayor adjust our meeting calendar. He asks that the regular meeting on Mon., 3/12 be cancelled because the majority of the Council and senior City staff will be out of town attending the annual National League of Cities Conference in Washington D.C. We also, at my urging, will be holding a Roundtable meeting to discuss the draft version of the Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience Plan for the Alewife area on Mon., 4/9 from 5:30-7:30pm. Mark your calendars!
#5 Safety Zones: I cosponsored this order from Councillor Zondervan, which asks staff to accelerate the timeline for establishing safety zones on roads in areas serving vulnerable populations (schools, hospitals, Senior buildings, parks, etc.) It also asks to explore posting advisory signage to encourage a lower speed limit (15 MPH) in these areas. This order also asks for increased enforcement of traffic infractions including running red lights in safety zones, illegal right turns on red, speeding, and a failure to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks. All of these requests are in line with our Vision Zero goals and the recently released Vision Zero Action Plan.
#6 White Ribbon Day: This order proclaims March 1st as White Ribbon Day in Cambridge, and the week of 2/26 to 3/2 as a celebration of the work of Cambridge and its partners are actively engaged in to end gender-based violence. White Ribbon Day invites men to join the fight against gender-based violence.
#7 Alewife Connector Bridge: I sponsored this policy order, which forwards a letter unanimously signed by the members of the Envision Alewife Working Group to the City Council. The letter requests that more thought and intention be given to transit and access improvements to the Alewife area as part of the Envision Cambridge master planning process. I couldn’t agree more and am excited to bring this issue formally before my colleagues. The long-discuss pedestrian/bike/shuttle bridge that would cross the commuter rail tracks to connect the Quad on Concord Avenue to the Triangle on Cambridgepark Drive is crucial in order for this area to balance its many uses while alleviating congestion and maintaining walkability and sustainability.
#10 Cambridge Common Flooding: I cosponsored this policy order from Councillor Kelley that requests an explanation and timeline of repairs to drainage problems on Cambridge Common. We saw, especially with this week’s warm weather, that flooding created by drainage problems can create dangerous obstacles for pedestrians and others throughout the park.
#12 Relocation of the Cambridge District Court from Medford to Cambridge: The Cambridge District Court has for 8 years been located in Medford, making it more difficult for residents of Cambridge to get to the Court when necessary. This order would put us on record in supporting a possible move back to Cambridge.
#13 Harvard Square Public Toilet: I cosponsored this order from Councillor Kelley, which asks for an update on the Harvard Square Public Toilet, which has been out of service for several weeks. The toilet has had issues due to freezing pipes, but no information has been communicated about an expected completion date and proactive measures that are being taken to ensure that such an interruption of service does not happen again. The order also asks for information online about the Public Toilet to be updated to reflect its current status. The Central Square public toilet of the same “Portland Loo” design recently opened.
#14 Walden Street Intersections Safety: I sponsored this policy order to review the safety of the busy intersections of Walden Street with Concord Ave, Garden Street, and Sherman Street. The safety of this stretch of road has been the subject of concern among residents, as it has become more and more congested and with development on two of the major corners.
#15 Mobil Gas Station Liquor License: The Mobil Gas Station at 808/812 Memorial Drive has applied for a malt and wine beverages liquor license, and if approve would be the first gas station in the city to be granted a license to sell alcohol. This order requests that the License Commission, which will be hearing this application this week, take all appropriate measures to ensure that the residents of 808/812 Memorial Drive are given adequate opportunity to weigh in on this application. The case is on the agenda for the License Commission’s meeting on Wed., 2/28 at 3:00pm at 831 Mass Ave.
#17 Right of First Refusal Home Rule Petition: This order continues our discussion of the policy possibility of tenant’s right to purchase. Unfortunately, the State bill that would have allowed this failed to make it out of committee, so we are here asking staff draft language for a Home Rule petition for a Cambridge Right of First Refusal Legislation. I look forward to having this conversation and moving this forward, as we look at all of our options to alleviate the affordability crisis.
#18 Next Incentive Zoning Nexus Study: This order asks for the Community Development Department to develop a timeline for the next Incentive Zoning Nexus study. Under this program, non-residential developers are required to contribute to the Affordable Housing Trust to help offset the impact these developments have on the need for affordable workforce housing in Cambridge.The most recent study was completed in 2015, and recommended increasing the housing contribution rate to $12 per square foot with built-in annual increases of $1 per year over a three-year period. The study recommended that the rate be reevaluated at a three-year interval–meaning that it is already time to review the fee.
#19 Needle/Syringe Safety Response Program: This order asks that the Cambridge Public Health Department create a 24/7 response program for residents to report and for the City to remove dangerous syringes and needles and for this program information to easily accessible online.
#21 Gun Safety in Massachusetts: Cambridge is supporting state legislation to allow courts to issue an “extreme risk protection order” to “suspend or surrender” firearms in the possession of individuals who are determined to pose a risk to themselves or others, and taking into account whether they: have made a threat, demonstrate a pattern of violence, suffers from dangerous mental health issues, violate an abuse prevention order, have been convicted of domestic violence, and/or have unlawfully used a firearm. All elected officials, from the local level to the national level, must stand up and do everything in our power to stop this horrific epidemic of gun violence. Thank you to our State Rep. Marjorie Decker for sponsoring this important legislation.
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. A new online system for signing up for public comment was recently launched, and it goes live on the Friday morning before the Monday meeting. Here is the link. You also may call 617-349-4280 on the Monday of the meeting from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm to sign up to speak, or sign up when you arrive at City Hall by going to the City Council office after 5:00pm and using the public computer terminal on the desk by the door. Regardless of how you sign up you should do so before 6:00 pm on Monday. 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