The Cambridge City Council will meet on Monday, March 19, at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted online. Spring starts the next day, but Old Man Winter isn’t quite finished toying with us. Stay up to date with storm notices on the Snow Center webpage.
City Manager’s Agenda
#1 Fresh Pond Ranger Jean Reappointment: Jean Rogers has been recommended to serve another 3-year term as “constable with power.” Maybe the rumors of her imminent retirement were premature. Plan ahead: Fresh Pond Day is Sat., June 9th this year (11-3).
#2 Margaret Drury reappointment to CRA Board: The former city clerk is recommended for another 5-year term on the board of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, where she serves as vice chair. Procedurally, the Council’s Neighborhood and Long-Term Planning Committee must hold a hearing on any CRA appointment, but this will be a formality. Drury’s steady hand and experience have been critical in helping the CRA regain the public trust and to move forward with its ambitious agenda for further improvements in and around Kendall Square. The CRA’s annual report for 2017 is posted under Communications #16 in this agenda.
#4 Grant for Traffic Enforcement: Another $9K in state funding will go toward high-visibility traffic enforcement. I hope that the City’s FY19 budget (to be announced in late April in advance of budget hearings the first week on May) also will include an increase in funding for traffic enforcement.
#5 Housing Choice Initiative Application: This confirms that the City will apply for this new state initiative, as suggested in a recent policy order. If Cambridge is selected, we would become eligible for additional funding for housing production and related infrastructure projects.
#6 Informational signs at development sites: This comes in response to a policy order I filed last year. My primary interest was in requiring developers to post informational signboards at construction sites, but the response covers signage at all stages of the permitting and development process and seems to resist additional requirements for on-site public engagement. My main question is addressed in the last sentence of the memo: “The Planning Board could consider requiring posting of this information during the construction phase of projects having a special permit in order to raise awareness of a project and allow members of the public to directly contact the developer or contractor with questions related to the construction process.” For the amount of disruption that construction causes in our daily lives it doesn’t seem too much to ask that developers of all size projects make more of an effort to keep us informed.
#7 Incentive Zoning Study to start this fall: Recently we adopted a policy order to remind the staff of our keen interest in reviewing the incentive zoning fee on its 3-year review schedule, as required under the ordinance. The fee, which is assessed on new non-residential development, was increased from $4.35/sf to $12/sf in 2015 and will rise to $15 this Sept. The payments, which come due when a certificate of occupancy is issued, go into the Affordable Housing Trust to fund affordable housing development and preservation. Incentive Zoning comes up for its 3-year review this year. As expected a new “nexus” study is slated to start this fall, and hiring a consultant to perform the study will be funded out of the FY19 budget. The study should be ready by early 2019, and then we can debate further increases.
#4 Remembering Dr. T. Berry Brazelton: I sponsored this resolution for renowned pediatrician and infant care expert Dr Brazelton, who died last week at age 99. For many years the doctor and his family lived on Hawthorn St., and he practiced in Cambridge and at Children’s Hospital, authored many books, and hosted a long-running TV show, “What Every Baby Knows.” For any interested in reading Brazelton’s life story in his own words, there’s a wonderful oral history conducted with him in 1997. There will be a symposium celebrating his 100th birthday on April 23 at the Newton Marriott (see details).
#1 Requiring Civics Education: I sponsored this policy resolution for the Council to support a bill before the State Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee (S. 2306) that would require civics to be part of the curriculum in public schools and to be funded. While many schools do incorporate civics into lessons there is no curriculum framework, nor is it required. Rep. Marjorie Decker and Senate President Harriet Chandler are sponsors.
#3 Early Voting for Municipal Elections: I sponsored this policy order to ask the Election Commission to report on the cost and feasibility of instituting early voting in the 2019 elections for City Council and School Committee, similar to what is required in state elections. In the 2016 state elections we had 11 days of early voting at 5 locations. Turnout remains low and this could help.
#5 Adding a Protected Bike Lane on the Longfellow Bridge: This order, which I support, would put the Council on record in support of creating a protected bike lane on the inbound side of the bridge, and making the lane wide enough for slower cyclists to be passed by other cyclists on the steep incline. The current plan includes only a single-width painted unprotected lane next to two lanes of vehicles. The bridge is heavily used by bikes, and during the several years of bridge re-construction a single vehicle lane has proven adequate for the volume of inbound traffic. Read more and see diagrams here.
#6 Omnibus Clean Energy Bill at State House: I co-sponsored this resolution to support “An Act to Promote a Clean Energy Future” (S.2302), which would strengthen the state’s commitment to transitioning renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors. Read more about what’s included in the bill.
#7 Affordable Housing Week of Action (May 1-8): We heard about this national mobilization being organized by low-income housing advocates during a session at the recent National League of Cities conference. The order asks the City to plan associated activities.
#8 Opportunity Zone Designation: We are asking the staff to apply to become one of the state’s “opportunity zones” so that we can access federal funds for affordable housing and economic development in low-income areas. While the federal tax reform act will reduce the value of low-income tax credits that finance much of our affordable housing, this program will create some new tax incentives for investment in low-income housing creation. Read more.
#9 Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act: The US Congress is still considering a 2017 bill that would create tax incentives to finance affordable housing. While both Rep. Clark and Capuano support the bill, neither of our US Senators has joined. We are asking them to support it. Read more.
#10 Community Host Agreements for Cannabis Sales: With the state’s regulations for adult use cannabis now finalized, applicants may apply for a state license for retail sales as of April 1 — but only if they can show they have a signed community host agreement with the City and they conform to our zoning. Since we will not have finalized zoning by April (we haven’t even got a draft to review), this order asks that the Council give the City Manager power to sign community host agreements with applicants. The medical marijuana dispensaries that are already operating in the city are eager to apply to co-locate retail with medical sales and are suggesting that their required community host agreements be made conditional on their compliance with whatever zoning we adopt. A community host agreement could include payments of up to 3% of annual gross sales (for the first 5 years only) and other measures to mitigate the local impact. The earliest any retail store can open in July 1 under state law.
#11 Parking for Public School Teachers: With the high cost of housing many teachers cannot afford to live in Cambridge, and some who commute by car have trouble finding parking. The Amigos School, for instance, has a very small lot, and teachers don’t have the flexibility to leave the building to feed a meter or move their cars if they park on the street. Some staff need cars to travel between schools during the day. Teachers from a number of schools have asked us to consider designating some street parking for them to use during school hours. I co-sponsored this order, but I also wonder if there are incentives and programs to help teachers carpool and commute by transit.
#12 Flood Barriers for Fresh Pond: One of the suggestions in the Climate Change Preparedness and Resiliency Plan for Alewife, which we will discuss at our Roundtable meeting on April 9, is to install removable barriers that could protect the reservoir from infiltration in the event of catastrophic flooding. I co-sponsored this order to explore this idea and how it would be funded, but it does raise questions about the extent to which we should invest in potentially very expensive measures to protect the municipal water supply when an alternative water supply does exist: MWRA water. Maintaining our “water independence” over the long term in the face of climate change may necessitate significant capital investments. In addition to barriers and other physical protections (such as the elaborate re-landscaping we are currently doing along the parkway to keep storm runoff out of the reservoir), we have the cost to replace aging pipes running from our reservoirs in other communities. The current debate over whether to use cured in place plastic pipes (CIPP) to save money and time in replacing a large pipe running from Belmont to the pond is one example. Further study may be warranted.
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