The Cambridge City Council will meet on Monday, April 2, 2018, at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted online. This week will also will hold a special meeting on Thursday, April 5 from 3-5pm to discuss regulations and policies for adult use cannabis. Next Monday’s meeting will be a roundtable discussion on the Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience Plan for Alewife. Here is my summary of the highlights of the items on the April 2 agenda:
City Manager’s Agenda
#1, #2 and #3 Affordable Housing and Homelessness Appropriations: We will participate in the state’s effort to count and survey the number of youth experiencing homelessness and housing stability ($54K), and staff will continue to develop our Homeless Management Information System ($1K). We also will send staff to the national Housing First Partners conference and the HUD-mandated Rapid Rehousing conference ($5K).
#6, #7, #8 & #9: Public Safety Appropriations: Three of these items are grants from Boston’s Office of Emergency Management, totaling about $92K, for enhanced critical infrastructure security and training related to the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI). In addition there is a state grant for $187.5K to replace hazmat suits and personal protective equipment for the Fire Department.
#10 Inman Square Open Space Zoning: The city solicitor has determined that in moving designated public open space from one side of Inman Square to the other in order to meet the multi-modal safety goals of the intersection redesign, our zoning does not require the City to apply to the Planning Board because the use will not change and no structures are being built on the space. However, because a road (Hampshire Street) will be re-routed through the existing public open space (Vellucci Plaza), the City will need to seek permission from the state legislature under Article 97. A tree hearing has been scheduled for April 10 because five public trees would need to be removed from Inman Square as part of the redesign. New and additional public trees would be planted.
#11 Opportunity Zones: Our staff have designated two low-income census tracts as potential Opportunity Zones in applying to a state program that offers tax incentives to investors to support affordable housing. The memo does not say where they are located.
#1 National Public Health Week (April 2-6) is a good time to take stock of our 2015 Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) and benchmark progress toward our goals in four areas: mental health and substance abuse, violence prevention, safe and affordable housing, and nutrition and exercise.
#4 Water Conservation: Cambridge is joining cities all over the U.S. in signing on to the Wyland Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation. During the month of April residents may take the online pledge, which is designed to encourage sustainable household practices that save water. I co-sponsored this and took the pledge, saving 69,190 gallons of water.
#5 Support for H.3857, Income Tax Relief for Renters: This state bill, sponsored by Rep. Decker and Rogers, would increase and index the amount that renters are allowed to deduct from their income taxes to reflect inflation (the amount has not changed since it was first adopted in 2001). Eligibility would be limited to renters earning up to 100% of Area Median Income. I co-sponsored this and hope that the Council’s support will help it it pass out of the House Way and Means Committee.
#6 Vacant Storefronts: This order, which I co-sponsored, grew out of a discussion we had at last week’s Economic Development Committee hearing on local retail and the continuing problem of long-term storefront vacancies. It asks if we can require property owners to notify the City when there are street-level vacancies, apprise us of their effort to lease the space, and keep the premises tidy at all times to prevent blight. Last year we suggested an ordinance that would penalize both commercial and residential owners for lengthy vacancies, but the law department had some concerns and is still considering it.
#7 Animal Welfare (PAWS II): This order supports S.2347, which would further expand the state’s animal welfare protections. The law would require DCF workers to report instances of animal abuse and animal control officers to report abuse of children, seniors and disabled persons.
#8 Harvard Square Theater Status: I sponsored this order to ask for an update on the status of the Harvard Square Theater, which has been closed since the summer of 2012. A year ago we filed a similar order that resulted in the owner’s announcing a well-received conceptual plan for the site. But another year has gone by, and no applications for permits have been filed. This order is intended to convey the urgency we feel to see the theater site redeveloped and to begin planning how to mitigate the impact of two large construction projects in the center of Harvard Sq. since the Planning Board approved the Abbot building project last week.
#10 Sexual Assault on Campuses: This order, which I co-sponsored along with my three female colleagues, expresses our support for H.4159, which would create a state task force to conduct climate surveys on higher ed campuses to improve their response to the epidemic of sexual assault. The Every Voice Coalition is organizing a student rally at the Statehouse on April 10 from 11:30am-1:30pm.
#11 Eviction of Artists and Musicians in the EMF Building: I co-sponsored this order to continue the discussion that began last week about how to preserve space for artists in the Central Square Cultural District and potentially to create an arts overlay zoning district there. Specifically, the order asks that the 200 or so artists working in the EMF building on Brookline Street be given more time and assistance in finding new work spaces in or near Central Square, and that the City “identify and aggressively pursue” opportunities to create artist spaces.
#12 Testing Autonomous Vehicles in Cambridge: Several companies (but not Uber) are already testing AVs in Boston. This order, which I co-sponsored, asks that any AV activity in Cambridge follow strict safety standards including requiring two human drivers in the vehicle at all times and sharing driving data that can help our staff evaluate the safety of their operation. Important to ensuring our safety, AVs would not be allowed to travel over our posted speeds limits (20-25mph), which many human-operated cars exceed on a regular basis. Technology-assisted vehicles have the potential to make driving safer, and testing them in real-world conditions with appropriate human backup drivers will not make our streets any more dangerous.
Communications from City Officers
Councillor Activity and Interest Chart: Councillor Kelley is renewing his suggestion that we devise a way to track each other’s policy work without violating the Open Meeting Law. He would like to display a chart in City Hall where we can post what we are working on. He cleared the idea with the state AG’s office. I suppose we could try it and see if it is helpful or even workable given how many different issues each of us is involved in to some degree.
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