City Council Agenda Highlights (11/5/18)

The Cambridge City Council will meet on Monday, November 5, 2018, at 5:30pm. The full agenda is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. Here is my summary of the key items. Next Monday (Nov. 12) is a city holiday, and there will be no meeting. Please note that the Veterans Day Observance and Town Hall will be on Sunday, November 11, starting at 11AM with the “Bells of Peace” bell-tolling to mark the 100th anniversary of the World War I Armistice. See complete schedule of Veterans Week events.

City Manager’s Agenda

#2 Harvard Square Theater Redevelopment Schedule: This is a response to a policy order I put in in early April to ask why at that time there had been so little progress on the theater project, which was first announced in May 2017. Since then there has been some progress: the project was considered by the Historical Commission in early September and continued for 90 days, pending more information about the proposed lighted facade. The memo states that the owner’s team intends to request another 90-day extension (to March 2019) to allow time for the creation of a large mock-up of the architectural lighting and facade materials and to conduct a traffic and parking study (I have seen traffic counting equipment on Church St and in front of Curious George, so that is underway). The project would need to go to the Planning Board once the Historical Commission has completed its review.

#4 Police Reporting Station in Central Square: This asks for a $92K appropriation to complete the finish work to open the new police reporting station (what was originally called a “sub-station”) in a former Cambridge Savings Bank foyer near Carl Barron Plaza. The station was supposed to have been open last month, but the renovation has taken longer than anticipated and is now expected to be complete by December. In the meantime additional officers have been assigned to Central Sq.

#6 Bicycle Network Plan Update and Feasibility Study: I am pleased to report that the city manager is proposing to allocate $200K to fund a study to update the Bicycle Plan that was first produced in 2015 but still needs a technical feasibility study and an implementation schedule to take it from an aspirational vision to a roadmap to creating a complete network of safe facilities for cyclists. The study will begin in early 2019 and will last about 12-18 months. In the meantime work will continue on projects already in the pipeline. Please read the full memo here.

#8 Sidewalk Improvements near Lesley on Mass Ave: This reflects the second and last $100K payment from the 2009 mitigation funds committed by Lesley University for its Lunder Arts Center project. It will fund new trees, street furniture, and sidewalk improvements on Mass Ave.

#9 Universal Playground Design Funding: Following last week’s announcement that there will be a new “universal design” playground built on city land next to the Field Street parking lot by Danehy Park, this is a request to allocate $500K toward a design process that will include work with a focus group. The total cost is expected to be $2.5M and construction could begin in 2019.

#10 Digital Equity Research Study: The manager is asking to spend $150K on a year-long study to identify gaps in broadband Internet access for low-income residents and to inform strategies to improve digital equity. In addition a new Digital Equity Advisory group that will replace the Broadband Task Force whose work was completed in 2016. This is a promising first step on the way to erasing the gaps in broadband access, though not the commitment to building a municipal broadband network that some advocates are asking for. The Comcast monopoly leaves many of paying far more for Internet than they can afford.

#11 & #12: Community Benefits Grants Process: These two items go together and are the next steps in creating a process by which mitigation funds received from developers and others can be equitably allocated as grants to non-profits. About $20M has been received since 2010 of which $7.4$M has been transferred into the fund. The guiding principles and funding priorities were identified through a formal needs-assessment study and the top-tier needs are: homelessness/housing, financial insecurity and behavioral/mental health with emphasis in families with young children headed by women. The manager is asking for $5M from the Community Benefits Fund to go toward the initial round of planning grants for partnerships with up to five organizations and for a consultant to work for five years with the recipients and the Community Benefits Advisory Board that administers the finds and review the grant applications. Read the full memo to see the timetable and details. The Council’s approval is necessary to enter into a consulting contract of over three years.

Calendar – Charter Right

#2 Protected Bike Lanes on River St: Last week Councillor Simmons exercised her charter right to delay a vote on asking that River St be designed with protected bike facilities when it is reconstructed over the next year or two. River St is shown with protected lanes on the Bicycle Plan. I cannot in good conscience countenance spending millions to reconstruct River St in a way that would continue place cyclists in an unprotected door zone.

Policy Orders

#1 Funding Additional Free Summer Food Sites: This impetus for this order was a recent Human Services Committee hearing during which we learned of the bureaucratic challenges that restrict our ability to provide federally-funded free breakfasts and lunches to low-income children during the summer (these are the same children who receive subsidized meals in schools and their nutritional needs do not end on the last day of the school year). This order asks that the city step up to fund a few summer food sites that may become ineligible because they are no longer in census tracks that meet federal low-income standards. For instance Danehy Park may lose its funding next year. The city funded free meals this summer at the Gore St Goldstar Mothers Park and Hoyt Field, which had become ineligible for federal funding.

#2 Fire Station in Kendal Square? This order poses a good question: with all the growth around Kendall does the area need its own fire station or can we continue to rely on the stations in East Cambridge and Central Sq? The Kendall Hotel and Black Sheep restaurant occupy the former fire station on Main St.

#3 First Street Garage Study: The City recently issued an RFP for bids to lease 420 parking spaces and 7,000sf of vacant retail space in the municipal parking garage on First St. This poked the hornet’s nest that surrounds the redevelopment of the Sullivan Courthouse — the only likely bidder would be Legatt McCall Properties, which needs the parking to meet the requirement of the special permit it was issued several years ago –amid much controversy — for a mixed use development. Conditions have changed significantly since that time, with millions of square feet of new development permitted and in the pipeline. I co-sponsored this order to ask that an independent planning, traffic and parking usage study be conducted to better inform us on the actual and expected needs for parking in the area. Ultimately it is up to the Council to decide if leasing these parking spaces is in the public interest and this study will help inform our decision.

#4 Envision Priorities: The Envision Cambridge comprehensive planning process has offered over 175 draft recommendations across a range of topic areas from environment to economic development to mobility, yet recent Envision presentations have focused solely on three zoning “scenarios” related to housing production (both affordable and market rate). Certainly strategies to meet the community’s housing needs for a range of household incomes and sizes are an important part of any growth and land use plan, but we need to evaluate them in the context of the other goals and as part of a whole plan. Councillor Zondervan and I are asking to focus first on the holistic planning that was the original goal of Envision and also to prioritize strengthening tenant protections and increasing funding for affordable housing as part of any housing plan. I would note that it seems to have been  completely forgotten that Envision Alewife was supposed to be the early-action phase of this planning work.

Committee Report

#1 Jerry’s Pond Update: The Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee met to discuss Jerry’s Pond. Many residents would like to see the Pond (formerly a clay pit) become public open space for passive recreation. However uncertainty about possible contamination and the fact that it is owned by a company that is uninterested in conducting the environmental testing that would be needed to assess the level of risk makes a path to fulfill this aspirational plan challenging in the short-term, at least.

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. There is an online system for signing up for public comment that goes live on the Friday morning before each 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 council@cambridgema.gov and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at dlopez@cambridgema.gov. If received after Thursday at 3pm, your comments will appear on the public record (under “Communications”) at the next subsequent Council meeting.

City Council meetings are televised on Channel 22-CityView and live-streamed on the City’s Open Meeting Portal and on the City’s YouTube site. Recorded versions of all Council meetings may be found on the Open Meeting Portal.

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Jan Devereux
City Councillor
Cambridge, MA