City Council Agenda Highlights (11/19/18)

The City Council will meet on Monday, November 19, 2018, at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. Below is my summary of the key agenda items.

City Manager’s Agenda

#4 Big Belly Trash Cans: There are over 890 trash and recycling bins citywide. After a successful pilot in Central Sq, DPW has begun to replace some open bins with “Big Belly” solar compactors, which can be monitored wirelessly and are more rodent-proof. Twenty more double Big Belly units will be added in Harvard Sq. We had asked if some of the cost of the Big Belly bins could be offset by allowing them to be wrapped with ads but it remains unclear if that will be possible.

#6 Optical Illusion Crosswalks: A request was made to paint crosswalks in East Cambridge with 3-D optical illusions to slow drivers. The Traffic Dept states that such treatments are ineffective in slowing cars, cause drivers to swerve 10-14% of the time, and can confuse the visually impaired. Residential streets in East Cambridge are among those being evaluated for being included in the 20mph safety zones, and other traffic calming devices are being added on the streets currently undergoing reconstruction.

#7 Meeting Rooms Available for Public Use: An order a while back asked for a list of any meeting spaces that developers are required to make available to the public as a condition of their special permits. The only one that was part of a special permit decision is at the soon-to-opened residential building at 88 Cambridgepark Dr. Two other developments offer access to meeting spaces but not as a special permit condition: 1 Education St (EF Education building) and St James Church (1991-2013 Mass Ave, construction in progress).

#8 Community Choice Electricity Outreach: The City is currently reviewing bids for a new supplier for our Community Choice Electricity Aggregation Program, which was introduced in July 2017. In the first year the program saved Cambridge rate payers over $5M and reduced carbon emissions by 3.7M pounds. The adoption rate for the 100% Green program remains low, however, and we will need to work harder significantly increase the renewable portion of the electricity used by all rate payers when the new contract is negotiated.

#9 Paul Dudley White Path Improvements: DCR has allocated $225K to bring to the 75% design level a study for badly needed improvements to this busy multi-use path along the river between the BU Boathouse and the Eliot Bridge. The final portion of the design will be funded in the state’s FY20 budget and construction is targeted to follow in FY21-22. The design will done in coordination with planned improvements to Magazine Beach Park, which part of the path runs through. It will also include improvements to the BU Rotary including some interim measures to improve both traffic flow and safety.

#10 Climate Resilience Zoning Task Force: The Climate Safety-Brown petitioners agreed to withdraw their zoning petition last summer on the condition that a task force be formed to incorporate elements of their petition and the City’s own climate change planning work into new zoning that would require new development to address the twin threats of increased flooding and rising heat with higher requirements for resiliency. I hope to be proven wrong, but the manager has formed an overly large group that looks, to me, tilted toward maintaining the pro-development status quo in the face of a climate emergency. The group won’t start working until next year and will meeting monthly for about a year, running the clock on any getting proposed changes before the Council.

#11 Surveillance Technology Ordinance Revisions: The draft ordinance, which has been in the works for over a year, has been further revised with input from the ACLU and the Council. An Ordinance Committee hearing will be scheduled to review it.

#12 Street Performer Ordinance Revised: The proposed revisions would significantly reduce, but not entirely eliminate, fees for street performers (from $40/yr to $20/yr for individuals). The memo indicates that the revision were made after consulting street performers and that they support the new fee structure. We will have to adopt this quickly if we want the new fees to apply in 2019.

Calendar

Charter Right #1: First St Garage Study: Last month the city manager issued an RFP for the disposition of public property (namely 420 parking spaces and 8,000 sf of ground floor retail in the First St Garage for a 30-year lease) without the benefit of any study that would show how the parking is currently utilized or anticipate how those needs might change in the future. I am among those asking for additional study to inform whether such a lease would be the best public use, as required by law. We do know who such a lease would benefit: Leggat McCall, the developer that wishes to redevelop the Sullivan Courthouse but cannot meet the parking requirement on that site.

Applications & Petitions

#2 Zoning petition for 234 Mons. O’Brien Highway: The property owner seeks to open an adult-use cannabis store at 234 O’Brien Highway (near Third St). He is asking that we change the zoning from the current Residential C to Business A, where a retail cannabis store would be allowed by special permit under the zoning that is being discussed.

Policy Orders

#1 Truck Safety: Councilor Kelley and I have scheduled a joint public hearing of the Transportation and Public Safety Committees we chair to discuss efforts to increase the safety of trucks operating in the city. Although road fatalities are decreasing overall, the incidence of crashes involving trucks and vulnerable users in rising. Equipment such as side guards is required on city trucks but is not on most other trucks in the city (see Boston Globe op-ed. We are asking for our hearing to be televised.

#2 Museum Way Traffic Calming: This order asks for an additional speed study to support possible traffic calming measures on Museum Way where a BU grad student on a bike recently was killed when a truck right-hooked him. There is no indication that speeding played a role in this crash, as both the truck and the cyclist had been stopped at a light before starting to turn right in the same direction. However both Museum Way and O’Brien Highway need safer facilities for cyclists and pedestrians, and we must work closely with state agencies to prioritize this work.

#3 No Large Trucks on Hancock St: This order asks for to ban very large trucks from using the section of Hancock that goes between Mass Ave and Kinnaird. The street is very narrow and they often get stuck.

#5 Open Data Review Board Work Update: I sponsored this order after learning that the Open Data Review Board has drafted a strategic plan and is seeking public comment on it. Since many residents are unfamiliar with the work of this board and with the Open Data Ordinance in general, I am asking for a report that can be discussed at a future public meeting of the Government Operations Committee, which I chair. Learn more about what’s available on the Open Data webpage.

#6 Lessons Learned after Death of Laura Levis at Somerville Hospital: This order asks that officials from the Cambridge Health Alliance, which oversees both Cambridge and Somerville Hospitals, attend a future Human Services Committee hearing to share the lessons learned following the tragic death of a young woman who called 911 while she was having a severe asthma attack right outside Somerville Hospital. She was not found in time, despite being on a bench within a few steps of the emergency room entrance. CHA officials have publicly apologized for the mistakes in their procedures.

#7 Suggestion to Form Commission for University Life: A Harvard undergraduate approached us this fall with a suggestion that the City form a new volunteer civic commission to facilitate discussions on issues of mutual importance and interest among university students and city officials. I co-sponsored this order to refer it to the Council’s University Relations Committee for consideration.

#8 Selection Committee for Artist for Women’s Suffrage Public Artwork: In honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the City will commission a public artwork. This order, which I co-sponsored with the other three female councillors, asks that a diverse group be assembled to help select the artist, recognizing that the suffrage movement has many unsung heroines who have not been well represented in the dominant historical narrative.

#9 Opposition to New FCC Rules on Funding for Community Cable Channels: The FCC has proposed new rules that would significantly reduce the financial contributions that cable TV providers like Comcast currently are required to make to local cable stations like CCTV and 22 CityView. I co-sponsored this resolution to oppose the changes.

#10 Parking at Twin City Plaza for Contractors: This order notes that construction contractors are parking overnight on Gore St and asks that the companies explore whether they could lease space at Twin City Plaza instead.

#11 Regional Housing Discussion with Boston and Somerville: This order from Councillor Simmons asks for meetings to discuss affordable housing with Boston and Somerville officials. I would note that the Metro Mayors Coalition formed a housing task force this year that already gives us the opportunity to collaborate with neighboring cities. Our own Housing Committee will next meet on Wed., Nov. 28 from 12-2 to discuss a possible affordable housing overlay that, as proposed, would not add any additional affordable units.

#12 Enhanced and Smart911 Update: I asked for an update on how the enhanced 911 systems available to residents. The RapidSOS Haven app will no longer be available as of Dec. 15, but there are newer systems that can improve the response of first responders.

#13 Tell Gov. Baker to Properly Staff DPU: The recent gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley brought to light that the Dept. of Public Utilities is woefully understaffed when it comes to inspectors. There are over 250 gas leaks in Cambridge alone that need repairing and monitoring. I co-sponsored this order to go on record demanding more inspectors.

Communications for City Officers

#1 Arts Task Force: Notes from their second meeting, which focused on belonging and including diverse voices and forms of artistic expression.

#2 Home Rule Petitions to Accept: The state has passed 3 of our home rule petitions, which the Council must vote to accept. One of them relates to reconfiguring the open space in Inman Square to accommodate the new traffic and park design.

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