City Council Agenda Highlights (1/14/19)

The City Council will meet on Monday, January 14, 2019, for a regular meeting beginning at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. My summary of the key items follows.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 Lease Extension for Out of Town News: The newsstand has been a tenant of the City’s in the Harvard Square kiosk building for almost a decade, and its lease expires at the end of this month. The city manager needs the council’s permission to renew the lease for at least one 3-month term and possibly to renew it again in 3-month increments. The renovations to the landmarked kiosk building are planned to begin later this year, and it would be good for everyone to keep the newsstand activity there until the construction is poised to start.

#2 River Street Improvement Project Update: A Working Group has been appointed to provide public input on the reconstruction of River Street from Memorial Drive to Mass Ave, and will meet Jan. 29 for the first time. The $34M project will include updates to utilities and stormwater management as well as the redesign of Carl Barron Plaza in Central Square. The street itself will be redesigned to be safer and more attractive as a multi-modal artery. Construction would start in early 2020. Here is the project page where you can sign up for updates.

#3 Updates to Heat Emergency Response Guide: This memo comes in response to an order I sponsored following an extended heat wave over the Fourth of July holiday last year. We had asked if a public building could be kept open to function as a “cooling center” during a heat wave that fell on a holiday or a Sunday. Logistically that seems complicated, but there may be other public but privately owned places (like a mall, for instance) where people without air conditioning can escape the heat. The order has prompted staff across several departments to update their emergency response policies for heat waves in the expectation that with climate change such periods will become more frequent.

#4 Technical Problems Watching Council Meetings: In the event that the audio or video cuts out during the broadcast or live-streaming a future city council meeting, you may phone 617-349-9181 for help. In addition to Channel 22-CityView and the Open Meeting Portal, meetings are on the 22-CityView YouTube channel.

#5 Survey of Inclusionary Tenants’ Experiences: In response to persistent concerns about whether tenants in the city’s inclusionary housing are being treated fairly and may be experiencing either implicit bias or discrimination, the City will hire a consultant to conduct a comprehensive evaluation. There are now inclusionary tenants of diverse backgrounds living in over 1,100 inclusionary units spread across many privately-owned buildings of various sizes, each with different property managers, so it can be hard to generalize about individuals’ experiences in buildings but this is an attempt to understand better where there are problems and opportunities for improvement.

#6 Explanation of Affordable Housing Overlay Zoning and Envision Goals: This memo includes an infographic and FAQ sheet that explains the concept of the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay Zoning District that will be further discussed in public meetings this year, once specific zoning language is drafted by CDD. There is also a webpage devoted to this concept. The Envision process includes 175 other draft recommendations (most of them not zoning-related) that are being refined and discussed in community meetings.

#7 Documenting Storefront Vacancies: As part of the ongoing effort to understand the changing dynamics of the retail ecosystem, CDD has launched a Vacant Storefronts Initiative with new staff capacity and created a database of retail vacancies that will be updated quarterly. There is also a new contest to encourage owners of vacant storefront to place original artwork in the windows.

#8 Supports for Small Businesses: This memo summarizes a range of new outreach programs to better support small businesses including the introduction later this year of “Small Business Saturdays.”

Policy Orders:

#1 Impact of Federal Shutdown: This order asks for information on how the federal government shutdown may impact city residents, programs and services.

#2 “Right-to-Charge” for EVs: I sponsored this order to review and potentially copy Boston’s Home Rule petition, which Gov Baker just signed, prohibiting condo associations from unreasonably preventing residents from installing charging equipment for electric vehicles in their parking spaces. Here is the text of the Boston bill that was passed into law.

#3 Monitoring Aging Water Pipes: Last Monday we heard from residents whose homes were catastrophically flooded following the water main break on Craigie St. They were speaking in support of a policy order I had filed, asking for a report on what is being done to prevent aging water infrastructure from failing. Councillor Toomey has filed essentially the same request this week. Belt and suspenders approach to getting the topic the attention it deserves?

#4 Webster Ave Bike Safety Improvements: I sponsored this order to request that we improve a very short stretch (about one block) of Webster Ave between Cambridge St and the Somerville line, where a protected bike lane was just installed by Somerville (they also repaved their portion of the street). The current conditions make a sudden and unsafe transition from a protected, smooth lane in Somerville to no bike lane at all on a bumpy road as people enter Cambridge. Webster Ave is an important connection to Union Square and will be even more critical during Inman Sq’s reconstruction.

#6 Eviction Data: This order follows up on a discussion we had in a Housing Committee meeting about the lack of data tracking “eviction outcomes” — what happens to tenants who receive eviction notices? (According to a list attached with the order there could be as many as 46 different outcomes.) The order asks the City to work with legal service providers to create a system to share and track this data.

#7 Revamping Memorial Tree Program: I cosponsored Councillor Zondervan’s order to revamp the City’s languishing Memorial Tree program to try to interest more residents in participating.

#8 Community Electricity Program: Cambridge is about to launch the second iteration of its Community Electricity Program which offers ratepayers higher percentage of renewable power at a savings over the basic Eversource rate. I hope everyone will consider choosing the 100% Green option (call1-844-379-9934). You will still save money and all your electricity will be from renewables. This order, which I cosponsored Councillor Zondervan, asks for a portion of the savings to go toward investment in community solar projects when the next iteration of the program is negotiated two years from now.

Committee Reports

#1 Public Safety on Bike Crash Incident Reporting

#2 Human Services on Workforce Development Programs

Communications from City Officers

Councilor Carlone has applied his urban designer expertise to write detailed comments on the Envision Alewife draft plan. I agree with everything he says about where the plan could — must — be improved especially for more open space, better transportation and transit connections, and the addition of public facilities so that the “Quad” area has typical neighborhood amenities.

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