City Council Agenda Highlights (4/25/16)

After the Patriots Day break, the Cambridge City Council will resume its regular meeting schedule on Monday, April 25th. The agenda is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. I don’t think it will be a marathon meeting, but there is a good deal to run through. Here are some items of interest:

City Manager Agenda:

It’s budget season and the City Manager’s Agenda is replete with budget items for both the current and coming years (FY16 and FY17). Budget hearings kick off on Thursday, May 5th at 9 AM. The FY17 budget will be made public before this Monday’s Council meeting, but on the agenda are several requests for FY17 loans totaling $188,100,000. The largest ($149.1M) is to construct the Cambridge St/King Open School, library and pool complex. Other loan requests include: $17.35M for various water pollution and stormwater abatement projects, $10M for the Grand Junction Multi-Use Path, $5M for municipal building improvements, $4M to renovate the Out of Town News kiosk in Harvard Sq., and $2M for street and sidewalk reconstruction.

#2 Unfortunately Memorial Dr will NOT include a temporary bike lane on Friday, April 29th for the kickoff of the 2016 Walk/Ride Corporate Challenge. This idea to temporarily close one lane, which I co-sponsored, was nixed out of concerns over safety and congestion. Instead the city is creating a temporary two-way bike lane on Trowbridge St to make it easier for people to cycle to the Walk/Ride kickoff event in Joan Lorentz Park that morning. Sigh. Maybe next year we can try something a little bolder.

#19 City staff have recommended some changes to the recently approved ordinance on accessory dwelling units and basement apartments (aka “The Barrett Petition”). The proposed changes seek to reduce the risk of flooding in any new basement units and to clarify the parking requirement and the GFA calculation. This will go to the Ordinance Committee for discussion.

#20 Cambridge has achieved the highest rating ever scored on the STAR Communities sustainability certification scale. We are one of only four cities in the U.S. to attain a 5-STAR rating. Read more.

Unfinished Business:

#4 Medical Marijuana Zoning Petition. I’ve already expressed my support for creating a small zoning overlay that would permit a dispensary to locate in the business zone on the odd-numbered side of Mass Ave between Ellery and Dana Streets. The City Solicitor has determined that this is not spot zoning, which some opposing councillors had suggested it might be (her letter is item #21 on the City Manager Agenda). Councillor Craig Kelley has introduced the idea of requiring annual payments and a cut of gross revenues for the right to open a non-profit clinic, which seems like an 11th hour Hail Mary by the opposition (see #3 under Communications from City Officers). Please read my thoughts on such payments in a separate post.


#1 MIT provides an update on the community benefits it promised in 2013 when the Council approved the re-zoning of the Main St area (PUD-5). To date, MIT has made two contributions of $3.5M to the city ($7M total), and two more sets of payments are planned. MIT has also contributed $500K to the help the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority begin constructing the Grand Junction Multi-Use Path. And MIT will soon transfer an empty parcel at 35 Cherry St to the city for a to-be-determined community use. The update reminds us that soon MIT will be bringing designs before the Planning Board for the six buildings it intends to construct in the re-zoned area (totaling about 1M square feet of commercial, residential, retail and academic lab space).

Policy Orders:

#2 Bring Your Own Bag Ordinance The “plastic bag ban” has been in effect for less than a month, but some residents have complained (despite a year to prepare to switch to reusable bags), and some have questioned why stores are required to charge a dime for providing non-plastic bags. I think it’s too early to ask for a report and that people just need more time to adjust. Change can be hard but this one is worth the effort.

#4 Waive the excise tax for electric vehicles? I sponsored this order to signal that the city wants to see more EVs on the road. Boston is considering the same. New EVs with longer ranges are being introduced, and federal and state rebates can shave up to $10K off the purchase price. The state set a goal of 300K EVs registered by 2025 and we are nowhere near that number (about 6500 were registered as of late Feb. 2016). This wouldn’t cost the city a great deal, but if we want to recoup the revenue I suggest raising the excise tax on gas guzzlers — like my husband’s Jeep!

#6 Create temporary off-leash area while Pacific St dog park is closed. The city should have anticipated that temporarily closing a popular off-leash area would leave dog owners in the lurch. It is slated to re-open later this summer, but in the meantime dogs owners would like another area nearby to be temporarily fenced.

#7 Cambridge contribution to the Green Line Extension? The MBTA has been threatening to pull the plug on the Green Line Extension unless Cambridge, Somerville and Medford step up (pay up) to help close its budget gap.This order asks the City Manager for an update on this game of brinksmanship. The promised Community Path running alongside the tracks must be preserved. The MBTA is holding a public meeting on Wed., 4/27 at 6:30 at St. Anthony’s in East Cambridge.

#8 Fare surcharge for late-night MBTA service? Hell no! The MBTA must have a keen sense of irony to suggest imposing a surcharge to maintain late-night service when its plan to discontinue the service already face a legal challenge based on its disproportionate impact on low-income residents — the same riders who will be squeezed by the recently announced 9.3% fare hike. This order expresses the Council’s opposition to rubbing salt into the wound.

#9 Sidewalks for outer Huron Ave. Councillor Nadeem Mazen and I have revived an order that was adopted last year but never reported on (hence it died with the end of the prior Council’s term). We are asking that sidewalks be provided on the north (pond) side of Huron Ave between Fresh Pond Parkway and Glacken Field. This is a route heavily traveled by families with school age children, and a sidewalk would enable more of them to bike and walk safely.

#10 Memorial to Dorothy Steele. Earlier this year the 77-year-old lifelong Cantabrigian was tragically killed by a hit-and-run driver as she made her early morning rounds. Her story touched many who for years had seen her feeding birds all across the city. Councillor Toomey has proposed creating a memorial to Dorothy near Cambridge Hospital, where she stopped every morning for coffee and a crossword puzzle. I suggest that the memorial incorporate a bird feeder.

Committee Reports:

#2 City Manager Search Update. The Government Operations and Rules Committee met earlier this month and agreed on an aggressive timetable for hiring an executive search firm and screening candidates. An RFP was issued this week to hire a search firm. The aim is to screen candidates over the summer and to hold public interviews with the three finalists at the end of September. The one point of contention is that only four councillors can participate in the confidential screening and interview process to select the three final candidates; any more than four councillors meeting behind closed doors would be a violation of the open meeting law and there is no way around it. Also Rich Rossi’s contract will be extended through September. There’s a new web page devoted to the city manager search.

Public Comment and Viewing Meetings:

Public comment begins at 5:30 pm. Each person is allowed to speak for 3 minutes on any agenda item except for communications from other members of the public. You may call 617-349-4280 on Monday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm to sign up to speak, or sign in when you arrive (before 6:00 pm). If you submit written public comments, please email and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at Your comments will appear on the public record (under “Communications”) at the next regular Council meeting.

City Council meetings are televised on CCTV Channel 22 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