City Council Agenda Highlights (6/13/16)

The agenda for the Cambridge City Council meeting on Monday, June 13th is posted on the city’s Open Meeting Portal. Here is my summary of the agenda highlights.

City Manager Agenda

#1 & #2 Funding for Homeless Shelters and Services: Federal grants totaling $4,225,741 will be allocated to fund rapid re-housing, shelter operating costs, prevention case management, and rental assistance for homeless persons.

#6 Appointments to the Election Commission: Larry Ward will serve another 4-year term and Charles Marquardt will fill the unexpired seat left vacant by the untimely death of Peter Sheinfeld.

#7 Planning Board memo opposing the petition on Rainwater Separation for Flat Roofs: This petition seeks to give the owners of buildings with flat roofs a zoning incentive to separate their rainwater drains from the public sewer system by permitting the addition of a partial story of non-habitable space on the roof. The Planning Board felt the public benefit of rainwater separation was not significant enough to preference one group of property owners (those with flat roofs) over others who might not appreciate such additions in their neighborhoods. “If environmental sustainability is a focus, consideration should be given to the objectives of the Net Zero Action Plan and Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment….Housing affordability is also a major goal that might be taken into account when considering where greater zoning flexibility might be justified.”

#8 Planning Board memo opposing the Riverside downzoning petition: The Planning Board felt the change would be overly restrictive on property owners wishing to make additions, and suggested that a Neighborhood Conservation District be considered instead to ensure that such additions are compatible with the neighborhood. The Ordinance Committee report on the petition, which appears as Committee Report #1, suggests that the petition be revised to prevent backyard infill projects with second dwellings while permitting additions that conform with the existing Res C-1 zoning.

#9. Eminent domain taking of 859 Mass Ave: The city has announced its intention to acquire by eminent domain the recently vacated offices of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce. The “pro tanto” price of $1,363,875 represents the average assessed value of the property over 3 years plus 25%, but the eventual acquisition cost could be higher, as the taking is two-step transaction in which a legal proceeding will determine whether the city should pay the fair market value and any statutory damages. This has been described to us as a “friendly” taking in that the Chamber agreed to enter into this negotiation with the city. The building, which is on the corner of Clinton St, is in need of significant renovation but its location near City Hall makes it attractive for municipal use.

Applications & Petitions

#1 Outdoor seating for Parsnip on Winthrop St: The restaurant, which replaced Upstairs on the Square, would like permission for 11 outdoor tables to further active the pedestrian street and to give the second floor establishment a street presence.

#2 Parklet on corner of Elm and Broadway: The owner of 290 Broadway has asked to install a wood-frame parklet with a terraced permaculture garden in the street parking space at the building’s Elm St corner. No seating is proposed, which strikes me as a missed opportunity. The preschool next door wrote in support and anticipates bringing the children to visit it daily. I am interested to know more about how it will be used, and how its presence may affect snow plowing. The city’s annual Park(ing) Day, when parklets like this are installed for a demo day, is coming up on Sept. 16.

Policy Orders

Six policy orders from last week’s meeting were charter righted and could be pulled for discussion and adoption; they appear under the Calendar section and include orders on: push-button Hawk crosswalk lights, reducing the cost of installing window AC units in senior public housing, a dog park in East Cambridge, and sunscreen dispensers in parks.

These are the new policy orders of interest.

#1 Minimum wage task force: The Fight for $15 movement has raised the minimum wage in other cities nationally. Cambridge pays city workers a Living Wage of $15.04/hour, and the desire to raise wages more generally is something the council has discussed before. The task force would study what the “ideal” minimum wage would be in Cambridge.

#2 Reaffirm that October remains Italian Heritage Month: Some Italian Americans (and the Herald’s Howie Carr) are upset that we voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. October 1st would be designated as Italian Heritage Day to kickoff a monthlong celebration of all things Italian — except the despicable Christopher Columbus.

#3 Support for the state’s comprehensive energy bill: An amendment to the bill would double the annual increase in the legally mandated Renewable Portfolio Standard, which would ensure that offshore wind production doesn’t stifle other renewable energy projects. The state is struggling to meet its carbon reduction goals and doubling the RPS is crucial. I co-sponsored this order.

#4 More early voting locations: This order proposes extending early voting to at least five locations for the entire 11-day early voting period (currently early voting only occurs at the Election Commission office). Any voter registered in Cambridge could vote at any of these locations. Voter turnout is low and greater access and flexibility to cast a ballot at the voter’s convenience may help. The cost to keep a polling location open is estimated at less than $400/day. I co-sponsored this order.

#5 Environmental warnings on gas pumps: I sponsored this order to require that gas pumps be labeled to remind consumers of the urgency to reduce fossil fuel consumption. San Francisco and Berkeley recently passed this law and Newton is considering it.

#6 Reward for voting: This order seeks to increase voter turnout in municipal elections, which are held in “off years,” by creating a financial incentive to vote. The reward could be a voucher or gift card to a local store or it could take the form of a lottery to pay a significant sum to one lucky voter. While I support efforts such as order #4 to increase turnout, it makes me uneasy to pay people to perform their civic duty.

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). To submit written 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 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