City Council Agenda Highlights (6/20/16)

The agenda for the Cambridge City Council’s Monday, June 20th meeting is posted on the City’s Open Meeting Portal. Here is my overview of key items of interest.

City Manager Agenda

#4 Purchase of railroad right-of-way behind New St to Danehy Park: The City Manager is asking for approval to spend $860K to buy two parcels of the former rail line that runs from Concord Ave between New St and Fresh Pond Mall and over to the Sherman Street side of Danehy Park (see map). This would make possible continuing the Watertown Cambridge Greenway to Danehy and possibly across the Fitchberg Line to North Cambridge and Porter Sq. This acquisition will better connect the Fresh Pond Alewife area to the regional path network.

#5 Outdoor Lighting Ordinance proposed: A task force has been meeting since late 2013 to draft an ordinance for outdoor lighting with the goals of improving public safety lighting while limiting light trespass and reducing energy consumption. Property owners would have 5 years to comply with the major standards of the new ordinance but would be required to make smaller changes in the interim. There are exemptions for certain types of outdoor lighting including for public parks, sports facilities, historic monuments and significant buildings. This will go to the Ordinance Committee for discussion.

#6 Chamber of Commerce building (759 Mass Ave) final settlement price: Last week we authorized the pro tanto payment of $1,363,875 for the City’s friendly eminent domain taking of this property. Based on an appraisal the fair market value of the property has been determined as $2.6M, so this item asks us to approve an appropriation of $1,236,125 for the balance. We will go into Executive Session to review the minutes of the prior two Executive Sessions discussions related to this taking.

#10 “I-Cubed” state funding for infrastructure at North Point: This is a complex and creative financing arrangement that allows the City to build new streets and other public infrastructure with a $25M bond financed by state tax revenue. The new roads will help connect the growing North Point area with East Cambridge, spurring the area’s economic development, which will create the new jobs and tax revenue that pays the debt service on the bond. The agenda packet includes all the details about how this works.

Policy Orders

#1 Solidarity and support for the victims of the Orlando shooting: We held a well-attended vigil outside City Hall last week under the LGBTQ rainbow flag that flies proudly on City Hall’s flagpole.

#2 Strengthening the Tree Protection Ordinance: I sponsored this order to consider what protections under the ordinance may reasonably and feasibly be extended to protect trees on private property. At present such protections are limited to trees where a large development may result in the removal of significant trees (those 8″ in caliper or greater). In those cases owners are required to replace the lost inches or to ay into the Tree Replacement Fund. This order seeks to start a conversation in the Health and Environment Committee, which I chair, about the community value of all trees and how to update the ordinance to reflect the growing concern about maintaining a robust tree canopy in the face of climate change.

#3 Examining the impact of Airbnb on the housing market and neighborhoods: It was only a matter of time before the Council would again take up the issue of how short-term rentals like Airbnb are affecting our community, for better or worse. “Short-term” rentals (defined as <31 days) are prohibited in most residential zoning areas. This order suggests a joint committee hearing to gather testimony from stakeholders. The state is considering a bill that would place an excise tax of 5-11% on the booking charge. As a member of the Housing Committee and having used Airbnb as a traveller, I look forward to this discussion. I hope we can strike a balance that restricts units being acquired to be used exclusively as short term rentals without squelching innovation in the housing sector of the shared economy. Councillor Kelley wrote a memo that collects some of his anecdotal research on Airbnb. This is a cool map that uses the public data from Airbnb’s site to show how its listings are used and priced in Boston and other cities.

#5 Asking FDA to redefine “high-risk” behaviors for blood donors: This resolution to end the blanket prohibition on gay men donating blood comes in response to the Orlando shooting.

#6 Celebrating all ethnic traditions in the City: This order comes in response to backlash from the Italian American community following our adoption of Indigenous Peoples Day. The Civic Unity Committee of which I am a member will discuss how to officially celebrate all ethnic traditions.

#7 Declaring a Homelessness State of Emergency: This resolution seeks to increase support and services for the homeless. Sobering Centers and a Cold Weather Plan are two of the suggested additions to our response. I would like more information about how Sobering Centers would work.

#8 Publicly Funded Elections and Campaign Finance Reform: This order, which I co-sponsored, asks to hold a joint committee hearing on how the City might introduce public financing to municipal elections. In 1998 77% of Cambridge residents voted in favor of the state’s Clean Elections Law, whose funding was eliminated in 2002.

#9 City funding to restore SNAP-Match benefits: This order asks for $10K to match the SNAP benefits of qualifying low-income families so that they can continue to afford to purchase healthy food such as fresh produce at farmer’s markets. This seems like a good investment in our community’s health.

#10 Municipal ID Program: A municipal ID might be useful for the homeless, immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community who do not wish to declare a gender required on other forms of ID. San Francisco and New York offer municipal IDs. I wonder if it could be combined with a library card?

#11 Sacramento Field renovation: This order seems to suggest that resident concerns have not been well heard or adequately addressed in the plans for the renovation of Sacramento Field. In fact residents have engaged and weighed in extensively over the past 6-9 months and I believe the design has incorporated most of what was heard. There are already two open house scheduled this month for people to see and comment. Read the City Manager’s report on the design and the community engagement process.

#12 Community suppers: This order proposes that the City organize twice monthly free suppers across multiple neighborhoods. It’s a nice idea but it sounds like a lot of work for someone. Is there another way to bring people together that doesn’t require meal prep for an unknown number of guests?

#13 Support for the State zoning reform bill: This Senate just passed S.2327, a zoning reform bill, which aims to increase housing production by removing some zoning barriers to multifamily housing and expanding inclusionary zoning. This will have a greater impact on development in neighboring towns than on Cambridge.

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