City Council Agenda Highlights (6/27/16)

The agenda for the Cambridge City Council meeting on Monday, June 27 is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. This is our last regular Monday meeting until August 1st.

For me, the most important item is one that doesn’t appear on the published agenda — a late policy order I submitted in response to the tragic death of a Cambridge woman riding her bike through Inman Square on Thursday. I wrote a separate post with the text of the order. Please take a look and send comments on the order to and cc the Clerk

Other highlights of the June 27th agenda are below:

City Manager Agenda:

#4 Renovation of 859 Mass Ave: Last week we voted to pay a total of $2.6m for the City to acquire the former Chamber of Commerce building at 859 Mass Ave in a friendly eminent domain taking. This item requests $750K for design services to plan how to renovate the building as municipal office space. Further, the item states that the eventual renovation could cost as $5m. I surprised and a bit concerned that the proposed renovation could cost that much, but I have not seen the plans and do not know the extent of structural work that may be necessary to rehab the building.

#5 Security System for City Buildings: This items asks for a $2.1m investment in an enhanced and integrated security system for 19 municipal buildings including schools. A new full-time position would be created to manage this sophisticated system, which eventually will be installed in another 13 municipal buildings with additional funding needed. This is a sobering acknowledgement that we live in an age of gun violence and bomb threats and that we may need to coordinate lockdowns across buildings.

#7 High-Visibility Traffic Enforcement: This items asks for $50K to supplement sustained traffic enforcement in high-crash locations. After yesterday’s fatality on Cambridge Street, I hope Inman Square is one of the locations that will see greater enforcement.

#8 Central Square Improvements: The C2 study made numerous non-zoning recommendations for how to improve the way Central Square looks and functions as a transit hub, commercial/retail center, residential neighborhood and cultural district. This memo from CDD includes a lengthy list of short- and long-term projects and their status.

#9 Affordable Housing Trust’s Recommendations on Inclusionary Study: The officers of the CHA have written a good memo that supports most of the recommendations of the inclusionary study, which remains with the Housing Committee. I hope another committee hearing will be scheduled soon to keep the momentum going. Where’s the sense of urgency to get the inclusionary percentage increased to 20%?

#10 Allowing Bag Fees to be Donated to Charity: This item responds to the question as to whether businesses can voluntarily donate the 10-cent fees they collect for providing customers with paper or compostable bags to a charity. Not surprisingly, the answer is yes. The City has a Community Benefits Fund that could be the recipient, if the business owners so choose.

Applications and Petitions:

#1 Medical Marijuana District in Harvard Sq: The owner of the Red House restaurant (and also of Charlie’s Kitchen) has obtained from the state a license to operate a medical marijuana dispensary, and he would like to convert the Red House building into a dispensary. He is asking for a new medical marijuana zoning overlay district to be created in part of Harvard Square. Having recently re-zoned a block of Mass Ave to accommodate the Sage dispensary, we have set a precedent of zoning to meet the needs of the licensee. The one difference is that apparently there is “a place where children commonly congregate” within 500 feet of the Red House so the petition asks for the setback to be reduced to 250 feet from the entrance. The zoning petition has community support and the licensee is longtime business owner in Harvard Square. The owner also commits to a $25K annual contribution to a community nonprofit.

#3-6 Requests for sandwich board signs, sidewalk displays and seating. #6 asks for sidewalk seating for the Season to Taste restaurant at 2447 Mass Ave in North Cambridge. Alcohol would be served at the 4 tables (each with 2 chairs — 8 people).

Policy Orders:

#1 Prince Hall Monument to Forgotten Patriots: There are 5 black marble slabs in Cambridge Common that are dedicated to abolitionist and Patriot Prince Hall and the 5,000 African American and Native Americans who fought in the Revolutionary War. The marble was mined in Africa. I wonder about the labor conditions in that mine. I will look for this monument at Sundays’ re-opening ceremony at the Common.

#4 Outreach to Small Business Owners: This order suggests that the City survey small business owners to find out if they foresee being able to remain in town 5 years from now. Given the pace of rent commercial increases this is a legitimate concern. I hope the information will be useful in guiding policy decisions to preserve local retail and independent and small businesses.

#6 Future Projects Along the Grand Junction Path? This order asks the manager for any information about future development projects that abut the Grand Junction corridor and what is being done to extract commitments from property owners to fund the multi-use path. I believe the rumored residential redevelopment of the Checker Cab garages on Fulkerson St at Charles St is one such project.

#7 Support for H.4187 to Protect Pollinators: I co-sponsored this order to support pending state legislation that seeks to restrict the use of a category of pesticides (neonicotinoids) known to be harmful to bees. H.4187 text.

#8 Local Control Over Speed Limits: I co-sponsored this order to consider a home rule petition (similar to the one Boston is pursuing) to give the City the authority to lower speed limits without having to seek state approval street-by-street. I would like us to be able to reduce the speed limit to 20mph (from the 30mph default) on most residential side streets — and see it enforced and respected.

#9 Truck Ban on Prospect St: This order asks about the feasibility of imposing a truck ban on Prospect St during certain hours. I checked the Traffic Department’s website and found there is already a truck ban on Prospect St. It needs to be enforced!

#10 Ordinance to Ban Sales of All Animals in Pet Shops: It is already illegal for a pet store to sell cats and dogs sourced from breeders. This item, which I support, extends the prohibition to all mammals, birds, and reptiles. Animals obtained from rescue centers or shelters are exempt. Fish are not included in these protections. As a pescatarian I suppose I can live with stores continuing to sell fish for aquariums. When my kids were young we succumbed to the urge to keep small creatures in cages; we had a canary, a love bird, a chinchilla and a guinea pig. None of them were particularly gratifying as pets, and I don’t think any of them were particularly happy living in captivity. Lesson learned.

#11 Feral Cats in North Cambridge: Apparently there is a colony of feral cats that are a nuisance to residents in North Cambridge. Last year there was a rat problem there…can we deploy the cats to take care of the rats after we spay/neuter them so they don’t proliferate?

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