City Council Agenda Highlights (9/12/16)

The Cambridge City Council resumes its regular Monday meeting schedule on Sept. 12 with a 761-page agenda to work through. What follows is my attempt to highlight items of interest without completely overwhelming you.

City Manager’s Agenda:

#1 Foundry Redevelopment Update: The Cambridge Redevelopment Authority’s designated developer for the Foundry is the sole applicant: a new joint venture of the Cambridge Innovation Center and Graffito SP. Now the CRA must negotiate the sublease terms before the redevelopment proceeds. (Read more background about the Foundry if you are new to this long-running topic.) The sublease terms must maximize the public’s access to the building, which is not expected to be open before early 2019. The financial terms suggested in the CIC/Graffito proposal are an area of concern — the CRA’s Reserve Fund would be substantially depleted to renovate the building and the $1/yr ground rent would not replenish it. The CRA shouldn’t assume all the risk.

#6, #7, #16 & #17: Appointments to Boards and Commissions: With less than a month left on his contract, the city manager is exercising his right to choose who will serve on various boards and commissions after his departure. There are appointments to: Immigrants Rights & Citizenship, Public Art, the Board of Zoning Appeal, the Commission on Persons with Disabilities.

#8 Landmark Designation for the Ivory Sands House: I’d always wondered about this unusual and striking brick house on the SW corner of Hampshire and Elm. History buffs will enjoy reading about this 1839 structure. I’m glad its former owner initiated landmark proceedings to preserve it.

#13 & #14 Appropriations to Benefit Homeless Persons: The YWCA will receive $318K to continue operating its family shelter through Feb. 2017. (Six families will be served.) The Carey Men’s Transitional Program at the YMCA will receive $94K. There is also a policy order (#8) to create a temporary jobs program targeted for homeless persons.

#15 Complete Streets Funding: The city will apply the $400K it receives from MassDOT’s new program to creating new sidewalks, bike lanes, bike parking and paving on Mass Ave between Linnaean and Upland and to new sidewalks and bike parking on Lawn St.

#18 Early Voting: The city will spend $89K to open five polling locations for 11 days of early voting in the state and presidential elections this November. The early voting period runs every day except Sunday from Mon., Oct. 24 through Fri., Nov 4. The locations are at the Election Commission, the Police Dept., the Water Dept., the Main Library and the O’Neill Library.

#19 Commercial Use Classification Report: It was my policy order that asked about the status of a consultant’s report on updating the antiquated Table of Uses in our Zoning Ordinance. Turns out the report was completed more than a year ago (July 2015) but has been shelved in part because we launched the Envision Cambridge citywide planning study. However that process won’t produce any zoning recommendations for at least another couple of years, and the use classification report contains much detailed information on commercial activity that has bearing on issues we are grappling with from preserving local retail to regulating short-term rentals like Airbnb.

#21 Improved Leaf Blower Enforcement and Equipment: In response to the Health and Environment Committee hearing I held on the negative impacts of leaf blowers, the city intends to strengthen its training, outreach, and enforcement and to pilot new battery-operated equipment. This fall city workers will be trained in best practices and will use new battery-operated blowers. Next spring two parks will be designated as “green zones” where all landscaping equipment including lawn mowers will be battery-operated. The Commonwealth Connect app now includes a way to report leaf blower violations. When leaf blower season starts on Sept. 15 please make sure that any landscape contractors you hire are registered with the License Commission and that they follow city regulations and best practices for mitigating noise and dust. We will hold another hearing later this fall to continue discussing how to curb the overuse of blowers.

Policy Orders:

#1 Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill: This would put the Council on record in support of a terminally ill patient’s right to compassionate aid in dying. Five states currently have such laws, and 68% of Cambridge voters supported this in a 2012 referendum.

#3 Refund Filing Fees for Some Traffic Tickets: Under current state law you must pay the RMV a non-refundable $25 filing fee to contest a civil traffic ticket. But if you succeed in beating the ticket you can’t recoup the fee. This seems unfair and punitive, but will the state be willing to give up this easy revenue stream, and perhaps encourage more people to fight tickets?

#4 & #14 Reduce speed limits: These two orders both ask the city to take advantage of our newly gained authority to set our own speed limits. I’d like to lower the limit to 20mph on all residential neighborhood streets. Of course posting new signs does nothing without enforcement and that may require additional funds in future budgets. Six councillors including me put our names on these two orders, so it’s pretty clear we are fed up with merely shaking our fists as cars race through our neighborhoods and side streets.

#8 Temporary jobs program for homeless persons: This order asks the city to create a new day jobs program. Albuquerque has had success with a stop-gap jobs program called “There’s a Better Way.” It’s worth exploring as one part of a multi-pronged approach to addressing homelessness. Many areas could stand some beautification including the back of City Hall and Dottie Doyle Way (the cut-through behind City Hall that is the subject of policy order #13’s request for some TLC).

#10 AV Problems at Council Meetings: Anyone who has attended a City Council hearing or watched one on TV or online knows we have been experiencing persistent “technical problems” with our audio and video equipment. I sponsored this order with the support of Mayor Simmons and Councillors Carlone and Mazen to convey our frustration with the situation. “Speak directly into the mic, please,” is a phrase I’d like to hear less often.

#11 & #12 Reappointments of the City Auditor and the City Clerk: Unlike the manager’s appointments to Boards and Commissions, which are volunteer positions, his appointments to the staff positions of city auditor and city clerk need council approval. These two orders ask that Auditor James Monagle and Clerk Donna Lopez continue to serve through June 2019.

#15 Boudreau Library Renovations: The branch library on Concord Ave will be closed for renovations next week through mid-November. This order, which I sponsored with the support of Councillor Maher, asks that times and days of operation be extended at the Collins (Aberdeen St) and/or the O’Neill (Rindge Ave) to better serve library patrons west of Harvard Square during the Boudreau’s closure.

#16 Sanitation Grades for Restaurants: I sponsored this order with the support of Councillors Kelley and Cheung to hold a Health and Environment Committee hearing to consider following Boston’s and Newton’s lead in implementing a public grading system of the sanitary conditions in food establishments. Restaurants are inspected every six months and the violations are posted online, but not publicly displayed on the premises for customers to see and compare.

#17 Resident Parking Permit Program: I sponsored this order with the support of Councillor Mazen to review our resident parking program. The annual rate was last raised in 2013, to $25. There was no provision for additional increases. The fee is waived for senior citizens regardless of their income level. The fees collected fund the city’s vehicle trip reduction programs that further our environmental, health, and safety goals. We need to consider the broader costs of on-street parking.

#18 Protecting Harvard Square: With debate raging over the proposed Curious George redevelopment (Equity One’s “The Harvard Collection”), the uncertain future of the Out of Town News kiosk, soaring rents and vacant storefronts (the Church St cinema, the Tannery, City Sports, and Uno, to name a few empty spaces), Harvard Square faces multiple threats. I sponsored this order with Councillor Carlone to assess whether the Harvard Square Conservation District has been effective in preserving the Square’s character (dare I say its soul?) and to produce an action plan to protect what remains of its economic diversity and unique sense of place.

#19 New Approach to Medical Marijuana Zoning: This order offers a zoning amendment that would scrap the now-three existing medical marijuana overlay districts, which are proving unworkable and overly restrictive, and would instead make dispensaries an allowed use in business or industrial districts citywide with a special permit from the Planning Board. The suggested special permit criteria address the concerns that have arisen in several prior hearings on locations for these dispensaries. This would go to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board for discussion.

#20 Going Against the Flow on Bike Paths: The protected cycle track along Western Ave is marked for one-way traffic but people ride against the flow. Contra-flow traffic occurs on most painted bike lanes, too. This order asks for an analysis of how people actually use the bike routes and paths we plan, and specifically whether the Western Ave cycle track can become two-way.

Committee Reports:

We held numerous committee hearings in July and August. There are reports on six of them: Georgetown Energy Prize update (Health and Environment), police response to protests and demonstrations (Public Safety), medical marijuana rezoning for Harvard Square (Ordinance), urban agriculture zoning (Ordinance), inclusionary zoning (Housing), short-term rentals (Public Safety and Housing).

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