This week the Cambridge City Council will hold two public meetings: our regular meeting on Mon., Sept. 19 and a special meeting to interview the three finalists for the city manager position on Wed., Sept. 21. Both begin at 5:30pm in the Sullivan Chamber. In addition on Tues., Sept 20 at 6pm there is a public town hall forum for residents to meet the three city manager candidates. Councillors are invited to attend, observe and listen only. The forum takes place in the theater at CRLS and will be televised.
What follows is a summary of the agenda for Monday’s regular meeting.
City Manager’s Agenda
With two weeks left in office, the manager is working through several items on the “Awaiting Report List,” which is what we call the to-do list of responses to the policy “orders” (more accurately “requests”) we adopt. The manager may, at his discretion, allow a policy order to remain indefinitely on the list, and traditionally the slate is wiped clean between Council terms. There are 27 adopted orders on the Awaiting Report List. I hope that the list is not wiped clean when the new manager takes office, as we are only midway through our term. After all, the next manager will be under no greater obligation to respond to each of our policy orders than the current one has been.
#1 Response to last year’s bomb threats at public schools: The report critically analyzes our response to a series of bomb threats that put everyone on edge between November and April. With a new school year underway and a new superintendent at the helm this report is intended to reassure families and school employees that our response to future threats will be better coordinated and communicated. Electronic releases have been installed on perimeter doors at all schools, and the manager is working to fund more door releases and security cameras. The report includes several other next steps in progress.
#2 Status the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (Part II): The first part of the CCVA was presented in December and focused mostly on increased heat and precipitation. Part II, which will address flooding from sea level rise and storm surge out to 2070, is nearing completion and should be released by the end of next month. Also underway, and informed by the CCVA assessments, is the city’s Climate Change Preparedness Plan to develop strategies for resilience, starting with a community-informed sub-plan for the Fresh Pond/Alewife area next year. Boston is studying the idea of a sea wall in Charlestown, and we are supporting that effort.
#3 Municipal ID feasibility: While it appears there are no legal obstacles to our developing a program to create a municipal ID, such a program would pose a few logistical and staffing challenges. The impetus was to help residents who have difficulty obtaining government-issued of IDs (driver’s license or passport). If we want to broaden the appeal of a municipal ID we should make it a smart debit card that all residents could use as a library card and to pay for parking and other city fees. Maybe it could be loaded with discount offers from participating businesses and cultural organizations.
#4 Safe disposal of prescription drugs: I sponsored the order that asked whether we could offer more locations for the safe disposal of unused prescriptions. After attending last week’s presentation by District Attorney Marian Ryan on the opioid crisis and the drug tack-back at our Senior Center, I am even more convinced that we need more convenient ways to get leftover pain pills out of our medicine cabinets. The report does not offer any immediate new solutions but it goes into quite a bit of detail about existing programs for safe disposal including our providing free postage-paid mailers on request; mail-back disposal actually may be even more convenient than dropping off unneeded or expired medications.
#5 Reducing speed limits: This is a very quick turnaround on last week’s order to reduce speed limits. Pending the Council’s formal approval, our traffic staff intends to reduce the general speed limit to 25mph on all city-owned roads once the state’s newly adopted Municipal Modernization bill takes effect on Nov. 7. The question of creating “safety zones” of 20mph needs more consideration about whether it could be enforced. I will ask (again) about requesting that DCR post 25mph signs on the residential section of Fresh Pond Parkway.
#6 Appointments to the Living Wage Community Advisory Board: The city’s required living wage is $15.04 this year. It is adjusted annually for inflation and applies to all city employees and contractors.
#7 New appointments to the Fresh Pond Master Plan Advisory Board: Jamie Porreca and Candace Young will be introduced at next FPMAB monthly meeting on Sept. 22 at 6pm at the Water Dept. That meeting, which is open to the public, will include a tour of the ongoing Glacken Slope restoration project, which has detoured circulation on the perimeter path all summer.
#8 Polystyrene ban update: I was not a councillor when this well-intended ban was ordained. Its implementation is proving more complicated and costly than anticipated for businesses that provide take-out food and beverages. Businesses are scrambling to find substitutes for containers, lids, straws, utensils and cups made of polystyrene (#6) and foam plastic (styrofoam). Many of the substitute products are: 1) another form of plastic 2) more expensive and 3) not accepted by local recycling or composting facilities so will end up in landfill. The ban takes effect on Oct. 20 but it sounds as if we expect compliance to be spotty at least initially.
#9 Community Preservation Act allocations: Once again 80% of CPA funds will go to affordable housing, and 10% each to open space and historic preservation. The amounts, respectively, are $9,840,000, $1,230,000 and $1,230,000. Recipients of CPA funds are: Lowell Park, Magazine Beach, Old Burying Ground, Fresh Pond community garden, Graham and Parks playground, Sennott Park, the city clerk’s archives and vault, and Brattle Street’s bluestone sidewalks. We have to take 19 separate roll call votes to approve the allocations, so if you’re watching us on TV this would be a good time to put in a load of laundry or walk the dog.
#11 Executive session: We will go behind closed doors to discuss a possible real estate transaction. No details are provided to councillors beforehand. Color me curious.
#1 & #2 Roundtable Scheduling: On Oct. 24 we will hold a roundtable with the School Committee to discuss charter schools and on Nov. 14 we will discuss Envision Cambridge. No regular business is conducted and there is no public comment at roundtables, which are relatively short (2-hour) meetings.
#3 Eliminating crumb rubber playgrounds: The Graham and Parks playground is slated to be renovated (with the help of $500K in CPA funds), and parents have voiced concerns about the possible health risks of its synthetic turf play area that is filled with crumb rubber made from recycled tires. They want the city to use another surface. I share their concerns and was among those who objected when the city turfed the soccer fields at Danehy Park with crumb rubber fill. The order asks that all playgrounds with crumb rubber be replaced but stops short of suggesting that Danehy’s playing fields also be replaced. It would be good to know how many playground fields have crumb rubber-filled turf and their ages and conditions. Organic fills are available if a grass-like surface is desired.
#4, #5 & #6 Bicycle Ordinance Distribution: The mayor asks that copies of the Bicycle Ordinance be included in welcome packages for new residents, posted on Hubway stations, and distributed to new college students. I think her desire is to raise awareness of and compliance with the rules of the road. I searched but could not find a single document that lists all of the laws pertaining to cyclists, but this webpage includes links to city and state laws for bicycles, requirements for lights and helmets (for those 16 or younger), and restrictions for riding on sidewalks in certain business districts. A pamphlet that also includes safety tips for urban cycling would be more user-friendly than a verbatim copy of the state law for bicycle operators.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at email@example.com. 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