City Council Agenda Highlights (9/26/16)

The Cambridge City Council agenda for Monday, September 26 is online. This will be our last regular meeting with Rich Rossi as city manager; on Thursday, September 29, we will hold a special public meeting at 5:30pm to vote on his successor. Monday’s meeting also includes a sub-hearing, starting at 6:30pm, on the FY17 property tax rate classification (see CMA #12 below).

What follows is a summary of notable items on Monday’s agenda.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 Affordable Housing Trust members: In addition to making several reappointments, the manager is naming Elaine Thorne, a former neighborhood planner at CDD, as a new member. Whomever we select as the new manager will become an ex-officio member of the Trust.

#2 Water Board members: The manger is appointing two new members. The one named Kathleen Kelly is not the school committee member by the same name.

#5 Funding for Baby University: Baby U will get an additional $20K for its parenting education and support programs. Money well spent.

#7 & #8 Funding for new police technology: A total of about $57K is requested for new computer equipment in police cars and a Smart Policing Initiative that uses technology for crime prevention. The brief descriptions provided don’t explain what exactly this equipment is or how it works, though.

#9 Planning Board members: Three members are being reappointed for 5-year terms: Hugh Russell, Steven Cohen and Tom Sieniewicz. Hugh Russell has served for 28 years and like Sieniewicz served on the BZA for 10 years prior to joining the Planning Board.

#10 Birth to Grade 3 Partnership Steering Committee members: Since the task force issued its report a year ago, the Early Childhood Initiative marches forward at a very deliberate pace. This 17-member Steering Committee will work with the new early childhood director and three soon-to-be-formed subcommittees. While it’s commendable that the city wants to “get it right,” many are frustrated with how slowly this initiative is being implemented. One bright spot is the city’s partnership with the Cambridge Housing Authority to open a new preschool on Windsor St. that can accommodate 34 three- and four-year-olds, half of whom will come from subsidized housing.

#11 Outdoor Lighting Ordinance: To complement its proposed new municipal ordinance to control outdoor lighting, the city is recommending a few changes to the special permit process for large projects (>25K s.f). Developers would be required to state what measures they have taken to mitigate and minimize light pollution from outdoor, facade, landscape and rooftop lighting. Rooftop lighting would come under stricter scrutiny, though the Planning Board could modify the requirements with a special permit. All of this will be discussed at future Ordinance Committee hearings. There is also a communication from Carol Lynn Alpert, a member of the Outdoor Lighting Task Force, that answers some of the questions Councilor Kelley posed last week and suggests closing the curfew loophole.

#12 Tax rates for FY17: The recommended residential tax rate for FY17 is $6.49/thousand (down $0.50 from FY16), and the commercial rate is $16.12/thousand (down $1.59). The new residential exemption is $315,191. While property values and assessments increased across both sectors, two-thirds of residents will (for the 12th consecutive year) pay less, the same, or less than $100 more in property taxes (condo owners especially will see very little change). New construction added substantially to the tax base, allowing us to increase our excess levy capacity to $168M. About $10.2m will come out of “Free Cash” to reduce the tax levy and another $8M will go into the Debt Stabilization Fund. We will still have $175M in Free Cash on hand. The report offers many figures to pore over for anyone so inclined.

#13 Cambridge Arts Council members: Three new members are appointed, one of whom is a practicing artist who founded an organization to support female artists in her native Nigeria.

#14 Broadband Task Force report: After meeting for two years the task force did not agree on a recommended course (a municipally-owned broadband system vs. less ambitious options), and disagreed with the consultants’ recommendation to build a dark fiber network. But they did agree to recommend moving forward with a feasibility study on a municipal broadband system. The consultants’ 144-page report is on the agenda for review.

#15 Accomplishments of Rich Rossi’s 3 years as manager: Worth a look to see the long list of successful projects and initiatives he and his staff took on. Our next manager will have big shoes to fill.

#16 Eminent Domain for Vail Court: This long-vacant 24-unit apartment building across from the YWCA on Bishop Allen Dr is a blight and a fire hazard and the city has pressed its owners for years to redevelop it or sell it to someone who would. Now the city will take ownership and the site will be redeveloped as affordable housing. With the Council’s approval the city will pay Vail Court’s owners the fair market assessed value of $3.7M.

#17 Green Line Extension $25M Contribution: This updates us on the agreement negotiated with the MBTA for the city’s promised $25M contribution to the GLX over 5 years beginning in March 2018. The city is separately negotiating with Northpoint developer DivcoWest for its $12.5M share. If the new Lechmere Station is not open within 10 years (!!) of the start of construction the city gets its money back.


#1 Airbnb data: In response to the council’s questions, Airbnb has shared some cherry-picked apples-to-oranges usage data. For the first 6 months of 2016 there were 1,610 booked listings in Cambridge, 48% of which were “whole place” listings. The average nighty rate in 2016 are $152 for a while place and $71 for a room. Almost 40% of bookings in 2015 were for stays of less than 30 days, which is how the city defines a short-term rental; short-term rentals are prohibited in many neighborhoods under current regs. I co-sponsored a policy order (see #5 below) to suggest a framework for regulating short-term rentals.

Policy Orders

#3 Translation technology: I co-sponsored this order to provide simultaneous translation devices during community meetings. If we use these in the Sullivan Chamber I do hope we can make the translation technology play nice our temperamental audio system.

#4 Keeping hydrated at Danehy: I co-sponsored this order to add water fountains or water-bottle filling stations at Danehy Park. Two water fountains for a 50-acre park is inadequate. The last cycle of Participatory Budgeting allocated $40K for water bottle re-fill stations and DPW is still considering the locations. Maybe they already have Danehy on their short list.

#5 Regulating Airbnb-type rentals: I co-sponsored this order to suggest a framework for how to regulate short-term rentals. the gist of it is that short-term rentals are okay in any residential area if its your primary residence, whether you are the owner or a tenant. If you own another unit in the same building where your primary residence is and the building has 4 units or fewer, you can also rent one “owner-adjacent” unit as a whole place listing, but not by the room. All short-term rentals would have to be registered with Inspectional Services and comply with building and fire codes. Fees and penalties remain TBD.

#6 Rossi naming opportunity: After spending his entire 45-year career as a city employee, retiring City Manager Rossi deserves to have a public building named after him.

Committee Reports:

There are reports on two recent Housing Committee hearings on changes to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance. I fought hard to insert a “no later than” date by which the 20% requirement would take effect (June 30, 2017). CDD is drafting the ordinance with the expectation that we can send something to the Ordinance Committee for further discussion soon.

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