The Cambridge City Council will meet on Monday, October 31 at 5:30pm, and the agenda is posted online. Having already canceled two meetings this month in observation of prior Monday holidays, we now find ourselves convening during trick-or-treating prime time, when I’m sure many people have other plans and places they would prefer to be. Apologies in advance to any who are inconvenienced by our schedule. The Halloween agenda is relatively short. It would be shorter had some of my colleagues not exercised their “charter right” to delay discussion of six items on last week’s agenda when the hour grew late.
City Manager’s Agenda
There are only two items this week.
#1 Archiving Cambridge History: This is a $7,500 grant appropriation to continue the important archival work that the Cambridge Historical Commission has been doing with part-time staff. I attended the past two “Open Archives” sessions and enthusiastically support this work and would like to see it expanded. I also wish that we had the physical space to publicly display the treasure trove of historic photographs, documents and memorabilia in the City’s collection. A small portion of the photographs have been digitized and may be seen on Flickr.
Calendar (Charter Rights):
Six items were charter-righted last week. Any of them can be brought forward for discussion. These three are of the most interest to me:
#3 Drinking Water Quality: This order asks for more information about elevated levels of Chromium-6 that were detected in water samples. The state does not have a stated goal for C-6, but California does and ours were more than twice the allowed level there. I honestly don’t know how great a concern this may be, and it would be good to hear what our water department says. Here is the city’s 2015 water quality report.
#4 Commercial Wood-Fired Ovens: I sponsored this order to create an ordinance or public health regulations to address the public health threat posed by a restaurant that cooks exclusively with wood and which has spewed a very high volume of smoke and particulates into the adjacent residential neighborhood for more than a year. Since Monday’s Council meeting, I have learned that our Public Health Department intends to hold a public hearing next month on this particular case (date tba). We have heard from several other restaurants that use some wood in their cooking (for flavoring, not as the principle fuel). Our immediate goal is to address the specific public health threat posed by this one establishment; the intent is not to ban all use of wood for cooking.
#6 Environmental Warnings on Gas Pumps: I sponsored an order to ask the staff to draft an ordinance to require a “purely factual and noncontroversial” environmental warning label on gas pumps in the city. It could say something like: “Warning: Burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change and global warming.” One of my colleagues termed this the “stupidest idea and biggest waste of time he has ever heard of” but he is wrong: warning labels and consumer disclosures at the point-of-purchase have proven effective with many other products and can serve to change social norms. There are only a handful of gas stations left in the city, so printing these labels would not be a huge undertaking or expense. Berkeley, San Francisco and West Vancouver are all considering such labels. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
#1 Education for Youth on Opiates: This order asks the city to apply for a state grant for educating youth on the dangers of opioid abuse. The $500K grant was funded out of a settlement with CVS. I believe that the school health curriculum already covers the dangers of opioid addiction, but it’s a message that bears repeating.
#2 Drones: Complaints by a few of my neighbors on the Next Door site inspired me to sponsor this order asking that the Public Safety Committee hold a hearing to discuss what authority the City has to regulate drones. While drones can be used for legitimate scientific, commercial and public purposes, residents have raised a range of privacy and safety concerns about drones hovering over their homes and flying too close to streets.
#3 Hearing on the Future of Harvard Square: As the chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, I will be scheduling a public hearing to bring key players to the table to discuss future commercial and institutional developments in the Square. We will invite Equity One (the developer that purchased the Curious George and Urban Outfitters buildings), Harvard University and the Dow Family Trust as well as other stakeholders,
#4 Cultural Competency Training: Department heads and city employees already receive this training, and this order asks that it be extended to “legislative leaders” (councillors). I think the School Committee Members also should be included and that it should be required, not only offered.
#5 Support Landmark Study for the Kiosk: I sponsored this resolution to ask the Council to go on record in support of initiating a landmark study for the kiosk in Harvard Square. The Historical Commission will discuss whether to proceed with the study on 11/3. It was a surprise to me to learn (after I submitted this order) that the City has issued an RFP for a consultant to advise on a plan for the kiosk’s use, programming and stewardship. The promised task force or working group for the kiosk has not yet been formed, but I’ve been assured it will be soon. Still, I have concerns about the continued lack of transparency and communication about this whole project.
#6 Additional Signage for Crosswalks: This order asks if more crosswalks (those without stop lights) should have “yield to pedestrians” signs in the middle of the crossing (assuming they are on two-way streets). I suppose signs could help, but if every un-signaled crossing has a sign does it become more visual clutter? If you would like to see the reports of pedestrian (and other) crashes since 2015, visit this Open Data site.
#7 Roundtable on Universal Pre-K: Our meeting on Nov. 28 will be a Roundtable with the School Committee to discuss progress on our universal pre-K initiative. The Early Childhood Education report was published last November and we hired a director to lead this initiative but it’s not clear to me where we stand.
#8 Foundry Re-Boot: I co-sponsored this order with Councillors Mazen and Carlone and Vice Mayor McGovern to re-boot the Foundry redevelopment process. We are asking for a significantly larger financial commitment from the City to ensure that the majority or entirety of the renovated building will be used for non-commercial, community STEAM activities, and to hold a public forum to discuss a system of governance and management for the project. If necessary to achieve the programming goals and public use subsidies, the order asks to consider whether it may be appropriate to construct a new building rather than renovating the existing one, which will require costly remediation.
#9 Dorothy Steele Dedication Update: This asks for an update on a promise for a memorial at Cambridge Hospital to honor Ms. Steele, an elderly resident who was struck and killed in a hit-and-run crash last winter as she followed her daily route to the hospital by wheelchair.
#10 Bike Safety Petition: Bike safety advocates have collected 2,000 signatures on a safe streets petition that they will present to the Council on Monday. This resolution acknowledges and supports their demands for immediate improvements.
#11 Airbnb Complaints on Commonwealth Connect: At last week’s hearing the staff informed us that they do not have time to draft regulations to rein in short-term rentals because they still have their hands full with other ordinances (inclusionary housing and outdoor lighting, to name two). As a stopgap measure we can ask for a way to submit complaints through Commonwealth Connect (aka See Click Fix), but given the enforcement challenges we already face I doubt it will help prevent speculative transactions and or curtail nuisance guests. More likely, a few bad apples will continue to spoil the while bunch
#12 Autonomous Vehicles Pilot: Boston has an initiative to test AVs and this order suggests that Cambridge ask to partner with them. Shared AVs have the potential to significantly improve road safety and to dramatically reduce congestion and the demand for parking.
There are three reports. One is on the hearing I chaired on the drought, and the others are related to municipal elections (considering public funding mechanisms and strategies for increasing voter turnout).
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