City Council Agenda Highlights (1/9/17)

The Cambridge City Council will hold its first regular meeting of 2017 on Monday, January 9, starting at 5:30pm. This week’s agenda is unusually short and summarized below. Next Monday is MLK Day so we will not hold a meeting, but Central Square will be a hive of activity for the 7th annual Cambridge Day of Service that afternoon from 2-5pm. I will be at City Hall working at the welcome table, so stop by and say hi on your way in.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 New Acting Police Commission Named: Chris Burke, our acting police commissioner since Robert Haas retired last summer, retired this week after 32 years of service at CPD. A six-to-eight month search for a new commissioner will begin very soon. In the interim the manager has appointed a seasoned police chief from out-of-state, Brent Larrabee, to lead the department. Larrabee was mostly recently chief of police in East Haven and Stamford, CT. Prior to that he led police departments in Worcester and Framingham.

#3 Outdoor lighting zoning memo: The Planning Board writes that it generally supports the zoning amendments proposed for their special permit review of facade, rooftop and landscape lighting on large buildings (50K+ s.f.). For smaller buildings (25K+ s.f.) that do not go through special permit review the Planning Board wants clear standards that permit “functional” rooftop lighting so long as it does not cause light trespass or pollution. The municipal outdoor lighting ordinance that goes along with this zoning is still in committee, and the main sticking has been how strictly to control rooftop and facade lighting.

#4 Central Square Restoration Petition memo: The Planning Board writes that it generally supports this zoning petition, which seeks to spur residential development along Mass Ave in Central Square by increasing the allowed floor area density without increasing the current height limits (up to 80′). The petition includes measures aimed at preserving and revitalizing local retail and cultural/entertainment uses in the district. The Planning Board has asked that the staff advise us on the appropriate parking ratios.


#1 Airbnb policy guide for cities: We have held several committee hearings on the impact of Airbnb and other very short-term rentals on neighbors and the housing market, but do not yet have draft regulations before us, in part because our zoning, inspectional and legal staff are focused on other priorities. Airbnb has published a “tool chest” with suggestions and examples of how about a dozen cities have structured regulations and taxes, which could help frame future discussions.


#3 Fire mints a hero: The December 3 fire displaced 44 families including that of CRLS junior and basketball player Isaiah Robinson. First responders have been rightly lauded for their exceptional on-the-job performance. But recognition is also due to residents like Isaiah, who is receiving a Council proclamation for having helped his 5 siblings safely escape their burning building and then returning to warn neighbors.

Policy Orders

#1 Water testing for PFOA: This order asks for a report on whether our water is tested for perfluourocctanoic (PFOA), a carcinogenic agent for which the EPA has issued an advisory. PFOA is a ubiquitous industrial chemical that is used in the manufacture of many household products including Teflon. 98% of us test positive for exposure and levels under 0.07 ppb are considered “safe,” but given Cambridge’s industrial past, it seems prudent to test for its presence in our drinking water.

#2 New city website coming soon? I have asked for an update on our progress on the city’s web redesign project, which I had thought was due to launch last year.

#3 Curbing cigarette litter: This order asks for a pilot program to place special receptacles for cigarette butts in high-traffic areas. People have complained to me about finding cigarette butts in parks, and since our laws have made smoking a primarily outdoor activity, it makes sense to offer more containers to dispose of butts.

Communications & Reports from City Officers

#1 Contamination at 88 Ames St: This is a report on the extent of industrial contamination on the site of a 250-foot mixed use tower under construction. Heavy metals and other hazardous materials, vestiges Kendall Square’s industrial past, have been found in soil, ground water and indoor air samples and the project is being closely monitored by MassDEP as a Tier II site. To date 333 tons of soil have been removed for off-site disposal. Here is a more detailed report on the site.

#2 Letter from Councillor Mazen: I very much appreciate that Councillor Mazen has opened a public conversation about how to move forward on updating the Council’s policy goals and budget priorities and on building more capacity within our Community Development Dept. I urge you all to read his letter, which diplomatically broaches a touchy subject and articulates some of what has been holding us back on several fronts.

Public Comment and Viewing Meetings:

Public comment begins at 5:30 pm. Each person is allowed to speak for up to 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