City Council Agenda Highlights (1/30/17) (4 Responses)

The agenda for the Cambridge City Council meeting on Monday, January 30, 2017, is posted on the City’s Open Meeting Portal. Before our regular 5:30pm start, we will gather at 5:00pm with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito for a signing ceremony to commit to joining the Commonwealth’s Community Compact Program, which will make the City eligible for state grants to support Vision Zero and the Net Zero Action Plan.

City Manager’s Agenda

There are some meaty reports on the CMA agenda this week that are well worth reading, but which I cannot fully summarize here. It’s helpful to read two of them together (the Needs Assessment Report and the Citizen Survey) in light of the the “State of the City” address on Tuesday and the Council’s goal-setting session on Wednesday. In both reports housing affordability is the top concern.

#3 Elevator Repairs in Public Housing; Residents of public housing (especially the Manning Apts.) will want to read this report on elevator service and the timeliness of repairs.

#4 Creative Marketplace for the arts: This report from the Arts Council describes three successful Creative Marketplace programs that support artists in our community by providing opportunities for them to exhibit and sell their work in a variety of venues. These programs match artists with businesses and residents seeking artwork to display, and complement the City’s well-established Open Studios Program and Artist Grant Program. With a federal funding for the arts at even greater risk and with the financial insecurity that local artists experience due to the high cost of housing and studio space, the Creative Marketplace aims to help artists become more entrepreneurial. Tellingly, the arts are categorized as “lower tier” in the Needs Assessment, and the Citizen Survey does not ask any questions about participation in or satisfaction with arts and culture in Cambridge.

#5 Safe cigarette disposal: With the news that the forensic investigation into December’s multi-building fire determined that its cause was the “improper disposal of smoking materials,” it is nice to hear that the City has readily agreed to our recent request to install some special cigarette butt receptacles in high-traffic locations. We may soon revisit the proposal to ban smoking on construction sites and other workplaces.

#6 Bicycle Safety Work Plan update: This report describes what we learned from the two “pop-up” lanes on Mass Ave and lays out the next steps in creating demonstration protected bike lanes on two streets this spring. One will be along Mass Ave between Trowbridge and Quincy Streets, where a travel lane will be removed in order to create a protected bike lane while maintaining parking. The other protected lane will be along Cambridge Street heading east between Quincy St and Inman Square. Parking will be removed on one side of the street, and the City will work closely with businesses and residents on the implementation. The two demonstrations would last at least 6 months. This stretch of Cambridge Street especially demands attention with its proximity to CRLS and the Library as well as its connection to Inman Square, where further bike safety improvements are planned. While these two pop-up lanes are very appreciated, the work plan does not set a firm implementation schedule for the Cambridge St lane. Nor does it go far enough toward fulfilling last fall’s policy orders that called for creating a broader network of protected lanes that would not only increase safety for those who already travel by bike, but would make more people willing to bike more often. While the Citizen Survey shows that 39% of residents rated their “ability to get around town on a bike” as “excellent,” it didn’t assess how safe they feel safe doing so; it’s impossible to know if the 26% who answered “fair” or “poor” feel less able to get around by bike because of safety concerns or physical limitations. The Citizen Survey showed high levels of dissatisfaction with traffic and parking, The solution to everyone’s dissatisfaction is to make other modes (transit, biking, walking) more attractive and safer, not to continue to prioritize personal vehicles. There is simply not enough room on our streets for everyone to be able to drive (alone) and to park easily and inexpensively everywhere. The population is growing, the climate is changing, and we must change our habits and adapt.

#8 Comprehensive Needs Assessment: In late 2015 the Council passed the Community Benefits Ordinance that governs how mitigation funds from development projects are distributed. The City then hired a consultant to work with an advisory committee and local non-profits to produce a comprehensive Needs Assessment. The report will be referred to the Finance Committee for a full discussion. Three “basic” needs (financial security, housing, and mental health) are the top priorities in terms of numbers affected, equity and gaps in existing services. While the poverty rate is 15%, close to half of residents are financially insecure. Poverty and financial insecurity disproportionately affect children, people of color, single mother households, and immigrants. The housing (un)affordability stats are sobering, though hardly surprising given that affordable housing was the top concern of 30% of residents in the Citizen Survey; renting a one-bedroom unit at market rate is significantly beyond the means for over half of residents (you would need to earn $92K to afford a 1BR rental when the median income is about $76K). Mental health and substance abuse are rated top tier needs because service providers cannot the demand. About one-fifth of middle and high school students report being depressed, which consistent with prior years, but a growing number of youth report hurting themselves or considering suicide. For all its wealth and opportunity, scratch the surface and our community is revealed as severely stressed and increasingly fractured.

#9 Bi-annual citizen survey: Every other fall the City conducts a phone and online survey. This year’s shows the highest levels of “extreme satisfaction” since 2000. (I shudder to see the word “extreme” used in any context these days.) Housing affordability was rated the single most important issue facing the City by 30% of respondents, and the number rating access to affordable housing as “poor” doubled (to 52%). Education was the second highest area of concern (14%). Street repair and parking also were areas of concern. In general people rated city services very highly, especially our libraries, but there were decreased ratings for culture, community and open space/recreation. Forty-three percent said they get most of their information about Cambridge-related issues from the City’s website, a number I hope rises further when the new website is finally launched. While 59% of people did not attend or watch a City Council meeting in the past year that represents a substantial improvement over all prior surveys when on average 78% did not watch.

#10 Central Sq Restoration Petition: This item clarifies a few questions that came up in our last Ordinance Committee hearing and at the Planning Board. While it appears we cannot amend the petition at this point to exclude wet labs from Central Square, it seems we can proceed with caution in requiring so-called “formula businesses” (chain stores) to obtain a special permit from the Planning Board. Another hearing will be held on Wed. 2/2 at 3:00pm.

Policy Orders

#1 Update requested on Community Choice Electricity Aggregation. This order is one of several that reflect that the Council has no effective system for tracking the staff’s progress on items. We voted last June to have the staff explore this program.

#2 Self-service pumps at all gas stations: This order proposes a simple wording change to require all gas stations to offer self-service pumps; currently those that do not repair or service cars are not required to offer self-service gas. I don’t know how many stations this would apply to, or what prompted this order.

#3 Update requested on Urban Agriculture Ordinance: Everyone is impatient to know if/when chickens and beekeeping will be allowed. It’s approaching 2 years since a task force began working on this.

#4 Illuminated ads on bus shelters in residential areas: I sponsored this order in response to concerns from Aberdeen Avenue residents who do not want the new bus shelter that’s planned for their street to have advertising, especially ads that are illuminated (see their petition). The prior shelter did not have ads or lighting, and residents feel what is proposed is inappropriate for a residential street. (This bus stop is at the Huron Ave end of Aberdeen near Fresh Pond.) Our environment is saturated with commercial messages and backlighting the ads is unnecessary light pollution.

#5 Widening sidewalks on Granite Street: Between Pearl and Brookline Streets, near the Morse School, the sidewalks are too narrow and are thought to be posing accessibility problems. The 5-Year Street and Sidewalk Plan is being updated this time of year so maybe this block will get bumped up in priority — or maybe there’s a quick fix.

#6 Trash collection for small businesses: This is something we asked about last year as a way to help small businesses reduce their costs. To consider: when we shop online we end up disposing of and recycling a lot of packing materials and cardboard boxes but are not charged extra. Small businesses are competing with online retailers and paying for trash collection on top of triple net rents.

#7 Rounding up bills for charity: This asks the City to file a Home Rule Petition with the state legislature to allow residents to round up their water and sewer bills to support a local non-profit. I don’t know exactly how that would work (who decides which charities receive the difference?), or if it’s worth the trouble of a home rule petition and the time for city staff to administer the program for the potential amount raised.

#8 Making reports easier to find: This order asks that Parking and Transportation Demand Management Studies and energy audits be made more accessible to the public. Why stop with these two reports?

#9 Who is interested in parking? This item requests a survey “of city residents, work (sic), and visitors to determine who is interested in parking in the city” — seriously? What do we expect to learn from this, and what action would we take?

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