City Council Agenda Highlights (3/20/17)

The agenda for the Cambridge City Council meeting on Monday, March 20, is online. After a week’s hiatus and a winter storm, we return to a deceptively lean agenda. But don’t be fooled; there are likely to be meaty discussions on inclusionary housing and short term rentals.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 More money for traffic enforcement: In response to our repeated pleas for more traffic enforcement, another $7K (on top of prior appropriations totaling $21K) will be directed toward “high-visibility” enforcement. With the new 25mph limit speed enforcement has been on everyone’s mind, but this refers to enforcing “impaired driving and occupant protection,” which I interpret as driving while drunk or distracted and not wearing seatbelt.

#2 Demolition hearing notices: In response to my policy order the Historical Commission will now follow the same procedures for public notice of an application to demolish a historically “significant” building as for a variance or special permit. Read more about our Demolition Delay Ordinance.

#4 Improving the AV in the Sullivan Chamber: City Hall’s temperamental AV and broadcast system will be replaced this summer during the Council’s summer meeting recess, and we have added a new AV technician position.

#5 Use of city buildings for meetings: This memo comes in response to a question about who can use city buildings for meetings, specifically whether a group may hold a meeting inside City Hall without a staff member present (no). Meeting space can be hard to come by, even for city employees. If you are organizing a community meeting and need space, try the Main Library, the Central Sq Library, the Senior Center, one of the youth centers, the Police Department or the School Department. Each has a different reservation process and some will charge a nominal fee if a staff person has to be there after hours. in 2017 it must be possible to create a single public meeting room reservation system online, but I suppose that would require its own policy order.

#6 Bus shelter with ads coming to Aberdeen Ave: In response to an outcry from Strawberry Hill residents, I questioned why the City wanted to install a bus shelter with illuminated ad panels on Aberdeen Ave near Fresh Pond when a simple shelter like the one that has been there for years would be more appropriate. Unfortunately the City has determined that all shelters should display ads in exchange for the ad company’s help with installation, maintenance and snow removal. The shelter on Aberdeen will be the only one of its type citywide located in a neighborhood of single and 2-family homes with no commercial or institutional uses nearby. The shelter serves a single low-volume bus route (the #72). As a concession to the residents’ concerns, the lighting will be dimmed 25% below normal. I don’t even think the ad company is holding up its end of the bargain on snow removal: on Thursday there was still a sheet of ice and snow beneath the shelter on Concord Ave by Tobin.

Applications and Petitions

#1 Observatory Hill zoning overlay: About a thousand residents signed a petition to create a new zoning overlay district along Concord Ave between Huron and Walden. The petition’s stated intent is to preserve the human scale village character of the residential area and to protect neighborhood serving, small merchants and businesses. I don’t know whether the proposed zoning overlay will accomplish these goals without a host of unintended consequences, but we will have many opportunities to explore and debate the pros and cons in a series of future public hearings.

#3 Short-term rental zoning petition: After months of holding hearings on Airbnb-type rentals — including two very recently that are the topic of Committee Report #3 — we were poised to restrict such rentals to one owner-occupied unit and one “owner-adjacent” unit in buildings of 4 or fewer units. Residents overwhelmingly favored prohibiting non-residents and investors from renting units on a short-term basis, diminishing the housing supply and disrupting neighborhoods and condo buildings with a stream of transient guests. Now it appears that Airbnb has recruited a few residents to submit a petition, asking that short-term rentals be allowed in non-owner occupied units for up to 180 days a year. Tracking the number of days across multiple short-term rental platforms would impossible, so this is basically opening the flood gates on Airbnb citywide. Here we see the power of corporate lobbyists to try to disrupt a thoughtful public process as well as a housing market.

Policy Orders

#1 Publicizing language immersion programs in schools: Councillor Cheung seems unsatisfied with the School Department’s effort to publicize its bilingual immersion programs; this seems like something he should have brought to a School Committee member to address.

# 3 & #4 Youth baseball facilities: With baseball season upon us, these orders request a hitting tunnel at Danehy and a field that can meet the new dimensions for the 12-year-old league.

#5 Combatting the opioid abuse epidemic: This policy resolution highlights a film screening (“Everywhere but Safe”) and panel discussion about safe needle injections sites. The event is on March 27 at 5pm at First Church in Cambridge (11 Garden St.). The church has offered a needle exchange program for many years.

Committee Reports

Report #1 is on the Economic Development Committee meeting I chaired to introduce the retail strategy consultant (Larisa Ortiz Associates). Her firm is conducting a study on preserving the vitality and viability of our Squares and commercial districts. A follow-up hearing with the consultant has just been scheduled for May 17.

Report #2 covers a Finance Committee hearing last month to discuss budget priorities. The FY18 budget is already well along by February, and our budget hearings are scheduled for early May.

Report # 3 covers two public meetings on regulating short-term rentals.

Report #5 is on the inclusionary housing requirement. We will discuss this again on Monday, with the goal of passing an amended draft to a second reading for a final vote on April 3 (the day before the petition expires). The materials online do not include an annotated copy of the draft that reflects the changes we voted at the most recent hearing, so it’s a little hard to follow. If approved, the affordable housing requirement would increase immediately to 15% and then go to 20% on June 30, 2017. A percentage of the affordable units in larger projects would be required to have 3 bedrooms.

Roundtable Minutes

#1 recounts the discussion at our meeting with the School Committee to discuss our priorities for this year’s school budget. The report includes a presentation by Supt. Kenny Salim and a report from Committee Member Emily Dexter, advocating for more classroom teachers, reading specialists, special ed teachers, guidance counselors and social workers to close the achievement gap. Note: A close reader brought to my attention that this report was not posted with the online agenda; a printed copy was in the notebook that councillor’s receive on Fridays. Here is a link to the minutes.

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.

Make a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You can make the comment area bigger by pulling the arrow. If you are techie, you can use basic HTML tags and attributes to format your comment.

Development of Responsive Tabs Wordpress Theme by Will Brownsberger.
Hosting paid for by the Devereux for Council.
Site set up by ViV Web Solutions.

Welcome! is a public forum. The site depends on your participation.

You may comment on any post on this site.

You may add a new topic on a local issue.

You do not need a password.

You can subscribe at this link for occasional email news.

Jan Devereux
City Councillor
Cambridge, MA