City Council Agenda Highlights (3/27/17)

The agenda for the Cambridge City Council meeting on Monday, March 27, 2017, is posted online. What follows is a brief summary of the key items.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1, #2, #3: Appointments to Women’s Commission, Human Rights Commission and Harvard Square Kiosk Working Group. Thanks to all who applied to serve and congratulations to those selected. The revised RFP for a consultant to work on programming for the Kiosk has been reissued and is posted here. The city manager’s section of the website used to include a page devoted to vacancies on boards and commissions; now we have to scroll through the list of all of them to see if there are openings. I hope this is on the punch list for improvements.

#4 Funding new Tobin Vassal Lane School: The City is submitting a “statement of interest” in receiving state funds for the the reconstruction of this school building, which is next in the queue after the completion of the Cambridge Street School.

#5 Electronic Public Comment Display: Something will be developed and installed in the Sullivan Chamber this summer to display the speaker’s name and affiliation during public comment. The time remaining would also be displayed, I assume.

#6 Stained glass to be preserved from fire damaged building on York St: Some of the stained glass will be incorporated in the new replacement building, and the rest will go to Sacred Heart on 6th St.

#7 Funding for Artists: We are appropriating a $21K state grant to fund the Arts Council’s grants to artists and arts organizations.

#8 Extending Memorial Drive Sunday Closings: I sponsored an order to ask if Mem Dr could be closed to traffic more Sundays during the year. The bottom line is that DCR doesn’t object to the idea but won’t pay for it, and the City is unwilling to pick up the public safety tab for a road it does not legally control. There is no estimate for what one Sunday of additional closure would cost, and no explanation of what the legal implications would be if the City took control over closing the street to cars more Sundays during the year.

#9 Mid-block stop sign on Cambridgepark Drive deemed unnecessary: But other measures are being implemented to calm traffic on this street.

#10 Subsidizing cost of installing and removing window AC units from public housing: This is an example of a policy order that sought to help residents of public housing afford to take their window AC units out during the 9-10 months a year when the units are not in use. Instead of a solution we got a legal opinion that tells us public funds cannot be used for this purpose. The justification is that the units can just be covered with a protected sleeve and left in year-round. Most people I know would prefer not to look at an AC unit in their window unless it is being used (windows with AC units often can’t be opened). Most people also would prefer central AC. The original order from last June also asked if we could partner with community organizations that can provide this service at a discount. I find this response obtuse and unhelpful. If the solution suggested in the original order is not legal then how else could we help these residents?

#11 Running bamboo ordinance redux: Some may recall that last year in committee we discussed regulations to prevent the spread of running bamboo across property lines. Now CDD has prepared a new version of the ordinance, but there is no indication of what, if anything, is different from the prior version.

#12 Recycling collection for small businesses: The City intends to expand on a trial basis recycling collection to small businesses once a week, starting next year. This is intended to relieve small businesses of the cost of hiring private contractors and to increase their rate of recycling.

#13 Crumb rubber turf fields: In response to concerns about whether crumb rubber is safe for use as infill on artificial turf fields the Public Health Dept has reviewed the current available research and finds that there is “no unusual health risk” to older children who might be prone to inhaling particulates while engaging in “normal outdoor play.” At this time there is no research on the potential impact of crumb rubber to younger children who might ingest it, and little data available on other types of fill like so-called “virgin” rubber. The EPA is due to release a new report later this year, and the City will take emerging research into account in selecting turf surfaces for Russell Field and the Graham and Parks School playground. Sand was used at the Haggerty playground, and I don’t know why we wouldn’t use that at G&P if it has proven successful as a play surface. I don’t think this report will put to rest the worries that people have about using recycled tires as fill on fields.

#14 Funding for new water meters: The City will invest $1M in replacing water meters and meter transmitter units. The money comes out of the $3.6M from the FY17 Water Fund that was allocated for the anticipated extra cost of MWRA during the drought: only $1.6M was spent on MWRA water. The City also intends to appropriate $1M in each of the next two fiscal years for this purpose.

#15 Combined water & sewer rates increase: The next fiscal year for the water and sewer budget begins on 4/1, and the City is proposing an overall increase of 5.6%. While water rate will remain unchanged, the sewer rate will go up by 7.7% largely due to a higher-than-projected MWRA sewer assessment. Water consumption is down slightly, and the negative impact on revenues has been offset by a $1.5M decrease to the Water Budget. The Sewer Budget will rise by $3.6M to reflect the MWRA assessment and debt service on infrastructure projects. The new rate will add about $61 to the annual bill for the average 2-family house.

#16 Hubway contract negotiations: Along with Boston, Somerville and Brookline, the City has a contract with Motivate to operate the Hubway program. The 4-city contract expires on 4/1, so it is being extended for 3 months to give us more time to negotiate and approve the new terms.

Applications & Petitions

#1 Kendall Sq branding banners: Look for 8 fixed banner-panels to go up on the new street lamps on Main St near the T stop and the Marriott. The panels, which are part of a brand identity project for the district, aim to create a sense of place through a color palette, a logo and hashtag (#KSq). Eight more will go on the poles on the MIT side of Main Street after their construction is complete.

Policy Orders

#1 Resolution to maintain MBTA funding for The Ride: Gov. Baker has proposed cutting the “premium” service for seniors to save $7M. Bad idea.

#2 Request for update on status of a Surveillance Ordinance: The draft ordinance backed by the ACLU seeks to protect privacy and civil rights from government surveillance technology. We asked our legal department to vet this back in November.

#3 Police outpost in Central Sq.: The main police station always used to be in Central Square, and many residents and business owners feel that there should still be a visible police presence. The suggestion is to install an “outpost” on Carl Barron Plaza. We are in the midst of hiring a new police commissioner. I would like to know if the candidates for that job think a physical outpost (what does this look like?) is the right way to address the legitimate public safety concerns many have expressed.

#4 Rice St traffic calming: The residents of Rice St are fed up with cut-through traffic speeding on their one-way street to avoid the light at Rindge Ave and Mass Ave. I sponsored this order in response to a petition they circulated asking for traffic calming measures.

#5 Discounted T passes for CRLS students: This order asks for a committee hearing to be scheduled within 30 days to discuss the City subsidizing T passes for low-income students participating in extracurricular activities. A monthly unlimited student pass costs $30. Would we consider discounts for all low-income students regardless of whether they participate in extracurriculars or attend CRLS?

#6 Opposition to federal legislation that would weaken the Fair Housing Act: This would put us on record opposing HR.482 and S.103. More info on these noxious bills.

#7 Councillors’ public discussions on non-agenda items: This order, which I co-sponsored with Councillor Kelley, suggests adding a period during each Council hearing for us to publicly discuss non-agenda items or issues we are working on. It may make our meetings run a bit longer, but it could help us work together more efficiently and transparently.

Committee Reports

#1 Harding Petition on Mass+Main: The Ordinance Committee heard and kept in committee a petition to downzone the Mass+Main area that the prior Council up-zoned in 2015. The crux of the dispute appears to be whether the new housing recently permitted at 47 Bishop Allen Drive will have a detrimental impact on the Massasoit Lodge next door. A legal appeal has been filed.

Communications from City Officers

#1 Drone regulation update: Councillor Kelley has written a memo to update us on the FAA’s new guidelines for drones in anticipation of our drafting an ordinance to address aspects of drone use that could come under municipal control. There are currently 278 recreational drones registered in Cambridge, and another 29 non-recreational drones.

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