The agenda for the Cambridge City Council meeting on Monday, April 3, 2017, is posted online. The marquee items are our final vote on increasing the affordable housing requirement to 20% (I support this), and a policy resolution I co-sponsored to ask the US House of Representatives to begin an impeachment investigation into the President’s violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. My summary of the key items on the agenda follows.
City Manager’s Agenda
#1 Cost of renovation for new YWCA Family Shelter: The manager is asking us to appropriate $5.25M from Free Cash to gut-renovate the former Chamber of Commerce building at 859 Mass Ave, which the City acquired for $2.6M in a “friendly taking” last summer. Once renovated to a Net Zero standard, the building would house the YWCA Family Shelter, providing bedrooms for 10 homeless women and their children, common kitchens and play areas. It would be staffed 24/7 by the YWCA. I have to say I’m dismayed that the cost has ballooned to above the “up to $5M” estimated by the manager in his Dec. 2016 project update. That works out to about $785K per family and roughly $1500/sf.
#2 New Director of Equity and Inclusion hired: Betsy Allen will assume the position of what used to be known as the Director of Affirmative Action on April 10. She currently holds a similar position with the City of Somerville.
#3 New AV system at the Citywide Senior Center: This good news comes in response to an order I sponsored earlier this year. Regulars at BZA and Historical Commission hearings should be pleased that the Senior Center will get an entirely new 21st century AV set-up in May. The 6 wireless mics and built-in media player should make all events much more audience friendly.
#4 Are 4-way stop signs needed at Hancock and Green? Based on the low traffic counts, no. This response will no doubt disappoint those who asked for this intervention, but I think it is instructive to hear (again) that more signage is not necessarily the cure for what ills every intersection.
#5 Vision Zero Advisory Committee formed: This comes in response to an order I sponsored last summer after the tragic death of bike-commuter Dr. Joe Lavins in a crash in Porter Sq. The manager has recruited a deep bench to help us make our streets safer for all modes. In addition to residents, staff from the universities, and the chair of the Disabilities Commission, there are representatives from advocacy groups like Walk Boston, Livable Streets Alliance, Boston Cyclists Union, Cambridge Bicycle Safety, and the Mass Bicycle Coalition.
#6 Planning Board report on allowing rebuilding of non-conforming structures destroyed by fire: The Planning Board supports moving forward with this minor zoning amendment, which was also discussed at an Ordinance Committee hearing I attended last week (see Committee Report #3). The Planning Board suggested a few tweaks, which we agreed should be incorporated in the revised draft ordinance.
#7 Restrictions on retail sales of animals: This revised version of a draft ordinance would prohibit the retail sale of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians that do not come from rescue or shelter organizations (fish are excluded from these protections). It revives the discussion we began last year, which received a lot of support from residents and significant pushback from the pet store industry. The key changes are that the city manager would form an advisory committee to assist pet stores with implementation and compliance during the first 18 months after the law passes, and that the law would not take effect until one year after passage. We want our stores to be a model for others to emulate.
#8 Would you round up your water bill for a good cause? Our finance staff will continue to work through the feasibility of allowing residents to opt into rounding up their water and sewer bills to contribute the additional money to a to-be-determined community relief program. Once the details are sorted out it would require that a Home Rule Petition be passed by the state legislature (never a slam dunk). This is starting to sound like a lot of work for a relatively small revenue stream. But if it does end up passing, I would like to suggest the revenue go to the City’s tree planting fund.
#7 Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance Amendment: Barring some unforeseen 11th hour curve ball, I expect this amendment to the inclusionary zoning ordinance to pass. The requirement would increase to 15% upon passage and to 20% on June 30, 2017. Existing PUDs like North Point would not be subject to the increases unless they filed for a major change to their special permit that was unrelated an infrastructure change beyond their control (like the Green Line Extension being cancelled), or if the new plan would produce less housing than originally promised. We have worked hard to hash out these terms and I feel good about the outcome.
Applications & Petitions:
#1 Open Studios Banners in Harvard and Central Sq: Mark your calendars for the annual Open Studios on May 13-14.
#1 Arbor Day is April 28: I will be standing in for Mayor Simmons to read this official proclamation at the City’s annual Arbor Day commemoration on Friday, April 28, at 10am in Sennott Park on Broadway. It is one of many events during Climate Week, when I also will be chairing a Health & Environment Committee hearing on our tree policies and planting goals.
#1 Does your workplace have an EV charging station? I sponsored this order to encourage the City to promote the state’s MassEVIP incentives that help businesses with 15 or more employees install EV chargers in their lots or garages.
#2 Resolution to start impeachment investigation: I co-sponsored this appeal to our House of Representatives to begin investigating Trump’s business conflicts, which there is ample reason to believe may violate the Constitution. Will it make any difference in a GOP-controlled House? Probably not. But I cannot stand by silently while Trump mines the presidency for personal financial gain. Berkeley, CA, and four other cities adopted a similar resolution last week, and others will likely follow. Cambridge would and should be the first in the state to say it’s time to get to the bottom of his financial entanglements. I am grateful to the advocacy group Cambridge Area Stronger Together (CAST) for championing this resolution and bringing it to us.
#1 Bike Safety Hearing: This recaps a productive discussion in mid-February about progress on the bike safety work plan. The next stage of the separated bike lane pilot will be on Cambridge Street. The Inman Square redesign is underway and there will be another public meeting on May 2. The report is worth reading.
#2 Leaf Blower Hearing: This recaps a hearing I chaired recently to discuss progress on enforcement of the existing seasonal restrictions on leaf blowers, new training in best practices for municipal workers, and the City’s pilot of electric equipment. Despite these best efforts, leaf blowers remain a nuisance with significant health and environmental impacts, which can only be eliminated by banning blowers entirely. The five councilors present agreed a ban should be explored, and we asked the staff to help us think through how that would be implemented and enforced.
#3 Rebuilding non-conforming buildings destroyed by fire: This amendment aims to make it possible for property owners whose houses were destroyed in the December fire to rebuild what they lost without applying for variances. Otherwise most of these older homes could not be rebuilt to the same dimensions on the same footprint under current zoning. One remaining question is what length of time is reasonable for an owner to rebuild under these terms snd when the clock should start.
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 email@example.com and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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