2017 Year-to-Date Legislative Progress Report

Even though the City Council’s regular schedule slows down in July and August, there is still plenty of work to do this summer. The Council will meet once during the summer on Monday, August 7th at 5:30pm in the Attles Meeting Room at CRLS (459 Broadway), and then we will resume our regular Monday meetings on September 11th at 5:30pm at City Hall. Committee hearings continue at the discretion of the chairs, and we have a couple on the calendar: one on the Foundry project on 7/26 and one on the Volpe site re-zoning on 8/2.

Throughout the summer, I will be holding office hours in various neighborhoods around the city (please view the schedule on my Facebook page or look at the Calendar page of this website. I am holding these informal drop-in sessions at local cafes throughout the city, as a significant focus of my time this past year has been on supporting local retail. If you cannot make any of these times, or if you have any questions, please contact my Legislative Aide Nora Bent to set up an appointment (nbent@cambridgema.gov or 617-349-4277).

I wanted to take this time to update you on some of what I have done, and what the Council as a body has done this past year.  We have worked to increase affordable housing, improve transportation safety, protect the environment, and support local retail. We have a lot more work ahead of us, but we are making progress this term in addressing high-priority concerns. Keep up with my blog and weekly newsletters to learn of events as they happen.

It has been 18 months since I took office in January 2015. I have been working full-time-plus to listen to all stakeholders, to be responsive, and to do my homework on all of the many issues coming before the Council. I’m excited to share with you some of what I have focused on this year. You can also read last year’s recap letter here, to get a sense of the full term.

  • Transportation Safety: Thanks in part to a recently-passed State law, the Council was able to lower the default speed limit to 25 mph, and in some areas to 20 mph (school zones, business districts, etc.). Reducing speed is crucial because the chance of survival for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists if hit by a vehicle going at 20 mph is 90%, whereas this rate is significantly lower for a vehicle traveling at even 30 or 40 mph. I lead the push to accelerate the redesign of Inman Square following a fatal crash there last year. I also sponsored policy orders to create “pop-up” protected bike lanes on important corridors. Two have already been completed and have been hugely successful (Mass Ave from Sidney St. to Douglass St. and Mass Ave from Waterhouse St. to Everett St.) and similar projects are underway on Cambridge St., Brattle St., and a section of Mass Ave in Harvard Sq. I am pushing the city to consider additional protected routes, to ensure that we have a truly safe and complete network for cyclists. The necessity for cities to create comprehensive networks was a recurring theme at the PlacesforBikes conference I attended in Madison, WI (see the post I wrote with a recap of what I learned). I have also pushed for a review of several dangerous intersections in the city, including at Sparks/Brattle/Craigie St and Sparks/Mt Auburn St. This review and plan is in process—stayed tuned for a community meeting. All of these initiatives are aligned with the city’s Vision Zero policy to eliminate traffic fatalities. I enthusiastically support this policy, and sponsored the creation of a Vision Zero Advisory Committee to push us even further.
  • Health & Environment: My work as Chair of the Council’s Health & Environment Committee has been tackled a variety of issues. I held a hearing to discuss water conservation and resiliency efforts following the severe drought conditions we experienced last year. Protecting trees has been a particular focus, and I held a hearing on efforts to measure, protect and increase our tree canopy—which is more important than ever in shielding us from the effects of climate change. As a result the city will form a Tree Task Force this fall and begin work with a consultant on a Tree Master Plan to keep our urban canopy at the forefront of all planning and development decisions. I sponsored the creation of an Adopt-a-Tree program, in which residents can adopt trees to care for near their home or business. I have been advocating for completing the long-awaited Urban Agriculture regulations, to allow residents to safely raise bees and hens, and to create more opportunities to grow healthy food. I hope that this fall the Council will begin to review the zoning changes to allow for this activity in residential neighborhoods. I’m continuing my work on refining the city’s leaf blower regulations, as their use is damaging to our environment and our health, especially the health of landscaping employees using them for hours a day. DPW and the License Commission have added additional regulations, have increased enforcement of the ordinance, and are using electric equipment, which is somewhat better for the environment. I will continue to explore what additional measures can be added. I’m excited to pursue more opportunities to protect our environment and continue to have Cambridge at the forefront of climate change planning.
  • Harvard Square: Due to changes in property ownership, tenant vacancies and rising rents, Harvard Square is undergoing a period of stress and uncertainty, and I have spent a lot of time this year working with residents to raise the level of community input on what’s to come. I led the Council in advocating for the Out of Town News Kiosk to be considered for landmark status and to form a working group to plan its future use. I chaired an Economic Development and University Relations Committee hearing in December to discuss with the major stakeholders their future plans and what can be done to protect the character and retail diversity of the Square. I have asked the Historical Commission to review the Harvard Square Conservation District Guidelines and to consider a system of tiered designations for buildings that merit protection short of landmarking. I also cosponsored a policy order accelerating the timeline for plans to be presented to the community regarding the long-vacant Church Street Theater. The plans were presented in May, and I am excited that the designs include some movie theater space.  
  • AV Improvements: I sponsored two orders this year to improve technology at public meetings at the Citywide Senior Center and in the Sullivan Chamber at City Hall. At the Senior Center, new equipment including wireless microphones, assisted listening devices, and a new media player have been installed and sound clarity has improved. Work will be ongoing this summer in the Sullivan Chamber to improve the sound quality. For a city that prizes innovation and civic engagement, our meeting facilities should make it easier for the public to engage with their government.
  • Standing up for our community: I’ve been prouder than ever to be a part of the Cambridge community since a new administration took power in Washington in January. It has been a tough time for all of us, but Cambridge has stood strong and proud to protect all of our residents. We have reaffirmed our commitment to remaining a Sanctuary City and have established a new Commission on Immigrant Rights & Citizenship to support our immigrant community. We have called on our representatives in Congress to initiate Impeachment proceedings against the President and condemned his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, and we have expressed our disappointment on numerous other policies coming out of Washington related to immigration, climate change, and gun control.

Summer Work

  • Short-Term Rentals: We have been working on creating short-term rental regulations in Cambridge for many months, and are poised to pass an ordinance at our summer council meeting on 8/7. The proposal before the Council would limit short-term rentals to owner-occupied and owner-adjacent units, in order to prohibit non-residents and investors from renting units solely on a short-term basis, thereby diminishing the housing supply for people who want to make Cambridge their primary residence. We have weathered an intense lobbying and misinformation campaign by Airbnb and have worked to ensure that this ordinance works for Cantabrigians, not corporations. The proposed regulations will protect the safety of guests, allow folks to rent their homes on a short-term basis to supplement their income, and protect our already limited housing stock from speculation.  
  • Local Retail: As Chair of the Council’s Economic Development and University Relations Committee, I have been working with staff from Community Development and a consultant team from Brooklyn to examine the challenges and opportunities facing local retail in Cambridge for the Cambridge Retail Strategic Plan. The consultant team presented three times to my committee, with concrete steps that staff and the Council can take to support our local business community that has been struggling due to global and local trends. Now that we have recommendations from the consultant, my committee will discuss an action plan. Read more about this project in an op-ed I wrote in the Cambridge Chronicle.
  • Police Commissioner Search: Following the retirement of Police Commissioner Robert Haas in May 2016 and Acting Commissioner Christopher Burke in December 2016, the City Manager has engaged in a search process for a new Police Commissioner. Chief Branville G. Bard Jr. is the finalist, currently serving as the Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety for the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Police Department. The final decision which rests with the City Manager, not the City Council, and should be announced very soon.
  • Electric Vehicles: The question of how to continue encouraging the use of electric vehicles is one that the Council has discussed frequently. I intend to hold a Health & Environment Committee hearing to discuss how to promote and incentivize more people to switch to electric vehicles, and how to expand our charging program throughout the city.
  • Commitments to Renewable Energy: I sponsored a policy order in the spring to push the City to support a goal of using 100% clean and renewable energy in Cambridge by 2035 by focusing on municipal solar projects, energy efficiency upgrades, municipal fleet replacement, and other efforts. I also sponsored a policy order asking the Cambridge Retirement Board to look into the feasibility of divesting from fossil fuels. I will also be scheduling a Health & Environment Committee hearing soon to review, the “FY2016 Net Zero Action Plan Progress Report” produced by the Community Development Department. This serves as a status update relative to the Net Zero policy that the Council adopted last term.
  • Envision Cambridge & Alewife: I have been closely following the Envision Cambridge process, especially the Alewife portion, which is the first phase in the citywide planning process. Learn more about the process and see the schedule for all upcoming meetings (which are public) here.

I welcome any questions or comments on the work described above, or if you have suggestions and ideas for future endeavors. I am enjoying this work tremendously and though my calendar is fuller than ever, I am learning a great deal meeting passionate residents. I am humbled to have been entrusted with representing you.

I hope to see you around town this summer!

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Jan Devereux
City Councillor
Cambridge, MA