The agenda for the Cambridge City Council’s meeting on Monday, October 2nd 2017, is posted online. The meeting will be televised and live-streamed, as always. What follows is my summary of the most important items on this week’s agenda:
City Manager’s Agenda
#1 FY2018 Property Tax Rate: The City Manager has submitted the FY2018 property tax rate, which will go to to Massachusetts Department of Revenue for approval after it is reviewed by the City Council. The FY18 property tax levy is $389,080,359 which is a 4.4% increase from FY17. The FY18 residential tax rate will be $6.29 per thousand dollars of value, which is a decrease of -3.1% from FY17. The commercial tax rate will be $14.81, which is a -8.1% decrease from FY17. To offset rising property values the City has decreased tax rates for each of the past five years, and for the 13th straight year the majority of residents will see no increase or an increase of less than $100 in their tax bills. We will be discussing this in more detail on Monday night.
#2 Clement Morgan Park Safety & Cleaning: Earlier this year, the City Council asked the City Manager to increase the police presence and cleaning schedule in Clement Morgan Park on Columbia St in The Port. Our new Police Commission, Branville Bard, has responded that the CPD has increased bicycle patrols and “high-visibility” patrols. The Police will continue to monitor the safety of the park and make adjustments. Additionally, DPW has scheduled crews to be in place each morning and before dusk to clean the park throughout the fall.
#3 Baseball Hitting Tunnel: City Staff has responded to a Council request for the installation of a baseball “hitting tunnel” at Danehy Park. They have determined that the best location is within the existing fence at the St. Peter’s Baseball Field. It would cost less than $20,000 to install the tunnel and to repair an existing tunnel which is primarily used for the girls’ softball league at the St. Peter’s Softball field. The work could be done later in the fall, if requested by the Council.
#4 Grand Junction Update: MIT noted at a recent public hearing for the Volpe project their willingness to “work towards a cooperation agreement and contribution for the Grand Junction Path.” This memo includes the specific elements that the City would need in the MIT-owned section of the path to realize the vision of the multi-use path. We will be able to use this information to continue negotiations with MIT regarding Volpe (see the next item below). Though everyone wants to see the Volpe project move forward, many of us have said that the Grand Junction path is a critical piece that must be addressed concurrent with the zoning process.
#5 Volpe Update: The Planning Board met on July 25 and Sept. 12 to discuss Volpe and after asking many questions and receiving comments, issued a positive recommendation for adoption, which is explained in the report. The Volpe Petition is before the Ordinance Committee for the third time this Tuesday, 10/3 at 2:30pm at City Hall, where the Council will continue its discussion of the proposal. Comments and feedback are always welcome and encouraged.
#2 Harvard Square Zoning Petition: A proposal has been submitted by Peter Kroon, et al., to amend the Harvard Square Overlay District to address many ongoing concerns regarding Harvard Square. It includes elements that pertain to “formula” (chain) businesses, banks at ground level, and encourages smaller storefronts and public uses for below grade spaces. It also seeks to encourage housing and makes recommendations for improving the governance of the Harvard Square Advisory Committee. This petition will go to the Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee, and I look forward to continuing the discussion to revitalize the Square during a time of acute pressure.
#2 Hiring Cambridge Youth for Community Engagement: This order asks our staff to look into hiring students for various youth employment programs to help with community engagement programs. This idea was floated at last week’s City Council hearing as we discussed outreach to residents and business owners regarding the Brattle Street protected bike lane. We are striving to improve our communication skills as a city, and this seems like a win-win.
#3 Harvard Square: The Council, and especially my Economic Development & University Relations Committee, has frequently discussed Harvard Square this term, and this order comes with a list of action items, with input from the Harvard Square Business Association, to help local businesses thrive in the square. The list includes: lowering the speed limit in the district to 15 miles per hour for all vehicles, including bikes, continuing installation of bicycle lanes throughout the Square, assigning three walking officers to the Square during the day with special attention to the “super crosswalk”, designating drop-off and pick-up locations for Uber, Lyft, and similar companies, allowing for propane heating at outdoor patios to encourage seasonal outdoor dining, creating more plazas for public enjoyment, providing more tables, chairs, and umbrellas on plazas, providing more trash receptacles, and establishing a plan for the Tour Buses.
#4 Magazine Street Speed Limit & Traffic Calming: This Order asks for the Traffic and Parking department to look into reducing the speed limit and installing other traffic calming measures on Magazine Street, particularly at the cross streets of William and Fairmont Streets, where there is frequent speeding.
#5 Donations for DACA Beneficiaries in Cambridge: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protects children who were brought to the U.S. as children by undocumented parents. Cambridge is a proud Sanctuary City, and the Boston/Cambridge hosts about 7,800 DACA beneficiaries. They are required to pay a steep $495 annual fee. This order asks for an examination of the feasibility of the City collecting donations from residents and organizations to help support this fee and other costs. Especially as the DACA program is in turmoil due to the cruel actions of the Trump administration, we as a community must band together to support all residents.
#6 Lighting at Dog Parks: This order asks to examine the feasibility and cost of installing lighting at City dog parks to allow for extended use of these parks, which close at dusk, in the fall and winter months. Why not use methane digesters fueled by dog poop, like the one that was piloted in 2010 in the Pacific St. dog park? Read more about the “Park Spark” project.
#8 Volunteer Bike Registry-Donation Program: The stated goal of this policy order from Councillor Toomey is to collect data about bike use. That’s all well and good, but I don’t think that asking residents who bike to make a voluntary donation to an existing fund set up to reduce vehicle miles traveled and parking is the best way to go about it. (When residents purchase their resident parking permits there is an option to donate to this fund; only a little over $5K was collected last year.) For one thing, people who bike are already contributing to reductions in vehicles miles traveled and the need for car parking through their choice to bike. For another thing, there is already plenty of data on hand to show that more residents are choosing to bike more of the time — and that even more people would bike if there were a safer bike network. We could install bike counters to collect data on numbers of cycle trips and could add questions about bike use to the city’s bi-annual survey. I would note that many people who bike also buy resident parking permits and already have the option to donate to the same fund. We have the names and addresses of car owners on file; I suppose we could add a question on the parking permit renewal form that asks, “Do you and your family members bike in Cambridge?” Then we would see the overlap in the population of people who drive and people who bike, and maybe that would help de-fuse the divisive “us vs them” narrative. Of course, with the number of parking permits dropping every year the survey pool of car owners is shrinking despite population increases .
#10 Subsidy for 100% Green Community Choice Electricity: I sponsored this Order, which asks the City to look into subsidizing the additional cost of the 100% Green option in the Cambridge Community Electricity Program. Residents were automatically enrolled in the “Standard Green” option this summer, which costs less than our previous Eversource rate and provides 25% more solar energy than is required by the state—this program had 37,474 enrollments. Only 507 people enrolled in the 100% Green Option, which provides 100% renewable energy but comes at a very slightly higher cost (less than 2 cents more per kWh). I’ve asked that we look into subsidizing this cost difference for people who want to use 100% renewable energy, but face a financial burden. I’ve also asked that we continue to promote the 100% renewable energy option.
#11 Renting School Facilities: This policy order asks to review the School Department’s policies and fees for the off-hours rental of school facilities such as auditoriums to community groups. Questions arose at a recent School Committee meeting after the North Cambridge Family Opera program expressed strong concern over increased fees for renting the Peabody School auditorium for its performances. Our school buildings should serve as community hubs, so fees should be set to encourage rather than discourage use.
#12 Support for Puerto Rico: This Order asks to create Sister City relationships with the cities of Coamo, Orocovis, Salinas, and Jayuya in Puerto Rico to increase opportunities for collaboration and aid to these cities. The majority of Puerto Ricans in Cambridge have roots in these cities, and we must be doing all we can to support Puerto Rico and our residents as Puerto Rico rebuilds from the devastation of Hurricane Irma.
#14 Huron Ave Sewer Separation Post-Mortem: Vice-Mayor McGovern and I have sponsored this order to have staff to conduct a post-mortem analysis from the mostly-complete West Cambridge Sewer Separation project, as other neighborhoods gear up for similar construction. We’ve asked for an overall evaluation, a review of obstacles, what the City could have done differently, a review of cost overruns and change orders, and what we can learn from this project for the future.
Our agenda this week includes an Ordinance Committee Report from our second hearing regarding the MIT Volpe Zoning Petition. We will continue that discussion with our third Ordinance Committee hearing this Tuesday, 10/3 at 2:30pm at City Hall.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at email@example.com. 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