City Council Agenda Summary (10/23/17)

The agenda for the Cambridge City Council’s meeting on Monday, October 23rd 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 Elder Abuse Prevention: This appropriation of $50,000 from the funding of the Domestic and Gender-Based Violence Prevention Initiative will go to support Elder Abuse prevention work in partnership with Transition House. A 2016 needs assessment determined that there is a gap in support for elder victims of abuse by a partner and/or adult child. This funding will provide 50% of the salary of an Elder Abuse Prevention Case Manager at Transition House. 

#2 Fossil Fuel Divestment: The Cambridge Retirement Board has responded to a Policy Order I submitted asking about the feasibility of divesting from fossil fuels. A small fraction (4.2%) of the $1.2 billion fund “has exposure to direct and indirect fossil fuel holdings.” The Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission’s (PERAC) has stated that divesting would not live up to the fiduciary responsibility of the Board. The Board has met with residents and is following the progress of a state bill to create a statutory restriction comparable to the one against investing pension funds in tobacco stocks. I testified in support of this bill (sponsored by Rep. Marjorie Decker) earlier this month. I strongly believe that divestment is critical, and will continue to advocate for it in Cambridge.

#3 Cambridge Historical Commission Appointees: Paula Paris and Gavin Kleespies will be appointed as alternate members of the Cambridge Historical Commission for three-year terms. Gavin is the former director of the Cambridge Historical Society and is now with Mass Historical. Paula has served on the board of the Historical Society.

#4 Family Policy Council Appointments: Three high school students will be appointed members of the Family Policy Council, which I also serve on: Elaina Wolfson, Uma Edulbehram, and Naia Aubourg. Tagesech Wabeto and Ben Clark, both public school parents, will also be appointed. Check out the great resource Find It! Cambridge, which has been a big part of the Family Policy Council’s work over the past several years.

#5 MIT Graduate Student Housing Petition Planning Board Recommendation: The Planning Board has chosen not to make a recommendation on this petition, because it is tied to the Volpe zoning, which has not yet been adopted. The petition will stay before the Board so it could continue to be discussed. In this communication, the Board reports that “there are many tradeoffs to be considered by the Council regarding the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented by the Volpe site redevelopment…” and that graduate student housing is a big factor. The Planning Board does believe that graduate student housing is a necessary and on-going discussion for all the institutions in the City. Student housing data is already a part of the annual Town Gown reports but there has not been a strong planning focus on accommodating more of the grad student population in non-market housing.

#6 Volpe: This communication from the City Manager transmits the suggested changes to the zoning petition that were discussed at last week’s Ordinance Committee hearing and minor changes proposed by staff. These changes were not voted on by the Ordinance Committee but the amended petition was forwarded to the full Council with a favorable recommendation. There are also revisions to the Urban Design Guidelines that were discussed at the hearing. MIT’s revised Letter of Commitment has been transmitted to the Council and appears in the “Communications and Reports from City Officers” section of the agenda. This petition expires on October 31 so the vote will likely take place at one of next two regular City Council meetings. I feel we should give the public time to comment on the latest version. Not all members of the Council were present for all of last week’s Ordinance Committee hearings.


#1 Cambridge At Home 10th Anniversary: I submitted a resolution congratulating Cambridge at Home on its 10th Anniversary. Serving about 146 households in Cambridge (and more in 5 surrounding towns and cities), this program helps senior citizens age in place at their homes while connecting them to services and experiences similar to that of a retirement community. You can learn more about Cambridge at Home here.

Policy Orders

#1 Safety of Cyclists at Intersections: This order asks for our staff to ensure that the safety of cyclists at intersections is put first and asks that bike and car collisions (including recent ones at Russell St/Mass Ave and Wendell St/Mass Ave) be reviewed to ensure the safety of bike lanes.

#2 Meet your Neighborhood Sergeant Event: This order asks for a “Meet your Neighborhood Sergeant Event” in the Port neighborhood, as residents have asked for clarification as to who the official Port Neighborhood Sergeant. I’ll bet most neighborhoods aren’t aware who “their” sergeant is so similar events should be held in all areas.

#3 Review of Concurrent Walk Signals: I submitted this order because I have heard safety concerns regarding certain intersections where “concurrent” walk signals are used. These allow vehicles to turn while pedestrians are crossing; a concurrent signal allows for a longer WALK signal and keeps traffic from backing up (with a dedicated WALK signal the cars are stopped for longer). Cars are always required to yield to anyone in the crosswalk. At intersections with high foot and vehicular traffic, such as Mass Ave at Wendell and Shepard Streets, concurrent signals can put cars and pedestrians into conflict. I’ve asked for a review of this policy at busy intersections to ensure we are living up to our Vision Zero goal.

#4 Snow Removal in Protected Bike Lanes: This order from Councillor Toomey asks for a report on the plan for snow removal in new protected bike lanes. This is a question that has been asked before, but I look forward to hearing a clear answer from our staff on how we can work to keep these lanes as clear as possible.

#5 Signs, lighting, and tree trimming in Clement Morgan Park: Residents near Clement Morgan Park have requested that the City look into improving the visibility and safety of the park by installing “No Smoking” and “No Littering” signage, increasing lighting and more regularly trimming tree branches.

#6: Tenant’s Right to Purchase: This order puts the Council on record in support of House Bill 3017, An Act to Preserve Affordable Housing Through a Local Option Tenant’s Right to Purchase. This bill would increase opportunities for homeownership and limit displacement by giving tenants the right of first refusal if their landlord decides to sell. This idea was also included in the Mayor’s Comprehensive Housing Policy, which will be discussed this Wednesday (10/25, 2pm) at a Housing Committee Hearing.

Committee Reports 

This agenda includes three committee reports. The first is from a Public Safety Committee Hearing held in September, where we discussed communication between the city and universities about events (like the Boston Calling music festival) that may have an impact on the broader Cambridge Community. The second two Committee Reports concern the Volpe Zoning Petition, for which we recently held 2 hearings (10/3 and 10/17). At the second hearing, the Council voted to refer the petition to the Council with a favorable recommendation. We will continue the conversation with the full Council on Monday.

Communications and Reports from City Officers 

This agenda includes a communication from Craig Kelley about helicopter noise in Cambridge. This partly follows up on a community meeting I held in September to discuss the noise disturbances from constant departing flights from Logan over Cambridge. I sent a letter, which you can see here, to Massport this week relaying the concerns of that meeting.

There is also a communication from our Clerk, transmitting the MIT Letter of Commitment for the Volpe site, which we will discuss in more depth at the meeting.

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