City Council Agenda Summary (10/30/17)

The agenda for the Cambridge City Council’s meeting on Monday, October 30, 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 SeeFixClick system effectiveness: We recently passed a policy order requesting an update on the effectiveness of the new SeeFixClick system, which allows residents to report citywide maintenance requests and complaints in 35 categories. (You can download SeeClickFix a.k.a. the Commonwealth Connect app on your phone.) This report from DPW tells us that there are over 3,600 active users and a 92% closure rate (closure meaning the item has been addressed by the staff). The most common categories are potholes, missed recycling pickup, and icy/un-shoveled sidewalks. The DPW staff finds this system more effective and popular than the previous iReport system. Staff have been adding categories, but there are some situations in which residents incorrectly categorize an issue or report an issue that is not immediately “fixable.” For example, if you see a double-parked car, it’s more effective to call the police non-emergency line (617-349-3300) instead of reporting it on SeeFixClick. For downed wires and other emergencies, you should call 911. City staff will continue to work to improve the type and volume of request categories, and increase responsiveness and tracking abilities.

#2 “Arts and Community Dialogue” series: This $40,000 appropriation will support a series of community-based dialogue events entitled, “Art & Community Dialogue.” The four discussions will be developed alongside the Arts Council, Multicultural Arts Center, and the City, and will begin in January. These will provide an opportunity for residents to come together to “share an artistic experience, and discuss issues that are often divisive and painful within communities.” I think this is a wonderful opportunity for community-building and dialogue through the arts, and I look forward to attending these events.

#3 Mental Health strategic planning: This $75,000 Justice and Mental Health Grant from the Department of Justice via the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program will help fund a Strategic Planning Coordinator. This Coordinator will lead a strategic planning team to simplify and streamline the Police Department’s mission of a justice-focused mental health program. The strategic planning team will include members of the Cambridge Police Department, medical professionals, mental health and community partners.

#4 Safety equipment at the Public Safety Building’s parking garage: This Urban Areas Security Initiative Critical Infrastructure Grant of $39,889 will fund the installation of security equipment at the parking garage at the Healy Public Safety Building (The Police HQ at 125 6th St.) including a vehicle-barrier gate, a vehicle sensor that will identify authorized vehicles, and one set of surface mounted traffic spikes. These measures will reduce the opportunity for unauthorized vehicle entry/tailgating into the parking garage.

#5 ESOL class for employees at the Division of Comparative Medicine at MIT: This $37,500 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education/Adult and Community Learning Services will support the staff and operation of an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) class for employees at MIT’s Division of Comparative Medicine. This will improve their English language skills and support them in earning certifications as animal care technicians.

#6 Homelessness prevention and financial assistance for rapid rehousing:  This is a $24,086 Emergency Solutions Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD recently informed the City that it would be allowed to use previously unspent funds from fiscal years 2011–2013 outside of the original grant terms of these years. These funds will be used for homelessness prevention client assistance for rapid rehousing client financial assistance.

#7 Supporting shelters and homeless persons outside of shelters: This Emergency Solutions Grant from HUD in the amount of $222,893 will be used to support shelter operating costs, homeless persons living outside of shelters, rapid rehousing, homelessness prevention case management, and rental assistance services.

#8: Athletic Fields: I asked for an update on the use of our athletic fields, because we often hear that there is higher demand for field space than there is availability. Fields are shared among youth, school and adult leagues. Our Department of Human Service Programs has reported that they prioritize youth recreational use and permitted 29 fields for 18,000 hours between April 1, 2017 and November 2017. (There is an interesting graph of field usage here.) Cambridge Recreation has also reported on attempts to make it possible for field space to become available to new and emerging groups. There has been an increase in availability of access for new sports and an expansion of youth opportunities (girls softball, for example, saw a 23% increase in field time this year and youth lacrosse is also growing. There will also soon be an Open Data map to report booking history to help identify emerging trends to promote greater equity in field use, especially among Cambridge-based youth sports. I look forward to discussing this in more depth on Monday.

Policy Orders

#1 Nov. 6 Roundtable to discuss the Comprehensive Housing Policy: This order asks that the Regular City Council meeting scheduled for Monday, November 6th be changed to a Roundtable/Working Meeting to discuss the Comprehensive Housing Plan that was the topic of a Housing Committee hearing this past week. At the Housing Committee meeting we only touched on a few of the items and no decisions were made. At Roundtables there is no public comment period and no votes can be taken. I will ask that the Roundtable be televised (this was not requested in the order itself).

#2 “Bike Safely in Cambridge” document for Hubway stations: I cosponsored this order, which asks that a document with information on how to bike safely on city streets to be posted at all Hubway locations in the city and for the City Manager to ask Hubway to post similar notices at stations in neighboring cities and towns. Navigating a city by bike can be challenging for visitors who are unfamiliar with the locations of safe biking infrastructure, how to bike safely in heavily trafficked or shared roads, and local traffic regulations pertaining to bicycles. Providing this information at Hubway stations would be helpful for those who are unfamiliar on our roads and choose to bike. Hubway does include the “Rules of the Road” on its website. The newest Hubway station is on Huron Ave on the new plaza at Vassal Lane and Appleton Street (across from Formaggio).

#3 Elevator Breakdowns at the Millers River Apartments: This order asks for a report on the frequent elevator breakdowns at Millers River Apartments, which is a 19-story tower serving elderly and disabled residents that operated by the Cambridge Housing Authority. The report should include the reason for the continuous breakdowns, and what measures are being taken to permanently repair the elevators.

#4 Comprehensive Arts Planning Framework: This order asks for the City Manager to convene a diverse Comprehensive Arts Working Group to begin drafting a Comprehensive Arts Planning Framework to help better incorporate the arts into City planning. I fully support this initiative because the arts too often slide to the bottom of the priority list when we triage basic community needs like housing and food security. MassCreative held an arts forum for candidates and Oct. 27 was #ArtsMatter Advocacy Day.

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