City Council Agenda Summary (11/13/17)

The City Council will hold a regular meeting on Monday, November 13th at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. There are few weighty policy orders, given that this meeting (possibly November’s only regular meeting) comes on the heels of the municipal elections and the Veterans Day long weekend, which moved up the clerk’s deadline to submit orders from Thursday to Wednesday. But there are a  number of responses to prior policy orders on the City Manager’s Agenda.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 New members appointed to Citizen’s Committee on Civic Unity: Six new members will join this appointed advisory committee. Congratulations to Lorraine Goff, Kelly Hassett, Laura Smith, Gustavo Payan, Tarit Rao-Chakravorti and Holly Bernier. This volunteer group is not to be confused with the Council’s own Civic Unity Committee of which I am a member, but which has not held a meeting this term. When the new Council takes office in January we may wish to review and combine committees; certainly the city’s (and nation’s) “civic unity” has been put to the test over the past two years, most especially since the election of Donald Trump, but if this committee has not met to consider any new policies or programmatic initiatives or to hear public comment on existing policies, one must wonder why.

#2 Transfer of Funds for Development Mitigation: When funds that are assessed for development mitigation are collected they are, by law, first deposited to the General Fund and then certified to be transferred to the Free Cash Fund, as this item requests. Any expenditures toward mitigation projects will have to be individually appropriated by future Council votes. In FY17 (which ended 7/1/17) about $2.3M was collected for mitigation. It would be helpful if this item had included an itemized list of what spending projects this money was promised toward, and which developments it is tied to. Tracking such commitments has proven difficult in the past. Mitigation Funds are distinct from Community Benefits Funds, of which (somewhat surprisingly) none were collected in FY17.

#5 Planning Board response on Alexandria Zoning Petition for Innovation Space: The Board recommends that the Council approve a small zoning change that would exempt as “innovation space” a portion (up to 10K s.f. of 36K s.f.) of an existing historic building within Alexandria’s PUD. The building (161 First St.) will remain commercial instead of being repurposed for housing as originally planned, but the promised housing will be provided in a separate new building on the site, which will require a Planning Board approval to the development plan and design review.The CDD memo explains all this in more detail. The Ordinance Committee will hold its first hearing on this petition on Wed., 11/15 at 3:30pm.

#9 Measures to Protect Senior Citizens during Heat Waves: With climate change expected to bring us three solid months of 90+ degree summer heat by 2040 or so, the city is stepping up programs to identify and protect vulnerable residents including the elderly in public housing. In addition to outreach programs, the LBJ and Manning senior apartments will soon have central AC. We have discussed the need for “cooling centers” for people without AC or those who live alone and may need additional support and supervision during extreme heat events. Read more here.

#10 Kinnaird St (between River and Western) will not become one-way: The Traffic Dept. reviewed crash data and found no reason to make the street one-way. The current configuration (with parking on both sides) serves to slow cars because the travel lane is only wide enough for movement in one direction.

#11 Protecting Pedestrian Safety (legal memo): The City Solicitor’s memo responds to questions about whether pedestrian-activated signals at crosswalks decrease a motorist’s legal obligation to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk and liability in the event of injury. A jury may find a pedestrian negligent if s/he enters a crosswalk against a signal without giving the motorist “reasonable” time to stop. The Traffic Dept. has conducted a yield study that shows that rapidly flashing beacon lights such as the signal at Albany and Portland St significantly increase the rate of motorists’ yielding to pedestrians and the department will begin installing more of these signals at high-risk crossings with funds from Participatory Budgeting. The Police Dept. is applying for a grant to increase enforcement related to pedestrian safety.

#12 Traffic Calming on Magazine Street?: In response to a question of whether traffic calming or a reduced speed limit on Magazine St is appropriate, the Traffic Dept. conducted a speed study that indicated that the majority (85%) of the traffic already travels 26mph or slower. In light of this and other factors, the street is not deemed a high priority enough for designation as a “safety zone” with a 20mph limit.

#13 Urban Wildlife Policies: Live and Let Live: The Council’s recent speculation about wild turkeys “strategizing” drew laughs, but the Animal Commission states that while sightings may be up due to the development of formerly natural areas in the region, the actual number of wild animals in the city probably is not. Even if much more wildlife were present, there is not much we can do under state law, as trapping, transporting and relocating wildlife is prohibited (not to mention poisoning or killing wildlife!). We will be adding a new staff position to the Animal Control Office and have been stepping up education and outreach to residents on limiting food sources (garbage and bird feeders) and securing places (porches and very dense vegetation) where animals can build dens, nest or roost. With Thanksgiving is coming up, let us give thanks for the “success story” of MassWildlife’s efforts to re-establish the wild turkey population in Mass and the resurgence of the breed in cities and suburbs. (Or not.) In general the threat to public safety remains low if we keep our distance, and realize that any aggressive behavior is typically limited to the alpha male in the flock.

#14 Public Financing of Campaigns (legal memos): After an unsuccessful citizen initiative to put a non-binding question on this November’s ballot to assess whether voters would like us to develop a system of public financing for municipal campaigns, we filed a policy order asking for an explanation of what methods might be legal. The City Solicitor’s response, which includes her memo from 2014 on the same subject, is that whatever system we chose to implement would require a home rule petition to the state legislature. And a candidate’s participation would have to be voluntary. Some of the policy questions that remain to be answered and for which more community input is needed before a home rule petition could be drafted are: 1) who would administer the system, 2) would tax revenue or some other source fund it, 3) how would candidates qualify for public funding, 4) how would the amount each candidate receives be set, 5) would funds match private donations from (only) residents, and 6) would public financing require the candidate adhere to a spending cap. I hope that in the next term the newly elected Council will agree to make answering these questions a priority and that a home rule petition can be presented and passed, to make Cambridge the first city in the Commonwealth with publicly funded elections.


#1 Congratulations to Pebble Gifford on winning Jane Thompson Preservation Award: The Harvard Square Neighborhood Association has created an award in memory of designer and architect Jane Thompson. They recently presented it to Pebble Gifford, leader of the Harvard Square Defense Fund. This year marks 20 years since the Read Building in Harvard Square was landmarked. With Harvard square under intense development pressure, preservation advocates are organizing around the Abbot Building and the Kiosk.

Policy Orders

#1 Curbside Composting Collection Update Requested: We have been told that new staff will be hired to enable DPW to roll out compost collection citywide this spring. I don’t know if Councillor Cheung has reason to feel that has changed in submitting this order, but we are all eager to see more green bins on the curb.

#2 Cancel Nov. 27 City Council Meeting: The Mayor and Councillor Toomey suggest we cancel our regular meeting on the Monday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 27). The Nov. 20th meeting has already been designated a Roundtable to hear an update on Envision Cambridge. The Nov. 6th meeting was converted to a Roundtable as well. That leaves just three more regular meetings in December before this Council’s term ends. The first Monday of 2018 falls on New Year’s Day and a council with three new members will be inaugurated that morning, even though it is a holiday.

#3 Outreach and Education or Prevent Concussions in Youth Sports: Councilor Cheung has pushed on this issue throughout his time on the Council. Having decided not to seek re-election he seems to want to make sure it does not get forgotten. Having read about the severe brain damage that the Aaron Hernandez sustained from head injuries in football, I don’t think can disagree that preventing concussions — and educating parents, coaches and referees about the risks of contact sports — is extremely critical.

#4 More Fitness Equipment in Parks: Councillor Cheung suggests we provide stretching and low-impact fitness equipment like that in Magazine Beach Parks in other public parks. There’s certainly room for similar equipment at Danehy Park, Glacken Field and at North Point Park, and maybe other of our larger parks.

Committee Report

#1 Ordinance Committee Report on Smith Petition for Graduate Student housing at MIT: This petition is effectively moot since the Volpe Zoning Petition, to which the petitioners sought to attached it, passed at the end of October. The students’ demand in this petition was for 1,800 beds, but MIT agreed to provide 950 new beds in the next few years and to reassess demand within three years as part of the Volpe zoning MOU. I expect that next term we will continue to debate the greater role that our educational institutions should have in helping address the need for housing that is affordable to their own affiliates, the students they graduate into our workforce, and their thousands of campus employees who wish to live here. MIT and Harvard are two of our largest employers and to remain competitive for faculty, staff and students it is in their interest to help create housing that is more broadly affordable.

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