The Cambridge City Council will resume its regular meeting schedule on Monday, December 4th at 5:30pm. This is one of three December meetings left until the new Council is inaugurated on Monday. January 1st at 10:00am. The agenda for this Monday’s meeting is on the Open Meeting Portal. Given the coming transition and the election of three new councillors (congratulations Sumbul Siddiqui, Quinton Zondervan and Alanna Mallon), I would not expect major policy initiatives to be introduced this month. Rather, this is a time when the city manager can clear off the “awaiting report” list of policy orders that were adopted earlier this term. Below is my summary of the key items on this week’s agenda.
City Manager’s Agenda
#2 Peace Commission appointments: The Peace Commission will welcome six new members. Four members were reappointed. The lengths of the terms vary from one-year, two-years and three-years. There are no openings on other boards and commissions at this time.
#4 Funding for Youth on Fire: The City will bridge a funding gap for Youth on Fire with $37,500 in emergency funding to restore full operations at the drop-in program for homeless youth operating. In addition we will allocate $75,000 in the FY19 budget. This gap is the result of state budget cuts.
#5 Youth employment in outreach programs: The response doesn’t fully answer the question posed about expanding youth employment, but it is interesting because it details the extent of outreach last summer about the Cambridge Street bike lanes through the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program and also lists education programs for teens focused on bike safety. Youth involvement in outreach connected with Vision Zero and transportation education and innovation will continue this summer.
#6 Beekeeping zoning: The Planning Board recommended approving the proposed zoning for beekeeping with some changes that further limit what is regulated by zoning. The Department of Public Health will have the authority to approve and deny applications to keep bees including reviewing the site location, number and design of any hives. The Health Department is poised to promulgate its regulations (see final draft), which will require a public hearing for every application by a panel of three health officials. The panel will have the authority to deny an application based evidence that keeping bees could pose a physical or mental health risk to a resident of the property where the bees are kept or to an abutter. I have some concerns about the relatively late addition this fall of the requirement to hold a public hearing for every application even if no variance is sought. The beekeeping zoning expires on January 3rd but has been passed to a second reading and could be adopted before then.
#7 Citizens Committee on Civic Unity reappointments: Seven members of this committee have been reappointed, all for three-year terms.
#8 Curbside compost collection to begin citywide in April 2018: Municipal compost collection will be available to residents of buildings up to 12 units. This represents about 8,100 buildings and 25,000 residents. After an education and outreach period in early 2018 residents will receive: a kitchen compost bin, a green curbside bin, and a supply of compostable bags (start-up outreach and equipment costs are $1M). We are also hiring 4 new DPW employees to replace the contractor who has been collecting compost on the Monday pilot route. Composting is part of our Zero Waste Plan, which aims to reduce residential trash by 30% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050.
#9 Fern Street skateboarding follow-up: To address concerns about safety and nuisance (noise and nighttime use), the artists who designed the Fern Street path have been asked to recommend physical modifications that will deter skateboarding on the raised portions of the path. While skateboarding activity seems to have quieted down now that the weather is colder and daylight hours are shorter, the path was not conceived for that use or designed with enough separation from the streets to safely accommodate some of the more risky skateboarding stunts that were being tried over the summer. My request to consider creating a dedicated skateboard area in Danehy doesn’t seem likely to be seriously considered since any substantial construction over the landfill needs Mass DEP permitting.
#10 West Cambridge sewer separation project follow-up: This comes in response to questions about cost overruns and delays in completing the Huron-Concord sewer and street reconstruction project. The total cost of all three contracts was $90,300,000, of which about 50% by the MWRA. This reflects an increase of $20,600,00 over the original bid. About 1/3 ($7.5M) of the cost overrun was the unanticipated cost of replacing the century-old water main on Huron Avenue. While the project met its court-ordered Dec. 2015 deadline to separate sewer from stormwater, the rest of the project took about a year longer than anticipated. The Huron B portion is listed as being completed in Dec. 2017 and there is still punch list work going on. The memo notes that having to meet a court-ordered deadline made it more challenging to phase and increased the disruption especially to the Huron Village business district, which was most directly affected by the water main replacement. Each of the three contract areas is as large or larger than any of the other recent sewer separation projects the city has undertaken and doing three simultaneously made coordination more difficult. The memo also alludes to collecting data to measure and respond to concerns voiced by many residents about speeding post-construction.
#11 Homelessness Trust Fund: Last January the Human Services Committee asked the city solicitor to advise us on the feasibility of creating a trust fund to provide grants for housing and other assistance for homeless people. This legal memo states that creating a trust fund (with grant-making authority similar to the Affordable Housing Trust) and imposing a fee to fund it would require a special act by the state legislature. The new council could consider filing a home rule petition.
#1 Street safety education: In response to all the concerns expressed about sharing our streets safety following the installation of new bike lanes, I sponsored an order to ask that the “Street Code” booklet be mailed to every household. Published earlier this year by CDD, the booklet explains with simple language and colorful graphics the rules, etiquette and expectations for safely and courteously sharing the road among all modes. Both the mayor and vice mayor co-sponsored this order.
#2 Combine mailings on city and school budgets: The mayor is suggesting that separate end-of-the-year mailings on the budget from the City Manager and the School Superintendent be combined. I have not seen the School Dept. version so I don’t know how much content overlap there is. But given that the schools are the biggest portion of our budget it seems as if even residents who do not have children in the public schools might wish to have that information included in the annual mailing about their taxes.
#3 Danger of Veolia District Steam Energy?: This order asks for an investigation by the state’s Dept. of Public Utilities into the safety of the Veolia district energy plant in Kendall Square. Such “co-gen” plants are unregulated by the state, and there is litigation pending about plant maintenance. The order cites explosions at other steam plants, mostly recently one in Baltimore. I toured the Veolia plant last year when it celebrated completing a major capital investment in its facility to eliminate hot water discharge into the Charles River. “Green steam” has significant environmental benefits, and the company has worked closely with Cambridge and Boston, MIT, major biotech companies and hospitals, so I am surprised that this order appears to cast doubt on whether Veolia is a responsible partner. I would like to better understand the basis for concern and what safety protocols are in place.
#4 Legal aid for Haitians affected by loss of TPS: As feared, the Trump administration has announced that it will rescind the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) of Haitians who were in the US as of the date of the 2010 earthquake. These residents would be required to leave the US by July 2019. This order asks that the city work with non-profits to offer legal aid to residents losing TPS status.
There are reports from five hearings held this fall: street safety (Neighborhood and Long-Term Planning, Oct. 10), Alexandria PUD re-zoning (Ordinance, Nov. 15), the surveillance ordinance (Public Safety, Oct. 18), an affordable housing plan (Housing, Oct. 25), and notification of towing for street cleaning (Transportation, Oct. 6). All three of these topics will carry over into the next term.
There are minutes of the Nov. 20th Roundtable presentation and discussion on Envision Alewife. The draft plan presented by Utile is here. Nine members of the Envision Alewife Working group submitted a letter expressing their strong support for a bridge and a commuter rail stop to improve connectivity in Alewife. Notably the Utile plan does not include any new crossing of the railroad tracks despite the fact that a non-auto bridge was included in the 2005 Concord Alewife plan. I would characterize the Council’s reaction to what was presented as lukewarm and several of us cited the failure to address the area’s lack of non-auto connections. The next Envision Alewife Working Group meeting will be on Dec. 14th at 6:00pm at the Russell Youth Center.
Communications from City Officers
#1 Opioid Working Group Report: Earlier this year Vice Mayor McGovern formed a working group of city staff and community experts to develop recommendations for addressing the opioid epidemic in Cambridge. The report offers nine well-considered strategies for education, prevention, intervention and treatment.
#3 Bike Citation and Collision Data Analysis: Councillor Kelley worked with Ted Feldman, a resident and grad student whom he describes as a “fellow bike safety data nerd,” to analyze the available data and bike crashes and traffic citation. Among the findings are that most bike crashes involve turning, though about 20% involve dooring. bout 5% of all citations are issued to cyclists and most are enforcement for both bikes and cars is on running red lights. For cars failure to yield in crosswalks is seldom ticketed comparatively. Relatively few citations for either bikes or cars are issued after dark, which means that cyclists riding without the required front lights are rarely cited.
#4 & #5 Final election results for City Council and School Committee: The detailed results are included on the agenda and posted on the Election Commission’s website. Voter turnout was up about 16% to 22,524 for the City Council and 20,708 for School Committee.
#6 Request for Roundtable on Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience Plan: I have requested that there be a televised Roundtable early in the next term to present the new CCPR plan for Alewife. The draft CCPR plan is online and public comment is welcomed. An interactive flood viewer map is also available.
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