The City Council will meet on Monday, March 5 at 5:30pm. The agenda is online. What follows is my summary of the items of most interest. Please note that we will not meet on Monday, March 12, because most of the Council and the senior staff will be attending the annual National League of Cities conference in Washington on that Monday.
City Manager’s Agenda (only 1 item this week)
#1 Appropriation for Library HVAC contract: The $135K requested covers a gap in the projected budget for HVAC maintenance and repair following the recent signing of a new 3-year contract.
Three orders from last week’s meeting were “charter-righted” by Councillor Simmons and may come back for discussion. And there is one item of Unfinished Business.
#1 Block Party Permit Fees: I sponsored this order after a group of residents who have been organizing a popular block party on their street for about a decade contacted me to say the permitting fees are becoming burdensome. In addition to the $25 fee to close off a street during a block party, there is a $50 fee for live music, which along with food and beverages adds to the cost of the event. When no admission is charged and the musicians are unpaid, the fees can discourage residents from organizing such gatherings, which are increasingly important to creating and strengthening community connections and neighborhood resiliency. I am asking to reconsider whether to eliminate or at least reduce the music fee.
#2 Housing Choice Initiative: The State has a new program with grants and incentives to help qualifying communities build housing. I appreciate Councillor Siddiqui’s bringing this new program to our attention and am happy to be a co-sponsor of the order, which asks the staff to apply for it.
#3 Lawsuits Against Opioid Makers: This order asks the City to join a national lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors of opioids to reimburse the government for past and future costs of the public health emergency that misuse and over-prescription of opioids have caused. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of Councillor Kelley’s order.
#4 Harvard Sq T Restroom: Most of us would not even consider using the restroom in the Harvard Sq T station, its condition is so deplorable, and it is frequently out of order or locked before the station closes for the night. Imagine being a tourist arriving for the first time to visit world-renown Harvard Square and being presented with this disgraceful facility. I sponsored this order to ask the MBTA to repair and maintain the restroom. Even the T ought to be able to do better by one of its busiest stations, and we have let them off the hook for too long.
#5 What are we doing to address the housing crisis? This order asks the staff to produce a document “with graphics and flow charts” that explains the various housing programs and how they are funded, and to present it to the Housing Committee. In the meantime there is a podcast series produced by Backyard Media that is attempting to answer the same question. Listen to Part I here (Part II coming soon).
#6 Permitting Timeline for Inman Sq Intersection Redesign: The staff’s preferred design for the Inman Square intersection recommends moving most of the open space in Vellucci Plaza across the street and reconfiguring it as a more of an urban plaza. Some people have expressed concerns about tree loss and creating a different character of outdoor space than what is there currently, and which many concede is underutilized by virue of being across a daunting intersection from the area’s retail activity. Others are enthusiastic about the potential of a new open space design and its proximity to the businesses. Although the total amount of public open space in Inman Square would not change in the new design, reconfiguring any public open space can entail seeking permission from the state legislature as well as approval by the city’s Conservation Commission and Planning Board. This order asks for clarification about the procedural requirements and timing of each of these steps with regard to the Council’s need to appropriate the funds (about $6M) to do the eventual work. There is another meeting on 3/7 at 6:30pm at CRLS to learn more about the design.
#7 Dockless Bike Share: While the city recently renewed its contract with Hubway to operate our bike share program and there are plans to continue to increase the number of docks. Recently, too, Hubway just began to offer discounts to low-income users in an effort to make bike share more affordable ($5/mo. or $50/yr.). Hubway serves Boston, Somerville and Brookline, too. But new companies that offer “dockless” bike share are springing up in other cities around the region and the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission helping 16 suburban towns launch a dockless system. That means that we likely will begin to see these bikes parked all over Cambridge, waiting for their next rider to unlock them with a code or key card. Since they don’t have to be locked to a rack they can be left literally anywhere for the next rider to find by GPS. I’m all for making biking more accessible and convenient, but if some of us thought sandwich board signs were a problem on crowded sidewalks, just wait …. we need a plan for how to manage this new system. As chair of the Transportation Committee, I look forward to discussing this in a future hearing.
#8 Call it “Cannabis,” not “Marijuana”: As we begin to debate regulations and zoning for what we’ve been calling “recreational” or “adult use” “marijuana” (as opposed to “medial marijuana”), Councillors Zondervan and Siddiqui are asking us to substitute “cannabis” in all documents so as not to perpetuate the racist origin of the word “marijuana” and its legacy of stricter law enforcement for people of color. I think the language in our regulations for medical cannabis would have to be amended, too.
Communications from Other City Officers
#1 Tenant Right of First Refusal: As discussed in Charter Right #3 above, this communication is the proposed text of an ordinance, inspired in part by a bill that was before the state legislature this term (left in committee) and was modeled on a law in Washington, DC. I have not studied the proposed ordinance carefully enough to be able to explain it fully, and there is no accompanying communication that summarizes its requirements or states its overarching policy goals (housing stability and/or affordability). Also the city’s legal department has not had the opportunity to review the draft ordinance to advise us on its nuances. But the general idea is that once a property owner has a purchase and sale agreement with a willing buyer, the owner would be required to give any tenant(s) a window of opportunity (the length of time varies by the size of building but not less than 90 days) to have the property appraised and to present a comparable offer at full market value. The law would apply to all private, non-institutional housing except: single family homes, two-unit buildings where both units are owner occupied, and two-families where the owner occupies one unit and a family member occupies the other. There is also an exemption for units occupied by or held in trust for developmentally disabled individuals. Any change to our local law would require a series of public hearings, a Council vote, and then a vote by the state legislature through a home rule petition, so this is only the start of a lengthy process. I expect we will hear a great deal of emotional comment and what-if questions that will challenge us to think through the policy goals and the impact of any changes on owners as well as tenants — and to decide whether this ordinance or an amended version of it is the best way to achieve them.
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. A new online system for signing up for public comment was recently launched, and it goes live on the Friday morning before the Monday meeting. Here is the link. You also may call 617-349-4280 on the Monday of the meeting from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm to sign up to speak, or sign up when you arrive at City Hall by going to the City Council office after 5:00pm and using the public computer terminal on the desk by the door. Regardless of how you sign up you should do so before 6:00 pm on Monday. 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