After two weeks without a regular meeting, the City Council will resume its regular meeting schedule on Monday, April 23, at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. Below is my summary of the key items on the agenda. [Please note: Contrary to misinformation circulating on social media, over email and through the USPS, the City Council is not considering a boycott of Hewlett Packard. There is no vote coming up on this.]
City Manager’s Agenda
#1 Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Preview: This is the first look we will have at next year’s budget. The online agenda includes only a preview of the total operating budget by department, and the budget books with all the line item detail and the accompanying narrative will be distributed at the meeting. The grand total of the proposed FY19 operating budget is $622,477,255. This includes $191,069,505 for education. The total reflects about a 5% increase over last year’s budget. Our first Finance Committee hearing on the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, May 1, starting at 9:00am and continuing most of the day as departments heads present and answer our questions. The second budget hearing will be on Tuesday, May 8. We will vote on the School Budget on Wednesday, May 9. If a third budget hearing is needed it would be on Thursday, May 10. The final vote on the budget will come during our regular meeting on Monday, May 21.
#2, #3, #4, #5 Loan Authorizations: As part of the budget process, requests to take on debt for capital projects are placed on the agenda at this meeting, so that they can be approved together with the FY19 Budget. We will note on these four loan requests this week. The four requests total $89,150,00 and would go toward various municipal and school building improvements, sewer infrastructure, and street and sidewalk work.
#6 & #7: Appropriations for Winter Wear and Tear: One million dollars from the City’s Free Cash account is requested to pay for road repairs following the 66.9 inches of snow this winter. Also one of the City’s salters and two sidewalk tractors need to be replaced. Another $2,475,000 would cover snow plowing and salting expenses.
#8 Harvard Square Public Toilet Repairs: This memo explains why the outdoor “loo” was out of service at several times this winter and the repairs made to keep the pipes from freezing next year (we hope). At least it was still under warranty.
#9 Annual Impact Report from Sira Naturals Medical Marijuana Dispensary: This report, which was required as a condition of Sira’s special permit to open in late 2016, summarizes their operations for the first year. The report was accompanied by a $25K payment, also part of their zoning agreement for the first three years of operation. The report notes that no calls to law enforcement or public safety were made, and that the average age of patients visiting the dispensary is 39. The majority of patients come from Boston, Cambridge or Somerville, and Fridays and Saturdays are the clinic’s busiest days. A quarter drove and the rest came others modes. Discounts are offered for seniors, veterans and others for whom the cost of the medicine would be a hardship.
#10 Illuminating City Hall’s Facade: This asks to spend $120K to install programmable color-changing LED fixtures for special lighting displays on City Hall’s front facade.
#11 New Election Commissioner Appointed: Congratulations to Victoria Harris as the new Democratic Party member of the Election Commission.
#12 New Members of the Arts Council Advisory Board: I’m excited that Olivia D’Ambrosio and Michael Monestime will join this group.
Applications and Petitions
#4 Light Banner in Harvard Square: The Harvard Square Business Association is seeking approval to install an LED light banner above Palmer St, suspended from the Coop’s “sky bridge.” I have some questions and concerns about the genesis and execution of this idea. There has been no public discussion of it before now and review by the Historical Commission is not mentioned on the application.
#5 Zoning Petition for a Flood and Heat Resilient City: A group of residents submitted a petition for zoning amendments that aim to strengthen protections for large new buildings (and those substantially reconstructed) in areas that the City’s climate change assessments have identified as the most vulnerable to flooding (those in the 100-year flood plain for precipitation and in the 500-year flood plain for storm surge in 2070). There would be new 30% minimums for the amount of open space, permeable open space and tree canopy, increased setbacks to create more room for plantings and permeable surfaces. The petition encourages using “green infrastructure” to handle increased stormwater and to protect the health and safety of residents and the water quality, rather than relying so heavily on underground storage tanks to catch, hold and pipe away stormwater. Green infrastructure also is cooling and would help reduce the urban heat island effect. The petition reduces the required amount of parking for developments, saving developers money on building structured parking and freeing up space for other uses. There is a requirement for all new large buildings to report their “Green Factor” score (similar to a LEED score), by choosing from a menu of options to make the project more resilient in the event of flooding or extreme heat. For now, only new buildings in the Flood Plain Overlay District would be required to achieve a minimum Green Factor score. The petition is very well researched and is aligned with the recommendations in our Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience Report. It does not conflict with our goal of creating more housing; rather it seeks to make any new housing in large buildings safer and more livable over the next 50 years (the expected life cycle of most new buildings).
#3 Radio Tower Interference Complaints: I submitted this policy order after hearing many complaints from West Cambridge neighbors and businesses that the radio tower on Garden St near Danehy Park is interfering with their cordless phones and other electronic devices. While the FCC has jurisdiction over the airwaves, I feel a city department such as our Consumers Council could proactively provide resources and instructions on how to file complaints. The radio station recently changed owners and its broadcast signal appears to be stronger than it used to be.
#4 Harvard Sq Bus Tunnel Work: After last week’s Transportation Committee meeting on bus issues, I submitted this order to ask the City to work with the MBTA on improvements to seating and lighting as part of the bus tunnel updates and repairs. The public art on the walls also needs attention. The work will begin in late 2018 and continue into 2019.
#6 Increase Funding for Affordable Housing: This order follows a motion at our most recent Housing Committee meeting where we asked for a $20M budget commitment to preserve and create affordable housing over the next five years.
#7 Constellation Center Update: This policy order was submitted before the news broke this week that the foundation that has owned a very large vacant lot on Third St in the heart of Kendall Square for the past 20 years in the hopes of raising many millions to build a performing arts center has now decided to sell the land and use the proceeds to build the center elsewhere (likely outside Cambridge). This is infuriating for many reasons including that the foundation is tax-exempt, but so far as I know has done nothing to benefit the community. Read more.
#10 Support for Poorman’s Landing Dock: I sponsored this order to ask the state DCR to prioritize repairing this much-used and long-neglected dock on the Charles River in East Cambridge. The dock also needs to be made ADA compliant. The state owns it but Cambridge residents and others including our first responders to water emergencies rely on it.
#11 Support for Increasing State Arts Budget: I sponsored this resolution to put Council on record in support of an amendment that would increase the state’s arts budget from $14M to $17M next year. As of yesterday, a majority of state reps have now signed on to support the amendment, which is before House Ways and Means Committee. A super-majority would ensure its passage.
#12 Affordable Housing Overlay District: This order follows a motion at our most recent Housing Committee meeting where we asked the staff to draft a zoning amendment to create an overlay district that would incentivize the creation of more affordable housing. This idea has been discussed for several years and has gained traction recently, as we have seen non-profit affordable housing developers unable to compete with for-profit developers when potential development sites come on the market. It also has the support of the Envision Cambridge Housing Working Group.
There are reports from three committee meetings held this term. Topics are digital equity and affordable access to broadband, implementation of the Short-Term Rental Ordinance, and the reappointment of Margaret Drury to the Redevelopment Authority board (approved).
Communications for City Officers
#1 School Budget: As mentioned above, the School Committee has recommended a budget of $191M for the 2018-19 school year. The Council will hold a hearing and vote on it on May 10.
#2 Cannabis Education and Enforcement: Councillor Kelley has written a memo explaining the state’s new laws for the “recreational” use of cannabis, and enforcement and education policies. It’s worth a read since presumably more people will be using cannabis openly once its retail sale becomes legal (as of July 1, depending on when our zoning regulations are adopted) and there seems to remain some confusion about what is legal and what is not. Smoking cannabis in public is not legal.
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 email@example.com and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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