City Council Agenda Highlights (6/25/18)

The Cambridge City Council will hold its last regular meeting before our summer break on Monday, June 25, 2018, at 5:30pm. The agenda is online. We will not reconvene as a full body until our special meeting on Monday, July 30, but we will continue to hold committee hearings throughout July and August. My summary of this week’s most significant items follows.

City Manager’s Agenda

#3 Repairs at Fire Stations: In response to last week’s Council discussion about the daunting degree of deferred maintenance at our fire houses, the city manager is suggesting an appropriation of $2M from Free Cash for a number of high-priority building repairs and updates. Watch this news story on the issue.

#6 Needle Safety Information: Used syringes left in public places are a health hazard. Avoid touching them! If you find one call the police (617-349-3300) or 911 if the needle seems to pose an immediate safety threat. The Public Health Department is developing plain language information about the safe handing of used needles and syringes that will go on the City’s website. There is also an anonymous drug/crime tip hotline: 617-349-3359 or text Tip411.

#7 Getting to 100% Renewable Energy: Last year I filed a policy order to ask the City to set an ambitious goal of using 100% renewable energy across all sectors by 2035. The memo details our progress toward achieving carbon neutrality in both buildings and transportation by 2050.  We are on track to meet our 2020 goal of converting 20% of our electricity usage to 100% renewable. One way to increase this percentage would be for many more residents to choose the 100% Green option in our Community Choice Aggregation program. The memo is worth reading to understand the extent of the effort we are making to reduce our energy and carbon consumption, and to grasp the degree of challenge presented in converting heating and transportation to renewables. I am holding a committee hearing on our electric vehicle policies on Tues., July 24 at 1:00pm.

#8 Autonomous Vehicle Testing: The City signed an MOU this week with state officials to standardize the rules for permission to test AVs on city streets in the metro area including Cambridge. There will be community outreach this fall for the public to weigh in on the rules and safeguards for any AV testing.

#9 Pavement Markings: “Bikes Yield to Peds”: We will begin adding pavement markings in the protected and separated bike lanes to remind people on bikes of the requirement to yield to pedestrians in unsignalized crosswalks. Of course, cyclists should always yield to pedestrians in their direct path even if they aren’t in a crosswalk.

#10 Traffic Calming at Chestnut and Brookline Streets: This is a response to a policy order I filed on behalf of some residents concerned about the safety of families crossing this intersection in Cambridgeport, which is near two daycare providers. In the short term the traffic staff do not feel that adding STOP signs on Brookline Street is appropriate, but they do note that Chestnut is on the 5-Year Street and Sidewalk Plan and at that point (FY20) further traffic calming measures like curb extensions or a raised table could be considered.

#11 Housing Discrimination Report: At a Housing Committee meeting this spring we asked for a report on the Human Rights Commission’s work in mediating and resolving claims of housing discrimination. From FY15 to date, the HRC has received 40 complaints of discrimination, 3 of which were considered to have probable cause, 2 had private settlements, and 7 were successfully “conciliated”. More than half (24) lacked probable cause. Evictions and landlord-tenant disputes over rent or building conditions are not addressed though the HRC.

#12 Updates to the Human Rights and Fair Housing Ordinances: Some terminology updates to these two ordinances will be referred to the Ordinance Committee. For example, references to “gender” and “disabled person” will be changed to “gender identity” and “person with a disability.”

#13 Surveillance Ordinance, Revised Draft: The Law Department has worked closely with the ACLU to further revise the proposed Surveillance Ordinance, which if adopted would be one of the state’s first and would govern how such technology is acquired and used. Only two points of disagreement remain and the reasons the Law Department does not fully agree with the ACLU are explained in the memo.  Following Friday’s Supreme Court decision that by a 5-4 majority narrowly curtailed cell phone tracking without probably cause, the NYT ran an op-ed that supports legislation as the only effective way of governing how law enforcement uses surveillance technology.

Applications and Petitions

#2 Application for Outdoor Seating at Pokeworks in Harvard Square: This new fast food restaurant on the corner of Mass Ave and Church Street has applied for 10 tables (26 seats) on the sidewalk. It seems like a reasonable request to me.

#4 Petition to Create New Street Zoning Overlay District: A developer who desires to demolish the building that houses the Evolve fitness center on New Street and to replace it with a much large self-storage center has applied to change the zoning on that lot and the lot next door. This petition will be referred to the Ordinance Committee for discussion. I feel it is spot zoning and for a use that does not further the planning goals of the New Street area. Any new building that is steps from Danehy Park and Fresh Pond should be for people to live, work or play in, not for boxes of excess belongings. This is not the right setting for The Story of Stuff to play out.

#5 Petition for Improvements to Sidewalk/Bike Path near Magazine Beach Park: Many members of the public signed an online petition to ask that the sidewalk along Memorial Drive near Magazine Beach Park (between Pleasant Street and the BU Bridge) be improved to accommodate all types of users more safely. I co-sponsored a related Policy Order (#13). The paths and the park belong to Mass DCR so we will need their cooperation for any work, and any changes would also need to be compatible with the master plan and ongoing improvements within Magazine Beach Park.

Policy Orders

#1 Rainwater and Flat Roof Zoning: This proposed ordinance change has been considered before and is back again. It seeks to help residential property owners with flat roofs (eg a typical triple decker) better manage rain and snow runoff. The proposal offers them additional height (up to 10′) and FAR (not more than 20%) in exchange for increasing the building’s thermal efficiency (roof insulation), eliminating rainwater discharge into the sewer system, and managing the rainwater according to certain conditions.

#2 Leaf Blower Enforcement Update: Leaf blower season ended on June 15, and blowers may not be used again until Sept. 15. I sponsored this order to ask for a report on our ongoing efforts to educate property owners and landscape contractors about responsible leaf blower use and to enforce the ordinance (see FAQ).

#3 South Mass Ave Improvements and Outreach Seniors: The traffic and transportation planning staff have held 3 well-attended community meetings and conducted extensive outreach to inform a set of proposed “quick build” safety improvements along Mass Ave between Sidney Street and Memorial Drive. Along with protected bike lanes, the improvements include bus priority lanes and new crosswalks. Councillor Simmons thinks senior citizens have not had enough opportunity for input.

#4 Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance, Proposed Changes: We only passed the ADU law a year or so ago, but a few changes are being proposed to make it somewhat easier to create an accessory unit by eliminating the minimum lot size (currently 5,000 sf), striking off-street parking as a consideration for a special permit, and allowing an ADU of up to 1,000 sf in a free-standing structure such as a garage. It also clarifies the intent that any property with an ADU remain owner-occupied regardless of changes in ownership. This will be referred to the Ordinance Committee for further discussion.

#5 Condemning Immigrant Family Separation: I doubt POTUS will be surprised to learn that the Cambridge City Council strongly opposes separating migrant families.

#6 Job Training for Port Residents: This order asks for a “dynamic new initiative” to create pathways to gainful employment and careers for residents in the Port. I attended today’s graduation of Cambridge Works, which is a terrific transitional jobs placement and workforce development program. The City partners with Just-a-Start for its Biomedical Careers Program.

#7 Congestion at Huron and Larchwood Dr: Rush hour congestion at the light at Huron Ave and Fresh Pond Parkways extends back toward Larchwood Dr, and cars trying to enter and exit the residential neighborhood get blocked and exacerbate the gridlock. No simple fix springs to mind.

#8 Waterplay Features in Parks: Are all the tot lot sprinklers working this summer? If not, this order wants them fixed ASAP. Here’s a map of waterplay parks.

#10 Equity in the Emerging Cannabis Industry: At this week’s Economic Development Committee hearing we discussed ways to ensure that the new adult-use cannabis industry creates employment and business ownership opportunities for people of color and others disproportionately harmed by marijuana law enforcement. We could advantage equity applicants through the special permit process and with conditions in the required community host agreements.

#11 Job Linkage Fee: The current linkage fee, which is assessed on large, non-residential development projects, funds affordable housing. This order asks that the upcoming Incentive Zoning Nexus Study consider the feasibility of adding a fee that would go toward workforce development programs to help residents qualify for the jobs being created in new buildings.

#12 Airplane Noise Relief: This order asks for an update on efforts to address the increased noise from Logan airport following the introduction of the FAA’s RNAV system a few years ago, which steers flights onto narrow corridors that concentrate the noise. MassPort has also increased the number of late night and very early morning flights. On days when the wind is in a certain direction, the flights pound overhead, sometimes in 2-minute intervals. If you join Boston West Fair Skies or Logan Aircraft Noise Working Group (both are Google Groups), you will learn a great deal about local advocacy on this issue. You can submit aircraft noise complaints online here.

#13 Improvements to Sidewalk Path along Memorial Drive: The section of the DCR’s “Paul Dudley White Community Path” that runs alongside Magazine Beach Park is too narrow for the high volume of bike and ped traffic and is in very poor condition. I co-sponsored this order to ask the various public and non-profit stakeholders to meet to discuss how to improve the path

#14 Climate Preparedness Week: Save the dates (Sept. 24-30) for special events organized by CREW (Communities Responding to Extreme Weather) to raise awareness about climate change resiliency and preparedness.

Committee Report

#1 Street Performers Ordinance: We reviewed proposed changes to the Street Performers Ordinance and voted to eliminate the fee (now $40 per year). Performers would still need to submit a simple registration form to the Arts Council to get a permit and follow the rules for noise, performance hours and allowed locations.

Roundtable Minutes

Envision Cambridge: Earlier this month we held a Council roundtable to discuss the Envision citywide planning, and the minutes are included on this agenda. No votes were taken per roundtable rules. It was televised and the video is on the Open Meeting Portal.

Communications from City Officers:

#1 Non-Combustible Cannabis Consumption in Public: Councillor Kelley thinks consuming cannabis (other than smoking it) should be allowed in public places like parks.

#2 Early Voting in Municipal Elections: Earlier this term I asked the Election Commission if early voting will be possible in our city elections. The Law Department replied the state law on early voting only applies to elections held at the same time as biennial state elections, which our “odd-year” elections are not. I plan to schedule a Government Operations Committee hearing to discuss filing a home rule petition for early voting in future city elections.

#3 Cybersecurity Safeguards: Councillor Kelley is worried about whether the City is adequately prepared to withstand cybersecurity threats. Is anyone anywhere? We will discuss this more at the Public Safety Committee hearing on Tues., 6/26 at 3:30pm.

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. There is an online system for signing up for public comment that goes live on the Friday morning before each 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 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 and on the City’s YouTube site. 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