City Council Agenda Highlights (1/7/19)

Another calendar year begins, my fourth as a councillor. Our first meeting of 2019 will be on Monday, January 7 at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted here. My overview follows.

City Manager’s Agenda

No reports or memos. No major appropriations or allocations.


On the Table: A policy order I submitted in early December related to reducing airplane noise from Logan remains in limbo, as we debate how to instruct our representative to the MassPort Community Advisory Committee (Bill Deignan of CDD) to best represent Cambridge residents’ interests in forging a regional solution to the noise problem. Councilor Kelley and I differ on how to amend the original order, with him insisting that Cambridge advocate for one of four possible noise-reduction strategies (described in the Block 2 of the MIT Study as the “Altitude-based 4,000-foot Scenario”) and me asking for a report back on the various strategies prior to the CAC meetings this spring. We agree that the current level of noise over North and West Cambridge is absolutely unacceptable but we disagree on negotiation tactics.

Policy Orders

#1 Adding Gender X to Birth Certificates: This order asks for a home rule petition to allow people born in Cambridge to amend their birth certificates with a new non-binary gender category (X). In light of Cambridge’s overwhelming support for the recent Yes on 3 ballot question protecting transgender rights, this seems like a very reasonable change.

#2 Televise Tree Protection Hearing on Jan. 9: We have an important Ordinance Committee hearing on January 9 (5:30-7:30pm). The proposed amendment: “For any project not subject to 8.66.050, which requires removal of a significant tree, except for emergency circumstances, a permit request will first be submitted to the City Arborist. In all cases, the City Arborist shall keep a record of the type and size of tree removed, the reason for the removal, photographs of the tree documenting the reason for removal, the date, the contractor(s) involved, and the name and address of the property owner.”

#3 & #11 Schedule Joint Council/School Committee Roundtables: Roundtable meetings would be held on two Tuesdays in February (the SC meets every other Tuesday evening, so these meetings would not replace a regular Council meeting on a Monday night but they may replace a School Committee meeting). Tues., Feb. 12 would be a preliminary discussion of the FY20 School Budget and Tues., Feb. 26 would be on the Tobin/Vassal Lane Upper School reconstruction project.

#4 Tax Revenue from Short-Term Rentals: Now that Gov. Baker has finally signed state legislation to require hosts of short-term rentals to register and insure their offerings on sites like Airbnb, the question of how cities can impose and access the revenue from an excise tax (up to 6%) and a community impact fee (up to 3% on professionally managed units) is top of mind. This order asks the city solicitor to report on next steps and how “professionally managed units” are defined under the Cambridge ordinance for STRs. At least 35% of the revenue collected from any impact fee would be dedicated to affordable housing or infrastructure projects.

#5, #6 & #7: Ways to Increase Funding for the Arts: These three orders grew out of the Arts Task Force work and ask to explore ways to increase finding for the arts. #5 seeks to allocation a portion of the hotel tax and the cannabis tax. #6 suggests taking at least 25% of any fees paid into the Central Square Improvement Fund, which developers pay into in lieu of creating parking spaces, be directed to the arts in the Central Sq Cultural District. #7 asks to update the City’s 1% for Art Ordinance, in particular removing a cap of $100K per project that is sometimes imposed regardless of the size of the related public construction contract. I support all of these ideas. The notes of the last Arts Task Force meeting are in a communication from Councilor Mallon at the end of the agenda.

#8 Resolution in Support of the Green New Deal: This expresses our support for the Green New Deal proposed by some of the newly elected Democrats in the US Congress.

#9 Report on Condition of Water Mains, Proactive Maintenance and Emergency Protocol: I sponsored this order in response to the Dec. 23 water main break on Craigie Street, which caused major flooding in the vicinity and significant property damage to several homes. Many of our water mains are very old, and residents need assurance that the City is doing everything possible to prevent and mitigate damage from future breaks.

#10 Real Estate Transfer Fee: This order asks to seriously explore creating a transfer fee (percentage TBD) on all real estate transactions of over $2 million, with the revenue going toward affordable housing. It would require a home rule petition and approval from the state, but there are signs the legislature’s prior resistance to such fees can be overcome.

#12 Cycling Safety Ordinance: I’m proud to be a co-sponsor of this order and to have played a role in advancing it. The proposed ordinance would require that the city build protected bike lanes as indicated on the Bike Plan or, in the rare instances when that is deemed infeasible, provide an alternative route that offers safe connectivity for cyclists. The text of the ordinance is linked here. The next step will be to hold an Ordinance Committee hearing.

#13 Volpe Project Updates from the Federal Agency: I sponsored this order to ask for regular public updates on progress to design and construct a new Federal Transportation Building on the Volpe site. To date, no information has been shared by the federal agency (the GSA) or MITIMCo about when this project will get underway and what the new building will look like.

#14 Representation on Selection Committees for Major Public Buildings: I sponsored this order to ask the city manager to consider appointing at least one elected official to future committees that select architects and designers for major public buildings and later oversee their work. For instance no elected official participated in the selection of the architect for the Tobin/Vassal lane School project, which will cost the city more than $200 million.

Committee Reports

#1 Public Safety Committee hearing on legal and permitting questions related to new mobility platforms (like Bonzer) and devices (like e-scooters).

#2 Health & Environment Committee hearing to discuss the latest LiDAR report on the steepening tree canopy loss and its implications.

Communications for City Officers

Notes from the Arts Task Force meeting on Dec. 13:

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 If received after Thursday at 3pm, your comments will appear on the public record (under “Communications”) at the next subsequent Council meeting.

City Council meetings are televised on Channel 22-CityView and live-streamed on the City’s Open Meeting Portal and on the City’s YouTube site. Recorded versions of all Council meetings may be found on the Open Meeting Portal.

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Jan Devereux
City Councillor
Cambridge, MA