The Cambridge City Council will hold a regular meeting on Monday. February 25, 2019, starting at 5:30pm. The full agenda is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. Here are a few of the notable items.
City Manager’s Agenda
#1 Roof Replacement at Graham and Parks School: A requested appropriation of $4,025,020 from Free Cash will go toward replacing the school’s 30-year-old roof this summer. Part of the expense (up to about $1.6M) will be reimbursed through an approved grant from the state. Solar panels will be installed once the roof has been replaced.
#2 Survey Related to Human Rights Commission: A survey is being developed to better assess whether residents who contact the Human Rights Commission with a complaint about discrimination feel their concerns and needs are being addressed. Note: Complaints filed to the HRC must be received within 180 days of the alleged incident (the subject of CMA #3 is a complaint that was not filed on time and thus will not be heard).
#4 Political Statements on Trucks of Municipal Contractors: Some residents objected to political statements being displayed on trucks used by independent contractors working on city jobs. The Council asked the law department if municipal contractors could be restricted from displaying such statements on the vehicles, The short answer is no. While such contractors are considered public employees, they do not surrender their constitutional rights to free speech by working for the City and their expressive speech is protected — unless such speech materially undermines the operations of the government entity.
#6 Funding for Magazine Beach Park: A requested appropriation of $600K from Free Cash (to be matched by DCR) would go toward landscaping, lighting and accessible pathway improvements as well as the installation of 10 new benches along the shoreline between the new kayak launch and the renovated Power Magazine building.
#1 Curb Cut for 32 Vineyard: The developer (William Senne) preemptively removed the tree in the way of a desired second driveway despite questions from the Council about whether it has the standing of a public shade tree. Other trees on the site also were removed last week.
#5 Amendment to Tree Protection Ordinance: We will be able to vote on the proposed amendments to the Tree Protection Ordinance (Chapter 8.66 of the Municipal Ordinance) relative to adding a new section to require a permit to remove healthy significant trees on private property (those not already covered by large projects over 25K s.f. subject to the existing ordinance) and the proposed one-year ban on granting any such permits (the subject of Committee Report #1). Dead or dangerous trees would be exempt from the permitting ban, as would trees on affordable housing property. Certain emergency circumstances could allow the removal of a tree during the ban. The fine (penalty) for removing a healthy tree without a permit (which requires certification from an arborist) would be up to $300 per day. The amount of required mitigation fee (the cost of replacing a significant tree — $850 per caliper inch — to be paid into the Tree Replacement Fund) could be reduced to 10% of the total replacement cost if the property owner qualifies for the residential exemption or waived if the property owner qualifies for a recognized form of public financial assistance. The Urban Forest Master Plan task force will complete its recommendations for policy changes this summer, and we can further amend the ordinance, as indicated. I feel this one-year ban on permitting private tree removals is a reasonable compromise to stem canopy loss until new laws are in place. It won’t prevent all tree removals, but it sends a signal that we value trees wherever they are rooted.
Applications & Petitions
#4 Leaf Blower Ban (Noise Control Ordinance): A group of residents has filed a petition to amend the Municipal Code to ban the use of all types of leaf blowers at all times except during an emergency (storm) clean-up, effective June 30, 2019. For a two-year interim period (starting when the ordinance takes effect), leaf blowers could be used by city workers and contractors to maintain city parks, playing fields and golf course greens, but not on the grounds of public schools, playgrounds, hospitals or nursing homes or within 200 feet of a private residence. These public uses would be subject to the existing seasonal use restrictions. Operators must use ear, eye and lung protection or be subject to a fine ($300 per incident following one warning). This will be referred to the Ordinance Committee for discussion. Having held several committee hearings last term to try to tighten up enforcement and encourage a pilot of electric blowers, I understand the desire to eliminate their use as much as possible.
#5 Death of Paula Sharaga: We were all deeply saddened by the tragic death of Columbia Street resident and activist Paula Sharaga, who was killed on her bike by a cement truck while riding to work as a children’s librarian in Brookline. Paula will have a ghost bike in her memory placed at the corner of Park Drive and Brookline Ave this Sunday at 2pm. All are welcome to attend. Protected bike lanes are urgently needed in that area to prevent such tragedies.
#1 Oppose MBTA Fare Increase: I submitted this resolution to put Cambridge on record as opposed to the MBTA’s proposed fare hike this summer. We need to be making transit more accessible and more reliable to increase ridership and mode shift away from cars — fare increases erode ridership and disproportionately hurt those who cannot afford other modes. Boston Councilor Michelle Wu has started a petition to the MBTA that you can sign here.
#2 Support for Clean Transportation Bills: I sponsored this resolution in support of two state bills to transition all buses (MBTA and school) and all public and private vehicle fleets to electric by 2035. The Bills are HD 3329 (Rep Dave Rogers) and HD 3452/SD 1526 (Rep. Jon Hecht and Christine Barber).
#3 Affordable Home Ownership Program: This order from Councillor Siddiqui asks for an analysis of the approximately 500 units in our various affordable home ownership programs — where are they, what sizes are they, how long is the wait to get one, what is the turnover rate, etc.
#4 CORI Clinic: A new state law allows people to have their CORI records sealed by the court after 3 years (misdemeanor) or 7 years (felony) but sometimes people are unaware of how to do this. Councillor Siddiqui suggests we hold a clinic to help people understand their rights and the process.
#5 Live Acoustic Music without License: I am resubmitting an order that I sponsored in 2017 to allow businesses to offer live acoustic music without having to obtain an entertainment license. The prior order was adopted but never acted on. Boston allows this and we should too if we are serious about fostering a vibrant arts scene.
#6 Polling Location in Alewife: This order suggests adding a new polling location on Cambridgepark Drive as a convenience to the residents of the new buildings there who are currently assigned to vote on Rindge Ave at Jefferson Park. I don’t know how many registered voters live in these new buildings, or if it’s enough people for a separate polling location; residents of the Alewife Quad and the Highlands have to travel further to vote at the Concord Ave Armory so I wonder if there could also be a polling location on the other side of the Trader Joe’s rotary.
#7 Lodging Houses: Councillor Toomey would like to change the zoning to allow single room occupancy transitional housing (categorized as “lodging houses”) in neighborhoods currently zoned for single and two-family homes (Res A and B). Lodging houses are not required to be affordable and some operate now in areas not zoned for them.
#8 Mass Ave and Day St Pedestrian Crossing: I joined this order to review the safety of the crosswalk at Day St.
#9 Divest Pension Funds from Fossil Fuels: I am reviving the order, which passed in 2013 and 2017, to divest the City’s retirement funds from fossil fuels. The stumbling block has been that we needed state permission and now there is a bill before the state legislature to address that (HD 2817 Rep Jay Livingstone). The fossil fuel holdings represent a tiny portion of our total assets (only 4.2% of $1.2 billion in 2017), but we should not be using public funds to support an industry that is destroying our climate.
#10 Help for Owners of Limited Equity Units: Sometimes owners of limited equity condos, which are a part of the City’s affordable housing program, find themselves unable to afford major capital assessment for common area repairs. This order asks what can be done to help.
#11 Micro-mobility Pilot in Kendall Sq: I support the introduction of e-scooters once state law is changed to permit them, and the City is working closely with the regional planning agency to create consistent regulations, which are expected to be ready this spring. However I declined to co-sponsor this order from Councilor Kelley to launch a pilot in Kendall Square since I don’t see how we could limit the devices to one small area. Also I worry that it would perpetuate the notion that scooters are a toy for “tech bros,” not a mode designed to increase transit equity for people of all incomes, ages and abilities. I would rather wait a few months longer to get the safety regulations and the equipment right before rushing in. A poorly executed pilot could set us back.
#12 Firehouse Upgrades: This order asks for an update on the how the $2M we allocated last June for improvements to firehouses is being spent.
#13 Updating Zoning Table of Uses: At a recent Economic Development Committee hearing the multi-year delay in updating the commercial table of uses was attributed to a lack of staff capacity at CDD. This order asks for additional zoning planners to be hired to break this logjam. The table of uses dates back to 1961, and uses that did not exist then are required to obtain variances. This is affecting small businesses in particular.
#14 Further Questions about Accessory Dwelling Units: This order follows up on the questions posed at a recent hearing on zoning changes related to the accessory dwelling units. See Committee Report #3.
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 email@example.com and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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