City Council Agenda Highlights (3/18/19)

The Cambridge City Council will meet on Monday, March 18, 2019, starting at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. My summary of the key items follows.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 Resident Survey Report: Every other fall the City conducts a survey of residents by phone and online. The detailed results of the 2018 survey are linked in the summary memo. Overall, the majority of “good/excellent” ratings show that satisfaction continues to be high with most city services; the positive ratings for education/schools were up 20 points over the average of the past 9 surveys (since 2000).  A new set of questions about pedestrian and bike safety shows a majority feel there have been improvements for both modes, and that a majority (60%) want more protected bike lanes even though almost half (47%) have never ridden a bike in the city. As in prior years “affordable housing” was identified as the biggest challenge facing the city and access to affordable housing drew the lowest ratings (76% fair/poor). Despite the very positive ratings for quality of life (87%), quality of your neighborhood (88%), and Cambridge as a place to live (91%), ratings for the overall performance of city government continue to dip (down to 64% excellent/good).

#2 & #3 Cost of Snow Removal and Winter Road Repairs: An appropriation of $2.6M is requested for this winter’s snow removal and salting. We have had 41 inches of snow to date. An additional $400K will go to repair potholes and other road defects caused by winter weather.

#4 Report on Intensity of LED Streetlights: This memo comes in response to a 2018 policy order I co-sponsored that asked to consider replacing failed 4000K (kelvin) bulbs with less intense “warmer” bulbs. The memo avoids answering the question and instead describes the history of the LED conversion program. To recap, starting in 2014, we began replacing all streetlight fixtures with 4000K LED bulbs and lights in parks and on pedestrian paths with 3000K bulbs, changes that are saving us about $500K annually. The lights can be controlled wirelessly, and most are dimmed after 10pm to 35% of their intensity. Directional screens can be added to reduce light trespass and have been used on about 100 lights upon request of neighbors (you may request a shield if a streetlight is shining too brightly into your home). The response attaches a detailed memo from 2014 on how light intensity and controls. The 2014 fact sheet addressed questions about sleep disruption related to the “blueness” of the 4000k bulbs by stating that new LED lights have a 40% less stimulatory effect than the old ones once they are dimmed during the late night sleeping hours. This response begs the question posed: as the 4000K bulbs fail, can we replace them with less intense ones? Many cities currently converting their streetlights to LEDs are starting with 2500K or 3000K bulbs. They are slightly less energy efficient but many prefer the warmer light.

#5 Cycling Safely With Trucks: This memo comes in response to a 2019 policy order I co-sponsored that asked the City to develop targeted outreach to better educate people on bikes about the dangers that large trucks pose. It lists a number of public outreach campaigns to both cyclists and truck drivers on sharing the road safely. All to the good, but that fact remains that no amount of education will be as effective as implementing a network of protected bike lanes to physically separate cyclists and vehicles of all sizes and also requiring that trucks be equipped with side guards, better mirrors and other features to eliminate blind spots.

Resolutions

#3 Death of Asa Brebner: The local music community is deeply saddened following the sudden death of Asa Brebner a week ago. My condolences to his family and his many friends and fans. Listen to some of Asa’s music on Spotify.

Policy Orders

#1 Traffic Calming at Third and Spring Streets: It seems that each week another intersection is called out by residents as in urgent need of traffic calming. This should tell us something important: rather than whacking dangerous road “moles” street-by-street we need to up our game citywide to improve enforcement, road design and driver education.

#2 Reappointment of City Auditor: The City Council appoints two members of the city staff: the auditor and the clerk. Auditor James Monagle’s sixth term ends soon, and the mayor and I are recommending that it be renewed for another three years. The current city clerk Donna Lopez is retiring at the end of her term this spring and a job description is posted online (open until April 3).

#3 Concerns about Union Sq Green Line Staton Design: The Union Sq station will also serve residents of the Inman Square area and its stripped-down design (for cost-cutting) has prompted questions about why it is designed with a ramp instead of an elevator. There will be an open house with MBTA officials on Wed., March 20 from 6:30-8:00pm at the Kennedy Longfellow School on Spring St.

#4 Sidewalk Snow Removal: I sponsored this order to try to better understand where there are opportunities to improve sidewalk snow removal, which is mostly left to property owners. After each storm we receive many complaints about sidewalks that are impassable, even several days after the snow.  We have data about the number and locations of violations and complaints — how is it being used to inform our policies and enforcement?

#5 Future Hearing to Discuss Response to Opioid Crisis: I am suggesting with this order that the Human Services Committee meet to discuss the recently issued report of the Mass Harm Reduction Commission, which the Cambridge Opioid Working Group and Mayor McGovern participated in developing. One of the strategies explored was a supervised safe injection facility.

#9 & #10 Updating Bike Counts: I co-sponsored these two orders with Councillor Kelley to ask that we update the bike count data and add new Eco-Display counters to assist with our planning of the Bike Network.

#12 Micro-Mobility Pilot: Brookline decided not to wait for the state to clarify its rules on electric scooters and announced it would pilot e-scooters this spring with a total of 200 Bird and Lime scooters. Councilor Kelley is anxious for us to begin a pilot, too. In fact, he suggested a pilot in Kendall Sq in a recent order. Brookline is allowing the scooters to operate on streets only and only between 6AM and 9PM. Speed is limited to 15mph and there must be a rear brake light in addition to a front and rear lights (but no turn indicators). I think further improvements to the devices are needed to make them safer to operate on city streets. One study showed that the average lifespan of a scooter is about 23 days due to wear and tear. Along with the high number of reports of injuries this gives me pause — is this first generation of scooters designed so poorly that they are essentially disposable? This may be an instance where it is smart not to be the first to jump into the market. There is plenty to learn from the experiences of other cities.

#14 Neighborhood Preferences for New Housing: When new housing is built it often displaces residents of the same area. Boston has been piloting a program that creates a preference system for up to half of the units in the new buildings to be offered first to residents of the immediate area. Residents qualify based on income and other factors. This order suggests we consider something similar.

Committee Reports

#1 Economic Development: Continuing to discuss strategies for vacant storefronts

#2 Transportation: The Better Bus Project. We had lots of concerns and questions about the proposed route and schedule changes.

#3 Transportation: Transit Benefit Ordinance. We discussed a possible law to require larger employers to offer employees a tax-deferred benefit to spend on transit passes or van pools as a way of reducing commuting by cars. Several large cities have implemented TBOs recently and they can save both the employer and the employee money.

#4 Ordinance: Cycling Safety Ordinance: This would create a new requirement to install protected bike lanes as indicated on the Bike Network Plan whenever a street is being reconstructed. It can be passed to a second reading at this meeting.

#5 Public Safety: The police department is forming a cold case unit to help investigate unsolved homicides. There are currently 10 homicide cases still open and 7 that are inactive (all pre-2005).

Roundtable Minutes

Tobin School Reconstruction Project. We held a joint meeting with the School Committee. A few facts: the next step is a feasibility study to determine the program needs for the space and to weigh the various siting options for a new building and/or a re-use of parts of the existing building. The study should be complete by the fall. A decision on the preferred option will be made in early 2020. Students and teacher would be moved out following the 2019-20 school year and the new school would open in the fall of 2024. Also included in the $250M project is a 1-million stormwater tank that is part of the sewer separation project. The school will be designed as Net Zero or very close, and parking will be underground. The construction is challenging because of the former uses of the site as a clay pit and a dump. The open space will be restored but its configuration will depned on where the school building is sited. Project webpage for more details and to sign up for updates.

Communications form Other City Officers:

#1 Tenant Displacement Task Force minutes of the first brainstorming meeting.

#2 Councillor Zondervan’s initial thoughts on the proposed 100% affordable housing overlay.

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 council@cambridgema.gov and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at dlopez@cambridgema.gov. 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