City Council Agenda Highlights (4/1/19)

The City Council will hold a regular meeting on Monday, April 1, 2019, at 5:30pm. Our April Fool’s Day agenda is long and my summary only hits the high points (pun intended for CMA #19, the draft Cannabis Business Permitting Ordinance).

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 Renaming Streets in Cambridge Crossing: The industrial no man’s land where East Cambridge meets Charlestown and Somerville was long referred to as “The Lost Half Mile.” Starting in the 1990s it was reclaimed and redeveloped into Northpoint (originally written as two words) and more recently rebranded as Cambridge Crossing. The big vision for what the area could become was not matched in its unimaginative street naming but that will soon change as two of the streets will be renamed for prominent African American women, abolitionist Harriet Jacobs and suffragist Gertrude Wright Morgan (wife of Clement Morgan for who a park in the Port is named). So the area will have Jacobs Street and Morgan Avenue, and the other two streets will be renamed Education Circle and Water Street, extending street names that already exist there.

#2 Tree Plantings in the Port: Twenty-seven new street trees will be planted this spirng in the Port, and more will be planted once all the planned street reconstruction is completes in the area.

#3 Expanding Curbside Organics Collection: A $300K appropriation is requested to begin preparing for the expansion of curbside organics (food waste) collection to larger buildings (13 units and up). Collection will begin this September.

#6 Nineteenth Amendment Committee Appointed: This group of 9 women will oversee the commission of a public artwork to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment (women’s suffrage) in 2020. The budget to support the project is $300K.

#11 City Peace Program at Youth Centers: Funding of $15K will support this violence prevention and peer leadership internship program for teens through our Youth Centers.

#12 New ADA Van: This is a request for $70K to purchase a new 15-seat ADA accessible van for all ages and abilities. My question is: did we explore any battery electric models?

#13 Youth Council to Organize Youth Town Hall: Stay tuned for an announcement of what topic the Youth Town Hall this fall will tackle.

#14 Improving Pedestrian Safety at Two Intersections: Mass Ave and Day St will get a Rapid Flashing Beacon to help pedestrians cross Mass Ave. Spring and Third St will become a 4-way STOP.

#15 Raising Fines for Blocking Loading Zones and Bike Lanes: If we want to increase the parking fines for blocking loading zones ($40) and bike lanes ($50) — and some of us would — we would need a home rule petition. The fines are capped under state statute. Boston charges $100 for blocking a bike lane and $90 for blocking a loading zone.

#16 Public Funding and Limits for Campaign Finance: The city solicitor has written a detailed opinion that concludes the People’s Pledge on campaign spending limits and a public financing program for low-income candidates suggested by Councillor Toomey raise both constitutional and practical issues.

#17 New Short-Term Rental Taxes and Fees: The new state law governing short-term rentals imposes several new taxes on STRs as of 7/1: a 6% Local Room Occupancy Tax, a 5.7% State Room Occupancy Excise Tax and a 2.75% Convention Center Financing Fee (total = 14.45% of the rent). STRs rented 14 or fewer days would be exempt. In addition we have the option of imposing a Community Impact Fee of up to 3%, at least 35% of which would have to go toward affordable housing or infrastructure. Finally operators will pay a $500 registration fee which is valid for 5 years.

#18 Tobin Vassal Lane Construction Manager at Risk Contract: The city manager is asking our permission to apply to the state inspector general fo permission to use the Construction Manager at Risk bidding process for the reconstruction of the Tobin Vassal Lane School. We have used it before (rather than the more traditional design-bid-build method) on complex projects where awarding the contract solely based on the lowest bid may not be ideal and where it is helpful to involve the contractor early in the process. It was used, for instance for both of the other two school projects.

#19 Cannabis Business Permitting Ordinance: A few months ago we passed the zoning ordinance related to where and how many retail cannabis stores may operate, but we have been waiting for the companion ordinance to guide us in permitting applicants for stores as well as cultivators, transporters and product manufacturers. The Council has expressed a strong preference for giving economic empowerment and social equity applicants a chance to compete so for the first two years the ordinance would grant permits only to such applicants (Priority A) and to existing medical dispensaries (Priority B). They would have to negotiate Host Community Agreements and comply with zoning. In addition, cannabis businesses would have to comply with Living Wage Ordinance and at least 51% of employees and board members would have to be minority, women or veterans.

Policy Orders

Note: Five of 12 policy orders are requests to televise upcoming committee hearings.

#3 Additional Information Needed on Affordable Housing Overlay Proposal: I sponsored this order to request more information to help us analyze and fully understand an array of implications related to the proposed affordable housing overlay zoning that would apply citywide. Due diligence is needed before we can make a sound decision on what is being proposed. Some people have suggested we must pass this zoning quickly as a show of support for affordable housing and that debating the details is allowing the best to be the enemy of the good. These zoning changes would apply for 100% affordable housing created on any parcel in the city, and there are many scenarios to think through carefully.

#5 Safety on Minuteman Path: Following the tragic and still unexplained head-on collision of two cyclists on the Minuteman Bikeway last weekend in which one of them died, this order asks to work with DCR on measures that may improve safety for all users on such paths including lane markings, signs, speed limits, and enforcement. DCR will be holding a community meeting on 4/11 to discuss design improvements to the path that runs along Memorial Drive between the BU Rotary and the Eliot Bridge, a section that is overdue for design improvements.

#6 Moped Registration: Mopeds (under 50cc engines) are required to be registered with the RMV and to display a sticker. This order is asking to know the numbers on enforcement of the registration sticker requirement.

#7 Sidewalk Markings for Bikes and Other Mobility Devices: Bikes are allowed on sidewalks in most places except business districts so long as they yield to pedestrians. We have asked before for sidewalks stencils to be refreshed so people know where they are not allowed to ride. This order asks that we also consider whether stencils may be needed for devices like scooters.

#11 Ways to Control Trash and Rodent Problem on Rindge Ave: This order asks for measures to control the problems caused by people dumping excess household trash in the bins near the 83 bus stop and around Comeau Park on Rindge Ave.

#12 Net Zero Energy Stretch Code: I co-sponsored this order to put the Council on record in support of a state bill (H. 2865) to update the existing energy stretch building code to establish a net zero building definition that would encourage more net zero construction.

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