City Council Agenda Highlights (4/8/19)

The Cambridge City Council will hold a regular meeting on Monday, April 8, 2019, at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted here. My summary of the key items in below. We will meet the next day (Tuesday, April 9 at 5:30pm) for a roundtable working meeting to discuss the recently drafted zoning for a citywide 100% affordable housing overlay. There will be no City Council meeting on Monday, April 15, in observance of the Patriots Day holiday.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 Funding for School Facilities: The manager is asking for $800K from Free Cash to fund HVAC and insulation work and facade repairs to continue to remediate mold at the Baldwin and Peabody Schools.

#3 Pedestrian and Bike Safety: This directs an $8K state grant toward education and enforcement related to pedestrian and bike safety.

#4 New STEAM Center at the Library: The manager is asking for $1.25M from Free Cash to create three new STEAM-focused rooms in the lower level of the Main Library. “The Hive” will include a maker-space, a multimedia recording studio and a 3D motion lab, all of which will offer hands-on learning experiences for al ages. The Hive should be open by early 2020. It’s timely, well-named and promises to be exciting to explore.

#6 Funding for Misc Traffic and ADA Projects: The manager is asking for $300K from the Parking Fund to fund several projects including quick-build protected bike lane projects ($150K), a circulation study for a possible connection between Wheeler St and Terminal Rd ($50K), and continued ADA improvements to City Hall Annex ($100K).

#7 Future of Mobility: This memo provides an overview of how the City is researching and planning for the introduction of various new mobility platforms such as shared electric scooters, more electric vehicles and eventually autonomous vehicles. CDD is working with a consultant on a “blueprint” that should be ready in FY20. It will inform decisions on how to manage the deployment of such devices and how to leverage the data they generate to help us plan to better meet people’s mobility needs and desires, while protecting users’ privacy. The memo opens a window into an emerging segment of 21st century transportation planning.

#8 Airplane Noise: A significant number of North and West Cambridge residents have complained for several years about excessive airplane noise from flights using Logan’s Runway 33L under the FAA’s RNAV fight control system. I and other councillors have submitted multiple policy orders to ask what, if anything, the City can do to get the Massport to disperse the flights so that noise is no longer concentrated so narrowly. Massport agreed to a two-part study by MIT and its findings will be presented to the Community Advisory Committee on April 23 at 4:00pm at the State Transportation Building. There will be subsequent meetings of the R33L working groups of which Cambridge is a member and a possible vote by the CAC on a preferred alternative (assuming there is consensus on one) in June. The city manager is also allocating money in the FY20 Budget for a noise consultant. Meanwhile Massport continues to add more late night and very early morning flights.

#9 Fire Station Improvements: The memo provides an update on the extensive capital investments to renovate our aging fire houses and to modernize and clean their living quarters. The Taylor Square station on Sherman Street, Fire Headquarters and the East Cambridge station are or will soon be undergoing extensive renovations, costing a total of about $30.3M. An extractor for washing fire gear has been installed at every fire house. Smaller improvements to all stations are too numerous to list but include HVAC, LED lighting, new mattresses and furnishings. A consultant will be developing a pilot at the River Street station on how to upgrade and deep clean interiors at other stations.


#5 Cycling Safety Ordinance: We will vote on this ordinance, which will require the installation of permanent separated bike facilities on streets offering network connectivity, as identified in the Bicycle Plan, when those streets are being reconstructed as part of the City’s 5-Year Street and Sidewalk Plan. It is important that bike infrastructure be recognized as an essential part of designing streets to improve both safety and mobility, just like sidewalks.

Policy Orders

#1 More Parking Meters? Councillor Toomey would like to see parking meters in business districts that don’t have them. I wonder how some small business owners would feel about our installing meters in neighborhood business districts where space is not especially tight.

#2 Strengthening Workforce Development: I’m happy to co-sponsor Councillor Siddiqui’s order to create a consortium to bring together the various workforce development programs operating in the City to foster communication and coordination.

#3 Televise all Hearings in Sullivan Chamber: This term in particular there has been a surge of requests by councillors to televise our committee meetings. Councillor Toomey suggests that we simply televise every public hearing in the Sullivan Chamber.

#4 Renaming Streets, Schools and Buildings with Ties to Slave Trade: Councillor Simmons asks that there be a historical review of all the names used for streets and public buildings in order to eliminate and rename any with ties to the slave trade. She cites “Vassal Lane” as an example. Since I live around the corner from Vassal Lane I did a little google research. The Harvard Radcliffe index of street names says it was named for John Vassall Sr and Jr (originally spelled with 2 Ls). John Jr inherited land on Brattle Street from his father and built what is now known as Longfellow House. (John Jr’s uncle Henry Vassall, a Tory, owned another house on Brattle Street and had inherited a plantation in Jamaica and held slaves there and in Cambridge.) Also a Loyalist, John Jr went abroad into exile with his family just before the Revolution, but left behind a slave family that included a young boy named Darby Vassall and his parents Tony and Cuba Vassall. Nominally free but still legally enslaved and bearing the surname of their owner, Tony and Cuba remained as paid caretakers of the estate during the Revolution and stayed on after it passed into the State’s hands in 1781. Darby lived in Cambridge all his life (later in a house he owned on May St), worked as a caterer, and was a leader and advocate for African American rights. Darby Vassal died in 1861 at age 92 and is buried in Christ Church Cemetery. I learned a lot about all the Vassalls in this small bit of research (see source). No doubt there will be many such stories revealed in further research. Whether erasing such names from streets and buildings is the best way to learn our deeper history and acknowledge the sins of prior generations is a matter of debate in cities and towns all over America. There is also debate at Harvard over which Agassiz (Louis, his wife Elizabeth or son Alexander) its “Agassiz” buildings are named for. Our former Agassiz School was renamed for Maria Baldwin in the late 1990s. It will be interesting to see where this takes us.

#7 Small Business Recycling: Councillor Toomey is asking about the status of the small business recycling program. It launched last November for about 120 small businesses (50 employees or fewer) and offers them free curbside collection twice a week. We have a Health and Environment Committee hearing on the calendar (Tues., Apr. 23, 3-5pm) to discuss our Zero Waste Master Plan during which improving our recycling programs will be a topic.

#8 Start By Believing: This supports a pledge to believe the victims of sexual violence. There will a public pledge-taking event on City Hall steps on Wed., Apr. 10 at noon.

#9 Central Square T Elevator and Stairs: I sponsored this order to hold the MBTA accountable for meeting its legally-mandated ADA compliance agreement in light of the delay in completing the elevator replacement project and the unsafe condition of the stairs, several of which pitch sharply down. The inbound elevator being out of service for the past year has greatly inconvenienced many riders and its completion appears to be delayed by a year (to next spring?).

#10 Support for Dark Skies Bill: I sponsored this to express the Council’s support for a bill at the state house that would require new LED street lights to be 3000K or lower. It’s called H.2858/S.1937: An Act improving outdoor lighting and increasing dark-sky visibility. Our LED street lights are 4000K but Policy Order #17 asks DPW to clarify that we will use 3000K for new lights going forward.

#11 Small Business Composting: DPW just announced it would expand curbside food waste collection to residential buildings with 13 or more units (up to about 25 units initially) this fall. Councillor Toomey would like to know when small businesses will be included. This question may also be addressed at the Apr. 23rd Health and Environment Committee hearing.

#12 Prospect and Broadway Intersection: It’s chaotic and used by a lot of young people. How can safety be improved, Councillor Mallon asks?

#13 Statewide Plastic Bag Ban Coming?: This puts the Council on record in support of a bill that would create a statewide plastic bag ban similar to ours (with the 10-cent fee for a reusable bag). Ninety-five of 361 cities and towns already have some type of plastic bag regulation. It’s called: H.771/S.462, An Act Reducing Plastic Bag Pollution.

#14 MBTA Bus Idling: This order highlights the challenge of enforcing our no-idling laws. Councillor Zondervan and I have been emailing with the MBTA for a couple of months to ask that this bus driver not park and idle on Green St. In NYC citizens are authorized to report and document idling and are given a portion of the fine.

#15 Limiting Store Ads for Vaping and E-Cigarettes: This order asks if we can limit ads for vaping devices and e-cigarettes in stores where teens may be swayed to begin using them (even though sales to minors are prohibited).

#16 Refreshing Open Data: Councillor Kelley asks that the data on the Open Data Portal be kept more up to date, starting with the dataset that contains parking tickets. Browse what data is available here. There also needs to be a more user friendly way to view the data.

#17 Follow-Up on LED Street Light Question: This order asks DPW to clarify that we will use the gentler, less blue 3000K for new lights going forward.

#18 Harvard Grad Students Union Bargaining Dispute: This order asks the Council to stand in support of the Harvard Grad Students Union (HGSU-UAW), which formed a year ago, in its protracted contract negotiations with the University. One sticking point is establishing a grievance process for workers who file complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Committee Reports

#1 Council Rules on Travel Expenses: I chaired the Government Operations hearing. In the future if a councillor wants to offer refreshments at a public meeting s/he is organizing they may seek the Council’s permission through a policy order requesting to use part of our other ordinary expenditures budget.

#2 Cannabis Consumption on City Property: Councillor Kelley wanted to discuss whether we are interested in submitting a home rule petition to make the consumption of non-combustible cannabis legal on city property. This would apply to vaping and edibles, The police commissioner said that it is civil citation to consume edibles in public but hard to enforce. One can vape tobacco in public but nit cannabis, but it can be hard to tell which is being used. The committee did not think this was problem that needs a legislative response.

#3 Housing Committee Meeting on the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay: This is the report on the March 5th meeting (the first of 3). More meetings are planned on April 9 (roundtable), April 16 (public comment only) and April 25.

#4 Ordinance Committee hearing on the Grippo Petition to increase the allowed FAR of a hotel in the IB Zone near Kendall Sq. The increased FAR sought for a hotel (4.0) is the same as what is allowed for a residential building. The committee agreed with the Planning Board that this change seems reasonable, given that the area has not attracted infill residential development, and a hotel would balance and complement the existing office and lab uses.

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