City Council Agenda Highlights (4/22/19)

The Cambridge City Council will hold a regular meeting on Monday. April 22, 2019, at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted here. It is long because last week was a holiday and it’s the beginning of “budget season” so there are many (9) requests to borrow money for capital projects in the next fiscal year (FY20). By approving passing these loan orders to a second reading on Monday, we ensure they will be eligible for us to formally approve on May 20 when we expect to vote on the rest of the FY20 Budget. Because we have a series of Finance Committee hearings coming up (see schedule) to discuss the City and School Budgets, I will not devote space here to more than simply listing what these items are.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 FY20 City Operating Budget: $665,550,940

#2 Loan Order for School Repairs and Updates: $800,000

#3 Loan Order for Fire Station HQ Renovation: $22,000,000

#4 Loan Order for Streets and Sidewalks: $4,000,000

#5 Loan Order for Stormwater and Sewer Projects around Alewife: $20,500,000

#6 Loan Order for Eliot Street Reconstruction Between Brattle and Bennett: $4,000,000

#7 Loan Order for City Hall Improvements: $10,000,000

#8 Loan Order for Municipal Facilities Improvements: $3,000,000

#9 Loan Order for Tobin Vassal Lane School Design: $10,000,000 There is a community meeting on April 30 wit the design firm.

#13 Grand Junction Multi-Use Path Design Working Group: 22 members appointed to this new working group for a 2-year process.

#14 New Crosswalk Coming on Western Ave at Soden St: It will be on the Central Sq side of Soden St and will have a curb extension to improve pedestrian safety.

#16 Webster Ave Bike Safety: This memo comes in response to a policy order I submitted to ask whether we could create a protected bike lane for the 500′ of Webster Ave that goes between Cambridge St and the Somerville line, where there is a newly installed protected bike lane. The staff do not recommend it because it would require removing all parking on both sides of the street and the west side of the street has 9 curb cuts, which make it hard to provide vertical separation. The memo states that removing all parking on a block that has Phil’s Towing and CLM Auto would be hard to enforce. There is also a desired curb extension by the residential project that is under construction at 305 Webster. Instead the staff propose adding new signs and pavement markings to direct cyclists to use Elm St and Tremont St as the safer, more comfortable north-south routes between Cambridge St and the Somerville end of Webster. I don’t think bike advocates are ready to give up on the idea of adding protection on Webster St, and we’ll discuss this further during the meeting.

#17 Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance Revisions: The Planning Board’s memo states that they are “conceptually on board” with the proposed tweaks to the ADU ordinance and just want the zoning language to be clarified and improved. There is a new memo from CDD (dated 4/17) that makes the zoning easier to follow. Committee Report #2 on the agenda is from the 4/2 Ordinance Committee meeting on the ADU Ordinance. The main change is to allow an ADU to be created within an existing detached structure such as a garage on a single family or two-family property. The owner occupancy and parking requirements are eliminated. There is no minimum lot size or lot area per dwelling unit and the main house may have been significantly modified since it was built. All these changes are intended to make it easier to create accessory units of up to 900 sf with a special permit from the BZA.

#18 Eviction Data Analysis: Staff researched court records for evictions for the 6 years from 2013-2018. There are an average of 572 evictions per year and the number ranges from a high of 662 (in 2014) to a low of 510 (in 2016). Most were in large buildings. The data only reflect evictions that go through the court system, not involuntary displacements due to rent increases or changes in building ownership.

#19 CDD Staff Capacity: This memo explains that CDD has a very full plate when it comes to zoning amendments and does not currently have the staff to take on some of the other zoning projects the Council has suggested. A new position is being created and another that opened up following the promotion of another staff member is being filled.

#20 Intergenerational House-Sharing Pilot: A while back we asked whether we could join Boston’s pilot program to match grad students who need housing to older residents with extra rooms. With the help of the MAPC we are exploring how to scale and broaden such a program with Boston and Somerville. Nesterly is no longer the only digital platform doing intergenerational roommate matching. There are questions about how to best design and implement any such service that will take about a year to work through.

#21 Central Sq Business Improvement District: The BID petition is finally on our agenda (and all the detail is found in Application #2 and in Communication from Other City Officers #4), having gotten the signatures from the majority of property owners in Central Sq. We must schedule a hearing within the next 60 days and take a vote. The annual operating revenues collected from assessments from property owners is estimated to be about $1,200,000 and the largest part of it (42%) will be devoted to cleaning and maintenance of the public realm. There will also be spending on hospitality and ambassador programs, events and promotion and beautification and capital improvements

Policy Orders

#1 Support for Non-Citizen Voting: H.692 would extend voting rights in municipal elections to the 17.8% of our residents who are not citizens. Back in 2016 we filed a home rule petition for non-citizen voting.

#2 & #3 Eversource Electricity Substation in East Cambridge: The possibility that Eversource will use a site it acquired at 135 Fulkerson St to build a large new substation has alarmed East Cambridge residents. Both policy orders express strong opposition to siting a power station across from Ahern Field and so near the Kennedy Longfellow School. Policy Order #3 is factually wrong on one point: Cabot Cabot and Forbes intended to use its special permit to build a residential project and brought in an investor to facilitate financing the project as condos. That investor lost confidence and traded the site to Eversource.

#5 Support for the EMPOWER Act: H.720/S.389 would give cities and towns the right to allow 16- or 17-year-old residents to vote in municipal elections. I sponsored this following a committee hearing chaired recently to discuss youth voting. Cambridge has twice filed home rule petitions (in 2002 and 2006) seeking permission to allow youth voting.

#6 Support for No Excuse Absentee Voting: H.78 would allow a registered voter to cast an absentee ballot without having to document an excuse for why voting in person is not possible. We discussed this (along with early voting in municipal elections) at the recent committee hearing I chaired on ways to expand voting.

#7 Garden-Field-Alpine Intersection Safety: I submitted this order in response to residents who continue t find this 3-way intersection near Danehy Park confusing to navigate safely. A universal playground is planned next to the Field St parking lot nearby and this makes it a good time to review safety for pedestrians and others.

#9 Clerk Transition: We are in the process of hiring a new City Clerk to replace Donna Lopez when she retires at the end of her term on May 31. In the event that we do not have new clerk hired and ready to start working by June 1, I am recommending that Deputy Clerk Paula Crane be named the interim clerk so that we have a clerk of record to stamp vital records and run the office. Charter Right #1 from our last meeting is a memo from me explaining the search process. Initial interviews of candidates will begin soon.

Committee Reports

#1 Public Safety Committee on identity theft

#2 Ordinance Committee on ADUs (see CMA #17)

#3 Ordinance Committee on Cannabis Business Permitting. We have zoning that takes effect on 4/20 but we still need to adopt an ordinance that guide how adult-use cannabis businesses are permitted to operate. There are also memos from Councillor Kelley and Councillor Zondervan on the agenda (Communications from Other City Officers #2 and #6). We are trying to devise a permitting process that will give social equity and economic empowerment applicants a fair shot at getting into the cannabis business. We will have another Ordinance Committee hearing soon (date TBA). In the meantime there are about a dozen applications to open retail cannabis stores and each is holding a community meeting to answer questions (see schedule. There are seven meetings coming up and two more that have not yet been listed.)

Roundtable Minutes: These are from the April 9 Roundtable on the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay. The meeting was video recorded, which might be a better way to catch up on this subject.

Communications from Other City Officers

#1 FY20 School Budget: The School Committee voted to approve a budget of $201,770,255. We will discuss it at a Finance Committee hearing on May 8.

#2 Cannabis Business Permitting: Councillor Kelley’s summary of follow-up questions from our last Ordinance Committee hearing (see above)

#3 The Achievement Gap for 8th Grade Math MCAS: Councillor Kelley has studied test scores for 8th grade math and wants us to know that the achievement gap is widening despite concerted efforts to close it and a per pupil spending rate that has been consistently one of the highest in the state.

#4 Central Sq BID: This is a list of all the property owners in the proposed BID district and the assessed values of their properties.

#5 Report on Tenant Displacement Task Force meeting of April 22 ,which focused on condo conversion regulations.

#6 Cannabis Business Permitting: Councilor Zondervan’s proposed changes to how we prioritize applicants.

#7 Resident Parking Permit Data: Councillor Zondervan has graphed the number of resident parking stickers issued since 2003 and shows that number is decreasing despite increases in population. (I learned recently that the Traffic Dept does not know exactly how many resident spaces we have citywide but will be working to count and map them.)

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