City Council Agenda Highlights (4/29/19)

The Cambridge City Council will meet on Monday, April 29, 2019, at 5:30pm for a meeting whose agenda is less jam-packed than in prior weeks.

City Manager’s Agenda

#3 Food Pantry Grant: $15K from the Cambridge Health Alliance to support our food pantry network.

#5 Low Income Heating Assistance Grant: $126,943 for benefits ranging from $420 to $1,660 this winter.

#6 Continuum of Care HUD Grant: $4.7M for permanent supportive housing and leasing assistance for chronically homeless persons.

#7 Equipment to Protect Firefighters: $187,500 for hazmat protection for fire personnel.

#8 Additional Expenses for Legal Notices: We need to allocate an additional $24K to pay for legal notices through the end of the fiscal year (6/30) due to a higher than anticipated number of petitions and code amendments.

#9 Traffic Calming Report: This comes in response to a policy order I co-sponsored at the end of last year, which asked for a report on our efforts to improve pedestrian safety through traffic calming features and enforcement. It lists all the different features used from curb extensions to flashing beacon lights, and provides a table showing the year and street where such features were installed and the speeds before and after (the speed statistics reflect the 85% percentile level commonly used by traffic engineers; 85% of the vehicles go that speed or slower under free-flowing conditions). For instance, following the installation of parking protected bike lanes on Cambridge Street in 2017 the 85% speed dropped from 31mph to 25mph. On Western Avenue the speed fell from 32mph to 24mph following the street’s 2014 redesign. However changes made to Brattle Street in 2010 have had a negligible impact (from 31mph to 30mph) and residents continue to be frustrated with speeding. This year we will begin implementing the new 20mph speed limit on most residential streets, but this table underscores that lowering posted speed limits will do little if the roads themselves are not designed to force drivers to slow down.

#10 Cannabis Business Permitting: The city solicitor answers some of the legal questions we asked at a recent hearing about the extent to which we can prioritize social equity and economic empowerment applicants and how much discretion the city manager has in negotiating the required Host Community Agreements. We can give SE/EE applicants a head start over others but it can’t be unreasonably long or infinite. By state law, we cannot prevent registered medical dispensaries for converting to adult-use, and we cannot apply the 3% fee to costs other than those that can be documented as associated with hosting cannabis businesses in the city. By state law convicted felons cannot participate in the cannabis business. If we wanted to prohibit EE/SC businesses from locating in close proximity to each other we would have to change the zoning unless the city manager used his discretion not to sign an HCA with all of them, which he could do but only once we have permitted the minimum number of stores (8).

Applications and Petitions

#2 Just Say No to Eversource: Residents have submitted a petition opposing Eversource’s plan to build a new electrical substation on Fulkerson Street across from Ahern Field and near the Kennedy Longfellow School. Demand for power has increased with all the new development, especially commercial, around Kendall square. Eversource asserts they are at 95% capacity at the summer peak and must expand to fulfill their regulatory obligation to meet demand. They paid about $13M in 2017 to acquire the site (a former taxi garage that had been permitted for a residential development that fell through). At a recent East Cambridge Planning Team meeting Eversource representatives said they looked for other sites and have found no other that is large enough (about 1 acre) and close enough to the main power source near the Charles River and Third St. They did not share any specs or designs for what they intend to build but said that it would be an enclosed structure (not an open field of transformer coils like those near Alewife) and can be designed to look like anything the neighborhood likes. The neighborhood doesn’t want it there at all. I have scheduled a committee hearing on May 22 at 2pm to discuss this contentious issue. The final say may rest with the Department of Public Utilities.

Policy Orders

#2 Calling on Harvard to Divest from Fossil Fuels: Last week was “Heat Week” and climate activists are continuing to demand that Harvard divest from fossil fuels. I would note that prior orders I’ve sponsored asking the City to divest its retirement funds have been unsuccessful.

Committee Reports

#1 CambridgeSide Galleria Rezoning: This up-zoning petition has been sent back for revision. It appeared to some to be asking for far too much.

#2 Taxi Industry on the Brink: At this hearing, which I chaired, taxi owners and drivers gave us an earful about how “disruption” from Uber and Lyft has gutted their livelihood and added to congestion. Thanks to the state, our ability to regulate the TNCs is quite limited.

#3 Housing Committee: A report on the March 20 meeting about the Affordable Housing Overlay. Since then we have held 3 more hearings on the overlay, and the Housing Committee recommended on April 25 that the overlay be sent to the Ordinance Committee for further discussion. The Council will need to vote to accept that recommendation when the April 25 Housing Committee report is on a future agenda.

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