The Cambridge City Council will meeting on Monday, June 10, 2019, at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted online. Before the meeting, starting at 4:30pm, we will be celebrating Caribbean American Heritage Month with a public reception in the Mayor’s Parlor. At 6:30pm we will pause to hold a special public meeting to hear a presentation and vote on the Barron Petition to establish a Business Improvement District in Central Square. The BID is supported by a majority of the property owners and will provide additional financial and management resources for Central Square beautification projects and arts and culture programming.
My summary of Monday’s agenda follows.
City Manager’s Agenda
#2 Future of Mobility Advisory Group: This memo lists the community members appointed to this group, which will meet 6 times over the next year to discuss implementation of the Future of Mobility study.
#4 Who is purchasing buildings in Cambridge? A policy order several months ago from Councillor Simmons posed this very broad question and the response is to list the 10 largest sales in 2018 and the first 4 months of 2019. The highest sale price in that period was $128 million paid by Bain Capital for 1030 Mass Ave, but that was exceeded in May by MIT’s $1.1 billion sale of a ground lease of 3 of its recently constructed commercial lab buildings in Kendall Sq. Developers flip buildings like pancakes; the Fuse residential building at 165 Cambridgepark Dr sold for $127.5 million to Sherman & Sterling LLP. An equity firm called Invesco picked up 3 buildings in the Alewife Quad for a total of $108.9 million and Cabot, Cabot and Forbes bought the Mabardy transfer site on Mooney St in the Alewife Quad for $77.8 million. CC&F intends to redevelop it with a massive mixed use complex with 500 units of housing, labs and retail. Finally Biomed paid $50.5 million for the long-vacant lot on Third St where the Constellation Center wanted to be but couldn’t raise the capital to build. Alewife and Kendall are red hot and the big real estate equity firms are bullish on their future values. This memo doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know.
#5 Cable License Renewal Study: Another $50K is requested to supplement the $120K appropriated at the end of 2018 for a study to prepare for the cable renewal process in 2020-21.
#6 Gender Neutralizing City Webforms: It is no longer required to provide a gendered salutation (Mr/Ms) when completing certain forms on the City’s website.
#8 Linear Path Landscape Preservation: This memo provides an update on efforts since last year to better preserve and maintain the trees and plantings along the Linear Path in North Cambridge. New plantings will be installed this fall with community participation. Greater care will be taken not to over-mulch or over-salt the area and to water the plantings.
#9 Ensuring the Safety of Gas Utility Work: This memo from DPW explains how work on gas lines is permitted, inspected and coordinated by the City and the utility. Following the explosions in the Merrimack Valley and the accidental damage to a very significant tree on Gore Street, there have been questions about Feeney Brothers, which was working for Columbia Gas and is one of Eversource’s main contractors in our area. The NTSB’s investigation of the Merrimack Valley explosion found that the contractor had correctly followed what was in the “work package” that Columbia gave them, which turned out to have been flawed. So Feeney Bros was not found to be at fault there. However they did have to compensate Cambridge ($67K) for the loss of the Gore St tree. DPW notes over the past 17 years and 4,100 permitted gas projects here, there have been no other significant incidents.
#1 Safety in Municipal Buildings: The horrific mass shooting in a municipal building in Virginia Beach has prompted some of my colleagues to ask what can be done to protect the people inside our city buildings. The shooter in Virginia was a city employee with a grudge and a gun. The Commonwealth has stronger gun laws than Virginia and I’m not anxious to see metal detectors installed at every building entrance.
#2 Support for Federal Legislation on Workplace Harassment: I joined this resolution in support of H.R. 2148: BE HEARD in the Workplace Act by Rep Katherine Clarke and Rep Ayanna Pressley.
#3 Historical Names that Offend: In addition to reviewing and potentially renaming city streets named for people with ties to the slave trade, Councillor Simmons wants to include monuments, markers and memorials.
#4 Data on TNC Vehicles Using Our Streets: I co-sponsored this order to ask that data be collected on the number of TNC vehicles on the roads and how this volume affects congestion on city streets. We know there were over 600K trips that originated in Cambridge in 2018 but at ay given moment what proportion of the vehicles are TNCs, some of which may be empty?
#5 Improving Safety of Fresh Pond Mall Parking Lot: I sponsored this order to restart attempts to work with the mall owner to make the route through the parking lot between New Street and Terminal Road safer and less of a free-for-all and to start a discussion about creating an eventual street connection under the Alewife Brook Parkway bridge. It’s “deja vu all over again” for me since this is an issue I brought to light before I was elected.
#6 Special Meeting June 17 for Clerk Interviews: This order asks to televise a special meeting before our regular meeting on June 17 to interview finalist candidates for the position of city clerk. The special meeting would start at 2:30pm.
#7 More Bike Parking at Smith Center: Councillor Kelley wants to see more bike parking at Harvard’s new Smith Center. I walked around the building and observed that there’s ample bike parking on Dunster and Holyoke Streets but none on Mass Ave or Mt Auburn. Though one can enter the building from all 4 sides, bike parking needs to be prominent and easy to find.
#8 Special Permits and Utility Capacity: Councilors Carlone and Zondervan are suggesting we amend the special permit zoning to require that a large project’s impact on energy capacity be part of the application’s review process and that permits only be granted if the impact on utility infrastructure is not significant. This was prompted by Eversource’s controversial proposal to build a new electric substation on a residentially zoned site on Fulkerson Street in order to meet projected demand for commercial development around Kendall Square (see Committee Report #1 below). This will have to go to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee for discussion.
#9 Opposing State Regulatory Changes on What Produces Renewable Energy: Gov Baker is proposing to treat energy sourced by burning trash and wood as renewable for the purposes of meeting requirements for Renewable Energy Credits. This is sham environmental policy and I joined Councillors Zondervan and Siddiqui in opposing it.
#1 Transportation and Public Utilities meeting on the proposed Eversource electric substation on Fulkerson St. It is abundantly clear that the proposed site is a no-go from the publics standpoint. We are working to find a feasible alternative. Another hearing will be scheduled for an update toward the end of June.
#2 Economic Development meeting on retail vacancies and the possibility of fining property owners with protracted vacancies of street level retail spaces.
#3 Ordinance Committee meeting the citizen petition to ban leaf blowers. There was a healthy debate and an appetite for compromise, so a stakeholder group will be formed to further consider the matter. NOTE: The spring leaf blower season will end on June 15 and blowers won’t be allowed again until September 15.
#4 Health and Environment meeting on the Net Zero Ordinance. This was to hear the annual progress report for FY18. A couple of amendments to the zoning ordinance will be coming to the council soon as part of implementing the Net Zero action plan. These include raising the green building standard to LEED Gold, changes to how setbacks are calculated when insulation is added to an existing building, and a potential density bonus for projects that meet Net Zero standards ahead of schedule. Larger buildings have been required to report their energy use since 2014 but a 1% reduction in use is not meeting the target, so performance standards will need to be set and enforced.
Communications from Other City Officers
#2 Clerk search update.
#3 Notes on Blue Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement held on may 21.
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 email@example.com and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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