The Cambridge City Council will hold its final meeting before the summer recess on Monday, June 24, 2019, at 5:30pm in City Hall. The agenda is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. While we will continue to hold committee hearings over the summer including 4 this week, we will not hold another council meeting until July 29 (our special summer meeting). We will resume our regular weekly meetings on September 9. My summary of this week’s agenda follows.
City Manager’s Agenda
#2 Federal Grant for Summer Food Program: We will apply a $193K grant toward our summer food program at 26 sites including 9 parks. The City is funding meals in 3 other locations that don’t qualify for federal funding. The meals program runs 7/1 through 8/15 (see details).
#5 Reducing use of Plastic Water Bottles at City and School Events: This is a response to a policy order I filed to ask that we try to wean ourselves away from offering water in plastic bottles at events. While plastic is recyclable it is still wasteful and it is quite possible to provide water in other ways. I went to a show at the ART and noticed they were selling “Just Water” in paper cartons. The School Department seems to be further along than the City on this. There are water bottle filling stations in all schools (one will be added this summer at the Morse School), but about 20 more are needed in city buildings. Still, merely having a water station in the building is insufficient to break this bad habit we continue to purchase plastic bottles and provide them at events. I think we can do better.
#6 State Grant for Stormwater Management along Mystic River: The City received a $350K state grant that will be used in partnership with the Resilient Mystic Collaborative on green infrastructure for improved stormwater management. The north and western parts of Cambridge are in the Mystic River watershed. The Barr Foundation is providing a 25% match grant.
#7 Providing Menstrual Products in All Municipal Restrooms: I’m pleased with this quick response to my policy order. Menstrual products are already provided in 8 restrooms as a result of a pilot program we initiated in 2016, and another 116 restrooms will get dispensers later this year at a cost of about $35K.
#10 New 20mph Signs Coming Soon: Last year we asked that the speed limit be reduced to 20mph on most residential streets and that change was approved as part of our Vision Zero initiative. The manager is seeking to appropriate $150K from last year’s excess Parking Fund revenue to install 600 20mph signs citywide. The Traffic Department also will collect before and after speed data on these streets and will conduct outreach and education on the lower speed limits.
#11 Negative Recommendation on the New St Self-Storage Zoning Petition: The Planning Board was unanimous in rejecting a developer’s petition to up-zone 2 parcels on New St to create a 65′ storage building next to Danehy Park. Adding a few units of affordable housing did not persuade them that this is a good land use planning decision. It is spot zoning and there is no hardship or planning rationale to justify it. The Ordinance Committee will hear the petition on June 26, and I think we should listen to the Planning Board and reject it.
#12 Update on Volpe Construction: I filed a policy order the first week of January asking for more regular updates on the design and construction of the federal building at Volpe (the federal building is not subject to zoning or planning board review and must be completed before MITIMCo can begin work on the rest of the site). Six months later MIT has provided a cursory overview that says little about the 400K s.f. building (not even stating its height or describing how it would relate to surrounding public areas). It has a landscape designed by Maya Lin, which is lovely, but the pastel renderings cannot disguise how massive and blocky the building will look from certain perspectives. Utility work and site prep are underway in what used to be a parking lot. That work attracted attention a few months ago when 22 large trees were removed. Construction will begin in September and will be complete by the end of 2022. Also on the agenda is a curb cut requested on Binney Street that will require the removal of 2 mature street trees.
#13 Making CharlieCards Available in City Buildings: This is a response to a policy ordered I co-sponsored to ask that we work with the MBTA to make CharlieCards available in several city buildings. I’m disappointed with this response that suggests a single location for a pilot to begin by the end of August: at CDD’s reception desk on the 3rd floor of City Hall Annex, a place not much visited much by members of the public. I don’t understand why the pilot could not be run on the first floor of City Hall Annex at one of the customer service windows used by the Traffic Dept. In the fall staff will look for at least one other location where CharlieCards can be sold. I suggest at the front desk of the Main Library.
#14 Events to Commemorate 10th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage: This memo describes planning underway for at least 3 events to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment in August 2020. The first will be in September at the Main Library (details to come).
Applications and Petitions
#2 Formaggio Kitchen Use of Loading Zone for BBQ: This formal request to do what they began doing e few weeks ago, setting up their weekend BBQ in the loading zone on Huron Ave. instead of on the sidewalk. Since there are no deliveries on weekends and the sidewalk is narrow, this seems like a good plan so long as it doesn’t bock the bus stop.
#5 Curb Cut for Volpe Federal Building: The plan for the new Volpe building includes two driveways side-by-side on Binney Street and the curb cuts will necessitate the removal of 2 mature street trees. The driveways will serve a 300-car garage and 18 surface spots. One of the driveways will be located 26′ from the Sixth St bike/ped path and the crosswalk across Binney to East Cambridge. The ECPT neighborhood group thinks the driveways may be too close to the Sixth St crossing for safe circulation. All cars using both driveways will approach on Binney from the Sixth St direction and turn right to enter and then exit by turning right out in the direction of Third St. We have not seen a circulation plan for the Volpe site.
#1 Bluebikes Station in Highlands Area: I am asking to add a bike share station to serve the Highlands neighborhood in response to numerous requests to extend service in that direction. For instance there is a public park (Rafferty Park behind the Sancta Maria nursing facility) that could support a dock. There are dedicated bike paths on Concord Ave and one goal of our sustainable transportation planning is to connect green spaces.
#2 Improvements to Danehy Dog Park: I am asking that we look at how Danehy Dog Park can be redesigned and improved. People have long asked for lights so they can bring dogs to the park in the early morning and evening. Dog park design has evolved greatly since Danehy was built. There is so much potential to create a more interesting and safer play environment.
#3 Limiting Rooftop Mechanicals: In recent debates over up-zonings sought by Alexandria for the Met Pipe site and at Cambridgeside there has been a lot of confusion about the actual height of future buildings under the proposed zoning. Rooftop mechanicals are not counted toward height limits and they can add another 20-40′, plus they are noisy and can mar the view shed. There is no zoning incentive now for a developer to try to reduce the bulk of mechanicals. After reading that in NYC the Council voted to begin counting mechanicals over 25′ I am requesting that we consider counting a portion, too.
#4 State Flag Symbolism: The Council has since 2016 expressed its disapproval with the violent symbolism on the state flag, which members of the Native American community and an increasing number of others find offensive. At a recent council meeting people said seeing the flag standing next to the mayor’s desk in the Sullivan Chamber upsets them, and I asked if we could simply move the flag to another location in City Hall. There appears to be no legal reason we cannot place it elsewhere in the building. This policy order formalizes that request.
#5 Vacant Storefront Registry: We’ve been discussing how to better track and stem retail vacancies and creating a requirement that landlords register vacant spaces is something other cities are trying. I co-sponsored this order with Councilor Siddiqui.
#6 An Act to Promote Student Nutrition: Cambridge absorbs the cost of providing free school lunch and breakfast to children who were formerly only eligible for the reduced price plan. This is a resolution to support a state bill that would expand eligibility for free lunches and reimburse cities that absorb the costs.
#7 Better Bus Service on Concord Ave: The MBTA recently went through a public process to streamline existing routes (the so-called Better Bus Project) and will be starting a broader service planning process. Adding more frequent service along Concord Ave would help support the next tidal wave of development in the Alewife Quad.
#9 Greenhouse Gas Inventory: If our goal is to reach net zero emissions from buildings by 2050, then we will need more regular inventories of our greenhouse gas emissions. The last one was in 2012. I joined Councillor Zondervan in asking for a 2018 report.
#10 Inman Square Contractor: This order is one of a series that has challenged every aspect of the Inman Sq intersection redesign project. It questions the selection of Newport Construction as the contractor because Newport is in a dispute with Somerville over the removal of trees along Beacon St.
#11 Letter to Secretary Ben Carson: The mayor is asking the rest of the council to support a letter he already sent to Secretary Carson in opposition of HUD’s proposed policy to deny public housing to mixed-status immigrant families. I think no one would disagree that Carson’s plan would accomplish nothing other than to rip families apart.
#12 Additional Supports for Tenants Facing Eviction or Displacement: Councilor Siddiqui’s task force is making several recommendations for additional funding to community non-profit partners that offer legal and other services to tenants facing housing instability.
Communications and Reports from Other City Officers
#1 Suggestion for Public Participation in School Budgeting: Councillor Kelley has an idea for possibly creating a Participatory Budgeting type program to generate more bottom-up ideas for school programs.
#2 Arts Task Force Meeting Report: The task force met for the last time recently but a working group will be formed to continue discussing the many recommendations and suggestions. The report is linked here.
#3 Cannabis Business Permitting Priorities: Councillors Zondervan and Siddiqui are suggesting we consider only allowing Economic Empowerment applicants to open adult-use stores for the first 2 years and to require that they sell to medical patients at a discount (which I’ve been informed may not be legal to offer). This would prevent the 3 existing medical dispensaries and the 2 others that are licensed and under construction from selling recreational cannabis for 2 years. They also want to include a requirement for Cambridge residency for 2 years for Social Equity Applicants though it appears that women and minority owned business would not be required to meet any residency requirement to qualify as Social Equity. These suggestions will be discussed at our next Ordinance Committee hearing on June 27.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at email@example.com. 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