City Council Agenda Highlights: Summer Meeting (7/30/19, Part I)

Our 2019 Special Summer Meeting has been postponed from Monday, July 29, to Tuesday, July 30, at 5:30pm. The change came about because the meeting agenda was so long — over 1,700 pages — that it caused technical problems and could not be published in time to meet the public notice requirement (48 business hours in advance). Read more here.

Given the length of the agenda, I will not attempt to highlight every worthy item or to cover budget appropriations. Many people will be interested in the amendments proposed by some of the councillors for the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay zoning in advance of our next Ordinance Committee hearing on Thursday, August 1 at 5:30pm. Their suggestions can be found in the section called “Communications from Other City Officers.” I have not had time to study them closely yet but will write a separate post on this blog once I do. Already I know that I cannot support three of the suggestions offered by Mayor McGovern and Councillor Mallon: They would eliminate the requirement to maintain existing ground floor retail (a blow to small business districts like Huron Village and Observatory Hill); they would allow the FAR to be 3.0 in all zoning residential districts where the height would be limited to 40′ (this is actually not an FAR limit but an increase in what was originally proposed and would be a radical increase for most residential areas); and they would allow common roof decks and balconies to be counted in meeting the open space requirement (it’s hard to grow a tree canopy on a roof deck and allowing above-grade spaces to fulfill the open space requirement means that the buildings can cover more of their lots and there will be less room for planting and less separation from abutting properties). These proposals are not compromises at all.

City Manager’s Agenda

#7 Report on Condition of the Sullivan Courthouse: As the City Manager’s report states, the building is under close watch 24/7 by two security guards (at the state’s expense) and all the systems and utilities have been shut off. There is no elevated risk of fire in this steel-construction concrete building; asbestos does one thing well, it makes buildings more fire resistant. The Sullivan Courthouse is ugly and too tall and should be demolished, but it is not the imminent public safety threat that some supporters of the developer’s plan have led nervous neighbors to believe. Rumors spread by a city council candidate and others in the developer’s orbit that the vacant and locked building is dangerous are irresponsible. The candidate asserted that the Courthouse is “exposing our neighbors to dangerous cancer-causing toxins ….a burst steam pipe may have sent aerosolized asbestos particles into the neighborhood. The basement remains flooded with asbestos-contaminated water that is seeping into abutters’ homes.” What’s dangerous is misinformation like this.

#9 Police Retention of Image Files: Commissioner Bard’s memo explains the procedure for how photo and video files taken on handheld devices during police work are stored, how long they are retained, and under what circumstances they may be shared with other law enforcement officers.

#10 Cybercrime Reporting: Following a Pubic Safety Committee discussion on the rise of identity theft and cyber safety. CPD will add stats on Internet-related crimes to its monthly BridgeStat report and will boost visibility of its Identity Theft Prevention resources.

#11 New Arts Resources Webpage: Check out the new landing page for one-stop browsing for all city arts resources. This is a suggestion that came out of the Mayor’s Arts Task Force meetings.

#12 Arts Support Inventory: Another idea that came out of the Arts Task Force was to create an inventory of local arts organizations and foundations that support the arts (see list). Read the report here.

#13 Violence Prevention in the Port: Summer activities and special events have been planned in the Port. See schedule. Events are open to residents of all areas.

#21 Inman Sq Contractor Section and Budget: This memo from DPW answers questions about why the City selected Newport as the contractor and why the project cost has ballooned to $8.5M. Read the report.

#22 Eversource East Cambridge Substation Update: This memo follows two committee hearings I have chaired about Eversource’s plan to expand electrical capacity to meet the increasing needs of Kendall Square commercial users. Already the existing substations serving East Cambridge are at 98% capacity during peak usage, and an additional 120MW capacity is needed to power the area’s projected growth through 2029, even with anticipated improvements in energy efficiency and the transition to renewables. While total electricity use may remain level, peak loads are expected to increase and with more renewables in the supply chain, demand for electricity for distribution will remain high. The community and the Council are on record as strongly opposed to siting a massive new substation (which could be over 80′ high and is expected to cost up to $130M) on Fulkerson St across from Ahern Field and the Kennedy Longfellow School. The site is a 1-acre lot that Eversource bought in 2017 from a developer that had originally intended to build 40 units of housing there, a far more compatible use. Eversource, the City and major properties owners in Kendall are exploring other locations for a substation (or two smaller facilities), but Eversource says it needs to finalize site selection this fall so time is short. I will not vote for any commercial upzoning in Kendall Sq until this is resolved to the satisfaction of residents.

#23 Electric Vehicle Charging Plan: A consultant is working on a New Mobility Blueprint plan that among other things will help inform strategy on how to expand charging capacity for EV owners that do not have off-street parking where they can charge their cars. There soon will be 11 public charging stations, each capable of charging multiple vehicles. One possibility is using light poles for charging. Read the memo.

#24 Right to Charge Home Rule Petition: I suggested that we submit a home rule petition based on the law that Boston passed earlier this year that established a “right to charge” for residents of multifamily buildings who seek to install charging equipment for EVs at their own cost in common parking areas. The city solicitor reviewed Boston’s law and has drafted a home rule petition for us to submit to the state legislature. Read the memo.

#25 Running Power Lines Across Sidewalks to Charge EVs: It was suggested that people might be able to charge cars parked on the street by running power cords across the sidewalk from their homes. It’s hardly a surprise that the city solicitor says that’s a bad idea. Instead someone would have to get a license and a permit to excavate under the sidewalk and run the cord through a conduit. Feasible but costly. Read the legal brief.

#26 Parking and Trip Demand Management Compliance: When larger non-residential developments are permitted, they fall under the requirements of the PTDM Ordinance, which since 1998 has required commercial property managers to incentivize sustainable modes of commuting and to reduce single-occupancy car trips. This memo reports on compliance and rates of reduction. Of the 41 large projects monitored, 88% were meeting their PTDM goals in 2018. The memo doesn’t provide any detail, though. I’d like to see actual mode-share stats and progress toward goals over time by property.

#27 Bluebikes Expansion to the Highlands?: I am very frustrated with CDD’s response to a policy order I submitted to ask for a Bluebikes station near Rafferty Park to serve the Highlands neighborhood, which is far from a T stop and entirely unserved by bike share though accessible to two separated bike paths (Concord Ave and the Alewife Fitchburg Path). This is our municipally-owned bike share system and we should not delay expanding coverage to residents citywide. Waiting for a private developer to build a very large new building in order to fund a bikeshare station as a “community” benefit principally serves those working or living in that building, not the community already living and working nearby.

#28 New Bluebikes Stations in Alewife: Two new bikeshare stations will be added at a total cost to the City of $75,000. Locations are 211 Concord Turnpike (Lanes and Games housing development) and 35 Cambridgepark Drive (lab development). There are now 59 stations in Cambridge and ridership is setting daily records — over 13,200 rides on July 25! Almost 5,000 Cambridge residents belong to the program.

#30 Safety of Intersection of Garden-Field-Alpine: Residents have expressed concerns about crossing this sharply curved intersection near Danehy Park (and in a year or so the new universal access playground), but the staff doesn’t feel it’s enough of a problem to warrant any additional improvements. The crossings were redesigned and narrowed a couple of years ago as part of the sewer separation project and there have not been any crashes there. Of course, close calls go uncounted. The response is indicative of a persistent bias against listening to regular users of intersections and instead relying on crash data to assess safety. If people say they don’t feel safe crossing the street they probably aren’t as safe as they could be. A worse example is Mass Ave and Garfield St where the flashing yellow lights are insufficient to protect pedestrians from 4 lanes of traffic and turning vehicles.

#31 Why the New Traffic Light at Ellery and Broadway Took So Long to Activate: The short answer is because Eversource needed much more time than expected to connect power to it. It’s working now.

#32 The Legal Basis for Resident-Only Parking: This is a fascinating (to me at least) legal brief on the case law that justifies restricting parking to residents only as a means of reducing congestion and pollution (in theory residents’ cars stored on local streets are driven less than if the parking spots were open for non-residents). The case law explains why allowing small business employees to park in resident spots could open up the City to a legal challenge of the entire resident permit program. Read the brief.

#33 The Curse of GPS Navigation: With GPS apps like Waze and Google maps, cut-through traffic burdens many neighborhood streets and there is very little we can do to prevent it. Read this memo to get a better picture of what we are up against.

It’s past 10:30pm on Friday night and this is as far as I could get today…still another 1,500 pages of the agenda to read. I will write Part II of my agenda summary over the weekend.

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 day 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 the day of the meeting. 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