City Council Agenda Highlights (9/16/19)

The Cambridge City Council will meet on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019 at 5:30pm at City Hall. The agenda is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. In addition to several the new items there is a good deal of “Unfinished Business” carried over from last week’s marathon double meeting, which ran for more than 7 hours. Public comment on the First Street Garage Disposition chewed up five hours of last week’s meeting, and we recessed the the disposition meeting without taking a vote; we will reconvene on Sept. 18 at 3:00pm (read more). Also last Monday we voted to table the Affordable Housing Overlay, which means the zoning petition will expire without coming to a vote but could be revised and resubmitted by a future council (read more).

City Manager’s Agenda

#8 Communicating with the Deaf Community: This memo reports on strategies the Emergency Communications Department is exploring with the Commission for Persons with Disabilities and the Police and Fire Departments to better communicate with members of the deaf and hearing impaired community.

#9 Report Idling Vehicles on See Click Fix? (No) The staff do not think this is a good idea: “SeeClickFix reports alone should not be the basis for issuing a citation, and since we do not want to encourage residents to use SeeClickFix to report issues requiring immediate attention, we do not believe creating an “Idling Vehicles” category in SeeClickFix would be prudent.” There’s a policy order related to idling enforcement (see PO #10).

#10 2020 Census Complete Count Committee Formed: The City is gearing up to ensure full participation in the 2020 Census and has appointed a committee overseen by Dan Rivello (city manager’s office) and Tina Aleu (CEOC). If you are interested in a job assisting with the census there is a job fair on Sept. 19 from 3-6 at the Central Sq Library.

#12 Quick-Build Complete Streets on Mass Ave? (No): This is a very disappointing response to a policy order I sponsored to ask for a quick-build project to create separated bike lanes on Mass Ave between Putnam and Sidney St. The staff do not want to do anything until the street is fully reconstructed s part of the 5-Year Street and Sidewalk Plan and that would not be until FY26 for the section between Bigelow and Sidney. The other section (Between Bigelow and Putnam) will be prioritized for a quick-build in the 2020 Bike Plan Vision but the staff cautioned that there would be a significant loss of parking and more process would be needed.

#13 Play Streets Pilot: The staff are open to piloting a “play streets” program that would give residents the ability to close streets to vehicles on a regular basis for community activities without having to apply for a permit each time. There are quite a few questions still to be worked through.

#15 Enough Bike Parking at the Smith Center? There are racks with the capacity for 100+ bikes but some of them are temporarily blocked by scaffolding for roof construction, which will be finished this fall. A future usage survey will indicate if more bike parking is needed.

#16 Net Zero 5-Year Review: The first of the required 5-year reviews of the Net Zero Action Plan in 2020 will get underway with the selection of a consultant later this year. Any recommended changes would be brought forward in Fall 2020.

#17 New St Storage Petition Additional Information: I requested that CDD provide additional information to inform our vote about this storage upzoning petition, which the Planning Board advised us not to adopt. The memos highlight that amount of affordable housing offered is no greater than what would be required of a residential development under the current zoning — but under the proposed petition the storage-plus-housing building would be almost twice as large. It also explains that any community benefits should be spelled out in a letter of commitment signed by both affected property owners, not written into zoning. Not coincidentally, a letter appears at the end of the agenda under Communications for City Officers but it does not have a space for the other property owner to sign.

Unfinished Business

#4 Cannabis Permitting: Last week we did not discuss the Cannabis Business Permitting Ordinance but because it was passed to a second reading back on April 22 we could take a vote this Monday on the version of the petition that’s before us, or amend it to incorporate the two-year moratorium on medical dispensaries adding retail sales (the “Siddiqui-Zondervan Amendment”), or debate it further at an Ordinance Committee meeting scheduled on Sept. 18 at 11:00am. Presently there is no viable version of the “Simmons Compromise” for the RMDs to create an accelerator fund to help equity applicants, and continuing to hold up the vote simply further delays the ready-and-waiting economic empowerment applicants from opening. Last week two of them got special permits approved for stores on Mass Ave in Central Square and one applying for store on Church St in Harvard Sq is at the Planning Board this week.

#7 New St Storage Overlay Petition: See CMA #17 above. This petition expires on Sept. 24.

#8 & #9  UpperWest and the License Commission: There was not time to discuss these two orders last week.

#11 Alexandria Grand Junction Path Zoning Petition: This is the Planning Board’s report from their hearing; they made no recommendation. Last week the Ordinance Committee met and voted to send the petition to the Council with a favorable recommendation to make it eligible it to be adopted on 10/7, the last meeting before it expires on 10/9. We will need a letter of commitment for the community benefits including the offer to purchase the site Eversource owns on Fulkerson St where a new substation is proposed, and a commitment to convey the Grand Junction Path to the City upon issuance of a special permit (not waiting for a certificate of occupancy) or to construct the path along with their project.

#13 Carnival Makeup Event: The abrupt cancellation of this year’s Caribbean Carnival following what the Police Dept called credible threats of gang violence has prompted questions of what can be done to make up for the financial and intangible losses to the community. The Council was not consulted about the decision to cancel, and some of have asked if this event was subjected to a higher level of scrutiny than other large outdoor events,

Applications & Petitions

#2 Municipal Broadband Petition: Upgrade Cambridge submitted a citizen petition signed by over 1200 residents renewing demands for the city manager to authorize a full feasibility study on municipal broadband.

Policy Orders

#1 Status of Truck Safety Ordinance and Side Guards? It has been 10 months since a committee hearing I co-chaired when the staff told us we could expect a draft of a Truck Safety Ordinance. We are asking where the draft ordinance is. Significantly, it would require side guards and other safety equipment on city-contracted vehicles as well as on municipal trucks.

#5 Protecting Youth from E-Cigarettes and Vaping: This order asks for new municipal legislation to try to restrict the sale of e-cigarettes to smoke shops that are only accessible to people 21 and over and to limit youth exposure to advertising and promotion of these products.

#7 Fast-Track Elevator Repairs at T Stations: The elevator replacements at Central and Harvard continue to drag on, inconveniencing passengers. This order for the work to be “fast-tracked” (pun intended?). In Harvard Sq at least there is a second elevator that remains in service. The situation in Central is worse, and last time we asked we were told the work couldn’t go any faster because it can only take place in the few hours when the trains don’t run at night.

#8 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors: This order asks for a series of educational forums to help senior citizens avoid being scammed.

#9 New Water Play Feature in a Park: The mayor invites kindergarten classes to participate in mock city council meetings when they visit City Hall and four of five groups suggested more water play features in our parks. So the mayor has asked for one to be added in 2021. This might have been put to a Participatory Budgeting vote but the kindergarten students wouldn’t be old enough to vote for their project 🙂

#10 Idling Enforcement and Anti-Idling Campaign: I co-sponsored Councillor Zondervan’s order to authorize Traffic Officers to issue tickets for idling in all places (not only at unpaid meters) and to create an anti-idling awareness campaign.

Communications from City Officers

#1 Home Rule Petition to Improve the Safety of TNC Vehicles Operating in Cambridge: This asks the state legislature to allow Cambridge to restrict TNCs  operating here to those registered in the state, that the vehicles be marked and annually inspected much like taxis are.

#2 New St Letter of Commitment: This will be discussed with the petition.

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 Anthony Wilson 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