City Council Agenda Highlights (12/9/19)

The Cambridge City Council will meet on Monday, December 9, 2019, at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted here. My summary follows.

City Manager’s Agenda

#4 Landmark Recommendation for the EMF Building. The Historical Commission recommends the building on Brookline St be landmarked. This is the former industrial building where the musicians and artists were evicted that is now being renovated into office space. See an article in Cambridge Day.

#5 Landmark Recommendation for 74 Oxford St. The Historical Commission recommends the 1893 house on the corner of Oxford and Wendel be landmarked. It was purchased by a developer last year and has permits to be renovated into 3 units. This is a much better outcome than was originally proposed.

#6 Raymond St Speed Report: After complaints from residents about speeding on Raymond St, the Traffic Dept did some speed counts. Most traffic is going around 24-25mph, but the speed limit will be reduced to 20mph soon as part of the citywide changes. There is a community meeting to discuss traffic calming on Raymond on 12/10 at 6pm at the Graham and Parks School. Putting up new speed signs will do nothing to slow cars without changes to the road design and enforcement, neither of which seems to be on the table.

#7 Law Dept Appropriation: The manager is requesting $200K from Free Cash to cover higher than expected legal settlements. We did not receive any details about what these settlements were.

#8 Surveillance Technology Year I Report and Use Policy: We passed the Surveillance Technology Ordinance a year ago and it required annual reporting to the Council on the use and impact of any such technology. It also required the creation of a Surveillance Use Policy, a draft of which is ready for our review. Last week we held an Ordinance Committee meeting where we recommended explicitly banning most use of facial recognition surveillance technology. The only use that caught my attention was the installation of several “covert” streetlight cameras in areas with past history of gun violence. I would note that the law only covers surveillance technology used by the City, not all the private video cameras and even those Ring doorbells that private property owners install to see who is at their door.

#10 Alexandria Grand Junction Overlay Petition: The Planning Board recommended it favorably and I think most of the Council supports the actual zoning. However there still has been no final resolution on the re-location of a proposed Eversource substation on Fulkerson St next to Alexandria’s site and until that is resolved I do not support moving the zoning out of committee. The petition does not expire until early March and next term’s Ordinance Committee can take it up again.

#11 Harvard Sq Zoning Petition: The Planning Board was generally in support but suggested several changes. The Ordinance Committee will meet to hear the presentation for the first time on 12/11 at 5:30pm. The broad goals are to allow slightly more density to encourage housing, to limit chain stores and banks and to improve the governance of the Harvard Sq Advisory Committee. It also would eliminate the in lieu of parking fee that developers pay since none of them build parking; I wonder why we would give that up rather than reconsidering ways the fees can be used to mitigate the impact of more traffic. This is a petition filed jointly by the Harvard Sq Business and Neighborhood Associations.

#12 Shared Mobility Petition: The Planning Board didn’t offer an opinion on this amendment that Councillor Kelley submitted and the CDD memo raised several concerns. Given the lack of clarity around what problem it is trying to solve, Councillor Kelley’s lame duck status, and the fact that it expires on 1/1 anyway, I think this petition is a dead duck.

#13 Cambridgeside Galleria Zoning Petition: The petition was passed to a second reading on 11/26 and is eligible to be ordained at our meeting 12/16. This memo offers minor text changes to the draft as requested at the last hearing. The developer’s revised letter of commitment is on the agenda under Communications from City Officers. Most significant there is that East End House will get a $9M windfall.

#14 Green Building Requirements Progress Report: At a recent hearing on proposed changes to strengthen the Green Building Requirements we ask for more information on how the existing requirements are being met. One figure that stood out to me: since the Green Building Requirements took effect in August 2010 there has been over 17 million square feet of new development (95 projects and 45% residential) that have been subject to the rules. The majority of the projects (50) have attained LEED Silver, with 35 meeting LEED Gold standards. The proposed changes would raise the bar to LEED Gold for most projects.

#15 Report on Affordable Homeownership Programs: This report was prompted by discussions about how we can help fund more homeownership programs for low, moderate and middle income residents. There are more than 500 such units now, mostly condos and mostly with at least 2 bedrooms. Turnover is low (2-3% of units a year re re-sold). There’s quite a bit of detail about how these units are created and financed, who is eligible to apply, how people are selected, what type of housing they had prior, how long they own the units, and where they move if they sell. It’s worth scheduling a committee hearing next term to discuss at greater length.

#16 Incentive Zoning Study: The Incentive Zoning Ordinance requires a new “nexus study” every 3 years. All large new commercial and institutional developments are subject to the ordinance, which assesses a per square foot fee to support the creation of affordable workforce housing. The fee is current $17.10/sf. The report projects almost 5.5 million square feet of new non-residential space will be developed over the next 10 years, creating over 14,800 new jobs and the need for at least 722 affordable units to house new low, moderate and middle income workers (the additional higher-wage workers would put create more demand for market rate units, but that is not addressed). Estimating the cost to create those units and subtracting whatever public subsidies could be amassed to support affordable housing production (assuming enough such public subsidies are available…), the report estimates the full incentive rate needed would be $33.45/sf. But the consultant cautions that raising the fee too high would further increase the cost of building in Cambridge and could push up commercial rents to a point where the city would not be able to compete with other markets, while noting that incentive fees in Boston and Somerville are lower than our current rate ($10.81 and $12.46, respectively). Thus, the report suggests a fairly modest increase of $6 over 5 years, with an initial $2 increase in the first year (2020), and an additional $1 plus an inflation adjustment over the next 4 years. The report will be referred to the Ordinance Committee and may not be heard until next term. I feel the recommended increase is a finger in the dike. It’s neither sufficient to meet the demand for new workforce housing nor enough to stem displacement of others priced out by these new workers.


#33 Death of Charlie Davidson, at 93, the longtime proprietor of The Andover Shop in Harvard Sq.

Policy Orders

#1 Cancel the Dec. 23 Council meeting. Ho ho ho.

#2 Short-Term Rental Enforcement: I co-sponsored this order to ask for an update on bringing Airbnb and other STR hosts into compliance with our STR Ordinance. Only 255 listings are registered in Cambridge, which probably means many hosts are ignoring the requirement to register. As part of its court settlement with Airbnb, Boston recently became able to require Airbnb to remove any listings that were not registered with the city — and more than half of the listings were taken off the site. Do we have to sue Airbnb to bring hosts into compliance?

Committee Reports

#1 Health & Environment Meeting on the Urban Forest Master Plan final technical report. It will be presented to the public on 12/12 at 6:30 at the Putnam Ave School.

#2 Neighborhood & Long Term Planning Committee on tracking greenhouse gas emissions.

#3 Ordinance Committee on amending Article 19 Special Permit rules to require reports on how new developments would affect the electric and gas grid.

#4 Public Safety on prohibiting the use of face surveillance technology.

#5 Neighborhood & Long Term Planning Committee on the final Envision report.

Communications for City Officers

#2 Letter of Commitment from Cambridgeside for their zoning petition

#4 Comments from Councillor Mallon on the Tobin VLUS Project.  I have many of the same concerns. As currently proposed there are too many programs being squeezed onto a site, too great a loss in open recreational space, and significant logistical/traffic impacts on both the neighborhood and the school community.

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