The final meeting of the Cambridge City Council’s 2018-19 term, and my last as a councillor, will be on Monday, December 16, 2019. The agenda is posted here. My agenda summary follows.
It is customary for the meeting rules to be suspended to include some time for formal good-byes and tributes to departing councillors, in this case me and Craig Kelley, who served 14 years. I have placed a note of appreciation on the agenda under Communications from City Officers.
City Manager’s Agenda
#1 Extended Branch Library Hours: I’m very pleased that not only will the extended hours at the O’Connell Branch continue even now that the new Valente Library is open, the city manager also is committing to extending hours at the other 3 branches (Boudreau, Collins and O’Neill) to 5 days a week with the FY21 Budget. The appropriation requested from Free Cash to fund the O’Connell’s hours is $250K.
#3 Report on Level of Threat from Hate Crimes: The Police Commissioner has responded to our request for a report on the incidence of hate crimes and whether they are on the rise. The report and the detailed guide to policy and procedures describe how such incidents are investigated and classified based on the type of bias (religion, race, gender, sexuality, nationality, disability) and graphs their incidence between 2013-18. Sixteen hate crimes were reported in 2018, most (8) were related to religion. There was a sharp increase in 2016 (25) and a dip in 2017 (9). The number is 2019 is not included. The report does not comment on the specifics of any of these crimes, for example whether swastikas scrawled on school walls are on the rise. I’ve asked Commissioner Bard to share this information at Monday’s meeting.
#5 Funding for “EGov” Projects: The city manager is requesting $649K to fund 6 EGov projects, which are described in the report. One is to create a platform to display all the data collected through the Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance to better manage and track the data on energy and water use from the hundreds of buildings subject to BEUDO. Another is to improve the AV capacity in the Main Library’s Lecture Hall so that the many events held there can be live-streamed.
#6 Free T Passes for Low Income High School Students: This school year about 500 CRLS students qualify for free MBTA passes funded out of the City’s budget. I asked that the program be extended to income-eligible Cambridge residents attending public charter schools (CCSC and PHA). The schools estimate that about 106 students would qualify. The report does not state the cost per student, but I have asked to know it by Monday’s meeting. The District is obligated to provide equitable transportation for residents attending all types of public schools in Cambridge, and younger students attending charter schools can ride CPSD buses.
#8 Elm St Improvements: The section of Elm Street that runs one-way northbound from Cambridge St to Webster Ave is being prioritized for reconstruction as a Complete Street next year for $1M. For some cyclists going from Cambridge St to Union Square this will provide a more comfortable, if less direct, connection to the separated bike facility along Somerville’s section of Webster Ave. We still need to push for improvements to Webster Ave itself, however.
#9 Bike Lanes on Broadway approaching Kendall: This memo explains the rationale for the new layout on the section of Broadway between Windsor and Portland where 5′ painted bike lanes recently replaced “sharrows.” Ultimately this stretch may be recommended for protected bike lanes in the 2020 Bike Network Plan that is being developed now and should be released next summer.
#10 Garfield St & Mass Ave Signal? Currently there is a pedestrian-activated flashing light signal at Garfield Street, where it crosses 4 lanes and the median on Mass Ave. There have been some close calls when drivers don’t yield, and at our request staff explored whether installing a full traffic signal would be warranted. Based on 2 of 9 criteria, a signal could be justified and installed (at a cost of about $250-300K), but the staff seem to be suggesting we consider how it might affect neighborhood traffic patterns by making it access in and out of Garfield easier for drivers.
#11 Windsor House Adult Daycare Closing Impact: Due to state budget cuts, Windsor House is ending its adult daycare operations this year. All 21 Cambridge residents that used the program have been placed in other programs, but they operate out of town (Everett and Arlington). Staff have been working hard to find placements for 26 non-residents.
#15 Low-Income Heating Assistance Grant: This year’s federal grant of over $895K will help about 1,100 residents of Cambridge and Somerville afford heating costs.
#1 Interim Dog Park in East Cambridge: This order requests the creation of an interim dog park in East Cambridge during the construction of the new Toomey park on Third St between Rogers and Bent, which will include a fenced dog park when it re-opens in 2021.
On the Table
#2 Surveillance Ordinance Report and Use Policy: At last week’s meeting we tabled the Year I report the use of surveillance technology because we were not satisfied with its level of detail. The next Council will schedule a committee hearing to discuss it at greater length. It seems likely that face surveillance also will be prohibited.
#4 Article 19 Amendments for Energy Infrastructure: These amendments were passed to a second reading but cannot be voted on until after December 23, so it will be up to the next Council to decide whether to adopt them. It would require special permit applicants to provide a narrative of their projected gas and electricity consumption and to explain what infrastructure improvements may be needed to meet them.
#5 Cambridgeside PUD-8 Zoning Petition: The Council will vote on this petition, which has been revised and filed 3 times and negotiated for the past year. It expires on December 23, so this is will be the decisive meeting. New England Development’s latest revisions to address questions about transportation impact mitigation and Councillor Carlone’s concerns about following design guidelines from his 1985 East Cambridge Plan are on the agenda as Communications from City Officers #1. The net new GFA would 575K sf. The height of the 3 new buildings would range from 95′ to 155′. NED has agreed to make 65% of the housing affordable, with 35% of that designated for middle income households earning between 70-120% of AMI (housing comprises 30% of the total density). The zoning contract comes with a letter of commitment for extensive community benefits including $9M to support East End House’s expansion and renovation, a payment of $1M into the Tree Fund, and a promise to share the cost of relocating the Eversource substation from Fulkerson St.
Applications & Petitions
#1 Curb Cut for 43 Cottage St: This application seeks to add a 17′ x 36′ driveway for an attached single-family house in Cambridgeport. Abutters approve but one asked that a permeable surface be used and that it be for one car only to preserve more open space
#2 Curb Cut for 9 Pine St: This application for a 17′ x 28′ driveway does not include any responses from abutters. That seems important information to have before approving it since the driveway would be 5′ to the neighbors’ lot line.
#3 Happy Birthday to…My Husband! Look, it’s my very last meeting, and Peter deserves a shout-out. In 4 years it’s the only time I’ve submitted a personal birthday resolution. In fact, the only other birthday resolution I sponsored was in June 2017 to recognize the 100th birthday of Joe Cohen.
#1 No to Mobile On-Demand Fueling: At last week’s Ordinance Committee hearing we learned we should have filed an amendment to the municipal code, not to the zoning code, to ban mobile on-demand fueling, so that’s what we are doing here. The Fire Chief agrees a ban is appropriate and said he wouldn’t approve an application anyway.
#3 Increase Incentive Zoning Fee: At last week’s meeting several of us expressed frustration that the Incentive Zoning study had been delayed and that there had been no increase to the fee last September (the last annual increase was in Sept 2018, to $17.10/sf). Councillor Zondervan has submitted an amendment to immediately increase the fee to $19.10/sf, which was the amount the consultant suggested for the first year until the next Council can decide the amounts of any additional increases in future years.
#4 Helping People Avoid Phone Scams: This order requests the AG’s help in educating the elderly in particular about fraud committee over the phone. If someone calls and says a relative needs financial help, don’t send them money!
#5 Housekeeping Between Terms: There are over 90 policy orders on the Awaiting Report list, some dating back to 2016, that will be placed on file.
#6 Real Estate Transfer Fee: Several cities and towns including Boston, Brookline and Somerville are in the process of sending home rule petitions to the state legislature to ask permission to impose local transfer fees on real estate sales. There also is a bill before the House to enable cities and towns to impose such fees without seeking a home rule petition. We have twice (in 2017 and early this year) asked our city solicitor to draft a home rule petition for a transfer fee, and this order renews that request. The fee would be used to fund affordable housing. The percentage could be graduated based on the sale price, and exemptions could be created.
#7 Is School Spending Enough? We spend more per pupil than any other district apart from Martha Vineyard but have not closed the racial achievement gap. The cost of offering Pre-K to all 4-year-olds has been estimated to add up to $20M annually to the School Budget (excluding costs to build facilities), and Councillor Kelley is asking why we are not also considering spending more to close the gaps among students already attending school. It’s a fair question when we have a hefty Free Cash balance. High-quality early childhood education helps close gaps later on, and expanding pre-school access to more disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-olds would help, but would it be sufficient without spending more on older children, too? There is also a pattern of setting unequal goals and lowering expectations for students of color, which must end. The future Mayor and a School Committee with 3 new members will have their hands full next term.
#8 Continue Anti-Bias Training: In light of the racial tension that erupted at last week’s School Committee meeting (see article), Councillor Simmons is asking for a continuation of the anti-bias and cultural competency training elected officials and senior admin participated in over the past two terms.
#9 Rename Harvard’s Sackler Museum: The Mayor is supporting Harvard students, professors, Senator Warren and many others in asking the University to remove the Sackler name from the building. Tufts did it. President Bacow is opposed, though.
Communications from City Officers
#1 Cambridgeside Zoning (see Unfinished Business #5 above)
#2 Recap of the Housing Committee’s Work this Term from Councilor Simmons, It includes a link to the final report of the Mayor’s Task Force on Tenant Displacement chaired by Housing Committee Co-chair Councillor Siddiqui, which was published last week.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and cc City Clerk Anthony Wilson 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.
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Jan Devereux City Councillor Cambridge, MA