Happy New year! We’re onto a new year, 2022, and a new Council term. Let’s hope for some progress and healing and forward momentum towards fulfilling goals – as a city, state, country and world. In a former time, my family celebrated Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas, and Feast of the Kings is big in my adopted country Belgium… and yet this year all I could think of was the fear and incredulity and outrage of last year’s January 6, which still affects all of us who care about democracy.
The last month has been wrenching – from hoping the pandemic was under control to seeing cases spiral out of control, once again we find ourselves in an emotionally draining time. Our family had a pretty lonely Christmas – since a COVID positive test of a family member meant our plans to gather with a few family members had to be canceled… Luckily our close family in the area all either had a mild case or evaded the infection, so far. Once again, I urge you to take care of yourself, reach out to friends and/or family, by telephone if in-person is not appropriate, possible or safe. We are all experiencing an ongoing pandemic – and need to recognize the toll that takes. And any Cambridge public school parent knows that this past week has only further frustrated people – as last minute closures (which should have been foreseen), poor communication, confusing information, convoluted messaging and dramatically lower attendance has upended school all week. I feel for those parents – and all parents – and acknowledge their legitimate disappointment and hope we manage to do a better job in the future.
New Year’s Eve found me wandering Boston – not as crowded as past years First Nights, which was good – since a less dense crowd in Covid times is nice… It felt safe (almost all people were masked even outside) and it was wonderful to be outside in community, and marvel at some stellar ice skaters on the Frog Pond, then admire ice sculptures and jazz music at Copley Square, and see 7 PM fireworks over the Boston Common.
This past Monday the new City Council was inaugurated – outside, in Starlight Square, with sub freezing temperatures keeping us all bundled up. Sumbul Siddiqui was elected mayor on the first round, unanimously. Alanna Mallon was elected vice mayor after several rounds – in the first round I received 4 votes – which was 1 shy of the 5 needed to be vice mayor. I was honored to receive the votes, disappointed not to be vice mayor, and am committed to working hard with all my colleagues in this very important term.
The next six months will be very busy for the Council – we will do a City Manager search, which should be concluded by June, since the current City Manager leaves July 5 of this year. We will start the charter review process – coming soon as a result of the ballot question that passed last fall. We also have planning, development, housing, climate, and many other issues that remain time critical as the city moves into the next decade. The pandemic continues to rage – with our highest number of cases ever daily (over 300) and yet the severity of those cases is far below past surges and hospitals are stretched and fatigued, yet as of today not completely overwhelmed… so there is hope the pandemic will ebb.
I truly look forward to the next term, despite the turmoil and the challenges. I am eager to continue the work done in the Climate Crisis Working Group, to get charter reform going, to hire a new visionary City Manager, and to work on issues within Cambridge and beyond.
I intend to keep frequenting small businesses – today I enjoyed a cardamom latte at Tatte’s in Harvard Square. We can safely imbibe – and our local businesses deserve our patronage… the snowy streets are nice to walk along, and better than online ordering…
Wishing you well,
Last Week's Update:
POR 2021 #279 – MMDT Fossil Fuel and Prison Free Portfolio Option: Last term, this policy order I introduced to incentivise the divestment of City funds from fossil fuels and prisons passed! For background, Cambridge and many municipalities use the Massachusetts Municipal Depository Trust [MMDT] to invest funds they control, yet no current option within MMDT exists to avoid investing in fossil fuel or prisons. All current pools include some investments that fund the fossil fuel industry with 2.5% in energy companies including pipeline builder Kinder Morgan, another 3.1% in utilities including fossil fuel companies, and banking institutions invested in fossil fuels. I am now working with other municipalities to urge the Treasurer and state legislature to follow our request of implementing a fossil fuel and prison-free investment portfolio.
This Week's Update:
The Council meeting on Monday is the first of the new term, when Paul Toner and Burhan Azeem take their seats for the first time. The agenda is relatively light, except that two policy orders related to the controversial bike lane expansion in upper Mass Avenue are on the agenda. A couple of others worth noting are below:
POR 2021 #246 – Alewife Quad Temporary Moratorium: As you may know, in November the City Council passed a policy order I had submitted with Mayor Siddiqui and Councillor McGovern to instate a temporary memorandum on development of new lab or office space in the Alewife Overlay District. This proposal was scheduled to be heard at the Planning Board meeting next Tuesday. However, the city informed us yesterday that the Ordinance Committee would not be able to hear it in time to meet the legal requirements, so the policy order needed to be re-filed if we wanted it to move forward. We absolutely want it to move forward – so the three of us submitted one – joined by newly elected Councillor Burhan Azeem. The content of the order is unchanged – please see a summary below:
In 1979, the City of Cambridge Community Development Department created the Alewife Revitalization plan, intended to fill the Fresh Pond – Alewife area with a mix of residential, business, and industrial structures. Forty years later, the 2019 Envision Alewife plan still visualizes Alewife as a mixed-use district, with development promoting the creation of good-paying, low barrier-to-entry jobs, and additional housing with no lab uses. However, over the past few months, a real estate investment firm has spent close to $400 million, purchasing 19 separate parcels in the Alewife “Quad” area to date. Since this firm is known for owning and developing real estate in the healthcare area (mostly laboratories), I have proposed that the Zoning Ordinance is amended to prohibit laboratory or office development within the Alewife Overlay district until December 31st, 2023, or until new Alewife District Zoning is ordained by the City Council.
POR 2021 #267 – Cycling Safety Ordinance Implementation Advisory Committee: This policy order has been carried over from last term, when Councillor Zondervan exercised his charter right. The order requests that the City Manager appoint a Cycling Safety Ordinance Implementation Advisory Committee to advise and improve on the implementation of the bike safety infrastructure and to establish recommendations on mitigation of any concerns raised. I will support any efforts to establish a balanced, unbiased committee that will best serve the needs and concerns of the community. I want to use existing committees whose volunteer work benefits the city in so many ways, so I look forward to understanding how this committee will be effective.
POR 2021 #277 – City Manager Meetings Regarding Bike Lanes: This policy order was also carried over from last term, when Councillor Zondervan exercised his charter right. Many residents recently have voiced concerns regarding the implementation of the bike lanes throughout the city. In their policy order, Councillors Simmons and Toomey note that the method of implementing the Cycling Safety Ordinance is a choice made by the Traffic, Parking, and Transportation department, and that sufficient outreach to community stakeholders was not conducted. The councillors request that the City Manager convene meetings between his office, the Traffic, Parking, and Transportation Department, and relevant stakeholders to ensure that all bike-safety infrastructure is constructed in a way that takes all community members into account. I am committed to working to ensure a better process that ensures we are walking the talk of inclusivity and input from all. And I know that people who have expressed concerns about the implementation of the bike lanes for the most part support the lanes – and are asking for a better process and communication and inclusion – not an end to the extension of the lanes.
I put in a resolution to honor Janet Axelrod, a stellar community presence, a warm and welcoming Cambridge mom, leader and role model. She died last month and I mourn her along with our entire community.
Also on the agenda is a resolution honoring Peter Daly, who is retiring from being Executive Director of Homeowners Rehab, Inc. and a career of 33 years working through Community Development Corporations in affordable housing.
Other City News:
The city amended the mask mandate and changed rules on most city meetings. See the announcement. Note that City Council meetings may still be hybrid -with remote and in person access.
Testing for COVID is available seven days a week for Cambridge residents – 4 walk-in days and the other by appointment.
What is this and where can it be found?