A sigh of relief…back to local politics!

Danehy Park, Election Day, 11/3/2020

Wow. What a week, month, year…. No matter where you stand or how involved you’ve been in the election, it’s been an exhausting time. I, like many Americans, volunteered the last few months on behalf of candidates I supported. And, no matter where you stood on the election, the election of the country’s first woman, Black, and Indian American as Vice President is moving and should be celebrated. Cambridge turnout was high, and also had the highest percent voting for Biden/Harris of any municipality in the commonwealth (at least as of the last time I checked the results). Now that the national campaign is (mostly) settled, it is time to get back to local work.

The Covid19 news has been unsettling – the state has seen an uptick and has instituted some changes – including a curfew, a limit on gatherings, and a mask mandate. After persistent urging of the City Council, the city has expanded testing and now offers testing every day at one of the multiple sites across the city that is free for residents. The City is also offering a drive-thru flu shot this Saturday – everyone should get this year’s flu vaccine.

The weather has been wild too – from several inches of snow on Halloween to balmy days in New England now. I’m hoping the weather lasts longer, so I can get in a few hikes before it is too cold.

Below are some updates on the past couple of weeks. Tonight’s meeting is one of the shortest agendas of the year – another sign that we all need a bit of a breather to recuperate from the intensity of the last week (and last four years, for that matter).

Patty

Quick park updates:

The Riverbend Park – part of Memorial Drive – will continue to be closed on both Saturdays and Sundays through the end of November.  The pilot project to have the park open both weekend days for an extended period of time has been successful and already many of us (me included) are asking about opening Riverbend Park earlier next year.  

Additionally, three city parks will have extended hours of lights being kept on – to provide residents with an outdoor place to be physically active now that the fall darkness is with us.  These extended hours of lighting will continue as of now through December 7.  Thanks to residents for advocating for this change and the city for listening.  The parks are St. Peter’s Field, Hoyt Field, and Donnelly Field. 

City Council Agenda

Tonight is a very short agenda – there will be a COVID update from the Manager, which is usually followed by many questions from the Council, but I do not expect significant time to be spent on policy orders or communications. See the full agenda for tonight’s meeting here.

From last week’s meeting:

Resident Parking Permit increase

The council rejected a recommendation from the City Manager to increase resident parking permit fees to $40 from the current $25.  The vote was 4-5 and I was one of the 5 voting against.  I am in favor of increasing our resident parking permit fees.  However, there was a significant disconnect between what the council had requested two years ago and what the city administration recommended.  Specifically, the council had asked for a review of the current permitting, with attention paid to the financial impact on low-income residents of raising the fee.  The administration provided no report or rationale or even an acknowledgment of that request in their recommendation to immediately raise the fee.  Many believe that if you own a car, an extra $15 a year is not a lot of money, especially relative to the cost of owning a car.  That is true.  However, with families struggling to pay rent, buy food, and afford basic necessities, every dollar matters.  I also was disturbed to learn that the council had been waiting for two years on the question of whether to have a different rate for low-income residents.  As Mayor Siddiqui noted in her remarks at the meeting – the city could have proposed a pilot with a very simple check box for anyone receiving any public assistance.  A system did not have to be complicated or require any verification. And we could see how it works.  I also raised the question of the automatic free permit provided to anyone 65 and older.  As someone approaching that age, I advocated for us to reconsider – and to have any waiver or lower fee-based not on age, but on the ability to pay.  I hope the city will reconsider its recommendation, explore ways to take economics into account, and come back with a better proposal.  

Curb cut for Cambridge Brands

I was happy to push the council to take this application off the table (a term for an item that is being held for a future vore).  The application had been held up for two weeks, despite being approved by the city agencies, all abutters, and with no opposition from any neighbors.  Cambridge Brands is the last of what used to be many large candy manufacturers in Cambridge.  They employ 200 people and are investing $25 million in upgrading their facility to ensure the safety of workers.  I am thrilled that they are still in the city, and was glad to hear that on their own initiative they allow area churches to use their parking lots on weekends for services.  I was disappointed that the council holding up this application seemed to be a sign of the city not being welcoming and supportive of the company and I am glad their project can now get back on track.  If it wasn’t for security and food safety concerns, we could all see how Junior Mints are made! 

Council and school committee COVID roundtable

This order was passed to call a joint roundtable for members of the City Council and School Committee on Tuesday, November 10, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm with the purpose of discussing the impact of COVID-19 on Cambridge Public Schools. I am looking forward to getting to weigh in on what the next few months of education look like in Cambridge.  I hope that we will hear about a specific plan to re-open our schools.  

Building Permits

I co-sponsored this order, asking for all applications for building permits to be posted online as soon as available, to increase the level of transparency and accessibility in the building permitting process. These documents should be accessible online once they are available to be seen in person. With COVID, there is no reason that people should have to travel in person to find out basic information about building permits, and even in a post-COVID world, this is simply good for transparency. 

Campaign Finance

There were two orders on local campaign finance reform that were referred to the Ordinance Committee.  I sponsored the original order, which sought to establish limits on contributions from people with business before the city – developers and others.  A competing order asked the City Manager to work with the City Solicitor’s Office to draft a Home Rule Petition that would cap all campaign contributions to any City Council candidate to $200 per person, not only those with business before the city, per year, per candidate and limit candidate loans to $3,000 per election cycle. I thought both policy orders had merit and voted for both to be referred to the Ordinance Committee.  I believe that we should make a distinction between contributions from people with a financial interest in council votes.  Defining that is tricky, but we should do what we can to ensure that the appearance of or actual potential for conflicts of interest does not appear to be influencing any candidate.  

 

Upcoming meetings:

Tuesday, November 10, 10AM – Committee meeting to discuss updating our tree ordinance and the temporary tree-cutting moratorium.

Tuesday, November 10, 6PM – Roundtable with Council and School Committee.

Thursday, November 12, 5:30PM – Committee meeting to discuss the city’s plan to address unhoused individuals with the upcoming winter season and the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.

And finally, question of the day ($15 gift card on the line): 

What is the best precedent those seeking to overturn the Electoral College might use?   

First to email with the correct answer wins!