Another hot summer day. Another day of pandemic. Another day of wonder. I did get away to a beach in South Dartmouth Massachusetts recently (pictured) – highly recommended – when Walden Pond fills up by 8 am, try going a bit further afield. And despite limited parking, many state beaches are available especially if you can get away during the week…(Demarest Lloyd State Park and Horseneck Beach are both less than 90 minutes, although it does require a car – my all electric car handled the round trip no problem!)
This email has a short wrap up of meetings last week and upcoming meetings. I was happy that my two policy orders passed unanimously during the Summer Meeting of the Council – on drought preparation and convening a meeting to discuss charter reform. Also, other policy orders I co-sponsored passed and we will see many of them take effect now. One, on allowing the disbursement of funds from the Mayor’s Relief Program to arts organizations, was subject to a member’s charter right (which means it was put off). Since the situation for arts organizations is dire and funding is needed ASAP, I am hoping we take up that matter at our special meeting on Covid19, instead of waiting until after Labor Day.
I look forward to more updates on the various initiatives in process, from our ongoing efforts in a range of ares: getting the feasibility study for municipal broadband started, reviewing all department budgets, starting with the police departments for efficacy and appropriateness, improving our streets for all modes of transportation, looking closely at Civil Service, opening up the golf course, understanding how the charter reform process works so we can consider changing our form of government. On the state level, the long awaited help for restaurants by capping third party fees is finally close to being passed. I am hopeful, yet disappointed that it has taken so long to get this far – we’ve already lost too many restaurants due to this delay.
Summary: there is always more to do AND we need to take a break also – walk on our streets, think about helping others, engage in dialogue, even if via video.
As always, I hope you are staying safe, sane and sound in this time.
Yesterday I enjoyed seeing Senator Markey who, among many other things, has been a tireless advocate for decades for universal internet access – an issue we have been fighting for in Cambridge for many years as well. I expect to see the broadband feasibility study funding come before the Council soon.
Last Week's Hearings:
The Economic Development and University Relations Committee held a hearing to receive an update on the Retail Land Use Initiative and Retail Table of Land Use. Retail in Cambridge was already struggling before the pandemic – now the effort to protect local business has been heightened dramatically. This committee discussed implementing changes to the land use table when they were first proposed in 2015, and the delay in action is disappointing. The current table has cost our small business community time and money with the complexities of the system and rigid structure. We need to increase uses and remove the parking requirements. We also need to understand why the table is so complex and bring it into the 21st century. While I favor government regulation and definitions, our zoning and business use chart is out of date and unnecessarily complex. The more we can to simplify the better – we can do it without compromising our public health and safety.
The Transportation Committee met to discuss how transportation in Cambridge has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including impacts and adaptations to streets and public transit. The hearing provided an opportunity to better understand the changes in transit being made in response to the pandemic – both in the short and long term. We heard from Joe Barr, head of the Traffic and Parking Department, and Wes Edwards, an executive at the MBTA. Mr. Edwards gave a presentation on the state of the MBTA in Cambridge specifically, and I learned a lot – including that the #1 bus has been the most heavily used in the entire system during the pandemic. It is a reminder that many first responders live and work in Cambridge and that we must continue to make transit options easy, safe, and accessible.
From Mr. Barr, we received an update on the Shared Streets program, along with the effort to allow restaurants to set up seating in parking spaces. I believe that many improvements can and should be made to this program, but that the goal of increasing access to safe walking and biking remains a vital part of COVID recovery. Changes are being made and the program is expanding. To learn more, Join the Traffic, Parking, and Transportation Department for a webinar TOMORROW, on August 4th, for an update on the Shared Streets program and information about next steps, including which streets will be added to the program. You may submit a question to be answered during the webinar.
This virtual public meeting to discuss the Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Schools Project was an update on the plans and a chance for residents to ask questions and voice concerns. There are still aspects of the plan that are being finalized – namely the traffic circulation and parking. If you watch the presentation you can see the different options laid out with the pros and cons included. Please send me feedback if you watched the meeting or get a chance to watch the recording. The project is being delayed slightly due to COVID and if students return to school anytime during the next school year they will be at the Tobin. There will be more community meetings and updates from the City with chances to give feedback.
More on schools…
K-12 school re-openings: School communities throughout the country and here in Cambridge have been working hard to figure out what will be the operations of our school district in the fall. The challenge of balancing the educational needs of students with the public health need for continued vigilance is daunting. The need for hands-on teaching is especially acute for young children and many older students with educational needs which don’t lend themselves to remote/screen-based learning. And yet, returning to school buildings where physical distance is difficult, ventilation systems may not be to current standards, and where mask-wearing may be tough to enforce is also daunting. All schools including Cambridge Public School District schools, the three charter public schools, and the dozen independent and parochial schools in Cambridge are all struggling to find a way to educate without endangering staff, students and their families. For CPS, follow the many School Committee meetings on this issue – [link to SC meetings]. I feel for all the families since no matter what the age, the remote learning has challenges and for families working from home and those without that option, not having schools open represents a burden and a sacrifice.
University re-openings: Our city is dependent on the universities, notably Harvard, MIT and Lesley, and our city is also affected by the greater Boston region and the dozens of other higher education institutions. Like K-12 systems, colleges and universities are struggling to figure out how to safely educate students. Personally our family is going through some of the same angst of many families. My daughter will be taking off next fall from college, which would have been the fall semester of her senior year. With the inevitably of an all online fall semester, it is the best educational environment for her, yet the prospect of a prolonged time away and uncertainty of finding other work in the falls is anxiety-producing also.
This month, the Council will have several special meetings, and continue with our committee meetings. Please let me know your thoughts on any topics.
Starting today we will be voting on relocating polling sites for the elections, due to the ongoing risks at some locations posed by Covid-19. The background information for this request to approve the changes outlines in detail the existing locations, the rationale and the temporary locations. Mostly, it is about changing locations that are located inside small spaces especially senior living quarters to more spacious settings like schools. Personally, I think we should consider consolidating some locations permanently, but for now this change is temporary.
Tomorrow, the Planning Board will meet to have a public hearing on the AHO [Affordable Housing Overlay] to continue the process of moving towards a comprehensive zoning overlay related to affordable housing developments. I have been researching this topic and seeking input on how it might work and how the proposal might be amended to be improved. I am still reviewing documents, information and proposals. I’m working to immerse myself in zoning and affordable housing, since the AHO will be an important vote. Please send your thoughts and ideas. The council will meet the week after next in the Ordinance Committee to discuss and review, and will be voting on the AHO in September.
Next week we will discuss a range of topics including:
- A Covid update (8/10, 3pm)
- Net Zero Action Plan progress report (8/11, 3pm)
- Joint School Committee – City Council meeting on reopening district schools (8/11, 5:30pm)
- Discussion of use of body cameras for police (8/12, 2pm)
Tonight – listen to some CRLS students talk about the pandemic and their experience – a History Café sponsored by the Cambridge Historical Society. I have attended several Historical Society events, and I always learn something new and am always engaged and always bring away something to ponder.
The annual Cambridge sidewalk poetry winners have been announced! As you walk around the city (mask on, distant from non-pod members) check out all the poems.
Radcliffe Institute has switched to online events – and one coming up looks great – a discussion with the author of a book on Madame CJ Walker, the first female self-made millionaire in the USA. August 11 at 4 pm.
QUESTION OF THE DAY:
First correct answer* wins a $15 gift certificate to a local place!
* when you submit the answer, you have to assert whether you checked the internet before submitting your reply. Preference will be to someone who didn’t use the internet.
Who broke 4 world records at an Olympics, won several national golf tournaments AND led a basketball team to 3 national titles?
Last week’s question: correct answer is a Krumcake iron – which makes very thin Scandanavian crepe-like cookies/waffles. The iron I found was made in Minneapolis in the 1950s. The distinguishing feature of krumcake irons is that you flip the pan on the stove – to cook both sides. A few people got it right – I am impressed!
Vote by Mail!
Voting by mail is available to ALL voters for all elections in 2020. You do not need an excuse to vote by mail this year – to vote by mail simply complete a vote by mail application and deliver it to the Cambridge Election Commission by email, mail or fax (Mail: Cambridge Election Commission, 51 Inman Street, Cambridge, MA 02139 / Fax: 617-349-4366). If you’re applying for a State Primary ballot, this application must arrive at your local election office by August 26.