This week was one of the most consequential votes of the year – the vote on our $748 million budget. I voted yes. We have an array of programs other cities would love to be able to afford and many laudatory initiatives and solid services. AND we have a number of missed opportunities and unmet needs. As always, I was transparent and open in my praise for good elements and my concern for our lapses. As with the School Department budget, I specified things I expect us to do differently next year if I am to support the budget. My full statement is at the bottom of this email and if you didn’t hear me say it in the meeting, I would love your feedback.
Yesterday I went to Danehy Park for a portion of the CRLS graduation – glad it was in person, and sad that it was not the whole class together – due to Covid, the district decided to limit the numbers crossing the stage. I celebrate every graduating senior and know that for all the year was a challenge and rough. And for some getting to the point where they receive a diploma was not a foregone conclusion – and represents a big achievement. Although I am not on School Committee – I am still intensely interested in working towards the goal of our schools performing well and delivering on the CRLS motto of Opportunity Diversity Respect for all students.
Last Friday in Harvard Square I ran into fabulous firefighters working with medical staff to vaccinate anyone who wanted. And last Saturday morning I did a clean-up at Alewife Reservation – sponsored by Green Cambridge and Friends of Alewife. If you haven’t been there – in addition to the wonderful path linking alewife T to Blair Pond at the edge of Belmont, there are paths through the woods in the reservation…. If you haven’t walked the approximately mile path – it’s worth a visit… then head to the East Side of town to Cambridge Crossing and visit the park next to the dams on the Charles River and the Charlestown pedestrian bridge…. Exploring in the city is great especially when it is not 90F….
At last night’s ordinance meeting, the so-called Missing Middle Housing petition was discussed. It is not yet formally expired, but it will expire without being adopted. Which I believe is the correct course of action. From the first time I read it, I was clear I could not support it. I support many of the goals – eliminating single-family-only zones, allowing more density across the city, reforming parking requirements, encouraging housing near transit. And yet this petition was not clear at all in whether it would deliver on its supposed goals. It would have led to an upzoning across the city with no guarantee of middle-income housing or environmental benefit. At the meeting, I again asked some basic questions about the underlying rationale and examples presented that underpinned the argument in favor of the petition. The petitioners could not answer the questions, and the data used to promote the plan were suspect. For example, Berkeley California which has a similar zoning proposal and IS very similar to Cambridge in many ways. And yet the most relevant one – population density – Cambridge is over 18,000/mile and Berkely is only about 11,000/mile – different enough to not be a credible comp.
Depending on the state legislature, we may be back to in-person only council meetings soon, or we will have an ability to do hybrid – some in person and some remote. Remote participation makes it easier for many to be included, and yet something IS lost when on screen only.
May our LGBTQIA+ community feel love and support all year, not only this month. May our lives not be wholly on screen, may our temperatures stay bearable, may we continue to discover outdoor places, may the legislature make the 15% cap on delivery fees permanent and may I get back on my bike to get in shape.
CMA #12 – Bicycle Plan Updates – As outlined in the Bike Safety Ordinance that we passed last year, updates and reports are due each year on the progress that has been made. You will find all of the plans and timelines here.
PO #1 – Purchasing Property in Alewife – this policy order which I am cosponsoring came out of a committee hearing I chaired last week on Alewife Envision and the plans to actually implement what was laid out in Envision. We discussed in that hearing that there is support on the council for the city to purchase property in that area – if we do not do it soon, we will have lost our opportunity. I am committed to pushing the city to actually act on the recommendations in Envision – which included park space, bike paths, community centers, a school, and other important infrastructure being added to the Alewife area as we prepare for exponential growth. It is hugely important that we are proactively planning for the population increase that is all but guaranteed to occur over the next ten years.
PO #5 – Afterschool programs – it was recently announced that afterschool programs would be in-person in the fall – a huge relief to parents – but there have been many concerns raised by parents who have heard there will be programmatic and enrollment reductions, which would take away the opportunity for some students. I hope this PO and the report that comes from it will provide families with the assurance that all children will have access to these programs.
PO #6 – Permanent remote participation – I worked with the City Solicitor, Mayor, and Vice-Mayor this week to get the appropriate language in the rules of the city council to ensure that remote participation continues when the state of emergency ends and meetings have to go back to in person. The increase of public participation has been a great aspect of remote meetings and I look forward to seeing it continue.
PO # 9 – List of business fees – I have spent a lot of time this year on waiving business fees for the many small businesses in our city that are struggling. I was able help to get a few of the fees waived, but there are still a number of fees that I believe if waived, would be a big help to our local businesses. I am happy to cosponsor this PO asking for a full report on the different fees and which ones the city has the ability to waive so we can better assess the possibilities.
Resilient Cambridge Plan: Thursday, June 17th, 6pm: CDD is announcing the Resilient Cambridge Plan, the City’s roadmap to climate change preparedness and resilience, which will be presented at a virtual public meeting on June 17, 6:00-8:00 pm. From their description of the event: While climate change is a growing threat to Cambridge, there are many actions we can take to reduce our risks and adapt to the impacts while enhancing our quality of life and economic environment. Come learn the plan for a more resilient Cambridge and the strategies, information, resources, and current actions. REGISTER HERE
Juneteenth Commemoration: Healing the Historical Trauma of Slavery through Genealogical Research – Thursday, June 17, noon – One of a number of Juneteenth events this week. From the library description: has your genealogical research forced you to confront the racial wounds of the past – from slavery to the many forms of racism it engendered? Facing “historical trauma” is as necessary for African Americans researching their ancestors who were enslaved as it is for White people who discover their ancestors were enslavers. To commemorate Juneteenth, join us for a workshop with Sharon Leslie Morgan, renowned genealogist and founder of Our Black Ancestry, as we learn about historical trauma and how it affects people today. Morgan will introduce the STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience) model for healing historical trauma and show how genealogical research can help heal the trauma of slavery. Registration is required. A Zoom link will be sent to registrants 1 hour before the program starts. Register here.
Juneteenth Celebration: Chun Yu and Michael Warr present Two Languages / One Community – Thursday, June 17th, 6pm – From the library page: A portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” the Juneteenth holiday – also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day, marks the day, in 1865, when a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were free from the institution of slavery. Join the Cambridge Public Library for a virtual special Juneteenth program, as we welcome poets Michael Warr and Chun Yu, creators of the Two Languages / One Community project, in celebration and recognition of the holiday, and what it means for us today to be free and united. Two Languages / One Community began as a workshop that uses writing and translation to facilitate the exchange of cultural and life experiences between Black/African Americans and Chinese communities. Often, isolated from each other, even though they live in the same neighborhood or work together.
Cambridge LGBTQ+ and PRIDE Celebration, Saturday, June 12, 1:30pm – Because the regular LGBTQ+ Pride Celebration has been postponed to October during COVID, the Cambridge LGBTQ+ Commission wanted to still celebrate on Saturday, June 12th. So in partnership with a number of local organizations, we are sponsoring two one-hour LGBTQ+ events at Starlight Square. The first, at 1:30 (Sat. June 12th), will be more family-focused, and the second, at 3:30, will be performances for a more general crowd. REGISTER HERE FOR FREE TICKETS See detailed schedule at CambridgeMA.gov/LGBTQPlus
Please note: the program will be photographed/videotaped. If you don’t want to be in shots, please sit toward the back of the venue.
City of Cambridge gun buyback, Saturday, June 12, 9am to 12pm – Led by Cambridge’s interfaith-based organizations, non-profit community, and regional partners, the 6th annual citywide “Safer Homes, Safer Community: Cambridge Gun Buy-Back” initiative is once again being held on Saturday, June 12 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. This public health and public safety event will provide residents with an opportunity to anonymously and safely dispose of their unwanted firearms and, in turn, reduce the potential for an accidental discharge or wrongdoing in a home. Due to COVID-19, last year the event was not held. In the prior five years, Cambridge collected more than 170 unwanted firearms and BB guns, including an assault rifle and loaded handguns. More than 1,400 guns have been collected in 14 Middlesex County cities and towns since 2014. The Reservoir Church will provide a safe, convenient location for participants to drop off unwanted guns with no questions asked and no ID required. Residents are asked to bring firearms unloaded with the safety engaged in a bag, box or case. The unloaded firearms can be left inside the trunk of your vehicle upon arrival.
How to Stay Cool During the Summer: The City released a guide for staying safe during extreme heat: Hot weather and extreme heat can cause serious illness and can even be life-threatening. As Cambridge reopens this summer, and temperatures begin to climb, there are a number of reminders that can help all of us stay healthy and safe as we manage and prepare for hot weather and extreme heat. Additionally, COVID-19 still presents some challenges. Here is a helpful guide for staying cool and safe during hot weather, including precautions around COVID-19.City extending homeless meals program: The City of Cambridge announced that it is extending its successful program for feeding homeless residents with meals provided by local food establishments through September 5, 2021. In March 2020, the City launched an innovative project to contract with local restaurants to provide food to the City’s homeless community during the COVID-19 public health crisis. To date, over 200,000 meals have been provided and more than 3,000 meals are now being delivered each week to shelters across the City. Over the last 14 months, the City of Cambridge has spent over $1,300,000 on meals provided by local Cambridge restaurants. 60 Cambridge restaurants have participated in this program where meals are delivered to 16 shelters and programs that the City’s Department of Human Service Programs has identified as having a strong need for meals. Restaurants interested in participating in this initiative are encouraged to contact the City of Cambridge Purchasing Department at email@example.com.
Statement on 2021 Budget Vote:
There is much to laud in this budget. We are in a strong financial position – our higher education institutions provide a solid base that is generally recession proof and brings economic stability. And major industries continue to grow – tech and biotech and pharma. That strength has allowed us to do a lot –
Affordable housing of more than $32 million and total of $49 million in all housing/homeless funding – truly astonishing array of programs.
$22 million in early childhood
Our programs to achieve Zero Waste through the DPW have achieved good results and plans for the future will continue that work
Our school department spends close to $30K/student and provides many opportunities
It’s a great city to be a senior- with so many services
People are happy with our city programs and services
The municipal broadband RFP took WAY too long, but with the most recent addendum committing to a municipally-owned network it is better – still not what experts and municipal broadband advocates say would be best – but it is closer to what the community has been fighting for 5 years.
And yet, there are some things missing –
Universal PreK is still elusive – more than a decade after a commitment to implement it
Our police budget has incredible programs and yet also has extremely high spending and should be reviewed with an eye towards re-allocating into non -police areas
Overall the budget departmental targets rarely are SMART goals – which is something the council has requested for a few years.
This year I voted against the school district budget – since I couldn’t support a budget that did not commit to clearcut accountability and explicit written expectations that are the same for all students – not lower for Black/AfAmer and Hispanic/Latino and Low income as is the case now. ANd I had stated clearly the criteria for not voting for it
I believe to vote the budget down without a clear and specific ask in all areas – with a consensus of the council – is not good governance. Simply put we have not done the work to justify voting it down. We have not made sure there are clear opportunities to direct the city on how to spend money. Yes, I raised all the questions and concerns at the hearings last month. And many of us on the council did. However, for the most part, we did not specify what we wanted changed. That was not enough time to adjust. I asked for budget roundtables – discussions – formal ways for the council to discuss the budget. It is what I experienced on School Committee. We started in the late fall – and had a chance to discuss goals, ideas, etc. As a result, the school budget was better and reflected our priorities. Yet the council with monumental and impactful programs and departments had no such hearings. Not a single hearing was held on departmental budgets before the May overall budget hearings – which means we did not dig into the questions and concerns many are raising now. I know we were super busy – we are all exhausted. I put on a policy order to have such a meeting – in early April – and was told it was already too late. As a result, I am hesitant to vote down a budget when we did not do the work of ensuring that our ideas and thoughts and council priorities were better reflected in the budget.
So I will vote yes. AND I am already planning for budget roundtables this fall – which we agreed would happen. And as I did with the School Dept. budget – I am putting out transparently a notice that I expect some changes next year for me to vote yes. The top ones for me are a solid plan with accountability for Universal preK, a review of police spending, department goals that are SMART including in the critical area of addressing the climate crisis. Failing those, next year, if I am here, I won’t be able to support the budget.