No winners from last week’s trivia question!
Happy November! Some good news: the recent rain means that the state’s severe and concerning drought has lessened. Our area of the state is still in moderate drought – let’s hope the trend continues. And I hope that the next time we face similar conditions that the city will act more quickly and forcefully to address it.
Last month’s trivia question didn’t generate many replies…. I suppose it was a tough question! What is the precedent for getting rid of the electoral college? See the picture above for the answer. Personally, I have long been in favor of more democracy – and thus in favor of updating our Constitution to have direct election of the President. We preach democracy around the world, yet do not have a direct democracy for our highest office.
This week’s meetings included an update on the work being done to ensure the safety of our homeless population, which poses challenges as the weather gets colder, more seek shelter and shelters have reduced capacity due to distancing needs because of Covid19. I was happy to participate in the meeting with a review of our programs and progress – and plans for continued expansion of our efforts to help this vulnerable population.
We had the first of many meetings scheduled to review projects seeking special permits or new zoning regulations to enable large developments. This week, 585 Third Street was on the agenda – a proposal for a 250-foot building in Kendall Square. The developer, BioMed Realty, has worked hard to be inclusive and responsive to the community. The proposal includes a large ground floor space with both outdoor and indoor places for gatherings. Check out the renderings! The pandemic does not seem to have abated the appetite for development in Cambridge – so stay tuned as more projects come forward.
The Covid results statewide are concerning – Mask UP! Limit gatherings! Stay distant! Like many, the conversations lately in our family now that the election is (mostly) over, are about how gloomy the prospects are for in-person Thanksgiving, even for smaller family gatherings. We realize this pandemic may get worse before it gets better and are hoping that by next summer we can safely gather. I am glad that the Cambridge Public Schools are open in -person for at least a few students. I hope that our district public schools will open to more students soon. The social-emotional consequences for all ages of the ongoing isolation are potentially devastating. The incidence of depression and anxiety is skyrocketing among all ages, and the fear of family stress exacerbating violence that may be more hidden is real. I am among the leaders who are calling for us to keep schools open, with attention to safety measures. Schools should be the first to open and the last to close if more restrictions are necessary.
Stay safe, keep going outside even as the weather gets colder, and send questions, comments, or ideas to me on any subject!
City Council Agenda
Below are some of the agenda items of interest and the policy orders that I co-sponsored. See the full agenda for tonight’s meeting here.
First, a late order from last Monday: Support for MBTA
When I heard about the proposed cuts to the MBTA on Monday, I had to submit a late order to ensure Cambridge spoke out against them. I was happy when the full council signed on as well. This order asked the Council go on record as supportive of all efforts to fully fund the MBTA without any of the cuts to service detailed in the “Forging Ahead” Plan. If this plan were to move forward, over 100 bus lines would be cut, late-night service would be scaled back, and the commuter rail frequency would be far less. While I am aware of the hit that public transit has taken during the pandemic, now is the time to double down on accessible, mass-transit. We cannot let the pandemic worsen the disparities in this country more than it already has.
City Manager’s Agenda:
This communication asks for $850,000 to be appropriated towards an evaluation and report of Danehy Park, marking the 30 years since the former dump was covered and opened as a park. While there have been yearly tests since 1990, this is a more detailed examination of the park and its stormwater levels. We are so lucky to have a 50-acre park in the middle of our city, and it is a testimate to creative urban planning that a former landfill and clay pit is now our city’s biggest park. Read about Danehy’s history and about the New England Brick Company (who occupied that space from 1847 to 1952) here.
Last year, the council asked the city to start a process for compiling a list of names of streets, buildings, and areas in Cambridge whose history demonstrates a tie to slavery or white supremacy. And this year the Council asked the city to build on the work of the Agassiz Neighborhood Council that started a conversation on changing the name of the Agassiz neighborhood so that it no longer bears the name of the biologist who was known for his racist views. The work has continued, and there is a report from the City Manager, and a letter from the neighborhood group on progress made towards an inclusive process to rename the area.
I co-sponsored this order because of a development in Cambridge that recently received a permit extension. The order calls for the Council to go on record as stating that all projects seeking a permit extension should be reminded of the need to follow all regulations in place at the time of the request for an extension – while this sounds simple and straightforward, it is clear that, at least in this particular case, no attention was paid to the updated regulations when reviewing the extension. The order also asks that the City Manager review the granting of an extension for the 605 Concord Avenue project which appears counter to the city’s zoning code, and confer with the relevant departments on how many projects that had a permit prior to these changes could request an extension. I want to make sure this is not a widespread issue – when the City updates its regulations, all projects that have not yet started should follow all current rules.
This is an order that I am frustrated to have to co-sponsor. It asks the City Manager to confer with relevant City Departments to prepare a report on any steps it has taken to work towards conducting, compiling, and publishing an inventory of all City-owned vacant properties with the City’s plans for them, if any. It has been years that I and others on the Council have asked for this list. Years! It is a simple and necessary request so that the Council can understand what properties are available to the City. I hope this manager will be more responsive this time around. It also needn’t take a lot of staff time. Once we have a comprehensive list, we can determine if there are sites that should be considered for other uses – including affordable housing.
I am happy to co-sponsor this order to make voting even more accessible in Cambridge. It asks that the City Manager confer with the Law Department and Election Commission on providing interpreters for [several] languages at future elections and report back on this matter to the City Council by January 25, 2021.
This ordinance, which has been discussed for years, is slowly moving to completion. Unfortunately, as with many items, progress has been slower than expected and desired. The staff has completed a first-round analysis of what would need to change to bring the intentions of protecting tree canopy into the ordinance long term. At our committee meeting this week, we discussed some options and some open questions. Since the language is not yet ready for adoption, if we are to keep the tree moratorium in place without a break, we need to extend it by two months – to allow the staff to fully develop language for the full council and for the community to review.
I have pushed for more access to open space since the early days of the pandemic, with small victories along the way. One of the most promising changes we made was opening up Riverbend park for the whole weekend, and extending it through the fall. Now, we are asking for it to remain open through the winter
News and Next Week:
Meeting on reviewing the proposal for a municipal broadband feasibility study – I am excited about moving forward – so we can all understand whether it makes sense to have municipal broadband.
The King Open/Cambridge Street Upper School building has won a nationally prestigious award for design – and was named green building of the year last year by the USGBC. Cambridge should be proud!
Look for cutting edge Covid monitoring – Cambridge will be using sewage testing of our own wastewater to determine whether we can detect levels of Covid before it appears in the more usual testing methods.
And finally, question of the day ($15 gift card on the line):
Why might Cambridge’s STEAM initiative be interested in this beauty?
First to email with the correct answer wins!