Happy New Year! In this week of year end for 2022, I reflect on the past year. I am grateful and appreciative as ever that we blend the Hanukkah tradition of my husband’s Jewish roots and my traditions of celebrating Christmas with a tree full of ornaments from my past as a child and homemade ornaments of our present family. As the year winds down and our council meetings take a two week break, I thought it important to take some time to briefly review some top line notes from the year that was. Below, please find some quick notes on a few of the most important things I worked on this year. I am thrilled to have this job and hope that the new year will bring opportunities for continued focus on the most important issues, and greater effectiveness addressing them.
In the new year, I will continue to focus on supporting local efforts to prove that Cambridge is an environmental leader and will take effective action to reduce our citywide emission pollution. I will also continue to strive for a balanced approach to our many efforts to improve the city – from expanding bike lanes while monitoring use and ensuring better communication and more attention to the concerns of residents adversely affected, to hearing and listening to neighborhood voices, to working with our higher education and business institutions to extend broadband access and improve sustainability, to supporting the city manager in a much needed culture change to have Cambridge go from good to great.
No matter what one celebrates, I think one can enjoy the holiday decorations of houses in our area… I always enjoy visiting Somerville’s spectacularly done up houses, and Cambridge has many great house decorations also… visit this week before they are taken down in the new year.
May the next year be one of hopeful progress, light-filled joy, and greater democracy.
City Council Updates (A Year in Review)
It’s near impossible to get an entire year into a page and a half, so I’m going to limit my top line items here to just a few. If you’re interested in digging into more of what we were able to accomplish this year (big or small), you can check out my newsletter archive here. I try to make my newsletters a place where folks can quickly get updated on all things Cambridge City Council and learn about how I think about all the issues. Without further ado, here are some top line accomplishments from 2022!
New City Manager
One of the most important decisions the City Council makes is hiring a City Manager. Despite a somewhat compressed timeline, the search included substantive community involvement, unprecedented staff input, a robust community engagement process and an impressive pool of candidates. The search committee of 19 people (15 community members and 4 city councillors including me) worked hard to select finalists from the group of 29 highly qualified applicants from across the country. I was thrilled that the council chose an excellent manager with great experience leading a complex organization – Yi-An Huang, the first Asian American in this position. I was excited this fall to be working with him and his emerging team. I have heard from many people in the community and from staff that they believe his leadership will be a positive change in our city. After just 100 days, I can see clearly that he is committed to building on our strengths and to acknowledging and working to change our areas of weakness. I look forward to continuing to work with Yi-An very closely in 2023 and encourage you to read his 90-day report for for a sense of how he approaches this critical job.
Climate Crisis Working Group Report
On March 31 of this year, the Climate Crisis Working Group (CCWG) published their final report. Convened by the Mayor and chaired by me, the CCWG represents a significant step towards the city’s goal of addressing the climate crisis. The CCWG worked to increase the urgency of the issue and to provide policy guidance to the city as we increase our efforts. The CCWG identified the need for a culture shift across the city in order to be more effective at addressing the climate crisis and achieving our goals. I am looking forward to continuing the work of making Cambridge a climate leader. My commitment is that this document is not just another report; rather, that these recommendations will spur meaningful and radical change as the climate crisis grows more urgent each day. We have already seen some changes in the city’s approach to climate issues as a result of our work. Look for opportunities to contribute to these efforts next year.
Municipal Broadband Feasibility Study
Just a few weeks ago, we had the long awaited report on the Municipal Broadband Feasibility study. I was thrilled to hear the report – although disappointed that the report was an update without the financial modeling that will be crucial to making a decision on how to move forward. Access to broadband, now more than ever before, should be seen as an essential utility that is available to all. I won’t stop beating this drum until we have reliable access to affordable internet across the entire city. I am hopeful now that the city will start installing a network that we own – with perhaps private partnership to operate. By investing in municipal broadband, we can ensure privacy, net neutrality, equitable access, and affordability – all attributes we need to offer to residents to be a world class city. I look forward to the full report early next year, and am ready to vote in favor of a plan to install a municipal broadband network. It cannot be said too often: internet access is a necessary utility for our age.
Cambridge Charter Review Committee
Ever since my days on School Committee, I have been very focused on making sure that the City government works as intended and benefits everyone. That focus eventually drove me to City Council and now has me thinking about how to improve the foundations of our City government. In that vein, I worked with several of my fellow councillors to pass the ballot question mandating the formation of a Charter Review Committee (CRC). I have written extensively in my newsletters about charter review and my belief that, after 80 years of Plan E and no changes to our charter, we should take a look under the hood and update the city’s governance to modern day standards. You’ve heard me talk about the CRC’s work thus far and I’m excited to see how they work into the next year. Their work will eventually end and they will give recommendations to the City Council on how to improve our charter. Then, the Council will deliberate and present possible changes to the voters. This is an incredibly exciting process to fundamentally change our city to make it more democratic and work better for everyone and I’m excited and honored to be a part of it. There will be more public opportunities to weigh in early next year, so if you want to be informed and get involved, check out their website. They have a biweekly newsletter and more information on how to catch up with the process.
Budget process – Finance Committee
As co-chair of the Finance Committee this term with Councillor Carlone, I am glad to be moving forward with some initiatives that have been discussed for years and until now not implemented. We held a Finance Committee meeting earlier this month to discuss how council priorities can be taken into account early on in the budget process. Rather than wait until the spring, or May when the budget is essentially final, we worked to get the Council to express their priorities and give the city administration a chance to hear from us early on. We have also held hearings on ARPA funding, which has proven to be an important source of funding for a number of initiatives to help the city and our residents recover from the devastation of Covid.
SO MUCH MORE DONE AND TO DO!
I promised myself to keep this end of year review relatively short… it could go on for much longer, but I will end with some positive, hopeful signs for the next year. As challenging as the discussions on BEUDO have been, I believe we are finally grappling with the need for major change in our city’s building infrastructure and I am confident we will end in a better place as we finalize work on reducing emission pollution from buildings. Similarly, the discussions on the expansion of protected bike lanes across many of our major artery streets has been challenging and frustrating. And as I publicly note we have not done a good job of communicating and anticipating how to address the concerns of people most affected by the loss of parking and confusion over changes. Now, I am working and hope that we have learned from the missteps and mistakes and will better balance the need for safety of all with the need for sensitivity to all residents’ needs – whether cycling, walking or driving. On affordable housing, there is much work to do and much to celebrate. The Boston Foundations’ Housing Report Card once again showed that Cambridge along with Boston is a leader in overall housing production and in affordable housing production. Past City Councils (I give credit where credit is due) more than doubled the amount of money going into the affordable housing trust, and the City Council since I have been on, furthered those efforts and have taken concrete steps to deliver even more funding.
I am sure I have left out many elements I could have included – I am working on so many issues I can forget to mention all of them… know that I try my best, I listen, and I will always do what I believe is best for the whole city.
Answer to last month's trivia question:
Ellen Cassedy and Karen Nussbaum – the leading two co-founders of the 9 to 5 movement and union that addressed the woeful conditions and discrimination of women in the workforce started their quest for equal treatment while working IN CAMBRIDGE AT HARVARD as administrative assistants.
Thank you to everyone for reading. If there are any topics you want me to cover in future newsletters, I’m always happy for the input! As always, please feel free to reach out to my aide Patrick (firstname.lastname@example.org) or me for any of your City Council needs.
You can find all previous newsletters on my website. Please share with anyone you think would be interested: https://pattynolan.org/news/