Happy April! This week we didn’t have a regular full council meeting, due to the Patriot’s Day Holiday. I hope you got your taxes filed and are enjoying the emerging flowers around town. Even though I no longer have school aged children, it still feels like school vacation week affects schedules… I once again went to Hopkinton at midnight on Sunday to ride the Boston Marathon route at night (if you are ever in Boston late at night, go see the “The Embrace” sculpture, which is magical when lit up). I am in awe of the fact that the top marathoners run as fast as I bike… for 26 miles! AND what I LOVE about the marathon is that every runner who finishes is a winner. I can’t think of other sporting events where the crowd cheers for EVERYONE – and continues to cheer on, appreciate, and congratulate runners who cross the finish line in 10,386th place… as much as those who crossed hours earlier.
For city news, the fire of the church in mid Cambridge, now considered a likely arson fire, was tragic. I am grateful to the community for stepping up to provide an alternative place to hold services, and for the quick response by many fire units from many cities. There are many opportunities to get outside and get involved in the community as spring events unfold and Earth week/month is celebrated. The outdoors beckon: take some time to enjoy the range of activities. I am always looking for places to explore, so send along your favorite places and I will visit.
Democracy relies on journalism – The Fourth Estate. Accountability, accurate information, and honest questioning are essential. These are, of course, hallmarks of a functional, democratic government. The news of Fox (so called) News’s court case settlement hopefully will result in less misinformation. Locally, the Cambridge Chronicle no longer has any Cambridge staff(!). There have been no local news stories for months; instead, running press releases of stories in the metro area. Luckily, CambridgeDay – a free online newspaper exists. Please support it. We need to pay for good journalism, or it won’t exist. For years CambridgeDay (CD) has been the best, and really the only, source of local news stories in Cambridge. When I served on the School Committee, CD was the ONLY way anyone who didn’t come to our meetings could know what was happening. The same goes today and is also true for City Council work. It will continue only if it gets enough funding, so please make a generous donation – so I and my colleagues can be held accountable and you and all of us can know what is happening in the city.
Below are some comments on a few top line items and a few quick notes for Monday’s meeting.
City Council Updates
Memorial Drive / Riverbend Park
At the last City Council meeting, Councillor Azeem and I sponsored a policy order asking the City Manager to work with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to reconsider their decision to limit the use of Riverbend Park this year. Councillor Simmons exercised her Charter Right to delay deliberation on the policy order until next Monday. Riverbend Park has broad support in the City and on the Council and I hope the policy order will pass. The data is clear: having the park open on Saturdays and Sundays has overwhelming support from the city and the nearby neighborhoods. AND, there are a few tweaks to traffic lights that can lessen the delays the neighborhood has seen. I recognize there are a few residents who oppose having Memorial Drive used as a park all weekend. I believe we should make decisions based on the city and neighborhood as a whole, which means having the street act as a park all weekend. Please let the council know your thoughts on this issue – often only opponents speak up.
City Manager Q1 Update (CM Performance Review)
One of the most important things a city council in Cambridge can do is to hire a city manager, and I am grateful for the decision that we made to hire City Manager Huang last year. In his short tenure he has worked extremely hard to increase transparency in government and to understand the needs of the City. As part of his strategy to increase transparency and improve working relations with the Council, the City Manager has been publishing regular updates on his work. His latest update came at the last Council meeting. In that vein, the City Council will be beginning a process of reviewing the City Manager’s performance over the next several months. I am happy to be working on an Ad Hoc Committee to be leading that review.
Ordinance Committee Meetings – BEUDO
We have been working for nearly two years to pass amendments to the Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance – which has been on the books since 2014. Last Wednesday, we held an Ordinance Committee to review new amendments that CDD had prepared after meeting with stakeholders over the past few months. We heard from CDD and we also heard over two hours of public comment – powerful testimony from folks from all across the city urging that we take strong action to curb emissions pollution in our city. This Wednesday, April 26, at 3:00pm, we will convene again and the Council will deliberate on the amendments. For my part, the science is clear: the IPCC report tells us that we need to do everything we can to curb emissions in our own backyard as soon as possible. This means a tighter deadline on institutions, with a promise to bring around residential buildings in time, after we are able to secure further funding and technical assistance. This also means that we cannot allow property owners to “offset” their emissions using cheap carbon credits from around the world. We need to decarbonize here in Cambridge, and we need to do it soon. We have the opportunity to lead the world towards climate solutions, but in order to do that, we need to invest locally and get to NetZero as soon as possible. Thanks to all of you who came out in support last week. Your testimony was honest and powerful – please note that there will be no public comment during the next meeting, but you can email the city council at CityCouncil@CambridgeMA.gov. I hope you’ll all join me in my support for a strong ordinance which includes tight deadlines for large commercial buildings and no global carbon offsets. Thanks in advance for your support.
City Council Meeting - Monday, April 24, 2023
Astronomers – Streetcorner Dedication
This week, I am excited to present a policy order asking for a streetcorner to be named jointly in honor of two incredible astronomers who worked in Cambridge, Williamina P.S. Fleming and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin. After being inspired by the book, The Glass Universe, I was looking for a way to honor the incredible women of Cambridge who led the Harvard Observatory to new heights and made some of the most important astronomical discoveries of their day. An intern from CCSC, Jolie Jourdan, and I worked with historians and experts from across the city to identify potential honorees, research their accomplishments, and identify street corners near the Observatory which I hope to rename in their honor. Jolie selected these two women, both of whom were immigrants, who made remarkable discoveries and led exemplary lives.
Gas-Powered Lawn Equipment
Throughout the last several months, Abigail Bulman, an intern from Bridgewater State working in my office, has been working on a proposal to limit the use of gas-powered lawn equipment in Cambridge. Small motor lawn equipment presents not only an emission pollution issue, but also a public health issue for both the workers who need to use them and the residents in our city. Her research follows the work of several municipalities in Massachuestts who have sought to limit the use as well as the state of California, which will limit the sale of gas-powered lawn equipment in a few years. She has also been researching incentive programs like MassSave and working to understand how we can provide financial incentives to transition to safer, electric lawn equipment, like California is doing. This policy order asks the Health and Environment Committee, which I chair, to investigate the issue further and to work with the City to develop an ordinance proposal to eventually limit the use. As technology for electric equipment is constantly improving, we find ourselves with limited excuses to allow these public health issues to continue.
Several years ago, the city bought this 4 acre field, on Fresh Pond Parkway, across from the Water Department for future public use. Two weeks ago the city announced a temporary use for this parcel: a cricket pitch. The city only recently gained control of the space, and now we need to determine the long term use for the site. This week with Vice Mayor Mallon, Mayor Siddiqui and Councillor Carlone, I have brought forward a policy order asking for a robust community process to determine the best use of the former BB&N field. It’s so rare that the City has an opportunity to rethink such a large parcel of land and it should be up to the entire community to determine its best use.
Jerry’s Pond area
Following the incredible work of many community members across the city, and especially the Friends of Jerry’s Pond, The Alewife Study Group and Alewife Neighbors, the City Manager is now in a position to announce a plan for the renovation and reopening of Jerry’s Pond. It is disappointing that we didn’t get advance word of this plan — including a potential connection to Danehy, something I have championed for years. The plan has not yet been shared with Council, so there will be significant questions to dig into on Monday night, and there are several important decisions that the City Manager has made that will please many community members and others that will frustrate many community members. I have long advocated for this project to deliver a transformed area – and pond – for the residents. I believe this report is a step in the right direction – and recognize that the city has expressed concern about further changes to the shape of the pond over liability concerns. Balancing the city’s assertions and the community’s requests is difficult. I will continue to work and see how we can improve the current plan and make Rindge Avenue in particular more welcoming and open. I also honor the countless hours spent by residents and community groups together with the property owners, IQHQ, in order to get closer to a final project that all of Cambridge can benefit from. I have specific questions for the City Manager about the plan, especially as it relates to the Danehy Park connector, that I hope to have answered on Monday night. I believe an underpass is a better approach than a bridge and hope to learn more about this element.
Police – Less Lethal Alternatives
As a result of a policy order passed unanimously in early February 2023, following the fatal shooting of Arif Sayed Faisal, the City Manager has delivered a report on less lethal alternatives for police equipment. There are several specific pieces of equipment that the city explored, some that CPD already have and some that CPD are looking into, with specific rationalizations and recommendations for each. Deciding on standard equipment plays a huge role in how police departments interact with the community. I am grateful that the City Manager and Commissioner Elow have led with urgency and provided this report. The work now is to better understand how to avoid a tragedy in the future, and the timeliness of the report is commensurate with the demands of the City Council for taking action. I am looking forward to unpacking the nuances in this report on Monday.
Fuel Pump Warning Labels
In 2020, Cambridge became the first community in America to put health and environmental warning labels on fuel pumps at gas stations. The stickers are intended to remind drivers of the impact of using fossil fuels and hopefully consider non-polluting options. Similar to cigarette warning labels, the intent is public education. Now, other municipalities and states are considering labels. A UMASS study is seeking to understand how effective the warning labels are. Please take two minutes to fill out the survey below (It really is just 2 minutes). Please share with your networks!
Come out to Jerry’s Pond on Sunday, April 23, from 1:30pm – 5:00pm to enjoy Jerry’s PondFest. The Friends of Jerry’s Pond are celebrating their 7th Earth Day with music, Bangladeshi dance, food, arts & crafts, Native American Fish Weir, and many activities for both kids and adults. The Friends of Jerry’s Pond have been working tirelessly to prepare for an eventual reopening of Jerry’s Pond and Sunday will be a great opportunity to celebrate the work that has been done and find out and celebrate the community.
Arbor Week Events
During this Earth Month, the City of Cambridge is celebrating Arbor Week from April 24 to April 28. There are a lot of great events every day leading up to Arbor Day on April 28. Thanks to the Committee on Public Planting and the Department of Public Works for organizing these events. With climate change affecting our entire world, it’s so important to remember that we can take positive action here in Cambridge by honoring our open space, acting with intention, and focusing on promoting our Urban Forest initiatives within the City. If you’re local, please stop by one of the events this week!
Fair Housing for All! Event – Saturday, April 29
Next weekend, the City of Cambridge is hosting its Fair Housing for All! event on Saturday, April 29, from 11:00am-2:30pm, in the Lecture Hall and Community Room at Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway. This in-person event will highlight the numerous services and programs offered in Cambridge that address a range of housing needs. Representatives will be on site from several city agencies and local non-profit organizations that provide affordable housing; homelessness, eviction, and foreclosure prevention services; landlord/tenant mediation; first-time home-buyer resources; enforcement of housing discrimination laws, and more, will be available to meet with participants. There will also be two panel discussions in the lecture hall, on fair housing laws and basic tenant rights from 11:30am-12:30pm, and on housing legislation and advocacy opportunities, from 1:00pm-2:00pm. This event is free and open to all.
Charter Review Committee
The Charter Review Committee has been continuing their work reviewing our city charter and to prepare their report for the city council. The CRC currently meets every other Tuesday from 5:30pm – 7:30pm and are actively seeking input from all members of the community. Their next regular meeting will be Tuesday, April 25, 2023 from 5:30pm – 7:30pm. In the coming weeks and months, they will be planning more public outreach events. They have also been working to attend community group meetings to spread the word about their important work and get input from the community. If you are part of a community group and would like to invite a CRC member to your meeting to talk about the work and get involved, please reach out to them via email! I invite you to attend their meetings and events, engage with members of the committee, and discuss your vision for our City charter. All the information as well as recordings of previous meetings can be found on their website. Further, you can submit written comments at any time to be considered by the CRC by emailing: CharterReviewCommittee@Cambridgema.gov.
The CDC recommends use of updated (bivalent) COVID-19 booster shots for better protection against COVID-19 Omicron variants. The updated Moderna booster is authorized for people ages 6 years and older. The updated Pfizer booster is authorized for people ages 5 years and older. Children in this age group are eligible for the bivalent boosters if it has been at least two months since the completion of their primary series or booster vaccination. Please see the links below to learn more about getting the booster and find out where you can get yours.
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 (email@example.com) , or me for any of your City Council needs.
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