This morning I participated in the graduation of Cambridge Works – by zoom. This program is one of many ways Cambridge steps up to help residents – this one provides young adults struggling to get or keep a job with job skills training, an internship, and support to transition to employment. It was moving to see the young graduates open up about their personal journeys through this program. Mayor Siddiqui reminded all the graduates that everyone needs support at some point – and there are times we all need our community to hold us up. Especially this year those are wise and welcome words.
As the year winds down, the council has had relatively light agendas – the last few meetings have ended before 10 pm (!). Although we can’t travel this year, which is quite sad for me – our family usually visits family and friends in New York over the holiday break – I do look forward to a time of reflection and renewal. I hope you take time to stay safe, stay as isolated as public health guidelines recommend, and dream of a time in 2021 when we can gather in person safely! I am not planning on a newsletter next week – but I am open to comments, feedback, and suggestions for my work on the council in the new year.
City Manager’s Agenda:
This communication from the planning board is a 5-0 favorable recommendation to the Council on implementing the cannabis delivery ordinance that I worked on this fall. We are in the process of working with CDD to finalize the districts in which delivery companies could operate. The state Cannabis Control Commission has revised the guidelines and types of cannabis delivery license – there are now two different types – which means that we have to amend our petition to change our zoning. I hope that the revisions and updating will not take too long. I hope the council will be reviewing the proposal in January. The sooner we are able to pass this ordinance the better, to allow the Economic Empowerment and Social Equity applicants to start doing business as soon as possible.
Cambridge Vaccine Distribution:
This agenda item is in response to an order the Council passed asking for a vaccine task force to ensure equity and education as the vaccine becomes readily available. The three phases in Massachusetts are doctors and elderly (phase 1, now – February), immunocompromised and frontline workers (phase 2 – February – April), and the general public (phase 3 – April – June). See the MA ‘when can I receive the vaccine’ chart here for more specifics.
In Cambridge, there will be a concerted effort to build public trust in the vaccine and ensure that all communities around the city are being reached out to. There are already plans being laid for community leaders to provide support in this effort, which is critically important for the purposes of safety and beating this virus.
Deja vu all over again with this policy order…since March, I have been pushing for more open space around the city and have co-sponsored numerous policy orders asking for the manager to create more. Riverbend Park (Memorial Drive closed to cars) has been extremely popular since the spring and people have been able to utilize the space to get outside and exercise without being cramped on a narrow path along the river. We asked for it to stay open, and the manager and DCR extended until December 27th. Now, after another month of heavy usage on the weekends, we are asking for it to continue to stay open.
From Ordinance Committee this week:
On Wednesday, the Ordinance Committee met to discuss a zoning petition for the Alewife Quad, brought forward by Cabot, Cabot, and Forbes, who own over half of the area covered by this petition. It is a complicated proposition: the petition currently before the Council would create a new zoning overlay in the Northeast corner of the Quad, which would then allow CCF to bring forward a special permit request, that would allow the developers to build higher (up to 85 feet in a few places) in exchange for community benefits. Below are my main concerns with the petition and the situation in general:
It was confusing/disturbing/concerning to several of us that the petition was sent to the Council from eleven registered voters in Cambridge, yet none of them were in the meeting, and clearly the real petitioner is CCF. While that may be legal, it does not make sense from a transparency good government perspective.
We have not ordained a new zoning plan for the Alewife Quad yet, and now we are considering a zoning petition written by a developer for only a part of the area. This is not the proper way to approach neighborhood planning – we should be zoning for what we believe would create the best possible neighborhood and then working with developers to build within those parameters. And the Alewife Envision Plan presents a coordinated, comprehensive plan for the area that took a lot of time and energy – I would hope that we would follow that as closely as possible.
A central part of the petition is that a bridge will be built over the train tracks to connect the area to the triangle, creating a short walk to the Red Line at Alewife. However, there is no enforcement mechanism to ensure that the bridge will be built if we approve this zoning district. The developers asserted that they are already in discussions with the MBTA, and I am sure they are, but there are many things that could go wrong along the way that would hinder the effort and make building the bridge no longer worth it. And I asked why the city itself would not be the central party to a negotiation, as a public entity about a public infrastructure project.
Part of the plan includes a 700+ space parking garage. That would move us in the completely wrong direction as a city that is trying to encourage sustainable transit. And exacerbate the traffic woes in that area, would those parking spaces be needed and used. Part of the benefit to development here is how close it is to the Red Line and possibly a future commuter rail stop! Building a massive parking garage would be detrimental.
Remote Learning until January 4th: To the disappointment of many families throughout Cambridge, the school district switched to fully remote learning until the new year. This question of how to open schools safely to more students has been challenging and traumatic for many – families, staff, the community. I believe that our district, with our resources and our numbers of covid cases and needs, should and could be doing more to open more fully to students. Many epidemiologists have researched the question and found that schools can open safely, under certain circumstances. For example, having only half the students in the classroom at any given time – in cohorts – helps reduce transmission risk greatly. I hope that the school committee and district can work together to come up with a better plan for the rest of the school year. Pediatricians have told us loud and clear that students are suffering from not being in school in person.
Small Business Grants: It is perverse and unforgivable that the federal government has failed to provide any assistance or stimulus since the spring to individuals, small businesses, AND state and local government. But we are lucky in Cambridge to be in a financially secure city that is able to take care of its residents and do what it can for local businesses. As of yesterday, applications were open for businesses in Cambridge to apply to receive a grant. While something is better than nothing, without any federal aid, many businesses are still on the brink of closing. Please do everything you can to buy local and support the many small businesses that are so important to Cambridge.
Temporary Homeless Shelter: The City has worked with Spaulding Hospital to turn a previously unused building into a shelter space for 58 unhoused residents of Cambridge. This was a multi-million dollar effort (which the city expects to receive funding from the CARES act to cover) and took a lot of coordination with city staff and Bay Cove to finalize.
Check the city’s Covid site regularly for updates – on cases, testing, regulations, services, supports, restrictions, openings. And sign up for notices of covid updates, emergencies, street cleaning, reminders, etc. here.
And finally, question of the day ($15 gift card on the line):
Why might Rep. Haaland, whose historic nomination to be Interior Secretary is in the news, be excited about this carving made more than a millennium ago and yet relevant to us this week?
Answer to last week’s question: About 25% of Latin American’s urban population has been found to have some Jewish ancestry – a testament to the complexity of our ancestry in general, to the diaspora that forced Jews out of Europe and to the worldwide tragedy of religious persecution forcing people to abandon their cultures.