We’re through the first month of 2021 and already it seems the world is moving, albeit slowly, in a good direction. Vaccination has started – and although we all realize that the rollout has been anything but smooth, it IS happening. And the city and state have tried to communicate what is known. Even though I recognize that the state is dependent on a federal government that botched pretty much every element of handling the pandemic, it is incredible to me that the state has not managed its share of the vaccination program better. I hope that in the next few days the supply, the supply chain, and the communication will all be dramatically improved. For information, check the state and city websites regularly.
Looking ahead, I am hopeful that we see the light at the end of the tunnel, but for now, the light remains a ways away. Stay masked (as last week’s email noted, any mask is better than none, and some masks are much better than others), keep a distance, and check-in virtually on friends and family since depression and despair knows no boundaries. And I’m thinking I should make plans to travel and visit my far-flung family in 2022 in-person – that way if we can travel in 2021, it will be a pleasant surprise…
Let’s continue to work and take up the discussions spurred by the past few years – acknowledging at a deep level racial injustice, addressing at an urgent pace the climate crisis, working to increase citizen participation by ensuring for all accessibility to voting, understanding our connectedness – that essential workers are the ones we depend upon yet too often barely earn enough to get by. I’m committed to continuing my work and learning. Pass on thoughts you have on how the city might do better in any of these areas.
I am happy to be co-sponsoring this policy order to look more closely at the spending disparity in the purchasing department. The order requests that the Manager conduct a spending disparity study on City purchasing with businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans, disabled persons, LGBTQ+ individuals, and other historically disadvantaged groups. We want our taxpayer dollars to be used equitably and it is important that Cambridge, a city with a lot of purchasing power, pay close attention to this question.
This order, brought forward by Councilor Simmons, helps to focus the affordable housing conversation and paint a clearer picture of the work that is being done. It asks the organizations in the city that work on building affordable housing – Cambridge Housing Authority, Homeowners Rehab, Inc., Just a Start, and the Community Development Department – to produce written documentation of the projects they are working on, including the locations, unit sizes, number of units, overall costs, populations served, and expected dates of completion.
As we start next year’s budgeting process, the school department is more than a third of all city spending and extremely high. As I did on School Committee, I will advocate for accountability, better results, and higher expectations for all students. We have too often failed our students by not supporting them with high expectations, clear supports, and personal attention and relationships. We continue to talk the talk, but I want us to work towards results. I look forward to these discussions – recognizing that the role of the council is to ask questions and advocate, and ultimately it is the School Committee’s sole authority to determine how to spend the generous resources given to the district by the city – and the taxpayers.
The school department, including the School Committee, all staff, administrators, and families have all been under enormous stress and strain. Sadly, the situation has led to some acrimonious actions, and become divisive. I respect the staff’s insistence that their safety be guarded and their input included in all decisions. And I fully support the work of the scientific advisors – at the city and school district level – who have worked overtime, on a volunteer basis to help us design and implement a safe return to school. I stand 100% behind the School Committee to re-open schools to every family who wants in-person instruction. This order is a way for the council to support our colleagues on the School Committee.
Lisa Peterson, the Deputy City Manager, has retired this week. Her long career in the city meant she touched the lives of so many of us – through her work across many areas. She was instrumental in getting a better family leave policy, was and is a role model for all girls who aspire to leadership roles in non-traditional fields – as the first woman DPW Commissioner and Deputy City Manager. Her son and my daughter went to middle school together – and I know she also managed to be an involved parent despite having a 24/7 job. I am grateful to have had one year as a councilor working a little bit with her – although the pandemic meant we were not able to work as closely as I would have liked. She has legions of fans across the city and will be sorely missed.
The agenda includes a citizen petition to change zoning citywide to allow the development of multi-families and change many elements of existing zoning. I am glad that this idea is being discussed – it builds on work I have done and advocated since before being on council. The issue of having parts of the city where only single and two-family homes are allowed has been identified as rooted in class and race-based exclusionary policies. And, we should consider whether we should continue to require parking minimums – or apply parking maximums as other cities have done. I look forward to a discussion on how to change those policies. We have an opportunity to rewrite those laws – so let’s have that conversation. I was happy that the council passed an order that I submitted with the co-sponsorship of Councillors McGovern, Sobrinho-Wheeler, Simmons to hold a joint housing and NLTP meeting to discuss zoning overall – and specifically exclusionary zoning. I hope that meeting, scheduled for February 17 at 2 pm, is the start of the conversation- we need to have thoughtful discussion and explore how to do this type of reform well. There are upsides and potential consequences – e.g. upzoning windfalls, impact on affordable housing, racial justice, climate resiliency – all of which need to be understood.
There has no doubt been confusion and frustration with the vaccine rollout so far. While residents 75 and older are now eligible to receive the first dose, we have heard from Cambridge residents who are having trouble making appointments and finding a convenient location to get vaccinated. That said, the Cambridge Health Alliance is working hard to contact all residents over 75 and schedule them. If you (or anyone you know) has not been contacted, please call the CHA vaccine hotline at 617-665-1995. Additionally, Mt. Auburn hospital is scheduled to roll out the vaccine for phase 2 beginning February 1st.
Good news about recycling!
The city just released news about successful efforts to reduce contamination in our recycling – to a record low of 4% – which is important for many reasons. Read the news release for good data on the efforts which saved the city over $100,000 and helped build resiliency in the recycling program. Keep it up – [my trash day Tuesday is the best in the city… should we do a competition among neighborhoods to reduce contamination and increase recycling?] Reminder – DO order takeout from local restaurants and DON’T put the thermal paper receipts into recycling.
KSURP Financial Analysis
On Wednesday, the Ordinance Committee held a hearing to discuss the results of the financial analysis that was completed by an independent contractor. This is a new tool that is very exciting – it is only the second time the city has had a written specific analysis seeking to quantify the added value to a developer of an upzoning and the cost of the community benefits promised in exchange. the City will be using this type of reporting going forward for all large projects to assess whether the likely additional profit of developments are worth the tradeoffs inevitably involved in such projects. It gives the Council a better sense of how much the proposed community benefits are worth. Questions have been raised that are valid – how do we measure community benefits? Do we take into account community disruption? Are the analyses comprehensive and thorough? Are we using the appropriate baselines? And, it is thrilling that we are conducting these studies – it helps with accountability and transparency – basic tenets of good governance and management.
The MXD Zoning petition would facilitate the relocation of a proposed Eversource electrical substation from 135 Fulkerson Street to the Blue Garage site within the MXD district (removing Blue Garage). This project would help secure an alternative location for the planned electrical substation at 135 Fulkerson Street for public use. The consultant estimated the community benefits are worth between $270 million and $334 million.
Celebrating impact on Cambridge’s public scape by two remarkable women
There was a great piece in the Cambridge Day this week on Lois Lilley Howe, Cambridge born and raised, who was a female trailblazer in architecture. Many of the homes she designed can be seen throughout Cambridge – check the map in the article to find the closest one to you. She is quoted in the Cambridge Historical Society’s proceedings: “I was born in a college town where life was as simple as life in a village. The professors and instructors in the college were all friends. Very few people had horses and carriages.” I think it is fair to say Cambridge has changed a bit in the last century…
Another local luminary, Carol Johnson, died recently – her work lives on in Cambridge and other places. The fountain in JFK Park is a wonderful example – and an important part of our city’s extensive public art. That piece has been identified as needing some restoration – I’ll be keeping an eye on that issue. Meanwhile, enjoy wandering the town and look up both Howe and Johnson’s work.
Trivia question of the day ($15 gift card on the line):
(by random draw from all correct answers if there are multiple)
Who is this guy on the pedestal you’ve passed hundreds of times and why should we elevate the statue – in contrast to some of the country’s monuments that have been subject of controversy? Photo from Harvard Crimson
Last week’s answer: Just four Presidents have had inaugural poets/poems and all have been Democrats in my lifetime. Kennedy, Clinton, Obama, and Biden. Six inaugural poems total – since Clinton and Obama had two terms and a poet for each. Hoping the tradition continues!