Welcome to September. The kids are back to school and the Council is back to our regularly scheduled Monday meetings. As is typical with the first September meeting, the agenda is jam packed with all the work from the summer. My thoughts on some of the top line items for this week are below.
The city has a lot of meetings and events as the summer comes to a close. Starlight Square has events for the next month. I attended a fabulous concert by Sol y Canto in August and was grateful for the wealth of opportunities the city has for entertainment. With area colleges back in session, Harvard, Central, and Porter Squares have more people. On Thursday, Harvard Yard hosted a visit from Little Amal – an international effort to highlight human rights and the need to address the refugee crisis. There are several events in Boston with Little Amal – including today – which I can’t attend (see note below on Covid) – but I hope you can.
For those of you who remember my years on School Committee, I am passionate about raising the bar for our students and giving them the tools they need for success. While I no longer serve on School Committee, I still use my platform to advocate for students. By raising the floor for students, we allow them to reach greater heights, and that’s what we can do by guaranteeing access to Algebra 1. I was happy to see the School Committee vote on Tuesday to establish Algebra 1 education in all eighth grade classrooms by 2025. It’s been a goal for decades – we now need to do it.
Last week I was able to meet with DCR Commissioner Arrigo about Memorial Drive and Riverbend Park. As regular newsletter readers will remember, this meeting came about after I sent a letter, along with Councillors Carlone and Azeem, which asked for the state to reconsider the decision to close Riverbend Park to residents on Saturdays this summer, despite widespread community support and explicit council requests. It was a productive meeting and I’m looking forward to continuing the dialogue with Commissioner Arrigo to ensure that the entire waterfront is able to be used by the community. A main point in the meeting is that we have already done community outreach and we should be using that information to inform decisions. And that means extending Riverbend Park to Saturdays. I have also met with community members from the Memorial Drive Alliance, who have great ideas and insight on how to better construct the waterfront to meet the needs of the community. One idea that the Alliance has promoted related to the road diet DCR is doing is to use the existing roadway for bike lanes – which seems to be optimal – their graphic is excellent. The Charles River waterfront is such an important resource for our community and it has been underutilized for far too long.
AND – sadly, and frustratingly – COVID is still here. I have Covid (for the second time) and will be participating in Monday’s meeting remotely. I urge everyone to stay vigilant and safe.
Below are my notes on a few of the top line items for Monday. If you have questions or comments on these or anything else I’ve been working on, please feel free to reach out at any time.
Gas-Powered Lawn Equipment
On Wednesday, September 13, 2023 from 4:00pm-6:00pm, I will be holding a Health and Environment Committee meeting to discuss a recent policy order POR 2023 #73, which asks the City Manager to work to develop a policy that would lead to a ban on the use of gas-powered lawn equipment in Cambridge by residents, businesses, and city operations and develop incentive programs to support a policy. As a part of that meeting, the city has invited licensed landscape companies and landscapers to share their perspectives on the current state of gas-powered and electric landscape equipment, their experience with different kinds of equipment, if they have had any experience working with other municipally imposed limitations on gas-powered equipment around the state, and their ideas for limiting the use of gas-powered equipment over time in Cambridge. I also hope that climate advocates are able to join the conversation. My hope is that we develop a policy to protect local workers and reduce carbon emissions without unnecessarily harming companies who operate in Cambridge. If you are available and are concerned about reducing carbon emissions and protecting worker health, I invite you to join the conversation and to say a few words on Wednesday afternoon.
City Council Meeting - Monday, September 11, 2023
I have written at length about the new amendments to the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) in past newsletters and through email, so I will keep this brief, but this week I submitted a policy order along with Councillor Toner asking the City Manager to clear up still unanswered questions about the AHO 2.0 proposal. We have discussed this proposal numerous times over the last year and I still remain concerned about the corridors chosen, the heights chosen, and the effect it will have on middle income housing. The corridors do not, at this time, reflect the designs of the Envision Plan, and I am not yet convinced that these heights are the right heights for these locations. If the call from affordable developers was for more flexibility, why not amend based on base zoning instead of an across-the-board height? I remain concerned that this process is happening before the scheduled 5-year review, but since we are here, I am committed to work through this process as thoughtfully as possible. I know this has become an intense issue within the city over the last year, and I hope we can still find time and space for more thoughtful deliberation. I voted to keep the amendments in committee for more debate and hopefully more data. It is my hope that by passing this policy order we will have a bit more data at the next meeting, where the council will finally have to vote on these amendments. I’m disappointed that several of my colleagues have led us down this path to considering amendments before the review process, but I will continue to work towards compromise and a more thoughtful approach to zoning reform.
Short-Term Rentals Ordinance
This week I sponsored a policy order along with Councillor Azeem and Mayor Siddiqui to ask for a review of the Short-Term Rentals Ordinance (aka Airbnb). A little background on this is that in August 2017 the Cambridge City Council amended the Zoning Ordinance to include “Short-Term Rentals” in order to make the operation of short-term rentals legal for Cambridge residents. The intent was to protect the safety of renters and residents, ensure that the primary use remains residential, ensure that short-term rentals will not be a detriment to the character and livability of the surrounding residential neighborhood, and to ensure that it did not lead to increased pressure on the availability or cost of housing. There are some state and municipal requirements for reporting this use, but over the years, there have been instances reported to the City Council of neighbors who believe that the rules are not being followed and some short-term rentals are not owner occupied or owner adjacent. These rules can be challenging to enforce, and other cities have taken stronger action here to ensure these rentals are in line with the intent of the ordinance, New York City most recently. My policy order asks the City Manager to compile data available from local and state sources and provide a report on short-term rental use in the City. At that point we will be able to better assess the issue as it exists in Cambridge.
Rodent Control Update
Living in a city, we deal with rats. In some ways it’s inevitable, but there is a lot we can do to mitigate the issue and keep our streets safe and clean. This week I have cosponsored a policy order along with Mayor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Mallon, and Councillor Simmons, to ask for an update from the City Manager on rodent control measures. I’ve worked on this issue a lot over the years and I have been pleased with increased efforts in the last year, but it’s time to measure the effectiveness of those efforts to see where we lack and how we can move forward. I look forward to continuing to work with the City staff on this issue.
Green Roof / Solar Update
After a hard fought initiative to get a green roof ordinance, led by Mothers Out Front, we are now asking for a solar mandate. This mandate for solar on all new buildings would not be in place of green roofs, but would be an addition to our current green roofs ordinance – and in places where green roofs do not make sense, like parking spaces. I am hoping we move forward on this important addition to our environmental ordinances.
Hen-Keeping in Cambridge
In August, I cosponsored a policy order asking the City staff to consider text that would legalize and regulate “chicken-keeping” in Cambridge. This week, the City Manager has delivered a zoning recommendation for hen-keeping. I’m looking forward to moving forward on this legislation. Urban farming is an important part of maintaining a vibrant local ecosystem and with the proper safeguards and pest control, can be a benefit to Cambridge. The zoning in question was recommended not only by the Community Development Department, but also by the Public Health Department and Inspectional Services to ensure cleanliness, regular inspections, and public safety.
As co-chairs of the Finance Committee, Councillor Carlone and I have been meeting with City staff over the last few months to discuss the Participatory Budgeting (PB) program. This Monday, the City will launch the 10th cycle of Participatory Budgeting. The City will allocate a record-high $2 million for this year’s process, which doubles the previous budget of $1 million. The types of projects eligible for funding this fiscal year will be expanded to include capital and operating projects. The 10th PB process in Cambridge will kick off with Idea Collection on September 11, 2023. Proposal development will take place between October 2023, and March 2024. The PB10 Vote is scheduled to take place in late March 2024. For updates and the latest information about the Participatory Budgeting process, please visit www.pb.cambridgema.gov, contact the Budget Office at 617-349-4270, or email email@example.com. My role as a councillor, and as Finance co-chair is to ensure that the budget reflects the needs and the will of the people of Cambridge. In PB, that means making sure that this democratic process is fair, transparent, engaging, and reflective of the priorities of Cambridge residents. I have also worked to make sure the timing of PB better works into the budget process more broadly, so that the input received from PB can be better reflected in the overall budget. The Cambridge PB program has become a national model over the last several years, and I am looking forward to improving upon that reputation. I am also working to schedule a Finance Committee meeting so that all of us can better understand the process by which projects are vetted, selected for voting, and ultimately make it to the ballot.
Supporting Bicycle Safety and On-Street Dining
At the last meeting, I sponsored a policy order that is meant to work out some details within the Cycling Safety Ordinance to clear up some ambiguity within the language to better accommodate for temporary on-street dining while maintaining vertical protections for cyclists. We have heard from some folks about what I believe are some misconceptions about what that means for cycling safety. I support separated, protected bike lanes across the city. I have consistently advocated for better street safety of all modes: improving pedestrianization, automated traffic enforcement, and better implementation of bike lanes. And I voted for the timelines in the CSO, which will not be affected by any changes being contemplated. And, along with other bike lane advocates, I support small businesses and believe that separated protected bike lanes can and should be installed in a way that does not hurt small businesses. We have great bike lanes and outdoor dining in so many places across the city and they do not need to be in conflict with one another – I bike most days around the city and I have dined outdoors often. And, we absolutely should work with small businesses to see if there are things that can be done to help them. Including the possible language to allow for this type of change would show a respect for the small businesses open to collaboration. Our hope is that the Traffic, Parking, and Transportation Department will work collaboratively with the business associations and the bike committee and community to consider the issue and come to a solution that addresses the concerns raised about the current status. I believe we can and should be sensitive to the needs of both cyclist safety AND small businesses. These conversations have already been happening the past few weeks since we started working on this and I believe the city is close to a solution which will ensure access to on-street dining while safe separation for cyclists. I hope that we can have a respectful discussion, trust that the city staff is working on behalf of all of us, – residents, cyclists, business owners – and allow recommendations to come out of discussions.
Cambridge Artists: Two Great Events
The Cambridge Art Association is having an opening reception tomorrow, Saturday September 9, from 12:00pm-2:00pm in two places: University Place right across from the Harvard Square Post Office and the Gallery at the Art Association – Lowell Street. At University Place, look for a work by fabulous first time artist David Rabkin (who happens to be my husband!). The show runs through October 20.
Cambridge Artist Open Studios is this weekend, September 9-10, 2023, from 12:00pm-6:00pm each day. Be sure to check out and visit the amazing array of artist studios… sadly I will miss it due to Covid – I usually go and marvel at the range of creativity in our community.
The Cambridge Carnival Festival
Sunday, September 10, 2023 from 11:00am-5:00pm
The 29th Cambridge Carnival Festival is happening on September 10th, 2023 from 11am-5pm. Stop by University Park for an afternoon of celebrating the African diaspora with food, music, costumes, festivities, and fun! For more information, click here.
The 98th Annual Feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian
Friday September 8 – Sunday September 10, 2023
Stop by the Italian festival in East Cambridge this weekend. The Feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian pays homage to saints Cosmas and Damian, who were Arab doctors in the third century, and two of the earliest Christian martyrs. The festival features a carnival at one end and a bandstand for live music and a temporary chapel at the other end, which is where the saint statues are housed for the weekend. The feast begins on Friday evening with a candlelight procession, along with fireworks, carnival rides and games, music, and food. Saturday brings an all-day celebration of vendors, live music, carnival games, and another candlelight procession at night. On Sunday, activities start early with coffee and Italian pastries at the Porter Street chapel, before the procession to Saint Francis Church for mass. A traditional Italian dinner follows mass, which is free and open to all. See the schedule of events here.
Job Connector by MIT
The Job Connector by MIT will be hosting a second program for their Introduction to Construction and the Building Trades program for Cambridge residents. This is a 4-week paid opportunity that will provide participants with industry-based technical and career readiness skills. This is a great opportunity to jumpstart your career for anyone interested in the building trades, construction management, real estate development, and other related areas. Applications are due by September 22, and the program will run from October 3 – 26 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30pm-7:30pm. You can learn more by checking their facebook or twitter, or by emailing or calling (617-253-7854).
Danehy Park Family Day
Saturday, September 23, 2023, from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. (Rain Date: Sunday, September 24).
Enjoy a fun-filled day of children’s amusement rides, activities, arts and crafts, music, and roving performers, plus food and other giveaways. This free community event, sponsored by the City of Cambridge, attracts over 10,000 people annually and offers something for everyone. Free shuttle buses will be running throughout Cambridge to provide transportation. Additionally, Danehy Park can be reached by public transportation, #74 bus or #78 bus from Harvard Square, #83 bus from Central Square; or take a shuttle bus from the Alewife MBTA Station.. For more information, click here.
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, September 12, 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.
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/