Council updates and a climate math question for you

Hobbs Reservoir, part of Cambridge's water supply, during the 2016 drought We are currently experiencing "abnormally dry" conditions

All:

Much of my work on the Council has been taking issues that have been discussed, studied, contemplated, and forgotten, and then actually making it happen. A study of municipal broadband has been discussed over and over for years now and I am happy to report that after a year of pushing, advocating, and working with activists and city staff, we will be seeing an RFP for a study going out this month. Another example that I have gotten inquiries from residents about recently is leaf blowers. There have been numerous discussions over the last 5 years about what to do regarding leaf blowers (especially gas powered ones), and there has been no resolution. I am reviewing the past discussions to make sure I build on past work and hope that we can improve our existing leaf blower ordinance. I have advocated for better leadership (a reminder that we will be starting the search for the next City Manager soon) and for charter change – but in the meantime I am happy to push issues forward whenever I can. 

Take action TODAY – or this weekend! Super quick & super effective ask: make a call or write an email. Electrification (of cars, buildings, buses, leaf blowers, etc) is one of my priorities and a critically important part of how we address the climate crisis. MassDOT is in the process of finalizing projects for it’s one-year Capital Investment Plan and there is information indicating that the T plans to add an additional 460 diesel-hybrid buses and 25 diesel electric locomotives to its fleet. One of the plans is to upgrade their North Cambridge facility. As projects for the CIP will be finalized by April and the draft CIP will be released for public comments in May, there is a small window to influence projects that are included in the CIP. The Sierra Club has put together background information, suggested talking points, and details on how to provide public comments here

Tomorrow will be 70 degrees – and Riverbend Park will be open! I am glad that the city staff and DCR listened to our call for expanded access and plan on working to expand it more in the future. I hope you enjoy the spring, support essential workers who have kept us going through this pandemic, keep ordering out directly from local restaurants, and make your voices heard.

Patty

PO #1 – Making remote participation permanent: We have seen an increase in resident participation at Council meetings during COVID and we have discussed what it would look like to make remote participation permanent. While there are some state requirements that we will need to get around, the Council agrees that utilizing technology to continue the higher rate of participation is a great way to go. In the meantime, as I mentioned above, I will continue to push for municipal broadband – there is still a dire need to close the internet access gap. 

PO #5 – Diversifying Cambridge Boards and Commissions: this PO requests that the Civic Unit Committee reconvene to meet and discuss results from a 2018 effort to increase diversity on Cambridge’s Boards and Commissions. I will gladly support. 

PO #6 – Drought Prevention: We know that the climate crisis means more extreme weather, even here in the Northeast. We will have torrential downpours more often – why we need to pay attention to floodplains as we contemplate development everywhere, especially places like the Alewife Quad. AND we will have more dry periods. It is not just California, the Southwest, or Wisconsin experiencing dry conditions. Already just this past month the state has gone from NO area being abnormally dry (the first category for the national drought monitor) to three-quarters of Massachusetts – including Cambridge’s entire watershed – being abnormally dry. I have in the past called for more attention to this issue and I am doing it again. Do you recall ever being asked by the city to save water? Please let me know – and ask the council to pass this policy order and do more to ensure an adequate water supply.

PO #7 – Finding alternatives to credit checks in housing applications: This PO asks the manager to confer with relevant departments to increase equity in the initial rental application process and advise on eliminating credit checks. Residents are often denied at the application stage for inclusionary housing because of their credit score, which prevents many people from even starting the process. I hope this passes and the manager gets back to the Council quickly. 

PO #8 – Council having access to legal counsel: This PO asks the Manager to include room in the budget for the Council to get a second legal opinion. Over and over again, the Council is told no by the city solicitor and this would give us the opportunity to get counsel from someone who is not working directly for the manager. 

Missing Middle Ordinance Meeting: Last night, the Ordinance Committee met to discuss this petition – one that I have written about in past newsletters. There were passionate comments on both sides. I am always glad to see engaged civic activism. To summarize my thoughts: I am worried that this proposal will simply exacerbate the issue of affordable housing since it will do nothing to create middle income affordable housing. And will not help our climate crisis. The proponents are correct that other cities have taken similar steps. But as far as I have seen all of them are completely different from Cambridge, where only 7% of our housing units are single family. And our density is far higher than any other city proposing this change. I am paying attention to the fact that many residents who are Black/African American have urged us to vote this petition down. Many groups including Cambridge Residents Alliance, Black Response Cambridge, Our Revolution, and others have also said that we must change our zoning – but this petition is not the way to do it. I cannot support any petition that decreases open space, risks displacing current residents, and adds no guarantee of housing that is affordable to low income or middle income residents. 

In February, I chaired a hearing to discuss the future of single- and two-family only zoning in Cambridge and I plan on continuing that conversation in committee in the near future. We need a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to this and I do not believe this petition would be in the best interest of our city. Please let me know if you have additional thoughts or questions.

Additional updates

– Vaccine updates: 20% of all Cambridge residents have been fully vaccinated! I have been impressed with the outreach and education that Cambridge is doing and I hope that 20% number grows exponentially. Check your eligibility here and reach out to me if you are having trouble securing an appointment. 

– The School Committee has been holding virtual candidate forums for the three Interim Superintendent of Schools finalists. Check this page for info on upcoming sessions this weekend and next week. The finalists are:

  • Dr. Victoria Greer, Superintendent of Schools, Sharon Public Schools;
  • Dr. Monica Henson, Interim Superintendent of Schools, New Hampshire School Administrative Unit; and
  • Dr. Brian Metcalf, Chief Executive Officer, Tindley Accelerated Schools.

– I recently met with some folks who are working on bringing paddleball and pickleball courts to Cambridge. Both are fun sports that can be played by all ages, but access to courts is extremely limited (often only available in private clubs). Their goal is to make paddleball and pickleball accessible to Cambridge residents, and locate the courts near schools or youth centers where there can be programming for students in the city to learn and play. Read more here and please sign this petition

Trivia

One randomly selected correct response will win a $15 gift card to a local business!

Question: How many trips across Cambridge could you take in your car for the same emissions that a gas-powered leaf blower emits in one hour?