Council Updates and Tonight’s Agenda

Hi all,

Please read my updates from last week’s meeting and my thoughts on this week’s agenda.

The city manager and the council continue to do everything possible to provide resources and keep people safe. But we can always do more. We must listen to the science and act accordingly, and get creative with the solutions we are providing during this scary and unprecedented time. As always, feel free to reach out with any questions, concerns, or ideas that you have. 

Patty

Updates from last week's meeting

A lot happened last week – here are a few highlights:

The Open streets order I sponsored passed 6-3: This order is important since we know that even as we re-open the economy, COVID-19 will be with us for more than the next few weeks.  And it is an opportune time to ensure that the availability of more open space – by taking over some streets as a sidewalk like space – is spread throughout the city.  

The order to limit commission fees paid by restaurants to third party delivery apps and make all fees transparent to consumers passed unanimously. Cambridge was the first in the Commonwealth to pass this policy order and I hope that we will soon implement it.  The state legislature has a proposed bill to cap fees statewide which I have been pushing for and hope passes as soon as possible.  

We passed many appropriations, including funding to the Y2Y shelter for young homeless people in Harvard Square. And we accepted the grants of $250K each from Harvard and MIT to fund the transformation of the War Memorial into a shelter for homeless residents, necessitated by the COVID-19 emergency with the warming center closing and the Albany Street shelter limiting residents due to distance requirements. Councillors Zondervan and Sobrinho-Wheeler proposed some changes to the rules around the War Memorial, where people are now being tested and provisions made for safe shelter for residents who tested positive or negative. There were many homeless residents who provided testimony during the public comment period, which gave us an opportunity to hear from residents who have not often come to meetings to comment.

Tonight's Council Agenda Overview

Order #93: to re-start construction: I am in favor of us doing all we can to support our city to operate as best we can, as long as safety protocols are clear and solidly based on sound medical recommendations.  I am generally supportive of this order, if the safety of workers and clients can be assured.  It does not seem prudent to automatically grant an okay for safety plans without review.  However, it also is not fair to have applicants wait for a review of their safety protocols without a defined period of time.  I look forward to hearing how we can ensure safety and move forward.  The state emergency declaration is clear that we must allow construction, and that we can require safety protocols. If my concerns about worker and client safety and timeliness of response are addressed, I will be voting yes.

Order #102: Regarding the MASK/FACE COVERINGS requirement: Our order on reviewing Cambridge’s mask/face covering order and recommending some amendments has generated a lot of responses, so this explanation of my stand is a bit longer than usual. First, it was disappointing to see the order characterized as mainly an effort to weaken the mandate. We need respectful dialogue that is grounded in fact – we are all trying to keep everyone safe at stop the spread. 

First, no one that I know, including me, is trying to end  the mask mandate. I, along with two other councilors, want to align the order with these entities who have issued mask guidance – Dr. Fauci, Governor Baker (who issued an order last week effective Wednesday), the CDC and WHO. Please read below and let me know if you agree. We think it makes sense medically and is less confusing.  

We are calling for these amendments: 

  1. Update the language to reflect the best public health advice:
    a. That indoors, masks should be worn at all times in public settings when other people are present – all COVID-19 essential businesses, multi-unit buildings, etc. (currently, Cambridge’s order – amendment 3 – states that when in an essential business, people “must wear a mask or cloth face covering unless they can maintain a distance of six feet from all people at all times”). That must be stronger. 
    b. That outdoors, people should have a mask with them which must be worn when distancing is not possible. If outdoors and no one is around, not wearing a mask should not risk a fine or harassment.  

  2. Eliminate or reduce the current fine, which is an excessive $300, and instead mandate that all law enforcement will carry masks to give to those who do not have one on. The Massachusetts ACLU has publicly called for this change.  In Cambridge, we already ran out of masks to distribute. We need to address the need for reusable cloth masks for all. 

  3. The City Manager provide regular updates to the Council on any fines issued as a result of the Order, including demographic summaries by race, age, and gender.  As we have seen recently, no one including our police officers are free from bias – and we need to know if bias, conscious or unconscious, play a role in enforcement.  

I am following science and medical data and have consulted with public health experts about these proposals. I also believe that there is a danger, which we have already seen in our community, of people being so stressed and anxious and worried that they can overreact in situations where they are not in danger.  A runner or cyclist or pedestrian walking down a street many feet away from others poses no danger to anyone. By suggesting that outdoors people who are distant can pose a threat, we are needlessly accelerating people’s anxiety. 

Going outside for fresh air and exercise is positive for both physical and mental health. We are and should continue to encourage that – as long as people are safely distancing and wearing masks as required by state law. 

I hope this clarifies my position. Like all my colleagues, I want people to feel safe and to stay healthy. I believe the current policy if amended as we are proposing to be aligned with major public health advisories will be less confusing and helpful. 

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns about tonight’s agenda. Along with the two orders above, I believe that a significant amount of time will be spent on the City Manager’s COVID-19 updates and discussing an inflammatory tweet that was sent out accidentally from the Cambridge Police Department account. It was extremely concerning and prompt action has been promised. 

Resources

Local Business:

  • The Community Development Department announced that applications were available for small businesses seeking relief from losses due to the outbreak. Any applicant that meets the eligibility requirements can apply to receive a grant up to $6,000 per brick and mortar business. More information, including eligibility guidelines, can be found here

  • In the meantime, support local business by getting take out! See which ones are open here

Food assistance:

  • The city and Food for Free have set up the Cambridge Community Food Line (617-349-9155), a food item delivery service for Cambridge residents who are at high risk of food insecurity. This is an amazing resource – please share with anyone in need! Details here.

Child care:

  • Emergency child care centers are available for workers on the front lines of this outbreak. Currently there are 400 programs that can serve 8,000 children in Massachusetts, including two locations in Cambridge which can be found here.

Seniors:

  • It is vital that residents over the page of 60, especially those with underlying health conditions, practice thorough personal hygiene and safe social distancing. Here is a list of resources the city has compiled, but please reach out to me directly if you cannot find something you need on this list.

For all of us:
From Cambridge Public Health: Guidance for Taking Care of Your Mental Health