Council Updates – As We Grapple with Unsettling News

Cambridge City Hall

All,

In these trying and troubling times, I remain dedicated to doing all I can to uplift, to celebrate the good work proliferating and to remind myself and others to take care of our own mental health and emotional needs. And, I cannot shake the images of George Floyd begging for his life and the news of Breonna Taylor being murdered in her own home. The most recent names joining the thousands we know to be direct victims of racist police brutality. And in the same week, news of those murders is juxtaposed with the image of Christian Cooper being threatened with police intervention for bird watching while black in New York City’s Central Park. It is clear why protests are escalating, though many may ask whether they are proportionate. My response is that we must not be surprised by the reaction to yet another murder of an unarmed black American. Tyranny and injustice have never been overthrown by acquiescing to the system that perpetuates them.

These times require all of us – especially those of us who are white – to support the calls for accountability and systemic change. To push back against the white moderate, who Dr. King said “…is more devoted to “order” than to justice.” And to wholeheartedly reject the narrative that protest is unacceptable. What is unacceptable is the ongoing violence against black and brown people in America. And we must be vigilant to remind ourselves that it should not take a death to wake us up.

Please donate what you can to organizations such as Color of Change or the Minnesota Freedom Fund that are doing the difficult and important work on the ground to fight for justice.


In the midst of the turmoil, in the middle of a pandemic, we continue to celebrate milestones. Today is MIT’s commencement and yesterday was Harvard’s. Both virtual – and both celebrated with messages of hope and concern and a directive to the fortunate graduates to use their privilege and degree for the betterment of the world. Today is also Radcliffe Day, when I am typically in Radcliffe Yard listening to an amazing woman who received the Radcliffe Medal and I typically bring local high school students to make the connection between my alma mater and my city. Below is a picture from last year, when I met Dolores Heurta – the medalist who inspired many with her life of optimism and activism.

In lieu of our Monday council meeting, which was not held this week due to Memorial day, the council held a “special meeting” yesterday to receive updates from the Manager and city staff. There were a few exciting updates, which I will outline below along with the agenda for the regular council meeting this Monday.

Patty

With Dolores Huerta

Updates from Thursday's Meeting:

Shared Streets:  We can declare (partial) victory in our efforts to unlock open space throughout the city! The Manager, along with the director of the traffic and parking department, announced the plan to start re-allocating space throughout the city. After seeing how successful the Mem Drive closure was on Sunday, the Manager finally felt comfortable implementing the ideas the council voted on nearly two months ago. The first phase of “Shared Streets” is attached here. Multiple councilors asked how quickly this plan would be implemented and how long it would be in place. The goal is for the first three streets outlined in the plan to be closed in around two weeks, followed by more closures throughout the city (based on feedback from residents and the council). I was excited to hear that these closures will be indefinite, with the possibility of permanently altering the space to be more walking/biking – friendly. Please let me know if you have any questions about the plan and I will get back to you with an answer from the traffic and planning department. In the meantime, we will keep pushing for more, especially in the areas that lack safe access to open space. 

COVID health updates: The number of cases in Cambridge are going down, as are the state numbers. The number of people testing positive, currently in hospitals, in ICUs and passing away from COVID are all trending down, which is good news. As a result, the War Memorial shelter will be winding down. The shelter will close the quarantine section and continue to house some residents to ensure adequate distance. State officials will be giving the folks who still need to quarantine a facility to do so.
The state and our city are among the most affected by COVID in the nation.  And it is clear that the emergency will continue from a public health perspective and as an economic disaster for many. As we open up, there will be continued frustrations and challenges.  We are lucky to live in Cambridge since we have financial resources other cities do not, and yet we also face tough decisions. 

My questions of the Manager and city staff were: 

Implementation of my policy order on capping delivery fees: The city solicitor does not believe we have the legal authority as a municipality to take action (despite cities across the country already implementing fee caps), and instead the city will be rolling out a “Pick It Up” campaign to encourage residents to buy directly from local businesses and avoid using the apps. I will continue to push back on the assumption that we have our hands tied, but in the meantime, please order directly from your favorite local restaurants. And please push State Senator Pat Jehlen (who is a sponsor of the bill 5054 in the state house to cap fees) to hold hearings and pass the bill. It may be that Attorney General Maura Healey could act to protect consumers and cap usurious commission fees, so we are not backing away from this important issue.  

Emergency mask ordinance: Earlier this week an amendment to the mask order failed to include an edit that I submitted with Councillor McGovern )which passed the council unanimously). As it stands, the order does not require someone in a multi-unit building (more than three units) to wear a mask if they can maintain 6+ feet distance from others. This is incredibly frustrating, since the evidence shows us that almost all transmission happens indoors, and under our current order, if you live in a 50 (or 100 or 200) unit building and get in the elevator, you are not required to have a mask on. What about the person who enters the elevator when you get off? They are immediately exposed to the poorly ventilated air. We have heard from a number of residents that feel scared to leave their unit for this very reason. I hope we can quickly update the order and continue to educate people about where the highest risk places for transmission are.

Update on Plan to Reopen: This is a list of all businesses types and when they are slated to reopen. If you have specific questions there is contact info for city staff that are working on this specifically.

Council Agenda Overview

PO #122: Reversing the Reusable Bag Ban
As many of you are probably aware, there has been a ban on bringing reusable bags to the grocery stores since the end of March. While I supported the initial stringent measures when there were many unknowns to ensure the safety of frontline workers at grocery stores, there are now studies that prove reusable bags are at least as safe as plastic, and likely more safe. However, in the last two months, the plastics industry has spread misinformation claiming that plastics are the only safe material to use when containing, storing, and transporting goods and food items during the pandemic, in an attempt to sway people from returning to using reusable items for the foreseeable future. These companies are skilled at utilizing misinformation to sell their products, and they have been backed into a corner over the last few years as many cities (including Cambridge!) have begun to ban single use plastics. It is imperative that we not allow these fear based tactics to give the plastics industry a chance to regain a foothold. Hopefully this order will help push the Governor to listen to the science and repeal the ban on reusable bags as soon as possible. 

PO #120: Pride Month
June is pride month, which is an opportunity to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and acknowledge the continuing struggle for rights that this community faces on a daily basis. The people of Cambridge are allies to the LGBTQ+ community and will continue to support our LGBTQ+ residents. This order calls for the crosswalks outside City Hall to be repainted in the colors that represent the Trans Flag, the Pride Flag, the Bi Flag and the People of Color Pride Flag and for City Hall to be lit up each evening in rainbow colors. (Below is a picture of my family celebrating in front of City Hall at midnight – the very first legal gay marriages in the country right here in Cambridge.)

Two petitions I urge you to sign!

The first is a petition to push the city further on open/shared streets – we are just under 1,000 signatures so if you haven’t signed yet please do!  
 
The second is a petition to get Ranked Choice Voting on the ballot in MA. We have a historic chance to strengthen our democracy and expand our choices at the ballot box through Ranked Choice Voting and 14,000 signatures are needed. COVID-19 prevents us from collecting signatures in person, but signing electronically is quick, easy, and just as effective as signing on paper. Please take one minute to complete this form and help put Ranked Choice Voting on the ballot!

Mayor's Disaster Relief fund

The first round of applications has been closed and the city has given out more than $2 million to residents in need. There will be future rounds of applications and distribution so if you are able to give please do so and if you are need of relief find out more below.