It’s mid-May and if you haven’t walked outside lately do it today! It seems that there has been an explosion of tulips, flowering trees, fragrant lilacs and tulips. Did I mention tulips? Send your favorite places to see glorious flowers – one of my favorites this season are owners who even invited people to peek into their glorious backyard … we couldn’t have a tour of the gardens of Cambridge – but wander anywhere and there are fabulous plots, from tiny to large…. And with vaccinations at relatively high levels, many of us are feeling relief as spring springs.
Last week started the formal budget process, with the council reviewing about half the city departments in a day-long session. Some contentious discussions centered on the municipal broadband study (or lack thereof) and increases in the police department. Many questions were raised – and many more will be raised. Next week we will review the other half of the city departments, and hold a separate session on the school department budget. A recap of some of my questions are below.
I continue to focus on a number of areas, and am doing my best to keep up with the many projects, plans, and initiatives across the city. This week I spoke in favor of a restaurant seeking to occupy a now empty storefront – and I hope there will be more storefronts occupied as the economy improves. Despite the slowdown due to the pandemic, Cambridge continues to see ongoing development which will make it more challenging for us to address the need for infrastructure at all levels. Please let me know what you are seeing and thinking as the city, state, and country re-open. I am hoping we take this opportunity to re-think some of the way we operate. I have long maintained that we should have some permanently closed streets, starting with Harvard Square – and this weekend one block of Brattle will be closed! Visit, enjoy and let’s work to expand the effort.
A few of the questions I asked during last week’s budget hearing:
Information Technology Dept: I asked about municipal broadband and the lack of a coherent clear feasibility study Request for Proposal – the city has since extended the deadline by two months, which means there is a chance to improve the RFP.
Police Department: Last year I supported a reduction in the budget and I still believe it should be reduced, and I know that can only happen as we re-think and re-imagine how we are providing services. And there will be some difficult conversations, since change will be challenging – even in self identified progressive Cambridge with a very forward thinking police Commissioner.
Inspectional Services & License Commission: I asked about putting more information online and how these services could be more user friendly, since I have heard there are concerns in the community about a lack of coordination and customer service.
Next week I plan to ask about our policy on free cash, about our building projects, about universal Pre-K, and many questions on the school department’s lack of appropriate high expectations for students.
CMA # 4 – A report on the parameters of free cash – The question of what the City is and is not allowed to fund has been asked by the Council many times. Especially this year, there have been attempts to support residents and small businesses that have been turned down by the city solicitor due to the Anti-aid Amendment, a state law that prohibits municipalities from providing public funds for private purposes. The Council asked for an official legal opinion, and as you can see in the report, the City is using a strict interpretation that prohibits appropriations that the Council has interest in pursuing.
CMA #10 – A report on universal Pre-K – This report concerns the ongoing work to have universal Pre-K and to increase high quality child care for all children. The city has worked on this issue for more than a decade and I had hoped that the city would have been able to provide a citywide system for high quality child care for all 4 year olds – with a network of existing and new places. I will be pushing for an accelerated timeline.
PO #2 – Congestion and Development in Alewife: I submitted this policy order that calls for the City Manager and relevant departments to come up with a plan for managing the increasing development projects in the Alewife area. I am grateful for the neighborhood groups who have been working on this issue as well. There are over a dozen projects either underway or starting soon in the area, and congestion will only get worse as large trucks and equipment come in and out. We need a plan to manage that increase and I look forward to this order passing and working with City staff to put something in motion.
PO #3 – Outdoor dining: I intend to support this order which asks for information on how we will be supporting a continuation of outdoor dining options – this order is in line with my work on re-imagining the city to be inclusive of all modes of transit and use public space of streets differently.
PO #4 and 5 – Digital equity and Broadband: Two policy orders related to digital equity and following up on the study done. I am happy to co-sponsor both and look forward to continuing work. A year ago, I helped to ensure the IT budget would not pass without a municipal broadband study included. The manager promised the Council that it would be funded out of free cash, and after numerous delays and meetings, the RFP was released last week. The problem is that I do not believe the RFP includes the necessary language to provide the city with an adequate municipal broadband study. The Council asked for a study specifically on municipal broadband and I won’t be satisfied with anything other than that.
RES #7 and PO #6: There are also two policy orders related to concerns in Israel-Palestine. I am saddened and angry about the violence in the Middle East. And I do not support the actions of the government of Israel or its current leader. I support the rights of Palestinians and a two-state solution. And there are human rights violations and violence on both sides of that conflict. I also believe it is important to note there are human rights abuses by many countries supported with some of our taxpayer dollars – we need to be fair in our condemnations, and not single out just one country.
Community Vaccine Clinic
The goal of this vaccine clinic is to provide an opportunity and easy access for our Black and Brown community members, specifically, to get the vaccine. This clinic is a collaboration among the Cambridge Public Health Department (CPHD) & Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), City Manager’s Office, Mayor Siddiqui’s Office, Cambridge Community Center, and Tufts Medical School.
When: Saturday, May 15th, 9:30am – 12:00pm
Event Location: Cambridge Community Center: 5 Callender St, Cambridge, MA 02139
Inman Coffee Talk – Monday, May 17th, 11am – The City has organized an event for residents and business owners and their employees for a virtual conversation with City Staff and contractors to ask questions related to the current and upcoming construction in Inman Square.
Charles Yu and Ju Yon Kim on Interior Chinatown – Tuesday, May 18th, 6pm – Join the library, along with the Mayor’s office and City Manager for an event as we celebrate Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Read more about the event here.
Race and Song: A Musical Conversation with Reggie Harris & Alastair Moock – Friday, May 21st, 6:30pm – Join a virtual musical conversation with the library. Together in musical conversation, and with the aid of historical and family photos, Alastair and Reggie open up to each other and frame their perspectives through music. Read more about the event here.
As a number of people answered correctly, the Charles River along Cambridge is completely un-natural and is made due to changes over decades to reclaim marsh land from much of what is now Cambridge, and Boston.
This week’s question: Where will you find 11 new acres* of public and green space in Cambridge? * Have you been there? If so, send pictures!