The anniversary of so much pain and trouble – the anniversary of the covid19 lockdown upending of our lives is mitigated by the light at the end of the tunnel that has appeared. I expect many of you reading this newsletter have gotten or have an appointment to get a vaccine. That light will only get brighter. AND we must still mask up, be aware of being in close proximity to people outside our immediate bubble and keep reading research on best practice and protocols as new variants of Covid19 and more data about the efficacy of the vaccines emerge.
The week has been busy as ever, and I have been spending time looking into several items open for debate and some votes coming up next week. And next week the council will begin the discussion on a city manager search. The current city manager contract is up in July 2022. The council will have to decide on a process. Since we are also exploring the question of whether we want to engage in a charter review, this search will involve some questions that did not come up in the past search, of the future structure of the city. The Governance Committee meeting is Tuesday March 16 3-5 pm and should be streamed.
As always lots going on – please send thoughts on any items my way. I note that the weather this week is both concerning (it should not be 60 degrees F in mid March when winter is still here) and wonderful (it is great to have 60 degree F weather as this pandemic wears on us all).
PO#1 Commercial composting pilot: I am thrilled to be co-sponsoring this order which asks the manager to explore the feasibility of creating a Commercial Composting Pilot Program to serve at least 100 small businesses with fewer than fifty employees. It’s astounding how much food waste comes from restaurants, and a program like this would be a win-win: supporting local restaurants, local farmers (who would get the compost), and the environment. I also note that there have been long-standing concerns about Cambridge’s compost program. Our compost does not go to a land based fully organic compost site – it goes to a facility that mixes it with municipal sludge that is not organic and free of all toxic compounds. I believe that we should move to a fully organic waste system – that keeps food waste separate from the chemicals that prevent the compost from being safe to use on food producing land. For now, I hope that we can start a commercial compost operation, that we resume our curbside composting, and that eventually, we find a way to have all food waste be composted safely.
PO #3 Local Retailers: This order brought forward by Councillor Simmons asks the manager to provide the council with a list of which local retailers the city contracts with and how much we spend. I believe that we do a lot to work with and support our local businesses, and we can do more. I submitted an order last week asking the manager to waive all small business fees for this calendar year because I learned that some businesses right in Huron Village were having a tough time paying some of their fees – ones that amount to no more than a thousand dollars. We can always do more for our local businesses and I will happily support this PO.
PO #5 Riverbend Park: Access to open space continues to be a saving grace during the pandemic. And spending time along the Charles, one of the most beautiful spots we have in the city, has been a wonderful escape. Last year, the Council pushed for Riverbend Park to open early and often. We managed to get Saturday added (in addition to the traditional Sunday), and extended until the end of the year. Since Memorial Drive is operated by DCR, the city needs to work with them to implement a closure, so this policy order is asking the manager to do so earlier than it does in a normal year on April 23rd, per a state statute. Closing Memorial Drive on weekends for most of the year is a response to the pandemic that I believe should be continued, and I have pushed for the city to look at extended where the closure ends at Western Ave – if we could close down Mem drive down to the BU bridge, it would provide access to residents from across the city.
PO #8 Tear Gas Ban: I am happy to be cosponsoring an ordinance to ban the use of tear gas by the Cambridge Police. Note that the department currently doesn’t possess any tear gas and the Police Commissioner noted that the department already does not include tear gas on the list of allowable substances to be used – and further stated hat he is willing to adopt a ban as department policy. The idea of this policy order is to codify that current policy into ordinance so that it cannot be changed simply by internal police department procedures. Tear gas continues to be used against civilians in the United States, and it is in direct response to last year’s protests that this policy order is being introduced. Tear gas was used against protesters in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. last year.
CCF petition for the Quad area of Alewife
As I write this newsletter, I am still undecided about my vote. I appreciate the feedback from many people in the community and the work of the developer to address concerns. As I have maintained throughout this process, I will vote based on what I believe best for the city – not what may be best politically. I have asked that any commitments made are legally binding. Already the developer has committed to 490 units of housing, with 20% affordable. I have asked for more affordable units, including some for middle-class folks. The developer has cut the number of parking spots by 200 to 500, and moved the garage the better fit with urban planning. I have asked for a garage that is EV ready – 100% EV ready and 25% EV chargers installed. The developer has said they would follow flood plain maps in the Envision plan, beyond current zoning. I have asked for an additional commitment to no fossil fuel infrastructure for the residential buildings and a future commitment to decarbonize the commercial space. I also advocated for solar/green roofs and the developer has committed to that. I advocated for a commitment to good paying jobs – and union labor, to which the developer has committed. The Envision plan lays out a vision for a neighborhood, including retail and inviting urban space for people to visit – not just transit. The developer has committed to streetscapes that attract people including retail, convenience store and restaurants – and I am waiting for additional specifications on what that means. A bridge over the tracks will benefit the developer – AND the city, if done well. I hope in the future to see a commuter rail station at Alewife, since we need that to fulfill the vision of a transit-oriented neighborhood. For this project, the developer has committed to $17 million in funding for a bridge, several other elements leading to a bridge and secured some assurance from the MBTA that a bridge is possible. There is no guarantee yet of a bridge, since the MBTA cannot yet commit. I will have to decide if these sets of proposals are enough to garner a positive vote. Keep comments coming! I will be wrestling with this decision over the weekend.
Beginning today, the state is changing the way vaccine appointments are made at the mass vaccination sites. The rollout has been suboptimal so far and frustrating to many, and this is an attempt to centralize appointments and make the sign up process easier. It also takes away some of the autonomy of local health officials to set up and vaccinate residents and hands the responsibility to private contractors (read more here). The new system works like this: Eligible residents will need to complete the online form to request to book an appointment at a mass vaccination site nearby. After completing the form, residents will receive a weekly update about their status. Residents may opt out of their pre registration at any time if they secure an appointment elsewhere. When an appointment becomes available at a mass vaccination site, the resident will be notified and will have 24 hours to accept the appointment once it is offered to them. If an appointment is not accepted within 24 hours, the resident will go back into the queue to wait for another appointment. To accommodate older residents and others who are unable to use the form, the pre registration form allows family members, caregivers or other companions to fill out the form on behalf of someone else. Residents who do not have internet access or someone to fill the form out for them can call 2-1-1 to preregister.
Keep buying local - and celebrate women’s history month!
Harvard Square Business Association publishes a list of all the women business owners and directors in Harvard Square, celebrating their work and their impact on Cambridge. Please take a look – and check out a business you have not patronized before!
Join me in attending a virtual RBG Film Screening! The Mayor’s office has partnered with the Cambridge Women’s Commission and Brattle Theatre to host a virtual film screening of the critically acclaimed film, RBG, this Sunday, March 14th and Monday, March 15th. Celebrate the life of RBG and women’s history month! Register here and pay what you feel comfortable with.
And for trivia:
Who can name where in Cambridge the picture below is from?