I hope you all enjoyed my last newsletter, which was a 2023 in review. It didn’t include everything because it’s challenging to capture an entire year in just a few pages, and if was still long… It did paint a good picture of the work I did last year and some of my priorities for this year and this council term.
In the last few weeks I took advantage of some great local cultural activities. Part of what makes Cambridge a wonderful place to live is the deep connection to the arts that runs through the city. Hardly a week goes by without great options for festivals, shows, or other cultural events. Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to see a musical performance at the American Repertory Theater, Real Women Have Curves. Last week I joined a “Community Pint Night” in support of Cambridge School Volunteers, and last weekend I tasted a number of great chocolates at the 16th Annual Harvard Square Taste of Chocolate Festival. The Chocolate Festival was a great event and very well attended. I enjoyed the marching bands, the local chocolates, and the huge crowd. Cambridge is filled to the brim with cultural and community-driven activities, and I urge everyone to find more ways to get involved and enjoy the community, even in hard or stress-filled times. This weekend I will be at Passim listening to Cambridge’s own Alisa Amador, and next week I hope to see Central Square Theater’s play, Machine Learning. I hope you are also able to get out and enjoy many of the great places to visit and see in Cambridge and elsewhere.
On Monday, in lieu of a regular council meeting, the council will have two roundtable meetings. The first, from 3:00pm-5:00pm is to review the results of the 2023 resident survey, and from 6:00pm-8:00pm to discuss budget priorities for next year’s school district budget. I am looking forward to both discussions. Below are some comments on a few top line items and some quick notes from this week’s council meeting. If you have questions or comments on these or anything else I’ve been working on, please feel free to reach out at any time.
Harvard Square Chocolate Festival and Band attracted crowds
The play at the ART was wonderful – joyful, poignant, relevant.
I have spoken with many in the community about Jerry’s Pond and the redevelopment plans by IQHQ. I want to be sure to be clear about my position, so I’ve included a lengthy statement and rationale below. Broadly, I fully support the plan as currently proposed – and it will get even better. It’s important to note that many experts, environmental advocates, and community advocates are on both sides of this issue. We have heard from the property owner that money is not the limiting factor in this development plan and that their experts as well as our own city staff, and environmental consultants, believe that IQHQ is delivering the best possible plan, given the reality of the situation. Again, more detail below – I hope you’ll take the time to read.
On Monday night, the council spent a lot of time debating a foreign policy issue – on endorsing a ceasefire in Gaza. Many have reached out to me saying they believe the council has no role in foreign policy – that we were not elected to weigh in on such issues. I believe that is a legitimate complaint and I support us discussing our role in such debates in the future. For this issue, there was a resolution on the agenda, which was debated and ultimately passed unanimously a resolution calling for an immediate negotiated ceasefire in Gaza. I was able to support the resolution after some amendments were made to the initial language. While I did not support all of the language in the final version, I believe overall it has language that sought to make it clear that the goal is peace. The final language showed compromise among the council over an incredibly divisive and difficult topic that I hope that everyone in the community, no matter how they think about this issue, can recognize and appreciate. The resolution now includes a reference to Hamas as a terrorist organization, which should be non controversial in my view. And it supports a negotiated ceasefire – not a unilateral unconditional one – and release of all hostages. Because of that clear language, and rejection of extremist positions, I ended up voting for the resolution.
I remain saddened and disappointed by the bullying, intimidation, and intolerance shown by those who support a completely one-sided, anti-Israel position. I respect those with a different opinion, but I also heard a lot of misinformation and hate, which I reject and pledge to fight. I hope if this issue continues to be debated that the council and the city can get to a place of community dialogue and sharing of perspective, rather than vilification and intolerance for opposing views. Below is an excerpt of the statement I made on the floor on Monday night – although not word for word.
Councillor Nolan Statement on Ceasefire Resolution, January 29, 2024.
Tonight, the council is considering for the second time in the last few months a resolution which calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. I appreciate that my colleagues have brought a resolution that is very different from the one we saw in November, which I did not feel comfortable supporting. I know they worked hard on drafting a resolution that is not as one-sided as prior versions, which is the kind of thoughtful approach that our city deserves and needs. Despite many of us on the council and in the city believing that complex foreign policy issues do not belong in our business meetings, this issue is before us with a far different resolution. And to be clear, all of us here want peace. All of us want the violence to end and want peace. We may not agree on how to achieve peace – and none of us want any more killing. This resolution acknowledges the pain and complexity of the issue and with just a few small but important changes, I can support this ceasefire resolution.
It has been a very hard few months seeing this issue continue to cause turmoil and trauma in the community. We have seen protests at city council meetings and in the community. There have been demonstrations across the city and the country. I think it’s important to note that those protests are not representative of all residents, but from my point of view, this small group has had the effect of silencing large numbers of residents. And I do believe most residents want a negotiated ceasefire – which does not mean an unconditional, unilateral ceasefire. The resolution presented today thankfully does recognize the painful reality of the ongoing war. Is war horrifying? Yes. Are the deaths of civilians and non-combatants tragic? Absolutely. Are the conditions in Gaza heartbreaking and deserve immediate humanitarian relief? Yes. So what can and should Cambridge City Council do to address the situation? We have no direct authority or role in federal action or in this war over 5000 miles away. However, with many in the city asking for the council to speak up, we are now discussing a resolution which urges elected officials in the federal government to take action to work towards a ceasefire.
I have spent recent days discussing the resolution with people from all parts of the Cambridge community. There have been many conversations and some personal attacks on many people – which is so contrary to our community values and deeply disappointing to see. Sadly, recently, as many speakers have pointed out, bullying has been the norm at protests. Dialogue, learning, and listening do not happen. There is no attempt to understand why many people of many different backgrounds, especially Jews, feel threatened in our city. Too often during these chaotic times we struggle to discuss complicated issues and instead retreat to one-sided talking points, because that can feel easier. It is hard enough to consider one’s own complicated feelings, let alone put those feelings up against someone else’s different and equally complicated feelings. We need to be better than that.
This resolution as currently worded supports peace and asks for steps towards peace. Essentially, it supports the Biden administration efforts and professed goals, which seems like an appropriate step. The Biden administration is actively participating in negotiations to halt the violence and return the hostages. We all know that symbols are important, and yet we all know that having the city council spend so much time on this issue will not help anyone in Palestine. It has already further divided our city, and made people more afraid. No matter what we pass, there will be some criticism from within the community; however, the current resolution does a better job of seeking to stand for peace without playing into extremist rhetoric on any side. There are those who want us to be harsher on Israel and others want us to be stronger in supporting Israel. We need to seek to build bridges and not further traumatize our community. We need to do what we can to not alienate people who either have opposing viewpoints or don’t know how to respond to this tragedy. I don’t know all the answers, and the reality of this war and how it has taken over much of our public discourse is deeply concerning. We, as a city council, won’t have any effect on this war, so it’s even more difficult to grapple with as a municipal body. And yet I believe with just a few amendments, this resolution could get unanimous support. Councillor Toner and I have sent a few proposed amendments that I hope are simple and non controversial. They build on the proposed resolution: adding specific language that Hamas is a terrorist organization, recognizing the uncertainty in the conflict and reporting, and simply stating that we understand foreign policy is not something city councils have any direct authority to change. I hope these amendments will be accepted, and that we will move forward as a city to engage in dialogue with respectful listening and openness to learning.
EV Charging Pilot Program
Last week I sponsored a policy order asking for the city to review the requirements for the EV charging pilot program. Upon referral to committee on Monday, the PO will be discussed in the Transportation Committee. This pilot program, which I pushed the city to implement, allows residents to apply for a permit to charge their electric vehicles across the sidewalk if they meet ADA and electrical safety requirements. I asked for a review of the program and to consider reducing or eliminating the yearly fee in order to incentivize more residents to consider electric vehicle options. We know electric vehicles won’t solve the climate crisis, but on the margins, it is still very important to give residents who need to use a car to get around better options and access to electric vehicles. And by providing better charging options for residents who do not have access to a driveway, as many of our residents don’t, especially renters or lower and middle income people, we can help more residents make the transition to an electric vehicle. As much as we want to and need to support public transportation options and zero carbon transportation options like biking, we know that there are those in the city who still need to rely on cars for a variety of reasons – so we need to make sure that anyone who needs to use a car can have more comfortable access to EV options, including charging, which is a barrier for many considering EVs. I hope in future committee meetings, the council will consider my proposal to reduce barriers and streamline the pilot program in order to remove barriers for residents who want to consider the option.
Municipal Reforestation Program
I sponsored a policy order on Monday in support of a state bill to establish a state-run municipal reforestation program, along with my cosponsors, Councillors Sobrinho-Wheeler and Pickett. If this state bill is passed, locally, it would mean more grant money and incentives for canopy expansion and protection (not to mention additional green job pathways). This isn’t news to regular newsletter readers, but environmental justice and climate resiliency are two of the most important things I do on council, and protecting and improving our urban forest is an essential part of that. This bill represents a unique opportunity to support our own stated goals in Cambridge for climate resiliency, environmental protection, environmental justice, and green jobs creation. The policy order passed unanimously and I hope the state passes the bill.
Volunteer Fair – Feb. 8, 2024
Join Cambridge Volunteers and dozens of agencies serving Cambridge residents, learn about volunteer opportunities that fit your interests, and find a role that’s right for you.
Message on Jerry’s Pond and full statement below:
The background to the proposal is important to understand. The policy order to ask the city to convene groups to consider a change was not something I ended up supporting. For full transparency, this email explains my reasoning and includes my full statement from last night’s meeting below. First, the groups named in the policy order to be consulted already meet regularly and have met many times. No group other than Friends of Jerry’s Pond (FoJP), including groups I respect, Alewife Study Group, Audubon, and Alewife Neighbors, IQHQ, and many residents, had been involved in discussions before the policy order was offered, and none support the FoJP request. That lapse is a key reason I could not support the policy order.
The current plan is very conscious of and sensitive to concerns of environmental justice, localized pollution, site contamination, and adverse public health impacts. Having reviewed the information provided, I also realized that there is not a consensus opinion that the proposed FoJP plan would lead to less ground level pollution on Rindge Avenue, a key rationale presented for the plan. The most extensive public outreach done showed that residents in the neighborhood, including in Fresh pond Apartments right across the street, wanted places to sit and a nice way to enjoy the pond vistas, which the current plan gives. And the city and IQHQ have committed to working on an improved sidewalk along Rindge Avenue, in line with environmental best practice.
I deeply respect FoJP. I supported Jerry’s Pond considerations, studies, and improvements several times and advocated for the city to dedicate ARPA funding in the first round, and for IQHQ to work with the community and to explore and take seriously the idea of an expanded vision of the pond area. I co-sponsored two policy orders related to Jerry’s Pond and advocated for a robust community process and a broad vision for the area.
A lot of time, effort, and money was spent over the last three years exploring visions, plans, and ideas. The end result was that technical, environmental, and engineering recommendations led the city and the property owner, with the community process and every group except FoJP, to accept a revised plan that is now in the process of being permitted. The current plan, which has been vetted and shared in a collaborative inclusive community process, is quite good. Implementation of that plan would be delayed had the policy order passed.
I hope you’ll understand my rationale, even if you don’t agree, and please reach out if you’d like to discuss in more detail. Always open to thoughts and comments.
January 8, 2024 Statement by Councillor Nolan on Policy Order Directing City to Try to Change Jerry’s Pond Plans:
The work around redeveloping Jerry’s Pond has been an incredible example of coordination and collaboration between the owner, a number of neighborhood groups, and government agencies. The work that has been done to date has been collaborative and transformative. It’s important to remember how much the current plan has improved over the last several years – due in large part to the great work of community members, and groups including Friends of Jerry’s Pond, ASG, ANI in collaboration with the property owner, IQHQ, and the city administration. This effort has led to plans that promise to transform the area for everyone in the city. Those plans address environmental justice and have incorporated feedback from the whole neighborhood, including Fresh Pond Apartments. More trees and a dramatically improved pond area and opportunities to sit and enjoy the vistas are already in the plan. And the community asked for some changes – a view of the pond from the sidewalk, a place to sit. Those changes were incorporated and are part of the plan now. And the plan has been submitted for permitting, and this type of major change would require a whole new set of plans, and delay in permitting.
The issue of this policy order is a question of what the council and the city can do above what has already been done to improve upon the project. The most recent IQHQ plan will have a positive impact for the community and fits in with many of the goals cited in the policy order. Many of those speaking up for the FoJP plan may not understand that there have been over 100 community meetings to date. And the process was collaborative and inclusive. More importantly, the proposed new compromise was already considered by the owner of the land, IQHQ, and they do not believe that the newly modified plan now being proposed is feasible, appropriate, or reasonable. And they have no interest in revisiting decisions made.
To frame the issue as an either/or does little to recognize the enormous community input and improvements to the existing plan. Changes have been made to save mature trees, preserve conservation areas, and improve pedestrian and bike access. This project has been an exemplary community-based process. In addition to all the important work by the property owner and neighborhood groups, the council has had three public meetings dedicated to discussing this issue in detail – including roundtable meetings with the property owners, neighborhood groups, and city officials. We are finally in a place where we have found the limits of the agreement. The city has been active and involved, although we don’t own the land and therefore anything to happen will have to be approved and accepted by the property owner.
I am sensitive to the concerns of the city administration and the community groups who have spent hundreds of hours in a collaborative process which they assumed would be the way decisions would be made. It is disrespectful to not follow the process. The groups the policy order asks the city to convene have been meeting for two years. And none of them were involved in the writing of this PO. The passing of this PO and taking those steps could lead to delays with the end result being the same: that the property owner is still committed to their design plan and the city administration still recommends the IQHQ plan.
I also worry about the message that this policy order sends – I don’t want to pass an order that sends a message to community groups and residents that after an inclusive process with over 100 meetings, the city council would ignore the work and ask for an intervention not coming out of the community process. The city and the property owner have been very clear in the most recent meetings that they believe they have landed on the best possible design plan based on their research. There have been complicated and scientifically informed conversations about wind patterns, soil quality, and sightlines, and I believe the city administration and the consultants at the council meetings when they say that this design is in the best interest of the city and the community including a vibrant tree canopy and addressing heat island impacts.
I appreciate all the outreach from dedicated community members around this issue – it’s an issue I’ve been grappling with for a long time. We are in a much better place now than two years ago, because of hard conversations like these. It is time now to respect the work of the groups and thank IQHQ for providing so many community benefits by encouraging them to move forward with the current plans. In light of these issues, I will be voting no on the policy order.
Thank you to everyone for reading. If there are any topics you want me to cover in future newsletters, I’m always happy for the input! As always, please feel free to reach out to my aide, Patrick (firstname.lastname@example.org) , or me for any of your City Council needs.
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