Council updates – charter review, manager contract, outdoor dining, and more

Trying to take advantage of the last days of summer!

All:

I want to lead with hope, and yet this week brought scenes of wreckage from West Coast fires and floods in the south.  Smoke from those fires fill our own skies.  I have a sister who lives in Portland Oregon and one who lives in Oakland California – both confirm the situation is as scary and widespread and concerning as the news reports show.  And of course it is not only our west on fire – many countries are seeing record-breaking fires and our southern states are pounded by record number of tropical storms and hurricanes.  How can one fathom three FEET of rain – which got dumped on places near Pensacola Florida?  

As always, I encourage you to make sure you’re taking care of yourself.  I need to remind myself to do the same – take a break – take some deep breaths and commit to doing what we can to take care of ourselves AND take some action to counter the despair and act FOR hope.

The pandemic is still with us, and I hope you take advantage of the communication from the city and state about resources, testing, programs, help and information.  If you want any specific information, please feel free to reach out. 

Below is a short recap of the meeting, comments on policy orders for next Monday’s meeting (please weigh in!) and some action items. 

Best,

Patty

September 14 Meeting Recap

We may have set a record with our meeting this past Monday – which adjourned at 2:15 am.  Quite the meeting, and good data point for why the council should have more regular summer meetings (which I advocated for when I was first elected).  We had committee meetings – plenty – in August, but no regular full council meetings – hence a long agenda. The highlights of the meeting included a passing to a second reading of the Affordable Housing Overlay.  The vote was 7-2, with Councillor Carlone and I voting NO and the other 7 members voting YES.  My full statement.  

Also at the meeting, there was a lot of public comment on the need to conclude artists and arts organizations in the list of those eligible for help from the Mayor’s Disaster Relief fund.  I fully supported the request, acknowledging that the original intent was to help individuals.  The heartfelt testimony from many artists reminded all of us of the importance to adjust as circumstances warrant.  I want to recognize Vice Mayor Mallon for her leadership.  She has worked for a long time in so many ways on helping the arts community, and as I say often, the arts are the heart and soul of a community. The order, which had been submitted for the July 27 meeting, but was held up through a charter right, passed on Monday.  

We also voted to extend the City Manager’s contract which unfortunately was an example of the council failing in our job – not only did we never review the CM, which is in the contract, we also never met to discuss potential terms.  Despite a commitment to convene the full council, somehow the process ended up with a request to pass an extension without full understanding of the terms. I voted for the contract, but was uncomfortable that during the meeting many councillors including myself were asking questions and trying to understand what had happened.  I fault myself for not asking why we never had an executive session as a body to discuss a possible contract.  See below for my response, which was to file for reconsideration of the vote, so we could all be sure that we understood it, and the appropriate process was followed. 

Upcoming meetings

Special meeting of the Council to discuss the city charter – September 23rd at 5:30pm! It’s happening! This meeting is an opportunity for all of Cambridge including the council to learn how we could change our form of government.  After thinking for many years that we owed it to ourselves to consider whether there was a better way to organize our city government, I submitted a policy order for the summer meeting asking for the Council to invite representatives from the Collins Center to present on our charter and the process of charter review. The Mayor was quick to set up a date and schedule this hearing – I am very much looking forward to Wednesday and to the beginning of a much needed discussion on charter review. I encourage you to watch the meeting – since it will be an opportunity to hear from some very savvy folks what is involved in a charter review, why we might consider one and how a process might unfold. 

Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper Schools Community Meeting (Virtual)

The City of Cambridge invites you to a virtual public meeting to discuss the Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Schools Project on Wednesday, September 23. There will be a video presentation from 5:30 – 6:00pm followed by Q&A from 6 – 8pm.

Unfortunately, this meeting coincides with the special meeting of the council on charter review (seen above). That said, I have been speaking regularly with the deputy city manager about the project and staying on top of the neighborhood concerns.

Council Agenda Overview

Link to full City Council Meeting Agenda
(Information on public comment below)

Communications:

A communication from me on filing for reconsideration – The council’s post midnight vote on a hastily copied document never before seen with inconsistencies was not good governance. The full council had not been involved in any negotiations, or had an executive session to give our input, so the terms were not disclosed to us.  So I filed for reconsideration. A raise on top of cost of living adjustment on a $323K salary that is already far higher than any comparably size city with a AAA bond rating makes no sense to me. In this uncertain time of likely future financial stress, in a pandemic, when many leaders are taking pay cuts or voluntarily foregoing any raise we should be conscious stewards of taxpayer money. Please read the Cambridge Day article about it, and my full explanation in the communication I submitted. 

Policy Orders:

Harvard Square Redesign – This policy order was submitted last week, and charter righted – so it will be voted on this week.  Please send in your thoughts on this idea so the council knows how residents feel.  There is some concern about this proposal – as though the one vision is set in stone and immutable… yet all the order does is ask for action on a pilot basis and then work towards a longer term vision of a more vibrant square in line with best proactive in other cities, both in the USA and the world.  I am excited since I believe with the recent fatality and the pandemic, it is time for a bold new vision for Harvard square that builds on past efforts to make it a friendly welcoming place for all.  I want to work with the business community, the residents, harvard, and bike safety proponents on a comprehensive plan. 

Concord Ave – I submitted this order since I have been hearing from neighbors that the intersection of Concord and Parker has been the sight of numerous crashes in recent years – particularly dangerous for bikers and pedestrians. As you may know, I live just up the road, so I am aware that cars often speed down that hill as they head towards Harvard Square. The pedestrian sign is often knocked over, and there is far more the city could be doing to calm traffic. This order should be a starting point and I hope to see changes asap.

Extended outdoor dining – I am happy to co-sponsor this order, calling for the City Manager to determine the feasibility of purchasing propane heaters to loan to local restaurants this winter and beyond. We all know the effects that this pandemic has had on our local businesses. Many of my favorite places in Cambridge have already gone out of business or are teetering on the edge of survival. I have heard from business owners that while they are struggling to keep their business afloat, they do not have time to apply for permits or funds to purchase materials for outdoor seating. This would be an extremely helpful way for the city to support local restaurants and ensure that people can still eat out as the weather gets colder. 

Charles River Stormwater pollution – This resolution that I co-sponsored puts the Council on record support of requiring large sources of stormwater pollution in the Charles River watershed to obtain permits under the Clean Water Act. Cambridge residents enjoy a multitude of recreational opportunities on and along the Charles – rowing, boating, swimming, fishing, walking, biking, running and more – and we rely on the Charles River being clean and safe to do all of these. In 2019, Charles River Watershed Association and Conservation Law Foundation petitioned the EPA to regulate large properties polluting the Charles River with stormwater runoff under the Clean Water Act – we should support this effort and do everything possible to protect the Charles. 
Additionally, I have been working with numerous neighborhood groups and other activists to close a lane of Memorial Drive to cars to increase the space accessible along the banks of the Charles by Riverbend Park. Lest we forget, that area is PARKLAND! This is a good history of how that former park, much of it donated by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was turned into a major roadway through our city.

How to watch the meeting or sign up for public comment:

Members of the public can watch the meeting on City’s Cable channel 22-CityView or online via the City of Cambridge Open Meeting Portal at www.cambridgema.gov

All public comment will be conducted through ZOOM virtual meetings. Sign up for public comment at www.cambridgema.gov/publiccomment.

You will receive instructions about how to use ZOOM after you have signed up.

If you do not have access to the internet, please contact the City Council Office at 617-349-4280 to have your name added to the list and instructions on how to join ZOOM via telephone.

Restaurants around the city are coming up with more more creative ways to stay safe and open during these times – we need to do all we can to support them!

Cambridge Bike Safety has been doing great work in Cambridge, advocating for a bike network – this call to action is for building out the regional bike network, which will be vital in the years to come. We need to curb emissions as quickly as possible, and building a regional network for people to access on their bike will be a big step in that direction. Read more below: 

In the last few years there’s been a proposal for a bicycle and pedestrian-only bridge over the Mystic River connecting Assembly Square to Everett. This bridge would be critical to allowing people of all ages and abilities to bike to and from Everett and other cities along the Northern Strand Path. The bridge has been almost completely designed but it needs funding to build it. However, things have changed. This bridge depends on funding from the Encore casino, and the pandemic and recession is likely to threaten their ability and willingness to pay for the bridge. Encore has also hinted that they may support a gondola instead, which would do nothing to make biking and walking easier in this area.

We’ve heard that the MassTrails initiative is interested in moving this bridge forward, but things are changing quickly and they need to hear from you right now. They need to hear that the bridge is a very popular idea so that it goes to the top of their priority list. As you can see in the drawing below, this bridge is a critical connector for our off-street paths system.

Please email MassTrails@mass.gov, Mike.Connolly@mahouse.gov, Patricia.Jehlen@masenate.gov and CC info@cambridgebikesafety.org, and tell them that the Missatuck/Mystic River bike/pedestrian bridge is a critical connector between Somerville and Everett and you would like to see them commit to constructing it. If we wait too long to engage on this, the moment of opportunity may pass and this bridge might not get built anytime soon.

Participatory Budgeting is back – though in a limited capacity this year. Still, this initiative is a great way to have direct input on the dollars the city spends. Tell us how you would spend $500,000 on capital projects to improve the community by September 30th!

As always, feel free to reach out to me directly.