Council Updates, Community Division, And More

On Monday, the Council is set to vote to phase out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in the next 2 to 3 years. (Photo Credit: Lane Turner/Boston Globe Staff)

All:

I hope you enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday with friends and family. Those of you who follow the council know it’s been a busy fall and I was thankful to be able to take a few days to reflect on the work and spend some time with my family.

I was happy to see that the City announced that the Cambridge Community Electricity (CCE) Program is entering a new two-year contract period with Direct Energy, which starts in January 2024. And, in line with recommendations from the council, the city’s Climate Committee, and many advocates, the standard will have higher % renewables than Eversource required. The new program prices will be higher than current prices, but prices are lower than Eversource’s basic service price. All three Cambridge program rates (Green Plus, Standard, and Economy) will be less expensive than the Eversource Basic Service rate of 17.25 cents/kWh. Now we need to ensure that advertising and marketing are able to compete with less reputable competitors who have less attractive offers but put much more energy into deceptive advertising that too often convinces low income residents to switch. If you haven’t opted into the 100% renewable option, I encourage you to lock in to lower rates, by utilizing the city-negotiated rates. And check your bill to make sure you are on “Cambridge Comm Elec Direct Energy” as supplier – otherwise you are likely paying more than you should.

On Wednesday, December 6, from 6:00pm-8:00pm the City will be hosting a community meeting following a fatal shooting in Central Square on Thanksgiving. Representatives from all across city operations will share the latest information on the shooting, the investigation, answer any questions, and support will be provided by staff from the Riverside Trauma Center.

This week I attended the celebration of Dr. Carolyn Turk, who retired after 46 years of serving our community. I worked with Dr. Turk during my time on School Committee and was always in awe of her ability to connect with students, her passion for the city and our schools, and her dedication to helping all students – not to mention an ability to remain calm and respectful in the face of adversity and challenge. The city and district are the better for her service and I know she will continue to be a presence and a force in our city. Her celebration brought together people from across the city and the district – including three former superintendents – such is the power and influence and caring of Carolyn.

Below are some comments on a few top line items and a few quick notes for Monday’s 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.

Patty

School Committee Member Caroline Hunter with Dr. Carolyn Turk
Consider signing up for the city's community electricity aggregation program to lock in low utility prices.

BEUDO Update – Lab Buildings
Last week, the council considered an update to BEUDO which would require lab buildings to be constructed to net zero emissions by 2030. As you’ll remember, Cambridge passed ordinance language to become part of the state’s fossil fuel free construction pilot program, which requires all new construction to be completed without the installation of fossil fuels. Currently, labs are exempted from our fossil fuel free building requirement – due to state-required exemptions. It is a complex issue, since some are saying it is difficult or suboptimal from a climate perspective to have labs be net zero now. I support the proposal, and whatever happens, I am glad that we have a strong BEUDO in place.

Bike Lanes and Outdoor Dining
On Wednesday, December 6 from 12:00pm-2:00pm, the Ordinance Committee will meet to look at potential changes to the Cycling Safety Ordinance to ensure coexistence with temporary dining patios and other pop-ups. This has been a complicated issue as temporary outdoor dining facilities have sometimes run into conflict with other road needs like parking access and separated bike lanes.  I remain committed to protecting cyclists and listening to small businesses and working on addressing the needs for small businesses, without compromising cyclist safety.

City Council Meeting - Monday, December 4, 2023

Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers
On Monday, December 4, we will be finalizing (hopefully passing) ordinance language that will phase out gas-powered leaf blowers for residential users and commercial/municipal users by 2025 and 2026 respectively (in line with several nearby communities – Arlington, Belmont, etc). All the information on the ordinance change is available from our recent ordinance committee meeting here. This effort comes out of the work of many in the community who have advocated for this kind of action many times throughout the years in order to protect public health, protect workers, and curb emissions. This issue is important for emission and noise pollution impact on overall public health, environmental justice, and worker safety and health. The timing of this last push across the finish line could not have come at a better time. MassPIRG recently published a report which outlined many of the costs of inaction on gas-powered lawn equipment. The Boston Globe published an article this week on our proposal. I hope our work will inspire further regional action.

Policy Order on the Israel/Hamas War
As you no doubt were aware of, there was a policy order on the agenda for the November 20 meeting about the Israel/Hamas war. That led to hundreds of people emailing and participating in public comment. After hearing from the sponsors of the policy order, I made a motion to end debate on the issue as I did not believe it was in the best interest of the city to continue debate on this divisive foreign policy issue. That motion passed 6-3. We then voted on the policy order where 2 councillors voted yes and the other 7 councillors voted present, neither supporting nor opposing the order. The policy order failed 2-0-7. In the days since, I summarized some of my thoughts on the issue in a letter in CambridgeDay. This issue is sensitive and heartbreaking no matter where you stand on how the involved parties are responding. I hope you will take the time to read my letter. Instead of focusing on a potentially divisive resolution, I would prefer an emphasis on treating each other with respect, empathy and compassion. Let’s put our efforts into listening to and understanding each other’s losses, hopes and perspectives. We, as a council, should model that behavior.

H&Env Committee Meeting – Eversource Electricity Planning
Last week, I chaired a Health and Environment Committee meeting to get an update on plans and timeline for the distribution of electric power by Eversource in the city including the substation in East Cambridge. As a part of the state-required regulatory process, Eversource has received pushback on recent transmission line planning from MIT, which has been reported on in CambridgeDay. We heard from Eversource, City staff, and MIT on the proposed routes and the disagreement. The result of the meeting was a policy order passed by the committee which asked MIT to withdraw its objection to Eversource and the City of Cambridge proposed transmission line route so that the project can move forward expediently. We will vote on the order as a full council on Monday night.

No-Tow Pilot Program Results
The City Manager’s agenda includes a report on the 2023 Street Cleaning Pilot program. In an effort by myself and other councillors to reduce the negative impacts of towing vehicles on residents, the city agreed to conduct a pilot program this year where they would not tow vehicles for street cleaning purposes. That pilot was combined with an increased ticket fee to incentivize residents to continue moving their cars. Now we have a report on the results. There is a lot to unpack in the report and the program is being evaluated on a number of different levels: volume of material being swept from the streets, numbers of tickets, street cleanliness, and resident surveys. It seems to me, based on an initial reading, that the pilot is worth continuing if we can find ways to continue informing and incentivizing residents to move their cars on their own.

Local Events/Notes

There are many events this December – I have highlighted only a few of the multitude of local offerings…

Head Over Heels, The Musical at CRLS
Ludus – CRLS Visual & Performing Arts
CRLS musicals are the best deal around, and for families with children not yet in high school, it’s a great way to introduce them to CRLS and its offerings. I am looking forward to seeing this one, which features songs by the Go-Go’s (hitting my age demographic?).

Holiday Arts Market all December
I always find some gifts at this fair and always try to patronize local artists and small, local businesses. This year there are many markets –  one Dec. 1-3 (today and this weekend) at 650 E. Kendall. Another one in Harvard Square Dec. 15- 17 and 21-23. And at 1 Brattle Square there is a holiday pop-up that focuses on Black Owned BusinessesInman Square is hosting a holiday market Dec 17. And there are likely more… keep an eye out and shop local!

Sparklefest in Harvard Square
Sparklefest is a five-week celebration of the holiday season in Harvard Square that culminates on New Year’s Eve. Many shops are doing events or themes, and there is a giving tree for the community to donate winter gear to anyone who needs it… I will be hanging some scarves and mittens on the tree.

Winter Classic 5K Race
Expect brief road closures and traffic impacts near Central Square and Riverside due to the Winter Classic 5K, which will take place on Sunday, December 3, at 9:30am. The course begins and ends at University Park Commons near Central Square. Learn more here.

Secret Santa for Seniors Gift Drive
Now through Friday, December 15th – Robert W. Healy Public Safety Facility – 125 Sixth St:
The Mayor’s office is partnering with CPD for their annual gift drive. Now in its 17th year, this drive brings gifts and joy to seniors who may not have any remaining family members or loved ones nearby during the holiday season. This program relies solely on generous donations from Cambridge businesses, residents, community members, and Cambridge Police Department employees. Gift bags are organized and distributed to seniors throughout the City on the days leading up to Christmas. Gifts can be dropped off 24/7 at drop boxes in the first-floor main lobby of the Robert W. Healy Public Safety Facility. Click here for more information about wishlists, partners, and more.

Charter Review Committee
The Charter Review Committee has been continuing their work reviewing our city charter and to prepare their report for the city council, the deadline for which is the end of 2023. Their next meeting is this Tuesday, December 5, 2023, at 5:30pm. As they wrap up their work and prepare their report for the city council, I invite you to attend their last few meetings, engage with members of the committee, and discuss your vision for our City charter. All the information as well as recordings of previous meetings can be found on their website. Further, you can submit written comments at any time to be considered by the CRC by emailing CharterReviewCommittee@Cambridgema.gov.

Thank You

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 (phayes@cambridgema.gov) , or me for any of your City Council needs.

You can find all previous newsletters on my website. Please share with anyone you think would be interested: https://pattynolan.org/news/

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