Council Updates – Despite the heat we continue to meet!


It’s another sweltering summer day. Another day when we should SHAVE THE PEAK, meaning use as little electricity as possible from 3 – 7 pm. Otherwise, if demand is so great that every possible source of electricity has to be used – some New England electricity gets generated by coal – which defeats the purpose of us all saving energy.   

I’m working on a few projects – still sorting through the various zoning proposals, including the Affordable Housing Overlay. And seeking to understand how the city can move forward on the range of projects underway – from real estate developments to new programs to slowly reopening our city without risking more COVID-19 cases. It is a delicate balance.

I encourage everyone to check out Starlight Square (photos above) – which opened in Central Square this week. A city parking lot has been transformed into a space for community gathering, outdoor dining and performances. The site will host free performances of a range of types – from dance to spoken word to theater to music. The idea has been around a long time – but it took the dedication and passion and perseverance of the Central Square BID, some companies and the city to bring it to life.   

This newsletter has some updates: school plans for the fall, shared streets, vote by mail, and others. While the council remains on recess, the work continues. Today, at 3pm, the Council is holding a Special Meeting to receive COVID-19 updates from the City Manager – watch here.

Stay as safe and sane as one can these days,


This Week's Hearings:

There are a number of hearings this week on a range of important topics. If you are able to, tune in here. If not, I will provide updates in next week’s email. 

8/11, 10AM: The Economic Development and University Relations Committee: Cambridge higher learning institution’s return to campus plans, policies and health guidance

  • I expect to hear more detail about plans to ensure a safe opening of campuses. Cambridge recognizes that students and staff of universities are an important part of our city and we know that it will be challenging to ensure a safe return of students from all over the country, if not the world.  

8/11, 2:30PM: The Health & Environment Committee: Net Zero Action Plan FY20 progress report

  • This report is critically important, since we need to keep monitoring our progress and must not let the actions lapse.  We know that the ongoing pandemic is made worse by the environmental crisis – so we cannot ignore either. 

8/11, 5:30PM: Joint Round Table – City Council and School Committee on School Reopening Plans

  • This will be a chance for the City Council to weigh in on and discuss the plans that the School Committee and School Department have been working hard on. I expect it to be a thoughtful and productive discussion. The need for hands-on teaching is especially acute for young children and many older students with educational needs which don’t lend themselves to remote/screen-based learning and the initial plans attempt to address that. And yet, the task of doing so safety is still contingent on a number of factors. 

8/12, 2PM: Special Meeting of the City Council – Possible Use of Body Cameras by the Cambridge Police

  • This hearing is a result of a policy order calling for the City Council to hold a hearing on the use of body cameras by police officers. I believe that body cameras are a necessary step towards accountability, and yet I have also heard calls from the community stating that body cameras only further surveille people who are already over-policed. Before we write any policy measures, it is important we get community feedback to understand what the best step forward is. This hearing will provide a forum for us to do so. 

Shared Streets Program updates: 

Check out this cool map and leave your feedback here!

The second phase roll-out adding to the shared streets around Cambridge (seen above) is exciting! I was an early proponent of the idea, and am glad that the city is following through in an attempt to re-imagine our public spaces, including some of our streets. The ongoing pandemic gives all of us at every level of government the chance to consider positive and necessary changes, and one of them is in regards to transit. We can’t “return to normal”, since people are taking the MBTA less and any additional cars on our streets will cause immense congestion and air pollution (which evidence shows significantly increases coronavirus infections). 

That being said, I recognize that the current implementation of shared streets in Cambridge has had challenges. Many cities across the country have implemented shared streets successfully, so what do we have to do differently? I remain supportive, acknowledge the concerns, and hope that we explore ways to improve. The questions I think are very relevant: should the shared/slow streets be centered in retail districts? Should the barriers be more permanent (large planters come to mind as potentially wonderful ways to signal intent)? How can we ensure public transit is facilitated even as we discourage single occupancy vehicle use? How can we measure whether more residents feel safe walking and cycling as a result of the changes? 

The protected bike network that was recently passed by the council in the Cycle Safety Ordinance includes a number of “reduced volume/speed” streets, many of which are the ones rolled out in the shared streets. We need to clarify our goals – which for me include an ability to use the streets as places to have open space. AND we need to gather data to understand if they are working as intended. I urged the city to gather pre- and post- counts of cars, cyclists and pedestrians to understand if the shared streets are changing behavior. If not, we should rethink the implementation of the pilot and improve upon it. That may involve adjusting the streets that are included.  

Vote by mail updates: 

This Wednesday, 8/12, at 5:30pm, the Board of Elections is holding a hearing to discuss all of the components of the upcoming election: changing polling places to ensure worker and voter safety, utilizing new technology to prevent voter fraud, and adding (at the Council’s suggestion) additional collection boxed for early ballots – you can sign up to watch the hearing here. If you haven’t already heard, the council approved a change to FOURTEEN of the existing polling locations. While we expect and encourage people to vote by mail, we also need to be prepared to allow people to vote safely in person.  The changes in polling locations were to move the polls to places with larger spaces so voters can safely distance, and poll workers are more protected.  Several of the new locations are in schools, and the schools will be closed on November 3 for the general election (if they are in session at all on that date).  

Ballots for the September 1 primary have begun to be mailed out – if you requested one, it should come to you shortly.  And there is early voting for the primary also.  Now due to state law changes, Mass. residents can register to vote TEN DAYS before the election – it used to be 20 days.  Please tell anyone you know to register soon for the primary.  And the Nov. 3 election has the same 10 day requirement.  If you are registered, you can vote now.   

School reopening updates: 

Please read the CPSD updates from last week and note the upcoming meetings on reopening (including one joint hearing with the Council, highlighted below in italic):

August 11 |11AM: CPS Staff Q&A Session

August 11 | 3:30PM: Town Hall with Special Education Families, Office of Student Services

August 11 | 5:30PM: Joint City Council and School Committee Roundtable

August 12 | 4:30PM: Town Hall: Spanish-speaking families

August 12 | 5:30PM: Town Hall: Haitian-Creole speaking families

August 13 | 4:30PM: Town Hall: Bengali speaking families

August 13 | 5:30PM: Town Hall: Amharic speaking families

August 20 | 3 PM: Briefing: Summer 2020 Learnings

Inner Mount Auburn Corridor Safety Improvement Project Community Meeting

Thursday, August 20, 2020
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., via Zoom

Based on the feedback provided throughout the public process, the City of Cambridge has finalized the plans for the Inner Mount Auburn Corridor Safety Improvement Project. During this meeting, project staff will share the final plans and give community members the chance to ask questions in advance of the implementation. Before the meeting, community members are invited to review the City’s response to community feedback and documents from previous meetings, which are posted on the project pageJoin the webinar via this link.  

Women’s Memorial on the 19th Amendment Centennial Selection Committee Meeting

Thursday, August 13, 2020
5:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., via Zoom

The four finalists for a public art piece to celebrate the centennial of the 19th amendment which (finally) amended the constitution to enfranchise women will be discussed by the selection committee.  All 4 submissions have some wonderfully creative elements.  I look forward to seeing this project through to conclusion.  I like them all, although I have my two favorites, but I am not on the committee.  This meeting is open to the public, although there is no public comment.  

My favorite historical figure at Mt. Auburn Cemetery – a wonderful place to walk.

This week’s trivia question: Which state in the USA first gave women the right to vote – and when and why? 

Last week’s trivia question: Who broke 4 world records at an Olympics, won several national golf tournaments AND led a basketball team to 3 national titles? 

Answer: Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias.  Look her up – she was amazing… sadly she died young of cancer.  

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