The election is here! It ends on November 3. Voting is ongoing – whether with mail-in ballots or at early voting sites, the first reports are encouraging. Turnout is up and people are evidencing their commitment to democracy. In some places (not in Cambridge) people are having to wait in line for hours, and for some ALL DAY, to vote. Although we should salute all the voters standing up for their right, we should also be ashamed that this situation in many parts of the country has evolved – since it is a form of voter suppression and is fundamentally, at its core, anti-democratic. Here in Cambridge, there are six ballot boxes around the city and three early voting sites open every day October 17-30 (and you can drop off your mail in ballot without waiting in line). Map of both.
And the pandemic is here, too. Pandemic fatigue is hard to beat – and we know the only way we can get to full re-opening of our lives, city, schools, restaurants and communities is to keep masking up, stay distant and get tested if warranted. Can’t wait to be able to gather with friends, and travel. I’m sick of being mostly inside, and screen-based meetings. One thing folks in any place can do is walk – outside – and discover delights, even in one’s neighborhood. Whether it’s leaves changing colors or murals in Central Square – get outside and explore.
Below are some notes on the council’s tomorrow’s meeting and some updates from the last meeting.
Send any comments, suggestions, questions. And please send in comments on the policy orders of interest.
City Council Agenda
City Manager’s Agenda:
One welcome element of this week’s agenda is the number of items that are reports in response to a council order – and have been Awaiting Report. I have expressed frustration over the lack of responses to orders that have languished on the Awaiting Reports list, in some cases for years. I spoke about this issue several times, which has been a priority of mine – to demonstrate good governance practices. I am grateful the mayor worked with the city manager on clearing this list. I am happy to report that many of the items have a report. I look forward to more in the future, especially ones that are very consequential, including two related to city-owned lots for affordable housing.
Response on golf course: I had sponsored a policy order asking that the golf course be opened one evening or day or half-day a week to facilitate walking in the outdoors. This report was due in July – and we finally got the response, which is “No”. While not surprised, I am disappointed. I believe the city should continue to explore ways that incredible 70+ acres of land can be used by more people. One helpful part of the report is to confirm that out of golf season the park is open to walkers, runners, and if snowy, cross country skiers.
Updated zoning chart for retail and home businesses: The issue of updating our table of uses in zoning has been under discussion for several years. The Econ. Development University Relations committee, chaired by Vice Mayor Mallon, has worked to finalize the changes, and over a couple of meetings in which I participated as a member of the committee, we put forth a recommendation which the full council will review. It is always good practice to ensure zoning is in keeping with current needs. I support these revisions and also hope that we continue to address any needed changes. One example is how co-working space fits into our current zoning regulations.
On the calendar:
Charter Right #2 on conservation districts, specifically East Cambridge petition. This order which was first proposed at our last meeting asks for changes in the way that conservation districts are evaluated. I fully support including renters in all notices related to changes in a neighborhood. If we are alerting homeowners about something that may affect their home, we can and should alert all residents including tenants. I also support conservation districts, which are tools used as part of city planning efforts to incorporate a range of perspectives on a neighborhood development. As with zoning, the designation can be used to be exclusive, and it can be used for good urban planning. We need to be aware of biases, include more perspectives than is typically included, and be respectful of different viewpoints. East Cambridge has been radically changed over the last few decades. Much of the development has contributed enormously to the financial health of the city, and provided thousands of units of housing. And there is a neighborhood whose residents should also be heard. I am hopeful we can agree to engage in dialogue about next steps for the area.
PO #2: This policy order builds on the work of many groups – and would confirm the council’s support for the PACE program [Property Assessed Clean Energy] which the state legislature created to incentivize energy improvements to commercial properties. Green Cambridge, 350MA, the city’s Climate Protection Action Committee and Envision have all expressed support for PACE. I hope that at some point in the future the state – or Cambridge – can have a similar program for 1-4 family buildings, which are not covered. For now, it would be great for Cambridge to participate. As the order notes, we are behind our goals as a city on emissions reduction and we should use every tool available. This PO is sponsored by me, Councillor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, and Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui.
PO #3: This policy order follows a long-time dream of mine: for the city to look into how much, if any, city dollars are spent buying goods from places that do not adhere to our labor and environmental standards. We cannot control a lot of things – but we can control (within the limits of state laws on purchasing) where we spend our money. When I see a city giveaway – think umbrellas with the city logo or the kites from family fun day – I wonder if the items meet our standards. If we buy them since they are cheaper, it is likely because the manufacturers don’t abide by safe labor standards or sustainable environmental practices. This order asks that we explore how to ensure all dollars are spent safely and sustainably. This PO is sponsored by me, Councillors Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler and Marc C. McGovern, and Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui.
PO #10: this order, sponsored by Mayor Siddiqui and Councillors McGovern and Sobrinho-Wheeler asks the city how our eviction moratorium might be strengthened. With a looming crisis of people facing eviction for non-payment of rent, and the state moratorium expired, and the lack of adequate financial resources for tenants behind in rent, we need to be doing more to prevent evictions. The financial crisis is already hitting families and for those at risk of eviction, the alternative for too many is homelessness. I will be supporting this order.
Council follow ups:
The tax rate – a consequential vote last week – has been finalized. The city is in a strong financial position, and using free cash helped some residents taxes remain about the same. The uncertainty of the ongoing financial demands of the pandemic means that I will keep asking how we are managing – and what else might the city do to help the many residents and some sectors, including retail, the arts and restaurants and hotels, which are suffering.
Last week some policy orders I sponsored passed, and hopefully will be implemented. The I-90 project is still being finalized, and the state is looking at alternatives. However, they are not currently contemplating a lane reduction on I-90. An at-grade design may still be possible, but without a lane reduction more challenging.
Our policy order to allow in Cambridge home delivery businesses for cannabis will move onto the next step. The state is also exploring some changes to definitions of home delivery options, which may affect how we define our ordinance. In any case, I am excited that we will work on an ordinance that will help local, Economic Empowerment applicants.
I keep working on items related to the looming, and ever-present crisis of climate change. The policy order asking the state legislature to pass a net-zero stretch code option for municipalities is something that would make a difference. Call your reps and ask them to push for it.
The Affordable Housing Overlay is now part of our city’s ordinances. As with the first vote, it passed 7-2, with Councillor Carlone and me voting No. As I stated many times, all the research I did was not persuasive that the AHO was sound policy. Now that it is on the books, I hope we can turn attention to other pressing needs – to have thoughtful sensible development in the city, which has been lacking.
Memorial Drive has been closed Saturdays and Sundays – if you have thoughts on whether to extend year round, please let me, the city council, DCR and/or the city manager know.
The city will not sponsor any Halloween events, or give permits for closing streets. Many families will be participating, following guidelines for safe Halloween. Check with your neighbors on who is doing Halloween if you are interested. Personally, I believe it would be wonderful to see kids dressed up and being able to be outside – and gathering the occasional treat via a slide or other contactless method. Too much sugar is not healthy, but being outside and being creative is healthy.
The city continues to have testing sites for Covid which accept both appointments and walk-ins. If you live in Cambridge, it is free. If you don’t, check out the state resource page. And the monitoring of covid continues. Mask regulations are in effect and if you need help, the city has a range of resources.
Why are the graceful and elegant brownstones on Beacon Street in Boston facing away from the beautiful esplanade and river?
If you lived in Cambridge in 1840, where was the closest horse racing track?
First to email me the right answer wins the local gift card!
Last week’s question: where was this photo taken, and why should we care?
The photo was from W.E.B. DuBois national historic site in Great Barrington, MA. We should care since W.E.B. DuBois was an incredibly influential, prescient, intellectual, poet, essayist, activist who spent much of his life in Massachusetts. His ideas reverberate today.