It’s getting close to the end of year and end of this council term.
During the holiday season, our family celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas – and the New Year. And throughout the season I like to spend time attending a number of different community holiday events. Last weekend I went to the Jingle Ride which is always fun, and the weather was warm enough for an enjoyable December ride. A big thank you to the Harvard Square Business Association for sponsoring a break with treats and thanks to the bike organizers for inspiring all manner of festive attire. I also went to the Maccabee pop-up Hanukkah bar at Noir, in the Charles Hotel with my husband, sister, and brother in law. The drink “Ocho Candelikas” was the favorite at our table of 4. The pop-up will be happening until year end – even though Hanukkah ends today at sundown. It’s a great excuse to get out and enjoy the holiday season.
I will head back to Harvard Square this weekend for the Small Business Holiday Fair and the Black Business Fair, both in Brattle Square. Plus, there are plenty of great local shops in all our squares and retail stretches. I hope you focus on local options as you consider gifts for the season. And it never hurts to recycle, so the secondhand stores are great too. While you’re out on the town, keep an eye out for many of the houses in Cambridge that put up Christmas decorations and lights – I have seen a lot of awesome displays so far. If you’re interested, Somerville does a great self-guided light tour and a guided bike tour that I recommend.
As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, there was a shooting in Central Square over the Thanksgiving holiday. This month the city held a community meeting on how to address the concerns of those who live, work, and frequent Central Square. The city heard from the community, and is committed to continuing the work and to build on the already existing studies of the area. There is a lot to love about Central Square and a lot of people who love it and want to improve it. Recently, we have been considering different ways to improve the area, including how to take advantage of city-owned property to transform the space and better provide for residents. You can learn about some recent planning efforts here.
At the last meeting of the term next week the business will include a vote on whether to have all new lab buildings be net zero by 2030. Currently they are not required to be net zero until 2035 or 2050, depending on size. We will also dedicate a lot of time to saying goodbye to three of our colleagues who are leaving office at the end of the term: Dennis Carlone, Alanna Mallon and Quinton Zondervan.
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.
City Council Meeting - Monday, December 18, 2023
City Manager Review
Before the regularly scheduled council meeting on Monday, we will be meeting at 2:00pm to discuss the final City Manager evaluation. This is a process that comes out of a charter change that requires an annual review. As those of you who follow my work closely know, accountability and goal setting are paramount to my work on council. I am grateful to City Manager Huang for agreeing to and working to complete this review process which has not happened for many years.
The City Manager has proven to be an excellent choice to lead our city. He has brought more accountability, transparency, caring, and empowerment to the city and city staff. I remain grateful he applied and thrilled we hired him. There are areas that deserve more attention and concerns that need to be addressed, including how to incorporate input from all residents and make sure the input is considered – not just heard. I’m proud to be working to implement this kind of increased accountability throughout the city.
BEUDO Update – Lab Buildings
This week, the council will vote on an update to BEUDO (Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance) which would require new lab buildings to be constructed to net zero emissions by 2030. 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, but this proposal has the opportunity to close this important loophole. I continue to believe it is feasible and appropriate for us to require new lab buildings to be constructed without fossil fuels, which would help us make good on our promises for reducing emissions. Most people don’t realize that under the current BEUDO amendments the city is still not on track to meet the state law of 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 over 1990 levels. The recent amendments alone only get us to a 25% reduction in emissions citywide, and state law requires 50% reduction in emissions. Which means we need to do more. Sadly, many others do not feel the same urgency. That being said, I do not want to lose track of the significant accomplishment of our BEUDO emissions reductions requirements from earlier this summer, and I want to continue to thank those of you who assisted in that effort. That work was remarkable and our city and our world are the better for it.
I am glad to see an update from the City Manager this week on Municipal Broadband and Digital Equity progress in Cambridge. In March, we received a long-awaited feasibility study on municipal broadband that presented the council with several business models for moving forward on a municipal broadband proposal. This new update is in response to a policy order I filed asking for the city manager to continue working on the proposal. When we are able to further discuss this effort in council, I expect it will be a complicated conversation. Not everyone on council agrees on the necessity of this effort and there are large concerns about the price tag associated with municipal broadband. I am committed to working through those concerns and exploring more of the benefits of municipal broadband – too often we only hear about the prices and drawbacks of such an investment and not enough about the essential benefits of municipal broadband and the costs of inaction. Part of the reason I support municipal broadband is that our commitment to equity demands that we pay attention to digital equity. In today’s world, reliable, affordable internet is as necessary as other utilities like electricity and water. For jobs, education, and life, the internet is a critically important tool for everyone in our community.
We have received a report and recommendation from the Historical Commission related to the plans to transform the BB&N School. I respect the work of the Historical Commission and support them working to ensure that history and heritage are considered in the city and in appropriate building projects. I believe our city is the better for their attention to detail and for the importance of understanding and preserving historical structures. However, in this project, I fully support BB&N’s proposal and do not support the Historical Commission’s recommendation. The Markham building at 10 Buckingham Street has already been altered significantly from the original building. Preserving history is important to me and to our city – yet so is supporting an educational institution which contributes positively to our city and with a long history in Cambridge, which BB&N has. I will be voting no on the recommendation for historic designation for the Markham building and I hope that BB&N will be able to start its project soon. I also recognize there are neighborhood concerns the school should consider – including mitigating construction disruption and addressing ongoing parking issues with parent pick up and drop off. Those are issues which can and should be addressed apart from the historic designation decision.
Police Body Cameras
In response to the tragic killing of Arif Sayed Faisal by Cambridge police in January, and after months of work and reflection by the council, city, and police department, the City Manager has prepared a Surveillance Technology Impact Report to review Body Worn Camera technology for use by the police department. This proposal comes out of dozens of discussions on improving accountability and safety for our police department. I held a Finance Committee meeting in March in which we were assured that body cameras would be included in a FY25 budget proposal. This impact report outlines several product options. The next steps will be to discuss the report and decide whether it makes sense to continue working towards implementation. Body cameras alone won’t solve every issue related to policing; however, they will help with transparency and accountability – of and for police and the community.
Holiday Arts Markets and Local Shopping
Shop Cambridge this Holiday Season and Celebrate Small Businesses. The City is partnering with local businesses and business associations to encourage residents and visitors to shop local. You can view and download maps detailing small business retail and restaurants in each commercial district, and learn about coming events, including:
- East Cambridge/Inman Square: Inman Holiday Market – Sunday, December 17
- Harvard Square: Cambridge-Somerville Black Business Network Pop Up Event December 15 –17
- North Cambridge/Mass Ave: NoCa Blocks Holiday Stroll (Massachusetts Ave. between Haskell St. and Rice St.) – Saturday, December 16, 12-4pm tastings; 4-7pm carolers. Stop by North Mass Ave. for a window decorating contest, carolers, Santa, 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 now January 31, 2024. Their next meeting is this Tuesday, December 19, 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 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.
You can find all previous newsletters on my website. Please share with anyone you think would be interested: https://pattynolan.org/news/