Council Updates – first meeting after summer recess!

The roof deck at Daedalus in Harvard Square is a beautiful place to grab a socially distanced meal – keep buying local!

“No matter what, we always have the power to choose hope over despair, engagement over apathy, kindness over indifference, love over hate.”

— Cory Booker

All,

Dates matter. Today is 9-11, an anniversary that will be – and should be – a somber moment of reflection for our generation. I certainly remember where I was that day – and the range of feelings that wash over me thinking back on that time – fear, grief, confusion, worry, astonishment. And – hope and community. The worldwide support for our country and the victims was truly incredible. The willingness of folks to come together to support NYC and all victims represented the best of us. As we face today’s apocalyptic news of fires raging in western states and in refugee camps in Greece, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and an overdue reckoning with our country’s history of racial injustice, it can be difficult to be hopeful. We must be – and there is reason for hope. The primary in Massachusetts last week, despite challenging circumstances, saw record turnout. Including among all age groups. Police departments which have struggled to acknowledge their deficiencies are starting to change. And some governments and communities – including Cambridge and Massachusetts – have taken action that has effectively tamed if not controlled this coronavirus.  

Let’s choose hope over despair. And as the summer winds down, enjoy being outside – safely, masks on – since we know that outdoors is a path to resilient mental health. I was lucky to sail in Buzzards Bay over Labor Day weekend, with my sailor spouse- a welcome respite from thinking about politics… although I always think of how spectacular it would be to sail there with hundreds of wind turbines providing clean renewable energy – someday.  

As the first meeting after the summer recess, this agenda is a lengthy one. Below are some of the items of interest. As always, please send thoughts and comments and questions on any items.

Patty

Council Agenda Overview

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

Communication #46 – City Manager Contract Extension 
Councilor Simmons, chair of the Government Ops committee, has sent the following to the council: “I propose that the City Council offer to extend the City Manager’s contract to Mr. DePasquale for a period of 18 months, with a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment at signing. The contract would begin on January 9, 2021 and would run through July 5, 2022.”

As I stated publicly at a governance committee meeting, I support renewing the CM contract for one year, since before having a longer extension I believe it critically important to set goals and expectations. We don’t have time to set goals and do a thorough review, in light of the timeframe and the last six months of the pandemic. I am hesitant to vote for any contract longer than one year, since the council has failed in our responsibility to review the manager – which is required per his contract. It is not good governance to not have a formal review – I led the review process for the superintendent my last few years on the School Committee. The step is important, since it gives everyone a chance to reflect upon and discuss the prior year and layout a plan for the next year. I am leaning towards voting for this extension, which is longer than I would prefer, but only by six months. I believe it is time for the city as a whole to consider our form of government – which is why I support reviewing our charter – a conversation which will start with the special City Council meeting on September 23. Having that conversation about our future governance structure feeds into my desire to carefully consider that question before moving forward with a longer extension or a search.   

City Manager Agenda:
Support for the Y2Y Shelter:  I am grateful that the city has joined with Harvard to fund this critical resource for homeless youth.  Started by two CRLS graduates when they were at Harvard undergrads, the Y2Y shelter is an excellent example of our community coming together.   

Tenants Rights and Resources Notification: We know that when tenants understand their rights and work with landlords to ensure that those rights are preserved that evictions are fewer.  We need to do all we can to help tenants in these trying times.

Appropriation of Community Preservation Act Funds: Every year Cambridge allocates the maximum amount of our CPA funds to housing – which is 80%. This year that will by $8.4 million.  The other 20% will be equally divided between open space and historical preservation.   

(Charter Right from summer meeting) – Art Funding through the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund

One of the casualties of the pandemic has been the devastation of our art community, which has been contributing in so many ways to our community and doing stellar work and have made a huge difference. We are so lucky here in Cambridge. This order allows the mayor’s disaster relief fund to be used to support the arts – which was not allowed by the terms of the fund. I was enthusiastic about this idea, and disappointed not to be able to vote on this use of funds at our July meeting – when the motion was presented and delayed by a procedural move.  Nothing has changed in my support. I plan to vote yes and hope the money can be used ASAP. 

Policy Orders

PO #4 – Closing Streets in Harvard Square 
The pandemic brings challenges, struggles, and opportunities, if we chose to seize them. This order asks the manager to close certain streets in Harvard Square to cars (with a recommendation seen in the map below) to create space for more outdoor seating and retail, turning Harvard Square into more of a destination with socially distant opportunities. Cities, including those with a similar climate to Cambridge, such as Burlington, Vermont and Boulder, Colorado, have permanently closed several blocks of central city streets creating open spaces for retail, restaurant and resident strolling; and cities in Europe of all sizes have had success with pedestrianized areas of urban centers – I believe it is time we try it in Cambridge. The Envision Masterplan states, “By encouraging vibrancy on streets in the city’s retail districts, Cambridge can ensure these commercial areas continue to meet the everyday needs of the city’s population. Vibrancy can be fostered both through street design and retail district programming.” 

I am excited about the vision for a transformed square – if we consider bold and creative actions.  I know that the co-sponsors, Vice Mayor Mallon and Councillors Carlone and Sobrinho-Wheeler are enthusiastic about the possibilities and I hope the city takes swift action to start piloting parts of this vision. 

PO #5 – Recovery Awareness Month 
I am happy to co-sponsor this order which recognizes National Recovery Month and asks the City to light up City Hall purple. National Recovery Month is a national observance to commemorate individuals on a journey to recovery and to raise awareness on how substance use treatment and mental health services can enable those with mental and substance use disorders to live healthy and rewarding lives. Throughout Recovery Month, we emphasize the message that treatment is available, and the process of recovery can be effective. 

PO #6 – COVID Vaccine Task Force 
This order asks the City Manager to work with Claude Jacob, Chief Public Health Officer of the Cambridge Public Health Department, to appoint a Vaccine Task Force to develop a plan that keeps equity at the forefront. There is already talk and worry surrounding the distribution of a vaccine and Cambridge and our Public Health Department must have a plan on how the vaccine will be equitably disseminated. 

2020 Cycling Safety Ordinance: I am glad this ordinance, which I supported in committee, is on our agenda to be ordained. The ordinance lays out a specific timeline for creating the Bicycle Safety Network as outlined in the Bicycle Safety Plan over the next 6 years. While improvements are happening at this very moment (quick build on Mass Ave, Mt. Auburn redesign in Harvard Square, and others), this guarantees the full network will be built by 2026.

AHO: The Affordable Housing Overlay, having passed the Ordinance Committee by a 6-1-1-1 vote will be voted on. [Councillor Carlone voted No, I voted Present and Councillor Simmons was Absent] I voted present in the committee, since I was disappointed that serious discussion about improving the AHO, which I pledged to do when I ran, did not happen.  I proposed what I thought would be two excellent and welcome amendments. The first was to require that a small amount of housing to be first offered to middle class folks (20% of the units offered first to for the teachers, custodians, and similar income level residents). The second proposed amendment was to include specific measures of effectiveness. Since the AHO explicitly states that a report on effectiveness is required, I proposed specific definition of effectiveness.  Both were voted down.  As was an amendments Councillor Carlone offered, which I supported and seemed reasonable to me.  I know that people are fatigued, that there are other pressing issues, and this proposal was debated and discussed for months last year.  Still I had hoped for a more robust discussion and a more thoughtful look at ways to improve this well-intentioned ordinance.  I will be glad to have this behind us- so we can look at other measures I believe will be helpful including some elements of zoning I proposed last year which are included in the Donovan petition, eliminating all single family zoning citywide. 

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 https://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.

This is the attachment with my policy order proposing street closures in Harvard Square – I have spoken with business owners, neighborhood groups, cycle safety advocates and others about this plan and there is agreement that this type of closure would be beneficial to the Square. 

Donations needed and Delights to savor

East End House
East End House is hosting a virtual and traditional school supply drive to ensure all under-resourced and vulnerable children in the community will have the necessary school supplies in September and beyond, whether learning in the classroom or at home. See the ways to give and donate here!

Starlight Square
I’ve written about Starlight Square – a project spearheaded by the Central Square BID. The schedule is now available – although many events, since they are mostly free and very small capacity, are sold out.  Check out the schedule and let the organizers know if you want more.  

Playful Art
I love Cambridge, but it is sometimes nice to check out other places…. Anyone know where the marvelous piece of public art (seen above) made from recycled tools resides?  $15 gift card to a local [Cambridge] business to the first correct answer.  [and one thing I love is that the wings are clearly dangerous – since the saw teeth are evident- yet it is still in an accessible public place – since the public is trusted to be careful.]  

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