Fall weather is here, just in time for Halloween (see below for a few City-sponsored Halloween events this week). Cambridge in the fall is a wonderful place to be. Last weekend was the annual Head of the Charles Regatta, which brings people from all over the world to Cambridge. This weekend, after work I have done, with Vice Mayor Mallon and the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association and Harvard Square Business Association about pedestrianization – there is not the full week we had requested – but there will be a two-day, Illuminated Halloween Block Party from 7-10 pm TONIGHT and tomorrow – in Harvard Square on JFK Street. I will be there and I hope you’ll come to see and experience what happens when we enliven our public ways. I’m very excited for the event and proud of all the work that went into it.
Like many in Cambridge, the heavy news from Israel and Palestine has absorbed me for much of the last few weeks. I was proud to stand with the state’s leaders, including Governor Healey, Sen. Warren, Sen. Markey, Mayor Michelle Wu, Treasurer Goldberg, NAACP President Tanisha Sullivan, on the Parkman Bandstand at the Boston Common two days after the Hamas attack to show solidarity and support to the people of Israel. I have prepared a statement with some of my fellow councillors that I hope you will read. The city council can at times be largely insulated from international politics and foreign relations, but in times of crisis and fear, it’s absolutely essential to show solidarity and speak out against violence where it exists. It’s also essential to ensure the safety of the people within Cambridge, and especially now, Jews who have endured increased antisemitism in recent years within our own country and around the world. I also strongly support Palestinians – many of whose lives are endangered in Gaza and the West Bank. I unequivocally condemn all war crimes against civilians – whether it comes from Hamas or Israel.
On a celebratory note, Harvard Economics Professor Claudia D. Goldin has been awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Economics for her work on understanding women’s labor market outcomes. I sponsored a resolution congratulating Professor Goldin on this historic achievement. Professor Goldin was the first woman to receive tenure in the Economics Department at Harvard, is the first woman and twelfth Harvard professor to win a Nobel Prize in economics, and is the third woman to win a Nobel Prize in economics and the first woman to not share the award with another person. I would urge anyone to read a write up of her work and the context that she was able to unlock, showing the disparities in women’s labor outcomes and the specific effects of marriage and parenthood on employment and income levels. And another resolution I sponsored celebrated the Benjamin Banneker School for being at the top of the state on MCAS – which is inspiring since the results show the way to eliminate achievement gaps – the Banneker students are 90% students of color and 70% low income.
In other news, the City has published their 2023 Clean Fleet Annual Report. As a part of our Clean Fleet Policy, which I have worked over the years to improve, the City is required to prepare an annual report that details City-owned vehicles, outlines progress, and makes ongoing recommendations for improving our mission to reduce transportation emissions citywide. I think this is a good report and may be a good model to follow with other programs. A lot of my work on council focuses on accountability – not only setting goals, but ensuring that we are achieving them; and when we fall short of our goals, it’s important to be clear about where we can improve or make changes.
In lieu of a regular council agenda last Monday, we held a roundtable meeting to receive an update from the City Manager, relevant departments, and community partners on Central Square. If you weren’t able to watch the meeting, I would encourage you to take a look at some of the data presented on crime, along with continuing efforts to support those struggling with homelessness and public space improvements. There is a lot of work to do and the solutions are complicated, but I appreciated the City’s efforts towards a coordinated response and improvement of Central Square for everyone.
I have spent a lot of time the last few weeks preparing for and holding various committee meetings to push forward with long-lingering initiatives. Next week I will be chairing a Finance Committee meeting to receive an update on ARPA funding allocation and Participatory Budgeting, and in the past few weeks I have held Health and Environment Committee meetings on a variety of topics including reducing the use of gas-powered lawn equipment, updating the Zero Waste Master Plan and reducing our use of single-use plastics, and reviewing the structure of the Public Health Department and the Cambridge Health Alliance. I take my roles as chair of the Health and Environment Committee and co-chair of the Finance Committee very seriously and I use those committees to push important initiatives forward and improve accountability.
Below are some comments on a few top line items and a few quick notes from 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, October 30, 2023
Finance Committee Meeting
As I mentioned above, on Tuesday, October 31 at 12:00pm, I will be co-chairing a Finance Committee meeting to receive updates from the City Manager on Cambridge’s ARPA funding and Participatory Budget program. I have heard from many folks in the community that ARPA funding has been delayed to several programs. Distributing funding is very complicated, but I have been pushing the City to move quickly to disperse funds as quickly as possible. This meeting will be a good opportunity for the community to get an update on the status of all the funds. Participatory Budgeting is also a topic I get a lot of questions about as Finance co-chair, and so this will be a good opportunity to get some more public information about the process by which projects are chosen and consider ways to improve the process to better serve the mission of openness and accountability.
Public Health Department – Cambridge Health Alliance
Last week, Vice Mayor Mallon and I held a joint meeting of the Health and Environment and Government Operations committees to discuss the relationship between the City and the Cambridge Health Alliance. As we discovered during Finance Committee meetings in the spring, this relationship is an incredibly complicated one and it has been many years since the council has been able to analyze it. The Vice Mayor and I held this joint meeting to review the existing structure of our Public Health Department and to begin to consider whether other relationship structures might better serve the community’s public health needs. It was a dense and informative meeting, and a good first step in considering this issue. Our next step is to receive some guidance from the Law Department on what options we have to improve the accountability and effectiveness of our Public Health Department. To that effect, I have submitted a policy order for Monday’s meeting which asks the Law Department to prepare a report and consider several questions raised during the committee meeting.
Zero Waste Master Plan and Single-Use Plastics
On Wednesday, October 25, I held a Health and Environment Committee meeting to receive an update from the Department of Public Works on our Zero Waste Master Plan, which is set to undergo a major update next year. As a part of that discussion we reviewed current progress on waste reduction. DPW does a great job at tackling the uphill battle of trash removal and reduction and I was pleased to see that many of our statistics back that up. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t able to continue to push forward. That is why I included in this conversation specific measures we can take to reduce and eliminate single-use plastics in Cambridge. These plastics are destroying our environment and are literally killing us. We know that many of them cannot be recycled and contribute to street and water litter as well as PFAS that get into the ecosystem. While we are doing a great job at reducing waste-per-household in Cambridge, we haven’t been strong enough on eliminating single-use plastics. That is why I submitted a policy order asking for a much needed update on efforts to eliminate various single-use plastics. One other specific topic we discussed was the issue of miniature alcohol bottles. These single-use plastics are disproportionately littered onto our streets and contribute to a slew of public health effects. The state recycling facilities are not equipped to recycle nips due to their small size, so unfortunately every nip sold ends up in a landfill, or worse, on our city streets and in our waterways. Seven communities in Massachusetts have taken action to limit nip sales and have had some success in reducing waste and also improving public health outcomes. I have been reaching out to other communities to learn from what they have seen so that we can develop a plan that works for Cambridge. Part of that plan has to include business owners in Cambridge and I was happy to discuss the issue publicly with several businesses during the meeting. They understood the issues I presented and committed to working with the City to develop solutions. The next step is to work with these owners and collaborate ways to reduce litter and waste from miniatures – I have submitted a policy order to that effect for Monday.
Clinton Street Traffic Safety
As a city councillor in Cambridge, I am committed to tackling the macro problems as well as the micro problems. I am thinking about the existential threats like climate change as well as the close-to-home realities of traffic safety. A group of neighbors around Clinton Street have been struggling with speeding vehicles cutting from Harvard Street to Mass Ave, sometimes at speeds of 50mph. This is unacceptable and dangerous, so I have asked the City Manager to work with the Police Department and the Traffic, Parking, and Transportation department to develop a plan to implement traffic calming measures on Clinton Street. Traffic calming measures help safety and improve quality of life in neighborhoods, and the city has taken many approaches to slow the speed of traffic and increase safety including speed tables, sidewalk neck downs, and roadway markings. I am looking forward to collaborating with the neighborhood and the City to ensure safety.
Linear Park Redesign
I have received a lot of input from residents on the proposed Linear Park Redesign project. I have asked the city to meet with residents concerned about the changes, many of whom have professional expertise in landscape design and all of whom want to see some changes that respect users without compromising our tree canopy. I am glad that meeting happened at my request. I also submitted a policy order which asked the City to reconsider their design plans in light of concerns raised by experts in the community. After a lot of work, my policy order passed 9-0 and we will be continuing the discussion in the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee this fall, before plans are finalized. The Committee on Public Planting is also reviewing the design plans and have had similar concerns to my own. They will be considering some of the updated drawings on November 8. Linear Park is a great resource for our city: it provides much needed tree canopy, acts as an important transportation route for folks who walk, bike, and run, and is also a beautiful park in need of some TLC. It will be an even more important area as IQHQ finishes its project, bringing many more residents and jobs into the area. I have appreciated speaking with residents and experts about the park redesign and I will be working closely with city staff and the community to ensure that any plans for Linear Park prioritize existing trees, more planting, and transportation safety for all who use it.
I’ve spoken to many people over the last few months regarding the amendments to the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO). I’ve written about this issue at length in previous newsletters, so I’ll keep this brief. Below is a copy of my statement on the floor on Monday night. I voted against the AHO amendments, but the majority of the council disagreed, and the amendments passed 6-3.
I recognize these amendments are going to pass. I want to make sure the record is crystal clear that the simplistic message that this vote is an either/or, for or against, affordable housing is deeply wrong and corrosive to our community. Those of us with enough concerns to vote no have a long, solid, and documentable history of supporting affordable housing. And not only supporting: I was the first councillor to propose ending parking minimums, and to end exclusionary single and two family only zones. Votes for which I paid a price. Councillor Carlone developed affordable housing in areas across the city. Councillor Toner, in his short tenure, has already taken a number of votes for housing. I led the moratorium in Alewife that resulted in a zoning that is viewed as a model – after 40 years of delay – and will result in far more housing, including more affordable housing.
I voted against these amendments for a number of reasons. The first: we did not even practice good governance by following our own promise of having a review of the AHO. The review would have shown that most of the 616 units under development now will expand existing affordable housing developments, and arguably all of them could and would have been built without the AHO, albeit perhaps with a little more time and cost. Why not have a review before a major overhaul?
Despite concerns about process, I worked to find consensus and to find a proposal we could all support that met the goals. I proposed, along with Councillors Carlone and Toner, a position with height increases in the squares and major corridors and even across the city to give affordable housing developers more flexibility over market rate developers. We are not afraid of some additional height. That reasonable proposal was voted down by our colleagues. Frustrating, since the affordable housing developers were only asking for some flexibility, which we proposed. And the proponents themselves know that funding is the limiting factor – the zoning changes even when passed won’t change much – but what has changed is the sense in the city that the council doesn’t follow its own guidelines.
Another change we proposed was to set aside units for middle class units – the group our city data shows has had the steepest decline of all SES groups. I’m very concerned about our economically challenged citizens and with the others who are struggling, and unfortunately that also includes people with solid jobs who have been priced out of Cambridge: teachers, firefighters, nonprofit workers, and people on fixed incomes. We have a dwindling middle class that deserves support. Yet our proposal was voted down. And the amendments will do nothing to promote mixed income housing – which is what Cambridge needs most.
Due to the lack of inclusion before development of the affordable housing community and the unfortunate voting down of our reasonable amendments, I will once again vote no.
City Halloween Events:
Cambridge Police Assisting at Inmanween
Friday, October 27, 3pm. Trick or treat at Inman Square shops; 4 p.m. Halloween crafts with Alex Makes Art in Vellucci Plaza; 6:30 p.m. Spooky movie.
Spooky Scavenger Hunt
Saturday, October 28, 1-5 pm. Valente Branch Library, 826 Cambridge Street, Cambridge. Children and their caregivers, join us to seek out some familiar faces hidden across Valente in a seasonal spooky scavenger hunt. This event is recommended for ages 5+. For more information, contact us at 617-349-4015.
DIY Inflatable Costumes
Monday, October 30, 3:30-5 pm. O’Neill Branch Library, 70 Rindge Avenue, Cambridge. Make Do It Yourself costume pieces at the Library. Inflatables use recycled materials to create air-powered wearable creations. Recommended for ages 10 and up. For more information, contact us at 617-349-4023.
Trick of Treat on City Hall Lawn
Tuesday, October 31, 3-6 pm. Cambridge City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Avenue. Put on your best costume and join the Mayor’s Office, the City Manager’s Office, Cambridge Police, and Cambridge Fire for candy, pumpkin painting, and more Halloween Fun. Feel free to attend for as long as you’d like and then continue trick-or-treating around the neighborhood.
Trick or Treat Prep Time
Tuesday, October 31, 3-5 pm. Central Square Branch Library, 45 Pearl Street, Cambridge. Join us in the Children’s/Teen Room to kick off your Halloween. Make treat bags and hear some spooky stories. Have a treat (or two) and share some good, silly tricks (nice ones only, please). Costumes encouraged but not required. All kids ages; under 7 with caregivers. For more information, contact us at 617-349-4010.
Party and Costume Parade
Tuesday, October 31, 3-5 pm. O’Connell Branch Library, 48 Sixth Street, Cambridge. Come show off your scary, silly, sparkly, or magical costume. We’ll march, dance, sing songs, play games, and read some not-too-scary stories. For kids of all ages and their caregivers. For more information, contact us at 617-349-4019.
Halloween Open Houses
Tuesday, October 31, 4-6 pm. at most Cambridge Fire Houses, except at Engine 6, 176 River Street, which is closed for renovations. All are welcome to drop in and visit with the firefighters and check out the apparatus, tools, and equipment. Kids are invited to wear their costumes. Candy donated by Cambridge Brands will be distributed to visitors. Glow sticks will also be distributed and the first 30 children to visit each firehouse will receive a coupon for 1 scoop (kid size) of ice cream from JP Licks. Please keep in mind that fire companies are in service during the Open House and may have to respond to an emergency call.
Halloween Safety Tips
For general Halloween safety, all kids are reminded to wear reflective colors, carry a flashlight when it gets dark, and use extra caution crossing streets. Young children should be accompanied by an adult or a responsible older kid. When wearing a costume, watch for trip hazards, especially on stairs. Allow plenty of clearance if passing a heat source or open flame when in costume. Open flames should never be used as Halloween decorations or costumes. Any treats given to kids should be checked out by an adult. View more Halloween fire safety tips from Cambridge Fire Department. Additionally, Cambridge Police Officers will be out in various areas of the city engaging with people in the community who are out trick or treating on Halloween.
Cambridge Public Health Department is hosting 5 large public flu and COVID-19 vaccine clinics beginning next week. The updated COVID vaccine for 2023-24 is now available and is recommended for everyone aged 6 months and older. Residents are encouraged to register for an appointment and provide health insurance information if they have it. COVID vaccines are covered by most Massachusetts health insurance plans. COVID-19 vaccine appointments for individuals age 12+ are currently available. Please note: CPHD has not yet received COVID-19 vaccines for children aged 6 months – 11 years. They will add appointments for this age group when they receive the COVID-19 vaccine supply. They do have flu vaccine appointments for ages 6 months and older.
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 (email@example.com) , 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/