Council Updates – Happy Earth Day!


Happy Earth Day! Below are a number of events related to Earth Day – I hope you find at least one of interest. As the snow falls today, my first thought was “YAY! We need precipitation to mitigate the drought conditions.” If the snow was sticking, I’d be heading to Danehy with my toboggan….there is no Council meeting on Monday so I’ve written about other happenings below. 

We are still in a pandemic – mask up, be aware of indoor spaces, follow guidelines. And starting on Monday, everyone in Massachusetts will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine! About 20% of Cambridge residents have been fully vaccinated, and while the pause of J&J has meant our North Cambridge Clinic is on hold, our number of vaccinated residents continues to grow quickly. I hope that J&J review shows that it is safe – so we can get back on schedule for vaccinating everyone soon. [I get my second shot Monday.]  

Last week a committee meeting reviewed all the steps taken to address the Covid19 pandemic during the past year by the city. It is a remarkable list – much of what we did is incredibly important and laudable. Many staff members worked, and continue to work, around the clock to address the situation. AND, I hope we assess what we did – review how effective the actions were, and take stock of what worked and what could have been improved. Certainly, the availability of daily free testing was a highlight – something the council and the mayor pushed hard for from the beginning and was eventually implemented. Shared Streets was also pushed for, but that initiative wasn’t successful – yet should not be abandoned in my opinion – it should be reviewed and adjusted for future pilots. For an informative list of steps taken, and some lessons learned, read the meeting material. 

And while we celebrate the spring, the opening up of our businesses and schools, we also must deal with and absorb unrelenting news of a shooting or death by police. As you protect yourself and take care of yourself emotionally, do not become inured to the violence. Breathe, meditate, be outraged, and be active in whatever way you can to stem the violence.   


Trip to DPW:
After extensive meetings with DPW staff about electrifying the municipal fleet and moving away from fossil fuels in all of our city operations, I got the chance to visit DPW in person yesterday and take a tour of the facility. Like most departments in our city, DPW is doing some great work and trying hard to run an efficient operation, while taking into account our sustainability goals. And there is room for improvement. Many of their initiatives are laudable: their effort to transform the staff (DPW has the most employees of any department in the city other than the school department) from mostly older white men who have been around for decades to a diverse staff with better knowledge of current technical trends; the reduction in salting in the winter by using brine before a storm and adding water to their salt mixture; their completely electric bike lane snow-sweepers that can clear the separated bike lanes at the same speed that the roads are cleared. And they do all their work in a cramped and outdated space with a desperate need for more. 

I was happy to be able to see the space – and to continue the conversation on electrifying our fleet. I was unable to vote for an appropriation at the Council meeting this week for the purchase of a bucket truck – the one we are replacing is 17 years old, so I understand it needed replacement. However, the fact that the new one is biodiesel does not make sense, since hybrid electric bucket trucks have been on the market and in use for over a decade. There may not -yet- be an all-electric bucket truck that has been tested – but there are hybrids. On top of that, Cambridge’s Green Fleet policy states that electric, then hybrid, options will be looked at and considered before a vehicle of any kind is purchased. As I stated at the meeting, I don’t believe that policy was followed, and I will work with the city on revising and updating the policy and on working to ensure it is followed moving forward. 

Cambridge RISE – Recurring Income for Success and Empowerment:
I am very excited about the guaranteed income pilot announced yesterday – $500 a month to 120 families under the average income level led by single-parent families. Cambridge is the second in Massachusetts and New England to develop a program like this, and we join other forward-thinking cities across the country – including the leader in this area, Stockton, California, and more recent programs started in Baltimore, Oakland, Madison, and others. RISE was developed by Mayor Siddiqui in concert with Vice Mayor Mallon and Councillor McGovern – I am grateful for their work getting this program off the ground in a short period of time. Many community organizations were instrumental as well, including the Cambridge Community Foundation, Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee, Just-A-Start, the Cambridge Housing Authority, MIT, and Harvard.   

Tree Protection Ordinance
The amended TPO was recently referred to committee where it will be discussed further and likely amended more. The hearing has not yet been scheduled, but I expect it to happen in the next month. Due to Covid and the backlog of committee meetings, the Council was forced to extend the tree moratorium because an updated TPO did not pass before the original moratorium expired. As many of you know, Cambridge is losing its tree canopy at an alarming rate. The upcoming committee meetings will be important ones and I will certainly keep you updated on those conversations. 

Green Roof Petition
Green roofs, similar to our tree canopy, present a huge opportunity for reducing the heat island effect that is worsening each year and acting as a line of defense against climate change. As I have written about in previous newsletters, I have been working closely with Mothers Out Front on their Green Roof Petition which was passed to a second reading this week (up for adoption on 4/26). Unfortunately, there was an amendment made that undermined a big part of the petition. One Councillor made a motion to effectively change the petition from a green roof petition to a green roof or solar petition. Here is why that is problematic: the original petition would force developers of new buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to build a green roof or a biosolar roof (green roof with solar on top), but this would give developers the out to only build solar. Green roofs are not a big ask for private developers when you consider the dozens of cities around the country and world that have this in place and have reported great results. Solar, while an important component of switching our energy source, does not have nearly as many benefits of green roofs or biosolar (solar does not reduce heat island effect, does not capture carbon, does not reduce stormwater runoff – green roofs do). I hope that we are able to amend it back next Monday so that the original intent of the petition remains.

Small Business Grants
I am happy that the City is making available additional funding for small businesses in Cambridge. I have been pushing for additional support and fee waivers because I have talked to small business owners who continue to struggle and say even small fees can be a burden these days. The program will prioritize businesses that have not yet received funding from other programs, and while there is no guarantee that small businesses will secure a grant or receive the maximum amount of funds, I hope we are able to reach the ones most in need.

Earth Day Events!

Alewife Reservation Earth Day Clean-up (tomorrow)! – Thanks to Friends of Alewife Reservation and Green Cambridge for putting on this event. Alewife Reservation, one of the largest urban wilds in metro-Boston, is home to dozens of species of birds, deer, coyotes, muskrats, turtles, and more. After a year of limited cleanups, this sanctuary needs many helping hands to remove trash and debris that have accumulated over the fall and winter. Join tomorrow morning at 10am!

As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice from Colonization to Standing Rock – Join a conversation next Tuesday (4/20 at 7:00pm) about Indigenized environmental justice with Dina Gilio-Whitaker, an Indigenous researcher and activist, who explores the fraught history of treaty violations, struggles for food and water security, and protection of sacred sites, while highlighting the important leadership of Indigenous women in this centuries-long struggle. 

Cambridge Public Library Earth Day Celebration – A great way for kids to celebrate Earth Day over zoom!

Celebrating Earth Day Along the Charles River – As part of the Cambridge Science Festival and to honor Earth Day, there will be a conversation next Thursday (4/22 at 5:30pm) on all that the Charles River has to offer. From the event: Get an update on the Charles River Floating Wetland and the water quality data that has been collected, a look at ways to enliven the river banks, and how we can all contribute to preserving this special asset.

Science Festival – All month is the wonderful Cambridge Science Festival! Activities of interest to all ages.  Check out the array of events and fun and activities every day in April. And especially explore their Earth Day Offerings. Hoping next year the Science Festival will include MY personal favorite – Rocket Day.  [For fun – pictures of my son and daughter at an early (maybe the first) Rocket Day]


(Apologies – I am a bit behind on acknowledging answers the last couple of weeks… will respond to folks sooner.)

A great answer from last week’s question on the emissions from leaf blowers compared to cars: “One hour of operation of a gas leaf blower produces the same amount of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide pollutants as does a 2017 Toyota Camry traveling about 1100 miles. If Cambridge is 4 miles in the longest dimension, that is 275 one-way trips.”

This week’s question: Why might Elizabeth Taylor (seen below), were she still alive, have been happy this week reading the news? 

A reminder:
You can find all previous newsletters on my website. Please share with anyone you think would be interested:

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