Council Updates, Inquest Report, Recap, And More

A view of IQHQ construction from Linear Park


It has been a busy time on the council, in the city, and of course, as always, in the state, country and around the world. Locally, I attended many events in the last two weeks that spanned broad swaths of Cambridge life: the hallowed halls of Harvard, affordable housing developments on the Charles River, Latin music and culture, neighborhood block parties, and our wonderful parks. There’s a lot to our culture here in Cambridge, and I have felt especially connected to the diversity of our city lately.

Harvard’s Presidential Inauguration was amazing and wonderful, albeit the damp weather. The 30th President of Harvard is President Claudine Gay, an awesome leader, scholar, and role model. She is the daughter of Haitian immigrants and an esteemed social scientist. As a Harvard alum, I’m thrilled to have her. I also heard an interesting panel on confronting climate change as part of the festivities. Cambridge is lucky to have Harvard and Harvard is lucky to have President Gay.

I also attended some block parties, and a fabulous event for Hispanic Heritage month in city hall. I heard great music, celebrated the culture and people, and did… mediocre on a quiz. The groundbreaking for Riverview, an affordable housing development on Memorial Drive was also inspiring this week. We, as a city, do so much that merits celebration and I think it’s important to remember that, even when we have disagreements. I spent some time visiting Linear Park, which is scheduled for a major overhaul – the picture above is of part of the path, and visible in the background is the ongoing construction of the new IQHQ development near Alewife. The plans have generated some concerns among residents of whether the width is appropriate and whether trees will be harmed unnecessarily. More on that below.

On a somber note, yesterday, District Attorney Marian Ryan released the results of the inquest into the shooting of Airf Sayed Faisal. Faisal was shot and killed by a Cambridge police officer during a mental health crisis on January 4, 2023. Since then, the case was taken up by an independent judicial inquest. The results of that inquest are available for the public here. CambridgeDay has also reported on the results of the inquest here. The court found that the fatal shooting was justified and does not constitute a criminal act. DA Ryan has accepted the findings of the court and has filed to close the case without filing criminal charges against the officer. The City administration and the City Council have done a lot of work since January to review policies and procedures to try to understand where we can improve as a city to help prevent violence and improve community response. The work there will continue. As Finance Committee co-chair, I took this as an opportunity to hold a committee meeting to review and better understand our police department budget, how it compares to other communities, and how we can ensure that community safety is prioritized in our budget. This kind of review has not happened in previous years, and I look forward to continuing to work towards this kind of transparency going forward.

I’d like to repeat a reminder about Covid safety as we enter the fall. I know many people who have it – again or for the first time. Updated boosters are available now. Flu season is also here and it’s a good idea to get your flu shot at your local pharmacy. Beginning Monday, September 25, every U.S. household can place an order to receive four free COVID-19 rapid tests delivered directly to their home by mail. To order tests, visit Cambridge residents can also pick up free rapid tests from the Cambridge Public Health Department at 119 Windsor Street while supplies last.

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! There will be no regularly scheduled council meeting on Monday. Our next regular council meeting will be Monday, October 16, 2023.

Below are my notes on a few of the top line items from last week’s agenda. 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.


Celebrating the completion of the renovation of 808-812 Memorial Drive - now known as Rivermark
Local artist, Fabiola Mendez, performing at City Hall for Hispanic Heritage Month
A rainy day at Harvard, celebrating President Claudine Gay

Council Updates

Neighborhood Conservation Districts
At our last meeting, my proposal to keep some limited review (not authority) role for neighborhood conservation districts and the historical commission was voted down. So I voted no on the ordinance changes, despite there being some very positive changes that I support. Without the two amendments supported by the Historical Commission, I could not support the version presented.

AHO 2.0
I’ll mention again that I’ve written about the AHO at length in previous newsletters, so if you want to learn more about how this process has played out over the last year, please take some time to go through those, or reach out and I’d be happy to discuss. Throughout the process I continue to see flaws in the approach and the specific amendments. Despite concerns about process and the specifics, I have continued to work to find consensus and to find a proposal we could all support that met the goals. This week I proposed, along with Councillors Carlone and Toner, what I considered a compromise position that would entail large height increases in the squares and major corridors and some more nuanced height increases across the city to give affordable housing developers more flexibility over market rate developers. 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. Or we would have waited for the promised five year review of the AHO before proposing major changes.

Another change I proposed this week was to retain middle class housing affordability within the AHO, which was also voted down. We need to discuss how to serve people with different needs and levels of income. I’m very concerned about our most economically-challenged citizens and with the many others who are struggling. 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. I proposed (with Councillors Toner and Carlone) setting aside 20% of all AHO projects for middle income. Although everyone at the meeting professed support for the idea, that proposal was voted down as well.

Recycling – Alcohol Nips
On October 25, as chair of the Health and Environment Committee, I will be convening a meeting to discuss recycling writ large in Cambridge. We have a lot to discuss, as the city is planning for an update to our Zero Waste Master Plan. As a part of that meeting, we will also discuss specific measures we can take to reduce waste in Cambridge, including exploring how the city might eliminate single-use plastics including but not limited to nips, bottled water, and utensils. The state has taken recent action to reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles. I have been spending time researching other ways to reduce plastic waste, including limiting the sale of alcohol nips. When I walk around City Hall in Central Square I see how much of our litter is simply plastic nips. The state DEP cannot 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. Six 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. I hope to have a full conversation in committee on this topic so that we can collaborate as a community on how to push this effort forward.

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. 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.

Refillable water station at the inauguration of Harvard President, Claudine Gay

Local Events/Notes

HONK Festival this weekend!
Today through Sunday in Somerville & Cambridge. There are a ton of great events to attend and music to hear.

Participatory Budgeting
The City of Cambridge has announced the launch of the 10th cycle of Participatory Budgeting. The City will allocate a record-high $2 million for this year’s process, which doubles the previous budget of $1 million. The types of projects eligible for funding this fiscal year will be expanded to include capital and operating projects. Participatory Budgeting is a democratic process that empowers community members through civic engagement to decide how to spend part of a public budget. Community members can submit ideas five ways through October 9, 2023. Learn more and submit your ideas on the PB Website. Ideas can be submitted in several other languages.  Here’s the PB Website.

Thank You

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 ( , 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:

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