Council Updates: Last Meeting of the Year

Our new kittens!


A whirlwind of a year is winding down. Happy New Year – I do not plan to send an update next week – so likely the next newsletter will be in the new year. I am sure we are all hoping for a better 2022.  I haven’t taken the time to reflect on everything that has happened this year. It’s been trying on so many levels. At every arena, the news often included the descriptor “unprecedented” more times than can be counted, especially for climate related disasters (the fires and floods and tornadoes, rainfall) , COVID-related events (hospitals overwhelmed, deaths mounting, and 400 million vaccine doses delivered) and politics (Jan. 6 insurrection was less than a year ago).  No wonder we are all exhausted, depleted and depressed.  

Taking care of ourselves is important  – and no better time than year end, which for many is also Christmas.  Our family Channukah/Christmas present was two delightful kittens (pictured above) who have joined our ten year old cat (Eloise the Ninja Cat) who is begrudgingly accepting the two dingbat furballs currently racing around our house bringing joy and not an insignificant amount of distraction…. I hope you find joy in some adventure – whether it be a kitten, a walk in nature, a local treat or delight, a visit to a special place, a gathering of friends, a great book, a quiet nook – we all need time to recharge.

Below is a recap of this week’s meeting, some notes on next Monday’s meeting which is the last one of the term, and some other updates/tidbits.



Last Week's Update:

POR 2021 #268 – Fossil Fuel Special Permit Policy Order: I am happy to report that the fossil fuel special permit policy order passed unanimously last week! This policy order requests that the City Manager confer with zoning staff to propose possible ordinance language that will incentivise all new construction to be fossil fuel free (most likely through the special permitting process). This will be a crucial step in the fight to lower the city’s emissions. Thank you to all who wrote in support.

Other votes and actions taken at last week’s meeting can be found on our council meeting page.  Campaign finance reform was on the agenda – but we cannot vote on it until next week when I plan to support it.

This Week's Update:

Policy Orders and Resolutions
POR 2021 #279 – MMDT Fossil Fuel and Prison Free Portfolio Option: Earlier this year, Cambridge passed a policy order that stated that no investment of City funds may support fossil fuels or private prisons. Now, Cambridge is currently working to implement that directive. Cambridge and many municipalities use the Massachusetts Municipal Depository Trust [MMDT] to invest funds they control, yet no current option within MMDT exists to avoid investing in fossil fuel or prisons. All current pools include some investment that fund the fossil fuel industry with 2.5% in energy companies including pipeline builder Kinder Morgan, another 3.1% in utilities including fossil fuel companies, and banking institutions invested in fossil fuels. I have introduced a policy order with Mayor Siddiqui and Councillors Zondervan and Carlone requesting that MMDT creates a portfolio option as soon as possible for all municipalities that has no exposure to fossil fuels or prisons or their funders,  I will also work to get other municipalities to urge the state Treasurer to follow up on this request.

POR 2021 #280- Affordable Housing Acquisitions: While Cambridge has shown a strong commitment to providing high-quality, affordable housing options for residents, most of the time it involves building new units – and most of these options are only rental properties. Of all affordable housing units available, 1 percent are available for homeownership and the rest for rentals. Several years ago the city failed to buy a site available in West Cambridge – the former Tokyo restaurant site – which would have been perfect for affordable housing.  The council at the time was frustrated – and the frustration continues as we see properties snapped up by other buyers.  I have introduced a policy order with Mayor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Mallon and Councillor McGovern to urge the city to consider any available properties and explore opportunities to purchase properties that might be used for affordable housing, and to explore using city-owned sites including parking lots for such uses. Multi-family properties that would make excellent candidates for homeownership opportunity have come onto the market recently — for example, a property on Hancock Street, 22 units for $13.5 million, and a property on Gibson Street, that is already under contract was listed as $10 million for 18 units in a desirable part of Cambridge close to transit. I hope that my colleagues vote to request that the City Manager confer with appropriate departments to ensure multi-family properties on the market are reviewed as quickly as possible as potential affordable housing acquisitions.

POR 2021 #283 – At-home Rapid Test Kits: I was happy to sign on to Mayor Siddiqui’s policy order requesting that the City Manager investigate how we will allocate at-home rapid tests from the state Governor Baker recently announced plans to increase access to at-home COVID-19 test kits by delivering 2.1 million tests to 102 high-need cities and towns in Massachusetts. Cambridge was chosen to receive 43,380 tests and given discretion on how best to distribute tests within the community, with an emphasis on “increasing access for individuals and families who are facing financial hardship.” Therefore, City Manager should consult with relevant city departments, the Cambridge Housing Authority, non-profits, and homeless shelters on a plan to distribute the tests.

POR 2021 #267 – Cycling Safety Ordinance Implementation Advisory Committee: Councillors Simmons and Toomey have introduced a policy order requesting that the City Manager appoint a Cycling Safety Ordinance Implementation Advisory Committee to advise and improve on the implementation of the bike safety infrastructure and to establish recommendations on mitigation of any concerns raised. I will support any efforts to establish a balanced, unbiased committee that will best serve the needs and concerns of the community.

POR 2021 #277 – City Manager Meetings Regarding Bike Lanes: Many residents recently have voiced concerns regarding the implementation of the bike lanes throughout the city. In their policy order, Councillors Simmons and Toomey note that the method of implementing the Cycling Safety Ordinance is a choice made by the Traffic, Parking, and Transportation department, and that sufficient outreach to community stakeholders was not conducted. The councillors request that the City Manager convene meetings between his office, the Traffic, Parking, and Transportation Department, and relevant stakeholders to ensure that all bike-safety infrastructure is constructed in a way that takes all community members into account.

The meeting will be the last meeting for Councillors Tim Toomey and Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler. There are  resolutions for Councillor Toomey and Councillor Sobrinho-Wheeler each on our agenda.  I wish them both well and have learned from each, appreciated each, and tussled and argued with each over issues. Overall I am grateful for the chance I had to know them, work with them and I look forward to their continued involvement with our city.  

Other City News:
This week was a groundbreaking for the Tobin/Vassal Lane School project. I’ve written a lot about this project – and have expressed concerns over the loss of trees, the lack of community outreach, the expense, the timeline, the lag in acquiring part of the Armory.  And, as someone who was on the School Committee when we voted to start the school re-building projects, I am thrilled to see the project move forward.  The picture is of city, school and contractor staff all celebrating the formal groundbreaking.

Tis the season! Look for opportunities to shop local, buy local, eat local, support local. A few ideas below:

Cambridge Local Gift Guide: If you still need holiday gifts, make sure to shop local with this Cambridge local business gift guide!

Harvard Square has a number of events including this weekend’s (today, tomorrow, and Sunday) continuation of Holiday Fair.  And SparkleFest is month long.

Jose Mateo is having a craft fair this weekend – free admission to the crafts fair  another way to support folks.

Somerville Illuminations – for our family and many people wandering Somerville during mid – late December to wonder at the houses decked out for the holidays is a delight of the season.  As usual, there are tours – and a bike ride (tomorrow Saturday Dec. 18, rain or snow date Dec. 19) which I plan to attend – so look for me if you go.

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

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