It’s not feeling much like holiday season – but it is here, and one way to feel better is to shop local and support businesses and artisans. I went to the Central Square Popportunity last weekend and got some gifts for folks. I encourage you- if you are buying gifts – to support the businesses we all want to see stay alive. One excellent resource is the Cambridge Local First Holiday guide.
Covid update – Cases are rising, and while the numbers in Cambridge are far better than elsewhere, it is important to stay vigilant and careful and prepare for a winter surge. The news of a vaccine is wonderful – and provides some light at the end of the tunnel – but it is no reason to be lax about the precautions. Take advantage of the Covid testing that the city is providing – and know that even if you cannot secure a timeslot that works for you, they are taking walk-ups and can provide results within 48 hours (usually within 36).
Also, the recent rise means an extension of travel limitations and continued restrictions on in-person visits and interactions. And, be prepared to be cooped up for longer – as the weather gets colder meeting friends for a driveway chat might be less comfortable… I am certainly looking forward to the day when vaccines have been distributed widely enough that we can meet people in person. Until then, let’s all continue to mask up, if you do travel be cautious, and get tested if warranted.
The city has continued to gather resources to help folks suffering during the pandemic. The latest initiative is a $1.2 million fund to help folks with ongoing financial needs to cover rent and other expenses. While we are lucky to be a well-resourced city, there are many families in Cambridge struggling to pay rent and keep their housing. There are hundreds of families who are newly food-insecure. And in nearby cities – Chelsea, Everett, and many other towns and cities, the lines for food banks are long, the need is great – and growing. Please consider giving to those organizations – our family has saved money on activities we no longer do – concerts, dance performances, less driving (so less gas for our gas car and less electricity for our electric vehicle) – we are donating that to organizations serving those not as lucky as we are to be secure with our housing and food.
Council update – I am happy to be pushing forward many of the issues I campaigned on and implementing ideas that many of you have brought to my attention. By staying diligent, applying pressure, holding committee meetings, and following up over and over again, I have seen issues that have been stalled – some for years – start to move forward. Read below for an update on some of these, and keep your ideas coming!
Riverbend Park remains open on the weekends throughout December! Get outside and take advantage of our beautiful riverfront, car-free.
My Recent Committee Meetings:
No one ever said this would be easy…but since I joined the Council last year, I’ve submitted multiple policy orders, held three committee hearings, voted no on the IT Department budget, and grown the conversation around the need for municipal broadband. This pandemic has shown that access to reliable internet for work, education, and enjoyment is an issue of equity. And to live in a tech hub like Cambridge and not have a good option for everyone is a disservice to our residents. While I do not know what a broadband feasibility study will tell us, I believe we must figure out exactly what needs to be done to provide this basic utility at an affordable price. I have been frustrated at the pace that the City has moved, even after the Manager agreed to put out an RFP for this study by this summer we have yet to see it. I pushed to use the draft of an RFP from 2017 (!) and I plan on continuing to push as much as necessary to make it happen.
This productive committee meeting moved the ball forward on an idea that has been circulating for years. I have long imagined a Harvard Square that prioritizes pedestrians and cyclists, gives local businesses space to expand onto the streets and sidewalks and creates a safer, more people-centric environments. This idea is stated directly in the Envision Masterplan: “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 want to make it happen! The council has passed orders in previous years asking the manager to implement a pilot and I wanted to push the idea forward. I recently sponsored another order and held this community meeting to get specifics on what it would look like and when it could be implemented. While the idea of closing streets to vehicles and losing a few parking spots can be scary to some, there are many success stories to point to, including Moody Street in Waltham this summer. They took away almost all of their parking spaces on the main businesses corridor in the city, and when the Traffic Commissioner talked to every business on Moody street affected by the street changes, the verdict was clear: “Restaurant owners say this is why they’ve been able to stay in business.” I believe that we can replicate that success, even if it looks different and we need to get creative. I was happy to hear the agreement from all parties in attendance that this idea is a good one, and that we should be able to see a pilot in the works next spring or summer.
This summer, the life sciences developer IQHQ purchased the 26 acre parcel next to Alewife that contains Jerry’s Pond, creating an opening for us to finally move forward on a project that has been stonewalled over and over. For many years, activists in our community have been working to make their vision for Jerry’s Pond – a publicly accessible, natural sanctuary, lined with bike paths and observation decks – a reality, but GCP, the current owner, showed no interest in making any improvements to the site. The property changing hands presents an opportunity to sit down at the table with the new owner and discuss the myriad possibilities for the future of Jerry’s Pond. The site is the closest green space to over 4,000 residents living in affordable housing along Rindge Ave, and not only is it currently inaccessible, but the fence along the perimeter forces residents to walk on narrow sidewalks along a few of the busiest streets in the city. To remake the space would be to work for environmental justice, and provide cleaner air and access to wildlife that would be beneficial to the entire neighborhood.
I co-sponsored a policy order in July, after the deal was made public, asking for the City Manager to meet with IQHQ regarding their plans for the site. Those meetings will happen and conversations have started. On the council side, I called a NLTP Committee hearing in the meantime to bring the stakeholders together. Next Wednesday, representatives from the neighborhood, community groups, the CDD, and others will all be able to share their hopes for the site, and we can form a plan for working with IQHQ moving forward.
City Council Agenda
A few follow-ups from the last Council meeting:
Collins Center Appropriation – I am thrilled to be moving this process forward, and working with a well respected and competent organization like the Collins Center. They have helped cities and towns across Massachusetts create more efficient, representative governments. We do a great job with many aspects of governance in Cambridge, and we have room for improvement in many. Just as I believe in reviewing (including specific and measurable metrics) our Manager and administrators, our city budget, and the Council goals, I believe we must review our charter. This won’t be easy (we haven’t done it in over 80 years, after all), but I have found many residents to be receptive to this conversation and excited about the possibility of improving our structure of governance. Please let me know your thoughts, and if you have any questions about the process, feel free to fill out this google form that will help me create a FAQ sheet.
At the meeting of Thanksgiving week, a policy order was brought to the council stemming from a comment on a listserv of a neighborhood group. This policy order raised concerns, passions, accusations, and many negative feelings among our most involved and engaged citizens. I noticed that most councilors haven’t wanted to discuss it – yet I have not, (and won’t start now) shy away from directly addressing issues brought to the council. You all hired us and you should expect transparency and openness. So what is the takeaway? The original order conflated two separate issues – support for neighborhood groups and a reaction to a specific comment by one board member of one group. I worked to bring forth a substitute order that was amended to be about supporting neighborhood groups, listening to neighborhood groups, and appreciating their role in the city. A separate order about condemning the individual comment was also brought forth. I supported both orders. However, in my view, it was unfortunate that the original order specifically calling out one comment by one person was brought to the council. Why? Of course, we condemn inappropriate and hurtful language. However, that happens often – yet this was the only time the council publicly weighed in – which ended up highlighting and giving more attention to that one comment made by one person on a neighborhood group listserv. The comment was inappropriate and rightly was condemned. The question is whether the council was right to emphasize it – since there are many inappropriate comments on listservs and social media by residents that deserve condemnation. I believe we should be modeling the behavior of not allowing our anger and frustration to spill out and hurt others. In this case, the individual apologized and even resigned from the organization’s board, and the organization issued an apology. You can read this Cambridge Day article for a good summary. We need to move ahead and work to strengthen our neighborhood ties and groups. And I hope that we stand up to bullying in every form. I will call a meeting on the important question of how the council and the city can support neighborhood groups, upon which we rely for input into decisions.
Monday’s Meeting (full agenda):
There is a petition, spearheaded by the fabulous group Mothers Out Front on green roofs being added to city ordinances. This ordinance is wonderful and long overdue! I am so excited about this proposal! And I know that Mothers Out Front is a fantastic organization started here in Cambridge – I am grateful for their passion, leadership, and action orientation. I’ve long followed the green roofs campaigns in other cities, and am glad our city is now formally considering it. We as a city have to date failed to meet our goals for emissions reduction. This ordinance should help us reach our goals. I will be supporting this petition and will continue to push for us to do all we can to address the climate crisis. We need to be doing so much more – and the green roofs ordinance is an important step for us to take.
[As an interesting sidenote – in 2014 my daughter and 3 friends proposed a green roofs project throughout Cambridge – through the CRLS Glocal project – and their project won top honors – yet they were not given an opportunity to further develop the proposal… so I am especially happy to see this ordinance proposal and can’t wait to vote for it – and support it.]
I am glad there is a policy order asking about plans for a building the city owns. We need to make optimal use of every bit of land we own for the public good. And I have pushed often for an inventory of all city property, so we can assess whether it is being put to the best use. I look forward to this discussion, and to seeing how the property might be used for community economic empowerment – since it doesn’t seem appropriate for housing. The community will be included in discussions, so community needs can drive visions for the property.
Fresh Pond Tea at Popportunity!
And finally, question of the day ($15 gift card on the line):
What President created the original “Thanksgiving” holiday and what was it meant to celebrate?
First to email with the correct answer wins!
Answer to last week’s question about a unique fact about Saturn: it is the only planet that would float!