Council updates – Quad upzoning, city manager search, vaccines

All:

That light at the end of the tunnel is getting a tiny bit brighter…and will continue IF we keep masking up, follow guidance on limiting numbers of gatherings especially indoors and vaccine supplies continue to increase as projected.

On the good news side, the stimulus relief bill passed and vaccinations are ramping up – many of you have gotten a dose. I already received my stimulus relief payment and am lucky enough to live in a house, have a steady job as City Councillor, and went to college and graduate school when student loans could all be paid off before age 40….Which means I will be spending all of the $1400. I’ve pledged to spend $400 on local buying – stores and restaurants (always doing pick up and avoiding third party apps). That leaves $1000 to donate to organizations. While I have supported many local and state and national ones – including urging donations in these newsletters, I can always learn more. My question of the week (repeated below) is: to what organization should I donate some of my stimulus check? 

And further good news, the state legislature passed AGAIN a climate action bill that will move Massachusetts in a good direction – and enable substantive action in many areas. The city will finally be able to adopt a net zero stretch code, and the state will have stronger measures of accountability. The climate crisis and its intersection with racial and economic justice will continue to be a focus of my work. 

The city publishes information about covid and city events – to sign up for the emails related to a subject, click here. For information on Covid19 including news on cases, vaccines, city services, restrictions, etc. click here. As always, contact me with questions, comments, suggestions, ideas, concerns…. 

Hoping we can all see each other and others in person soon. Happy Spring! 

Patty

City Manager’s Agenda:

CMA #3 – Tree Protection Ordinance: FINALLY! The council has suggested language to amend our tree protection ordinance permanently. We have extended a temporary moratorium three separate times – which is not good governance. I am glad we are finally able to discuss specific language. It is a complex topic and will be uncomfortable for some to think that the city will have restrictions on and penalties for some tree removals on private property. With the ongoing and significant reduction in tree canopy in the last decade, I believe this idea is worth supporting due to the emergency we face. 

CMA #4 – Block Sewer and Water Rates:  Our water rates are set by the Water Board, since that is a utility Cambridge owns and operates. Ironically, when usage is down rates can go up – since we own it, we need to cover our fixed costs. I remain concerned that we do not do enough planning, we do not encourage water conservation enough and we have signs on some “forever chemicals” possibly in our supply. I will approve the rates – and ask questions about how to address the ways we set rates, monitor consumption and test our water. 

CMA #5 – Cannabis Delivery Ordinance: I submitted this ordinance last fall, which came out of working with a local entrepreneur and Councillor McGovern to allow delivery from Cambridge based businesses. Right now I can order cannabis to be delivered to my house from an approved seller, but not from within Cambridge – only because our rules don’t allow it. After a positive review, the state law changed slightly in the fall, so the City Solicitor’s office has been working on amending our language and now the planning board will look at it again. I believe we need to move quickly to ordain it, but unfortunately, we have to go through a process before we can ordain it. I am hoping for a quick review. 

Policy orders:

PO #1 – Opposing the use of Biomass: Wood-burning biomass plants are known to release pollutants including fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. The science is very clear that this is a dangerous way to produce energy, and yet there is a possibility that Massachusetts will weaken RPS regulations. If what was proposed in December 2020 by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) goes into effect, Massachusetts incentives would be available for inefficient large-scale biomass power plants. We need to be investing in and moving toward clean, renewable energy, not rolling back standards. 

PO #3 – Making remote participation in council meetings permanent: Covid19 does not have many silver linings, but one is the ability of people not able to get to meetings in person to participate. This order asks that the council review our rules to allow for remote participation in the future. I will support this order. 

PO #5 – Opposing MBTA service cuts: I am glad to be sponsoring this resolution calling to reverse the MBTA budget cuts that will mean worse service and less accessibility for vulnerable residents. One of the cuts in service is to the #1 bus, which was one of the most heavily used buses during the pandemic. The entire MA congressional delegation has called on the MBTA to reverse these cuts, and I hope that Cambridge can help push for a reversal as well. 

From 3/15 Council meeting:

The pilot commercial composting program request passed unanimously. I look forward to something coming forward in the budget for next year.

The proposal asking for the city to consider purchasing of local goods passed – with my amendments to expand it to all time, not only during the pandemic, and to include all local businesses not only stationery stores.

The proposal that the city roll back its re-opening plan failed – I voted against the proposal since I believe the current plan for a cautious reopening is in line with science and public health. The biobot sewage data for Cambridge continues to show low rates, the vaccinations are proceeding, the hospitalizations are at a low rate, and the mask mandate and some capacity restrictions remain in place.

The proposal for the tear gas ordinance passed unanimously and the next steps are for the ordinance committee to review it. 

The next City Manager – beginning the process 

On Tuesday, the Government Operations and Rules Committee met to discuss the initial steps that must be taken to start the search for the next City Manager. For those of you who followed last year, the council voted to extend the current manager’s contract by 18 months, which will end in July, 2022. I pushed for a 1-year extension since the pandemic had delayed our ability to begin a search because I think we are perfectly capable of holding a 6-8 month search with plenty of time for community input and feedback. The council is only at the beginning of discussions around possible charter review and change, which will take several years, which means that no matter what happens with potential charter changes, we will need a new city manager next July. I look forward to discussions about how to define the characteristics of a leader best to move the city forward.

Vaccine updates:

The vaccine timeline was released this week and outlines the rest of phase two and phase three. See the chart above for specifics. Everyone in MA will be able to sign up for a vaccine beginning on April 19th! Eligible residents will need to complete the online form to request to book an appointment at a mass vaccination site nearby. After completing the form, residents will receive a weekly update about their status. Residents may opt-out of their pre-registration at any time if they secure an appointment elsewhere. When an appointment becomes available at a mass vaccination site, the resident will be notified and will have 24 hours to accept the appointment once it is offered to them. If an appointment is not accepted within 24 hours, the resident will go back into the queue to wait for another appointment. Residents who do not have internet access or someone to fill the form out for them can call 2-1-1 to preregister.

As always:

Cambridge Covid Information

Mass Covid Information

On the NW Quad Petition:

At Monday’s meeting, I voted no and the petition did not pass. I am happy that this petition did not move forward and I am disappointed that we were in this position in the first place. While I recognize that since this petition in some form, has been discussed and debated for years, many thought we should be able to move forward. However, the fact that there were so many unknowns and concerns after several years – unrelated to covid19 – was disconcerting. The last-minute negotiating which ensured that the public did not know what was being proposed, the lack of written guarantees in several of the sustainability initiatives, the questions about how the work on Alewife planning was incorporated all added up to me not being able to support it. And as I and others kept saying, this type of process is not how planning for a large chunk of our city should be done. The Quad is already in transition – it will continue to be developed and be completely rebuilt in a matter of years. What excites me is how much potential there is to shape a neighborhood, directly next to transit, that helps create housing and jobs in our city. What worries me is the piecemeal fashion in which we are proceeding – and the lack of intention to follow our own planning documents as the city shapes this area. 

Regardless of what happened with this petition, I remain committed to ensuring that the Quad neighborhood has the following: public space (a school, a library, community center, and/or DPW), ample green space, a commuter rail stop, direct connection to Alewife, and a healthy mix of housing, office, retail, and community benefits. We have an enormous opportunity to build a comprehensive neighborhood – I did not believe that the CC&F petition would necessarily have moved us in the right direction. My environmental concerns, the lack of trust around a bridge, the floodplain, tree canopy commitments, emergency access, large parking garage, and general mistrust of the developer were all reasons that I could not support this petition. I did my due diligence by having multiple open office hours to hear from constituents, multiple meetings with the developer’s team, many conversations with others involved with development and planning, and lots of time spent talking to neighborhood groups (not to mention the numerous Ordinance Committee meetings that the council held). In the end, my list of concerns was too long for me to take the risk of voting for the petition based on hopes that it would all happen as hoped. We need firm commitments.

The solicitor opined that the developer can come back to the Council immediately with a new petition – no matter if it is similar or not – and try to address the concerns that some of us had. I hope that this property is developed soon – it is not something that contributes to the vision of a wonderful neighborhood as it exists now. It would be a loss if they built as-of-right and we ended up with only lab space in the NW Quad area. In any case, no matter what happens, we must continue the work of planning for the entire area – and I believe there is a way to do this thoughtfully.

In lieu of a trivia question…

Send ideas for places I should consider sending money… I will let you know next week what I did.

And remember to always order from restaurants directly and do NOT use third-party apps. I received mail solicitation from caviar – and sure enough, when I looked up the company – they charge restaurants 30% …. Even if you order through them and pick up yourself they charge the restaurant 12%! Order local, buy local, eat local, and keep our community safe and thriving.