Happy Memorial Day Weekend! The traffic jams in Cambridge during this time of year will continue for the next week. Boston Calling starts today, MIT Commencement is next week for 3 days, and Harvard Alumni days are also next week. I am appreciative that Harvard invited councillors to attend Commencement, which happened yesterday. I got to meet a true rock star: Professor Jennifer Doudna, a Nobel laureate who, with Emmanuelle Charpentier, discovered CRISPR, which has fundamentally changed our lives and our world. And, I got a picture with another type of rock star, Tom Hanks, whose commencement address was wonderful… The graduate student address was also inspiring – by Vic Hogg. You should take a few minutes to watch it if you have time.
Good news continues: the city is formally launching the Universal Preschool Initiative (UPK), and we’re moving forward on making policies more transparent and embedding accountability into reporting. We’re seeking to have more open and transparent afterschool care and meet more of the need for our residents. And, I attended a great event – the DPW annual recognition BBQ. For all our talk of city operations, the DPW is the backbone of what we take for granted: the snow being plowed, the trash being collected, the recycling being pushed, the trees being planted, etc. (less successfully but they at least try to address the ongoing rat issue)… All workers were celebrated, and a few got special awards – the four shown below with City Manager Huang and Commissioner Watkins.
Last week we had the final two hearings of the City’s formal budget process on Tuesday and Thursday. The Finance Committee officially voted to send all the City’s department budgets to the full Council for a final vote, which will happen on June 5. I voted against the School Department budget due to the lack of high standards and a commitment to third grade literacy and algebra for all eighth graders. I also voted, with my colleagues, to send a strong message about the public health department budget cuts. As is being reported, the Cambridge Health Alliance is experiencing yet another year of financial turmoil – and announced the elimination of over 200 positions. I note that deep deficits have happened many times over the last thirty years since the start of the CHA as an entity. I remain concerned about the ways the public health department is managed within the current model. While we all want the health facilities to be financially sound, it is not the City Council’s role to assure the fiscal soundness of a regional health care system. Ours is the public health of our city and ensuring the public health department is appropriately funded.
Below are some comments on a few top line items from the last two weeks and a few events to check out. With the Memorial Day holiday on Monday, we have no regular City Council meeting on Monday. Our next regular City Council meeting will be on Monday, June 5, 2023.
Enjoy the long weekend.
City Council Updates
Cambridge Police Department Policy Orders
At our council meeting on Monday night, we discussed two policy orders related to the death of Arif Sayed Faisal. The first was related to releasing the names of the officers involved in the incident before the state inquest is finalized. The second is related to a charter change to make our Police Review and Advisory Board (PRAB) an elected body. Regarding the first policy order to release the names – had worked over the course of the last few weeks with my colleague, Councillor Toner, to submit amendments to the policy order which requested the City Manager to put forth a policy for the police department which would codify the practice of immediately releasing the names of officers involved in use-of-force incidents. I believe that having this kind of policy in place will yield greater transparency and will help our police department improve its work and its relationship with the community. I believe it’s important to have the policy in place first before taking action with regard to the January 4 shooting, but following months of protests, some of my colleagues decided to vote to apply this kind of policy retroactively. I would have preferred to wait for the results of the state’s inquest and the District Attorney’s report, but I respect the will of my fellow councillors. I am committed to working to bring more transparency and effectiveness to our police department and I am glad that the council decided to accept most of my amendments.
Regarding the second policy order to change our PRAB to an elected body, that policy order was voted down 8-1. Several of my fellow councillors and I had issues with the policy order and how it was brought forward. First, as I begin to think about the idea of an elected PRAB, I am not immediately convinced that having an elected body for police review would be the most effective or equitable way to set up the board. I worry about representation on the board – with an appointed body, the City Manager is expected to ensure that the board is representative of our residents and especially our underserved communities. And, the city council, due to charter change that I led and championed at the last election, now has to approve all appointments. In fact, we just approved some appointments – so I am surprised this idea was not mentioned at that time, just a few weeks ago. An election does not guarantee that. I have concerns about other communities that have moved to elected police review boards, like Detroit, where some critics say their board falls short of its reform duties. In fact, at least 3 members of Detroit’s Board of Police Commissioners are former police/sheriff officers, which in my view, is not appropriate for ensuring unbiased civilian oversight. Furthermore, I cannot support a home rule petition for a charter change that hasn’t been discussed publicly. As we did with the last charter changes, the proper way to consider changes to the PRAB is to include the community in the discussion. A meeting of the Committee on Public Safety appears to me to be the most appropriate venue and an excellent way to hold such discussion and to flush out the merits of the idea. There is a committee meeting on the PRAB set for June 7 – if this idea is urgent, such a meeting could have happened months ago. The entire ordinance establishing the PRAB could be reviewed in light of current circumstances, the culture, and changes over time in many areas related to public safety and community safety. I do not understand why we would put forth this one proposed change as a ballot initiative without a comprehensive, inclusive, and transparent discussion of the PRAB. I’m not fundamentally opposed to the idea of an elected review board, but it seems misguided to vote now to add a ballot question to amend the city’s charter without first discussing the details of what a proposal looks like.
Mass Ave Partial Construction – CSO Update
I’ve had a lot of folks reach out about the loan order for the Mass Ave Partial Construction Project and I wanted to share some of my thoughts about the CSO Update and the loan order specifically. I share concern about the expected cost of $50 million for the Mass Ave project. The city just issued an explanation of costs I had requested – please review. I asked many questions of the city about this cost – I wanted to note some of the important points that may be lost in the top line number. The $50 million is not only spending on bike lanes. The money will be spent on an array of other projects all related to road safety; including pedestrian improvements, better bike infrastructure, traffic signal improvements, utility work that will come up during construction, traffic calming, and also yes, more bike lanes. Some of these improvements will involve removing medians and ripping up underground infrastructure, which explains some of the high cost. Many of the improvements will be aimed directly at pedestrian safety. I have issues with the price tag – which I raised publicly. Too often we find ourselves paying a premium in Cambridge for services and construction that are much less expensive elsewhere – of course this is true throughout city operations, and I have constantly been advocating for better cost management in projects like these. I believe we can do better – although costs are rising for every project in the state.
Regarding the CSO Update and report– I am working to ensure that we have a community discussion about the impacts, and the effectiveness of the plan and implementation. I have consistently advocated for more attention to small businesses, residents who walk all while supporting the extension of a network of bike lanes throughout the city – necessary for safe transit. I have spoken up in our council meeting and in meetings with city administration. This report on the CSO was a timeline update, which is required by the ordinance. It is equally important to conduct a measure of effectiveness and impact. We need to understand how our CSO implementation has been at achieving our goals of reducing cars, increasing numbers of cyclists, driver/biker/pedestrian safety, and others. It will also be important to understand what we’ve learned since the CSO – and how to better implement – and any adjustments that should be made at this point on strategy or on implementation. I have also expressed loudly that we need to improve our communication regarding safety improvement projects. I am happy to report that my suggestions have been followed to some degree – we now are explicit that when we do these changes, it includes impacts on parking – something which was not mentioned before (!). The City needs to be even more transparent about what that means in terms of parking changes, traffic patterns, and timelines. These are all things I will continue to work with the City to improve. And I have also worked with my colleagues to have a committee meeting to address these questions and issues to talk through effectiveness measures.
Alewife Zoning Working Group
After nearly a year of meetings and review, CDD has delivered a report and a zoning proposal for the Alewife Overlay District. We will be discussing the report and the zoning changes at length, so there will be time to unpack all the details, but I am happy to see a zoning proposal which takes into account much of the work of the Alewife Working Group. What is gratifying about having this report and zoning proposal done is that it only happened because the council approved a moratorium on development – which I had sponsored – until zoning was done. After forty years of visions, we now finally have zoning language to review. It is not perfect, but it is a sign of a commitment to take action after decades of inaction on zoning in the area.
Geothermal System Pilot Program
Last summer, Cambridge applied for a grant through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) for their Community Geothermal Heating and Cooling Design and Deployment initiative to fund the design and eventual deployment of community-scale geothermal heating and cooling systems. Unfortunately, when the winners of the grant program were announced, the Cambridge proposal, which was for a community geothermal pilot in Strawberry Hill, was not chosen. Two weeks ago, I submitted a policy order, along with my cosponsors, Mayor Siddiqui and Councillors Zondervan and Azeem, to fully fund that project using City funds. The proposal as submitted was under $600,000 and would allow Cambridge to take a great step to invest in and benefit from a geothermal system in Strawberry Hill. In fact, the NetZero Action Plan and CCWG Recommendations both specifically call for Cambridge to fund and implement district energy solutions like this community geothermal proposal. I was proud to see that the entire council asked to be added to cosponsor the policy order. I will continue to work with City officials to ensure this project is enacted as soon as possible.
Fuel Pump Warming Labels
In 2020, Cambridge became the first community in America to put health and environmental warning labels on fuel pumps at gas stations. The stickers are intended to remind drivers of the impact of using fossil fuels and hopefully consider non-polluting options. Similar to cigarette warning labels, the intent is public education. Now, other municipalities and states are considering labels. A UMASS study is seeking to understand how effective the warning labels are. Please take two minutes to fill out the survey below (It really is just 2 minutes). Please share with your networks!
Memorial Day Weekend Events
There are several City events planned for Memorial Day weekend, which you can find more information about here. Given the college graduation traffic and Memorial Day Weekend events, please plan for extra traffic. The weather looks great this weekend, so try to take advantage of it if you can!
CVC Volunteer Fair – Thursday, June 8th
The 2nd Annual Cambridge Volunteer Fair is on Thursday, June 8, from 12pm-1pm. It will be held on zoom and will be a time-efficient, round-robin of about 30 nonprofits that represent a richly diverse, local volunteering landscape. It’s a great way to get involved in and around Cambridge. It will be held entirely on zoom and it’s free to attend, but space is limited, so please register here.
Charter Review Committee
The Charter Review Committee has been continuing their work reviewing our city charter and to prepare their report for the city council. The CRC currently meets every other Tuesday from 5:30pm – 7:30pm and are actively seeking input from all members of the community. Their next regular meeting will be Tuesday, June 6, 2023 from 5:30pm – 7:30pm. In the coming weeks and months, they will be planning more public outreach events. They have also been working to attend community group meetings to spread the word about their important work and get input from the community. If you are part of a community group and would like to invite a CRC member to your meeting to talk about the work and get involved, please reach out to them via email! I invite you to attend their meetings and events, engage with members of the committee, and discuss your vision for our City charter. All the information as well as recordings of previous meetings can be found on their website. Further, you can submit written comments at any time to be considered by the CRC by emailing: CharterReviewCommittee@Cambridgema.gov.
The CDC recommends use of updated (bivalent) COVID-19 booster shots for better protection against COVID-19 Omicron variants. The updated Moderna booster is authorized for people ages 6 years and older. The updated Pfizer booster is authorized for people ages 5 years and older. Children in this age group are eligible for the bivalent boosters if it has been at least two months since the completion of their primary series or booster vaccination. Please see the link below to learn more about getting the booster and find out where you can get yours.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) , or me for any of your City Council needs.
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