Council Updates:  Two years into pandemic – relief yet concern


I cannot start this newsletter without a somber note of acknowledgement of the war in Ukraine putting millions of innocent people at risk by an autocratic evil President. We should also acknowledge there is another major war of similar evil waged by Ethiopia against Tigray which is not in the news, but just as tragic. And likely other conflicts. Not an easy time to breathe deeply and stay centered… and with a US Senator calling for Putin’s assassination, which is against international law, my head is spinning.

Meanwhile, on the home front here in Cambridge, there is a lot going on. The City Manager search is ramping up and it is very exciting to have a draft leadership profile which will be finalized next week. The feedback from the community was inspiring – there is an appreciation for Cambridge’s solid status as a wonderful place to live and a sense that we can do better – and with a new leader the city can fulfill our potential. We have done a lot in the area of affordable housing, which should continue, and now we need to have an equally robust response to the climate crisis. We have also worked to be more inclusive and responsive to the community – we can build on that work with a culture shift.

On the personal front, I am honored that I will be receiving a legislative award from the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston – at a virtual event next Thursday.  I am grateful for the recognition from an organization I respect and admire. Tune in if you can – register here for the virtual event. The list of recipients is impressive and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be in that group. 

Below are some short summaries of some of the important meetings from last week and some previews for next week. The city is moving forward with allocation of the $88 million in federal ARPA funds Cambridge has been allotted. At a Finance Committee meeting this week (more below) the council discussed this welcome addition to city finances.

Last night I participated in a webinar organized by Newton City Councilor and Charles River Watershed Assn. ED Emily Norton on the initiative to have warning labels on all gas pumps. We heard from Sweden’s representative – where a much more informative label is on all gas pumps. My wish is that every product we buy has easily accessible, readable information on emissions impact and origin. We’re a long way from that – but we all deserve to know. 

The question of how to manage the bike lane rollout while understanding the needs of small businesses and residents concerned about the loss of parking that has been proposed is still controversial. The City Manager has a communication on the agenda for next week explaining that the project in Porter Square is moving forward, although the staff has determined there is a need for a little more time. The question of how to proceed thoughtfully will continue to be asked – I hope that the divisions and splits can be less tense. 

As always, a lot going on, I continue to be busy working on a range of issues. I am grateful that we are in a different place with the pandemic – although I am acutely aware that it is still a challenge in many ways. Cases continue, and the future of variants is completely unknown. We are coming onto the two year anniversary of the lockdowns and shutdowns that upended all of our lives. Take care of yourself, know that mental health is important to take seriously for you and yours.



Last Week’s Update:
H&E Committee Meeting – On Monday, March 1st, the Health & Environment Committee convened to receive an update on the Net Zero Action Plan. As the Chair of this committee, I have worked closely with members of the CDD regarding the NZAP and the city’s climate actions. At the meeting, CDD gave a presentation on the 2021 NZAP update, including the 5-year action plan review, Task Force progress, emission trends, NZAP actions, projected impacts, and more. After the presentation, committee discussion mostly asked questions about specifics of certain actions and explored the possibility of raising net-zero deadlines to 2035. I am 100% in favor of accelerating the timeline for climate actions – the recent IPCC report shows that we have no time to waste.

Finance Committee Meeting – On Tuesday, March 2nd, the Finance Committee met to begin discussions regarding the City’s ARPA funds. Cambridge is slotted to receive $88 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, so as Finance committee Co-Chair I worked with Co-Chair Dennis Carlone to set up a meeting on how the city is planning to spend ARPA funds. At the meeting, the Council heard from the city about the $22 million in funds already committed, and an additional $11 million in anticipated spending. The list of those projects is publicly available, and all are proposed by city departments. That leaves $55 million to be allocated over the next 3 years. As was noted at the meeting, none of the community-based applications for ARPA funding were reviewed, or have been vetted yet by the city. The first step in assessing funding possibility is to review the proposal for compliance with federal guidelines. There are about a dozen projects submitted by the community, and once those are reviewed, the city will make a decision on which to fund. The City Council role is to oversee and monitor, but it appears that we do not have the ultimate decision-making authority on how the funds get spent. We will be scheduling more meetings on ARPA and hope soon to have an answer on when community proposals will be reviewed and decided. 

This Week’s Update:

Planning Board Meeting – Next Tuesday, March 8th, the Planning Board will hear the proposal for which I am the lead, based on working with the neighborhood,  for a moratorium on lab development in the Alewife Quad. As many of you know, the City Council passed a policy order requesting a moratorium on development in the Alewife Quad area until zoning language is completed. The proposed moratorium language requests that no new office or laboratory uses can be built in the area until new zoning is proposed, or until December 31st, 2023, whichever is sooner. New zoning must be created with Alewife neighborhood groups, developers, property owners, planning staff and wider community. Additionally, new zoning should build on work already done – NOT re-study. The multiple plans are starting points, and can jumpstart the process for drafting zoning. Our overall goal is zoning to put in place incentives/requirements to ensure the realization of the vision of a neighborhood with mixed use – the moratorium is to set a deadline. The day after the Planning Board meeting the Ordinance Committee will take up the same question. Please weigh in on the proposal. 

Health & Environment Meeting – Next Tuesday, March 8th, the Health & Environment Committee will meet to discuss proposed amendments to BEUDO – both CDD’s amendments and those proposed by myself and Councillor Zondervan.  The main difference between these two proposals is timeline and intensity: our proposal asks for net zero by 2035 with no exemptions for labs, whereas the CDD proposes net zero by 2050 with alternative compliance opportunities for labs. The community has already heard a meeting on this topic: an Ordinance Committee meeting. However, since there were several questions regarding the differences between the amendment proposals, the Ordinance Committee decided it would be best to refer this item to the Health & Environment Committee for a more nuanced discussion, which will take place next Tuesday. The proposals will be summarized again, and after discussion, there will be an opportunity for public comment.

The regular City Council meeting has a number of items charter righted from last week, including all appointments to boards and commissions. Vice Mayor Mallon indicated that the council should engage in a process of outlining how such appointments will be approved.  I remain grateful to the voters of Cambridge for overwhelmingly supporting the charter change that led to the City Council having the authority to approve or reject appointments. I support many of the individuals proposed for appointment and reappointment – and I support the Vice Mayor’s suggestion that the Council take some time on the process.

The other items on the agenda of possible interest include some funding, some responses to reports and some substantive communications. Included is an update on the search for a new City Clerk – spread the word to any candidates for this great job. And a report on the contentious question of how to ensure city contracts meet international human rights standards: the summary is that there are so many ways to define human rights that how to implement such a change cannot be done without more specificity. The report on the bike lane implementation anticipates taking a little more time to do Porter Square: some will want much more time and others will decry any delay, so there will be more discussion on this issue. Once again, we are buying a new vehicle that is not an EV – although it is a hybrid, I will be asking why not an EV. 

Other City News:
End of the Mask Mandate: Due to improvement in Cambridge’s COVID metrics over the past month, the city will lift the indoor mask mandate on Sunday, March 13th. Many may choose to continue wearing masks, though it is not required. State-wide mandates, such as mask requirements on the MBTA, will stay in place.

New trash barrels are coming!  Standardized barrels, like our recycling bins, will be more rodent proof and better for DPW staff health.  Stay tuned for the arrival to all households this spring/summer.

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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