It’s been a busy time for the city and state – as fall arrives. The city celebrated Indigenous People’s Day this week and is doing more to acknowledge the education that is needed to understand why it makes sense to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day and not Columbus Day. Some confuse a rejection of Columbus as a rejection of celebrating Italian heritage, but nothing could be further from the truth – Columbus was known to be vicious and extremely biased against indigenous people. Italians have a proud history and many are worthy of celebration – and in this area immigrants faced discrimination and prejudice. I was happy to be the lead sponsor of the School Committee changing our calendar – even before the City Council did.
The Science Festival ended last week – I went to the light show which created a form of Borealis in the sky above the MIT open space. We are lucky to have so many great events and thought leaders in the city. The fabulous HONK festival / OktoberFest was back in full force and crowds in Harvard Square and along the HONK parade route were joyous, creative and fun. This weekend, MIT/Volpe is hosting a block party tomorrow, Saturday, for all.
Below are some comments on a few top line items including some comments on some items from the last City Council meeting, water quality in Cambridge, and more. As always, please take care of yourself and take time out to appreciate something, small or large, every day. As the weather begins to change, remember to take some time to take advantage of the beauty of Cambridge!
I recently recovered from Covid – having eluded the nasty bug until a few weeks ago. I was miserable for a while, and grateful that it wasn’t worse, presumably since I am vaccinated and boosted (hadn’t yet had my third). Sooooo Covid is still here and contagion is swift. Please mask up and get boosted.
On Saturday, October 15, MIT is hosting their 6th Annual Volpe Block Party from 11:00am to 3:00pm at Donnelly Field (corner of York & Berkshire). This is a free event for all ages featuring live music, food, basketball, art activities, games, and a dog costume contest.
City Council Updates
First I wanted to touch base on a few items from the last City Council Meeting on October 3 before hitting on a few notes for the next meeting this Monday, October 17.
The City Manager sent a memo that he wanted to hire three new staff people – something I supported, and also raised questions about. I support a higher level person for human resources, since our department is not a state of the art department and it should be.
The first item was the City Manager’s report on the CHA Birth Center, which I motioned not to accept. I made it clear during the meeting that this response is not enough and tends to miss much of the point of the policy order. The best available evidence, health outcomes research, and good public health policy points to the availability of out-of-hospital birthing options for healthy women with uncomplicated births as an important part of a comprehensive health care system. Birth centers help avoid infection, free up hospital beds, reduce unnecessary obstetrical interventions, increase breastfeeding rates, produce cost savings, and lead to long term mental health positive outcomes. Many of these great efforts are undermined by the response by Cambridge Health Alliance’s communication indicating that midwifery services were available at in-hospital locations. As the policy order clearly stated: Cambridge has a clear need for more freestanding birth centers outside of normal hospitals. Birth centers are an essential resource for communities, including women of color who face a disproportionate risk of maternal mortality and morbidity. Hospital settings in many ways reaffirm the structural racism and discrimination in the healthcare industry. We need a better answer from the Cambridge Health Alliance. And if CHA cannot address the staffing issues and systemic failures that have stopped freestanding birth centers from being reopened, then the City needs to do more to step in and rectify this situation. We should not accept as an answer that staffing is an issue, when several speakers offered to help address that issue.
I delayed a vote on a curb cut since I am not convinced we should approve. The house already has a curb cut and wants to expand it. While that won’t affect much parking, it does set a precedent, and it suggests that we should allow a double curb cut. I visited the site, and was distressed to see some trees had recently been cut down where the expanded driveway would be. Even a few feet of less green at the curb matters. I believe a single curb cut is sufficient.
I wanted to thank all the people who called and emailed and organized to support the policy order on Danehy Park’s irrigation system. Thank you as well to the folks who worked to organize the event at Danehy Park. I’ve long been concerned with our tree irrigation efforts in the city. Our tree canopy is essential infrastructure in Cambridge and we cannot hope to support a dense urban canopy without our large park trees. The policy order supports a new irrigation system in Danehy Park since the system has been in need of upgrading for a number of years. In reaching out to staff persons and citizens, it seems clear to many that this issue has persisted for far too long. The policy order also asks for the Urban Forestry Master Plan to be followed. It’s important to remember that the Master Plan, something the Council has already adopted and the City has already committed to enacting, is an excellent resource which, if implemented in full, will undoubtedly help us in our efforts to have a healthy urban environment. As we deal with the worsening effects of the climate crisis, our trees will become an ever more essential part of our mitigation efforts. As we continue to see worsening droughts, the City needs to refocus its efforts and continue to make inroads in our Urban Forest Master Plan. We have to take more action – and be intentional about taking seriously the challenge of addressing the need for a more widespread tree canopy across the city.
The council also discussed linkage fees – and asked for some clarifications before we take a final vote on this important update.
City Council Meeting – Monday, October 17
The meeting next Monday may discuss the linkage fee proposals, since that is expected to be voted this month.
I put in a resolution supporting a bill in the Massachusetts legislature on the refunds the state is about to issue based on a law requiring refunds with certain levels of revenue surplus. The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center have done a stellar job, as always, of analyzing this issue – and expressed many concerns. Their statement is on their website. I, along with Councillor Zondervan and Vice Mayor Mallon, support the bill – even as we recognize that it seems the state legislative leadership is not open to passing the bill. We believe it is important to stand up for our values of fairness and equity, and in our minds, amending the distribution of the surplus would be better than the current proposal.
Vice Mayor Mallon spearheaded a resolution for the council to support the students at Harvard Law seeking to ensure they have the opportunity to study reproductive rights – an important topic for our country. We need educated lawyers ready to step in and defend reproductive rights. I was happy to co-sponsor this policy order.
The substitute order related to updating our rules of the road was delayed for voting at the last meeting. I fully support reviewing our rules of the road, and exploring how to get more compliance and education around them. As regular bikes, e-bikes and e-scooters increase, it is critical that we ensure drivers are following the rules and doing all they can to avoid crashes. Cyclists and pedestrians need to understand their rights and responsibilities. I view this order as a reasonable way for us to go on record for urgent and thoughtful discussion.
I will note that at the transportation committee meeting recently on blue Bikes, I, along with my colleagues, expressed disappointment that an e-bike addition to the network is not yet in place.
Water Quality Meeting – Health and Environment Committee
On Wednesday I chaired a Health and Environment Committee Meeting on water quality in Cambridge. The meeting was held as a direct result of the report we received in April about PFAS levels in Cambridge Water, but we also addressed other issues with Cambridge Water, generally. As many residents know, in August, the Cambridge Water Department made the decision to switch to MWRA Water for the rest of the calendar year due to high levels of PFAS in Cambridge Water. Since then, the Water Department has been working to install new carbon media into their existing filtration system. These carbon-filled filters work to remove dangerous PFAS chemicals. The report we received during the meeting indicated that replacement filter media was in the installation process and that they were on track and that pending testing, they were confident in their ability to begin delivering clean Cambridge Water back to the City. We confirmed that the City will publicize all their testing data once filters are operational before making a decision to return to Cambridge Water.
We also discussed other water quality concerns such as chloride and hardness levels. We have long been hearing from concerned Cambridge residents about quality concerns with their water and we urged the Water Department to begin reaching out to citizens, experts, and businesses in Cambridge to understand how to best filter Cambridge Water for optimal usage. This conversation isn’t over and the Water Department has a lot of work to do, but it was a good start in ensuring Cambridge citizens that their water is of the highest quality.
Please see the link below to learn more about PFAS and how the Cambridge Water Department is approaching the issue. And, one thing the Vice Mayor and I noted at the meeting is the FAQ on PFAS is not as resident friendly or comprehensive as it should be. PLEASE send suggestions for improving it to me and I will pass them on – or send your thoughts directly to the Water Department.
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.
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, or me for any of your City Council needs.