Happy Fall! First day of Fall is tomorrow and the last few evenings have been a welcome change in the weather. This weekend, however, is another story. With lots of rain predicted for Saturday and Sunday, unfortunately Danehy Park Family Day has been canceled. However, there are many events around the city – rain or shine – and there should be some rainfree times to be outside. I know that the staff worked hard this year and was going to have drinks at the Family Day supplied by large tanks of Cambridge tap water instead of single use water bottles – a fabulous effort that I’ve been requesting for years… we’ll have to wait to see it, but know that the city staff is right there along Gov. Healy in recognizing that single use plastic is dangerous and must be phased out.
There will be no Monday council meeting due to Yom Kippur. G’mar chatima tovah for those observing. I will be at services next Monday. Having Jewish husband, I count myself lucky to have this tradition of reflection and remembrance as part of our lives. This Yom Kippur we will be remembering especially the loss in the past year of my incredible mother-in-law and my oldest sister.
See below for a notice about Participatory Budgeting round TEN! This year the City has decided to double the amount to $2million. Read below to learn how to submit ideas. This program is a great initiative brought to the city by some former City Councillors.
I’d like to give another reminder about Covid safety as we enter the fall. I am over my recent bout around Labor Day, and I know many people who have it – again or for the first time. Updated boosters are available now. Flu season is also here and it’s a good idea to get your flu shot at your local pharmacy. Beginning Monday, September 25, every U.S. household can place an order to receive four free COVID-19 rapid tests delivered directly to their home by mail. To order tests, visit covidtests.gov. Cambridge residents can also pick up free rapid tests from the Cambridge Public Health Department at 119 Windsor Street while supplies last.
As I mentioned, with no meeting this Monday, our next regular council meeting will be Monday, October 2, 2023.
Below are my notes on a few of the top line items from last week’s agenda. If you have questions or comments on these or anything else I’ve been working on, please feel free to reach out at any time.
City Manager Update
We received a Fall Update from the City Manager during our council meeting on Monday. In it, he talked about the FY24 Budget, council budget priorities, which I helped to coordinate and develop as co-chair of the Finance Committee, and an expanded Participatory Budgeting process. More transparency as well as more council input into the budget process were two of my main priorities as Finance chair this term. Anyone who follows my work will know that the climate crisis is always at the top of mind. 2023 is likely to be the hottest year on record, and we need to treat the emergency for what it is. In Cambridge, we can’t control the rest of the world, but we can take strong action to decarbonize locally, develop resiliency, and inspire broader action regionally. These tenants inform my climate crisis strategy for Cambridge. I was happy to see the City Manager highlight the incredible work of the council and the city in that area. Between big actions, like BEUDO, which I fought to take strong action through advocacy and cooperation, and seemingly smaller actions, like the EV sidewalk charging pilot, which I suggested, our city is working harder than ever to make the transformational changes that are necessary to combat the crisis. The work isn’t over, but I appreciate the City Manager taking the time to acknowledge the important progress this term. One more note on the City Manager’s update: I have sincerely appreciated this City Manager’s responsiveness and willingness to take action. Hiring a city manager is perhaps the most important decision a city council can make in Cambridge and I am proud of our decision and glad to be working with City Manager Huang to tackle the issues, big and small.
Gas-Powered Lawn Equipment
On September 13 I held a Health and Environment Committee meeting to discuss a ban on the use of gas-powered lawn equipment in Cambridge. As a part of that meeting, we heard from City staff in DPW and the licensing commission as well as from landscapers and climate and public health advocates. As a result of that meeting, we decided to pass two policy orders. The first policy order asks the City to work with me and Councillors McGovern and Zondervan and stakeholders to develop a phase-out plan for gas-powered leaf blowers. The second asks the City to develop funding mechanisms to help with that transition and the potential transition of other gas-powered lawn equipment. Both orders passed the council unanimously and I look forward to working on ordinance language with city staff and stakeholders. I am pleased that after so many years of pressure and science-based activism, that the City has agreed that we are in a place, technologically speaking, where we can make this important transition. And the financial assistance is an important part of the equation – as I always mention, it’s carrots and sticks. We have the political will in Cambridge to support public health initiatives and decarbonization efforts, but we are also lucky enough to have the money to support those whom these policies affect the most.
I’m still thrilled to have led action on the strong, groundbreaking legislation of the BEUDO amendments passed earlier this year. My efforts on climate continue with this proposed further amendment. The City Council AND city administration have advocated for new buildings to be net zero as soon as possible for years and it’s time we walk the talk. I had hoped that the BEUDO amendments on the table by the city would include this requirement for new buildings, but since they did not, we have the opportunity to do so now – although I personally believe that the buildings should be net zero now – not by 2030. It makes no sense to allow any new fossil fuel infrastructure. We met last week to make some important updates to the BEUDO ordinance which we recently passed. As a little bit of background, when we developed the initial BEUDO amendments, we designed them to work in tandem with the new Specialized Stretch Building Code and the Fossil Fuel Demonstration Pilot – both state actions. During the state process, the City and council advocated for a true net-zero building code and a strong fossil fuel free building pilot. Unfortunately, the state left an important loophole in their programs – namely the construction of new lab buildings. Over time, our BEUDO ordinance will require all large labs to decarbonize, but as the state regulations exist now, new lab buildings can be built using fossil fuels. We are now trying to close that loophole by requiring that all new construction of lab buildings (which are left out of the state fossil fuel free pilot program) must be net-zero by 2030. As we know, building net-zero is possible – and EASIER than retrofitting later! This is an important change we must make to close the loophole and ensure that new buildings are net-zero from the start.
Atlanta Police Training Facility
We deliberated last week on a policy order that condemned action in Atlanta in developing a police training facility, the construction of which would lead to approximately 85 acres of deforestation. Protests of concerned citizens have been met with violence in recent months and have led to a lot of skepticism about the facility. Protestors have been fighting for climate rights, for indigenous land rights, and for civil rights. It is important to ensure that Cambridge holds all its city operations to the highest standards of justice, not just its police department, but in this case in terms of community safety and climate resilience. We can and should also ensure that our police department uses only training facilities that meet our standards for environmental and procedural justice. I did vote to remove a phrase “and similar facilities” since I thought the focus of our statement should be on the Atlanta facility, which is a specific place where it is clear there are deep concerns antithetical to our values. The broader term seems to potentially water it down – and since “similar” wasn’t defined, it seemed that passing it could be problematic – and leaving it up to others to define. If there are similarly situated facilities that are as bad as Atlanta’s, then we could call them out. I was happy the policy order passed on a 6-1-2 vote.
I’ll mention again that I’ve written about the AHO at length in previous newsletters, so if you want to learn more about how this process has played out over the last year, please take some time to go through those, or reach out and I’d be happy to discuss. Throughout the process I continue to see flaws in the approach and the amendments and I will not be supporting them. I am also disappointed that this conversation has gotten so polarizing, and I will continue to do what I can to try to bring the conversation to a more nuanced and collaborative place in addressing the urgent issue of housing. We can do more – even though we as a city have more than doubled our spending on affordable housing – from $13 million just a few years ago to more than $40 million now – which is more than double the goal in our Envision plan. There is more to do – and we can do it without this change to the AHO. We need to understand how the AHO has affected our ability to produce affordable housing in order to determine how to improve upon it. The rear-view analysis has been missing from many of these conversations and it’s important to me to continue to try and get answers.
I was disappointed that my policy order asking that we explore how to reserve some units for middle-income folks was voted down. Our own data shows clearly that the city has lost middle income families – and we have a goal of bringing middle class residents back – yet so far, there has been no plan or proposal to do so. After voting down my policy order, the council deliberated the AHO amendments again and voted 6-3 to send the amended ordinance to a second reading, which means that we will have one more opportunity to consider and vote on the amendments in October. I’m disappointed that several of my colleagues have led us down this path to considering amendments before the review process, but I will continue to work towards compromise and a more thoughtful approach to zoning reform.
Triangle Park Opening Celebration
Wednesday, September 27, 11:00am – 1:00pm. Join us to celebrate the completion of Triangle Park in East Cambridge. This event is free and open to all. Light refreshments will be served. Located at 200 First Street, Triangle Park is a new public park in the Kendall Square area in East Cambridge. The passive park emphasizes trees and tree canopy, and includes over 300 new trees. Triangle Park also includes different types of seating, and a deck that can double as a stage for small performances or community events.
Fluff Festival in Somerville
Sunday, September 24, 3:00pm – 7:00pm (moved to rain date, Sunday).
A Tribute to Union Square Innovation is a madcap festival honoring the invention of Marshmallow Fluff, returning for its 18th year. It celebrates Somerville’s proud tradition of innovation with live music, fluff-featured foods, games, and more.
Job Connector by MIT
The Job Connector by MIT will be hosting a second program for their Introduction to Construction and the Building Trades program for Cambridge residents. This is a 4-week paid opportunity that will provide participants with industry-based technical and career readiness skills. This is a great opportunity to jumpstart your career for anyone interested in the building trades, construction management, real estate development, and other related areas. Applications are due by September 22, and the program will run from October 3 – 26 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30pm-7:30pm. You can learn more by checking their facebook or twitter or by emailing or calling (617-253-7854).
The City of Cambridge has announced the launch of the 10th cycle of Participatory Budgeting. The City will allocate a record-high $2 million for this year’s process, which doubles the previous budget of $1 million. The types of projects eligible for funding this fiscal year will be expanded to include capital and operating projects. Participatory Budgeting is a democratic process that empowers community members through civic engagement to decide how to spend part of a public budget. Community members can submit ideas five ways through October 9, 2023. Learn more and submit your ideas on the PB Website. Ideas can be submitted in several other languages. Here’s the PB Website.
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 (email@example.com) , or me for any of your City Council needs.
You can find all previous newsletters on my website. Please share with anyone you think would be interested: https://pattynolan.org/news/