With a heavy heart, I wish all a happy new year. A very heavy heart since our first week of 2023 witnessed a tragedy in our community. As broadly reported, a young Cambridge resident, Sayed Faisal, was killed by a Cambridge police officer on Wednesday afternoon after a confrontation in Cambridgeport. An investigation is being conducted by the Massachusetts District Attorney’s office. Yesterday, friends and family members of the deceased, along with dozens of concerned community members, gathered at City Hall to demonstrate the need for justice and accountability. The grief was palpable and understandable. Mayor Siddiqui and City Manager Huang have begun scheduling a number of community meetings next week and the first item on our City Council agenda for Monday is an update on the incident. I am sure that more information will come out in the following days and weeks about the incident and the forthcoming investigation.
A tragedy like this provokes sadness, confusion, and anger. The community, especially the Bangladeshi community, are in shock. It serves as a reminder that we in Cambridge are not immune to this kind of tragedy. We, as a city, have done a lot to try to create a community and a community response that protects and cherishes the lives of everyone in the community, and yet there are ways in which we fail. All the training and record of de-escalation by the police did not prevent this death of a young college student in distress, now with no future and a family bereft of their only offspring. I know that the community will be grieving for a long time.
In another serious and sad note from this week, Middlesex County is now in the HIGH Covid community level, with guidance to mask and take more precautions. That is no surprise, since public health officials have seen rises in COVID cases in our community. The City Manager and the Superintendent have strongly advised all city staff, including school department staff, to wear masks while indoors until at least next Friday in order to protect ourselves and those around us. Please do what you can to stay healthy and keep our community safe by masking, testing, and taking caution.
And of course, though I serve locally, state and national events affect us all. Today is the anniversary of a violent insurrection that sought to derail our democracy and thwart the transfer of power that is essential to democracy. That sobering anniversary combined with the dysfunction in Washington of the last few days hopefully will spur all of us to commit to protecting democracy and to fighting hard against lies, misinformation, and direct attacks on democracy.
At the state level, good, hopeful news is that yesterday Maura Healey was inaugurated as our Governor, and Kim Driscoll as our Lt. Governor! Both are people I supported in the primaries and am thrilled to have representing us. And, as a Cantabridgian with Katherine Clark as my Congressional Representative, I am proud and thrilled that she has risen in leadership and will continue to serve and represent all Americans with thoughtfulness and courage. Watch her nomination of Hakeem Jeffries for Speaker for a taste of her fire.
Through this tragedy in our community and throughout the new year, I hope you will take some time to reflect on the year that was and to look forward to what we can accomplish in this new year – I will.
Below are some comments on a few top line items and a few quick notes for this Monday’s meeting, the first council meeting of the new year.
City Council Updates
Tree Canopy Report
After a series of policy orders and ongoing discussions with community members and City officials, the 2020 tree canopy report has finally been published! This report is a good first step in understanding the depth of our issues in maintaining our tree canopy and working towards our Urban Forest Master Plan. The top-line good news is that the public land has seen an increase in tree canopy – due to efforts led by the community, the council and the city – which is heartening after the loss of tree canopy documented in the last report. The unsettling news is that other land – residential, institutional, commercial – did not see much increase. I will be meeting with City officials to analyze this report and I’m looking forward to seeing more reporting in the future as we hopefully ramp up our efforts in UFMP implementation.
Peter Valentine House – 37 Brookline Street
The council has received a lot of communications regarding the house at 37 Brookline Street that belonged to Cambridge resident, and Central Square artist Peter Valentine. Many community members are urging the City to purchase the property so that it may be transformed into a number of exciting projects including an art center, a memorial, artist housing, and many other interesting ideas. I share the vision of how nice it would be to transform that property into a community center. I also know that there are many other visions for using city funds for projects that benefit the community and I am committed to having a thoughtful process to decide. I know that this project would cost millions for the building itself – more than the $3.5 million estimate for purchase and basic renovations – and potentially millions more to run it as an arts or community center, in operational costs. I want to make sure we review this proposal along with the many other worthy proposals for using city funds. Honestly, I am surprised and disappointed that the house ownership did not revert to the city or MIT upon Peter’s death, which would have made this project so much easier. (How did MIT with all its smarts not make sure that happened?) However, we are where we are – and have to consider what to do given that the property is now owned by Peter’s relatives. Whenever the City makes a purchase like this, it’s important that we take a holistic approach to the resources spent and the community benefit gained. I have been in communication with the City regarding this property and I look forward to continuing a nuanced conversation about the city purchasing overall and using land across the city that present opportunities, including this property.
City Council Meeting – Monday, January 9, 2023
New Specialized Stretch Code
This week I am sponsoring a policy order to formally adopt the new Specialized Stretch Code for new construction and substantial renovations. For years, activists across the state and champions in the state legislature have worked to establish a way for the state building code to be updated to include fossil fuel free construction – since that is the ONLY path to us making progress on reducing emission pollution and contributing to effective climate action. An intense push over the last two years resulted in the finalization of a building code that municipalities can choose to adopt – that does not require true zero carbon or even net zero, but is still a huge improvement over the current stretch code. Cambridge was the first city to adopt the current stretch code in 2010, and I hope we are the first to adopt the updated version, called Specialized Opt-In Stretch Code. As the policy order notes, this code has been publicly discussed multiple times over the last few years, and at a council committee meeting in November, we discussed adopting it as soon as possible. The city’s Climate Committee also urged adoption as soon as possible – which is now. Note that for the fossil fuel ban, a separate process is in place and that cannot be adopted yet since the state has yet to formalize the procedures. I hope the council passes the policy order Monday – please let the council know your thoughts on this important issue. If we are going to continue to be climate leaders, the time is now.
Net Zero Action Plan
I am pleased to see the completed Net Zero Action Plan Update (NZAP) on the City Manager’s agenda this week. NZAP is the City’s roadmap to combat the climate crisis. It informs all of the administration decisions of the City and is the lens through which we set policy. NZAP is a framework that includes a suite of actions that work in unison. Every bit of data we see on climate change makes it very clear that we need to move faster than ever. Our work in the next decade will be the difference. I have been working very closely with the Community Development Department to update NZAP. The updates include recommendations from the Climate Crisis Working Group, which I chaired, from the Cambridge Climate Committee (formerly CPAC), and from an in-depth analysis of our previous efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout the city. As chair of the Health and Environment Committee, I have been working nonstop over the last few months and years to improve NZAP by setting ambitious goals, increasing accountability, and improving our efforts across the board. The inclusion of SMART goals and accelerated timelines for action has come after a long push to have more accountability baked into our policies. Now we have to implement the plan.
The City Manager agenda has an item related to appointment of people to the Cambridge Traffic Board – a legally defined board that is supposed to review decisions. As was pointed out by the community during last year’s rollout of changes to streets for bike lane installation, the city had failed to have a functioning board. I am glad to see that City Manager Huang has rectified this lapse, and I look forward to hearing how this board will work to improve our city’s plans moving forward on the many changes to our street landscape.
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 meeting is this Tuesday, January 17, 2023, at 5:30pm. They are planning two public forum events as well – the first is on January 24, 2023 from 6-8pm at the Main Cambridge Public Library and on February 4, 2023 from 6-8pm via zoom. I invite you to attend these 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 links below to learn more about getting the booster and find out where you can get yours.
COVID-19 Vaccine Information
COVID-19 Vaccine Finder
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.