Summer Deluge – of policy orders, reports, and ongoing work

Starlight Square coming in August – a parking lot in Central transformed into an outdoor community space. An amazing idea that I hope we replicate (Image courtesy of Central Square BID)


The one official meeting during the summer is tomorrow – Monday, and the agenda is quite long with many items of note. I have included items below that I am submitting (most significantly, on charter reform) along with a few others of interest from the City Manager’s Agenda and Policy Order list. 

I hope you got a chance to read the wrap up I sent last week – it’s an overview of what the Council has done in the first half of 2020 and what I have been working on more specifically. Despite only one official council meeting during the summer recess it has remained a busy time. We had a “special meeting” last week to receive COVID updates from the manager and city staff, and there have already been numerous committee meetings with more to come over the next few weeks. The schedule for upcoming hearings on transportation in the age of COVID, retail land use initiative updates, local college and university plans to return to campus, police use of body cameras, AHO, and more can all be found here

And please forward this email to anyone else you think might be interested – I am trying to make good on my pledge to increase communication with residents and spur dialogue and discussion. 

I hope you are as hopeful as I am to witness the continuing activism locally – as with the Whole Foods BLM push to allow employees to wear BLM masks and nationally – with the pushback on the militarization of our country’s streets, notably in Portland. We must continue – please send ideas you have for how we can support each other during these times.

And don’t forget to take care of yourself – it is sweltering and will continue most of this week. Not only do we all need a break from the news of COVID and the challenges of our democratic institutions being ripped apart, we also need to stay healthy in this heat. Climate crisis is here and it’s real. #ShaveThePeak  – please do all you can to use less energy during peak hours of 3 – 7 pm. If the utilities reach their peak, they will burn coal to fulfill demand. And that will only worsen the skies, our health and our planet.


Monday's Council Agenda Overview

City Manager’s Agenda:

CMA #7 – Eliminating Library Fines: I am happy to see that Cambridge is going to phase out library fines, which act as a barrier for low-income families using one of our city’s beautiful libraries and access to over 400,000 books. The fines make up a tiny percentage of the city’s operating budget so getting rid of this barrier should be a no-brainer. 

CMA #27 – Tenants Rights: This is an important piece to protect tenants in Cambridge. The purpose of this Ordinance is to inform residents of Cambridge of housing rights and resources available to them if they receive an eviction notice and to share information and resources with landlords and management companies to maintain housing stability for Cambridge tenants. This is a welcome update, along with the extension of the eviction ban and limit on real estate showings

CMA #28: Gas Ban UpdateThe Gas Ban, which was introduced last term, is a big step in the right direction for the city as we move away from fossil fuels. However, the Attorney General’s office just struck down Brookline’s attempt to ban any new construction from having gas pipelines – this item on the CMA is the City Solicitor providing an update that Cambridge is not legally able to ban gas pipelines either. I plan on working on this in any capacity I am able to reverse this decision. There is too much at stake to continue on like normal.  

CMA #30 – Police Weapon Inventory: Last month, the Council voted on a policy order asking the Police Department to release its inventory (including pictures) that is updated yearly. The motivation for this came when the Police Commissioner told the Council that there were “no military-style weapons in our inventory,” and members of the council believed otherwise. Please see for yourselves there are numerous weapons in this inventory that should and must be considered “military-style” and do not belong in Cambridge. This is only the beginning of the conversation.  I appreciate that the police need to be able to do their job. However, I do not see the need for much of this weaponry – since that is what the inventory shows. AND I still want to have a full citywide discussion on how to rethink, re-imagine and reallocate the police budget. The recent protests in Seattle show military-like forces using the same Lenco Bear Cat the CPD owns – with civilian protesters. We must review every area of policing in our country, and for us in local government, it starts here.

Policy Orders:  [there are many others, but I will comment on only a few today and will update in my next newsletter]

PO #2 – Meeting on School Re-opening: This order from the Mayor calls for a joint meeting/roundtable with the School Committee and City Council to discuss plans for re-opening in the fall. This meeting will be on August 11th at 5:30pm. 

PO #4 – COVID Testing: While Massachusetts has been a leader over the last few months in stopping the spread, widespread testing remains a key component of keeping spread under control. While the federal government should be leading this effort, it has been clear since 2017 that we cannot expect anything that looks like leadership to come from the White House. We must take these matters into our own hands, and ensure that people in Cambridge have access to testing. I hope that we will hear back from the Chief of Public Health soon on expanding testing sites in the near future. 

PO #6 – Renaming the Central Square Library: This order calls for the library to be renamed “The Maria Baldwin and Rep. John Lewis Library and Center for African American/Black History and Culture” to honor the first Black principal in Massachusetts and the civil rights legend. It was a striking loss last weekend to lose John Lewis in the months leading up to one of the most important elections of our lifetime.
(As a side note – I hope that the famous Pettus Bridge in Selma, over which Rep. Lewis marched with other leaders, is renamed in his honor. Did you know that Edmund Pettus was a Confederate Army officer, and a KKK grand wizard? How is it the bridge maintains his name?)

PO #7 – Drought preparation: This summer has been unusually dry, and Middlesex County is currently in a level one drought. I submitted this order because the last time we were in a drought I was dismayed by the way it was handled: The Water Department assured the council and community in August of 2016 that their projections showed that the water supplies in the Cambridge system were sufficient in a 3 month, 6 month and 24 month time frame, yet two months later the City was forced to purchase $3.6 million of water from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, doubling the cost of water from what we normally pay to treat our local supply. I hope this time around we will be more prepared and communicative with the community. 

PO #8 – Charter reform:  I submitted this order because it is time for Cambridge to do some reflecting. We adopted the Plan E Charter in 1940, and not once have we held a formal review process to consider revisions, making us the only city or town in Massachusetts to go 80 years without reviewing its most important legal document. Most cities and towns in Massachusetts have a charter review process built into their charter, requiring a review every set number of years (usually 5-10 years) to ensure the charter continues to serve the needs of ever-changing municipalities. Cambridge has changed dramatically since 1940, but our governing documents have remained static. No matter how you feel about the balance of power in the City, it is good governance for the City Council to ensure that our governing documents are positioned to serve our modern, progressive city through a review of the city charter. There are multiple ways this could go, but the first step is asking the Mayor to call a special meeting for the Council and public to better understand the process. If this passes, I am confident Mayor Siddiqui will do so in the near future. 

And I will note and state publicly that I believe the balance of power should change. I cannot imagine that the original intent of the charter reformers wanted to take all power away from the only elected body in the city. Yet that is what has happened over time in Cambridge, where the Council has very little authority and power. That has been evident these last six months as the Council’s ability to move forward on several issues on which we voted has been extremely limited –  from municipal broadband feasibility study to address the digital divide and better serve residents, to not knowing anything about police inventory, to several policy orders on dealing with the Covid-19 emergency (on masks and reusable bags) being ignored, to not having a list of city owned land that the Council requested in 2016 for potential affordable housing.  

PO #11 – Jerry’s Pond: I am co-sponsoring this order, which comes after the recent sale of a 26 acre property that includes Jerry’s Pond. It asks for the City to reach out to the buyer, IQHQ, to begin talks about the future of the Jerry’s Pond site. Anyone who is familiar with the pond, the closest green space to over 4,000 residents in public housing, knows the potential that it has – but as it sits now, it is merely an eye sore and closed off to public use. The former owners showed no interest in working on the site, but there is reason to believe that could change with the new owners. I am thankful for the activism that has gone into the effort to restore Jerry’s Pond so far and I am glad we have a chance to push for a new greenspace open for all! (A second order I co-sponsored asks the manager to improve the surrounding area that does not sit on IQHQ property.) 

An event I attended last week with over 7,000 participants (!) discussing the book How To Be An Antiracist with author Ibram X. Kendi – I highly recommend.


Please make sure to support news! It’s critically important – I read and appreciate that they are the only news source for Cambridge that keeps up with both City Council and School Committee meetings.

Where would our democracy be without reliable news sources? In even deeper trouble. Personally, I rely on the Boston Globe, the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the BBC news app. Plus I subscribe to the Cambridge Chronicle, which like many print local papers has suffered from being starved of resources by the parent company.

City updates and events

For all of us:

From Cambridge Public Health: Guidance for Taking Care of Your Mental Health


I found this item last week while I was helping a friend clean out their parent’s house – what is it?


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