After the Fire – the Dec 12, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting (postponed from Dec 5)
Last week’s meeting was postponed due to the relief efforts associated with the Berkshire Street fire. Any business then before the City Council paled in comparison to the devastation caused by the 10-alarm fire on Sat, Dec 3 in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood. In the midst of it all it was great to see Cantabrigians pulling together to help residents directly impacted by the conflagration. This is a neighborhood where people identify buildings by the names of the families who inhabit them – some for generations.
On the expanded meeting agenda for this week, here are some items of interest:
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with suggested changes to Cambridge’s policy regarding advertising revenue that could help support the continuation and expansion of Hubway in the City of Cambridge. Councillor Toomey
The economic sustainability of Hubway may require additional advertising revenue or increased user fees (currently $20/month or $85/year). Or you could just buy a bike and a good lock.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to make the appropriate staff available to assist the Mayor’s Office in facilitating a community conversation about the roles and intersection of race, class, gender, and culture in Cambridge within the first quarter of 2017. Mayor Simmons
Mayor Simmons has organized such events in the past and does a pretty good job at it.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding the potential of building affordable housing on City-owned parking lots along Bishop Allen Drive. Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons
At some point, city councillors and City staff will have to start distinguishing between "building affordable housing" and "making housing affordable". As an interim measure, creating housing accessible to low and moderate income people who access it by applying to a government agency or quasi-governmental entity makes sense. However, this contributes to the division of housing into high-cost housing for the well-to-do and subsidized housing for the not-so-well-to-do. It doesn’t do much for those who are simply looking for an affordable place to live and who are not inclined to seek government-owned or government-controlled housing. Affordable options for most people should be available without having to apply to a governmental agency.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department with the intention of ensuring that zoning and building code restrictions will not prohibit the rebuilding of the damaged structures and to report back to the City Council with necessary language or steps needed to ensure a straightforward process for families and current property owners to rebuild. Councillor Toomey
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Inspectional Services Department, the Community Development Department, the Legal Department and any other appropriate city departments to determine what measures can be taken to fast-track the rebuilding of homes impacted by the fire that may be non-conforming with the current zoning code and report back to the Council in a timely manner on what actions can be considered. Councillor Devereux
These are both very timely, and if there’s any need to insert an emergency amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to facilitate this, the City Council should fast-track it. Hopefully there’s insurance money to cover most or all of the costs of rebuilding.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to ensure that all money raised during this campaign is distributed to the Wellington Harrington residents impacted by this incident and to report back to the City Council when all funds are distributed. Councillor Toomey
So far it seems that City efforts and the efforts of the Mayor’s Office have been well-coordinated with the Red Cross and other agencies. Cambridge should be very proud of all these efforts and those of individuals who have stepped forward to assist with money, materials, and housing.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Director of Communications, the Community Development Department, the Human Services Department, and Public Safety Departments to develop an outreach and communications plan for renters in Cambridge about the importance and availability of renters insurance and consult with these departments to assist low- and moderate-income tenants in acquiring affordable renters insurance policies, and to report back on both orders. Councillor Devereux
Though clearly motivated by the Berkshire Street fire, the reality is that most Cambridge residents and certainly most residents in this affected neighborhood are renters. Buildings can be rebuilt, but the loss of personal property can be equally devastating. People often don’t think about rental insurance, so this is, as they say, "a teachable moment".
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with DCR to request that the speed limit be reduced to 25 mph on Fresh Pond Parkway from the BB&N Upper School campus to the Route 2/16 split west of the Alewife MBTA station. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
Though it may not make sense to lower the speed limit to 25 mph on a limited-access highway or an arterial road with relatively few street crossings, Fresh Pond Parkway and Alewife Brook Parkway both have many intersections where vehicles and pedestrians and abundantly present. Since Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville are all reducing the speed limit on City-owned streets, the DCR should do the same on all of their roads that operate like major city streets. Having uniform traffic standards regardless of ownership makes a lot of sense.
Order #12. That the City Council’s Government Operations Committee seek to identify a suitable site to honor Representative Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. for his long and distinguished commitment to the City of Cambridge. Councillor Maher, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung
This is a great idea. I certainly hope that City Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. will continue in his role on the City Council for years to come – maybe even as Mayor.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 16, 2016 to discuss gradually increasing the parking permit fee and to consider other improvements to the program to help fund the City’s budget towards reducing vehicle miles traveled and to promote alternative forms of transportation.
This was the meeting where some city councillors (Mazen, Devereux) argued in favor of dramatic increases in the Resident Permit Parking fee. Basically, they would like to jack it up as high as they can politically get away with. Councillor Devereux wants to jack the fees up as a way of disincentivising automobile ownership – at least for those with lower incomes. She also noted that Uber does not have enough curb space to pull over and that this could be relieved by driving out resident parking from major streets. In a Twitter post recently she also expressed her desire to double Cambridge parking meter rates like Boston is planning to do in the Seaport District. Gee, thanks.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 27, 2016 to discuss a zoning petition by the City Council to amend four sections in Article 19.000 of the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 27, 2016 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Title 15 entitled “Buildings and Construction” by adding a new Chapter 15.22 entitled “Outdoor Lighting.”
Rather than get into the details of all this, I will simply note that it is so classically Cambridge that a proposal that was originally intended to limit light trespass into bedroom windows has now morphed into a showdown on the aesthetics of building signage and architectural lighting. It almost makes me yearn for the days of "spectacular lighting" such as the one adorning the Shell gas station on Memorial Drive or, even more spectacularly, the much-beloved Citgo sign overseeing the good fortunes of the Red Sox. – Robert Winters