Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

December 10, 2016

After the Fire – the Dec 12, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting (postponed from Dec 5)

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:32 pm

After the Fire – the Dec 12, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting (postponed from Dec 5)

Dec 3 fireLast 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

December 6, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 189-190: December 6, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 189 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 6, 2016 at 5:30pm. The main topic was the Berkshire Street fire. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters.
[On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 190 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 6, 2016 at 6:00pm. Speed limit reduction to 25mph, Participatory Budgeting, Central Square Restoration Petition. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

December 4, 2016

City of Cambridge to Host Fire Recovery Resource Center; Buildings Sustain Serious Damage

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 10:37 pm

Residents Displaced by December 3 Fire Encouraged to Register with Red Cross of Massachusetts

Berkshire St. fire, Dec 3, 2016Dec 4, 2016 – Three buildings are being torn down in Cambridge and at least one other will be partially razed for safety reasons. The Dec 3, 2016 fire in the Harrington/Wellington/East Cambridge neighborhoods caused significant damage to six buildings, and fire or water damage to at least five others.

As of 3pm, 48 displaced families, representing 104 individuals, have registered with the Red Cross of Massachusetts. There may be more families and individuals that have not yet registered and the City is strongly encouraging all displaced individuals to register with the Red Cross by calling 800-564-1234 or by coming to the City’s Fire Recovery Resource Center at City Hall.

The first step in receiving assistance from the City is to contact and register with the Red Cross of Massachusetts.

On Mon, Dec 5, from 8:30am-8:00pm and Tues, Dec 6, 8:30am-5:00pm, the City is hosting a Fire Recovery Resource Center on the 2nd floor of Cambridge City Hall, 795 Mass. Ave. Impacted residents can meet with representatives from the City of Cambridge, American Red Cross, Commonwealth of Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Division of insurance, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Division of Transitional Assistance, Housing and Development, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Public Health Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Mental Health, National Organizational Voluntary Active Disaster, and Riverside Community Care.

The public can donate to the Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund online at www.cambridgema.gov/firefund or by sending a check to:

Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund
Cambridge City Hall
795 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

While greatly appreciated, the City is urging people to hold off on donating food, clothing or material goods at this time. Should this change, an announcement will be made in the media and on the City’s website and social media outlets.

A number of street closures will remain in place in Cambridge. The following streets have no access for pedestrians or vehicles:

  • Berkshire Street – from York Street to Plymouth – indefinite
  • Plymouth Street – Cardinal Medeiros Ave to Berkshire Street – indefinite
  • Vandine Street – Cardinal Medeiros to Berkshire Street
  • York Street – Willow Street to Berkshire Street

Residents impacted by the fire can call the City’s dedicated phone line, 617-349-9484, with questions regarding the fire or recovery assistance.

City Encourages Families and Individuals to Register with the Red Cross of Massachusetts
Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund Accepting Online Donations

Dec 4, 2016 – The City of Cambridge is encouraging displaced families and individuals impacted by the December 3, 2016, fire in the Harrington/Wellington/East Cambridge neighborhoods to contact the Red Cross of Massachusetts to register for assistance.

“The most important first step displaced families and individuals can take is to register with the Red Cross of Massachusetts,” said Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager.

Individuals can register by calling the Red Cross at 800-564-1234 or by stopping by one on of the following drop-in sessions:

  • Sun, Dec 4, from noon – 6pm at the Frisoli Youth Center, 61 Willow Street;
  • Mon, Dec 5, from 8:30am until 8:00pm on the 2nd floor, Cambridge City Hall, 795 Mass. Ave.; or
  • Tues, Dec 6, from 8:30am to 5:00pm on the 2nd floor, Cambridge City Hall, 795 Mass. Ave.

The key first step that needs to occur for the City to assist and communicate with the impacted families and individuals is for them to register their information with the Red Cross.

Members of the public can donate to the Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund online at www.cambridgema.gov/firefund or by sending a check to:

Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund
Cambridge City Hall
795 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

The City appreciates the numerous offers for volunteers and donations of physical assets; however, what is needed most is donations to the Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund. The City is currently not accepting physical donations.

July 29, 2014

Mayor David Maher Announces Fire Relief Fund for Victims of Allston Street Fire

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:44 am

Mayor David Maher Announces Fire Relief Fund for Victims of Allston Street Fire

Office of the MayorMayor David Maher announced today that the City of Cambridge has established the Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund to assist the victims of the recent Allston Street fire. On July 27, 2014, a 9 Alarm fire displaced nine Cambridge families, including several children, from their homes and destroyed all of their personal belongings. None of the 29 people displaced from the buildings sustained injuries although they are in need of financial assistance to help recover from this tragic loss.

“We are grateful that no injuries were sustained in the fire, however, there are many Cambridge residents currently without shelter and in need of financial assistance,” said Mayor Maher. “The majority of the residents affected were renters, making it difficult to recover any losses as many likely did not have renters insurance. Cambridge has always been very generous to our neighbors in need and many of the victims need our help right now.”

The Mayor’s Office will be accepting checks made out to "The Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund" via mail and alternatively, residents are welcome to stop by the Mayor’s Office at City Hall to deliver their donation in person.

Donations can also be made online at http://www.gofundme.com/MayorsFireFund

The Mayor’s Office also welcomes gift certificates in any amount to department stores and grocery stores.
Gift certificates and checks can be mailed or delivered to:
Cambridge City Hall
c/o Mayor’s Office
795 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139

For additional information, please contact Mayor David Maher’s Office at 617-349-4321 or email us at mayor@cambridgema.gov.

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