City Council agenda comments, January 11, 2016

City Manager’s Agenda Item #9, regarding rent and eviction protections. This is a tough subject. There is of course a practicality question, how our local bureaucracy could intervene in any meaningful way in thousands of landlord-tenant relationships. Additionally, we are in Massachusetts, which has one of the most tenant-favoring systems this side of Bolivia. There are legitimate concerns about the human impact of a market that has risen rapidly in the past few years, but we should be careful not to simply add layers of bureaucracy in the pursuit of equitable and diverse housing.
City Manager’s Agenda Item #10, regarding the Barrett Petition. I support the aims and goals of the Barrett Petition, and contrary to some of my good friends, I think not only is the petition 95% ready for primetime, but it’s high time to take this zoning action. I share the heavy concern with Carole Perrault that historic envelopes could be impacted by code requirements and renovations that would come with basement and accessory development, but I think the procedural protections are sufficient even with the petition as-is. However, it would be prudent to be more explicit about the preservation of historic envelopes, especially since the zoning amendment would widely impact some of our most historically significant neighborhoods.
Charter Right #1, regarding the Central Square economic study. The future, like the past, is mixed-use. The public realm—sidewalks, plazas, and the transportation system—are directly correlative with the economic vitality and vibrancy of the Square, and fundamental transformation of the public way must come simultaneous with, if not before, any expectation of the highest and best programmatic uses and public enjoyment of Central Square.
Unfinished business item #8, regarding car-sharing zoning. It is dismaying that we continue to treat car-sharing as a nuisance, and justify its expansion by talking about how limiting the new zoning rules are. This is another area where Cambridge should be taking the progressive lead, so other cities that are more apprehensive can follow. If every shared car took just 2 privately owned vehicles off the roads and out of parking spots, that would be sufficient enough to justify an aggressive expansion regime; however, we know from the data that the impact of shared vehicles on the overall vehicle load is vastly more substantial. It is great to see this new zoning text go forward, as it surely will pass, but again, we’re treating something we should be celebrating as some kind of nuisance.
Application #2, regarding Mike’s Pastry signs. The petitioners were respectful of the process with the Historical Commission and their signs evolved into something compatible with the the building and the district. This should pass uncontroversially.
Policy Order #3, regarding an amendment to the tree fastening ordinance. This is very important. On the one hand, every time I see a bicycle/moped fastened to either a tree or a handicapped pole or some other inappropriate place, it highlights a desire point for appropriate bike parking facilities. We should, however, aggressively remove anything that damages our street trees, which belong to everyone, and whose health and growth are in everyone’s interest.
Policy Order #4, regarding smoke-free unenclosed workplaces. This is an important policy to continue on the path to the removal of tobacco use from our culture. Cambridge is a place that can and should take the lead. Smoke Free Cambridge 2025?
Policy Order #5, regarding solar panels by right. One concern is that the placement/style of solar panels may be inappropriate in certain contexts, so some kind of permitting process is certainly appropriate. This could be treated like any structural addition, with the aim of ensuring compatibility and thoughtfulness.
Policy Order #6, regarding the Grand Junction overlay district. This is a hugely important tool in the toolbox as we look forward to constructing the Grand Junction Path as quickly as possible. We can’t wait for millions of square feet of new development in places like Kendall Square, Somerville, Downtown Boston, and Allston, to further overload our road and transit systems before we try to offset this impact with walk/bike infrastructure. Instead, we should be planning all these areas around walk/bike infrastructure like the Grand Junction Path. We should be adopting a proactive approach within Cambridge to construct additional sections of path as soon as possible and strongly focus on making the critical connections at either end of the city.
Policy Order #7, regarding Gore Street traffic issues. This is actually related to the Grand Junction Path, as one possible route of linking the Grand Junction Path with the Somerville Community Path and by proxy, access to Lechmere Station and Boston, would follow Gore Street. We should be careful to consider this possible protected path alignment along Gore Street. Several pieces of material have been produced regarding this possible connection, including a joint Cambridge Redevelopment Authority/LivableStreets Alliance/Toole Design Group study that will be public soon. In the meantime, we have a great toolbox for traffic calming that we can take advantage of to prevent unnecessary injuries or fatalities at the subject intersection.
City Council agenda comments, January 11, 2016