Expanding Out-of-School Time Options

I recently led on passing two policy orders related to out-of-school (OST) time options in Cambridge, both of which are now sitting on the City Manager’s desk and awaiting implementation. One order asks the City Manager to present a plan (including funding) for expanding OST options, and the other asks him to establish a Caregiver Advisory Council for engaging key stakeholders around the issue.

I’ve long called for expanded OST options, but things really came to a head last month when many Cambridge families were suddenly at the last minute denied slots that they had been counting on for the upcoming school year. The insufficient notice inevitably caused lots of confusion in the community, and in some cases, parents and caregivers faced jeopardized employment or were left without childcare options.

There are three big things I’m looking for in the City Manager’s plan for expanding OST options. They are:

  1. Immediate expansion of Community Schools programs by hiring additional staff. These programs offer flexibility for our families and important enrichment opportunities for our scholars which might not be available anywhere else. The major constraint here is staffing, not space, and that is resolved with a deeper investment. This is the most immediate way we can expand OST options, and I am frustrated that we have not already made more of an effort to do so.

  2. Implementing the highly successful King Open Extended Day program at other schools in the city. This program functions as a more natural extension of the school day, offering social and academic enrichment in a classroom setting. It works in synergy with the Community Schools program, and both of my kids benefited greatly from having both options available to them at King Open. The Extended Day program also has a more diverse staff, which both of my kids really appreciated as they were growing up. We are told that one of the main obstacles to implementing this program at other schools around the city is that the day school teachers do not want to share their classroom space with after school programs. While I can appreciate the ways in which sharing space might be inconvenient and challenging, we must get serious about resolving this so that all of our children can benefit from a more traditional extended day option in addition to the more a la carte options offered by the Community School programs. We are about to spend $250 million on rebuilding the Tobin School, and it is incumbent on us to find a way to maximize the utilization of that space, as opposed to having it sit empty and underutilized more than half of the time!

  3. Expanding Youth Center hours and programming, including on Saturdays. There is an urgent need to expand our youth centers to create options for our young people, including on Saturdays. Once again, all we need to do is make a deeper investment. And in addition to expanding hours and capacity, we need to make a direct investment into the facilities. Back in 2019, the Moses Youth Center was a finalist in the participatory budgeting process. They asked for $95,000 to improve the quality and equipment of the Moses Youth Center by adding new furniture, upgrading technology, and modernizing sports equipment & supplies. It wasn’t chosen as a winner of participatory budgeting that year, and as far as I can tell the upgrades have yet to be made. Why not? It is unacceptable, and that’s just one example.

The final piece is establishing the Caregiver Advisory Council for engaging key stakeholders around the issue. High-priority families are most detrimentally impacted and must lead and be partnered with to address their needs in out-of-school time programming, especially considering the rippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, the Caregiver Advisory Council should be overly represented by high-priority families. This body would focus on key issues like enrollment, capacity, staffing, and outreach efforts.

Providing more equitable access to expansive OST programming is essential to support and uplift the city’s low-income and Black and Brown families, as well as families with disabled children. Of course, these proposals are only a small piece of the work that needs to be done. My recent op-ed covers many more topics including the need for universal pre-K, expanding the RSTA program and vocational options, and creating more economic opportunity in our community. Special thanks to Councillor McGovern, Mayor Siddiqui, and Councillor Carlone for cosponsoring these proposals- read them in full here and here!

Thank you as well to all the parents and caregivers who reached out to share their perspectives. I’ve heard you and I will keep on pushing the city to do better!

Wage Theft Ordinance Introduced

I am excited to introduce a Wage Theft Ordinance for Cambridge. We’ve long heard from union leaders and workers about the prevalence of wage theft in our city. This proposal creates a local mechanism for enforcing such violations as a matter of economic justice for everyone who works here.

Wage theft is no accident. We must stand up to those who exploit their workers to pad profit margins. By paying in cash under the table and well below the prevailing wage, and skimping on payroll taxes, developers and other employers cheat workers and taxpayers at once. It is simply immoral! One recent study found that worker misclassification and off-the-books employment allowed Massachusetts construction employers to illegally reduce labor costs by at least $140 million in 2019. Those who do play by the rules must compete with artificially low bids, putting them at a big disadvantage. Workers treated like this have very little recourse when they get injured on the job. We have to do better!

Ten Essex in Central Square is one example of a project that was built on the backs of exploited labor- there were protests of the contractor’s practices nearly every day at the worksite, and I have seen sworn affidavits from workers who were mistreated. Our ordinance gives the City Manager explicit authority to issue a stop-work order for construction projects until violations are addressed. We need to join the many other cities that have passed this so Cambridge is no longer a haven for contractors seeking to evade the law.

But issues of wage theft and tax fraud are certainly not limited to the construction industry: in 2019, I walked the picket line with workers from Happy Lamb Hot Pot in Central who reported wage theft and a hostile workplace. The chain eventually settled for hundreds of thousands of dollars. To address wage theft across all industries in our city, our ordinance creates a new complaint process and a Wage Theft Enforcement Committee charged with overseeing enforcement. No less than half of the committee members shall be labor representatives, and the council shall approve the roster.

We’re requiring direct communication between the new Enforcement Committee, the Attorney General, and the City Manager. We’re also requiring an annual report to the City Council of complaints made and action taken. These steps create accountability and allow us to monitor effectiveness. I can’t wait to discuss this proposal in the Ordinance Committee, and I hope we will move it to a swift passage in solidarity with the unions and everyone who works in our city. A special thanks to the cosponsors, the Carpenters Union, and everyone else who put in the work on this very important proposal!

One more thing: if you represent working people in Cambridge and you’d like a seat on the new Wage Theft Enforcement Committee, please reach out and let me know. We’d love to have you take part! Just send me an email: qzondervan@cambridgema.gov

Extending the Cannabis Equity Period

Great news: the Cambridge City Council has voted to extend the cannabis equity priority period for another year. Mayor Siddiqui and I originally advanced this policy last term in an effort to build equity in the city’s emerging cannabis industry. The law we passed in 2019 allows only state-certified Economic Empowerment (EE) applicants to open cannabis retail stores in Cambridge. That was set to expire on September 23rd. Last week we held a hearing on extending it- and Monday night we passed the extension.

Economic Empowerment applicants must meet the state’s criteria which include living in areas of disproportionate impact and majority Black or Brown ownership. The state also has a separate Social Equity program with different criteria, and the new preference period now allows them to open retail cannabis stores in Cambridge as well. We heard from the city that 7 equity (EE) applicants have received their business permit and will soon open stores. Most of these businesses are owned by Black entrepreneurs who grew up in Cambridge and Boston. This is evidence that our policy has been effective, but it needs more time to bear fruit.

Opening a cannabis retail store is an incredibly complicated process involving multiple levels of government, and equity applicants have often had to navigate it without access to legal counsel. The pandemic has also caused significant delays for applicants at every step of the way. Our policy has also survived a legal challenge from the white owner of Revolutionary Clinics, who argued in court that the policy is racially discriminatory against white applicants. He has since apologized but his actions created immense frustration in the community.

So we’re giving our equity applicants another year of exclusivity. The hope is that soon there will be Black-owned cannabis retail stores all over the city. We are working hard to make sure that people from communities that have faced disproportionate impact have a chance to benefit from this billion-dollar industry. One applicant is set to open on First Street in East Cambridge, in the shadows of the Sullivan Courthouse where he was once incarcerated for a low-level drug offense. Our equity period is an important piece of efforts to provide restitution for the war on drugs, and I’m glad the council has voted to extend it for at least another year.

Racial Justice and Equity Commission proposal

I have worked with colleagues to propose that the city create a Racial Justice & Equity Commission. One of the main tasks of this commission will be to implement related policy orders around delivering reparations for slavery and restitution for the war on drugs. Please support Policy Order #11 on Monday night’s agenda by sending an email to council@cambridgema.gov! Below you will find the detailed proposal in full.

Executive Summary

The Commission will examine all aspects of government, society, economy, and environment in light of historic, systemic, and ongoing racial injustice and inequity in our city. Within the first year the commission will report on at least the following:

1.       Implementation of policy order 2021 #141 calling for a percentage of revenue from local cannabis sales, as well as applying funding from other sources, towards reparations for slavery, and implementation of policy order 2021 #166 calling for a percentage of revenue from local cannabis sales to be applied towards restitution for the war on drugs, and redress for other racially unjust policies.

2.       Proposals for immediate changes to any aspects of city government that would likely lead to improved racial justice and equity outcomes, based on research and data, including but not limited to housing, education, economic opportunity, healthcare, mental health, crisis response, and environmental justice.

3.       Identify future areas of work, including but not limited to: additional sources of revenues for reparations for slavery and land theft, additional acknowledgments of harm and apologies for past and ongoing transgression, names (of buildings, streets, neighborhoods, schools), climate change impacts and any other aspects of life that can and should be addressed from a racial justice and equity lens.

The Commission will also track and respond to state and federal efforts, such as H.R. 40, which was recently moved out of the House Judiciary Committee in Congress.

Structure

The commission shall at its inception have not less than one full-time staff person hired by the city. The commission shall further have appointed commissioners who represent different areas of knowledge, including but not limited to:

  • Economic Opportunity
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Public Safety/Policing
  • Mental Health
  • Public Health
  • Medicine
  • Urban Agriculture
  • Recreation
  • Finance
  • Environmental Justice
  • Climate Change Impacts
  • Transit Equity

The commission shall pay a stipend of $100/hour for regular meeting attendance to all Commissioners. Any work done in addition to meeting attendance shall be compensated through a contract with the city.

Commissioners will serve for 1-year terms, with no more than 2 consecutive terms served.

A majority of the Commissioners shall be women or non-male identifying, and a majority of the Commissioners shall be people who identify as Black, with the remainder having a balance of representatives of other marginalized communities, including Asian, Native American, Hispanic.

The majority of Commissioners shall be current or former Cambridge residents. Relevant city departments will select representatives to coordinate with the commission, but city staff shall not be commissioners. 

Timeline and Implementation

The commission shall be seated in the fall of 2021 and begin regular meetings. Staff will be hired as soon as possible, and the first order of business shall be taken up regarding cannabis revenues and a comprehensive audit of racism embedded in our laws, policies, departments, and structures of government and the economy.

History and Motivation

Racial injustice in the U.S. goes back not just to the founding of the United States but to the very beginnings of colonization of the American landmass by European people, beginning with the subjugation and displacement of Indigenous People, and continuing with the abduction of African People as slaves, and the mistreatment of Asian immigrants and others denied access to full participation in American society.

While modern American society has abolished chatel slavery and outlawed some forms of overt racism, people of African, Indigenous and non-European descent continue to be harmed by racist policies and ideas that perpetuate and amplify both historical and new inequities.

By establishing this commission and fully acknowledging the magnitude of harm that is being done, we create opportunities to systemically and radically eradicate racist policies and ideas from our lives and from our future.

Education and Awareness

Because racism is active literally everywhere in our society, it can seem daunting and overwhelming and even intractable. However, the only true limit to what we can accomplish is the depth of our commitment to accomplishing it. While we cannot eradicate racism and inequality everywhere all at once, we can identify specific aspects of racism and inequality to attack and continue to collect and focus resources on different areas of our society and government, improving the lives of people who have for too long been ignored, marginalized and oppressed.

To that end the commission will seek to educate the government and the people of Cambridge on these issues of racial justice and equity, empowering more and more people to take right action in order to reduce harm, using both formal and informal means of education.

Resources and Growth

The commission is neither the beginning nor the end of our reckoning with racism and inequality. There are many ongoing efforts in our city that the commission can strengthen and drive resources towards, and there are many areas of effort that will require their own organizational structures, funding and staffing to succeed. The commission’s purpose is to identify these areas and steer resources towards them, not to solve every problem it sees by itself. The intent is to put the full power and resources of the government behind these efforts to maximize success and produce ongoing positive outcomes.

As these efforts succeed, they will empower more and more people and organizations to make change, until anti-racism and equity work become as routine and thorough as food production or electricity generation: a normal part of what we do every day to nurture and sustain our civilization.

Tree Protection Ordinance

The Cambridge City Council finally passed a comprehensive update to the city’s Tree Protection Ordinance. I am so grateful to everyone who contributed to this important work including the volunteer members of the Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force who spent 18 months studying the issue in-depth, DPW Commissioner O’Riordan and all the city staff who rose to the challenge of enforcing the council’s interim moratorium, as well as our former Vice Mayor Jan Devereux whose visionary leadership sparked the years-long journey to the council adopting these amendments.   

Here are the key amendments in the revised Tree Protection Ordinance (TPO):

  • Cements key provisions of the interim moratorium, including broad applicability to trees on private property and the fundamental requirement that a permit must be obtained before any Significant Tree can be removed. Previously, the city had no jurisdiction over trees on private property except for large projects greater than 25,000 square feet.
  • Redefines what it means to be a “Significant Tree” so that more trees fall under the protection of the ordinance. The ordinance used to apply only to trees measuring 8 inches or more in diameter at breast height (DBH), but that threshold has now been lowered to protect any tree that measures 6 inches or more at DBH. According to the Urban Forest Master Plan (page 133), this change will increase the number of protected trees by 49%.
  • Introduces the concept of an “Exceptional Tree”, defined as any tree with a DBH of 30 inches or more. The replacement cost for an Exceptional Tree is 1.5x as much as for a Significant Tree.
  • Establishes a new mitigation formula that incentivizes replacement tree planting while still requiring substantial replacement fees. The new formula retains the financial penalties of the moratorium, but subtracts the DBH of any replacement trees planted onsite from the total DBH of the trees removed, and then applies a 50% discount to that number if any trees are replaced, creating an incentive to replant any trees that are removed.  
  • Expands the Tree Replacement Fund so that it can be used for tree planting and maintenance throughout the entire city instead of just along the public right of way. We need to plant many thousands of trees, but most of the city’s plantable area is on private property. This new language will hopefully allow us to scale up our planting efforts to the degree that is necessary to curb canopy loss by unlocking new opportunities across the city.
  • Adds a “duty of care” provision which requires property owners to take care of Significant Trees and replacement trees on their property. This ensures that replacement trees are cared for and allowed to thrive as we incentivize replanting on private property.
  • Includes an explicit provision that affordable housing developers (including the Cambridge Housing Authority) shall be permitted to apply for mitigation funds from the Tree Replacement Fund to increase canopy protection and expansion as affordable housing is constructed and renovated. I worked with Mayor Siddiqui to ensure this language was included in the final ordinance after the Council refused to make the TPO apply to affordable housing projects by a vote of 4-5. City staff and consultants had initially recommended that the Tree Protection Ordinance apply in full to affordable housing developers as a matter of equity. Many tenants bravely testified to remind us that this is a fundamental matter of environmental justice, and I have heard their voices. I still think the TPO should apply to all projects, but this compromise is an important step in that direction which should result in greater equity at affordable housing sites around the city.

These amendments are a critical step in our efforts to protect and expand the tree canopy, but the work of implementing the Urban Forest Master Plan is only beginning. I led a recent effort to triple the tree planting budget, but now we need even more funding to be able to plant thousands of trees across the city each year like the report calls for. We also need to continue our focus on equity because we know that areas with the least amount of canopy cover tend to be where our most vulnerable residents live. I’ve worked with DPW to plant dozens of trees at Greene-Rose Heritage Park and other parks in the Port, Wellington-Harrington, East Cambridge, and more. But there are still far too many empty and paved-over tree wells in these neighborhoods, and we need to do more. We need to continue advocating with property owners and the city on the importance of reversing our canopy loss. Trees provide critical protection from the increasing threat of heatwaves and flooding. Unfortunately, the City Manager has yet to fully incorporate that reality into the city’s own construction projects, and that needs to change.

Update on Police Demilitarization

Here is a more detailed update on the effort to demilitarize the police. 

The original policy order I submitted on April 26 can be reviewed here. At that meeting, Councillor Simmons immediately exercised her charter right on the item, blocking all discussion and postponing further debate until the next meeting. I didn’t even get a chance to speak on my own motion!

On May 3 at the following week’s meeting, Councillor McGovern introduced a substitute order which completely replaced the original language with his own version. The amendment by substitution was a not-so-subtle way of erasing the original message with something deemed less offensive to the status quo protectors. When you have a majority of votes on the Council, you can do that! Councillor McGovern didn’t send his language until 6:42 PM, 90 minutes after the meeting had already begun. I’m not generally paying much attention to my inbox during the council meetings, so I didn’t even see the amendment until we started discussing the matter much later in the night.

Because Councillor Simmons had exercised her charter right the previous week, she got to speak first when the item came up. She stated her opinion that she “doesn’t see the police department as militarized” and that she found the proposed language to be “inflammatory”. Then I finally got to introduce my order, which called on the City Manager to produce a plan for demilitarization of the police force including getting rid of the Lenco BearCat. The preamble rationalized the ask with a careful accounting of nearly a year’s worth of community discussions and progress.

Our effort really took off last year when we found an obscure provision in the municipal code which compelled Police Commissioner Bard to provide the City Manager with a complete inventory of the police department. We passed a policy order pointing this provision out, and a few months later we had perhaps the first ever public inventory of our Cambridge Police Department. It took months to schedule a committee hearing on the report at a time that worked for all relevant city staff, including the Police Commissioner. At the January 2021 hearing, we heard from Alex Vitale (author of “The End of Policing”) who presented evidence showing that military weapons in policing neither reduced crime, nor enhanced officer safety, as well as community activist Matthew Kennedy who presented a nationwide analysis of the deadliness of armed policing and the disproportionate impact on Black people. Cambridge residents Queen Cheyenne-Wade spoke on behalf of the Black Response, outlining their demands which include demilitarization of the police and the creation of an unarmed public safety response alternative. Public comment was also overwhelmingly supportive of getting rid of the military weapons.

Back to the discussion of the policy order. During this, two of my colleagues suggested that I had not done any work on this issue other than January’s Public Safety hearing. In fact, I had a meeting with the Commissioner, the City Manager, the Solicitor and the Mayor where the City Manager made it very clear that he did not wish to dispose of these weapons. In addition I’ve conducted several meetings with experts and community members on this topic and others both before and after the January 6 Public Safety Committee hearing. The Commissioner chose to announce a “20% reduction” of the long guns (assault rifles and shotguns) on his own, without any communication with me or the council. However, a “reduction” is not the same as “to eliminate”.

The amendment by substitution passed with a 7-2 vote (Sobrino-Wheeler and Zondervan against) and the order as amended was then adopted with an 8-1 vote (Zondervan against). 

Also noteworthy is that the Council insisted on referring the imagined response from the city manager straight to the Public Safety Committee, a minor procedural sleight of hand that makes it clear that the Council is not truly interested in the matter.

This is how the council does business. In the dark of night, while almost nobody is watching, the voices of Black and Brown community members objecting to living in a white-supremacist occupation are erased, and the majority-white council instead demotes the objection to a “concern” and the ask to “eliminate” with an ask to report back on “reduction”.

These actions reveal the depth of white supremacy and gaslighting that operate in Cambridge to keep the racist system intact while we march in the streets for change.

If you want a different outcome, you will have to elect a different council.

So let’s compare the two orders to fully understand the depth of subterfuge at work here in order to erase the demands of the community that our police department demilitarize:

ORIGINALSUBSTITUTEANALYSIS
WHEREAS: The inventory includes many assault rifles and shotguns, as well as a Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle; andWHEREAS: A concern has been raised by some in the community regarding the number and types of weapons and equipment in the possession of the Cambridge Police Department andOriginal specifically names the offending equipment; Substitute erases the details in favor of a vague “concern” about “weapons and equipment”. Substitute downplays the broad community support for demilitarizing the police.
WHEREAS: The Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle has been used to intimidate peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters; andDeletedAll references to the Lenco Bearcat are stripped out of the substitute. The community concern that it serves as a form of intimidation is erased.
WHEREAS: On January 6, 2021 the Public Safety Committee heard from community members and subject matter experts, who argued that there is no credible benefit to the Police Department having this type of military-grade equipment, and that its presence does ongoing harm to the community; andWHEREAS: Police Commissioner Bard presented an inventory of such equipment to the Public Safety Committee of the Cambridge City Council earlier this year andSubstitute reframes the January 6 committee hearing to make it about the Police Commissioner, completely erasing the community members and subject matter experts who led the conversation and educated the council. Specific objections raised are replaced with an assiduously neutral statement that even softens “weapon” to “equipment”.
WHEREAS: On February 19, 2021 the Police Department announced it would eliminate camouflage materials and reduce its weapon inventory by 20-30%, a concession that does not go far enough to address the calls to demilitarize the police; now therefore be itWHEREAS: Police Commissioner Bard has already taken steps to reduce this inventory and has publicly indicated that he is taking steps to further reduce this inventory in the future andSubstitute replaces a factual, specific description of concessions made by the PD with a vague, ineffectual statement and an empty promise of future reform. The original language acknowledges the concession and expresses a desire to go farther, but the substitute is just an informational dead end.
WHEREAS: Some remain concerned regarding the CPD’s possession of such weapons and equipment, therefore, be itThe substitute adds this additional, redundant clause which uses the same language as above to erase the people closest to the pain.
ORDERED: That the City Manager work with the Cambridge Police Department to present a plan to the City Council for demilitarization, including the destruction and recycling of all rifles and shotguns, and elimination of the Lenco Bearcat; and be it furtherORDERED: That the City Manager is hereby requested to work with the Police Commissioner and report back to the Public Safety Committee on steps taken to address this concern and issue a status report on how the City is moving forward with reducing weapons and equipment deemed unnecessary by the Cambridge Police Department.This is the meat and potatoes of course: the original asks for “a plan” whereas the substitute calls for “a report”. The original calls for the “destruction and recycling” of “all rifles and shotguns”, the substitute refers to “reducing” again “weapons and equipment” deemed unnecessary by CPD. This last phrase is key, leaving the decision entirely up to the Police, rather than expressing any policy directive from the Council.
ORDERED: That the City Manager present a response to the City Council ahead of the relevant upcoming FY22 budget hearingsDeletedErasing any link to the budget discussion, thereby ensuring that no response will happen.

“Missing Middle” Initial Thoughts

Cambridge’s Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance famously requires 20% subsidized housing in developments of ten or more units, but it does not apply to infill development of less than 10 units. As currently written, the new Missing Middle Zoning Petition takes advantage of this to incentivize small infill development without offering a mechanism for creating any subsidized housing. This proposal would also erode the advantage the Affordable Housing Overlay was designed to confer to nonprofit housing developers in our city. If the petition is successful it will generate 100% market rate (luxury priced) infill development while rendering the AHO less effective and accelerating condo conversion. This is an unacceptable classist and racist outcome.

The goal of ending single family zoning is laudable and something I support, and I have long been a proponent of eliminating parking minimums, but this petition takes a hammer to the zoning code with sweeping disregard for the most vulnerable neighborhoods in our city. Zoning has long been a tool of oppression and racism, but it is misguided to think that we can undo those long entrenched patterns by deregulating the zoning code for market rate housing only. Right now in neighborhoods like the Port and Wellington Harrington, we are seeing a few developers convert large amounts of rental housing into expensive condos. This proposal would accelerate that pattern, which would be devastating for our city. As Black Response Cambridge pointed out in a recent op ed,“history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes”. In her most recent oped, movement leader Stephanie Guirand makes it abundantly clear that low-income and Black and Brown people are being left behind permanently by this zoning petition. I still have not seen any substantive proposals for how to address the legitimate racial and economic justice concerns that have been raised, even after several community leaders have spoken out in opposition.

Upzoning an already dense, expensive housing market full of vulnerable renters is a dangerous game, especially without any legitimate tenant protections or stronger condo conversion restrictions. Without an inclusionary component the proposal will only drive up land values and housing costs in this already overheated market, and that is unacceptable because it will cause harm. By adding an inclusionary requirement for smaller developments as part of this upzoning, we could mitigate some of this harm, while creating more affordable homeownership opportunities for longtime residents of historically oppressed and neglected neighborhoods in our city. This is one way to begin to actually counter the historical injustice of redlining.

Here is my proposed amendment:

  1. On any lot, a certain minimum number of new Dwelling Units built shall be owner-occupied Affordable Dwelling Units (Affordable Home Ownership Units), subject to all applicable affordable housing laws and regulations, including and not limited to the applicable provisions of Section 11.203 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance (Inclusionary Housing).
  2. The number of Affordable Home Ownership Units that are required to be produced are as follows: 
Total Newly Constructed Dwelling UnitsAffordable Home Ownership Units
11
21
31
41
52
62
72
83
93
10 or moreAs determined by Section 11.200 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance (INCENTIVE ZONING AND INCLUSIONARY HOUSING)

Green New Deal Zoning Petition Introduced

Introducing the Green New Deal Zoning Petition: one of the first attempts to fund a just transition through a local zoning code. It’s a framework for accepting emissions offsets to create robust green jobs & economic opportunity for the most vulnerable.

Did you know that Kendall Square is the most valuable square mile of real estate on the East Coast outside of a few neighborhoods in Manhattan? The reason is the millions and millions of square feet of biotech, pharma, and commercial office space that we’ve built there. Concentrating all that wealth has created a tale of two cities, in which people of color and low/moderate-income residents have been displaced, and those who remain live in the shadows of high-paying jobs and opportunity that simply isn’t built for them.

Large commercial buildings are also absolutely the biggest contributors to emissions in our city! They make up more than half of our emissions profile, while residential buildings account for just 8%. That’s why new housing is completely exempt from the GND Zoning Petition. As climate activists, we must recognize these twin crises as interrelated: despite our adoption of lofty climate goals like “net-zero by 2050”, city emissions have only increased over time. And the commercial growth driving that increase has left behind our most vulnerable.

The city’s total emissions (blue line at the top) have slowly increased over the last decade.

Through the GND petition, we will collect a fee based on the emissions a new commercial building will produce over its lifetime, using the money to do energy efficiency and fund green jobs training programs with direct benefit to low-income and minority communities. For example, if a new building generates $1 mil in mitigation fees, at least $250K would be spent on green jobs training and the remainder would be used to pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that would actually generate new local jobs for the trainees.

We have an opportunity to make our zoning code more equitable by redistributing wealth and greening our city via economic opportunity for those closest to the pain. In doing so, we will begin to break from our zoning code’s historical and ongoing use as a tool of oppression. Climate change demands we act with urgency. If you support the GND Zoning Petition, visit http://cambridgegnd.org where you or your organization can learn more, join the coalition, or take action. It will take strong grassroots support to pass a Green New Deal in Cambridge!

Opposition to Alewife Upzoning

Here are 5 reasons why Councillor Zondervan is not ready to move ahead with the proposed upzoning in the Alewife Quadrangle:

1. There is no guarantee of a bridge.

CC&F talks big about building a bridge across the commuter rail tracks, but this language allows them to get out of that by making a financial payment. Without a guarantee that the bridge will be built, it is sometimes hard to understand why we are spending so much time on this proposal. The developer hasn’t even secured key permits and easements with the MBTA, adding significant uncertainty. Even if this bridge were to get built, it isn’t in an ideal location- it is sited to primarily serve the developer’s tenants, rather than the public interest.

A map of the Alewife area, including the “Quadrangle” (blue) and the “Triangle” (orange) which are separated by commuter rail tracks. The zoning proposal in front of the council proposes an upzoning of much of the Quadrangle in exchange for the bridge across the tracks.

2. Too much parking.

The proposed 85-foot tall above ground parking garage is simply unacceptable from a climate perspective. Traffic is already famously bad in the area and we need to reduce the number of cars that come into our city. The developer’s insistence on a 700+ car garage makes connectivity feel like less of a priority. I asked them to build more housing instead of the massive garage, but they don’t seem to be willing to move in that direction. I appreciate their commitment to rooftop solar, but that does not make the parking structure acceptable.

The proposal to develop 16+ acres in the Quadrangle, including with an 85-foot above ground parking garage which would worsen area traffic and counteract our climate goals.

3. Subverted process.

The developer went to the nearby rock gym to collect signatures of registered voters in order to submit the upzoning as a citizens’ petition instead of having to engage in contract zoning with the council. It is unclear if those who signed were even aware of what they were signing since none of them have shown up to our meetings, which is highly unusual. Why isn’t this a PUD? Through this trick, the developer is able to offer community benefits based on just ⅔ of the land being upzoned, and if the developer were to buy the adjoining parcels they would get the upzoning without having to provide any additional benefit.

4. Cherrypicking the Alewife District Plan.

Ironically, the city’s Envision Alewife process led to a near consensus on preserving the light industrial nature of this area. But the market pressure is all about building high-end laboratory/office space, because that commands the highest rents. The CC&F proposal pretends to honor the light-industrial buildings envisioned in Alewife, but is mostly focused on collecting the high rents of laboratory/office space.  The proposal does not reduce dependency on automobile traffic as Envision calls for. CC&F has not grappled with questions around public amenities or the open space network that Envision calls for, to reduce heat and flooding impacts of climate change.

Recommendations from the city’s Alewife District Plan (page 10) which the developer has chosen to only partially follow. We should create zoning off of our planning, instead of accepting zoning from a developer that cherrypicks our planning.

5. A worthless financial analysis.

The analysis we were initially presented with showed a -$3M net value for the proposed upzoning, which didn’t make any sense. That value is the assumed increased value of the upzoning minus the assumed costs to the developer including community benefits. It defies belief that the developer would go through the trouble of filing this petition four times at a net loss compared to what they could do building as-of-right. CDD said the initial analysis was done without the commitment letter, so there was no way to actually know the true costs of the community benefits to the developer. We received the letter on Monday (2/16) and it shows a much lower estimated cost for the bridge by millions of dollars. CDD will have to redo their analysis.

The developer’s presentations have made the bridge a primary focus of this proposal (just look at this title slide from their December 16 powerpoint). Moving ahead without a guarantee of its construction would be a disservice to the public.

11/16/20 Council Catch-up

Closing indoor spaces

 I strongly stand with the Mayor and Vice Mayor in prioritizing closures of indoor spaces like bars and gyms ahead of the schools. Cambridge needs to lead here to save lives. We should be clear with the City Manager that we need a relief program and these spaces need to close immediately. It was frustrating that this important discussion got charter righted into next week because time is of the essence when dealing with exponential growth.

Asking for weekly COVID updates

Cases are on the rise here in Cambridge and across the state. In response, I called on the City Manager to start delivering weekly updates on the city’s COVID-19 response during council meetings, as opposed to the less frequent updates that we had slipped into. Here’s a clip of what I said:

Extending Memorial Drive closures

One policy order from Monday’s agenda called for an extension of the popular Memorial Drive closures, which normally end in November. Many residents have called for an extension due to the pandemic. We need to maximize open space and opportunities to get exercise and fresh air outside while maintaining social distancing requirements. I have previously called for Memorial Drive to be shut down entirely, but the least we can do is extend the current weekend closures.

Some of my colleagues who were unsupportive pointed to young people not wearing their masks properly outdoors as a cause of the recent spike. It is important to recognize that outdoor transmission is not considered to be a driver of the pandemic, and every bit of scientific evidence we have points to indoor transmission as the culprit. 

One of my colleagues exercised their charter right on this policy order and it won’t be considered until next Monday. Watch my take on this here:

Tree Protection Ordinance update

Lasting changes to the Tree Protection Ordinance have advanced to the Ordinance Committee. At the recent meeting, I proposed a two-month extension to the current regulations around tree cutting to ensure there is no gap in coverage. If this change is adopted, current restrictions will not expire until the end of February, 2021. More details in the video:

Support for 32BJ SEIU

 I strongly support the workers of the 32BJ SEIU labor union as they demand a fair contract with no layoffs from Harvard. These workers have been on the frontlines of the pandemic, protecting our entire community from the virus. I am calling on Harvard University to do right by these fine folks as one of the wealthiest institutions in the world. I have sent a letter to President Bacow about this.