Participatory Budgeting is underway in Cambridge, and you can vote on how to spend $900,000 of our city budget online or in-person at various locations throughout the city. There are 20 great ideas worthy of your consideration, but only five will be selected. Anyone residing in our city (12 years of age and older) can vote on how to spend the money, even non-citizens. As a naturalized citizen myself, I really appreciate how this process gives a voice to those who are typically shut out entirely from the political process. This is a great opportunity to make sure a small part of our budget reflects the priorities of everyone- so please, help spread the word and make sure all residents ages 12 and up are aware of this important opportunity. Some examples of past projects that have been funded include: the public toilet in Central Square, new musical instruments for CRLS, and solar panels for the roof of the main library.
Vote online today! Though it was a very difficult decision, here are the five projects I supported this year:
Rain Gardens for Resiliency- Rain gardens are critical for better stormwater management.
Trees, Please!- 100 new trees throughout the city, to counteract the recent sobering news that our canopy has shrunk by nearly 20% since 2009.
Soak Up the Solar Power- Adding solar panels to the Russell Youth Center! besides reducing emissions and costs, this would provide another opportunity for children to learn about the importance of renewable energy.
Charging into the Future- This would create new publicly accessible electric vehicle charging stations. I am particularly excited about the possibility of retrofitting existing utility poles with charging stations.
Protect the Health and Safety of our Firefighters- This would significantly reduce occupational hazards for our Firefighters, which I feel is the very least we can do for those who protect us every day.
Gas Leaks and Safety
Thousands remain without heat or hot water after September’s gas explosions in Merrimack Valley. At the same time, 1,200 United Steelworkers remain unfairly locked out of their jobs, without pay or healthcare, over a labor dispute with National Grid, further endangering our safety. This year has only continued to highlight the dire need to move away from our aging natural gas infrastructure towards renewable energy, but it has also exposed some gaping holes in the complex network of contractors, utilities, and regulators charged with maintaining and inspecting that infrastructure. My office has worked to hold these institutions accountable through a policy order asking the city manager to disallow contractors with known safety problems from working on our gas infrastructure, and through a committee hearing on the safety of our gas infrastructure and the status of leaks, because this is a basic safety issue that has implications for every resident of the Commonwealth.
The contractor that was on the job the day of the explosions in Lawrence (Feeney Brothers Utility Services) is the same contractor that has replaced the United Steelworkers during their lockout. During that time, there have been so many reported safety violations on National Grid worksites that the Department of Public Utilities has frozen the utility from doing any non-emergency work, noting that they may be in violation of federal pipeline safety regulations. Feeney Brothers is also the contractor employed by Eversource to work in Cambridge, and was responsible for an incident on Gore Street last June in which the root system of an ancient oak tree was severely damaged to the point where it became a safety issue and had to be removed.
At the time, City Staff called this incident "simply unacceptable" and "an egregious breach of the city's permitting requirements with Eversource". While Feeney Brothers paid significant restitution to the community for that incident, and was ultimately found not legally responsible for the tragic explosions in Lawrence, I continue to have significant concerns about the use of this contractor in Cambridge.
While Feeney Brothers declined to attend the committee hearing I chaired on this topic, we did have a productive conversation with Eversource, Mothers out Front, HEET, Green Cambridge, and USW 12003 Union leadership.
However, the story does not start and end with the utilities and contractors. A recent NTSB report found the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to be grossly understaffed, and in fact they were only employing as few as three inspectors statewide in the weeks leading up to the Merrimack Valley tragedy.
This is highly problematic, and my colleagues unanimously supported the resolution I submitted calling on Governor Baker to fully staff the inspectional services division of the DPU. It is my hope that he will take this call seriously as one of the most immediate measures that could be applied to address this complex and multifaceted statewide emergency.
Going forward, we will continue to monitor these situations,. As a reminder, if you smell gas in Cambridge please call the Eversource hotline 800-592-2000, or 911, immediately.
150K to Study Digital Equity in Cambridge
The City Manager recently came before the Council requesting a $150,000 appropriation to support a 12-month digital equity research initiative. Additionally, he announced the formal conclusion of the Broadband Task Force and the creation of a new Digital Equity Advisory Board. I am grateful for the appropriation and looking forward to making progress on the digital equity issue. At the meeting, I suggested making the advisory board more of an ongoing institution, as we are unlikely to resolve digital inequality in a single year.
My initial policy order asked for a plan which included four things:
While I appreciate that the appropriation will address the first goal on that list, I expect that a future response will cover goals 2-4. The Federal Government does not consider internet access to be an essential utility as it does electricity or heat, and public housing tenants must pay regular rates. It is time to change that. It is also time to look at the city's own fiber network and "dig once" policy to see if there are additional ways we can leverage our resources in order to provide better service to our residents.
In the past year, I have met with many residents who are struggling with digital inequality. In one instance, two siblings graduated from CRLS without consistent internet access at home, relying on a patchwork system of friends, family, after school programs, and coffee shops to do their homework. In another case, an elderly woman living in public housing had to Skype her family and have a personal conversation in the common room of her building, because it was the only space where she could access the internet. Rest assured, I will be continuing this conversation as we head into 2019 because our residents deserve better, and as a global center of technological innovation we have a responsibility to do more than just study the problem.
Get In Touch!
I hope that you will reach out to let me know your thoughts on matters before the council or otherwise of importance to you. My council office number is 617-349-9479 and my email is email@example.com. You can also reach out to my aide, Dan Totten, at firstname.lastname@example.org. I meet with constituents about issues big and small nearly every day. Be sure to follow our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter pages for regular updates!
Clockwise from upper left:
1. I'm back on my bike after two years and two surgeries to replace my left hip!
2. I spent the weekends leading up to election day canvassing in Maine's 2nd Congressional District for Jared Golden. Jared's close victory over a conservative incumbent was very satisfying after all our hard work. Also interesting to note that he's the first member of Congress ever elected by Ranked Choice Voting.
3. We protested Sanofi and supported the mothers of two young adult diabetes patients who died while rationing insulin because it has become insanely expensive. Patients across the U.S. are unable to afford these absurd markups on the drug that keeps them alive, and there is no reason for it other than profiteering.
4. I joined Sunrise Boston at Rep Katherine Clark's office to urge her to support the Green New Deal and take the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge. I proudly took the pledge when I ran last year. You can watch my remarks on Facebook.