Thursday, May 23, 2024


Backers of a petition to make large construction in Cambridge “net zero” for greenhouse gas emissions go before the Planning Board on Tuesday, but they’re already making their arguments to the public. In addition to an Aug. 14 meeting, there’s a video explaining the issue:

It was unveiled in a Monday morning e-mail from Mike Connolly, campaign manager for the Cambridge Committee for Net Zero Buildings – and created by Nadeem Mazen, whose Central Square business Nimblebot has created such videos for its public relations clients.

Mazen is also a candidate for City Council who has spoken in favor of the net zero proposal.

“Going net zero is not only a visionary move, it’s a cost-effective move,” Mazen said June 24, during public comment at a council meeting. He expanded on that Monday:

To be honest, I wasn’t convinced by net zero until I saw the math. When we look at the reasonable cost of renewables over the grid (and a number of other cost-saving factors not available with non-renewable energy), net zero represents a very low cost and sometimes a net revenue. That’s without even considering on-site power generation. With modest on-site solar and current government incentives, net zero represents a profitable model for developers, in our research. This is a super important point for me, because I’m committed to increasing low- and middle-income housing solutions in Cambridge. It’s critical that net zero be a feasible standard for architects, developers and housing activists.

The video, though, is less explicitly a candidate’s message and more an example of what Mazen calls “byte-size” politics.

“It shouldn’t take hours of meetings and heavy reading to get up to speed on Cambridge politics, especially when these meetings determine the future of our neighborhoods,” Mazen says in his campaign materials, calling himself “passionate about using technology, brief video updates and other engaging media to make pertinent issues more accessible to the public, increasing civic participation in the process.”

“We want to make civic issues more accessible, which is why we’re creating videos like this. We want people to understand and engage with the issues they care about, and this is a great start. I also believe that frequent issue-based brainstorming and community-building events are critical to the civic health of our city,” said Mazen on Tuesday. Such an event aimed at finding a solution for the languishing Foundry building was coming soon, he said.

Other council candidates have signed onto the net zero concept, including Sam Seidel, Kristen von Hoffman and Dennis Carlone, who is a member of the committee. School Committee candidate for reelection Patty Nolan has signed the petition, Connolly said, and there are state-level supporters in state Sen. Will Brownsberger and state Rep. Carl Sciortino, as well as from environment leader Bill McKibben. The Massachusetts Sierra Club has endorsed the net-zero concept.

The citizens group A Better Cambridge, meanwhile, said in a Monday blog post that while they agree with the net zero petition’s goals, “We have serious concerns that the Connolly petition’s narrow focus on large-scale new development will hurt our ability to create the new affordable low- and middle-income housing that is now so desperately needed to keep Cambridge a diverse and sustainable community.” It goes on:

When it comes to housing, most research and practice-based evidence into the feasibility of cost-effective net zero housing applies to low-density, single-family homes in moderate climates like California. This is not the type of new housing we should expect or hope for in Cambridge, and there is insufficient evidence to make any conclusions about the feasibility of developing net zero multifamily housing here. This places at risk the viability of important projects like housing at the Sullivan Courthouse, for which residents of East Cambridge have been fighting. If the Cambridge Housing Authority development currently planned for Temple Street were subject to the requirements of the Connolly Petition, it almost certainly would not go forward.

The petition takes “far too narrow an approach,” the group said.

The Planning Board meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Citywide Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. Also on the agenda: 107 units of housing to be built at 240 Sidney St., 40 Allston St. and 618 Grove Ave., where Dinosaur Capital Partners and Sidney Grove are seeking permission to build less parking than is typically required; and a zoning change “in the area bounded by Allston, Waverly and Sidney streets and Putnam Avenue.”