Friday, July 19, 2024

I am writing as an individual – not on behalf of the School Committee. I am, however, writing with the knowledge I have due to being on School Committee. On Monday the City Council will vote whether to lease 420 parking spots to Leggat McCall. Its members face a difficult situation, since we all want East Cambridge’s former courthouse to finally become an asset. And that deal, when negotiated, was likely a very good exchange. Yet times have changed, and the deal has some serious issues. Kendall Square is booming, thousands more units of housing have been built and are planned. Thousands more jobs, also. The question of whether this deal is in the best interest of the community today is the one to answer in this vote. I believe it is not.

While I understand the appeal of a certain revenue stream coming in exchange, the spots are in a public parking garage. And while the lease is a lot of money, it is not a game changer and would tie up the spots for 30 years; Cambridge has ways to conserve a million dollars a year for the next 30 years and make up for any lost revenue from the lease. The neighborhood is in one of the most densely populated sections of the city, and development and growth have not stopped. The demand for public parking is acute. For example, the new educational complex on Cambridge Street that just opened is fabulous – it was built with sustainable elements and is intended to lower car trips. That is a worthy goal, but it means there are far fewer parking spots than there are staff. We all wish staff used cars less frequently, and that no new cars would be coming into the area with development. We all support use of public transit, carpooling, walking and biking. But we have public school staff who can’t afford to live in Cambridge who are wondering where they can park – since our new building has spots for about half of them. What does that say to our public servants? We need to be treating all staff at different levels similarly, and not expect staff who travel from afar (but absolutely need to be – and are – at school on time) to be doubly penalized by relying on public transit that takes much longer. There is also staff at other schools in need of reliable means of getting to work to serve our children. As a staunch environmental activist, I applaud the idea of encouraging fewer car trips by our residents and employees. Yet until public transit is better, we cannot ignore the real burden of lacking parking for staff, especially lower-paid staff.

Sadly, opposition to this lease is being portrayed as simply obstructionist. While I think a better plan for the courthouse could be developed, the council could vote down the parking proposal and Leggat McCall might continue its development, seeking parking spots at the CambridgeSide mall as is listed as an alternative in the Planning Board decision. Or there might be an opportunity to think about other development scenarios. Let’s not give up precious public property at this point in the city’s history; we need all of those parking spots to remain affordable and available for Cambridge residents and workers. If self-driving cars or other changes in the future mean the spots are not used, the city could dispose of them then. We are not at that point. Residents of Cambridge are counting on the City Council to be guardians of our public property.

Patty Nolan, Huron Avenue