Wednesday, June 12, 2024

A soccer game at Danehy Park on June 28. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Reshaping City Hall and ‘linkage’

City Council, 5:30 p.m. Monday. This meeting has plenty to do even without breaking at 6:30 p.m. for a hearing on setting property tax rates for residential and commercial property – including the council’s first public chance to weigh in on how new city manager Yi-An Huang is reshaping City Hall, in some cases in response to council suggestions. This week he proposes three appointments, including the return after more than a decade of an emergency manager to handle crises on the scale of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, East Cambridge 10-alarm fire in 2016 that displaced more than 100 people or the Covid pandemic; crises are now handled within the fire department, an approach Huang called “standard for smaller towns and cities.” Next, a director of community engagement would coordinate and improve responses across departments where now “outreach and engagement vary.” And a chief people officer would upgrade a personnel department he deemed 21 percent to 43 percent understaffed for a city with 1,636 full-time employees, more than 1,100 part-timers and a dozen unions – and using paper-based practices and tech from 1999. “We all recognize the irony that as a hub of innovation, we are still using technology and processes from more than 20 years ago,” Huang said. A council suggestion for better practices will also be heard this week: asking that the Law Department provide opinions automatically before public hearings considering changes to city ordinances.

A yearlong debate seems to be coming to a head on jumping developer “linkage” rates that pay for affordable housing to $33.34 a square foot from the current $20.10. Councillors have disagreed on an approach that incentivizes building projects of various size, such as whether to exempt the first 30,000 square feet of construction or square footage that’s torn down but replaced. The city’s Law Department offers some guidance on these ideas, as well as two thumbs-down on them from the Planning Board and Affordable Housing Trust – though the trust approves of a proposed amendment limiting that square-footage exemption to smaller projects.

Considering Danehy Park’s importance as open space and as playing fields for high school, youth league and amateur sports, there’s a call for a needs assessment of what is basically a 32-year-old layer of topsoil over landfill and to replace its irrigation system, which failed this summer during a drought, as well as improving plant watering in general. Councillors also want to know how rat-control efforts are going citywide.

Two roughly related items return from councillors using their “charter right” to put them briefly on hold: convening a North Massachusetts Avenue Corridor District Zoning Proposal Working Group to plan the stretch from Harvard Square to the Arlington border, and updating the set of recommendations known as the city’s “Street Code.” There are new versions of the North Massachusetts Avenue (stressing that the work won’t interfere with current projects) and street code proposals. Other returning issues include the move to universal pre-kindergarten, for which a group recommends an easier parent application process but finds “there is not enough infant care or toddler care space in the city”; and the news that the Cambridge Health Alliance doesn’t plan to bring its Cambridge Birth Center back to pre-pandemic levels of operation, whatever advocates had been told.

The council meets at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. Televised and watchable by Zoom video conferencing.

Disabilities in after-school time

School Committee Special Education & Student Supports Subcommittee, 6 p.m. Monday. This hearing chaired by Ayesha Wilson plan to examine the new structure of the Office of Student Services and review policies about including people with disabilities in out-of-school-time programs, among other things. Watchable by Zoom video conferencing.

Coffee with a Cop Day

National Coffee With a Cop Day, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday. Officers will be around to discuss issues and address questions with the goal of building community relationships. The event is scheduled for the Starbucks at 655 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square.

Plans for The Middle East

Historical Commission, 6 p.m. Thursday. The Sater family, with the help of Patrick Barrett’s CSQ Realty, introduces a plan to demolish its one-story structure at 468-480 Massachusetts Ave. and at 2-10 Brookline St. and replace its four music venues, eateries and a convenience store with a six-story, 53,847-square-foot hotel with music stages,a jazz lounge and a restaurant. (We wrote about the project Sept. 15.) Buckingham Browne & Nichols, the private pre-K-to-12 day school, could find the goal of reconstructing its lower-school campus complicated by a potential landmarking of buildings. (We wrote about the project June 7.) And the case of 12 Lakeview Ave., West Cambridge, is back – a 10,751-square-foot single-family home built in 1846 for which owners were given permission to renovate and, in the eyes of Inspectional Services, went too far. Now the owners must seek a “retroactive application to demolish [the] house.” Watchable by Zoom video conferencing.

Deciding ‘Riverbend Park’ days

Community meeting about Memorial Drive and Riverbend Park, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday. (Rescheduled from Sept. 13.) Should Memorial Drive stay closed to cars all weekend from Gerry’s Landing Road to Western Avenue – which lets pedestrians, cyclists and others enjoy the riverfront roadway as “Riverbend Park” – or go back to a Sunday-only schedule? The city and state Department of Conservation and Recreation want to hear residents’ thoughts. Masks are strongly encouraged for the meeting in the auditorium of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School, 102 Putnam Ave., Riverside.