Attend Cambridge meetings from March 20-26 on body cameras and a review of police practices
Police issues; affordable homes
City Council, 5:30 p.m. Monday. This meeting, with a few items relating to police matters, has been switched to all-remote; some past council sessions have been disrupted by protesters seeking action since the killing of a Cambridgeport man by police Jan. 4, including the naming of the officer who fired the shots. This agenda offers a memo from police commissioner Christine Elow beginning the process of getting police body-worn cameras that includes submitting a funding grant proposal in April to the Department of Justice. The cameras were a goal of protesters; a Thursday committee meeting addresses them as well. A third-party review of police practices and training on deescalation methods and mental-health calls will also be announced (with a review of the shooting included), and there are two appointments to the Police Review and Advisory Board, chartered in 1984 as civilian oversight for the police force but performing to mixed reviews. A councillor order to get funding to a citizen-run emergency-response group called the Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team is back for discussion after being set aside two weeks ago.
Also returning is the latest in a series of policy orders asking the city to look for purchases it can use to provide more affordable housing. “On the market now is a 13-unit building for $7.7 million and a building with six residential units and three retail units for $5.4 million,” the order notes. The city manager, meanwhile, invites council input on what priorities to identify when asking for $2.3 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds: The one-time grant that must be requested by March 31 could go toward housing the homeless or creating affordable rentals, among other things. The council is already headed toward renewing its call for a real estate transfer fee, which could mean $23 million for affordable housing in Cambridge this year if the state Legislature would let cities and towns implement one. The council also has a citizen zoning petition to forward to committee and the Planning Board that represents the latest attempt to let developers put up buildings similar to what the city has now, such as the ubiquitous triple-deckers, instead of keeping zoning that encourages single-family construction. “The inability to build homes similar to existing ones is confounding,” the petition says.
An order for consideration by the council asks city staff to implement five ideas to improve car traffic on Garden Street after the major thoroughfare in West Cambridge got bike lanes in each direction in October. There’s also the annual recommendations for water and sewer rates to look at – another set of single-digit increases: 6.6 percent more in costs for water consumption and 5.1 percent more for sewer use, or a 5.43 percent combined increase, compared with last year’s 3.78 percent and 7 percent, respectively, for a combined 6.33 percent.
Televised and watchable by Zoom video conferencing.
Defending AP history course
School Committee, 6 p.m. Tuesday. There’s a hearing for a proposed 2024 fiscal year budget fit into this regular meeting in which members roll their collective eyes at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ banning of AP African American History courses, reaffirming a commitment to offer the course to Cambridge Public Schools students. There’s also a motion to be even more inclusive in terms of offering free menstrual products to anyone in need. The committee meets in the Dr. Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, 459 Broadway, Mid-Cambridge. Televised and watchable by Zoom video conferencing.
Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. This committee run by city councillor Dennis Carlone sets aside time to present potential amendments to the Affordable Housing Overlay that counters those being discussed in the Housing Committee – and Carlone wants each side presenting studies and drawings of how their visions for affordable housing fit in Cambridge. The committee meets at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. Televised and watchable by Zoom video conferencing.
Police funding and body cameras
Finance Committee, 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday. This committee run by city councillors Dennis Carlone and Patty Nolan reviews the police department budget for the next fiscal year before it is submitted to the city manager, with special attention on budget items related to the body cameras clamored for since a Jan. 4 fatal police shooting in Cambridgeport. The committee meets at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. Televised and watchable by Zoom video conferencing.
School district’s budget plan
Virtual Special Meeting of the School Committee, 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday. This is a budget workshop solely to review the proposed 2024 fiscal year budget. Televised and online.
From tattoo parlor to housing
Board of Zoning Appeal, 6:30 to 11:30 p.m. Thursday. Blank Street Coffee seeks permission to operate as a “formula” business – a chain, in other words – in Harvard Square. There’s also a request to convert the second story at 1680 Massachusetts Ave., between Harvard and Porter square, into two apartments. The space, which is above the Nirvana Indian restaurant, is now used for business: It’s the Hourglass Tattoo parlor. Watchable by Zoom video conferencing.
It would be nice to take the handful of citizens petitions about zoning, quit siloing them, but see what they all have in common, and then do an actual study- listen to architects and engineers, do an actual city plan- make models as a visual- to see what is practical, feasible, buy property that can be leased to developers. Instead, we have alarmists who are painting everything with a broad brush instead of looking at the cause and effect- how many elevators should be included in taller buildings (with only one in a tall building- one of the issues that kept 2072 Mass Ave Porter from being built), how expensive buildings become after a certain height, and look at why 25 stories with limited infrastructure in crowded squares clustered around transit and businesses will create a different dynamic including segregated housing. But no… the fact that there are so many zoning petitions suggests that CDD is not doing its job. Add to this 3 people specifically wanting to eliminate the Historical Commission and conservation districts (which allow for building, renovation, alterations), you have a dysfunctional ideological council and government. Please get real and practical.
I believe Starlight Square is also somewhere on tonight’s agenda.