Weekly Council Recap March 30 2015

 

This is an update from the March 30th City Council Meeting  where the plastic bag ban ordinance, now the "Bring Your Own Bag Ordinance", passed eight to one. I'm so happy and proud  to be part of this process. In the US, we use almost one per person per year; that means 100 billion bags annually. That means Cambridge's share is close to 32 million bags. There's a lot of times when just bringing your own bag  would work, and if we had a culture of bringing your own bag, we would save money and we'd be saving the environment. Bags that are lighter than three mils, the thinnest bags that you get at grocery markets, which float away into trees, rivers, and our ecosystem will no longer be allowed. Bags that are three mils and up will be seen as reusable. We'll see more canvas bags and paper bags will see a small surcharge, because those have a huge environmental impact as well, and we want to discourage this when people could be bringing their own bags. There was a last minute bid to try to reduce the thickness of bags from three mils to 2.25; the Sierra club pointed out that at 2.25 mils, they will still end up in our ecosystem, not biodegrading  for ages. With that research on the record, it was easy for the Council to go with the full ordinance. This was an incredible win for the Council, and we're now the largest city in the East Coast with a ban like this. Our thanks to former Councilor Marjorie Decker (now State Representative Decker) and former Mayor Henrietta Davis, who were instrumental in getting  this going, and to my colleagues who have been moving this along.

               We also talked about Pearl Street, which came off the calendar; there had been a discussion where the Pearl street  residents were split evenly. Do we reconstruct Pearl Street as is, or do we remove a lot of parking for better bus and bicycle infrastructure? The resulting  conversation led to the city adopting a bias that keeps parking in place. I think many of the residents are relieved to hear that, but at the same time many residents want to see improved bike infrastructure. What happened last night was about the conversation to come: How can we talk about bike network in general in such a way that there is improved bike infrastructure without taking away parking? How can we continue the conversation for a win-win. I think that is much needed, and there was an item coming off the calendar to be voted on that would have squashed that conversation intentionally. We did eventually vote against that order as a council but it was very close; it was a lengthy conversation, and I believe that now we will refer that order to committee so that we can  have the conversation on the win-win situations we need and also investigate how to add bike infrastructure without it being detriment to parking.

               The Foundry Building came up in a report from the City Manager, because the planning board has recommended a disposition of the Foundry building, which is meant for community uses; this means that the CRA and the developer who wins a bid to take it over will have control of the redevelopment process away from much of the council's oversight as soon as we vote for that disposition. This is a  community building which must guarantee a preponderance of community uses, and if we need for-profit uses to make the building financially workable, that's fine. For-profit uses can be a huge benefit to the financial bottom line of that building and to activating and programming that building. Ten percent  or twenty percent of the space used by for-profits is fine, however when you get close to thirty, forty, or even fifty percent, that becomes very scary for people who are depending on the building for workforce development, community engagement, arts and culture, exhibition space, and other ideas that the community has been very open and collaborative about wanting to see integrated together, not competitively. The building will have lot of shared space, performance and art workshop space. As  Vice Mayor Benzan, Councilor Carlone, almost everyone on the council, and I have been driving, there will be a lot of hands on learning and Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math space.

               We moved a committee report where we investigated future technologies for real estate development and urban planning; this was a meeting led largely by research groups from MIT and a few hackathon participants who had dreamed up solutions for the city on their own free time. The motions in that meeting by myself and Vice Mayor Benzan were advancing an opportunity for us to engage with universities more deliberately, more often, and to engage with our residents through these emerging technologies, some of which are offline and in person and some of which are online. I hope that the instructions to the city manager bear some fruit and that we begin doing this a little bit more deliberately and more consistently. Please share this with your friends and give us feedback about what you're involved in and what you would like to hear about in future updates.

               Thank you.


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