City Council Discusses Housing, Tourism

City Council raises issues of tourist overcrowding near Harvard Yard

Cambridge City Council met for the first time in the new fiscal year yesterday to discuss a wide range of issues that have been pressing the city’s residents, including funding for affordable housing in the city and increased summer tourism traffic.

Following the urging of several residents during the public comment section of the meeting, the Council formally approved the recommendation of the Community Preservation Act Committee that the City allocate 80 percent of the CPA Local Fund revenue—$5,200,000—to affordable housing via the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust in fiscal year 2011.

Although Cambridge’s property values are among the highest in the state, following the repeal of rent control in the 1990s, the City has built and funded several affordable housing developments.

While the percentage of CPA money going to affordable housing remains steady, the amount of the allocation rose by $200,000 from last year.

This allocation, in addition to money from the state match fund and the CPA fund balance, brings total CPA contributions to affordable housing to an estimated $7,460,000 for fiscal year 2011, according to documents submitted to the Council by City Manager Robert W. Healy.

In Harvard Square matters, the Council passed a recommendation from the License Commission allowing changes in the routes of several Boston and Cambridge tour companies—including Super Duck Tours, LLC, City View Trolley Tours, and Boston Upper Deck Trolley Tours.

As a result of the ruling, Healy will investigate possible route amendments.

Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72 brought up the issue of the tours for discussion at the meeting. Given the growth in tourism since then, “I wonder who is overseeing the overall tourism,” Reeves said.

Specifically pointing out the proximity of Harvard Yard and “The Pit,” Reeves added that such “interesting” locations are prone to having “something of a circus-like aspect, and I am wondering who’s in charge of it.”

Reeves, who has served on the Council for 20 years, recalled recommending establishing an Office of Tourism when he first came to council, though he said the idea was dismissed at the time.

In a historical place such as Harvard Square, Reeves added, it is necessary to “keep the buses from overwhelming the entire scene.”

According to Healy, the Cambridge Traffic Director has met with such tours in order to assign them particular areas. The tours’ routes currently run down Mt. Auburn Street at the edge of Harvard property.

In addition, Healy added, Harvard has previously agreed, in cases where tours involve long bus trips and long pauses, that Super Duck Tours and similar companies should be allowed to let tourists disembark in Harvard Square near Au Bon Pain.

According to Reeves, however, officially registered tour companies are not the only problem: “There are large buses that bring a group of foreign language speakers and when you have eight or 10 of them, it can be chaotic.”

The City Council unanimously passed the proposal for further discussion.

—Staff writer Rediet T. Abebe can be reached at