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City Council Discusses 2022 Budget Allocations, Bike and Pedestrian Safety, and COVID-19 Cases in Cambridge

Cambridge City Council met publicly in Cambridge City Hall on Monday nights before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cambridge City Council met publicly in Cambridge City Hall on Monday nights before the COVID-19 pandemic. By Santiago A. Saldivar
By Meera S. Nair and Taylor C. Peterman, Crimson Staff Writers

The City of Cambridge held a meeting Monday to discuss policy orders about the city budget and bike safety, as well as update residents on measures taken to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

The City Council adopted a motion to instruct the Finance Department to provide statistics regarding the allocation of resources to city departments in order to address concerns of uneven distribution of resources in the 2022 Fiscal Year Budget.

The motion — which was voted on 9-0 — would require the Finance Department to provide an amount and percentage of money used by every department to address racial and economic equity.

Councilor E. Denise Simmons, a co-sponsor of the motion, said the city’s budget allocation “is very hard to quantify, let alone qualify,” making it difficult for citizens to know how financial resources are allocated.

“By bringing this all together in one segment, we as a city can know, are we, to use a cliché, putting our money where our mouth is?” Simmons said. “Are we really standing up around social equity? What departments might be lagging behind?”

The City Council also adopted a motion to improve bike and pedestrian safety in Harvard Square by providing planting strips along bike lanes in place of painted buffer zones.

Councilor Dennis J. Carlone described the current bike separations as belonging “in a trucking depot, not on major city streets.”

“Where we now have painted lines on the street, you put planters in, which have 6-inch curbs, which better protect bikers,” Carlone said. “And we also have areas on the asphalt where we’re going from two lanes to one lane that are just painted out — that should be planted too. We want to expand our vegitative areas throughout the city.”

City Manager Louis A. DePasquale also provided updates on measures taken by the city to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, such as its decision to cancel all city-sponsored Halloween events.

“Public celebrations like Halloween are an important part of our community and it is a difficult decision for us to recommend, but it's the right decision to protect the wellbeing of our residents,” he said. “This recommendation is in line with the conservative approach that we have been taking in our public health strategies.”

“I believe this approach has played a significant role in Cambridge rating still as a green community,” he added.

Councilor Marc C. McGovern raised concerns about a video he said he had watched that depicted “30 college-age people out in front of a restaurant — no social distancing, no masks.”

“I think we need to recommit to making sure that people understand — I don’t know if we need new signage, I don’t know if we need to get more ambassadors out there,” he said. “I can’t say whether or not those folks were Harvard students per se — they were college-aged in Harvard Square, but certainly making sure we’re talking to the universities as well.”

Coronavirus cases remain low among Harvard undergraduates living on campus, according to University data. The school recently implemented a pilot that allows for students living off campus to receive COVID testing weekly.

Simmons said she is concerned about the relatively high number of cases of COVID-19 still prevalent in minority communities in Cambridge.

“I know that we're very pleased about our numbers as it pertains to overall numbers — as it pertains to how we look citywide — but our numbers are still very high in the Black and Brown community,” she said. “I'm just looking for everyone's best thoughts on how we can be more effective, reaching into this very highly hard hit part of our community.”

As of Monday afternoon, the rate of COVID-19 cases among Black Cambridge residents was 232 per 10,000 residents — compared to 91 cases among 10,000 white Cambridge residents.

Chief Public Health Officer Claude Jacob updated the City Council on efforts to prepare for flu season and prevent “the perfect storm between COVID symptoms and flu symptoms.”

“We know that we need to prepare for flu season which is why we've amplified our flu campaign this year. We're doing 10 times as many flu shots to mitigate the impact that could happen in area hospitals,” he said. “We remain cautious, we stay the course, we continue doing what we’ve done for the last six or eight months.”

“Recognizing that what we’re seeing now is, as shared by the recent reports and the patterns of what we’re seeing in neighboring cities and towns, winter’s coming,” Jacob added. “And I don't mean Game of Thrones, I'm just saying that this is really what we're preparing for and we need to continue to stay the course and so we'll adjust as needed.”

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at meera.nair@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at taylor.peterman@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @taylorcpeterman.

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