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Cambridge City Council Maps Agenda For Term, Announces New Role for Climate Sustainability

The Cambridge City Council set housing, economic opportunity, and and increased communication with residents as goals for their new term.
The Cambridge City Council set housing, economic opportunity, and and increased communication with residents as goals for their new term. By Thomas Maisonneuve
By Matan H. Josephy and Avani B. Rai, Crimson Staff Writers

The Cambridge City Council convened a special meeting Tuesday with city officials to set term priorities and announce the creation of a new position focused on climate resilience.

Councilors discussed goals and next steps for Cambridge housing, economic opportunity, transportation, sustainability, and government accountability. City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 also announced that Cambridge will create the position of Chief Climate Sustainability Officer to spearhead climate initiatves.

Deputy City Manager Owen O’Riordan joined Huang and the nine sitting councilors. Gabriella D. Salvatore, an advisor from professional services giant BDO, helped facilitate the meeting.

The discussion largely centered around affordable housing, which Cambridge residents recently called their top priority in a city-led annual survey. Councilors set goals of building more housing, increasing housing accessibility for residents in the lower and middle classes, and strengthening protections for tenants.

Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern said 2-year terms for Cambridge city councilors make it difficult to address housing needs because projects often take longer to accomplish.

“It’s going to be seven housing committee meetings. It’s going to be ten ordinance committee meetings,” McGovern said.

While having goals for the long term are important, McGovern said, laying out smaller goals is necessary to accomplish change and address residents’ housing needs.

Huang said that the Council should be mindful of the city’s limited resources when considering its initiatives. In past terms, the Council’s policy initiatives have outpaced the city’s capacity for implementing them.

“I think housing itself is a huge area. We can get a lot done. We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Huang said. “We just can’t walk, chew gum, play the cymbal, play the violin, and roller skate all at the same time.”

“Can we get to high level goals, work it through the committee, but also recognize that at some point the city’s going to be at its limit?” Huang added.

Councilors also sought to devise strategies for informing city residents on their work and enhancing communication between the city government and its constituents.

“Even though everyone in Cambridge is highly educated,” Councilor Burhan Azeem said, “I don’t expect my voters to necessarily know what’s going on in the city, just because they have their own lives to live.”

Councilors and staff considered solutions including building on existing communications methods, sending mailers containing information on Council activities to houses, and surveying residents to understand how they prefer communicating with city officials.

Councilor Paul F. Toner, however, said sending mailers to residents could be exploited to dismiss concerns about communication gaps.

“This is a cover-your-ass message,” Toner said.

Councilors could deflect criticism from residents, he added, by saying, “This was mailed to your house, it’s on the website, so please don’t ever tell me you didn’t hear about it.”

The range of topics discussed during the Tuesday meeting were especially important, according to Huang.

“I think it’s really the first time — especially because of the Covid pandemic — that we're really sitting down and starting to have these conversations,” Huang said. “As we work through this, what’s really exciting to me is that there’s more transparency across the board.”

The City Council will convene for a second goal-setting meeting on Mar. 7.

—Staff writer Matan H. Josephy can be reached Follow him on X @matanjosephy.

—Staff writer Avani B. Rai can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @avaniiiirai.

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Cambridge City CouncilCambridgeMetroSustainabilityHousingCambridge City Manager