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City Manager’s Message

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

It is hard to believe that September 2023 marked my first-year anniversary in which I have had the honor and privilege of working as your City Manager. Over the course of the last year plus, I have worked hard to balance the many voices in our diverse community, find consensus within the City Council and follow their direction, and bring forward the professional experience and expertise of City department leaders and staff. 

During this time, we have made significant investments and commitments across major areas reflecting the City Council’s priorities: 

1. Affordable housing continues to be one of our highest priorities. We have allocated $46 million in the Fiscal Year (FY)24, including $41 million into the Affordable Housing Trust. 

Furthermore, the Council asked City staff to convene an Alewife Zoning Working Group to build off the recommendations from the 2019 Alewife District Plan and provide zoning rules that would guide the creation of a vibrant new neighborhood in the last large area of the city with an opportunity for major planning and redevelopment that would enable commercial development while also advancing the City’s goals of housing production, economic vitality, and environmental resilience. Over the last 18 months, city staff led an inclusive working group process that brought together the diverse interests of residents, business community, institutions, property owners, and developers. The process resulted in a shared vision for a mixed-use district that balances economic growth with housing development and delivers significant infrastructure improvements. The final zoning that was adopted 9-0 by the Council creates the framework for a multimodal, resilient, and sustainable neighborhood with strong community amenities. The zoning incentivizes the construction of a bike/pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks and requires commercial development over a certain threshold to contribute to our housing supply and fund infrastructure improvements. Estimated development projections by 2040 would result in approximately 3,500 new housing units, including 700 affordable units.  

While we have a lot more work to do to address high housing costs, we are making unprecedented contributions with our annual financial commitment more than tripling over the last decade and we have a clear focus on housing development. 

2. Supporting our unhoused community continues to be an important priority. The City has allocated $16 million across homelessness and housing stability. I’m so proud to work for a city that provides more adult emergency shelter beds to individuals who are unhoused on a per capita basis, than any city or town across the state. In fact, Cambridge has nearly four times the number of beds per capita than the statewide average. Despite state funding ending and leases at risk of expiring, the City preserved nearly 100 emergency shelter beds in 2023.  In FY24, we added $2.8 million in new funding to maintain our shelter capacity coming out of the pandemic. 

As it relates to housing stability, the Cambridge Fuel Assistance Program is once again accepting applications for the 2023-2024 heating season. Over the past five years, the Fuel Assistance program has distributed more than $4.9 million in heating bill assistance to Cambridge and Somerville residents. It is one of the programs – along with the Housing Stabilization Fund and many others – that we are committed to in order to help residents. 

Providing support to our unhoused and others in need while maintaining thriving city squares through initiatives like the Central Square City Lots Study will continue to be a focus across city departments. 

3. The Cambridge Preschool Program represents the largest new financial investment across FY24 and FY25. We are actively preparing for the Cambridge Preschool Program (CPP), as classes begin in Fall 2024. High-quality pre-school curriculum will be offered to all four-year-olds and prioritized three-year-olds. Led by the Cambridge Office of Early Childhood, the Cambridge Preschool Program will ensure that all Cambridge preschoolers have equitable access to high-quality learning experiences across a variety of preschool programs, which families will apply to through a single application. Families could begin submitting applications December 1, 2023. 

4. We are facing a global climate crisis and Cambridge is rising to meet it. We have allocated $18 million in FY24 toward reducing building emissions, vehicle electrification, and investments in renewable energy with significant City ordinances and programs rolling out this year. 
As we outlined in the last issue of Cambridge Life, which was dedicated to Climate Change, we passed a major milestone in June 2023 with the adoption of an amended Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance (BEUDO), which mandates large, non- residential buildings to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions with a net zero requirement by 2035. As of August 2023, we also adopted a new Fossil Fuel Free regulation that will restrict fossil fuel use in new construction or major renovations. These key milestones are in addition to new program enhancements we are offering residents, including community solar and multifamily decarbonization subsidies.  
5. Finally, making our streets safer for all is a key priority for the City. We continue to invest in our urban infrastructure to repair damaged roads, improve accessibility, address dangerous intersections, and expand protected bike lanes.  
As an example, we installed new quick-build separated bike lanes and raised pedestrian islands this summer on Brattle Street helping the City meet the requirements of the Cycling Safety Ordinance. Cambridge's two-way bike lane on Brattle Street now spans the entire length of the street, connecting Harvard Square to West Cambridge—almost 1.5 miles from end to end. Furthermore, the City also built pedestrian crossing islands between bike lanes and vehicle travel lanes at crosswalks near Appleton Street, Lowell Street, Fayerweather Street, Lexington Avenue, and Fresh Pond Lane.  

We just published a new Bicycling in Cambridge data report in October 2023. From my perspective, the most heartening news from the report and our consistent efforts on street safety is that while ridership is up for bicyclists (adults and children), there has been a steady decline in the number of crashes from 2003 to 2022 (per million bicycle miles traveled) and injuries have also dropped in severity. We are doing more to ensure the safety of those using our roadways while improving the infrastructure to accommodate people who walk, ride, drive, and play in and around our streets.  

I expanded upon these and other critical priorities in my inaugural performance review performance in November 2023. It’s available for anyone to review on https://www.cambridgema.gov/Departments/citymanagersoffice/communicationsoffice.  

As 2023 starts to come to a close and we look ahead to 2024, I continue to be humbled by the dedicated efforts and expertise across City leadership and staff. It is a privilege to be working for the City. We’ve accomplished a great deal in the last year plus, and I am looking forward to tackling future challenges and celebrating further successes together.

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