City Platform and List of “To dos”

 

Housing -  A housing report done in 1969 that identified the many of the same issues we see today. Reading the report, the usual suspects such as understaffed code enforcement, poor quality construction, and neglected maintenance were the symptoms, but what was the cause? We’ve been tackling the symptoms for over 50 years, but the cause is simple - lack of investment in quality housing and more recently, barriers to investment. Having restored a home in the historic district, served as chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, and managing a rental property for nearly 20 years, I have had first hand experience that our processes are largely discouraging private investment in housing and awarding disinvestment.  

 

There’s no specific blame here, but at every turn, when an investor tries to do the “right thing” the process is frustrating and costly. Huge barriers - time, money, commission meetings, delays, increased costs, and increased taxes.  In addition, the frustration mounts when an investor sees that those who circumvent “the process” pay less taxes, aren’t subject to costly meetings and delays, and generally have no repercussions.  Instead, we will implement a thorough review  process and  empower our public works, planning commissions, and code enforcement officers. Enabling them to incentivize investors and homeowners for building and maintaining better quality housing while also implementing barriers for neglectful property owners. 

 

A few immediate action items:

  1.  No more “opinion based decisions” on commission decision-making.  Each commission has clear rules backed by the law.  If we don’t like the rules, then we need to change them, but until then we must follow them to the letter so investors are treated consistently and fairly.

  2. Create an inspection and tiered rental licensing program similar to Minneapolis and Baltimore.  This is an important issue in the city and we want to get it right so we encourage improved housing.

  3. Inclusionary zoning, also known as inclusionary housing, refers to planning ordinances that require a given share of construction to be affordable by people with low to moderate incomes.  Massive subsidized housing developments are to the detriment of everyone and have not produced the outcomes that the government or the people in them had hoped for.  Using the Bradford House as a prime example, it’s time to rethink this failed model for housing - those that depend on affordable housing deserve better!

  4. Vacant building tax.  Eventually a building that has been vacant for an extended period will go to tax sale and only sold under strict development conditions, into a community land bank to keep the cycle from repeating itself.

  5. Subject both contractors and property owners to fines if they don’t follow the process, but make it cheaper and easier to do the right thing - feedback is welcome.  No more asking for forgiveness after-the-fact.  This must go hand in hand with making sure that commissions follow their own rules and the rules are clear and the process is simplified.  Neglect should be what's expensive and complicated.  

  6. Create Neighborhood Investment Districts - instead of competition between neighborhoods for scarce tax dollars, know that each district has a percentage of revenue going back into their neighborhoods.

  7. Perform a thorough tax and financial analysis.  Reveal everything.  No more hidden expenditures for things like elected officials receiving health care.  

 

Sidewalk Maintenance revolving fund.  Improved pedestrian infrastructure won’t happen overnight but we need to target sidewalk improvements piece by piece, year by year, and shift the momentum in the other direction.  Properly budgeted for, eventually, we’ll have good sidewalks everywhere.  Just passing this responsibility off to property owners hasn’t worked.

 

Traffic Control Get rid of unnecessary stoplights.  Add stop signs in blind or dangerous intersections and break up long stretches of city streets to keep them from being race tracks.  We need our city streets to be safe for everyone.  If we build a city where it’s comfortable for people to move around and meet their basic needs without a car, it makes our city a more desirable place to live.  Stand on Locust, Glasgow, Leonards, or Academy St for 15 minutes and we’ll see why housing is suffering along these stretches.  We need families to invest in their homes and community in Cambridge. However, if we can’t let our children, pets, or elderly loved ones outside for fear of getting run over by a vehicle, we won't see families planting their lives and investments in Cambridge.  We’ll do a thorough review of all the streets within the neighborhoods of Cambridge and make sure they’re safe for all modes of transportation.

 

Police and Fire Budgets - Our fire and police departments are tired of the lack of funds available for basic needs while also having to present minor purchases to the council for approval.  With proper planning and budgeting this issue should be readily resolved. While it will involve compromise, we will be able to provide more certainty in fulfilling our Police and Fire department needs.

 

Eliminate Minimum Parking Standards.  It’s silly to destroy the fabric of your historic neighborhoods and business districts to build more parking. Instead, we can improve our existing parking options and make parking more accessible and attractive.  The city has historically neglected the parking lots they own while requiring private investors to invest in off street parking.   We have a huge opportunity to improve the parking lots, manage stormwater, beautify, and develop a general feeling of safety in our commercial core. The days of vast expanses of empty parking lots need to go.

 

Term Limits for Council members.  It’s clear that once a person sits on the council for too long they lose valuable perspective.  New candidates have fresh ideas and renewed energy.  Complacency is the death of democracy. 
 

A Physical and Visual Connection from Pine St to Cambridge Creek.  Not my idea, but a great one!  We need to build a public pedestrian promenade that connects from Historic Pine St, through Cannery Way all the way to the Creek.  There aren’t any direct connections from our historically black community to the water.  This promenade was identified by the team of professionals during the RUDAT and we owe it to our citizens to make it happen.  The Harriet Tubman mural that went viral and the BLM mural painted on Race St demonstrate the increased levels of energy and enthusiasm along this developing promenade.  Streets that terminate at the water are one of our most valuable assets - the RUDAT called them “welcome mats” and creating more and improving the ones that exist will raise our quality of life and spur investment in our neighborhoods.

 

Path from Long Wharf to Great Marsh Park - everyone in the city uses these parks and we need to make them safely accessible via bike, walking, and wheelchair for everyone.  Let’s connect the new park from Pine St to the Creek, Sailwinds, and Cannery Park/Packing House to each other.  Linear greenways will do wonders for adding value to our tax base.

 

Downtown Street Closures- Many cities do it, we should too as long as our local merchants agree and our Fire and Police response times aren’t compromised. By providing street closures, we’re supporting more economic activity in our downtown.  Poplar could be closed 11AM to 11PM, Friday through Sunday, Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Permanent signs will be placed with this information so our vehicular traffic is made aware and can plan accordingly.

 

Uncover Bricks Downtown - maybe a long shot, but we’ve got millions of dollars worth of bricks covered up by cheap blacktop from Poplar all the way to Washington Street.  Explore at least uncovering some of these bricks as it’d be a huge improvement in the downtown aesthetic.  Other cities would love to have the street bricks we have covered! 

 

City Hall Renovation - it’s an embarrassment that our city offices are housed in a police bunker with no windows and our economic development office and planning offices are housed at public works.  Let’s do the work, find the financial resources and begin to renovate the most important building in our city.  The RFC train garden will stay and be prominently displayed.  At a minimum, the building should be secured against further decay and a plan will be generated to move our executive offices back to where they belong.

 

Public Meetings and Outreach - in our new world of virtual meetings, voting, and remote engagement, we have to do a better job with making our public meetings available online.  If this means investing in technology to provide more seamless virtual meetings, Facebook live interactions, and new voting systems, so be it, but at the moment, there’s room for vast improvement.  Our functioning democracy & republic are built on civic engagement in whatever modern form that is.  Smartphones and virtual interaction are here to stay.  Once upon a time, a landline phone was a luxury, we should not be depending on checking a voicemail for public comment in a meeting. We can do better. 

 

Sailwinds, Maces Lane, Packing House, and Cannery Park (with Skateboard Plaza, Dog Park, and our first Rails to Trails!) - these projects are going to happen in the next elected term and there’s lots of interest in them at the State and local level.  We’re going to follow the community driven plans to get these important projects to the finish line.  Please note: “community driven...” not “council member opinion” or developer driven...

 

Comprehensive Plan - every decision the council makes should be filtered through this legally adopted plan.  The council serves at the pleasure of the citizens and this plan is what they said they wanted their city to look like.  It’s who “watches the watchmen.”  I’ve developed a “decision making checklist” that makes this easy.  The public gains confidence in their elected officials knowing that they are held to a higher standard and are always acting in the best interests of the community!

 

Comparative Economic Advantages - again, not my idea but Cambridge has an unmatched and abundant supply of groundwater and a prime location that cannot be matched.  Specifically we should continue to embrace oyster aquaculture, farming, specifically hemp, and tourism around Harriet Tubman.  We should also embrace our unique history reflected in the redevelopment in the Packing House and Sailwinds.  The Packing House was our center of industry and Sailwinds was our bustling seaport.  Our city has a unique story built on oysters, farming, civil rights, canning, and seafood - Why would we expect our city to be “rebuilt” on anything but the reinvention in the modern economy of those same things?

 

Creek Bridge Traffic Circle - the intersection at the base of the creek bridge is an example of the worst of 1960s “urban renewal.”  It built a physical barrier between our downtown neighborhoods and the Creek.  There are no crosswalks, the traffic patterns are unpredictable, and gridlock ensues when the bridge opens.  Stop lights keep traffic from flowing at all times.  Remove all the overhead wires and stop lights, create a traffic circle with a wonderfully landscaped center island that captures polluted water from washing into the creek, as well as  welcomes visitors and residents to the core of our city.  If the bridge goes up, all traffic continues to flow around the circle.

 

Cemetery and Academy St - this is the only city owned cemetery that will not only be a beautiful place for us to bury our loved ones, but also a celebration of our past and welcoming site for travelers.  An iron fence instead of barbed wire,  a grand entrance, and improved circulation along Cedar St to Academy St.  Academy St is too narrow for safe passage of two way traffic so needs to be improved with trees, pedestrian and bike lanes, and potentially narrowed and turned into one way traffic only.  Imagine living on this street with children and having cars zoom by within 4 feet of your front porch.  

 

Stormwater and saltwater intrusion on Cedar St and Water St.  We have a severe and looming problem that is only getting worse with sinking land and rising sea levels.  These areas were created with fill material and if we don’t start doing something soon the creek and river are going to reclaim these areas.  We need to improve these streets with green infrastructure to handle storm water naturally with natural barriers that also serve to protect bicycles and pedestrians.

 

Route 50 Design Standards - they already exist so that the planning commission can ensure that Route 50 doesn’t look just like every other highway commercial corridor.  We will mandate that the planning commission make this part of their procedures so any new development in our Route 50 corridor will need to reflect the common architecture of Cambridge.  Developers won’t be encumbered, but encouraged early on to present plans that celebrate the architecture of our historic City.  It’s a win win.  The Starbucks looks great, but add in some local design elements to differentiate it from all the other locations and more people would choose to stop there - it’s been proven in other places.

 

Stop signs, bump outs, raised crosswalks - Water Street, Locust St, Glasgow, Leonards Lane, High St, Maces Lane, and some notable others throughout the city all have vehicular traffic that is going too fast. If you have to tell people to slow down you’ve designed the street wrong!  People despise speed cameras and police enforcement only works temporarily.  Stone Boundary road used to have that problem until the blocks were shortened up with 4 way stops.  It may be a slight inconvenience to those on their way to the “West side” (they don’t pay city taxes) but it’ll do far more in improving property values along the way and those same travelers will be very thankful to see the investment in housing and streets within the core of Cambridge that results from slower traffic and safer streets.  Jane Jacobs, in “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” says, “frequent streets and short blocks are valuable because of the fabric of intricate cross-use that they permit among the users of a city neighborhood.”

 

Tree plantings and landscaping maintenance - Street trees raise property values, lower utility bills, make neighborhoods safer, and calm traffic.  Why wouldn’t we start planting trees for everyone to enjoy and make our residents safer and healthier?  Our public works departments also have an unnatural fear of maintaining our public landscapes and more recently, storm water management areas.  Some simple training or investment in public works staff will ensure that our public maintained landscape areas are maintained beautifully and well.

 

Hyatt - roll out the red carpet - whatever we need to do to make sure the Hyatt not only survives but thrives.  Building a strong financial and physical connection to our City benefits our tax base, our housing, and our employment.  Quantify the value of the Hyatt to our community and reinvest back into one of the prime drivers of our tax base.  Build a pedestrian path, rail trail, golf cart path, etc for visitors to easily pass back and forth between the Hyatt property and the core of our city - all part of the expressed desires of our citizenry from the Comprehensive Plan!

 

Marina and Public Safety Debt Service - First, the marina is a gem.  Second, it doesn’t belong to any one neighborhood or Ward.  Similar to the Hyatt, look at the underlying value of the marina to our city and invest proportionately.  Yes there’s debt on this facility but it’s inherent value to our tax base is far beyond its cost.  It’s no more fair to say the Marina costs money than it is to say that our Public Safety building isn’t worth the debt service.  These are assets that are sometimes hard to quantify but contribute far more to our quality of life and tax base than they cost.  The marina is also a unique comparative advantage over other cities.

 

Curbside recycling - other communities have been offering curbside recycling as an option for 30 years.  We will provide it as a convenience to our taxpayers.  If you don’t want it, you don’t have to pay for it and instead can haul your recycling to one of our two convenience centers.  There may be some education required for this, but I have faith our people will embrace it.

 

Sustainability and Technology Committee - We need to make sure that our city is doing things for the health and benefit of future generations and is embracing technology to make the lives of our citizens better and realize cost savings.  Also, what are we doing to enhance energy efficiency, solar power, and encourage modern modes of transportation such as electric vehicles?  I've also learned from speaking with neighbors that sea level rise and sewer back ups are a real issue along the waterfront that has to be addressed creatively and affordably.  As a coastal city dependent on a healthy relationship with the Choptank River, this problem cannot be ignored.