Cambridge Citizens Coalition
There appears to be too little time nowadays to get even the most important things done – or at least done as well as we would like. So addressing how to have the greatest impact while wasting the least time doing it is incredibly important.
How to influence the Cambridge City Council is a puzzle I have wrestled with for over 60 years. Speaking at preliminary Council hearings goes a long way to help recruit support from other residents and Councilors both. But my major realization is that written communications submitted in advance of Council hearings have ten times the impact of last-minute speeches or letters put in the basket during public comment on the night the issue comes to a final vote.
That said, it is tempting to feel that speaking at final hearings - or even attending them – is simply a waste of time, given that 99% of Councilors’ minds seem to have been made up 99% of the time before they even set foot in the Sullivan Chamber for the final vote. Not so - to be seen in the chamber on voting night (and ideally to be heard, in case you weren’t noticed in the crowd) sends the vital signal that every Councilor’s vote will be noticed and remembered - and that you back your views by coming to monitor the procedure in person. That level of commitment is always noticed – and strengthens the impact of your future letters on future issues as well. Pleasant as it is to watch the final vote in the comfort of home on live TV or play it later from the Open Meeting Portal, “being there” makes a big difference in the long run – occasionally perhaps even in the short run.
As to the most effective content of letters to the Council, the “100% Affordable Housing Overlay" (AHO) battle has been a valuable lesson. Proponents concentrated from the outset on the one vague, emotional claim that Cambridge has a housing crisis so extreme that it justifies overriding every other consideration, and any opposition whatever is therefore deplorable. Those of us seeking a more balanced remedy detailed our most important objectives and proposed constructive ways to achieve them. Big difference.
Defeat of the AHO has unleashed an avalanche of deplorable statements from the proponents, again labeling all AHO opponents as deplorable. No change there. Our response must just be to reassert the key objectives of balanced remedies and resume the fight to get them adopted. That entails letters of gratitude and continuing persuasion to Councilors Carlone, Devereux, Kelley and Zondervan who defeated the AHO, all possible support for Carlone, Kelley and Zondervan in their re-election campaigns, and diligent efforts to identify and support all new Council candidates who share our commitment to a balanced program for a more livable Cambridge for all.
City Councilor Dennis Carlone –former architect and urban planner – points out that Cambridge has some 30 housing proposals pending. But the City put forward the woefully unbalanced Affordable Housing Overlay petition as its only offer to deal with our complex housing needs, and fought every effort to overcome its many major flaws.
We need to find far better solutions, and that requires campaigning for and electing a new City Council with the wisdom and courage to implement them.
Author Francis (Fritz) Donovan is a Cambridge Attorney and President of the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association