Minka vanBeuzekom

Minka vanBeuzekom
2015 Candidate for Cambridge City Council

Home address:
20 Essex Street
Cambridge, MA 02139

Contact information:
Tel: 617-596-1547

website: www.MinkaforCambridge.org

e-mail: Minka@MinkaforCambridge.org

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MinkavB

Send contributions to:
The Committee to Elect Minka vanBeuzekom
20 Essex Street
Cambridge, MA 02139

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Content from 2013 Candidate Page

Cambridge is a magnificent, world-class city and we have tremendous accomplishments for which we should be exceedingly proud. I have felt honored by the residents of Cambridge to be their voice on the Council. I hope you will agree with me that I am ready for a second term. With your vote and volunteer effort our campaign will succeed!

During my first term as your city Councillor, I have continued to be a neighborhood advocate. During this term, I have grown to understand how difficult it can be to make a difference in such a complex city, but I believe we can do even better with more input from knowledgeable citizens. We can have clean and safe streets, energy efficient buildings, good schools, flourishing gardens and open spaces. This is a city built by its people; we CAN keep our best and brightest in the community with competitive public education, job opportunities and affordable options for housing. Cambridge is a progressive city, leading the way in technology, medicine, education, energy and climate change initiatives. Doesn't it make sense to have all these reflected in our city government?

As your city councillor, I have kept things in perspective as I recommend improvements. I am open-minded and remain connected and responsive to the people, neighborhoods and communities of Cambridge. I have been bringing people together for decades to solve the old problems of our city in new ways and I continue to do that. I am better prepared after one term to use my passion, creativity and leadership to keep our neighborhoods vibrant, livable and affordable for decades to come.

Minka with children and grandchildren
Inauguration January 2012 surrounded by my daughters Anya and
Veronica and three of my four grandsons, Judah, Elisha and Bijan.

I came to Cambridge in 1980 while still a student at Wellesley College. I have lived in Kendall, Inman and now Central Square for more than 20 years. My daughters went to the public schools and now three of my grandsons attend Fletcher Maynard Academy. My undergraduate degree is in molecular biology and I have a Master's Degree in Public Health with concentration in epidemiology, biostatistics and environmental health. I worked in labs at Harvard and MIT and for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in the Infectious Disease program. I ran a successful biotech startup company in the 1990s and most recently a non-profit medical research Foundation. I understand one of the key business sectors in this city and know we must plan for diversification of sectors. Where are Polaroid, Lotus and ADL today?

I got my start in my civic life in Cambridge with Cambridge ECO (Environmental Citizen's Organization) in the late 1980's. I was also a driver in the start-up of the Cambridgeport School in 1990 when my oldest daughter entered kindergarten. My neighborhood activities have centered on crime reduction, rodent & litter control and community building. Through my prior involvements and in my first term, I've met many fascinating and dedicated people and I've learned more than I thought possible about city & government operations. I don't like to commiserate with people about their problems, I like to roll up my sleeves and solve them.

Top 3 Priorities

  • Proactively plan for the city’s growth. Strategically increase density while improving shared open spaces, infrastructure, public transportation and city services.
  • Keep our city vibrant, diverse and affordable for all types of families. Ensure that our youth get a stellar public education and seniors get the assistance they need.
  • Promote Cambridge’s use of local, renewable energy sources while continuing our city’s strong legacy of environmental and fiscal leadership.

Traffic, Parking, and Transportation
Public transit, shared cars and safe biking corridors are key to an urban environment that works well. We have more and more jobs each year in Cambridge and more people come into the city for work or leisure. Ideally those employees would find an affordable place to live in the city and be able to use public transit, walk or bike to work. For those that don't want to live here, we have to make it easy for them to come to work but not by driving alone. Building the green line extension is one solution, so is expanding the Hubway shared bike system and so is creating a bike and pedestrian path along the Grand Junction Railway.

Encouraging the major businesses in Cambridge to be our partners for adequate state funding for the MBTA will be a priority in my second term. Without a very well-functioning public transit system and the access for all it creates, our traffic could reach an even more frustrating level of gridlock. Some of the traffic is clearly related to the very high level of simultaneous street work but not all of it.

I think we need to be more aggressive at enforcing the rules of the road for motorists, bikers and pedestrians. For too long we have tolerated sloppy driving, biking and walking practices. The only way to effectively share the road is if people know the rules and obey them. When we mail the local motor vehicle tax bill, I will advocate for an insert about local initiatives such as TROMP, Livable Streets Alliance and Green Streets which are trying to change the culture of transportation in the city. I am in favor of a segment of driver's education in the High School to include bike rules as well.

Memorial Drive and Fresh Pond Parkway are roads that are not under our control despite being in Cambridge. I will work with DCR for Cambridge to gain better control of speed, signal timing and pedestrian safety on these roads. Our residents and visitors are [missing text]

Energy, the Environment and Public Health
My endorsement by the Sierra Club of Massachusetts for the third time demonstrates that I am prepared to protect the environment and promote appropriate legislation. Under my leadership on the council, Cambridge will once again be at the vanguard of "Green Cities".

In early October 2013, with the creation of a Net Zero Emissions Task Force, the City Council made reaching net zero emissions for large buildings a recognized policy goal of the city. Adopting a net zero emission requirement, as the United Kingdom has already done, will protect our environment and save on energy costs. I am proud to have been a part of this accomplishment, but we still have a lot of work to do for the goal to be achieved.

As the sponsor of the MIT net zero emissions amendment in April 2013, I was at the forefront of the movement to end reliance on fossil fuels in building operations. This change for all buildings will be difficult, but we need to make it to ensure our grandchildren and generations to come can continue to live in coastal cities such as Cambridge. Climate change will not only increase flooding, storm intensity and heat waves, but bring new disease vectors and more rodents. Establishing a net zero emissions goal and establishing a city-wide carbon budget will not only reduce our carbon footprint but also set an example for other cities to follow.

During my first term, as chair of the Environment Committee, I have had the opportunity to further an environmental and energy issues agenda. I have sponsored successful legislation to set the stage for community aggregation of electricity, and to explore divestment of city’s pension funds from fossil fuel companys. My policy orders have expanded bicycle safety, electric vehicle charging stations and Hubway Bike Sharing access.

In my next term, I hope to continue working to make Cambridge greener, more sustainable--more livable for future generations. It will be important to have a voice on the Council that continues to push for the implementation of a net zero emissions policy. I will explore using our watershed lands as solar farms where possible. I will also take the recommendations of the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Task Force and implement them as rapidly as my colleagues and I can. These task forces are a start, but no matter how great their recommendations are, they will be meaningless without the right City Council to make them a reality. I hope you agree that I belong on that Council.

As an Epidemiologist, I understand the current health issues including infectious disease, obesity and environmental asthma. I will seek improvements in biosafety standards, air quality standards, emergency preparedness, food quality and walkability that will contribute to healthier communities for current and future generations. My education in Public Health and my experience as an epidemiologist gives me a valid voice and gets my issues addressed. I was also the first Councillor to call for a ban on the use of nicotinoid- based insecticides because of the hazards they pose to bees.

In my first term I worked with the National League of Cities to bring a discount prescription drug card to the residents of Cambridge. You can get a card at City Hall or for more information: http://www.cambridgepublichealth.org/news/article.php?id=133. Saving average 23% of regular retail costs and cover pet prescriptions too.

Quality of Life
I was part of a successful neighborhood effort to force Idenix Pharmaceutics to relocate to comply with the residential noise ordinance. I have been involved in several instances of violations of the light ordinance some also successfully resolved. As many people know enforcement of noise and light pollution ordinance is a complaint driven system and violations require diligence to force compliance. I voted to improve and expand the city’s Light Ordinance to stop light trespass however changes did not go through yet. In its place a one year Task Force was formed to study the issue and how to change the ordinance.

Another issue which affects quality of life in our fair city are dogs. We do have pooper scooper and leash ordinances and they need to be enforced much more rigorously. In order to accommodate the activity and socializing needs of urban dogs, I am in favor of having one more enclosed, off-leash dog park in the city and some shared off leash spaces but only in the early morning hours.

Each of the Squares of Cambridge must have recycling containers and trash receptacles and I will advocate for each restaurant and business which encourages smoking to have smoking butts.

A small but significant suggestion to reduce the alcohol problem in Central Square is to ban all 'nip' bottles, enforce the anti-intoxication ordinances already in place and not increase the number of package store licenses in Central and Inman Squares. I have brought policy forward to ban the sale of ‘nip’ bottles but I did not get support of my colleagues. In my second term, I will continue to work on improvements to Central Square environment.

I led my neighborhood in getting the litter and refuse ordinance changed and I was instrumental in having an interdepartmental Rodent Task Force formed in Cambridge. I was one of the three citizen appointees to this task force and we created the dumpster ordinance, updated the DPW rodent website & brochure for property owners and streamlined the rodent reporting systems. With the ongoing road construction, mild winters and available food sources in the city, we still have work to do to starve the Cambridge rodent population but we do see progress.

Municipal Finance
Each year for the past decade, Cambridge has been able to set aside millions of dollars in our 'free cash' fund. At the end of the most recent fiscal year, we had $142 million in this fund, a feat that no other city in the Commonwealth and perhaps the country has been able to do. We do this by consistently over-budgeting for expenses & under-budgeting for revenue, aggressively assessing & collecting tax revenue but most critically: continuing to encourage and expand the commercial base of the city. However, there is a state-directed cap on the % of RE revenue that can be generated from the commercial sector and we are fast approaching that cap.

Because overall city revenues from state, federal and other grant sources have been declining over the past few years, the city has been using 'free cash' to balance the budget. Last fiscal year we used more than $10M to balance our municipal budget and even reduced the commercial and residential tax rate slightly. This was essentially a tax subsidy and it benefited the largest tax payers in the city – MIT, BioMed Realty Trust and Boston Property – the most. Instead of continuing to balance the budget with ‘free’ cash and keep the surplus cash in accounts earning less than 1.5%, I propose we use this cash to designate a revolving loan fund for residential and small business energy conservation & renewable energy measures. This will create local jobs, save money otherwise spent on utilities and cut our carbon footprint. Another possibility is to implement PACE in Cambridge – a property assessed clean energy fund. I also proposed that another set aside be made for affordable housing. The city could buy property and convert it to affordable and middle income housing by partnering with local housing non-profits.

There are enormous financial, intellectual and advisory resources in Cambridge, a hub of high-tech and biotech companies and world renown Universities. I believe encouraging businesses (and of course the Universities) to stay and provide good jobs for trained residents is critical for the city to thrive. Encouraging residents to shop at local businesses keeps the city's economy stable and helps current businesses. I know that to balance the needs of businesses, residents and universities is tricky. It is a delicate and complex process which will require careful oversight and willingness to make tough decisions as the economy recovers.

Government and Elections
I think our PR form of voting is a fair and interesting system. However, it does require conscientious voters and more 'homework' on candidates than many voters are used to. This year with 25 candidates, it is even more important for voters to rank choices. Many voters still think they are voting for nine people even after many years of voting in our PR elections. I tell people, their ballot will only count once. I believe we need to increase voter turnout and understanding in order for the elected council to truly reflect the will of the registered voters in Cambridge.

The Plan E form of government requires a strong city manager and an equally strong city council. The City Manager is in charge of running a city with almost 3000 employees and a budget of more than half a billion dollars! Someone who can handle tough negotiation with the likes of Harvard, MIT, Google, Microsoft, Pfizer, Novartis and the City of Boston is absolutely required and we had that in Mr Healy and now in Mr Rossi, his former Deputy. However, over the past decade of their tenure in the city, the businesses and universities have shaped the city rather than the other way around. The city now responds to requests for changes rather than executing on a plan for changes.

The residents of Cambridge have elected a body of city councillors who are the only guiding balance for the City Manager. With the new leadership of Mr Rossi, it is my opinion that the council has the opportunity to continue to oversee a tightly run city, but also to correct some of the previous issues in personnel matters. As your city councillor I will remain diligent about the details of city management and guide the manager in a transparent way that is best for all residents and city employees.

One aspect of our government, the election of a mayor is challenging for many voters to accept. I propose that the newly elected council agree to work together to have a mayor chosen by our January 1st Inauguration. The Mayor assigns Committee chairs and memberships and we can’t get started with that work until new positions are assigned. There is too much work to do in any given term to hold up the work of the Council.

Human Services Programs
The Human Services programs in the city are very innovative and they have been recognized nationally. One problem I see is that many of them are undersubscribed; both senior and youth programs. I would endeavor to increase awareness of the programing and create more excitement in residents about what we spend more than a $70 million dollars on each year.

I strongly believe we need to support expanded adult education in the city. This is a proven way to increase skills of adults for better paying jobs and help parents assist their kids in school. We can help break the existing cycle of poverty with stellar public school education and job skill training for adults.

The library is a shared resource which needs to be open for longer hours on the weekend and during the summer. The argument that overtime for librarians and custodial staff make expanded hours prohibitively expensive is not acceptable one.

Open Space, Parks, and Recreation
Cambridge is one of the densest cities in the United States-5th among mid-sized and large cities-and growing even more dense. Making a dense city livable requires that we have well-maintained, accessible, and interesting open space everyone can enjoy.

I love Cambridge's parks, and so do my grandsons. They offer kids a safe, healthy place to play and adults a place to take a break from hectic lives. Protecting our parks and other open space is essential to maintaining a thriving community where families will want to live. That's why I fought to end the delays in the opening of Cambridgeport's 3 renovated parks. And why I worked to keep Novartis's courtyard spaces and Kendall Square Rooftop garden open to the public and voted to contribute city funding to help with the state's improvements to Magazine Beach and the historic Powerhouse.

But it's not just about parks. Trees make every neighborhood healthier (and cooler in the summer!), so I took the lead in increasing funding for the city's street trees, ensuring they are better taken care of and can continue to provide shade, oxygen, and a beautiful city for years to come. And protecting our watershed lands in other cities, which I advocated strongly for, will allow us to better protect our precious water supply. And advocating for protection of the Belmont Uplands to keep severe flooding at bay in North Cambridge and maintain scarce habitat. All together, these changes, and those I plan to make in my next term, will make Cambridge a cleaner, healthier, more desirable place to raise our children and grandchildren.

In my next term, I will:

  • demand large developers create publicly accessible, privately owned parks as mitigation
  • maintain setback requirements as increased development takes place, especially in Kendall and Central Squares
  • promote use of watershed lands for recreation where possible
  • work with the state to enhance land along the Charles River and other state-owned recreational land within the city
  • work with the newly formed East Cambridge Open Space Committee to decide uses for donated land
  • ensure all recreational parks have water fountains & bathroom facilities
  • identify an additional community garden locations

The Arts in Cambridge
Cambridge is not usually thought of as an Arts Mecca. Despite that image we have a vibrant third sector for the Arts and I propose strengthening it further. Harvard, MIT and Lesley programing is stellar and generally open to the public. Creating a higher profile calendar through the Office of Tourism seems like a good step towards letting resident know about event. I will advocate for increases in grants money for competitive arts programs in conjunction with the Massachusetts Council for the Arts. The opportunity for an Arts Center in the former Foundry building donated by Alexandria Partners is a once in lifetime opportunity. I propose bringing the building up to code & Cambridge energy building standards and then partnering through a competitive process for long term management of the building for performance, music and artist space. The building will ultimately be self-sufficient through lease payments and the arts will thrive and add to the economic vitality of Cambridge.

I will propose that another donated parcel in Cambridge, a vacant lot on Cherry Street, be converted to affordable artist live/work space with retail art gallery and performance space on the first floor.

University Relations
For those who don't realize it – Cambridge really is a University town and that fact drives our success. For anyone who hasn't seen the annual Town Gown presentations from MIT, Harvard, Lesley and Cambridge College, I highly recommend it as an evening very well spent. These non-profit institutions have created masterful plans of their increased presence in Cambridge over the next 10 years! Where is the visioning at the city level? It is no wonder that we are continually in a position of reacting to their development proposals instead of creating our own vision of the city.

Living in the Area Four Neighborhood, I am much more familiar with MIT-City relations. It is important to differentiate between MIT and MIT Investment Company (MITICo). The later has rapidly requested permitting for several massive office or R&D buildings in Cambridgeport, Area Four, Kendall and Central Squares. It is far more profitable for them to build non-residential; structures and this is creating local jobs (great news) but swinging the job-housing balance too far away from housing (bad news). The commercial revenue is appreciated by the city – but we are increasing the revenue at the expense of residents who live nearby.

I will seek a requirement that all university garages be available for overnight parking during a snow emergency. We need to make it easier for the DPW to remove snow quickly and I believe the situation will only become more urgent as the climate continues to change.

I believe that MIT should build additional dorms for on-campus graduate and post-doc housing. This will free up some of the rental housing stock for people who live in Cambridge. In theory it could help bring down rental prices, reduce traffic and perhaps even increase municipal voter participation!

Affordable Housing
In a city with one of the highest housing costs in the country, "affordable housing" is a vital issue. I am committed to supporting everything that "affordable housing" means-both the subsidized housing for the poorest among us, and access to houses, condos and apartments that are within reach of middle income individuals and families. I want to harness the strength of Cambridge's burgeoning economic development and use smart growth to keep our city livable.

One accomplishment from this term that I am very proud of is discovering the loss of promised affordable units by Forest City developers during discussions about proposed new developments. After much deliberation we sent a strong message about our commitment as a city: 1) we ensured that more affordable units will be built, and 2) we publicly held the developers to their earlier agreements.

I also have been very vocal in the planning process with MIT in that they need to build more housing for students, who are otherwise pushed into residential neighborhoods, thereby increasing rents.

In my next term, I will continue to make affordable housing of all kinds a priority in the city. Some projects on my to-do list are:

1) focus on the current inclusionary zoning language. Through inclusionary zoning, developers need to set aside units or money to provide units of affordable housing. We currently require developers (building 10 or more units) to include affordability provisions. This creates a strange incentive for developers to build no more than 9 units. We can develop a pro-rated system in which there isn't an on-off switch. There are several other changes that we can make to loosen requirements and in turn make adding affordable units to new developments an easier task.

2) incentivize, through zoning, more mixed income housing units of all sizes in large developments. It's exciting to have a surge of units in the Kendall Square area for young high-tech professionals, but these professionals will eventually want the space for their families that many long-standing residents desire. We need more units of various sizes to accommodate our new, returning and longer-term residents.

3) broaden the use and impact of the Affordable Housing Trust (AHT), a repository of developers' deposits from the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance and the Community Preservation Act (CPA) Funds. The charter of the AHT says that its funds are allowed to be used for all levels of affordable housing, although in practice it has been used almost entirely for the lowest income units. Let's expand the Trust's impact and transparency and help the working class and struggling middle class.

For many decades, Cambridge has been home to multi-generational families and immigrants of all income levels, to college, graduate and elementary students, to academic institutions, to young entrepreneurs and large corporations and small businesses. We are fortunate to be in a period where industry and development are excited to build here. Let's use that position of strength and make sure to keep our eyes on the prize--to provide a home for the wonderful mix of people that is Cambridge.

Public Schools
Public schools are the single largest budget item in our annual operating budget. While there is a separation of city council and school committee roles, the city council is ultimately responsible for the judicious use of city resources. I think there should be more interaction between these two government bodies especially in light of the expense v. the outcomes from the public school system. The collaboration should include common topics like green building standards, facilities and budgetary decisions as well as out of school time activities, extended school hours and parent skill building and support. I look forward to more collaboration between the school and city departments in my 2nd term.

Leadership /Policy Experience
Cambridge Council Committee Memberships:

Environment and the Transportation Committee, Chairperson
Traffic & Parking Committee, Chairperson
Finance Committee, Member
Government Operations & Rules Committee, Member
University Relations Committee, Member
Cable TV, Telecommunications & Public Utilities Committee, Member

• Massachusetts Municipal Assoc. Policy Committee on Municipal & Regional Administration, Member
• Department of Transportation – Ethanol Advisory Group, Member
• Cambridge Democratic City Committee Member
• Ward 3 Democratic Committee, former Vice-Chairperson
• Local and National political campaign volunteer

Minka and grandsons
Ready? Set……… Go! I'm crossing the streets with my three
grandsons, Judah (6), Bijan (5) and Elisha (2)
[2011 photo]

Selected Civic Activities
Mystic River Watershed Association, Board Member
Area Four Neighborhood Coalition, former Co-Leader
Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) Team leader
Cambridge Climate Emergency Action Group (CCEAG) co-founder
Green Cambridge – board member
Former Cambridge Environmental Citizens Organization (ECO), Treasurer
Cambridge Democratic City Committee Ward 3 Democratic Committee
Local and national campaign volunteer
TROMP – frequent volunteer
Green Streets Initiative
Cambridge Rodent Task Force – former member
Cambridge Community Garden Coordinator
Master Urban Gardener (MUG)
Pick-a-pocket gardener
Room grandparent, Fletcher Maynard Academy

Selected interviews
Conversations with Jimmy Tingle (23 minutes) : http://youtu.be/zazj596rrSc

CCTV video:  http://www.cctvcambridge.org/citycouncilvanbeuzekom

Candidate's 2013 responses     Candidate's 2011 responses     Candidate's 2009 responses

CCTV candidate video (2015)

Page last updated Wednesday, October 7, 2015 8:04 PM Cambridge Candidates