Why I'm Running
I am running because Cambridge deserves a government that works. In this time of change, we will only develop the policies we need and find our way forward as a community if our City Council can come together on the toughest issues. We all need a Council that talks to each other, not at each other, while working together to chart the City's future.
I am running because I know that I am a voice that brings the Cambridge City Council together—to tackle the tough issues, to move forward effectively on the complicated questions that will shape Cambridge for generations to come. I know this because I've been there. My two terms on the City Council from 2007 to 2011 taught me about policy development: It requires patience. It takes foresight. It needs vision. In addition, most importantly, it demands that the elected officials work together. We are facing a series of challenges today that require real leadership to solve.
I served two terms on the Cambridge City Council from 2007 to 2011 and I was the vice-mayor of Cambridge in 2010. During my time on the City Council, I chaired the Ordinance Committee, the committee responsible for all zoning-related matters in the City of Cambridge. I also chaired the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee. I live in Mid-Cambridge and I have associated with the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House board since 2006. I am 46 years old, an urban planner by profession, and am an avid biker. I live in mid-Cambridge near Inman Square.
My Top Priorities and Key Issues
My top priorities in a new Council term if reelected will be these –
1. Urban Planning: In a city that saw close to 2 million square feet of new construction in 2012 alone, good planning is critical to our future. Last year, as a visiting fellow at Harvard's Graduate School of Design I led an examination of innovation clusters such as Kendall Square. That experience taught me that Cambridge is unique in many ways, but it faces a series of challenges that are byproducts of its success. Its position as a leader in the information economy means we're the envy of the world. We're also the place that businesses and new employees want to call home. Over the last three years, a great effort has gone into planning for labs, office space and R&D. It's now time to continue that conversation about the Cambridge housing market.
The stories from the campaign trail are consistent – Cambridge has become a place where people across the income scale can't find housing they can afford in Cambridge. Houses sell above asking at the open house for cash. We must develop a set of policies to address these challenges. At a local level, I know what a difference planning can make at the neighborhood scale. The work I did with a team of residents to fund for a plan along Massachusetts Avenue from Harvard to Porter Squares was a great success. Lesley's commitment of half a million dollars to the improvement of Mass. Ave. has been a starting point to envision that avenue in the 21st century, but it will take the full involvement of the neighborhoods, of the universities and of the city. More work is needed here and elsewhere around the city to take these good ideas and make them realities.
2. Education. If I am back on the City Council, I intend to continue my work on "Out of School Time" opportunities in Cambridge. These programs, when successfully connecting to the strengthening the crucial connection between the school day and what happens after school. This builds on the work I did when I was on the Council that brought together the schools with the Human Services Department. Early childhood education is the next big challenge that is before us as a community.
Having successfully worked with school committee member Nancy Tauber on "Out of School Time," opportunities for middle school students in Cambridge during my last term on the Council, my next major priority is to work to expand early childhood options in Cambridge for our city's children. A lot of good work has already happened in this area, and all research shows that there is no better investment in the education of a child than in those earliest years, specifically 0 to 3, where so much crucial brain development happens. This should be a top priority for the city moving forward.
3. Environment. Our challenges in reducing our carbon footprint continue to grow and the city needs to continue to push forward in this critical area. The Net Zero zoning petition is a proposal that has gotten people's attention for a very good reason. It moves the discussion forward in a significant way about how do we continue to expand our economy in ways that manage the carbon burden on our environment. Another specific aspect of carbon reduction is getting people out of their cars. To do this, and build out our transportation grid, we need to support bicycling in the city. Bikes are here to stay and that is a good thing. I believe two important steps will be to update the city's Bike Plan, which was originally written in 1994. In addition, a bike summit would be very helpful at this time, to explore options for making this truly a bike friendly city.
In addition, if reelected I would also look at the following key issues:
Quality of Life and Public Safety
Quality of life is a very important part of what a city councillor attends to. It was very satisfying to be able to help a resident of Cambridge solve a problem that has been bothering them, whether it is dealing with City Hall, figuring out a housing issue, addressing a noise complaint, or taking positive steps against rodents. It goes without saying that maintaining a good quality of life for the citizens of Cambridge is an important goal of mine, and I work hard to help people with the issues they have. To do this, I maintain "office hours" every week, where people can just stop by with a complaint or a problem, and I work with them to solve it. Many of this issues fall under the responsibility of Inspectional Services, a very important office in city government. During the last budget cycle, I asked them point blank if they felt they were asked to do too much given the staffing resources they had. They responded that they felt that they had adequate staffing to do the work that they were responsible for.
When I was on the Council, crime rates in Cambridge were very low, both by historical comparison, and by comparison to other similarly sized cities. For this we should be both proud and grateful to the people who work hard to maintain our safety. Having said that, of course any crime is disturbing and needs addressing, and the perception of safety is an important part of how safe we feel. Disturbances in neighborhoods can really unsettle daily life, and it is important that all the resources we have are deployed to make sure that people are safe and sound in their communities. These resources include the police and other parts of the city government (including Human Services and Parks and Recreation), the elected officials, and the citizens themselves, who often are the strongest force in combating crime by being vigilant and working in conjunction with police and other officials to disrupt bad behaviors impacting their community.
Traffic, Parking, and Transportation
I support the notion that Cambridge is embarked upon a long-term mission to reduce the number of cars in Cambridge. We do this by promoting alternate modes of transit – walking, bikes, and public transit. We know this is healthier for us, and is better for the environment when we get out of our cars. We will do this through infrastructure investments, through education, through promotion, and through advocacy.
Parking, of course, is a perennial issue in Cambridge and many community discussions end up as a battle about whether or not there is enough parking in Cambridge. It is true that fewer resident parking permits are issued today than 20 years ago, meaning there are fewer resident-parked cars on the streets, but everyone's perception runs counter to this. We are in a difficult bind here. To my mind, the ultimate goal is to reduce the number of cars on the streets. Car sharing is a concept with a proven track record – people are willing to forego their car (or at least a second car) to use a shared car.
I feel that our budget is a well-constructed document that is conservative in its estimates, and is well managed, and that it provides benefit to us all. I think there is no greater proof of that than when I served on the Council and we saw a continually worsening economic picture across the Commonwealth, and yet the city of Cambridge was able to reach balance without reductions – an amazing accomplishment, especially when compared to other communities in Massachusetts. I want this to continue under the stewardship of the new City Manager. It's one of Cambridge's many distinguishing accomplishments.
Government and Elections
I do not advocate changing the Plan E Charter in Cambridge. For its faults and its shortcomings, including the institutional power it vests in the city manager, Plan E has provided a very stable form of government that has produced significant positive results for the city and for the citizens of Cambridge. It's important to get this next City Manager off on the right foot in his new role, and the Council will play an important role in that. It's been over 30 years since we've welcomed a new City Manager, and although Rich Rossi comes with lots of experience, it's a new job for him.
I am excited of the great interest in this year's election, with so many candidates running. It is very important to activate younger voters, since so many of the changes of this city are happening in response to them, and their voices need to be incorporated into the discussion.
Land Use, Planning, Zoning, Density
I support density around transit nodes both for urban reasons and for environmental reasons. I also feel that it is a delicate balance to create the right transitions between density and then the residential neighborhoods that are crucial to the fabric of this city. Residential neighborhoods do need sufficient buffers from higher density (or intensity) development, and that is the responsibility of the city to make sure good urban design ideas actually create that buffer.
I want to see the North Point become a real community in this city, and I want to see the corresponding Lechmere T stop built as an important component of East Cambridge. I have worked with neighbors, businesses and city agencies along Massachusetts Avenue north of Harvard Square, and a plan has been produced to improve this section of the avenue. This vision will guide the future of the avenue, to make sure it remains a great place to work, shop, stroll or dine. This discussion needs to continue in Central Square too, where proposed new development will challenge us all to understand clearly what we want Cambridge not only to look like but also to be 30 years from now.
Economic Development and Commerce
In the year I spent as a visiting fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design looking innovation districts, I came to understand the unique position that Cambridge holds in our information economy. For such a small geographic area, we are the envy of community much larger than we are – like Boston, like New York City, like Paris. Promoting Cambridge's niche in the 21st century economy is an important challenge for the city over the next decade, and will certainly be an important issue for the upcoming Council. I also would like to see greater efforts to develop a more integrated regional economy. In the long run, it will strengthen Cambridge's economy because the future of the region is highly reliant on both effective cooperation and competition between entities and municipalities. These are important questions that will confront this next City Council, and I want to be a part of finding the right balance.
Nevertheless, economic development is not simply about the large corporations. We also need a vibrant retail economy to serve the needs of Cambridge residents and to make it possible for small business owners to thrive in Cambridge. Small businesses play a very big role in our quality of life, not simply because of the goods they provide, but also because of the impact they have on street life.
Human Services Programs
I am very proud of the work I did integrating our many youth programs in this city into an intentional set of offerings – offerings that support each other and provide a better overall experience for the children. I did this work as a councilor when I co-chaired the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Middle School Youth, which has looked at after-school and out of school time for middle school students. This work has led me to a much deeper understanding of what the challenges are for this important age group, and has opened my eyes to what the opportunities are for excellent education in the city, using our existing resources. I worked closely with then-School Committee colleague Nancy Tauber on this work, and together we have engaged the new Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeffrey Young and the Assistant City Manager for Human Services Ellen Semonoff, because we realize that real headway in this important work will only happen with their commitment to seeing it happen. This work can and should continue.
Open Space, Parks, and Recreation
As we discuss possible new construction in Central Square, this heightens the importance of open space in the city. The city has a good track record with parks, and has made real investments in parks, and this needs to continue. I was surprised to see that soccer fields had been resurfaced in Danehy Park with AstroTurf. It was the decision itself – I know that the soccer community had been pushing for it for a while, but rather it was the speed with which it had been accomplished. I couldn't help but think that this is a community that invests in its public space. I am concerned about the decline of the state's portion of the Community Preservation Act (CPA) money, which means that our annual expenditures are likely to decline in coming years. It is very important that neighborhoods have open spaces to recreate and relax, and it is already true that we as a city have a very difficult time identifying and purchasing open space opportunities in neighborhoods that need it most. With declining CPA funds, this is just going to get worse in the coming years.
Energy, the Environment, and Public Health
Reducing our carbon footprint is without a doubt one of the greatest challenges before us as a community and as a society and it needs our immediate and vigorous attention. That is why I am a supporter of the Connolly petition, which raises all of these questions in a major way – requiring carbon neutral buildings in new construction of buildings over a certain size. We have spent the last 100 years developing a carbon-based economy, one that is heavily reliant on fossil fuels to power. We now have overwhelming evidence that the release of all of this carbon into the atmosphere is quite literally "cooking" the earth, with many dire consequences for us in the future. It presents to us many many challenges.
I am very proud of the work I did to identify funding to help reduce carbon emissions in city buildings. On a personal level, I am a bicyclist, and ride almost everywhere (my exceptions are rain or snow). That means that I have used almost no gasoline for personal transportation this year, and I expect that to continue going forward. I have also made improvements to my home, including tightening up the envelope, installing a new furnace and an electronic thermostat, and lowering the ambient temperature. All of this will lower my use of fuel for heating this winter. I think bicycles are our next greatest challenge, and I want the Council to call for a Bike Summit very soon to talk about this important issue.
As chair of the Housing Committee in the prior term, I had the opportunity to work on this very important issue and develop a deep understanding of the challenges. In addition, I know we need to work the Cambridge Housing Authority and important provider of housing in the city – particularly as they move forward with their plans to renovate their various properties throughout Cambridge. While those renovations need to happen, how they get paid for is another matter, and there was a great deal of resistance to them using Section 8 vouchers as a way of paying for the millions of dollars of cost associated with the capital upgrades. Finally, the Council is in the midst of an important discussion about housing in our newest neighborhood, Kendall Square, where the location of residential units is a key component to a thriving neighborhood.
Arts and Public Celebrations
Cambridge is a lively and fun community. It supports the arts and it needs to. There is no greater expression of our culture than our arts. Public art and public celebration must be a big part of that. I was a strong supporter of the arts in Cambridge when I was on the Council. The work I did to activate Inman Square through constructive programs that bring the public space to life, and give neighbors another good destination in Cambridge have continued in my absence on the Council and I am glad to see that. The arts are a very important part of civic and cultural life, and support them fully.
Good working relationships with the universities are very important in Cambridge. They must be honest and direct and address those issues where our interests converge, and those where our interests differ. The universities play a big role in this city, a fact that can "cut both ways" to use the common expression. MIT's recent report on its positive impact for the local economy is interesting, but it doesn't cover the issues where they are not treating their service employees well during the downturn. Lesley has grown in size and stature as a university, and it plays a very positive role in our schools and in our non-profits throughout the city, but at the same time they pay nothing in lieu of taxes. Harvard is a huge developer, and a multi-billion dollar institution, surrounded by residential neighborhoods on almost all sides. All of their actions need close attention by the Council.
Engaging voters both new and experienced in the city's civic process is very important, and I have worked very hard to integrate them in the work I do by reaching out to them on a consistent basis to keep them informed and up to date on the topics of today.
Cambridge Public Schools
The public schools are our most important public institution in the city. They are the one place where all of Cambridge comes together on a daily basis, and they have the singular challenge of making it work for every child who walks through the door. I have engaged the public schools through my work as a tutor with Cambridge School Volunteers and in my prior work in Out of School Time planning. What we need to do on the City Council is to support the good things that are going on the schools. We also need to examine the resources that support education that are not contained within the School Department budget, and make sure those are doing all they need to do for excellence, and support this new superintendent. The new superintendent needs to be chosen through an open and deliberative process, and who now needs the backing and the support of the elected officials in the community so that he can bring success to all the children of the district. If we have significant differences with the schools and the School Committee and administration on issues as fundamental as the entire school budget, we need to raise those in a predictable and meaningful way.
Sam Seidel 2013 Candidate Profile - Cambridge Chronicle
Candidate's 2011 responses Candidate's 2009 responses Candidate's 2007 responses
CCTV candidate video (2013)