Sam Seidel

Sam Seidel
2005 Candidate for Cambridge City Council

Home address:
48 Maple Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139
Home phone: 617-547-1067

Contact information:
Office address: 133 Mt. Auburn Street (basement)
Office phone: 617-395-4155
Campaign Manager: Patrick Kratovil, (617) 943-3272

Send contributions to:
Friends of Sam Seidel
PO Box 391633
Cambridge MA 02139

My wife, Ann Smith, and I live in Inman Square on Maple Avenue with our dog Duncan. I am an urban planner by profession, and have worked with many cities and towns in Massachusetts on issues as broad as housing creation, economic development, and open space protection. I have been active on the mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association Coordinating Committee and am a member the Cambridge Conservation Commission, which reviews projects that might impact our city's waterbodies. I got interested in politics, and first thought about running for office because I wanted to take the technical knowledge I have as a planner, and I wanted to incorporate the personal side of neighborhoods and their concerns. I believe strongly that the Council can do better. I have a website with more information about me and my campaign (

Top Priorities: My top priorities are:

1. Bringing the universities and the major employers to the table to develop an honest assessment of the housing opportunities in Cambridge, as a part of a broader discussion about the direction of the city over the next decade.

2. Committing ourselves to an excellent school system, and finding effective ways for the city, through its various agencies, to support the human service mission that the schools are being asked to shoulder.

3. Creating a wireless network for the city of Cambridge as a way of pushing forward into the 21st century, as a leader in new technology.

I discuss each of these issues in greater detail below.

Quality of Life and Public Safety:
Most people experience their city not in terms of the largest issues, but in terms of the day to day experiences they have, whether it is walking to the store, heading home from work, or going for a bike ride on the weekend.

People in Cambridge are concerned that the city is not doing enough to make sure these experiences are good experiences.

Street noise. Street noise impacts many people, whether it comes from leaf blowers operated by landscaping contractors, or through bus and truck noise on our main thoroughfares. The city has the power to regulate noise pollution, and it must do a better job of it. In particular, the city must monitor noise emissions, and penalize operators who exceed acceptable limits. The Council should look at leaf-blowers in particular.

Sidewalks and roadways. The city must do a better job of maintaining sidewalks so that they are appealing and safe. This means repaving as needed, and ensuring that sidewalks are accessible to all citizens, including the disabled. In fact, designing and maintaining streets so that they work for someone is a wheelchair is the best way to make sure it will work for everybody. Road surface repaving needs to happen on a more regular basis, especially on our highly traveled routes.

Our retail centers. Retail shops, such as exist in my neighborhood of Inman Square are crucial to the well-being of the city as a whole. Shops should have clear signage and appealing storefronts, and streets must be comfortable and safe. Many merchants in places like Inman and Central Squares are concerned about the shopping experience many of the patrons have because of the activity on the street. I believe there are constructive and helpful ways that retailers can work with the city and non-profits to make sure that the homeless populations that use these sidewalks are treated with dignity while ensuring that stores can offer shoppers a good shopping experience.

Public Safety. Public Safety involves the quick response of well-trained responders, and prevention. Cambridge's police, fire and EMT must prepare for all contingencies, including natural disasters and terrorism. I do believe that the police station should be upgraded to reflect the technology of the 21st century, and to meet the threats of the 21st century. I am also proud of Cambridge for having achieved a Class 1 designation for its fire department.

While the challenges that these departments face are numerous and varied, I want to include the criteria I feel are important for police response to domestic violence as an example of my view of policing in the city:

  • Quick, efficient and effective police response, reporting and action. The police should know that it is critical not to wait and let things develop, but act now, investigate, and prosecute when appropriate. Violence is not acceptable in any context, and especially not in the home. Residents must know that as a community, we take this seriously.
  • Thoughtful, community-based, education and prevention - taught in schools, in places of worship, in community centers. Such program should focus on early recognition of problems, and early intervention. A system-wide perspective is the most helpful here.

Traffic, Parking, and Transportation:
Traffic is of course a major concern of many people in this community. Cars during rush-hour completely change the experience in the city, and can make streets unsafe. The glut of cars on our streets is only getting worse as more and more people can afford more cars. I think we need to have a few priorities when it comes to traffic:

  1. Cars out of the neighborhoods, unless they "live" there. Let's reduce the traffic that tries to thread its way through the neighborhoods unless that car is going to a destination in that neighborhood. Traffic calming is a good way to do this, with the bump-outs that narrow street widths. The city should consider more direct ways of slowing traffic, through raised street levels, and in certain places, it should consider putting pedestrians and automobiles on the same level. To effectively calm, you need thoroughfares that will allow traffic to flow around the densely populated areas, and the city should work on improving flow on traffic arteries that can carry high volumes efficiently.

  2. Get people out of their cars at every opportunity. The right way to do this is through good walking routes, and the continued development of a rational bicycle network throughout the city. It is an interesting fact about bicycles that the more there are on the road, the fewer bike accidents there are.

Parking is the issue most directly connected with traffic. My own view is that we need to find ways to lower the overall numbers of parking spots and exchange them for other benefits, particularly for new developments that are catering to empty-nesters or to young professionals. Subsidized T passes in place of the right to a permit are a very good example as to how this can work. I also think the city should examine establishing a variable rate for the cost of a parking permit in the city. The smaller the car, the lower the cost to get a permit.

Finally, I think the city should move forward with a new parking technology, namely the "Pay and Display" meters that provide a more efficient and flexible way of handling parking while providing an incentive for smaller cars, and more compact parking.

The transportation network must support these efforts. The biggest area where the city can have an impact is by creation of a more comprehensive shuttle system for residents. There are shuttles that operate out of the senior center, but the city should look at more options than simply those. The city should also work with the T to reduce bus noise.

Municipal Finance, City Budget, Assessments, and Property Taxes:
One of the great benefits of living in Cambridge is the strength of its financial position. The capacity of the city to be able to afford large dollar investments in major public projects (such as the library expansion) is a good thing, and marks Cambridge out as unique. I support the ability to conduct capital expenditures on large-scale projects with efficient forms of funding.

At the same time, while it may be factually true that Cambridge has the lowest tax rate of any of its surrounding communities, the overall impact of the tax bill hike on homeowners was major. It provided another example of how this city is become less and less affordable, even to property owners. Furthermore, the burden to pay for the budget of the city is falling increasingly onto the shoulders of homeowners, and that trend will likely continue until large-scale commercial development can pick up more of the burden in Cambridge. It therefore is incumbent on the City Council to reexamine the overall tax levy for the City, and make budget determinations accordingly. At the same time, the Council can and should lobby to have the state's restrictions on the city's finances modified, so that Cambridge can address the problems before it.

As a separate issue, overall tax fairness must be brought back into the system. Property owners at the lower end of the spectrum should not suffer under regressive taxes that penalize them more, even though they have less.

Finally, let me say that the recent document the city has distributed to taxpayers throughout the city smacks of craven election-year pandering, and the Council should have distributed this document when the last round of tax bills went out, and not weeks before the election when the voters are likely to hold them accountable for it.

Land Use, Planning, Economic Development:
The shape that the city takes says a lot about the type of city it will become. Cambridge needs to aware of the danger of overbuilding. Communities need time to support new growth. I do believe it is possible to increase densities in parts of the city, but those places are near the T stops. That to me is the place where higher densities make sense. It allows us to be more innovative in our transportation planning, and with few exceptions, those areas are already highly urbanized and can support people (provided we deal effectively with the cars). Whereas transit-oriented development makes sense, general increase in density doesn't. The zoning currently being considered for Concord-Alewife means that a whole new neighborhood will be created out in that area without direct access to the T. This project is doubly troubled because a traffic impact analysis is being avoided. This is unacceptable, because the overall impacts on Route 2 will be major.

Unlike Concord-Alewife, the air rights over the Porter Square T station does make sense to look at development. Porter Square is an area of the city that is growing and developing. It has access to public transit, and it's surrounded by shops and restaurants. Thoughtful development can improve it even more, especially at the point of the commuter rail stop. But any new development there must be open and participatory, and it will have to be collaborative between the T, the developer, Lesley University, the neighborhood and the two cities that are impacted: Somerville and Cambridge. Porter Square can and should continue to develop as a node in this city. The Council should be an active participant in discussions with the parties on this effort.

Economic Development falls into two main categories. The largest employers who choose to be in Cambridge will play a major role in defining the direction and capacity of the city. The small businesses and retail centers will go a long way to defining the feel of the city. It is important to focus on both.

Cambridge, by virtue of some good planning and some good historical luck has become a home to the life sciences, over cities like Boston or New York or Palo Alto. The wealth of knowledge, innovation and capacity in this city has meant that we are able to attract leading firms from around the globe to site their companies in Cambridge. This is a tremendous strategic advantage for us as a city, and we need to continue to build on it. To do this, we must continue to make infrastructure improvements, improvements that convince the economic leaders that Cambridge is able to keep pace with change, and is committed to addressing challenges of the new economy in a timely and responsive manner. These investments will pay long dividends for this city.

At the same time, we need to make sure the city is an inviting place for small business-owners to prosper and thrive. The city should support "buy locally" campaigns and should work with business associations in the various neighborhoods to address their needs in constructive and responsive ways. These include: street repairs, signage and other forms of advertising, policing and trash pick-up, and a whole host of other possible areas of concern. We should also always be looking at regulations, to make sure they are protecting the public, but also to make sure that we remove duplicative ones that unnecessarily increase costs on small owners.

Human Services Programs:
I want to dedicate a lot of my energy in this area of the city's services. Since our schools are so important to us as a community, and since the City Council has limited direct jurisdiction over the schools (other than the budget review), I believe it is doubly important that the Council focus on ways to support the schools through other means. The schools are being asked to shoulder a huge portion of the burden for social, societal and economic impacts that are happening outside of the school buildings. The city can take on some of this task of preparing young children for the classroom, preparing parents for parenting and helping teachers and parents make a young person's childhood an exciting and healthy time for them.

It is also crucial to continue to remember our seniors, who've lived long lives and deserve to be treated well and with the respect that is due them. Since so much of my focus has been on our young ones, I want to explore the idea of pulling together a multi-generational program that allows the elderly to spend time with children, to teach them what they know, to enjoy their companionship and their friendship, and to be mentors for them at delicate times in their lives.

Open Space, Parks, and Recreation:
The creation of open space in Cambridge is critical, in particular in East Cambridge, where residents feel the burden of all the new development that has happened in their neighborhood. The opportunities for the creation of open space are limited, and the city needs to develop a prioritized list of opportunities for the creation of open space. Such a goal-setting exercise can provide an opportunity to create a broader constituency for the creation of open space.

The Community Preservation Act has been a real boon to the city in this regard, but the ten percent that is allocated to open space is limited to passive recreation. That limits its use for spaces that need to be multi-use.

I support the community efforts to create open space through negotiations with developers. It is an option that helps create new spaces. Forcing the developers to follow through on commitments it has made to the planning board is a critical piece of this, to be sure.

One example of this happened in the Alewife Reservation. We should recognize and honor those people who have fought so hard to protect, preserve and reclaim open space in the Alewife Reservation. They have been fighting very hard for many years, and while there is more work to do, we should rejoice at the reclamation of the parking lot at Arthur D. Little, something long overdue. With further reclamation along the Little River, we're making headway in turning our city back into a place where active biodiversity can take place in an urban setting - quite an accomplishment by any measure. They accomplished this by working with the developer to ensure that this new development returned to the public land that had always belonged to the public. This has been a tremendous success for the city.

Parks and recreation are critical to the city, and we need not simply to maintain parks, but to create opportunities for recreation in our parks that is multi-generational in nature. Whereas a teenager may need a soccer field to run off her energy, an elderly person is quite content just to stroll. Both of these activities need to be able to happen.

Energy, the Environment, and Public Health:
Energy from fossil fuels must be reduced, and we must switch to clean renewable resources. There are many ways to address this issue, since we use energy in so many different ways. I am proposing a "green retrofit" package that would impact and improve the energy efficiency of condominiums. We must also continue to work with the large-scale commercial builders since they are the largest block of energy consumers. We must pressure NStar to make sure that they are informing their ratepayers of the option to purchase "clean energy". We should look at the example of Sacramento, California, which developed a distributed solar grid network, allowing private homeowners to help capture electricity and supply it back to the grid. And we must continue to be more efficient and "green" in their transportation choices, whether we're talking about public transit, hybrid autos, biodiesel, bicycle lanes or simply walking - transportation is one of the biggest culprits in fuel consumption and air quality. It is critical that we improve energy efficiency, reduce our reliance on oil, lessen greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our overall environmental footprint.

Water quality, air quality, waste disposal, recycling, biodiversity are all aspects of the environment. I have worked on issues of water quality in Cambridge, and am proud of the city's purchase of land buffering the reservoir that holds the city's water supply. That is a smart and forward-looking use of public funds for the protection of one of the most important natural resources we have.

Air quality requires the city to continue to reduce greenhouse gases that plague not only our local environment, but the global environment as well. I am proposing a incentive program that will make it affordable for condominiums to do a "green retrofit" of their buildings so that energy is not wasted in the winter or the summer because of old or faulty equipment. The city should also be a strong supporter of Zipcar, a Cambridge-based company that is providing a new model for efficient automobile use.

Environment is closely linked to public health. I have been a strong advocate at the state-wide level on environmental justice, because too often our communities of color, and our lower-income communities are bearing the burden our of industrial and toxic waste. But public health goes beyond that.

In the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, it is clear that we must have a strong system of first-responders who are trained and equipped to face any challenge. At the same time, we need to continue to address the more chronic needs of public health: disease prevention, obesity reduction; healthy schools; reduction in health disparities between races. The city must develop a comprehensive approach to public health that emphasizes prevention as it does treatment and care. I also believe there is a public health problem in parts of our city that needs our determined and coordinated effort to eradicate: rats. People, particularly in Area 4 in this city, are overwhelmed by the rat problem they are facing, and they are looking to their city government to help them. We must find ways to provide people with impenetrable containers. We need to make sure that restaurants and other food providers are disposing of their waste properly, and we need to make sure that the citizen's are safe.

Without a doubt, housing is one of the biggest issues facing this city over the next decade. The pressure on housing prices throughout the city has been astronomical over the past decade, and this has produced a major change in the city. What we chose to do about housing will to a large degree say what kind of city Cambridge will be in twenty years' time.

I support the efforts of the city to create more affordability by the various methods they are pursuing: development of new units, protection of existing units, and setting aside units built by private developers. However, I am skeptical that the city can ever create enough new units to balance out the pressures of the market on housing prices. There are just too many people with cash to spare who want to call Cambridge home.

Therefore, I think a useful Council-initiated effort should be a broad-based discussion of housing opportunities and options. Such a discussion will include the major employers in the city, as well as the universities. Its purpose will be to see what opportunities lay out there for the further creation of housing; what role the private employers are willing to play in an area that is of vital importance to them, what plans the universities have with regard to housing, in regard to their students, their faculty and their staff.

Such a discussion will offer an opportunity to develop a realistic picture of the ability of the city to alter the direction of the housing in the city. It will allow people a real sense of what the trade-offs are both now and in the future when it comes to who can afford to live in this city, and what kind of city it will become. Only then can we make the important choices that lay ahead.

Arts and Public Celebrations:
These are so critical to the city. We should constantly be seeking opportunities for public celebrations, as ways of celebrate our community.

I am strongly supportive of the arts, not just for artists, but for everybody. As the mayor of Washington DC once said, when archeologists looks back on a long-disappeared culture, they look for the cities, and they want to find the arts, for it is the arts that survive us. Cambridge is a city, and it is a city that should have arts in its civic life.

University Relations:
Universities play a vital role in Cambridge, both for the better and the worse.

For the better, the universities attract economic activity to the city. They attract young people who can bring all their talents to the civic life of the community. And for many people who do not live in Cambridge, the universities put Cambridge on the map. This last fact is important because much of the new economy, in particular the life sciences, have chosen Cambridge as their home (over Boston and many other communities) because of the presence of the two large world-renown centers of knowledge: Harvard and MIT.

At the same time, the universities impact the city in many negative ways, including taking land off the tax roles, using services both directly and indirectly that they don't pay for, being difficult neighbors, and setting their own agenda without coordinating with the city on goals or objectives.

My approach to the universities is to see where our mutual goals can meet, and where we can build off each others' resources, and achieve mutually beneficial ends. I believe this can be a more productive conversation in the long-run, and one that is based more firmly in the reality of the complicated relationship between the universities and the city. This does not mean there will not be points of difference or confrontation. But I will seek to harness the tremendous resources of these major non-profit entities for the good of the city. As I have mentioned elsewhere in these responses, I very much want to do this in the area of housing, which is critical to so many.

Civic Participation:
We need a participatory government, one that involves the citizens in the fundamental issues of the city. In many ways, people have given up on their local government, and feel that the Council is not listening to them. That is unacceptable. The City Council must not only be open and accessible to people but it must reflect the views of the citizens of this City.

At the same time, we do not engage in public process simply for the sake of engaging in public process. We engage in public process to hear and incorporate the opinions of people. It is my belief that meaningful but respectful parameters can be established to guide public participation while ensuring that decisions are not dragged out needlessly. It is a difficult balance to achieve, but I feel my presence on the Council will be an improvement in this regard.

One specific idea that will improve participation is for the Council to leave the Council chambers from time to time, and to hold field hearings around the city. People want to know and feel comfortable that their Council is hearing them. I can't think of a better way than by taking the proceedings to the people themselves.

Cambridge Public Schools:
Cambridge schools ought to be the gem of our community because there is no institution more important to our community and our families than the school system. I support the efforts to reduce the administrative overhead in the school department, so that the money can be redirected into the classroom. Reducing class sizes, improving the quality of the teaching, and setting standards are all steps in the right direction. I am not supporting the creation of new charter schools.

The City Council must find ways to help the school system. Here's one way: I am very excited about the work being done around literacy. Literacy means that learning is more than just reading and writing. It involves those skills, but it also involves social skills and coping skills, and problem solving and many other components. Parents must be an integral part of learning too, so if the parent needs to develop these skills as well, literacy must reach out to them too. It is especially important to begin this process before a child gets to the formal classroom, so that the child will be ready to learn when they get to the school. I want to expand this program, to include the arts as well.

The Council should also work with the Cambridge Housing Authority to coordinate the efforts of the CHA with all the afterschool programs developed by the Cambridge Public Schools. The important thing is to reduce the amount of "dead time" any child experiences. This is especially important for those children whose parents are working more than one job.

Creating a Wireless Network:
The City should commit itself to being a leader in this field, and it can happen either through direct city investment or through a combination of public and private investments. But Cambridge should realize the benefits of this new and forward-thinking technology.

Page last updated July 01, 2007 Cambridge Candidates