Sam Seidel

Sam Seidel
2007 Candidate for Cambridge City Council

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

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PO Box 391633
Cambridge MA 02139

My name is Sam Seidel. I am 41 years old. I live in mid-Cambridge with my wife. I am an urban planner. I have been active in many ways in Cambridge. I am the current president of the board of the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House. I am a member of the Cambridge Democratic City Committee, and currently serve as its vice chair. I am a member of the Cambridge Conservation Commission, and I have been a tutor at the Haggerty School.

Top Priorities:
Environment; Early Childhood Education

Quality of Life:
Quality of life is a big piece of making sure this community remains a great place to live. Basic services need to continue to function well. These include: trash pickup and recycling; pothole and street light repair; street sweeping, and many others. I support the efforts to increase the amount of money available for resurfacing the roads. That is a constant complaint among Cambridge residents. Other complaints that I have heard are: there are not enough places for dogs to run in the city. As a former dog owner, I am very sympathetic to that. As well, the Council is currently considering a ban on leafblowers, because of the noise and pollution they produce. I support restricting their use and restricting the noise they emit, but am not committed to an outright ban.

Public Safety:
Crime is a concern to us all. Whether we experience a break-in or some form of street harassment or worse yet violence, it impacts us deeply. It unsettles our daily life, and can fill us with fear and concern. We have a right to feel safe in our communities.

It is small comfort to know that Cambridge saw its lowest crime rate in 40 years in 2006 and had over 50 percent fewer crimes than it had in 1982. When you're feeling under threat, it's hard to see the world any other way.

Last month, the mayor's Crime Task Force met in City Hall to hear people's concerns about crime in the city. North Cambridge was highly represented in the group. They worry that their situation is slipping out of control. One resident described the criminal behavior as "pathological", distinguishing it from crime that stems out of need.

Police crime statistics indicate that North Cambridge saw more criminal activity on the whole in 2003, though drug incidents were higher in 2006. Nevertheless, perception can in some cases be reality. Security is not just what the statistics tell you. It is how you feel.

Concerns about crime are shaped by some basic societal issues, including class and race. This point was made very clearly by some participants at the mayor's Task Force. To paraphrase the thought: Just because they don't look like you or act like you doesn't mean that they're up to no good. It just means that they don't look like you or act like you. Building bridges across these divides is of critical importance for everyone, because to wrongly accuse a person based on a prejudice is to commit a wrong.

When the City Council candidates were asked to address issues of crime in a recent forum, I stated that the challenge of crime reduction and prevention is not a question of lack of budgetary resources. My view is that we need a three-pronged approach:

First, flow resources to the geographic area of heightened crime activity. People have a right to feel safe, and I believe quick responses and a heightened police presence can disrupt bad patterns of behavior, and make it difficult for criminal activity to take root (I am thinking particularly of drug activity, which I believe leads to more serious issues).

Second, build back a fabric of community that will resist encroachment by people wanting or willing to commit crimes. Be inclusive in this effort, including police and community leaders, the schools and other institutions, and include the young people. Young people know and understand what's happening out on the streets a lot better than most adults. They pick up on signals and nuances that most adults will miss.

Third, reinforce a fundamental commitment to people. All people want to be treated with respect, no matter where they're coming from. What we demand from ourselves, others must demand from us. We have a right to insist on a basic common respect, a respect which we will practice ourselves. We can respond to behaviors "outside the boundaries" through interdiction and enforcement. But we cannot deny to anyone a fundamental right to have hopes and dreams and aspirations, and we should expect that they are very much like our own.

The policing part of this equation is in many ways easier. Police are trained for the work they do, and they are paid and authorized to do it. The community building part of this work is harder, because we must work to build trust and understanding across social and economic gaps that divide us. Both have a place in this puzzle, and we must share the challenge to see that both are done responsibly and well.

Traffic, Parking, and Transportation:
I support an overall reduction in auto traffic in the city. I also support efforts to reduce parking spaces in places like Harvard Square, to make them more pedestrian-oriented zones, which make them safer, more appealing and better for small businesses. I would like to see stand-alone bicycle lanes that are separated from the regular flow of traffic by a physical divider. While these lanes may not be possible everywhere in the city, they should be available through the most dangerous intersections (like Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square).

Municipal Finance, City Budget, Assessments, and Property Taxes:
Our strong financial position is a great asset to this community and we should be proud of it and make good use of it. Residential property tax assessments are low compared to surrounding communities. The City Council should work to maintain that status. The real challenge in this community is rising housing assessments and the pressure that puts on people with limited resources. We must make sure weíre providing appropriate tax relief when the burden of the tax bill would force someone from their home. This is especially true for seniors who may be on fixed incomes.

Government and Elections:
I support the Plan E Charter. It is a form of government that has proved very stable for Cambridge, and has allowed the city to weather times of great fiscal challenge. It has allowed the city to develop a strong administrative staff that is able to work on the many good programs that the city has developed. These programs include many human service programs that make Cambridge one of the preeminent cities in the country, and they include the early childhood education programs that are of great interest to me.

I will not vote to remove the City Manager in my first term in office. I believe this City Manager has served this city ably and well over the course of his long tenure. He has played an important role in the strong fiscal health of this community, and that health is a very important part of what makes Cambridge unique among communities of our size. It gives us capacity to tackle many issues that other communities couldnít dream of. Our Peace Commission is one such example. I am not aware of another community that has a paid position dealing with peace and justice issues. I do agree that many public process issues have been stifled by the length of his time in office, and I also agree that his longevity has allowed him to accrue de facto power over most decisions made in this city. The answer to that problem lies within the hands of the Council itself, and I do not believe that a Charter change is needed to start the process of rebalancing the division of power. The Council can begin to set the agenda for the city, and it can do that not only through goal setting for the Manager, but also setting goals of achievements it would like to see accomplished through Council orders. Furthermore, by showing a direct respect for the opinions of citizens, the Council will create greater confidence and support for institution itself, which will further the significance of its role.

I do not support the vote that gave Councillors staffers. However, if the position remains in the budget when I am elected, I will hire someone for my staff. I intend to use this position to keep people informed about the actions of the Council, as well develop ideas to help improve the city and make it a better place.

Land Use, Planning, Economic Development:
I support higher densities at transit nodes. "Nodes" to me are rail stops. I think there is both an urban and an environmental rationale for this development. Hereís an example: I believe that that First Street corridor in East Cambridge is in the process of a major transformation, and I will support it becoming a much more highly utilized pedestrian-friendly commercial zone. That will require much more street-front retail on both sides of the street. One anchor to this street will be the newly developed T stop at Lechmere. The development of the T stop at Lechmere is highly reliant on the further buildout of the Northpoint development.

Strong economic development is critical to the long-term fiscal health of this city. We were able to effectively lure the bio-tech industry to the city, through good planning and coordination with the universities. We now need to determine what the next wave of economic activity will be, and to understand what strategic assets we have to help us get there. The universities should play an important role in this, since their spin-off economy is a strategic advantage that Cambridge possesses. I am excited about the "green economy" that focuses on developing products and services to reduce our oil and gas consumption and reduce our waste. It is an economy that will see huge job growth over the next quarter century. Governor Deval Patrick is excited about it too and has been promoting it statewide. It will provide real jobs both in high-end technology and in the construction trades. It will help lessen our reliance on foreign oil and it will reduce our carbon footprint. It can provide job training for people who otherwise are left out of the economic advances of the last decade, which can help Cambridge meets its goals of equity and opportunity.

Good planning will diffuse the hostility that develops around permitting time. Development needs to be fair and reasonable, and cannot be arbitrary. Neighborhood resistance to development is both understandable and predictable. The decision-making process for development review needs to be transparent and respectful to all parties. At the same time, I do not believe that all change is bad. Some change is good, and some change is for the better. Here are some things I believe: Massachusetts Avenue is and should remain a strong commercial corridor which high activity and residential densities that can support it. As I have stated elsewhere, transit nodes can support density as well, for urban and environmental reasons. Open space is at a premium in this city and should not be sacrificed. The Green Ribbon Committee Report on open space should be updated and we should work on ways to act on its recommendations. The riverfront is one of the greatest assets this city has, and it has been poorly planned. The DCR land needs to be protected and we need to balance its role as a place for human recreation and for biodiversity and for water quality protection. Inland, more can be done to bring some coherence to its role as one of the great natural resources this city has.

Human Services Programs:
I am very excited to begin working with the Department of Human Services in the city. I do believe that there are a couple of areas where my energy and interest can be particularly helpful:

Early Childhood Education
Helping children early in their development is important because it gives children the tools they need to succeed both in school and then later on in life. Cambridge has begun the process of developing early childhood education programs, and I want to see those expand so that they are available to any child in need.

Young Adults
I was talking with a police officer the other day who asked me what I planned on doing with young adults, ages 18 and 19, who have finished high school but may not be continuing on with school. He asked what we should do with these people if they are hanging out all day with nothing to do. Itís a very important question and one that will require the strong dedication of our community. These kids deserve a good future, and we definitely donít want them making bad decisions that will hurt their chances at having a good future. I look forward to working with this age cohort to help make a real difference in their lives. It is an area that Councillor Galluccio made a signature of his time on the Council, and I hope to work with others to keep up his good work in this area.

Senior Programs
The truth of the matter is that our senior population is going to continue to grow. They are a demographic bubble that hasnít reached their full expansion yet. We almost certainly will need to expand senior programming over the next two decades, to accommodate their health, housing and activity needs. Cambridge at Home is a very interesting program that allows residents to remain in their homes and continue to access the services they need to make that possible. Programs like this are often referred to as "aging in place", and it has been shown to have tremendous health and psychological benefits for seniors as they negotiate the challenges of getting older. I want to support the work of Cambridge at Home, and work to make it available to people who have fewer resources but would benefit equally as well.

Young mothers and families
I heard a very good suggestion the other day from a young mother. She praised the city for providing new families with books to support early literacy for their children, but she thought that the city should also provide a sheet with information about all the city programs available to young mothers and children. She said she found it daunting to sort through the challenges of figuring out what the city offered. This is a good idea, and one which we should follow-up on.

Open Space, Parks, and Recreation:
Our parks should be excellent and well maintained. I am supportive of the efforts to find more opportunities to create open space in the city of Cambridge though I recognize the challenge that land is very expensive in this city. I hope the Community Preservation Act open space committee will continue to work toward this goal.

Recreation is a very important part of what holds this community together, whether it be baseball in the summer, or soccer in the fall, or dance or other community events. The city can and should continue to support all the many activities in this city that make this community come together.

Energy, the Environment, and Public Health:
We must reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, and we now have a tremendous tool in the form of the Cambridge Energy Alliance that has $100 million for Cambridge residents to start the process of making their homes and businesses be more energy efficient. This is exciting, but the Alliance made a tactical mistake by announcing the program with great fanfare before it was ready to follow it up with programs in place. Thatís been a huge error, because expectations were high, and now people are wondering what is happening with the program.

While we should be very excited about the capital resources now available to us, the biggest challenge may be getting the word out to people about the urgency of the challenge, and possible steps that can be taken. I know from my own experience as a member of the environmental nonprofit Green Decade/Cambridge that there is a steep learning curve when it comes to energy efficiency. I worked to develop a handbook for multi-unit buildings (condos, etc.) and what I learned during that process was that we are still in the early stages of this learning curve as individuals decide that energy efficiency is important to them too. With some determined, combined effort, we will be able to get the word out and make headway on this important work.

Our commitment to energy reduction must be part of an overall commitment to the environment, which includes air quality, water quality, bio-diversity, long-term sustainability and environmental justice. I believe air quality is supported by reduced automobile usage, which can be induced by promoting by walking and bicycle riding. I support slowing auto traffic, widening the sidewalks and creating dedicated bike lanes. I would like to see curb-separated bike lanes in our most congested parts of town. Great efforts are already underway through programs like the Green Streets Initiative, which has been a very inventive way to promote pollution-free ways of transit and exercise. It also means supporting public and mass transit. I am particularly interested in the idea of shuttle buses throughout the city. Who runs them and how they are scheduled are important details that need to be worked out with providers and transportation experts, but I think this is a new way to move through the city in an efficient way. I also would like to implement the rent-a-bike programs that have begun to appear in European cities, where you can have quick access to a bicycle with the swipe of a credit card. All of this plays into greater public health. Public health is a field that is information-intensive. The practice of public health relies on informing people of their options and their impacts. This is particularly true in the area of environmental justice Ė an important field of environmentalism that explores the ways that communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities have endured a disproportionate amount of health risks and impacts. A study by Daniel Faber of Northeastern University showed this to be true in Massachusetts, and issues like rats is an example of the kind of health and environmental burdens that impact certain neighborhoods but not others.

There is no simple answer to the question of housing in Cambridge. The largest shifts have already occurred in this city, with the creation of a large number of condo units over the last two decades and sharp rise in the cost of housing. The social and demographic transformation that has accompanied this economic one has already occurred, and I do believe that this is a new reality for the city going forward. Cambridge will be a city of "richer and poorer" for the next decade or more, and we need to come to grips with this reality.

I will continue my support for the strong commitment the city has made to affordable housing. While I do not believe we will ever be able to create or preserve enough affordable units in the city to build back a broad middle class, we nevertheless ought to have affordability as our goal. I support 80/10/10 split that the city has committed to through the spending of the Community Preservation Act. This commitment to affordable housing in Cambridge is about working to maintain the type of community that we value: diverse and vibrant. Cambridge truly is a leader in this regard, and we ought to be proud of it, and continue that work.

I want to make sure that seniors have appropriate tax relief so that they are not forced from their homes through costs imposed by the property tax. That does not strike me as a fair social policy.

Arts and Public Celebrations:
Cambridge does a good job on public celebrations and I want this to continue. Bringing people together to celebrate our common bonds is an important part of building community. I will work in my public capacity to foster and support public endeavors.

The arts are an important component of cultural life and of history. When we discuss past centuries, we always make reference to the books and poetry written, the paintings painted, the sculpture and crafts produced. While the arts do not appear as frequently or as often in our daily life as do the issues of commerce and economy, the arts endure in ways that our other concerns do not. Cambridge should support the arts and artists by sponsoring shows and helping artists reach broader audiences. I have even heard the suggestion that the city ought to sponsor (fund?) a cultural center in Harvard Square to rekindle some of the local flavor of the Square, and win it back from national chain stores that remind everyone of our commercialism. I like this idea.

University Relations:
University relations are not new. What is increasingly important however, is the overbearing economic power that the universities can wield when it comes to the local economy, and most specifically, when it comes to land use. The power of Harvardís $39 billion endowment ought to give us all pause. Itís important to provide a strong counterweight to this influence, whether weíre talking about large developments, or small neighborhood projects.

At the same time, our local economy is highly reliant on the two largest universities for employment and for commercial tax revenues. They define Cambridge to many people around the globe, and they are to a large degree what differentiates us from the surrounding communities of Somerville, Belmont or Watertown. We must both recognize and acknowledge this important symbiosis. Furthermore, these institutions play an important role in the global economy that has emerged with the advent of the information age. In that way, they represent the competitive advantage that Cambridge has over similar sized communities in the Bay State. We must seek to take full use of this advantage in the years ahead and that means that we will have to find ways to work cooperatively with these institutions to further mutual goals Ė a robust, dynamic community that is self-sustaining with a bright future.

Civic Participation:
The biggest question I have as a candidate, and as someone who cares about civic life and our future is: why are so few people voting? I do not know the answer to this question, but I do know that without strong voter turnout, our public discourse becomes even more eroded, and our public discussion gets determined by an increasingly smaller and non-representative group of people. An important civic project would be to actually conduct a survey of non-voters, to ask them why they didnít vote, and what might get them to vote. This is not a project the Council should undertake, but it might be done by the Election Commission, or it might happen in conjunction with one of the universities. This idea comes to me because itís exactly what the School Committee did with Cambridge parents, to ask them why they didnít engage in this important civic undertaking.

Cambridge Public Schools:
My interaction with the Cambridge Public Schools has left me impressed with the work they do, though I have recently heard two strong complaints from parents who feel that the schools are not working well. My experience is of having been a tutor at the Haggerty School, where I saw a classroom that was diverse and well run with children differing abilities and backgrounds, and a teacher and staff who cared deeply about their children and took their responsibilities very seriously. Balancing expectations and frustrations of parents with the reality of the schools (both whatís working well and whatís not working well) is one of the great challenges over the next decade. While Cambridge does spend more per pupil than almost another other community in the Commonwealth, they have some very positive things to show for it, including class sizes of 18 students, which rivals any private school, as well as a full compendium of activities and services. I want to work with other Councillors to develop a more constructive dialog between the Council and the School Committee to address those concerns we have that we share Ė a comprehensive system, both in school and out of school that supports our children in ways that help them achieve their success in life going forward.

Candidate's 2005 responses 

Page last updated May 10, 2009 Cambridge Candidates