By PB Steering Committee member Karen Cuenca
The eight Budget Delegates on the Environment, Health & Safety Committee and their facilitator, Steve, have been meeting once a week at the Eastern Bank community room since September. They started the second cycle of Cambridge’s Participatory Budgeting (PB) project with 142 projects to research.
At their most recent committee meeting on October 6, the Delegates updated each other on their research progress and discussed which projects should move forward. Michelle Monsegur, Budget Analyst for the City of Cambridge, and Mary Regan, Community Organizer for the Participatory Budgeting Project, were also present at the meeting.
Over the course of the meeting, committee members talked about their efforts to follow up with the people who proposed the projects, conversations they had with community members, and what they found through their own research. Committee members who were unsure about next steps to take in their research were able to bounce ideas off of each other. Monsegur answered specific questions about project eligibility and directed committee members to specific City departments and contacts.
One committee member updated the group on the electricity-related projects she was researching, which included a proposal to install solar panel on City buildings and over parking lots. A different committee member working in architecture shared her expertise on solar panel installations and offered to look into similar projects implemented in other cities. Monsegur suggested that the committee member also reach out to the City’s Public Works Department to ask about the sustainability initiatives under development.
Several of the projects sparked discussion around wider issues facing the city like homelessness. A couple of proposed projects included building more shelters in the city and installing benches that can serve as temporary shelters. The committee members discussed the difficulties of funding a shelter through PB, since PB funds can only be used for capital projects, which tend to be infrastructure-related and more physical (“bricks and mortar”) in nature. New shelters would need operating finds to hire staff and provide services that would ideally include mental health resources.
Despite these limitations, committee members discussed creative and resourceful ways to address community needs through PB. One Cambridge resident that spoke with a committee member suggested that fruits and vegetables cultivated through the proposed veterans’ garden project be donated to local homeless shelters. Regan suggested several community organizations that the committee could reach out to get a better idea of how the proposed projects could address homelessness in Cambridge.
For the next few weeks, the Environment, Health & Safety Committee will continue to gather information to assess the feasibility, need, and impact of each project. They will submit a shortlist of 6-10 proposals to City staff on October 27 for cost estimates and final vetting. Once they receive this feedback, the committee will evaluate their shortlist and work together to select the final six that will appear on the PB ballot in December.
This year’s ballot, which will contain 24 total projects, promises to be just as interesting as last year’s. Please mark your calendar for vote week (December 5-12, 2015) and stay tuned!