2008 City Council Agenda Notes
December 22, 2008 City Council Agenda Highlights:
This is the last City Council meeting of the year and the agenda is a short one. What follows are those items I found important, interesting, curious, funny, etcetera...
Reconsideration #1. Reconsideration filed by Councillor Kelley on Order No. 2 of Dec 15, 2008 requesting the Transportation, Traffic and Parking Committee be and hereby is requested to hold a meeting in January to try to determine whether the City should ask the State to eliminate or change the project planned at the junction of Massachusetts Avenue and Cedar Street, which order failed of adoption on a roll call vote 2-7-0.
The whole point of the provision for Reconsideration in the City Charter and in Robert's Rules of Order (which was not written by Robert Healy and me) is to reconsider a vote that may have been done in haste and with inadequate information. It was never meant to be used as a delaying tactic for a matter on which the outcome of the vote was never in question. Councillor Kelley generally likes to see himself as being in the forefront of adherence to Council Rules such as the one not permitting Late Orders for things that can wait until the next regular meeting, yet here he contradicts his own professed beliefs. The matter in question has to do with a state-funded reconfiguration of the place where the Linear Park Path crosses Massachusetts Avenue in North Cambridge. Councillor Kelley wants cyclists to cross Mass. Ave. more or less as they do now by traveling to a crosswalk at an adjacent street. Seven of his colleagues voted against any delays and some of them gave well-considered statements explaining why. Their votes were cast neither in haste nor based on inadequate information. There is no rational basis for reconsideration of the vote.
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 08-119, regarding a report on possible impacts of the new police detail regulations and on the City's reliance on detail work.
This is ridiculous. The bottom line is that police officers earn a fortune on unnecessary detail work under a practice which isn't all that different from mobsters demanding "protection money" from anyone who wants to do business in their territory. This continues to be the great sacred cow of Massachusetts and its Democratic Party political monopoly. Governors, including current Governor Patrick, have tried to take on this established form of corruption, but with little success. It's a shame to see that here in "good government" Cambridge, the City Manager has chosen to throw in the towel rather than challenge this. I can understand why he might choose to "go along to get along," but it's disappointing.
Resolution #1. That the City Council supports justice for Leonard Peltier. Councillor Seidel
This makes it official. Sam Seidel is vying for the "Chuck Turner Award". For those who never heard of Peltier, here's what Wikipedia has to say: "In 1977 he was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment for the murder of two FBI Agents who died during a 1975 shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation." Some would argue that Mr. Peltier has been enjoying justice for 30 years. In any case, how does the Cambridge City Council fit into all this?
Order #3. That the City Manager have the appropriate City staff create celebratory venues where televised broadcasts of the Presidential Inauguration will take place, and that these venues will be both open to the public and city staff as they are able to participate in the midst of their school and work day. Mayor Simmons
Have televisions been provided for past presidential inaugurations? I wish Mr. Obama nothing but the best, but why should his inauguration warrant special treatment?
Order #4. Opposition to the proposed toll hikes for the Massachusetts Turnpike and tunnels. Councillor Decker
Order #5. That the City Manager write a letter on behalf of the City Council opposing Channel 25's actions of switching from analog early. Councillor Decker
I have to admit that I'm starting to warm up to Councillor Marjorie Decker, especially when she submits Orders like these that are responsive to the sentiments of regular Cantabrigians and other residents of the Boston area. - Robert Winters
December 15, 2008 City Council Agenda Highlights
The most interesting item on the whole agenda is a paragraph in one of the committee reports regarding the tenure of City Manager Robert Healy. Details below. What follows are those items I found important, interesting, curious, funny, etcetera...
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to discuss with relevant City departments the creation of a Walden Street Cattle Pass observation point using the public arts funds previously dedicated to the site. Councillor Decker
Great idea, and it's good to see Councillor Decker focusing on Cambridge history. I wish all of the councillors and City staff would do likewise. Few places in the U.S. can match Cambridge's varied history in government, academics, literature, commerce, and more. The use of public arts funds for historical projects is nothing new, and quite a few art projects associated with private development (such as University Park) have significant historical components. Cambridge has a "one percent for the arts" requirement for City-funded projects, and on several occasions the issue of what qualifies as art has come up. I'm particularly reminded of the Central Square enhancements of a decade ago when the principal architect on the project (Steve Carr) wanted to provide the art as well as the architecture. At the time, the City maintained a segregationist attitude about this and saw art projects as something only "artists" could bid on. [A very close friend of mine modeled for Steve Carr, and he is as much an artist as he is an architect.]
Personally, I've never bought into this notion of artists as some kind of special visionary class with exclusive rights to declare their stuff art while writing off the creative expression of others as "craft" or worse. Besides, we have all seen publicly funded crap like the current "Y" installations around the city that evoke disdain in much greater measure than awareness or aesthetics. And do we really need any more "diversity murals" in Central Square in order to make a point of what we think we are? I propose that we make the Walden Street overlook out of the scrap from the dismantled "Y" art. Now that would be an artistic statement.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to give a full report to the City Council by no later than Jan 19, 2009 on the security cameras that may be or have been installed in Cambridge by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Councillor Seidel
This is a recurring topic that is also the subject of some discussion in Brookline. A Cambridge City Council vote on traffic enforcement cameras ended in a 4-4 tie a few years ago with Councillor Murphy waving the ACLU flag in opposition and Councillor Toomey noting that your picture is already being taken every time you use an ATM or buy a slurpee at the 7-Eleven. I'm sure Councillor Murphy is also one of the people who pays cash on the Pike rather than submit to the intrusive tracking of his whereabouts by the Fast Lane transponders. Let's face it, privacy is an illusion anyway. If we all lived in a small town, everyone would know everyone else's business.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to communicate with and update residents of East Cambridge on plans to ensure a supermarket remains within a reasonable distance of the neighborhood. Councillor Seidel
Memories of 22 fruitless meetings with then Councillor Jonathan "Consensus" Myers come flooding back like a nightmare. Once upon a time there was a Stop and Shop grocery store on Memorial Drive where now stands a MicroCenter. The owners wanted to expand the store and reconfigure the site. The linchpin was a minor zoning change, and the whole thing came tumbling down when then Councillor Katherine "Political Decision" Triantafillou broke a promise and voted against the zoning change (and then left town for three weeks). The end result was that the primary (affordable) grocery store for Cambridgeport and Riverside was gone. The testimony was divided largely by economic class. We did manage to get a Trader Joe's store that mainly caters to the higher income crunchy granola crowd, and a 2nd floor Star Market in University Park was negotiated by the City in exchange for the discontinuation of some streets. The Central Square Purity Supreme also went away as did the Fresh Pond Stop and Shop. Cambridge's menu of supermarkets is now dominated by yuppie-havens like the Whole Foods Market with limited selection, much higher prices, and more smug self-righteousness than you can shake a carrot stick at.
Let's hope that Somerville officials don't mistakenly vote for a zoning change that drives out another affordable grocery store from a neighborhood that really needs it.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David Maher and Vice Mayor Brian Murphy, Co-Chairs of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a meeting held on Dec 10, 2008 to discuss the process to be used by the City Council to evaluate the City Manager.
The current contract with City Manager Robert Healy runs through Aug 31, 2009 and both parties (the Manager and the Council) have a deadline of Feb 28, 2009 to inform the other party of their intention to renew or not renew the contract. The Government Operations Committee has already begun meetings to discuss the evaluation process and matters relating to any possible contract extension. There has been speculation (again) regarding whether Bob Healy would seek another contract extension or retire to the pastoral settings of Lowell, MA. Everyone in the City administration is very aware that a changing of the guard in the Manager's Office would likely lead to other personnel changes, so this has never been about replacing one man. In the referenced Gov't Ops. report, you'll find the following words:
"Councillor Maher told the committee that he and Vice Mayor Murphy met with the City Manager to determine whether he was interested in remaining as City Manager. The Manager did not make up his mind immediately, but after taking some time to consider, Mr. Healy expressed a willingness to continue in this job. He expressed a desire to see the city through the completion of the large capital projects the city has undertaken, as well as through the challenges of the recession. ... Councillor Maher then expressed his gratitude and pleasure regarding the City Manager’s decision that he is willing to stay on."
"Vice Mayor Murphy stated his agreement with Councillor Maher. He said that because of the City Manager’s leadership and especially his financial leadership, Cambridge has been able to weather some challenging funding cuts by federal and state government over the past few years and still safeguard its infrastructure and build a new library, police station and youth/community center. This recession will bring even greater challenges and he believes Cambridge will be much better positioned to meet these challenges with the help of Mr. Healy."
Put simply, I concur with Councillor Maher and Vice-Mayor Murphy on this one. -- Robert Winters
Highlights on the Nov 17 City Council agenda
Seriously, there are none. Perhaps the only notable items are City Manager's Agenda #9 and Council Orders 6, 7, and 9:
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to difficulties that were experienced on Election Day.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding the problems with the missing voter names on voter lists on election day, and what steps will be taken to prevent this problem from taking place in future elections. Vice Mayor Murphy and Councillor Seidel
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to demand an adequate explanation from the City’s Election Commissioner as it relates to the Nov 4, 2008 Presidential Election issue and report back to the City Council. Councillor Decker
Order #9. That the Government Operations Committee have a public meeting, in the evening, to discuss problems that occurred during the Nov 4, 2008 election. Councillor Kelley
These are noteworthy only because it continues to amaze that while so many other things go unchecked in this city, all of the alarms go off as soon as anything questionable happens with the elections. Graffiti spray-painted all over Central Square years ago is still there and not one city councillor seems to care, yet when something goes wrong with the mechanism of their continued existence, the councillors jump into action.
Then there's this:
Resolution #6. Urge City officials to take an active role in the prevention of torture by supporting human rights monitoring in places of detention. Councillor Decker
Yeah, this is relevant. City officials should take an active role in the prevention of torture. They can start by ending the City Council meetings early. - Robert Winters
On the Oct 20 City Council Agenda:
Resolution #1. Congratulations to Bahij and Marjorie Decker Bandar on the birth of their son, Brendan Bahij Bandar. Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor Murphy, Councillor Seidel, Councillor Davis and entire membership.
Yes, indeed. Congratulations! - RW
Of secondary importance, there are the following items:
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department and to report back to the City Council with draft language of a land transfer agreement in which the owners of Shady Hill Square will donate the parcel to the City of Cambridge in order to ensure the open space remains a place for the public to use and enjoy. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Order Number Two of Oct 6, 2008.]
I'll repeat what I said before about this class-baiting nonsense: Grandstanding - pure and simple. As was apparent at the CPA (Community Preservation Act Committee) hearings and at the recent City Council vote to approve the CPA recommendations, any funds for Shady Hill Square would be coupled with a permanent public easement for anyone to use Shady Hill Square as a public park, maintained by the surrounding resident-owners. The only practical difference that would result from Toomey's Order would be that the City would have to maintain the park in perpetuity. This would obviously be a permanent additional cost for the City, so Toomey's proposal would only result in higher costs to taxpayers with no additional benefit.
Order #4. That the City Council go on record in opposition to issuing Idenix Pharmaceuticals a variance for relief from the responsibility of compliance with the Noise Ordinance. Mayor Simmons
This item should bring out a few people from Area 4. If the Noise Ordinance is to have any meaning at all, there is no way that this company should be granted a variance. Economic development is a good thing, but in the case where companies are located in close proximity to residents there can be no justification for a variance to something as simple and basic as the City's Noise Ordinance.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to report back with a preparedness plan for the short and long-term impact the current economic crisis will have on homelessness in Cambridge. Mayor Simmons
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner and Assistant City Manager for Human Services to provide the City Council with a report on whether there has been an increase of arrests of homeless persons or people in need of services in Central Square and if so, whether the persons arrested or in need of services are from outside of Cambridge. Councillor Reeves
These two Orders are noteworthy in their acknowledgement of this growing problem in Central Square. However, it's doubtful that the devalued stock market is a root cause of the troubles of drunks and crazies in Central Square, and there's little evidence that mortgage foreclosures are putting anyone out on the street in Cambridge. The second of these two Orders, however, raises an important question: How many of these problematic people are flocking to Cambridge because of our reputation for providing plentiful services? It has been the case for some time that neighboring towns dump their drunks in Cambridge because we host the CASPAR "wet shelter" for active alcoholics. Are we paying the price for our unquestioned liberalism? - RW
Oct 6 - What's on the October 6 City Council Agenda?
The big item tonight is the property tax classification vote (and the hearing on the tax rate recommendations).
Almost all of what will be said is similar to every other year, though the supplemental information this year does show a slight downward trend in residential property values (as of Jan 1, 2008). We'll see what next year's assessments bring.
Order #1. Petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance (Sections: 20.88 and 20.810, Memorial Drive Overlay District) be referred to the Planning Board and the City Council for a hearing and report. Councillor Davis, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Seidel, Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor Murphy, Councillor Decker and Councillor Reeves
Alas, a new zoning petition, but this one is submitted by the City Council instead of the usual citizen petition with ten or more signers. Details to follow.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department and to report back to the City Council with draft language of a land transfer agreement in which the owners of Shady Hill Square will donate the parcel to the City of Cambridge in order to ensure the open space remains a place for the public to use and enjoy. Councillor Toomey
Grandstanding - pure and simple. As was apparent at the CPA (Community Preservation Act Committee) hearings and at the recent City Council vote to approve the CPA recommendations, any funds for Shady Hill Square would be coupled with a permanent public easement for anyone to use Shady Hill Square as a public park, maintained by the surrounding resident-owners. The only practical difference that would result from Toomey's Order would be that the City would have to maintain the park in perpetuity. This would obviously be a permanent additional cost for the City, so Toomey's proposal would only result in higher costs to taxpayers with no additional benefit.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to determine if the City can rescind the special permit for Northpoint for not complying with mitigation efforts. Councillor Toomey
Good question. - Robert Winters
Preview of Sept 22 City Council meeting:
The highlight of the meeting (in my opinion) is the pro-forma vote on the Community Preservation Act (CPA) allocations for the coming year. I attended the first hearing several months ago as well as the recent meeting when the recommendations of the committee were voted. The most interesting thing to me was when an organized group of residents attended the first hearing asking for additional allocations for open space acquisition at Shady Hill Square. Usually it's the housing nonprofits that bus in people to make absolutely sure that nobody interferes with their getting the maximum (80%) share of the CPA pie. At that hearing, Peter Daly (Homeowners' Rehab) turned to Gordon Gottsche (Just-A-Start) and said, "These open space people scare me." Something suggests to me that the words "Community Preservation Act" should be changed to "housing entitlement program". In the end the advocates for open space funding for Shady Hill Square were able to get some funds diverted from the historic preservation part (10%) of the CPA pie. Not a red cent was diverted from the affordable housing portion.
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, requesting that the City Councillor formally appropriate/allocate the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds as follows:
1A. 80% of FY2009 CPA revenues ($4,800,000) appropriated to the Affordable Housing Trust.
The comic highlight of this week's agenda is the following set of resolutions from Councillor Davis:
Resolution #24. Congratulations to Marty Walz on being elected to her third term as a Representative from the Eighth Suffolk District of Massachusetts. Councillor Davis
Resolution #25. Congratulations to Byron Rushing on being elected to another term as a Representative from the Ninth Suffolk District of Massachusetts. Councillor Davis
Resolution #26. Congratulations to Alice Wolf on being elected to her seventh term as a Representative from the Twenty-fifth Middlesex District of Massachusetts. Councillor Davis
Resolution #27. Congratulations to Timothy Toomey on his election to his ninth term as a Representative from the Twenty-Sixth Middlesex District of Massachusetts. Councillor Davis
Resolution #28. Congratulations to William Brownsberger on being elected to his second term as a Representative from the Twenty-fourth Middlesex District of Massachusetts. Councillor Davis
Someone should inform Councillor Davis that none of these people have been reelected yet. Though they are running unopposed in the general election, the recent party primaries do not constitute election to the respective offices. Perhaps these resolutions would best be put on ice for another few weeks and suitably engrossed when more appropriate. Or maybe we should just cancel elections.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the possible impacts of new detail regulations on Cambridge's police department and the City's reliance on detail work. Councillor Kelley
Let me guess. The City Council will ultimately vote to make police details mandatory regardless of any recent changes in state law that would permit flaggers to work at construction sites.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the possibility of creating a new ticket, available to both police officers and parking control officers, specifically targeting vehicles illegally parked in bike lanes, to include what the maximum amount of such a ticket could be. Councillor Kelley
It seems to me that there already are laws governing such infractions and that the schedule of fines is already established. Why create a "new ticket"? Isn't the right approach to just enforce the laws that are already on the books?
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to advise the City Council as to the availability of additional funds for the celebration of other communities not traditionally celebrated, or that the City Council conduct discussions about a protocol for supporting the Mayor's Office in new multi-cultural celebrations, or rotating celebrations that allow for the inclusion of new ethnic communities. Mayor Simmons
Give me a break. Why don't we try the radical idea of Cambridge celebrations, i.e. everyone, without always trying to subdivide the city into ethnicities? Does anyone actually understand what "civic unity" means? Or is just possible that this is about using the Mayor's Office to appeal to identifiable voting constituencies? Please pardon my cynicism, but this Order is just wrongheaded.
Order #16. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development to review the new program of the City of Berkeley, California, which gives city-backed loans to property owners who install rooftop solar-power systems and report back on its applicability to Cambridge. Councillor Seidel and Councillor Kelley
Interesting idea, but should the City of Cambridge be the one to back these loans, or any loans for that matter? - Robert Winters
Preview of Sept 8 City Council meeting:
The City Council returns from summer vacation tonight with a relatively lean agenda and at least one potentially contentious zoning vote. From one man's imperfect perspective, here are some things that stand out:
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 08-49, regarding the feasibility of issuing mini-grants to seniors and other low-income residents who might need flood insurance and Awaiting Report Item Number 08-97, regarding assessing options to assist homeowners in the new flood plan.
The Manager's response was really the only one possible. Good intentions notwithstanding, state laws prohibit this kind of direct financial aid to any specific class of property owners.
Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the re-appointment of the following persons as Board of Trustee members of the Cambridge Health Alliance effective July 1, 2008: Ronald Weintraub, MD (1-year term); Mary Cassesso (3-year term); Ruth Faris (3-year term); Isaac Machado (3-year term); Deborah Klein Walker (3-year term). [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Decker on City Manager Agenda Item Number Two of July 28, 2008.]
This item is noteworthy only because of Councillor Decker's ongoing conflict with the Cambridge Health Alliance stemming from staffing decisions affecting the Windsor Street Clinic. Delaying the appointments is a relatively pointless exercise - really more of a demonstration than anything else. It could yield a scathing speech worth listening to.
Charter Right #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to proposed changes to the Cambridge Employment Plan Ordinance as prepared by the City Solicitor in response to the attached letters. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Reeves on City Manager Agenda Item Number Twenty-four of July 28, 2008.]
Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie Decker, Chair of the Civic Unity Committee, for a meeting held on Aug 27, 2008 to discuss the proposed changes to the Cambridge residency requirement in the Cambridge Employment Plan, Chapter 2.66 of the Municipal Code.
There's more to be said about this than can be accomplished in one little paragraph, but one significant aspect about this is that every time the City of Cambridge imposes another condition on City contracts, the number of bidders goes down and project costs go up significantly. The price we pay for city councillors "looking progressive" is not cheap. In Cambridge, the priority is all too often on looking good than doing good, and the simple truth is that if you have to pay 20% or more for every project, you will get a lot less accomplished while accruing only a marginal benefit. Unfortunately, the politics make it nearly impossible to correct this.
Unfinished Business #7. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Brian Murphy and Councillor David Maher, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on July 17, 2008 for the purpose of discussion of the Kaya-Ka proposed zoning amendment to the North Massachusetts Avenue Overlay District in Porter Square. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Aug 11, 2008. Petition expires Sept 8, 2008.
Order #25. That the City Council requests the Historical Commission to initiate a Landmark Study of the Masonic Temple at 1950 Massachusetts Avenue. Councillor Maher
The Kaya-Ka zoning matter will almost certainly be voted this evening. Various interested parties from the Porter Square area will be there to testify, and the facts may be not so simple to distinguish from the fiction.
Resolution #24. Congratulations to Marc McGovern and Mary Anne Ryan on their recent nuptials on Aug 23, 2008. Councillor Decker
And while we're at it, Councillor Decker's first child is due this month. Personally, I don't know nuthin' 'bout birth 'n babies, but congratulations should go out from all to Councillor Decker on this upcoming birth.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to commission a parking study for Central Square to assure that there is sufficient capacity for the increasing activities in the Square and to suggest ways to meet that need. Councillor Davis
Parking Freeze! Parking Freeze! Whatever happened to the days when CCLN and its spin-off organizations would claim the sky was falling with every car that came into Cambridge?
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the MBTA and report back to the City Council on plans to ensure that the responsibility of the developers of Northpoint for a safe crossing will be upheld by the MBTA and that the plans will coincide with the vision of future development. Councillor Toomey
Alas, the ongoing NorthPoint saga. Of course the best solution to this safe crossing would be to change the name back from McGrath Highway to Bridge Street and make it back into an urban boulevard like Commonwealth Avenue. Nobody complains about the impossibility of crossing Commonwealth Avenue.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to report to the City Council on what is being done about the spike in violence, particularly gun violence, in Area IV. Councillor Davis
I'm not usually too worried about these things from my vantage point west of Prospect Street, but this insanity has been getting a lot worse lately. If it looks, smells, tastes, and sounds like gang activity, then it is gang activity. I wish the Police Commissioner and the Police Department would just acknowledge it and act accordingly.
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to update the City Council, in Executive Session if necessary, on the status of the Monteiro lawsuit. Councillor Kelley and Councillor Seidel
Enough already. This is starting to smell like the days when certain elements in the CCA of the early 1990's tried to turn the North Cambridge Midas Muffler construction and a fire hydrant at Prospect Street on Broadway into grounds for dismissal of the City Manager. I really hope Councillors Kelley and Seidel and not using this as a back door way to attack the Manager. Perhaps they need a little tutelage in the political background of these lawsuits.
Order #21. That the City Council’s Committee on Traffic, Transportation and Parking hold a meeting with relevant City staff and the general public to review the City’s road and sidewalk hazard notification system and repair efforts with the intent of making the City’s information about potholes more available to the general public and helping City staff review the manner in which it prioritizes both short and long-term repair work. Councillor Kelley
Just what we need, more bureaucracy so that less work can get done while we issue needless reports. Just do the repairs and get on with it. - Robert Winters
Preview of July 28 (Midsummer) City Council meeting:
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $13,500 from General Fund Reserve Other Ordinary Maintenance account to the General Fund Human Service Programs Travel and Training account to cover the cost of sending twelve individuals to the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) Seminar in September 2008 in concert with the City Council Human Services Committee.
Anyone who questions this expenditure will likely be accused of all manner of questionable motives (and worse), so it must not be touched with anything less than a ten foot pole. That said, this expenditure is yet another indication of the growth of City Council discretionary spending. Will this expenditure lead to useful results? Who are the twelve individuals being sponsored at $1125 per person?
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an additional appropriation request and Loan Order regarding the CRLS renovation project.
This is a request for a Loan Order for an additional $30,135,000 for the CRLS renovations. As the City Manager notes, "These funds will supplement the previous appropriations of $33,620,000 and $33,218,025 from bond proceeds to increase the total amount authorized for this project to $96,973,025. Other funding sources for this project include a grant from Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for $28,026,975, which brings the total cost for the project to $125,000,000." The City Manager also notes that "Time is important in this project in order to meet the June 30, 2009 deadline to retain eligibility for the $28 million in MSBA reimbursement." One has to wonder if the only limit on City projects is the sky.
Manager's Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to recommendations for a Municipal Health & Safety Policy for Nanomaterials submitted by the Cambridge Nanomaterials Advisory Committee and the Cambridge Public Health Department.
This report was the subject of a July 28 Boston Globe article by Hiawatha Bray. Essentially, the report recommends going slowly in the imposition of new regulations that might "overshoot the mark"
Manager's Agenda #24. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to proposed changes to the Cambridge Employment Plan Ordinance as prepared by the City Solicitor in response to the attached letters.
I believe this means that due to recent court decisions, the City of Cambridge will no longer be permitted to guarantee that a minimum of 25% of all total worker hours will go to "bona-fide Cambridge residents." The ordinance will still require that "no less than 25% of the total employee worker hours shall be performed by minority persons" and that "no less than 10% of the total employee worker hours shall be performed by women." It's interesting that while the rest of the country is eradicating strict quota systems, Cambridge continues to embrace them. [Here's the Cambridge Employment Plan Ordinance with the proposed changes noted.]
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to investigate the Boston ordinance and suggest language for a Cambridge ordinance which would prevent rental of dogs and cats in Cambridge. Councillor Davis
Unless I'm mistaken, I believe the State legislature just passed a statewide ban on this practice that will render moot any proposed Cambridge ordinance.
Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Historical Commission to develop a policy where any changes to City Hall be made with the support of the Historical Commission in an effort to maintain the historical features of the building. Mayor Simmons
As a note of explanation, recent City Hall renovations have replaced very classic hardware on doors, etc. with ultra-modern looking hardware. It's a bit of a mismatch for this beautiful old building.
Order #22. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of the Arts Council to convene an annual or biannual meeting, organized by geographical location, with the arts organizations, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Public Works, the Chamber of Commerce, Cambridge Public School Department, Universities, and any other stakeholders to discuss the goals of the various arts organizations and what, if any collaboration could take place amongst each other. Councillor Decker
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie Decker, Chair of the Public Facilities, Art and Celebrations Committee, for a meeting held on June 24, 2008 to received an update on present and future plans for the arts in Harvard Square and to discuss how Harvard Square Arts organizations can be further enhanced.
This Order and Committee report are related. From this resident's point of view, the City of Cambridge plays a far-too-heavy hand in local arts. Projects sponsored by the Cambridge Arts Council often don't relate to the city that is sponsoring them. Gone are the days when the Cambridge River Festival was a Cambridge celebration designed for the people of the city. For some years now, it's become just another vendor-driven tourist event. The same can be said of the Harvard Square Octoberfest and MayFair. The Central Square World's Fair has vanished without a trace, and a not-to-be-mentioned City-sponsored arts center on Second Street is more about jobs for its administrators than it is about serving the people of Cambridge. I'm not the only one who thinks that maybe it's time to tear it all down and build it again from the grassroots up.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Brian Murphy and Councillor David Maher, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on June 25, 2008 for the purpose of considering a petition submitted by Alexandria Real Estate Equities proposing amendments to the Zoning Ordinance and map for the PUD-3A, PUD-4B and PUD-4C Districts in eastern Cambridge.
I can't say that I know much about this zoning petition and the proposed development other than that's it's huge and deserves a lot more attention from everyone, including me.
Committee Report #6. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Brian Murphy and Councillor David Maher, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on July 17, 2008 for the purpose of discussion of the Kaya-Ka proposed zoning amendment to the North Massachusetts Avenue Overlay District in Porter Square.
This appears to have the support of abutters and the Porter Square Neighbors Association, but other entities, including the chronically malcontent North Cambridge Stabilization Committee and Association of Cambridge neighborhoods (ACN), are not thrilled.
Committee Report #7. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Henrietta Davis, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee, for a meeting held on June 3, 2008 to discuss with the Health Department the issues of trans fat, senior falls and the goals of the committee.
Meanwhile, while Cambridge was munching on its organic French fries, Brookline banned trans fat, Boston banned trans fat, New York City banned trans fat, California banned trans fat, and the State of Massachusetts is looking to ban trans fat. Didn't Cambridge once have a reputation for leading the way? - Robert Winters
Preview of June 23 City Council meeting (mercifully, the last one until August):
June 23 - In addition to a wealth of general housekeeping items on the City Manager's Agenda, there's at least one blockbuster item from Councillor Kelley - an Order ostensibly calling for the beginning of a search for the next city manager. An unreasonable man perhaps, but Kelley is no Ralph Nader. The best way for Councillor Kelley to get an initiative to fail is to be the one to propose it. Here are a few choice agenda items:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a request for Executive Session.
While Executive Session meetings may be off limits to the public, it would be nice if at least the topic of the executive session could be announced. Is this related to the other Zucker-inspired discrimination lawsuits that have been dangling about for the last decade? Which city ordinance does the cryptic description refer to? Is this Big Stuff or Petty Annoyance?
Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $59,200 in bus shelter advertising revenue to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account to purchase 16 Big Belly Solar Trash Compactors to replace some traditional trash containers in and around Central and Harvard Squares. [These trash receptacles can hold four-five times the capacity of trash cans, using only the sun’s energy for power. The units are self-contained which will keep pests from feeding on trash, and have safety features to keep hands from accessing the compactor.]
I'm highlighting this only because it's good to see at least some marginal benefit coming from those annoying billboard scale advertisements pasted on all of the new bus shelters that have appeared in recent years and are often obnoxiously located right in the middle of the sidewalks on Mass. Ave. and elsewhere. Didn't we once pass a Billboard Ordinance?
Manager's Agenda #17. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons a members of the Board of Zoning Appeals: Thomas P. Scott (Full Member); Lance Houston, Ted Heur, Slater Anderson, Douglas Myers, Christopher Chan, Edward Wayland (Associate Members)
It's worth noting that City Manager finally did get around to posting the names of members of many of the City's Boards and Commissions. Whether those lists will be kept current is an open question. At the request of a civic-minded neighbor from Fayette Street, I assembled all of this information in a Boards & Commissions spreadsheet
Manager's Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a proposed Council Order and Home Rule Petition authorizing a long-term lease between the City of Cambridge and the Mt. Auburn Memorial Post No. 8818, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Inc.
This will complete the deal made between the City and the VFW post that made possible the new West Cambridge Youth/Community Center which, I believe, will be named in honor of former Mayor Sheila Doyle Russell. When can the dancers start renting the space? Some of you may remember that the "sprung floor" that the dancers who used to rent the VFW hall loved so much turned out to be a floor that was in danger of collapsing. The desirable qualities of that dance floor were not due to a great design but rather to a deterioration of the support under the floor.
Resolution #22. Happy 70th Birthday wishes to Geneva Tallman Malenfant. Councillor Davis
We celebrated Geneva's birthday with her earlier today together with her extended family, civic and neighborhood activists, and several former elected officials. Everyone in Geneva's family, including at least three generations, are among the most civic-minded and generous people you will ever meet in Cambridge.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with any updates to the Northpoint development. Councillor Toomey
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on how actions by the MBTA to move Lechmere Station at their own cost will allow the City to open up further negotiation with the future owner of Northpoint. Councillor Toomey
After the news items a while back about "landlocked filled tidelands" lawsuits and the now-largely-forgotten proposal last year to sink the McGrath Highway into the "Toomey Tunnel" that would divide the "old" East Cambridge with the new Northpoint development, we haven't heard much lately about what's up at Northpoint. Some current news would be welcome on the ownership and any changes in the plans. Councillor Toomey's order notes that "zoning relief was granted to the developers based on the public benefit of a new Lechmere Station". This isn't the first time Cambridge had to deal with the prospect of a bait-and-switch in which certain rights were granted in exchange for a public benefit which then evaporated when the ownership changed.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with an update on plans to relocate the Department of Public Works. Councillor Toomey
This is another item that fell off the radar. We heard a number of stories a while back about this possible relocation to the periphery of the city and possible future plans for the current site. Unfortunately, the City of Cambridge has become something of a "one note Willie" in situations like this. Any creative possibilities for open space in that area (which could really use it) will more than likely be jettisoned in favor of yet another dense-pack "affordable housing" project built by the City and its nonprofit collaborators. Personally, I hope the DPW stays exactly where it is.
Order #9 June 23, 2008
It seems to me that if Councillor Kelley is so damn eager to get rid of Bob Healy, the best advice to him would be to just shut up. The last thing Bob Healy (or anyone else in the City administration for that matter) wants is to have Craig Kelley be the first one to show him the door. What's more, I believe I can say with some confidence that there is a majority of city councillors who would be happier to show Mr. Kelley the door instead. The question at the heart of this Order is an important one, and one that no city councillor has had to seriously deal with in a quarter of a century. However, when the time comes to take on this important task, I seriously doubt that the author of this Order will play a significant role in either the process or the choice.
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on all athletic organizations that receive any funding or in-kind support from the City to include participation rates broken down by age, gender, socio-economic status and any other relevant categories of information collected by the City. Councillor Kelley and Councillor Seidel
Though I believe I know where this notion originated (a plan floated to diversify Cambridge Youth Hockey), I am appalled at the whole idea of inquiring about and recording information on the "socio-economic status and any other relevant categories" of kids who choose to participate in sports. Can't we just treat kids as kids and be happy with that? Must we turn every child into a statistic? Should the infield of a little league baseball team be required to be socio-economically balanced? Should we transfer players between teams in order to ensure that the number of "free and reduced lunch children" are evenly distributed? Sometimes Cambridge can be just ridiculous.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the relevant Department heads and report back to the City Council on the number, type, location, date and time of all formal enforcement actions involving excessive noise from January 2007 to June 2008. Councillor Kelley
Perhaps Councillor Kelley will again have a monumental stack of printed reports wheeled to his desk at the Midsummer City Council meeting in August. Seriously, I wish the City would crack down on unnecessary and annoying air conditioning and other equipment that has found its way outside of buildings and shoved in the faces and down the throats of neighbors. I also wish the City would impound the car of every jackass who insists on pumping noise pretending to be "music" out of his car primarily to get noticed and offend everyone they pass. Instead, they ban leaf blowers. Go figure.
Order #15. That the City Council go on record strongly urging the Cambridge Housing Authority not to increase minimum rents for its federal public housing tenants. Councillor Decker
This one's noteworthy because of the details: "The Cambridge Housing Authority apparently plans to impose, for the first time, a minimum rent of $75 per month (plus electricity or gas) for one year and then between about $100 and $200 per month thereafter for its federal public housing tenants who have no income or low income." Seriously, does anyone believe that asking for such a ridiculously low minimum rent is unreasonable? Is this just liberalism gone mad? On a related note, have you ever noticed how many able-bodied, well-educated, prominent Cambridge political activists live in subsidized housing?
Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to explore the feasibility of providing tax relief or other incentives to owners of owner-occupied two and three family properties who would offer their rental units as affordable housing. Councillor Seidel
Earth to Sam - There are many owner-occupants of two- and three-family buildings who have kept rents affordable for their tenants and who appreciate the value of good, long-term tenants. They don't need no stinking City program for them to do it, and I seriously doubt whether submitting to the City bureaucracy would be worth the minimal tax relief that they might get in return. Now if the City wanted to acknowledge and reward those building owners without attaching any conditions, that might be an idea worth considering - but I don't think that's how government works. - Robert Winters
Preview of June 9, 2008 Cambridge City Council meeting:
There are a number of items this week that caught my eye......
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $385,000 in medallion revenues to the License Commission Grant Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance account which will be used to provide funding for the Accessible Cambridge Taxicabs (ACT) Management Program and to provide $10,000 each to those medallion owners who convert existing medallions to hybrids or other environmentally efficient vehicles.
So, what's so interesting about this? The $385,000 is for just one taxicab medallion. It's hard to reconcile this with the wailing we hear from time to time from taxicab owners and drivers. If someone is willing to mortgage the house to buy a medallion for such a royal sum, one has to believe that there's some serious money to be made. It would be interesting to see a chart showing how the market price of a Cambridge taxicab medallion has varied over the years.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $85,000 from the Water Fund Extraordinary Expenditures account ($70,000) and from the Water Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance account ($15,000) to the Public Investment Water Extraordinary Expenditures account to fix the 42 water fountains and 32 irrigation controls that have been vandalized.
The really ridiculous thing about this item is that the bastards who stole the copper and brass for its scrap value probably got at most a few hundred bucks for their efforts - and the City has to shell out $85,000 for it. If there was any justice in the world, the robbers would be caught and sentenced to several years of hard labor in a copper mine.
Manager's Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 08-77, regarding the pursuit of foreclosed properties for use as affordable housing.
Highlights: "The Housing Staff searches the legal notices on a weekly basis to track properties in foreclosure." "Cambridge has a much lower rate of petitions to foreclose than communities such as Boston, Somerville and Medford. According to CDD research in May 2007, the foreclosure filing rate in Cambridge was less than 1/5 that of Medford and less than 1/7 that of Boston. In the past 60 days, only eight properties in Cambridge have had notices to foreclose filed against them, compared to 337 in Boston. In the past six months, 39 properties in Cambridge were foreclosed, compared to 1,439 properties in Boston."
This one aroused my interest primarily because of its reminder about the "decommodification" scheme some rent control advocates believed in which sought to transform as much privately owned housing as possible into "social ownership." The idea of limited equity co-ops was one outgrowth of those times. The basic idea was to have onerous controls on the private ownership of rental housing units with exemptions for nonprofits and other anti-capitalistic entities who would be in a position to then buy up the properties for a song. If foreclosure and falling property values were the current reality in Cambridge (it's not), then there would be plenty of opportunity for the government subsidized affordable housing industry to sweep in and decommodify. One does get the impression that this remains the City's housing policy even though rent control passed into history 13 years ago. Perhaps old rent control soldiers never die, they just fade into government jobs.
Resolution #7. Congratulations to Father Tom Rafferty on being named Pastor of St. John's Church in Swampscott. Councillor Maher
Many of you will remember Tom Rafferty as a regular panelist on Glenn Koocher's late, great “Cambridge Inside Out” cable TV show. He's the brother of former School Committee member James Rafferty, the ultimate go-to guy if you have a proposal that needs to go in front of the Planning Board or Board of Zoning Appeals.
Order #2. That the City Council vote during the regular meeting on June 9, 2008 to go into Executive Session to discuss Monteiro vs. City of Cambridge. Mayor Simmons
I'd love to be a fly on the wall at that meeting. There are some who see the Monteiro case and related cases as little more than extortion, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if some councillors advocate large settlements and minimal defense against these claims.
Order #3. That the Cambridge City Council does hereby urge Congressional delegates to express the will of the people of Cambridge in opposing any U.S. attack on Iran. Vice Mayor Murphy and Councillor Davis
I suppose we're overdue for a foreign policy night in the Sullivan Chamber. It's part of our municipal tradition, especially in a presidential election year.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to urge City departments to transmit to those running outdoor summer events that they be sensitive to neighbors when setting their sound systems. Councillor Davis
I don't want to sound like a broken record, but what about putting a lid on those cars with the inhumane sound systems. If the councillors could get themselves so worked up about leaf blowers, why don't they pass a few Orders requesting the Cambridge Police to bust these social miscreants? Here's an idea - How about setting up a phone line or e-mail address where residents can submit the license plate numbers of these noise violators. First they get a warning or two, then their car is impounded. It'll never happen in Cambridge. It's just so much easier and politically expedient to ban leaf blowers.
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to determine whether a residential unit can have a deed restriction placed upon it preventing that unit from ever being able to receive a Cambridge parking permit. Councillor Seidel
This is an interesting question tinged with just a touch of segregation. The Boston area has a tradition of “streetcar suburbs” which grew up around the subways and streetcar lines. Many buildings in these areas lack driveways because there was no need for them at the time of construction. One can imagine that these housing units might have had deed restrictions against parking permits put on them had there been such a thing as parking permits at the time of their construction. What would the standard have been in areas where rows of triple-deckers without driveways faced a main road and spacious one-family homes were nestled around the corner? Would the residents of the triple-deckers be forbidden to park on those neighboring streets?
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to consider a suitable department or commission to be assigned the ongoing oversight and coordination of Sister City agreements with the support of each Mayoral Administration so as to provide a consistent and appropriate level of attention to Sister City agreements. Mayor Simmons
Idea #1: Put a cap on how many sister city arrangements the City supports at any given time. For every new sister city, retire one for which the interest has faded.
Idea #2: Change the charter of the otherwise irrelevant Peace Commission to put them in charge of managing these sister city relationships. -- Robert Winters
Preview of June 2, 2008 City Council meeting:
Manager's Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $40,895 from Boarding and Razing revenues to the General Fund Inspectional Services Other Ordinary Maintenance account to cover the cost of demolition of the property located at 360 Broadway.
I'm highlighting this item only because this was the house of my neighbor and friend Floyd Freeman, and I witnessed the fire from the moment the fire engines arrived until it was extinguished. This was a disturbing event on many levels, not the least of which was the fear that the fire would spread to neighboring buildings (which it did, though it was contained). Though the source of the fire was in the rear of the building, the Fire Department did not bring any apparatus behind the building for a long time, and I overheard several firefighters talking about how an error had been made by a driver. The day after the fire, the City demolished the building without allowing the owner to retrieve any of his valuables from the building. However, one very credible witness (and City employee) did see what appeared to be members of the demolition crew pocketing valuable items from the rubble as the building was brought down. I was told that after the demolition someone from the City asked the owner to sign over the property to the City to cover the cost of the demolition even though the land itself is most likely worth much more than that cost. Though I appreciate that the fire was extinguished with limited collateral damage, I don't believe this was the City's finest hour. What happens to that parcel in the future is a matter of great concern to my neighbors and to me.
Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 08-63, regarding a report on whether the Cambridge Health Alliance is maintaining women’s health services at the East Cambridge Neighborhood Health Clinic. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on City Manager Agenda Item Number Four of May 19, 2008.]
This is held over from the previous meeting (which Councillor Decker did not attend). Though some of the economic and personnel reasons for the Cambridge Health Alliance consolidating its services are pretty clear, the public policy debate will likely continue well into the future. Councillor Decker has proven very well-spoken on this issue, but there are times when liberal policies and economic realities do clash and this is certainly one of those times.
Applications and Petitions #3. An application was received from Richard Monagle, requesting two new curb cuts and closing existing curb cut at the premises numbered 5-7 Remington Street. Curb cut number one has received approval from Inspectional Services, Traffic, Parking and Transportation, Historical, Public Works. Curb cut number two was denied by Traffic, Parking and Transportation. Disapproval was received from the neighborhood association inviting further discussion.
Normally I pay no attention to curb cut petitions and would prefer that these be handled administratively, but the current laws do require City Council approval for these things and they often are the sole means by which the City Council (which should be discussing policy rather than where to move the bricks and concrete) can block or stall a project. This particular project came up at a recent meeting of the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association and apparently involves moving a curb cut (as opposed to adding one) to better match the design of a proposed building. I believe that the MCNA's opposition to the curb cut is based on the desire to retain some continuing influence on the design of the project. Surely there must be a better way to do this.
Order #4. That the Mayor is requested to call a special meeting, part of which may be in Executive Session, for the purpose of discussing Monteiro v. City of Cambridge. Councillor Kelley and Councillor Seidel
This is perhaps the most potentially incendiary item on the agenda, though any discussion will certainly take place out of public view. Some of us are familiar with this case from its inception a decade ago and have followed it occasionally since. It began as kind of a miniature class-action suit involving 5 litigants orchestrated by a very politically connected lawyer named Ellen Zucker. The case had at least some aspects of the "throw enough mud at the wall and surely some of it will stick" strategy. The City sought summary judgment on all counts and, indeed, the counts involving Florencia LaChance and Marian Hampton were dismissed in February 2003. Some parts of the counts involving Linda Stamper (formerly of the Law Dept.) were dismissed but some were allowed to proceed. The counts involving Malvina Monteiro (former Exec. Dir. of the Police Review Advisory Board) and Mary Wong (who continues as Exec. Director of the "Kids' Council", an entity whose purpose still eludes me) were allowed to proceed, and recently a jury found in favor of Monteiro to the tune of $4.5 million plus interest. The City has promised to appeal. It has been reported elsewhere that the Stamper and Wong cases will head to trial soon.
It is doubtful that a jury will ever learn of any of the political back-stories associated with these cases. Any damages that the City may eventually have to pay will, I believe, come right out of the accounts of the City which is self-insured. Regardless of any possible merit to the charges, I know I'm not the only one who sees much of this as yet another example of "milking Mother Cambridge." As a taxpayer, this does not please me at all.
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to report back on the City’s plans for repairs, changes, or modernization efforts that may enhance the quality and safety of Clement Morgan Park. Mayor Simmons
Order #20. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments on whether there are plans to update Columbia Park and whether rodent-proof trash barrels can be installed at Columbia Park. Councillor Decker and Councillor Toomey
Order #21. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments on what kind of outreach is being done to comfort neighbors in the vicinity sites of violent crimes, how are neighborhood schools and youth centers responding to the violence, and whether the City is looking into any new options of outreach to neighborhoods impacted by repetitive acts of violence. Councillor Decker
I'm lumping these three together only to highlight the fact that there are a number of chronically problematic locations in Cambridge which have been the subject of many a City Council order over the 20+ years I've been following things. Columbia Street's Clement Morgan Park is one such location. We can only hope that when the City soon opens its newest park behind 238 Broadway a few blocks away it will not become yet another attractive nuisance and the subject of future City Council orders. -- Robert Winters
Preview of May 19, 2008 City Council meeting:
There's really just one main item on tap for this meeting - the vote on the City's FY2009 Budget. After all the budget hearings, the simple truth is that the City Council almost never takes anything out of the budget (and they can only request that the City Manager add anything to it). This is technically the single most important thing that the Council does in any given year, but it's almost entirely a formality. The likelihood is that the vote will be 8-1 in favor of the budget (assuming all the councillors actually show up for the meeting) with Craig Kelley casting his usual dissent. There's a chance that the Cambridge Health Alliance could be targeted for discussion prior to the vote, but it's likely that no particular action will come of it. -- Robert Winters
GENERAL FUND - $399,251,480
Preview of May 12, 2008 City Council meeting:
Manager's Agenda #16 - Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 08-68, regarding a report on the status of testing, and any associated results for pharmaceutical residue in the City's drinking water supply.
May 12, 2008
In response to Awaiting Report Item Number 08-68, regarding a report on the status of testing, and any associated results for pharmaceutical residue in the City's drinking water supply, Managing Director of the Cambridge Water Department Sam Corda reports the following:
The Cambridge Water Department had submitted water samples for pharmaceutical residual compound testing. The results have shown there to be NO pharmaceutical residual compounds in the City of Cambridge’s drinking water.
Test Protocol and Results: The water samples were collected on March 24, 2008 by our laboratory staff and the water quality testing involved 86 different pharmaceutical compounds, a greater number than most other water systems chose to test for. Two samples were collected by Water Department Laboratory Staff. The first was our “drinking water” sample (treated water - water leaving the water treatment facility) and the second was our “raw water” sample (untreated water entering the treatment facility). The official results were received on Monday May 5, 2008 and are as follows:
Drinking Water: 86 pharmaceutical residual compound tests were performed - all were negative.
Raw Water: 86 pharmaceutical residual compound tests were performed – 3 were positive.
These results show that the processes within our Water Treatment Facility are “destroying” the pharmaceutical compounds. This was the same result as found in the research conducted by the American Water Works Association Research Foundation (AwwaRF). The AwwaRF research has found that primary disinfection by “ozonation” is a very effective “destroyer” of these pharmaceutical compounds.
Future Water Quality Testing Plans: The Cambridge Water Department is planning to take another set of samples in September 2008 and compare the results to the March samples. Based on this review the City will define the best time to sample, cold or warm water, and subsequently perform annual sampling and testing of these pharmaceutical compounds.
As a note the cost to perform this round of tests was $2,900.00 ($1,450.00 per sample) to test for 86 different pharmaceutical compounds.
Very truly yours, Robert W. Healy, City Manager
Charter Right #2 - That the Ordinance Committee be directed to draft language to rescind Ordinance #1138 regarding posting of handbills and to prepare new language to provide that non-profit organizations and community groups may post flyers on utility poles with contact information and the responsibility to remove the posters after a specific amount of time. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Kelley on Order Number Twenty-one of Apr 28, 2008.]
This item is carried over from the last meeting. Councillor Reeves made the most sense in the previous discussion when he noted that this is really a solution in search of a problem. (I don't recall Reeves' exact words.) As with the case of letting people park in the 'No Parking' zones near churches on Sunday, selective enforcement of the existing ordinances makes the most sense. You can't neatly codify every possible human activity - not even in Cambridge.
Resolution #7 - Retirement of Paul J. Schlaver from the Consumer Council/Division of the License Commission. Mayor Simmons
Paul's a great guy. Everyone should go out an buy him a beer to celebrate his transition to gentleman farmer - just not all at once.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to ask all City Department Heads to provide in writing, within a designated period of time (i.e., 1 year), Standard Operating Procedures for their department that include details of staff positions, functions, and narrative or step-by-step procedures standard operations and functions. Mayor Simmons
O-6 May 12, 2008
This has to be the most cryptic Order I've seen this year. The City Manager is in charge of the operation of the City government. He hires department heads to run the various City functions. Why is a city councillor asking for an extremely detailed account of the management of each department? I was under the impression that the Plan E Charter was adopted so that councillors could focus on policy rather than operational details. What is Mayor Simmons really asking here?
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments on why the youth Hip Hop Concert for Justice sponsored by Centro Presente was cancelled. Councillor Decker
This could be an entertaining discussion with some unwarranted accusations.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the CEO of the Cambridge Health Alliance to provide the City Council a break-down and further detail regarding the FY08-09 budget for staffing/personnel, services, the Cambridge Teen Health Center, Healthcare for the Homeless, Institute for Community Health, Physician Consultation, and Administrative Services. Councillor Decker
This sounds like Councillor Decker wants to have the conversation she missed by showing up late to the Budget Hearing last week where the Cambridge Health Alliance answered questions about its FY09 budget. I suppose information is always a good thing, but I look at the $6 million paid each year by the City of Cambridge to the Cambridge Health Alliance more like an insurance policy than as a fee for services. Considering the financial uncertainties in the hospital business, Cambridge did very well in reducing its financial exposure by spinning off the CHA from the old Cambridge City Hospital days. Paying $6 million per year for services and protection from financial disaster seems like a good bargain. - Robert Winters
Preview of April 28, 2008 City Council meeting:
April 28 - It's Budget Season! Tonight's the night when the FY2009 Budget Book becomes available (but only after each and every city councillor gets his or her copy - they are very sensitive about this!). I've always found this to be the most mischievous part of the year for city councillors. It's the time when quiet discussions happen behind the scenes and we only learn about the product of those discussions when we read it in print - and it's a long established fact that once it's in The Book, the likelihood of the City Council voting down an appropriation is essentially zero. Two years ago, this is how we learned about the 54% increase in the Mayor's Office Budget to fund the Sullivan Chambermaids, i.e. "research assistants" for each councillor. What will be this year's surprises?
The bottom line for this year's budget is an operating budget of $416,128,365 (up from $394,375,940 in FY2008 - a 5.5% increase), Water Fund at $17,998,625 (paid almost entirely by water rates, up from $17,898,685 in FY2008 - virtually unchanged), and a capital budget of $12,236,615 (up from $11,538,660 in FY2008 - a 6% increase).
Also of interest on tonight's agenda are a couple of "Reconsiderations" by Councillor Maher of matters passed on April 14 - a zoning-related matter and an Order regarding public/private aspects of e-mail to and from public officials. That could be an interesting discussion, but perhaps they've already had it via e-mail.
In addition to the Budget Book, there are a number of other big ticket items on the agenda:
Manager's Agenda #23. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $8,630,000 to continue sewer projects in the Cherry Street/South Massachusetts Avenue, Agassiz, and Fresh Pond areas of the City.
Manager's Agenda #24. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $1,000,000 to fund extensive improvements to the Lafayette Square Fire Station and Fire Headquarters.
Manager's Agenda #25. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $6,700,000 to fund the replacement of all City and public safety radio systems.
Those must be some seriously good radios at almost $7 million dollars.
Then there's this item:
Manager's Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 08-18, regarding a report on the methods to provide long-term protection for Joan Lorentz Park.
The recommendation is to not change the designation of the park into something out of the hands of future City Council control, e.g. a designation that would require approval of the State Legislature in order to make even minor modifications. Makes sense, methinks.
Potentially the most contentious item is:
Charter Right #1: That the City Manager is requested to review the process by which the Board of Zoning Appeal turned down a variance request to build a new hotel in Porter Square, where the Porter Square Neighborhood Association and the majority of the abutters supported the proposal and the only opposition was from a neighborhood association not located in Porter Square and there was commentary that zoning was the domain of a given councillor. Charter Right exercised by Councillor Kelley on Order Number Eight of Apr 14, 2008.
This one had all the makings of a schoolyard fight on April 14 until Councillor Kelley shut it down via Charter Right before Councillor Decker had a chance to vent. They may need to call out the Fire Department tonight. There's also a new zoning petition (Applications and Petitions #6) relating to this matter introduced at tonight's meeting by the Kaya Hotel owner/developers. Councillors Reeves and Decker received substantial campaign donations from the developer and there's no doubt some watchers will be viewing the commentary through this lens.
Councillor Decker has four Orders on behalf of union workers at the Marriott Hotels, the Cambridge Housing Authority, and Millennium Pharmaceuticals. She should have no trouble finding people to hold her signs during her next campaign.
There are also these:
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to draft a new ordinance that would replace the original ordinance (Ordinance #1138) to provide that non-profit organizations and community groups may post flyers on utility poles. Councillor Seidel, Councillor Kelley and Councillor Decker
Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to investigate locations near and around community centers, and where permission is provided create and install Information Posting Boards for use by and for the community. Mayor Simmons
I can understand why you might want to allow some flexibility for posting on lampposts and telephone poles, but exactly where shall the line be drawn? Are election campaign flyers acceptable? What about announcements from the Ward 5 Democratic Committee? Is that a community organization or a political organization? Does it depend on what they're hawking? As far as Order #16 goes, it's a nice sentiment but these almost invariably degenerate into depositories of commercial advertising and rubbish.
Then there are these two items:
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the status of the multiple small holes in street pavement found in groups on various City streets, to include who is responsible for drilling them, what sort of permits are required to drill them, who is responsible for filling them and what threats they might pose to maintaining safe and even streets. Councillor Kelley
Why is this even on the agenda? Can't you just pick up the phone and ask someone, Craig? Jeez.
Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant department heads and report back to the City Council on the status of testing, and any associated results, for pharmaceutical residue in the City’s drinking water supply. Councillor Kelley and Councillor Seidel
Well, the MWRA just shelled out $23,250 to find nothing. I expect we'll have similar negative results, but I hope we don't have to flush as much money down the toilet to find out. -- Robert Winters
Preview of April 14 City Council meeting:
It's mainly fund transfers within the School Department capital budget and minor appropriations this week on the relatively short City Manager's Agenda. Much more interesting are several City Council Orders:
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of Information Technology, the City Purchasing Agent, the City Clerk and the Assistant to the City Council to report back to the Government Operations and Rules Committee on the feasibility of a paperless City Council agenda. Councillor Maher
This isn't a bad idea, but I can assure you that for any newcomers to City Council meetings who are already somewhat bewildered by the proceedings, this could put them completely in the dark. They'll have to keep at least a little paperwork available for the public to know what's going on. Personally, I always just bring my own printed PDF version of the meeting agenda, but I do like to read in advance of the meeting the printed materials not available via the City website, especially the communications of some of the stranger characters.
Order #5. Questions regarding public/private aspects of e-mail to and from public officials. Councillor Kelley and Councillor Seidel
This promises to be a nice "acting out" of the current (mainly contrived) tempest regarding e-mail sent to the School Committee via their website. My sense is that this whole matter is just a way of creating political cover for reconsideration of the School Superintendent's contract extension. To every member of the public who wants to say something privately to a public official, here's some advice: Don't do it via e-mail or even by letter. Say it face-to-face. Clear enough?
Order #6. That the subject of the use of City Council meeting time to make public announcements be referred to the Government Rules and Operations Committee to determine an appropriate procedure to make such announcements. Councillor Toomey
This is noteworthy mainly in relation to a recent Order regarding possible changes to the Public Comment portion of City Council meetings. Councillor Toomey understands that it's not just the public who needs to follow some basic rules.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to review the process by which the Board of Zoning Appeal turned down a variance request to build a new hotel in Porter Square, where the Porter Square Neighborhood Association and the majority of the abutters supported the proposal and the only opposition was from a neighborhood association not located in Porter Square and there was commentary that zoning was the domain of a given councillor. Councillor Reeves
This should be fun. Who is the offending councillor? Nothing like a little jealous indignation to spice up a local legislative body. You may also want to look into the campaign finance reports to see who received $500 checks from the developer seeking the variance.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a line item explanation accounting for every dollar given to the Cambridge Health Alliance, specifically to what department and for what project the money was given; said narration should be a dollar-to-dollar review. Councillor Decker
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council whether the Cambridge Health Alliance is committed to maintaining women’s health services, specifically OB/GYN and access to midwife care, at the East Cambridge Neighborhood Health Clinic. Councillor Decker
I love it. Note the phrase "line item explanation accounting for every dollar given to the Cambridge Health Alliance." I'm sure that both of these Orders are all about using this year's Budget hearings and process to leverage restoration of services at the Windsor Street Health Clinic - regardless whether such restorations make any fiscal or policy sense (which they might). -- Robert Winters
Preview of April 7 City Council meeting:
The City Manager's Agenda this week consists primarily of routine appropriations of grants from state and federal sources. There's also a report on the decision of the Mass. Appellate Tax Board that telecommunication companies are now taxable on poles and wires. From the report: “... the City of Cambridge should benefit by approximately $900,000 to $950,000 in additional personal property taxes on poles and wires on public ways on the Verizon system alone. Since the case is still in the appeal process through FY08, the City of Cambridge cannot realize any of the potential tax revenue at this time. Although this represents a sizable increase in personal property taxes it still only represents a portion of the revenue which could be realized under the proposed Municipal Partnership Act, which would allow for taxation of other items currently exempt by Massachusetts General Law.”
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development and the City Solicitor to provide the City Council with a draft amendment to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance to provide for using square footage as an alternative way to calculate the required donation in order to provide units with more than two bedrooms to further the City Council goal to support family housing in Cambridge. Councillor Maher and Vice Mayor Murphy
I have no comment on this Order except to ask: When did the phrase “square footage” become the new term for area or floor area? Should we measure the volume of a liquid in “gallonage” and the length of City Council meetings in “hourage”? -- Robert Winters
A few thoughts before the March 31, 2008 City Council meeting:
Manager's Agenda - The nature of the Manager's Agenda changes from week to week. Some weeks feature one or two major fiscal items such as last week's setting of the water & sewer rates, the mid-May vote on the annual budget, and the setting of the property tax rates in the fall. (The Manager always correctly points out that the City Council merely votes on tax classification, exemptions, and various other parameters, and the Mass. Department of Revenue sets the rates.) The primary focus of this week's Manager's Agenda is catching up on Council requests for reports on various matters. Of the 26 items on "Awaiting Report", the Manager answers 10 this week covering topics from parking meters to bicycles to rodents to block grants to tree plantings to bricks on Cedar Street. Not too sexy or controversial, but these are all part of managing a city.
Last week's Council Order from Mayor Simmons regarding possible changes to the rules governing Public Comment at City Council meetings is sure to elicit further response from the usual suspects. It's been funny watching the reactions to this highly non-specific Order that doesn't actually propose any changes, though you would never know it from the reactions. A little history may be helpful here. There are few people among those who now attend Council meetings who go back to times before the current protocols were in place, but I am one of them. The reporters, in particular, have no basis for comparison. It used to be that if you wanted to speak on a particular item, you waited until that item came up during the meeting and you stepped up to the microphone and were recognized by the Chair. The great advantage of that system was that members of the public were obliged to address a specific agenda item at the time the item was under discussion. I preferred that system because it allowed those who had something serious to say to do so when that topic was before the Council. It was not uncommon that there would even be some interaction between the councillors and the person making the comments. The major down side of that system was that you had to stick around until your item came up, and some of those meetings could run pretty long.
Because rent control was always the big deal of the day, this meant that you could count on seeing Mike Turk, Connie Thibault, Bill Noble and others from the Cambridge Tenants Union dutifully occupying their usual seats in the Sullivan Chamber just in case anything involving rent control came up during the meeting. We were also blessed with the presence of Bill Jones who would regularly offer his perspectives on current events and local history (though not always accurately) when he was not partaking of the plentiful food provided in the Council's Green Room. Though everyone was supposed to address specific agenda items, it was an unwritten rule that Mr. Jones could stray somewhat from the agenda. Say what you will about Billy, but none of the would-be comedians who now work the Sullivan Chamber can hold a candle to Mr. Jones in terms of pure entertainment. More importantly, just about everyone liked Billy Jones. That cannot be said of today's crop of crabby complainers.
One East Cambridge woman at last week's meeting who generally speaks intelligently on matters of substance during Public Comment seemed upset at possibly being lumped in with the "nut cases". Let's be clear about this. Whether or not you want to see some changes in the protocols governing Public Comment, no one wants to curtail the rights of any member of the public to speak on relevant matters before the City Council. The principal problem, as I see it, is that some members of the public feel they have license to use this opportunity to mock and attack anyone and everyone for no purpose other than to draw attention to themselves. I agree with Councillor Toomey that the rules as they stand do not need to be changed. They merely need to be enforced - perhaps, in some cases, with an iron hand. Most or all of the principal abusers of Public Comment have “blogs” in which they freely express themselves - just as I freely express myself on this website (as I am doing now). Nobody is obliged to read my erratic ramblings. Anyone can similarly read “From the Port” or “Enough Room” if they want to listen to the erratic ramblings of Councillor Podgers or Councillor Bercaw. Free speech reigns.
Anyone who reads my ramblings can easily discern some of my likes and dislikes of elected officials and others who work in the City administration. Most have picked up on the fact that I'm generally supportive of candidates (new ones in particular), elected officials, department heads, and City workers. I actually believe Cambridge is a well-run city - as compared to many other Massachusetts cities, especially those without a city manager form of government. This doesn't mean I believe there's no room for improvement. I think we do a piss-poor job of community policing, we don't do nearly enough to address problems of vandalism and loud cars, and I believe there are a number of City programs that exist primarily to preserve the jobs of those who work in them. I will likely never be convinced that city councillors need personal aides (perhaps better referred to as Sullivan chambermaids or manservants). I am flabbergasted by some of the salary levels in the City administration and how the elected officials go along to get along just as long as we're flush with property tax revenue. It bothers me that the executive director of the Election Commission treats one of the best friends the commission ever had like an enemy for no rational reason, and I still believe that the Dept. of Traffic & Parking owes me $80 for towing my VW Bus away without warning. Then again, my mechanic has been holding my Bus hostage in Natick since December 13, so T&P is looking pretty good in comparison.
Cambridge water is good enough to win prizes, and that doesn't happen by accident. The Cambridge Department of Public Works has a public service philosophy that can't be beat. If anyone wants to complain about the condition of Cambridge sidewalks or snow plowing, they should visit almost any other city or town in Massachusetts to see just how good we are in comparison. Cambridge is way ahead of most cities in terms of recycling and environmental initiatives - and the City Manager deserves most of the credit for this. I attended a public hearing last week about the Cambridge Energy Alliance and the programs they will be providing for Cambridge residents and businesses, and it made me feel very proud to live in this city. Though some of the City Manager's appointments are, in my opinion, driven by the desire to avoid trouble rather than to improve things, I still believe Mr. Healy is possibly the best in the business and, unlike some of the naysayers, I believe our multiple AAA bond ratings speak volumes about how well this city is managed.
Hmmm... maybe I should say that during Public Comment, but it's not on the agenda and I don't know if I can squeeze it in under three minutes. -- Robert Winters
Coming up at the March 24, 2008 City Council meeting:
Water and Sewer Rates - "That the City Council approve the following block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2008 and ending Mar 31, 2009. The City administration and City Council continue to recognize that it is important to mitigate the effects of water and sewer increases both for FY09 and future fiscal years as much as possible. Therefore, I am pleased to submit a recommendation that calls for a 2.1% increase in the water rate, a 4.8% increase in the sewer rate and a 3.9% increase in the combined rate."
Resolution #15. Resolution on the death of Isaac Meyers. Councillor Davis
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on how the March 17 accident in Central Square happened and that said report back contain a copy of the relevant police report to the extent that that information may be shared. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Seidel and Councillor Davis
Suffice to say that this intersection where trucks turn right from River St. onto Mass. Ave. is hazardous for pedestrians - especially for those who don't consider the mechanics of a turning truck with a long wheel base. The death was both horrible and preventable.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the City's policies and regulations concerning the number of unrelated people living in the same dwelling unit and any suggestions to modify that number. Councillor Kelley
Monkey See, Monkey Do. The City of Boston just put limits on the number of unrelated people who may live in a single household, and the Boston Globe wrote a story about it. Is this really a problem in Cambridge? Why is this being brought up now? This seems like a solution in search of a problem.
Order #6. That the Mayor is requested to hold a special combined meeting, to be open to public comment and to be televised as with a normally scheduled meeting, of both the School Committee and the City Council to start a discussion on how to best coordinate various youth services. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Seidel, Councillor Maher and Councillor Toomey
I expect this to generate discussion and future committee meetings, but it's worth noting that not all youth centers and other activities draw many participants. Part of this is political - building youth centers and establishing related programs makes for good copy on political campaign brochures, but this does not necessarily imply either good planning, good allocation of resources, or practical benefits. Cambridge politicians love to build youth centers on which they can hang their hats (and possibly their names) even if nobody shows up at them. My model program would integrate the Police Department and the Recreation Department in a manner similar to the Police Athletic League in New York City. In such a model, you would get all the best aspects of community policing as well as better security and supervision. In my opinion, there is far too much emphasis on youth centers. Whatever happened to the community schools model? Does it make any sense to have school buildings and their facilities open only during school hours and a limited range of after-school activities?
Order #7. That the Government Operations Committee review City Council policy on Public comment with a view towards making any necessary amendments and report back to the City Council on this matter. Mayor Simmons
I'm not sure what the mayor has in mind with this order, but we would all benefit from changes that limit the role of the narcissists that now dominate public comment at City Council meetings. There's an old phrase we used to hear a lot around Cambridge: “The bad drive out the good.” When nut cases (do I really have to name them) turn the opening of every City Council meeting into a circus side show, this benefits no one and does nothing to promote democracy. Of course you don't really have to refer this to a committee for a solution. All it takes is a mayor with a firm hand and a heavy gavel. Enough already!
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the impact an exodus of bio-tech companies from Cambridge may have on the tax base of our city, and further report back on Northpoint and what likelihood there may be for further development. Mayor Simmons, Councillor Reeves and Councillor Toomey
I mention this item only to note the changing tone over the course of the last 10 to 15 years. There was a time when entities like the Cambridge Citizens for Livable Neighborhoods (CCLN) and it's cousin, the Cambridge Citizens for Growth Management (CCGM) were very vocal in opposing any kind of development in Cambridge, and many elected officials would butt heads with City planners and the City Manager over development issues. Nowadays, the tone seems to be consistently one of maintaining the revenue stream to support every imaginable affordable housing program and human services program in addition to a parade of major capital projects. I offer no opinion on this shift in political winds - I merely note the change in the weather. - Robert Winters