2011 City Council Agenda Notes
(transferred from main Council Notes page)
Last Call at City Hall - Dec 19, 2011 Cambridge City Council Agenda
This is the last meeting of the 2010-11 City Council term. Several active matters will carry over to the new City Council, but everything else goes away to allow for a fresh start. This will also be the last meeting for Councillor Seidel who will, presumably, receive the usual parting gifts (monogrammed gavel? rocking chair with a City of Cambridge official seal?). The agenda is short, but there are a few significant items. Note also that the regular 5:30pm meeting will be preceded by a special 4:00pm Roundtable meeting with the School Committee "to discuss various aspects of the Innovation Agenda, including capital needs."
Reconsideration #1. Councillor Kelley notified the City Clerk of his intention to move reconsideration on the vote taken on Dec 12, 2011 to ordain as amended the re-filed petition to amend the zoning ordinance filed by Chestnut Hill Realty. The petition would allow creation by special permit of rental apartment units in basement units of existing multifamily residential buildings in Residence C Districts which meet the special permit criteria. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Nov 28, 2011. Planning Board hearing held 9/6/11. Petition expires Dec 13, 2011.
This will be just a formality after which ordination will be finalized. The most problematic aspect of this zoning petition is not whether it's OK to create a few basement apartments. As the substitute language passed last week indicates, it's probably OK as long as certain conditions are met, though it does put the City Engineer in the unusual position of determining when a development project may go forward. The real issue is the way campaign contributions grease the wheels of legislation. It is absurd to characterize this zoning amendment as some sort of act of charity, and it's even more absurd to characterize the campaign contributions as "supporting local government".
This is all about money - how to make more of it and how to use it to buy legislation - and it's not just about Chestnut Hill Realty. Increasing profit is neither illegal nor immoral, and we do live in a capitalist economy, but when the money channeled from a single developer into the campaign accounts of some elected officials is of the same order of magnitude as the entire campaign budget of other elected officials, it is only natural that questions will be raised - even moreso when those who vote in favor of the zoning change exactly match those who received money from the petitioner.
City Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-156, regarding outside legal expenses incurred by the City for the Monteiro case and related cases.
The costs are laid out in the following communication from City Solicitor Don Drisdell. It is expected that the City Council will discuss the other settlement amounts in Executive Session.
December 19, 2011
Re: Awaiting Report No. 11-156 re: Report Back on Council Order No. 6, dated 10/24/2011
Dear Mr. Healy:
In response to the above referenced Council Order, please be advised of our responses as follows to the Council's specific requests:
Very truly yours, Donald A. Drisdell
That's it for this Council term. We'll be welcoming City Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom with the new year. Hopefully the new Council will see fit to elect a mayor on the first ballot on January 2 and that they will make a good choice. - Robert Winters
Now Featured on the Dec 12, 2011 Cambridge City Council Agenda
The agenda is short but potentially interesting. Here are a few items worthy of a comment or two:
Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $100,000 to the Community Development Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures account which will be used to pay for design consultant services for a proposed bicycle & pedestrian path along the former NECCO railroad spur in Cambridgeport.
This is personal highlight in that I recall making the initial suggestion for this at a meeting of the Central Square Advisory Committee when Novartis first presented its plans to occupy the old NECCO candy factory. The old RR line once brought in trainloads of sugar to the NECCO plant.
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to four appropriations totaling $1,204,701 to the Community Development Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures account. These appropriations will be used to pay for the purchase of and a three year maintenance contract for Hubway bike share stations, holding 220 bikes at 22 stations located in the densest areas of the City. [The total of this appropriation is derived from the following sources: Metropolitan Area Planning Council through funds received by a Federal Transit Administration Grant ($630,640); Massachusetts Department of Transportation through funds received by a Federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Grant ($274,061); Harvard University ($200,000) and; Massachusetts Institute of Technology ($100,000). The Hubway Bike Share system is expected to be launched in the spring of 2012 and will operate approximately nine months per year and be removed during winter months.]
On balance, the availability of the Hubway bikes in Cambridge is a nice added convenience for those who choose not to use their own bicycles for short-trip transportation. One potential advantage I see is less worry about bicycle theft (presumably most of that liability will fall to Hubway). There are still some awkward details to be worked out about the location of the Hubway stations. For example, there have been some concerns expressed by people who work at the City Hall Annex (344 Broadway) that some of the landscaping would be removed to accommodate the bikes. Alternately, on-street parking spaces could be removed. In any case, convenience does have its costs.
Unfinished Business #10. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 14, 2011 and a follow-up public meeting on Oct 25, 2011 to consider a re-filed petition to amend the zoning ordinance filed by Chestnut Hill Realty. The petition would allow creation by special permit of rental apartment units in basement units of existing multifamily residential buildings in Residence C Districts which meet the special permit criteria. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Nov 28, 2011. Planning Board hearing held Sept 6, 2011. Petition expires Dec 13, 2011.
Communications #3. A communication was received from Heather Maguire Hoffman, Co-President, Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods, regarding the Chestnut Hill Realty petition.
As has been stated repeatedly here, this is The Petition That Will Not Die - twice disapproved by the Planning Board with numerous questions raised by the City Engineer, and accompanied by gobs of cash directed to the campaign accounts of several city councillors. It's actually quite telling that there is such activity to approve some variant of this petition before its Dec 13 expiration. Squeezing in basement apartments (legal or otherwise) to make some extra cash has been going on for a long time, and stories of mold and flooding problems have often accompanied these units. This is not to say that they are always a bad idea - as long as the hydrology works. Basement apartments on hilltops should be fine. In low-lying areas like Area 4, the Agassiz neighborhood, or much of Cambridgeport or Riverside, or on streets that become watercourses during heavy rains, it seems like a dreadful idea. Whether or not the properties that are the subject of this petition are appropriate for packing in more cash-producing units is a question best left to the engineers. The bigger issue here is the role of mammoth campaign contributions in the approval of this or any other zoning petition.
The letter from Heather Hoffman on this is interesting. The Chestnut Hill Realty petition has been accompanied by mendacity from its inception. It was first billed as "workforce housing" as if to suggest that kitchen workers and housekeepers might be the principal residents of the new units. The re-filed petition asserts that "reasonably priced, affordable studio and one bedroom units" is the basis for their wish for permitting greater density. Ms. Hoffman's letter calls their bluff by proposing an amendment:
20.650 Affordability. The addition of dwelling units under Section 20.600 shall not result in an increase in the number of market-rate units in the building. A number of units equal to the number of new dwelling units shall become affordable units and comply with all of the affordability, distribution and unit type requirements of Section 11.200. However, only the unit types of the new dwelling units need be considered for this purpose.
Considering past public statements (on the record) by some councillors regarding locating "affordable units" in some of the more high-rent areas of the city, coupled with the fact that said councillors have received significant funds from the petitioners, it should be interesting to hear the ensuing discussion should Ms. Hoffman's suggested amendment be introduced. Ahh... the sweet smell of mendacity!
Order #2. That all items pending before the City Council and not acted upon by the end of the 2010-2011 Legislative Session be placed in the files of the City Clerk, without prejudice provided that those proposed ordinances which have been passed to a second reading, advertised and listed on the Calendar under "Unfinished Business" during the 2010-2011 City Council term, along with any other pending matters on the Calendar listed as "Unfinished Business," shall be forwarded to the next City Council and further provided that any items pending in committee may, at the discretion of the committee, be forwarded to the next City Council. Mayor Maher
This is standard procedure at the end of every Council term. Individual councillors can forward items to the new term only in their roles as committee Chairs and members, though the truth is that most Council committees have become primarily one-person affairs where the Chair determines virtually every action undertaken by the committee.
7:00pm Special Presentation - Mayor's Red Ribbon Commission on Central Square. (Sullivan Chamber)
It is perhaps true that every initiative like this one will produce some good results. However, the proliferation of studies and committees on Central Square has been so common that one might suggest that there be created an "Office of Central Square Studies" to house all the reports. The process leading up to this report has not exactly been an open public process, though no one who showed up was ever turned away. From the beginning there were presentations of very specific proposals for the Naggar property at Norfolk St. and Mass. Ave. that seem very much to be the fulfillment of something listed on the Mayor's Office website during the 2006-2007 term and in the "Office of the Mayor" section of both the FY2007 ("An initiative envisioning a new square in Central Square") and FY2008 ("Envision a new square in Central Square") Budget Books. Will this be the centerpiece of this latest report? - Robert Winters
Winding Down - Dec 5, 2011 Cambridge City Council Meeting
This is the home stretch of the 2010-2011 City Council term - a time to finish up tasks and jockey for position in the never-pleasant business of choosing the next mayor. Here are a few notable items on the agenda:
5:30pm Special Presentation by the Oral History Project of the Longfellow Neighborhood Council to receive their new publication "From the Heart of Cambridge".
The idea for this book was conceived in 2004 by Penelope Kleespies and the Longfellow Neighborhood Council and Community School. The book was edited by Paula Lovejoy with the assistance of a constellation of others including Sarah Boyer of the Cambridge Historical Commission who has edited numerous other Cambridge oral history projects. The book tells the stories of 90 Mid-Cambridge people and their families and friends. It is available for sale at Porter Square Books, the Harvard Book Store, The Coop, Rodney's Bookstore, and directly from the Longfellow Neighborhood Council. All profits go to support the Longfellow Neighborhood Council and Community School.
City Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Home Rule Petition providing the City of Cambridge with the authority to impose and increase certain motor vehicle fines in the City of Cambridge in order to improve driving.
Time will tell whether the increased fines actually improve driving in a world where texting and other distractions routinely focus the brains of drivers on everything other than their surroundings. This is just the text for a Home Rule Petition to the state legislature to allow the increased penalties. It does not yet raise any of these fines.
City Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to language prepared by staff in anticipation of the process of reconstruction or renovation of K-8 school buildings in City.
As near as I can tell, this proposed zoning change is primarily intended to ensure that once an existing school building or part of a school building is demolished, any new building may be built to the same height and density. The proposed regulation would, however, allow the Planning Board, by Special Permit, to waive any dimensional or other zoning requirements as long as the Floor/Area Ratio (FAR) does not exceed 1.25 and the height does not exceed 55 feet, plus several other restrictions. It is expected that a number of school buildings will be reconstructed over the next decade most likely starting with the King School on Putnam Ave. The plan is to use the old Longfellow School as "swing space" for each school during reconstruction.
City Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-170, regarding a report on an opinion on the issue of spot zoning on the Runkel petition.
Unfinished Business #10. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on Oct 13, 2011 to consider a petition filed by Laura Runkel et al. to rezone 41 Bellis Circle, an area abutting the northern block of Bellis Circle, bordered on the north by the commuter rail tracks, on the south by Bellis Circle and on the east side by Sherman Street, from Residence C-1A to Residence C. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Nov 14, 2011. Planning Board hearing held Sept 13, 2011. Petition expires Dec 13, 2011.
These two related items concern the Runkel et al. Zoning Petition that would affect a single large parcel at Sherman St. and the RR tracks. The Planning Board report did not recommend approval of the petition arguing that it "does not find it appropriate to consider only this single site for potential rezoning when there are adjacent sites that remain zoned Residence C-1A". The possibility that this might be "spot zoning" or "reverse spot zoning" was discussed at the Nov 21 City Council meeting and an Order was passed asking for a legal opinion on the matter. City Solicitor Don Drisdell's report indicates that it is unlikely that a court would rule against this proposed zoning change.
Unfinished Business #11. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 14, 2011 and a follow-up public meeting on Oct 25, 2011 to consider a re-filed petition to amend the zoning ordinance filed by Chestnut Hill Realty. The petition would allow creation by special permit of rental apartment units in basement units of existing multifamily residential buildings in Residence C Districts which meet the special permit criteria. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Nov 28, 2011. Planning Board hearing held Sept 6, 2011. Petition expires Dec 13, 2011.
As has been stated here before, this is The Petition That Will Not Die - twice disapproved by the Planning Board with numerous questions raised by the City Engineer. The fact that the petitioners, Chestnut Hill Realty, have contributed mightily to the campaign accounts of several city councillors raises questions of conflict of interest and whether zoning relief can be purchased via campaign contributions. This perception, of course, is not limited to this petition. In fact, the scale of political contributions by parties with business before the City Council has skyrocketed in recent years.
It may be time for the Cambridge City Council to consider an Ordinance prohibiting campaign contributions by any party with business before the City Council (or the representatives of any such party) for a period of one or two years before and after the matter is voted by the City Council. In these days of Citizens United, it is unclear what such limits may legally be imposed, but it would be a welcome initiative by any city councillor willing to propose such an ordinance.
Unfinished Business #12. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 14, 2011 to consider a petition by Matthew Bagedonow et al. to amend Section 5.24.4 Paragraph(4) of the Zoning Ordinance as follows: "For Residence Zoning District C-1, in no case shall side yards be less than 7'-6". This shall apply to any plane or projection from the plane of the building." The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Nov 28, 2011. Planning Board hearing held Sept 13, 2011. Petition expires Dec 13, 2011.
The Bagedonow et al. petition received a positive report from the Planning Board with a minor revision. This will likely be ordained as amended.
Resolution #10. Resolution on the death of Paul Kurt Ackermann. Vice Mayor Davis, Mayor Maher
Paul Ackermann was the husband of former City Councillor and former Mayor Barbara Ackermann. Paul was 92 years old.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to provide monetary information regarding the Monteiro and related cases. Councillor Reeves, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Seidel and Councillor Simmons
Though I agree in principle that a general idea of the scale of these settlements should be made public, the politicizing of this matter remains disturbing. Having witnessed the same people celebrating the financial hit taken by the City and then bemoaning its effect of taxpayers makes one wonder about the motivations of these citizen activists.
Order #5. That the City Clerk is requested to list mayoral commission meetings on the City Council Hearing Schedule in addition to the City Calendar in order to reach as many interested members of the public as possible. Vice Mayor Davis
It seems odd that there should even have to be a City Council Order asking that these public meetings be included in the City Calendar. Unfortunately, the truth is that none of the "Red Ribbon" meetings on Central Square over the last year or so were ever advertised. Though no one who showed up was ever turned away, the meetings were by invitation only and this calls into question whether the whole enterprise may be properly characterized as a public process. The same criticism applies to the "Silver Ribbon" commission on housing options for older people, and the "Blue Ribbon" commission on early childhood education.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department to ascertain data previously requested regarding the Andrews Petition. Councillor Cheung
The Andrews et al. Petition received a negative report from the Planning Board. The proposal would have amended the City's Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance to eliminate the density bonus that forms the economic basis of the ordinance.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Personnel Department to look into the disability makeup of the City's workforce by level and department and report back to the City Council on this matter. Councillor Cheung
This Order comes in the wake of a previous Order and report on the racial/ethnic composition of City employees. While almost everyone agrees that nondiscrimination should be the general rule for City employment, these Orders do suggest that employment quotas for various racial/ethnic/gender/disability criteria may still be the mindset of some elected officials.
Order #11. That this City Council urge the United States Government to sign and ratify the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families and to similarly recognize Dec 18, 2011, and annually thereafter, as International Migrants Day. Councillor Decker
The following Wikipedia excerpts may be relevant: "So far, countries that have ratified the Convention are primarily countries of origin of migrants (such as Mexico, Morocco and the Philippines). For these countries, the Convention is an important vehicle to protect their citizens living abroad."... "No migrant-receiving State in Western Europe or North America has ratified the Convention. Other important receiving countries, such as Australia, Arab states of the Persian Gulf, India and South Africa have not ratified the Convention either." [Full text of the convention]
Cambridge just wouldn't be Cambridge without the occasional excursion into foreign affairs.
Order #12. That the City Manager report back to the City Council with the required changes to city council rules, city zoning code and/or municipal ordinance to achieve the Community Benefits Mitigation Fee. Councillor Seidel
This Order is the culmination of a process that has been going on for the past year having to do with extracting "community benefits" in exchange for granting significant upzoning to developers. While it would be hard to find anyone opposed to financial benefits (in addition to new real estate taxes) growing out of new development, there remains a significant question regarding whether this may amount to a de facto "upzoning for sale" situation. Would a City Council ever vote against a major development if it meant turning down millions of dollars for nonprofit agencies, affordable housing ,etc.?
Messages circulated over the weekend by members of the East Cambridge Planning Team point out another problematic aspect of the proposed "Community Benefits Mitigation Fee" structure. Specifically: "The successful negotiation with Alexandria whereby the City and East Cambridge will receive: a 2.5 acre park; a triangle park; $9.5 million to design and build the parks; an approximately 30,000 square foot building, and up to $6,000,000 for the East Cambridge Open Space Fund, would not be possible under the approach contained in this Order as the 1.7 million square foot project would have been limited to a total of $17 million in community benefits. So we have an Order covering mitigation potentially implementing a process whereby a very successful mitigation effort, Alexandria, could not be achieved under the Order's proposed methodology."
Charles Marquardt's estimates are that the total mitigation value received from the Alexandria zoning relief was $43 million; and that under the proposal the value would have been only $17.5 million. That's a difference of $25.5 million. Of course, there's nothing in the proposal that says that Alexandria could not have voluntarily contributed the difference, but this seems an unlikely outcome if the financial arrangements were so explicitly codified in advance of granting the zoning relief. - Robert Winters
Reports, Reports, and a Retirement - Nov 21, 2011 Cambridge City Council meeting
There is much to say about this meeting, including numerous Planning Board reports on recently filed zoning petitions. One noteworthy item is the announcement from City Manager Robert Healy that City Solicitor Don Drisdell will be retiring in January. Don has been with the City for a long time, including many years as Deputy City Solicitor before he was appointed City Solicitor in Dec 2002. Nancy Glowa will succeed Don as Acting City Solicitor, effective Jan 20, 2012.
One of the most striking aspects of the upcoming City Manager's Agenda is that of the 68 matters listing as "Awaiting Report", there are responses for 29 of them - a huge clearing of the backlog. This points to the possibility of a very long meeting. Topics include: a proposed Farmers Market, the merger of the Longy School and Bard College, trimming tree branches, the McCrehan pool, job training programs, a gun shot incident, courteous driving, a Landmark Designation Study Report for the Ellis School, language for a proposed zoning amendment, cable service contract options, a Yellow Pages ban, a bamboo ordinance, bike corrals, bus shelters, upkeep of the Cambridge Common, bicycle safety, the BIO 2012 Convention, the traffic light at Magazine St. and Memorial Drive, restaurant valet parking, hazardous metal pieces of street signs, Bobcats to clear snow, Household Hazardous Waste Days, Citizen Observer alerts, a technology plan for the City, paying for city services on-line, paperless City bills, a unique identifier for official documents (actually a great idea), Code for America, a service similar to SeeClickFix, and the sidewalks on Boardman Street.
And you want to just watch the Patriots game? Just think of all the good stuff you'll be missing!
Reports from the avalance of zoning petitions filed in August are now filtering in from the Planing Board. There is a negative report on the Andrews Petition (#15), a positive report on the Bagedenow Petition (#16), a negative report on the Bishop Petition (#17), a negative report on the Runkel Petition (#18), and a positive report on the de Rham Petition (#45).
Manager's Agenda #37. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Number Item Number 11-83, regarding a report on technology plan for the City, the use of social media tools, and identifying projects that would benefit from using Gov 2.0, as well as a response to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-84, regarding the creation of a research and development office for technology.
This is an interesting read. Though the devil is in the details and the City has not always made the best decisions in terms of public communication and web-based interactions with the public (such as the search function of the City website and delays in posting timely information), it seems clear that the City is in the process of making some necessary improvements.
Manager's Agenda #40. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-92, regarding the feasibility of creating a system that the general public could use to search by a unique identifier for official documents such as building permits, variance applications, License Commission inspections, and the like.
This is based on a very good Order from Councillor Kelley that would make it possible for a resident to easily research the status of a property across multiple categories - zoning, building permits, inspectional services, variances, etc. This would be a huge improvement for both residents and City administration.
Unfinished Business items include several zoning petitions that have been passed to a 2nd Reading and could potentially be voted. These include the de Rham (#9), Bishop (#10), Runkle (#11), and Bagedonow (#13) Petitions. The Chestnut Hill Realty Petition (#12), the gift that keeps on giving to the campaign accounts of several city councillors, could also be voted. There was some comic relief on the Chestnut Hill Realty Petition at the last City Council meeting when one city councillor who lives at the top of a hill and who rents basement apartments in his building questioned concerns about basement flooding based on personal experience. Perhaps some basic knowledge of physics should be mandatory for city councillors, e.g. the fact that water flows downhill and not uphill.
Resolution #19. Congratulations to Department of Public Works Commissioner Lisa Peterson and Recycling Director Randi Mail for their innovative recycling initiatives that merited the MassRecycle 2011 Board of Director's Outstanding Achievement Award. Vice Mayor Davis, Councillor Simmons
It's worth noting that one of Lisa Peterson's first responsibilities when she began working for the City 20 years ago was to manage the implementation of the City's new curbside recycling program. Recycling Director Randi Mail and Commissioner Peterson are always seeking ways to expand and improve recycling programs in Cambridge and they always do so with a clear view of the cost-effectiveness of any initiative. We are fortunate to have both of these people in the City's employ.
Resolution #24. Congratulations to the members of the Mid-Cambridge Oral History Project and the Longfellow Neighborhood Council and Community School on the publication of "From the Heart of Cambridge: A Neighborhood Portrait." Vice Mayor Davis
These are the stories of people from my own neighborhood within the larger Mid-Cambridge neighborhood. The best stories are from those who have been here far longer than I have, especially my dear friend Floyd Freeman who now lives in Michigan after his house burned down several years ago and who is still going strong at the age of 96. The book tells the stories of 90 people and their families and friends. It is available for sale at Porter Square Books, the Harvard Book Store, The Coop, Rodney's Bookstore, and directly from the Longfellow Neighborhood Council. All profits go to support the Longfellow Neighborhood Council and Community School.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council at the earliest possible City Council meeting on the possible uses, and the extent of such uses, per the current table of uses in the Zoning Ordinance, and associated language for building conversions, of the Sullivan Courthouse at 40 Thorndike Street. Councillor Kelley
The Roundtable meeting last week on this topic struck me more as a marketing presentation than anything else. In the long view, it should be noted that this building was originally permitted because it served an essential government function. It is extremely unlikely that it would have ever been permitted at that site if it had been proposed as a private development such as an office building or residential tower. Nonetheless, the presentation seemed to suggest that the most likely future uses would be as an office building or residential tower. The State has a financial interest in this building, but a good case can be made for cutting this building down to a scale more in keeping with the adjacent neighborhood.
Order #3. That the City Council hereby sets 7:00pm at the Dec 12, 2011 City Council meeting as the time to receive the Red Ribbon Commission Report on Central Square. Councillor Reeves
Another delay. The real question is whether this eventual report will be anything more than a dressed-up proposal to substantially develop the Naggar property at Mass. Ave. and Norfolk St. in partnership with the City. The more substantial planning effort is, at least in principle, the concurrent one with Goody Clancy focusing on both Kendall Square and Central Square (K2C2). The Central Square part of that study could also become just a plan to redevelop the current Central Square parking lots and add height and density to buildings in the area. Residents of Central Square should follow this closely. There are many good opportunities but also some tangible threats and it is not at all clear whether the residential neighborhoods of Central Square are adequately represented in any of these planning efforts. Time will tell.
Order #10. That the City Council hereby goes on record re-filing as of Dec 7, 2011 the Julia Bishop et al. petition to amend the zoning in Special District 2 in North Cambridge. Mayor Maher
This Order seems to indicate that the highly contentious Bishop Petition will be allowed to expire and the negotiations among neighbors, City officials, and the developer will intensify with the re-filed petition. Councillors made some clear promises before the election in regard to this petition, and they will certainly have their feet held to the fire on this one.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on Oct 13, 2011 to consider a petition submitted by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance in Section 20.200 et seq., the Central Square Overlay District, by deleting Section 20.304.5.6, which currently requires all establishments where liquor is served to have their principal public entrance on Massachusetts Avenue or Main Street.
There are good, simple alternatives to the petition that was filed - alternatives that will allow new uses where they make sense but not open the door to substantial unintended consequences that could severely impact residential neighbors. - Robert Winters
Pre-Election Jitters - Nov 7, 2011 Cambridge City Council meeting and the municipal election
The last thing on the minds of city councillors at this meeting will be the business of the meeting. On the eve of the biennial municipal election, the attention of everyone will be on Tuesday's election. The agenda is light, and historically these pre-election meetings can break records for brevity.
The only noteworthy items are a few zoning-related matters that could be passed to a Second Reading, though it's possible that the Bishop Petition (Unfinished Business #12) could again spark a few election-charged rhetorical brushfires. The other zoning matters are the deRham Petition (Unfinished Business #13), the Runkel Petition (Unfinished Business #14), the Bagedonow Petition (Order #3 and Committee Report #2), and the highly profitable Chestnut Hill Realty Petition (the proponents of which have contributed heavily to the campaigns of several city councillors).
This past week has been an interesting one in the political life of the city. Not since the darkest days of the Rent Control Wars have we seen such vitriol - perhaps the worst of which has come from the pseudo-press. I don't know what kind of psychosis it is that drives fact-challenged bloggers with short perspectives to want to tell voters how to vote - even to the point of referring to several incumbents as "disgusting". A lot of bridges were burned this week.
My advice to voters is simple - ignore all endorsements, ignore the advice of pundits (including me), and spend a few hours learning about the candidates [http://vote.rwinters.com]. Above all, do your homework, and that includes evaluating any propaganda that's been circulating from Hilliard Street, the pseudo-press, and people with hidden and not-so-hidden agendas. Then cast informed votes. In the Cambridge elections you can vote for as many candidates as you wish (for both City Council and School Committee). I generally advise people to first decide which candidates you like enough to list on your ballot, and then decide how to rank them - #1 to your favorite, then #2, etc. You do not have to rank all candidates, but it is best to rank more than a few. Above all, vote sincerely.
After the polls close on Tuesday, the preliminary PR Election Count will commence at the Senior Center across the street from City Hall. This year (if all the equipment works) CCTV will be broadcasting from The Count starting around 8:30pm. The program will be hosted by former School Committee member Susana Segat and Robert Winters (that's me). Our hope is to have many of the candidates and other guests appear on camera to share their thoughts. There will be a followup program on Wednesday as the remaining ballots are tabulated and the final (unofficial) results are announced.
Unless the election is extremely close, it is likely that the preliminary winners announced on Tuesday night will be the same as those announced on Wednesday. Officially, the final results will not be determined until Friday, Nov 18 when potentially a handful of additional overseas absentee ballots are included, but there is very little chance that this will alter the results. - Robert Winters
This is the next to last meeting before next week's municipal election. If you understand politics, you know that you get more votes by distributing candy to the children of voters than by chatting away at a Council meeting. Let's hope this is a short one. Here are a few items that caught my attention this week.
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-124, regarding a report on the racial makeup of the City's workforce.
Oct 31, 2011
Please find attached a response to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-124, regarding a report on the racial makeup of the City's workforce.
Below is a summary of the attached reports:
Below is additional information on new hires from July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011:
Very truly yours, Robert W. Healy, City Manager
If you listened to all the misleading information that's been thrown around lately, you might find this information surprising. Perhaps you should question some of the drivel emanating from Brookford St. and Hilliard St. One of the worst aspects of municipal election campaigns is the tendency for activists with long grudges to manipulate the facts to suit their agendas.
Unfinished Business #9. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on Sept 7, 2011 to consider a petition filed by Julia Bishop et al., to amend Section 17.20 of the Zoning Ordinance - Regulations for Special District 2, located in North Cambridge along Linear Park. [Order #26 adopted on Oct 17, 2011 to discharge from committee. Report placed on Unfinished Business on Oct 17, 2011.] The question comes on passing to a Second Reading. Planning Board hearing held Sept 13, 2011. Petition expires Dec 6, 2011.
Indications are that the City Council will not take final action on this petition before the municipal election, but I've seen votes taken on the eve of an election that nobody would have expected. Fear really is a great motivator.
Unfinished Business #10. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on Sept 7, 2011 to consider a petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance filed by Elizabeth deRham et al. The petition proposes an amendment to Section 9.16 of the Zoning which currently provides for a $100 per violation per day fine upon conviction of said violation. The amendment would provide for a fine not to exceed the maximum specified in M.G.L. Ch 40A sec.7, currently $300 per violation per day and would allow the fine to be levied at the discretion of the Superintendent of Buildings. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Oct 31, 2011. Planning Board hearing held Sept 13, 2011. Petition expires Dec 6, 2011.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on Oct 13, 2011 to consider a petition filed by Laura Runkel et al. to rezone 41 Bellis Circle, an area abutting the northern block of Bellis Circle, bordered on the north by the commuter rail tracks, on the south by Bellis Circle and on the east side by Sherman Street, from Residence C-1A to Residence C.
I have this theory that because so many zoning petitions were introduced recently it may be a good political move to pass one or two of the less problematic ones as kind of a "peace offering" on the eve of the municipal election. These two seem like good candidates.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested confer with the Police Commissioner and report back to the City Council with the details of the recent string of street robberies and the police action being taken to maintain the safety of residents and report back to the City Council. Councillor Toomey
I believe I actually saw the two perpetrators who were robbing people at gunpoint the recent night they robbed a guy on Harvard Street in Mid-Cambridge. Something at the time told me that these guys were up to no good. There have been quite a few of these robberies lately. We had a motorbike and several bicycles stolen from my block over the last few weeks. As a voter, public safety is my personal bottom line. If city councillors cannot address this most basic concern, then everything else they say and do is irrelevant. There will be a Community Meeting hosted by City Councillor Tim Toomey and the Cambridge Police Department on Wed, Nov 2 at 6:00pm in the First Floor Community Room of the Police Station (125 Sixth Street) to address the recent armed robberies in the East Cambridge and Wellington-Harrington area.
Order #3. That the City Manager hereby is requested to provide information responding to questions raised in the Ordinance Committee hearing on a proposed zoning amendment to allow the construction of basement units. Councillor Seidel, Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Davis
This concerns the Petition That Will Not Die from Chestnut Hill Realty, financiers of several City Council reelection campaigns. My view is that these basements should be used for storage, bicycle parking, laundry, and utilities. The only purpose of this petition is to create money. It has nothing to do with good planning or quality of life.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to look into the feasibility of instituting a policy that, after ascertainment, if the City of Cambridge takes more than 90 days to negotiate a contract with a potential cable service provider, the potentially new service provider can operate under the same terms as the existing incumbent service provider, with the option to continue negotiation with the City of Cambridge while operating under those terms, and report back to the City Council on this matter. Councillor Cheung
Who knows whether anything will come of this, but anything that offers even a glimmer of hope for competition with the Evil Empire Comcast is worth pursuing. Good move, Leland.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development to develop a plan for obtaining regular updates from state officials and for keeping the City Council and the surrounding neighborhoods informed on the status of the future use of the courthouse in East Cambridge. Mayor Maher
Note that on Monday, Nov 14 there will be a City Council Roundtable Meeting with Commissioner Carole Cornelison, Massachusetts Department of Capital Asset Management, and her staff, to discuss plans for the East Cambridge Courthouse site.
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to advise the City Council as to the prudence of taking the former NBC Harvard Street lot by eminent domain. Councillor Reeves
This is long overdue. Take note, however, that this Order does not call for the taking of this property. It merely asks the City Manager to advise the City Council as to the prudence of taking the former NBC Harvard Street lot by eminent domain. - Robert Winters
Oct 24, 2011 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights - Pre-Election Posturing
Anyone who has attended a recent Cambridge City Council meeting (or any candidate forums) will have noticed the pre-election posturing and efforts to capitalize on controversy. This meeting will most likely bring more of the same. One topic that was at the heart of last week's posturing is the Bishop Petition that aims to amend the zoning in the vicinity of the Fawcett properties adjacent to the former rail line where the Linear Park now runs in North Cambridge.
Unfinished Business #9. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on Sept 7, 2011 to consider a petition filed by Julia Bishop et al., to amend Section 17.20 of the Zoning Ordinance - Regulations for Special District 2, located in North Cambridge along Linear Park. Proposed amendments include: deletion of allowed non-residential uses; reduction in allowed Floor Area Ratio; increase in required lot area per dwelling unit; reduction in allowed height; new regulations for fences abutting Linear Park.
The Planning Board deliberated on the Bishop Petition on Tuesday, Oct 18. Though there is not yet a Planning Board report before the City Council, it was clear at that meeting that the Planning Board felt that the current zoning was not broken and that the existing tools were sufficient to shape whatever projects are proposed in that area. At last week's City Council meeting, the Council did vote to discharge the petition from the Ordinance Committee to bring it before the City Council, but Councillor Kelley's attempt to also move the petition to a 2nd Reading (a necessary step before advertising it and bringing it to a final vote) were soundly rebuffed 8-1. Though in this pre-election setting many councillors voiced their support of the petition, the rhetoric was much closer to that of the Planning Board in its expression that the best solution should go beyond merely changing the zoning.
Unfinished Business #10. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on Sept 7, 2011 to consider a petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance filed by Elizabeth deRham et al. The petition proposes an amendment to Section 9.16 of the Zoning which currently provides for a $100 per violation per day fine upon conviction of said violation. The amendment would provide for a fine not to exceed the maximum specified in M.G.L. Ch 40A sec.7, currently $300 per violation per day and would allow the fine to be levied at the discretion of the Superintendent of Buildings. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Oct 31, 2011.
My suspicion is that this petition may ultimately pass - possibly before Election Day. Though the Bishop Petition has drawn the most attention, the deRham Petition was filed at the same time by essentially the same people. Politically, there may be some wisdom in passing this less controversial one before Election Day if indeed the intention is to invest the necessary time to get a better resolution of the underlying issues that motivated the Bishop Petition.
Order #4. That the City of Cambridge hereby joins other communities across the country and calls upon the United States Congress to pass and send to the states for ratification, a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and to restore constitutional rights and fair elections to the people. Mayor Maher
This may be the first example I've witnessed of the Cambridge City Council explicitly endorsing an amendment to the United States Constitution. The merits of the proposal notwithstanding, the suggestion that this will "restore constitutional rights and fair elections to the people" is woefully naive. While many people correctly complain about the corrosive influence of money in politics, where is the civic education that's necessary for a well-functioning democracy? The national political media features the nitwits on Fox News propagandizing from the Right, and the nitwits on MSNBC propagandizing from the Left. These and talk radio are what passes today as civic education. Meanwhile the average voter is busy watching American Idol while their national elected representatives spend the majority of their time fundraising for their reelection. Focusing on the Citizens United court decision is a distraction from much more significant problems in sustaining democracy both nationally and locally.
Order #5. Amendment to Zoning Ordinances by deleting Section 6.22.2 Councillor Kelley
It's unfortunate that the text of Councillor Kelley's Order provides no clue at all as to why this amendment is being proposed other than its claim "to mitigate development and parking pressures in Cambridge neighborhoods." Perhaps Kelley will explain the motivation. A few additional "whereases" in the Order would have helped.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back on legal expenses incurred by the City for the Monteiro case and related cases. Councillor Kelley
A handful of activists and sympathizers have been pushing this as though it is the be-all-end-all issue in the upcoming municipal election. It is not. This Order calls for an accounting of the outside legal expenses for the Monteiro case, etc.; the cost of the appeals; the cost of the settlements related to each of the parties in the original ZuckerNaut of lawsuits; the amount of money paid to Malvina Monteiro; and a report on what issues are still considered confidential and why. Ultimately it will be good to have this full story told. However, the full story should also include the background information on the functioning (or lack of functioning) of the City departments and boards over whom some of the litigants presided. The deluxe edition of the book might also include some of the political motivations as well.
This meeting will also feature a presentation from the Reeves committee (excuse me, the Red Ribbon Commission, etc.) on Central Square - well timed to occur two weeks before the election. Time will tell what the next few years will bring to Central Square. There are some who would choose to turn it into a 24-hour entertainment zone. Others want to build densely on every available parcel. It is doubtful whether the report from the Reeves committee will reveal anything particularly world-shaking. In the end, the good health of Central Square will still be determined by the individuals - residents, business owners, and property owners - who have a personal stake in the Central Square area. - Robert Winters
Highlights of the Oct 17, 2011 Cambridge City Council agenda
First of all, take note that due to an elevator malfunction at City Hall, the City Council will meet this week at the Fitzgerald Auditorium at CRLS, 459 Broadway. There are a few items this week that should bring out the public. City Manager's Agenda #7 and City Manager's Agenda #8 are appropriations of $500,000 and $1,190,000 received by Comcast as part of their 2011 Renewal License. I suppose cash is good even when it comes from the continued domination by the Evil Empire.
Resolution #1. Urge residents to participate in Food Day which will take place on Oct 24, 2011. Vice Mayor Davis
It's hard to say what exactly Food Day is and this resolution provides scant advice for how residents should participate other than to eat. Seems like I celebrate Food Day every day.
Resolution #23. Happy 80th Birthday wishes to a special Cantabrigian. Councillor Decker
I'm guessing that this must be Robert Wolf, husband of Alice Wolf, but there are 30 other registered Cambridge voters who turn 80 this month. Happy birthday to all of you.
Order #3. That the Mayor is hereby requested to work with the City Council to schedule a date for a Roundtable meeting to review the census. Councillor Reeves
In Cambridge, like anywhere else, there is Inside Baseball - the stuff that serious politicos talk about but which rarely makes it to the local press or into the conversations of most residents. When the census occurred a decade ago and was followed by legislative redistricting, Cambridge ended up being carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey. My recollection is that in order to prevent two popular incumbents in Newton from having to face off against each other, several of the principally Cambridge State Rep. districts were sacrificed and made part of districts that were mainly in neighboring towns. We ended up with 6 districts - most of which were nearly impossible for a Cambridge candidate to win. Only the districts of Representatives Toomey and Wolf were held harmless.
Most consequential was the way that the district formerly held by Saundra Graham, Alvin Thompson, and then Jarrett Barrios was scattered. The Inside Baseball story has it that when it became known that Barrios was going to vacate the seat in order to run for State Senate, it was considered OK to not protect that district and that Barrios did nothing to prevent this. At some level, who cares? We end up with 6 state reps. who we can talk to about relevant Cambridge issues instead of, perhaps, 3 all-Cambridge districts. The bitter issue was that aspiring Cambridge political people who might have sought those state seats found their options limited. There are many insiders who are still angry 10 years later at Jarrett Barrios who they blame for the current configuration.
So now it's census time again. Word has it that the proposed new districts will be revealed this Tuesday, Oct 18. Will the map be redrawn in a manner that benefits some councillors and others who might consider a career move? Stay tuned....
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a committee to explore the feasibility of establishing a Cambridge Museum that will serve as repository of Cambridge history. Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Cheung and Mayor Maher
There is no doubt that the need exists and will always exist to have secure locations for the wealth of historical documents and artifacts of our very old and historic city. In addition to the Cambridge Historical Commission and the Cambridge Historical Society, we now also have a Cambridge Room at the new library and a staff archivist. This Order proposes to explore the possibility of creating a new Cambridge Museum in which the public may commune with the city's history. This is unquestionably a good idea in the long term, but can we sustain all of these historical venues? Where would you locate such a new venue and who would be the target audience? In any case, the idea deserves a complete and critical evaluation - even if the end result is better support and enhancement of the existing venues.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to prepare language for an ordinance to ban the use of brakeless bikes in Cambridge. Vice Mayor Davis
"Every person operating a bicycle upon a way...shall have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bicycles have been posted, and shall be subject to the traffic laws and regulations of the commonwealth and the special regulations contained in this section, except that: ...(3) bicycles may be ridden on sidewalks outside business districts when necessary in the interest of safety, unless otherwise directed by local ordinance." and "Every bicycle operated upon a way shall be equipped with a braking system."
Councillor Davis' Order is already part of state law and is therefore moot. Whether or not it's enforced and by whom it is enforced are open questions. Thanks to John Allen for the references.
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and the Community Development Department to investigate how to make the Follen Street/Little Concord Avenue intersection safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. Councillor Cheung
Here we go again. The City has made some good decisions regarding bicycle infrastructure and some horrible decisions. The Little Concord Avenue design is poor (see John Allen's May 16, 2011 critique and his May 20 followup remarks), but not nearly as dreadful as the "cycle track" installed on Vassar Street. The City is now going full speed ahead to implement this same absurd design on Western Avenue (see John Allen's Oct 27, 2010 remarks and Paul Schimek's Aug 10, 2010 letter). Pedestrians and cyclists beware.
Order #23. City Council opposition to cuts to Medicare and Medicaid benefits and support of the American Jobs Act. Councillor Decker
My guess is that two items will bring people out for Public Comment at this meeting. This one will likely bring a few visitors to talk about national politics. The following item (the Bishop Zoning Petition) will likely bring the lion's share of comment even though it remains in committee and is not before the City Council for action at this meeting.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on Sept 7, 2011 to consider a petition filed by Julia Bishop et al., to amend Section 17.20 of the Zoning Ordinance - Regulations for Special District 2, located in North Cambridge along Linear Park. Proposed amendments include: deletion of allowed non-residential uses; reduction in allowed Floor Area Ratio; increase in required lot area per dwelling unit; reduction in allowed height; new regulations for fences abutting Linear Park.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this petition is that the affected area was already rezoned within the past decade from an industrial zone (due to it being adjacent to a former railroad line) to create Special District SD-2 primarily for the purpose of encouraging the transition toward residential use. Now that this residential use is part of an active proposal, this petition seeks to significantly reduce its density and the owner claims this will destroy its financial viability. Those advocating for this petition are trying very hard to convince the City Council to act on this petition before the November 8 municipal election. The agenda includes 18 Communications in support of the Bishop Petition.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Transportation, Traffic and Parking Committee for a public meeting held on Oct 6, 2011 to discuss the Austin, Texas "Parking Benefit District Pilot Program" and any other city parking issues.
Contained within this report is a proposal that should infuriate Cambridge residents who own cars and who do not have private driveways or garages. A letter from Chris Summerfield (153 Lexington Ave., but he's not listed in either the voter database or the 2011 street listing) requests a change to the Traffic, Parking and Transportation regulations that would strictly prohibit parking within 15 feet of the center line of any public or private driveway. This is currently only enforced where necessary and where the vicinity of the driveway is appropriately signed. Councillor Kelley commented that no one is supposed to park ten feet from either side of any driveway - something that may be the practice in Wellesley but one which would eliminate hundreds of parking spaces if enforced in Cambridge.
Though Traffic Director Susan Clippinger stated that you can park 3 feet from the edge of a driveway, everyone knows that this is only enforced where it makes sense to do so. Miraculously, we all seem to get along as long as people can navigate their way in and out of their driveways. Nonetheless Councillor Kelley proposes an Order that would wipe out hundreds of on-street parking opportunities by being overly and unnecessarily restrictive. It's worth noting that the only people present at this hearing were Councillor Kelley, Sue Clippinger, Deputy City Clerk Donna Lopez, and Chris Summerfield. There were no other elected officials present. - Robert Winters, resident and on-street parker
Highlight of the Oct 3, 2011 City Council agenda
There is nothing especially significant on this week's agenda and this should be a short meeting. There is one noteworthy item that could potentially impact quality of life and public safety somewhere down the road:
City Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-63, regarding the impact of the Batelle Study recommendation on Cambridge and Awaiting Report Item Number 11-110, regarding a report on the impact the proposed alternative route would have on Cambridge Non-Radioactive Hazardous Materials traffic.
The letter from Mr. Healy really says all that needs to be said. A hazardous materials truck ban in Boston could easily lead to Cambridge being a preferred cut-through - unless appropriate steps are taken to prevent this. One need only look to the fact that when the Prudential Center was built over the Massachusetts Turnpike Extension, such trucks were banned on that road, and Cambridge has been dealing with the consequences of their exiting at the Allston-Brighton tolls ever since. - RW
The Taxman Cometh - Highlights of the Sept 26, 2011 City Council agenda
In addition to the Executive Session delayed from last week by the Charter Right of Councillor Seidel, the top item tonight is the public hearing and the usual series of City Council votes that will ultimately lead to the setting of the residential and commercial tax rates for the current fiscal year, FY11-12. As Mr. Healy likes to remind the Council in his remarks, the City does not technically set these tax rates. They merely take the votes that ultimately lead to the state Department of Revenue setting the rates.
It's unclear whether the Executive Session (relating to the now-settled Monteiro case and two other pending milkings of Mother Cambridge) will take place early in the meeting or after all other business is dispensed with. Ultimately, the primary purpose of the session is to help Councillor Kelley determine what particular negatives should appear in his campaign literature. Anyway, the important item is this one:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek the Massachusetts Department of Revenue approval for the tax rate for FY2012:
A. Authorize the use of Free Cash of $11,300,000 to reduce the FY12 tax rate;
B. Authorize $2,000,000 in overlay surplus/revenues to be used for reducing the FY12 tax levy;
C. Authorize $5,150,000 from the Debt Stabilization Fund to be used as a revenue source to the General Fund Budget;
D. Authorize $632,470 from the School Debt Stabilization Fund to be used as a revenue source to the General Fund Budget;
E. Classify property into five classes;
F. Adopt the minimum residential factor of 56.2602%;
G. Approve the maximum residential exemption factor of 30% for owner-occupied homes;
H. Vote to double the normal value of the statutory exemptions;
I. Vote the FY12 exemption of $285.00 allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 17D;
J. Vote the FY12 asset limits of $56,695 allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 17E;
K. Vote the FY12 income and asset limits allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 41D as follows: Income limits of $23,442 for single and $35,163 for married; and asset limits of $46,883 for single and $64,464for married;
L. Vote the income limit for deferral of real estate taxes by elderly persons as determined by the Commissioner of Revenue for the purposes of MGL Chapter 62, Section 6, subsection (k) for a single person ($51,000) and for married ($77,000);
M. Vote to accept Clause 56 of G.L. c. 59, Section 5, which allows members of the Massachusetts National Guard or military reservists who are on active duty to obtain a reduction of all or part of their real and personal property taxes for any fiscal year they are serving in a foreign country.
Text of the City Manager's message. The tax districts are shown below.
1) The final property tax levy for FY12 will be $299,090,641, an increase of 5.33%.
2) Based on a property tax levy of $299.1 million, the FY12 residential tax rate will be $8.48 per thousand dollars of value, which is an increase of $0.32, or 3.9% from FY11. The commercial tax rate will be $20.76, which is an increase of $0.86, or 4.3% from FY11. [These are upon final approval by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.] Both increases in the tax rate are less than FY11.
3) In FY12, commercial property owners will pay 65.4% of the property tax levy, the same share as in FY11. Consequently, residential property owners' share of the FY12 tax levy is 34.6%, also the same as in FY11.
4) Approximately 63.9% of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100 in their FY12 tax bill. In addition, another 22.8% of residential taxpayers will see an increase between $100-$250. Therefore, a total of 86.7% of the residential taxpayers will see no increase or an increase of less than $250.
5) The Residential Exemption for the fiscal year will be $198,085 with a resulting tax savings of $1,679.76.
6) The changes in median assessed value and tax bill by property class are shown in the following table:
These figures are not uniform throughout the city. Values and taxes vary greatly by neighborhood.
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board not to adopt the Chestnut Hill Realty Zoning Petition.
This is the beast that refuses to die. The Planning Board panned it once, and now twice. The petition is all about shoehorning more apartments into below-grade, basement apartments so that the property owners (Chestnut Hill Realty) can make even more money. They first tried to call these "workforce housing" as if to suggest they were planning to house cooks and housekeepers in their overpriced new units. What makes the petition interesting is the fact that Chestnut Hill Realty has contributed handsomely to the political campaigns of several incumbent city councillors - typically giving maximum $500 donations from many principal players in the company and several members of their extended families. It's always entertaining to watch the votes on these things.
Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of Noel Johnson. Vice Mayor Davis, Councillor Simmons
I salute a fellow member of the Central Square Advisory Committee from Pine Street in the Area 4 neighborhood. Rest in peace, Noel.
Resolution #5. Encourage residents to attend Cambridgeport History Day on Oct 1, 2011. Vice Mayor Davis
This is something everyone should attend if in town that day. I'm scheduled to co-lead a history-themed bicycle ride that day from Charlestown to Lowell. October 1 must be a Big Day for historical explorations.
Resolution #12. Congratulations to The Dance Complex on its 20th anniversary. Councillor Simmons
And especially to my good friend Rozann Kraus who has helped to guide the Dance Complex from its inception 20 years ago to today.
Order #5. Seeking intervention from Federal officials in keeping the Inman Square and MIT Post Offices open. Mayor Maher
This Order is co-sponsored by all 9 city councillors, yet I have yet to see any analysis that suggests that either of these post office branches is necessary or even well-utilized.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Co-Chairs of the Government Operations and Rules Committee for a public meeting held on Aug 29, 2011 to discuss policy development on community benefits as mitigation for zoning amendments and dedication of street corners.
Suffice to say that "community benefits" not directly related to burdens caused by new development (as a result of zoning changes) should never be characterized as "mitigation". A better term might be "extortion" or "pay to play". As I have said repeatedly (and apparently to the deaf ears of councillors determined to say yes to any and all new development resulting in more money to spread around to their favorite charities), this is a dangerous road to go down. The clear message is that if you are willing to pay to play, zoning for higher density is for sale. It is difficult to see what, if any, connection this has to rational planning for a better city. - RW
A Quick One - Highlights of the Sept 19, 2011 City Council agenda
The Cambridge City Council meeting this week has the lightest of agendas and virtually nothing of any real interest. I'll highlight only two items and make minimal comments on each.
City Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a recommendation for the City Council to move to Executive Session to discuss Awaiting Report Item Number 11-117.
This relates to the resolution of the unfortunate Monteiro case and (I believe) what can and cannot be publicly discussed regarding the other two shakedowns by one former and one current City employee that have yet to be completely adjudicated. Brookford Street in North Cambridge is certain to have one less person for dinner during public comment while that 20-year-long vendetta continues.
Order #5 Sept 19, 2011
This is a great Order from Councillor Cheung - at least the part about retail streets. I've been saying for years that this should be done in commercial districts if for no other reason than the fact that commercial property owners pay the majority of taxes. Also, facilitating access to commercial areas, especially when driving is a less attractive option, is a great service for residents and would greatly support local retail. The suggestion of doing this through all neighborhoods is, in my opinion, unrealistic. There's just too much mileage and everyone in Cambridge knows that our sidewalks are not exactly uniform surfaces. Residential property owners are more than capable of taking care of the sidewalks in front of their homes. - Robert Winters
Back to School - Highlights of the Sept 12, 2011 City Council agenda
The Cambridge City Council returns from summer vacation this week. Among the 32 items on the City Manager's Agenda, 83 Resolutions, and 42 Orders on the agenda for this Monday's meeting, a few items stand out:
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative that the City Council formally appropriate/allocate the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds as follows:
1A. 80% of FY2012 CPA Local Fund revenues ($5,400,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust;
This item is noteworthy every year only because the allocation NEVER changes and will NEVER change. Most people who have in the past advocated for a change in the allocation percentages don't even bother attending the hearings any more. The die was cast in 2001 and it will NEVER change even if all of the city councillors were not around back then. There may be good reasons for maintaining the 80-10-10% allocation, but there's nothing democratic about it. By the way, if you read the detailed report you'll see that a sizable portion of the historic preservation allocation also goes toward "affordable housing".
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back on the feasibility of giving residents the option to "go paperless" with their City bills including water, real estate, excise and any other notice or communication the City regularly sends residents. Councillor Cheung
Another good initiative from Councillor Cheung. I'd be just as happy with an e-mail alert. Where do I sign up?
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to work with the relevant departments to explore the possibility of placing a city-owned shelter at the bus stop at the corner of Brookline Street and Erie Street, and other bus stops next to senior apartment buildings, which do not currently have shelter. Councillor Simmons
This one's notable only in that I believe this request from Councillor Simmons has gone in many, many times before. The street corner mentioned in the Order is across the street from Councillor Simmons' insurance office. It's nice to know that at least one of the councillors has a job outside of politics. Oh yeah, there's that oft-stated myth of the "full time city councillor." Slackers.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to work with relevant City departments to identify expedient and cost-effective ways to inform Cambridge residents, especially Cambridge seniors, of the city's shift to single stream recycling. Councillor Simmons
There are a few things worth saying here. First, as a member of the City's Recycling Advisory Committee and, in particular, its Outreach Subcommittee, I bear some responsibility for this. The greatest difficulty, however, is the same as with educating voters about the upcoming municipal election. How do you reach the majority of Cambridge residents when there's an important story to tell? The reality is that it's easier to inform residents in a distant suburb than it is a large city (Cambridge) on the edge of a bigger city (Boston). Out in the suburbs, there's a good chance that many residents actually read the local news.
Where do Cantabrigians get their news? Once upon a time, it may have been from the Cambridge Chronicle, but today it's much more likely that if a resident even bothers to read the news, it's probably from the Boston Globe or the New York Times or from one of the major news networks. It is highly likely that most Cambridge residents don't know who the current mayor is or what form of municipal government we have. The only reason that they might know the rules about recycling is because they have to take out the garbage once per week and the City was kind enough to deliver a big blue recycling toter last year.
Unless there's some kind of Lazarus-like uplifting of the local news (either print or online), I guess we'll all just have to tweet, tweet, tweet about what's happening locally. Mailings won't do it. Perhaps one day all of the local neighborhood groups will get their acts together and grow widely subscribed listservs or similar tools and that they'll carry much of the burden of civic education. Unfortunately, they're just as likely to turn into shallow forums for what Al Vellucci used to call the self-annointed, self appointed. In the meantime, just go visit your neighbor and show them the ropes about single stream recycling. It's not rocket science. While you're there, tell them there's an election coming up.
Order #20. That the City Council vote to file a Zoning Petition amending Section 20.300 Central Square Overlay District of the Zoning Ordinance by deleting Section 20.304.5.3 b. Councillor Reeves
O-20 Sept 12, 2011
b. Bar or establishment where alcoholic beverages are consumed and where dancing and entertainment is provided, dance hall or similar places of entertainment; Section 4.35 g shall be permitted only if the principal public entrance or entrances are directly from Massachusetts Avenue or Main Street.
I'm sure this is very well-intentioned and may even solve a problem here or there. On the other hand, one should be mindful of unintended consequences, especially when it comes to those areas where commercial activity (and especially alcohol-fueled commercial activity) operates close to residential areas. Does everyone remember what a zoo it was on Brookline Street when the Man Ray club would let out at the end of the night. That was pure torture of the residents in that area. Now imagine opening clubs on Essex Street or Norfolk Street or Pearl Street or Temple Street. Is that really what we want to encourage?
It seems likely that the impetus of this Order was a particular business owner who wanted an exception. If the proposed location was, for example, Prospect Street, then it seems as though a variance would be in order. Would a blanket right to open potentially noisy and rowdy clubs on the side streets of Central Square make for good public policy? That's debatable.
Order #23. That the School Committee is requested to direct the Superintendent to confer with the City Manager and relevant members of the City and School Department staffs to determine what changes need to be made to playgrounds and playing fields associated with Cambridge Public Schools in order to best support the Innovation Agenda. Councillor Kelley
Order #30. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads and the School Committee to see that the request for a new playground for the Amigos School be placed high on the list for playground renovations. Councillor Cheung
Order #33. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads and the School Committee to look into the budgetary impact of implementing the Intel 1:1 eLearning program and report back to the Council on this matter in advance of the next budgetary cycle. Councillor Cheung
I've grouped these three Orders together because they all involve the City Council apparently intervening in what would appear to be the responsibilities of the elected School Committee. Should the School Committee start advising the City Council on zoning matters? The content of each of these three Orders seems like perfectly good suggestions. Perhaps Citizens Kelley and Cheung should present their ideas at the next School Committee meeting. I'm sure they'd get a fair hearing.
Order #24. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council at its Sept 19th meeting on the status of any cases for which the recently concluded Monteiro case might be relevant. To the extent that public discussion on some aspects of these cases may be detrimental to the City's legal position, the City Council may go into Executive Session, but Executive Session would be as limited as possible. Councillor Kelley
Does anyone actually believe that Councillor Kelley has kept the proceedings of these Executive Sessions confidential? Not content to undermine the City's position via private conversation, this Order seems mainly like a request to do so publicly.
Order #26. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of the Cambridge Public Library to reconsider the protocol of having wireless internet access on only the first floor of the public library. Councillor Decker
My Ipad seems to work just fine on the 2nd floor of the Main Library. In fact, it seems to work fine for everyone else who was surfing the Internet the last time I was there. In fact, the only annoyance on the 2nd floor was the Libary staff person who could not keep his voice down while on the phone. I felt like going over to him to say, "Sshhh. This is a library."
Order #29. That the City Manager is requested to increase enforcement against bikers that endanger pedestrians and report back to the City Council with a plan of action on these two orders. Councillor Cheung
Knock yourself out going after the bikers who are fewer and far less dangerous that the motor vehicle drivers. Meanwhile, the City is going full steam ahead with its plan to move bicycles off the street on Western Avenue and onto the sidewalk. Go figure.
Order #36. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads to implement stricter laws and increase police presence on Broadway to decrease the number of abnormally noisy trucks and unmuffled motorcycles during the night hours. Councillor Cheung
As a resident of Broadway, I can testify to this complaint. The worst is when the high school lets out and the nitwits cruise Broadway in loud cars and mufflerless motorbikes to show off their empty skulls. They're worse than the trucks. A few well-positioned police officers could solve this problem quickly, but the police are nowhere to be seen. The heavy trucks are most likely a temporary problem associated with the construction at the high school and at the Fogg Museum. Councillor Cheung's watch must be off because the problem is far greater during the daytime hours than at night.
Order #37. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the racial makeup of the City's workforce by level and department. Councillor Cheung
Are we going back to racial quotas? If so, is the goal to have the City's workforce match the demographics of the most recent US Census? Is there an intent here that every individual department and every level should meet predetermined racial quotas?
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on July 13, 2011 to consider a petition for a zoning amendment filed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to create a new Section 13.80 entitled PUD-5 District and amend the Zoning Map accordingly. The petition would rezone a 26-acre parcel in the Kendall Square area.
This zoning petition remains in committee. The expiration date of this petition is October 11. There are still a lot of unresolved matters about the proposed zoning. There has been compelling testimony questioning whether MIT should be developing commercial frontage or non-student housing in Kendall Square at all. Much of the testimony seems to be asking MIT to dedicate most of its Kendall Square development to non-academic purposes. Neither of these extremes seems likely. Unless some kind of Solomonic wisdom prevails during the next month, there's a good chance that this petition will end up getting re-filed. - Robert Winters
Attack of the Killer Zoning Petitions - Highlights of the Aug 1, 2011 City Council agenda
There seems to be some kind of campaign afoot to flood the Cambridge City Council with zoning petitions. On the agenda for this coming Monday's (Aug 1) Midsummer City Council meeting, there is one zoning petition facing a final vote and 7 new zoning petitions. In addition to a resubmittal by Chestnut Hill Realty of its "Workforce Housing" petition to mine their existing properties for additional rent, there are 6 other petitions coming primarily out of North Cambridge with many of the same signers on each of the petitions. They are the Runkel Petition, the Bagedonow Petition, the Bishop Petition, the Teague Petition, the Andrews Petition, and the de Rham Petition. We are definitely going to need scorecards for this.
Since this is the only meeting of the summer (the Council next meets on Sept 12), the agenda features 32 items from the City Manager, 88 Resolutions, 33 City Council Orders, and 8 Committee Reports. Perhaps the most entertaining of the City Council Orders is one from Councillor Cheung calling for a ban on bamboo. Pity the poor pandas. Alas, all this talk about eradicating Black Swallow-wort has now erupted into an all-out campaign against immigrant plants. What kind of Sanctuary City are we?!
Here are the items that drew my attention:
Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 10-173, 10-176, 10-180, 10-181 and 10-183, regarding zoning mitigation.
This responds to a string of City Council Orders dealing with the matter of "community benefits", i.e. cash payments contributed by petitioners as part of a deal to get a zoning amendment or a special permit. This is, of course, a very slippery slope that could well ensure that significant increases in density will be permitted as long as the cash payment is sufficiently high. City staff have now drafted guidelines for this practice - necessary perhaps, but still highly questionable.
Manager's Agenda #31. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Planning Board recommendation on the zoning petition regarding the definition and regulation of a Public Bicycle-Sharing Service and Public Bicycle-Sharing Stations. [The Planning Board recommends the adoption of the proposed amendments to the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance, in accordance with the language presented to the Board on July 26, 2011.]
Still unresolved in the discussions at the Planning Board and at the Ordinance Committee is if there will be any limitation on advertising on these bike stations. Also unresolved is whether nearby property owners will have any say in the placement of these stations on public sidewalks. Speaking personally, I don't find this service particularly attractive. Owning your own bike is cheaper and you don't have to worry about the "exponentially increasing" rate that users will have to pay if they keep the shared bike longer than a half-hour. Also, old bikes are cheap and not attractive to thieves. This service will undoubtedly be useful for visitors and for commuters who have insufficient room for a bike or who don't want to deal with maintenance issues. It's an overall positive program.
Manager's Agenda #32. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the City entering into a ten year Cable Television Renewal License with Comcast, from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2021.
No comment here - just a bowing of the head as we passively accept another decade of The Evil Empire.
Unfinished Business #7. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing on May 5, 2011 for the purpose of considering proposed amendments submitted in response to City Council Order No.11 of Jan 24, 2011, in which the Council requested that Community Development Department (CDD) staff engage in a comprehensive review of Section 5.28.2, including the history of the use of the section for special permit applications for conversion of commercial and institutional uses to residential building, and the recent public conversations on this section of the Zoning Ordinance. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 20, 2011. Planning Board hearing held May 10, 2011. Petition expires Aug 3, 2011.
Committee Report #7. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on July 18, 2011 to continue to consider proposed amendments to Section 5.28.2 Conversion of Nonresidential Structures to Residential Use and Section 4.29 clarifying the allowance of additional uses as permissible under Section 5.28.2.
Marc Levy has a good writeup about this. The conflicting rhetoric surrounding this zoning proposal has run thick over the last several months. The bottom line is that unless this or some comparable amendment is made, the existing zoning will allow developers to significantly increase density as they repurpose old schools, churches, and other buildings into residential use. Then again, I suppose this City Council might gladly say Yes to density as long as the "community benefits package" is sufficiently large.
Then there are the 6 new zoning petitions - probably an all-time high for a single meeting. Click on the links and read the petitions. They are offered here without additional comment.
Appl. & Pet. #3. A zoning petition has been received from Laura Runkel, et al., requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Map by rezoning an area on the southern border to North Cambridge from its C1-A designation to residential C.
Appl. & Pet. #4. A zoning petition has been received from Chestnut Hill Realty, requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance by creating a new section that would allow for the creation of rental apartment units in the basement levels of existing multifamily residential buildings in Residence C Districts within two tenths of a mile from Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge Street or a Red Line station and must be within 1200 feet of a shared car or rental car location.
Appl. & Pet. #5. A zoning petition has been received from Matthew Bagedonow, et al., requesting the City Council to amend section 5.24 Yards for Zoning District C-1 by adding 5.24.(4).
Appl. & Pet. #7. A zoning petition has been received from Julia Bishop, et al., requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance by rezoning Special District 2 in North Cambridge to more closely reflect its Residence B base zoning.
Appl. & Pet. #10. A zoning petition has been received from Charles D. Teague, et al., requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance by enabling enforcement of the already existing lighting restrictions.
Appl. & Pet. #11. A zoning petition has been received from Linda G. Andrews, et al., requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance by restating the Inclusionary Housing Provisions.
Appl. & Pet. #12. A zoning petition has been received from Elizabeth M. de Rham, et al., requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance by adjusting the existing ability of the Superintendent of Buildings to issue fines for violations of the Zoning Ordinance.
Also embedded among the Applications & Petitions is a relatively small item of personal interest:
Appl. & Pet. #6. An application was received from Dwelltime, requesting permission for a sign at the premises numbered 364 Broadway. Approval has been received from Inspectional Services, Department of Public Works, Community Development and abutters.
Communications #5. A communication was received from Robert Winters, 366 Broadway, regarding proposed signage for 364 Broadway over the public way. (Applications and Petitions #6)
I rarely submit communications or make comments at City Council meetings. This item, however, concerns the new café set to open soon next door to my home of the past 33 years. I believe they'll be a great neighbor and the manager is a very likeable fellow, but they are asking for a sign that would project 4 feet out over the sidewalk on a small mixed residential/commercial block on Broadway that has no such signage. The abutters who gave their approval are the new condo owners behind this property who were given private parking on the lot. Most of my neighbors feel that a standard sign mounted flat on the storefront will serve just as well without the unnecessary visual clutter or other unintended consequences. I invite you to read my communication linked above. The Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association has expressed a similar point of view regarding the proposed signage.
Resolution #40. Congratulations to Brian Corr on his appointment as Executive Secretary of the Police Review and Advisory Board. Councillor Simmons
Brian Corr is a good man and an excellent person to head this or any number of other City departments. That said, a review of the many City boards & commissions (with an eye toward consolidation) is overdue. A little leadership from the City Council would help in this regard.
There's also this triplet of technology-related orders from Councillor Decker, plus an additional one from Councillor Kelley:
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council and the Finance Committee on a Technology Plan for the city. Councillor Decker
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on what would be the advantage of creating a research and development office for technology and to provide a timeline for creation of this office, similar to the Urban Mechanics Department in Boston. Councillor Decker
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to review Seeclickfix or any other innovative technology that would connect the city to social media and interactive technology that would engage the public in government. Councillor Decker
Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the relevant City agencies and report back to the City Council on the feasibility of the City being able to create a system where all official documents such as building permits, variance applications, License Commission inspection results and other similar information could be tied to a unique property identifier, such as an address, and be available to the general public when searched by that unique identifier. Councillor Kelley
I personally like to do most transactions online and I definitely appreciate any efforts to make simpler any research needs, especially regarding permits, proposals, and the history of specific properties. Cambridge organizes some things very well on its website (most notable access to documents on the Community Development Department site), but comes up very short in many other ways. I've recently learned how easy it can be for a property owner to slip a project almost invisibly through the City's regulatory and review processes before neighbors even know what's happening. None of this has to be confrontational. Easy access to clear information can help to prevent conflict and increase cooperation of all parties.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate department heads to look into the need for a bamboo ordinance that either bans the planting of bamboo outright or somehow holds the owner of the bamboo accountable if a bamboo infestation were to occur. Councillor Cheung
Maybe bamboo is an evil menace, but I doubt it. I have a neighbor with bamboo growing in front of her house. It has never crept up on me nor affected my dreams. It never mocks me. It does not threaten me as I pass by. It occasionally waves to me in a kind gesture. We enjoy our immigrant neighbor. Please, councillor, let our bamboo neighbors live in peace.
Speaking of international relations, Councillor Cheung wants Cambridge to join the UN Global Compact Cities program.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate department heads to look into the feasibility and possible benefits of Cambridge participating in the UN Global Compact Cities program and report back to the City Council with a course of action. Councillor Cheung
I was a bit curious about this, so I looked it up. This program is founded on "10 principles" - not unlike those of the Green Party. I'm sure we Cantabrigians will be able to adhere to these guiding principles, though I hardly understand the need to take such a catechismal approach to City governance. Here are the 10 Principles to which we must adhere:
Order #10. That the City Council go on record opposing the selling of naming rights for MBTA Stations. Councillor Toomey
Who would possibly object to renaming Harvard Square Station as Abercrombie & Fitch Station?
Order #11. That the City Council go on record opposing the MassDOT plans to use the Grand Junction for Commuter Rail traffic. Councillor Toomey
There seems to be a bit of a split developing between those councillors who clearly oppose the Tim Murray Express and those who choose to take a "wait and see" approach as the train comes barrelling down the tracks. I just can't wait to hear the nuanced statements at the East Cambridge Candidates Night this fall.
Order #13. That the City Council go on record as urging the Governor, the Cambridge Legislative Delegation and the Registrar of Motor Vehicles to establish appropriate administrative procedures to back up police officers who write tickets to bicyclists committing moving violations. Vice Mayor Davis
I can't argue with the logic of this Order, but let's not forget all those motor vehicles blowing through crosswalks, drivers parking their cars 2-3 feet from the curb (which is NEVER ticketed), drivers flinging their doors open into cyclists, and other magnificent practices that endanger those not enclosed in steel cages.
Order #19. That the City Council go on record in opposition to closing the Inman Square Post Office or any other Post Office in the City of Cambridge. Councillor Toomey
It goes without saying that usage of postal branches has decreased dramatically in recent years along with the rise in e-mail and online transactions. It is inevitable that some branches will have to close. I will not agree with Councillor Toomey until someone can quantitatively show that these branches are really necessary. Contracting with a few local businesses for a postal counter, if necessary, could provide all the convenience people really need. It might even be good for business.
Order #23. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to investigate the lack of a bike lane and the unsafe car traffic on Blanchard Road. Councillor Cheung
For the thousandth time - a bike lane does not necessarily ensure the safety of cyclists. It may enhance the perception of safety, but it will not in and of itself make for safer cycling.
Order #26. That the City Manager is requested to ask the relevant City departments to examine all street poles on the section of Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and Porter Squares and clean and remove flyers, notices, graffiti and other debris from these poles. Councillor Seidel
Having recently spent several days personally doing this work in the Central Square area, I would suggest that we not focus just on Mass. Ave. between Harvard and Porter Squares. One idea that I would support would be to require abutting property owners to keep their stretch of the street free of graffiti, flyers, and other debris on poles, parking meters, etc. It's very easy to do if you're only responsible for your short stretch of the street. We require property owners to shovel their sidewalks. Is it too much to ask that they clear this debris? I already do it and I can testify that it's not all that hard to do. Perhaps property owners could start by doing this voluntarily.
Order #27. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant City staff to examine the relationship between job creation in the City and available housing stock in Cambridge over the past two decades. Councillor Seidel
If you read this Order, you might see that it's related to the City Manager's response concerning mitigation and "community benefits". This seems like a precursor to an effort to require developers to contribute money toward City housing programs.
Order #28. That the City Council requests an update by its relevant members as to the status of a committee hearing on security cameras. Councillor Kelley
Quick! Call Nancy Murray and the ACLU! As Councillor Toomey has repeatedly pointed out, most people are caught on video cameras multiple times every day. This should be a non-issue and these cameras definitely can enhance the personal safety of residents.
Order #32. That the City Manager is requested to report on the rationale behind why there are so many "No Turn on Red" signs in the city at intersections where residents would otherwise feel safe to turn right on red. Councillor Cheung
Ask Traffic & Parking Czar Sue Clippinger. If you disagree with all the unnecessary restrictions, you can always file an appeal with the appointed Traffic Board mandated under state law. The Traffic Board could overrule the Czar. Oh, yeah, the Traffic Board has not been appointed for a couple of decades now. If you disagree with the regulations, tough luck!
Order #33. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to investigate Styrofoam recycling options and report back to the City Council with recommendations. Councillor Cheung
If you can find a cost-effective way to transport this substance (which is mostly air) to a reprocessing facility, I'm all ears. Until then, the environmental cost of transporting Styrofoam will exceed any environmental benefits. That's the issue.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Civic Unity Committee for a public meeting held on May 3, 2011 for the purpose of continuing discussion with the Civic Unity Advisory Committee of the recommendations of the Cambridge Review Committee report.
I attended this meeting, but I will refrain from any detailed comments because of the inevitable repercussions of doing so. I will say, however, that rarely does one encounter such a group of meeting participants whose minds are as made up in advance as those I saw at this meeting. Start with the conclusions you want, and then discuss the justification for those conclusions.
The annual Midsummer meeting is always a long one. This one could be especially long if they have to spend a long time hashing out changes to the Section 5.28.2 zoning amendment. It's also a municipal election year and the incumbents often like to use the City Council meetings to practice their stump speeches. - Robert Winters
June 27, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights - as the campaign season kicks off
This is the last meeting before the summer break. The City Council won't convene again until Aug 1 and then not again until Sept 12. The agenda is light, but there could be extensive haggling over the proposed Section 5.28.2 zoning amendments (Unf. Bus #2 and Comm. Rpt. #2). There may also be some local and imported public testimony over Councillor Decker's Big Bad Walmart Order. But first....
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-70, regarding NBC violations.
The Order leading to this response really should have come a long time ago, but the prospect of a possible investigation by the Attorney General into this despicable breach of public trust is now very welcome. This is the story of a gesture from a developer to a neighborhood being twisted into a private income source by members of one family. The original 1998 agreement conveyed a 10,000 square foot parcel of land at 131 Harvard Street to the inappropriately named "Neighbors for a Better Community" (NBC) for $1 plus an initial monetary payment of $360,000 and additional payments to NBC of $710,000 spread over 10 years. The agreement required that the parcel be "a gift for public and charitable purposes" to be "used only for affordable housing, a gymnasium, community center, or a park, and accessory parking, or for any other community use approved by ... the then record owner of 210 Broadway". None of these community benefits ever occurred. Furthermore, one Jonathan "Jay" Carroll appears to have paid himself at least $461,800 as "executive director" for doing essentially nothing. This is a crime, and Mr. Carroll should be prosecuted.
Unfinished Business #9. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing on May 5, 2011 for the purpose of considering proposed amendments submitted in response to City Council Order No.11 of Jan 24, 2011, in which the Council requested that Community Development Department (CDD) staff engage in a comprehensive review of Section 5.28.2, including the history of the use of the section for special permit applications for conversion of commercial and institutional uses to residential building, and the recent public conversations on this section of the Zoning Ordinance. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 20, 2011. Planning Board hearing held May 10, 2011. Petition expires Aug 3, 2011.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on June 15, 2011 to continue to consider proposed amendments submitted in response to City Council Order No.11 of Jan 24, 2011, in which the Council requested that Community Development Department (CDD) staff engage in a comprehensive review of Section 5.28.2.
What began as a clarification has become a fiasco. The well-intentioned efforts to make clearer what is and what is not permitted when certain institutional buildings are re-purposed as housing has led to what some activists are now characterizing as "city-wide upzoning". That's probably not a fair characterization since greater constraints are being placed on what has been permitted under the current law, but the process has brought into greater focus what could potentially be built in the future at some of these sites.
Order #7. That this City Council go on record encouraging Dr. James Cash to speak out about the Supreme Court's ruling on a controversial gender-discrimination case and to lobby executives at the world's largest retailer to reform its policies and provide justice to its female employees. Councillor Decker
This may well be a first - a city councillor filing an Order calling on a private citizen to speak out on a specific issue. It's a good thing that the City Charter does not grant subpoena power to the City Council or we'd be hauling people in on the carpet every week. I can see it now - Councillor Decker grilling Mr. Cash with "Are you or have you ever been privy to managerial decisions at Walmart?" Perhaps we could draft a few blacklists while we're at it. - Robert Winters
PS - Incumbents and challengers for seats on the City Council or School Committee can pick up Nomination Papers starting this Friday, July 1 at the Election Commission Office between 8:30am and 5:00pm (they're staying open late). Come one, come all! [Municipal Election Calendar] Candidates must submit at least 50 certified signatures by Monday, August 1 at 5:00pm. If desired, I will personally escort any candidate to the Election Commission office in order to get there before the deadline. Don't delay!
June 20, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights - The Joy of Opportunism
This Monday's meeting could prove interesting. There are a number of significant zoning-related matters, but the items that jump right out are Committee Report #4 and Councillor
Here are a few items of interest on the Agenda.
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-57, regarding a report on Harvard University's acquisition of three properties formerly owned by the Society of Jesus of New England/Weston School of Theology and affordable housing in Cambridge.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Housing Committee, for a public meeting held on May 9, 2011 for the purpose of receiving information regarding plans to sell Craigie Arms (also known as Chapman Arms) and the City's options to preserve affordability.
Order #7. That the City Council go on record asking Harvard University to work closely and cooperatively with the City Manager, the Affordable Housing Trust, Homeowner's Rehab, Inc., tenants and others to facilitate the sale of the property to Homeowner's Rehab, Inc to ensure the continued affordability at Craigie Arms for current and future tenants. Councillor Decker
I might also add to this the upcoming meeting of the Community Preservation Act Committee scheduled for Tuesday, June 21 at 6:00pm at the Cambridge Senior Center. It is again expected that they will dedicate the maximum 80% for "affordable housing" and the minimum 10% to both open space and historic preservation. Perhaps dedicating so much money and other resources toward "affordable housing" still makes sense, but there never seems to be any effort made to measure the need or the effectiveness of these expenditures. There is a "Freakonomics" concept that if one community (like Cambridge) dedicates a disproportionate amount of resources to this, the effect may be to actually increase the local demand for this housing. Expenditures seem to be driven more by beliefs than by any hard analysis and rarely, if ever, do we see a regional analysis of housing needs and provision. How many people believe that housing agencies ensure that only those with legitimate needs are receiving the benefits of government-subsidized housing? In many respects, it has become just another system to be "gamed".
Manager's Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Richard Johnson as a member of the Cambridge Water Board for a five year term, effective June 30, 2016.
Here's to the many men and women who serve without compensation on the many City boards and commissions. Voter turnout and civic responsibility may be in decline, but the tradition is carried on by all those who volunteer for these boards and commissions.
Manager's Agenda #25. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to proposed zoning language to enable a regional bike share program.
It may seem strange that the zoning code has to be amended to allow this use, but it is a service for a fee just like any other commercial use and the zoning code does spell out what uses are permitted in which zones. One curiosity in the proposed amendment is that all signage and illumination for a Public Bicycle-Sharing Station is exempt from regulation. Does this permit advertisements by companies that might subsidize the bike-sharing program?
Manager's Agenda #29. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation of the Section 5.28.2 Rezoning Petition.
Unfinished Business #9. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing on May 5, 2011 for the purpose of considering proposed amendments submitted in response to City Council Order No.11 of Jan 24, 2011, in which the Council requested that Community Development Department (CDD) staff engage in a comprehensive review of Section 5.28.2, including the history of the use of the section for special permit applications for conversion of commercial and institutional uses to residential building, and the recent public conversations on this section of the Zoning Ordinance. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 20, 2011. Planning Board hearing held May 10, 2011. Petition expires Aug 3, 2011.
This proposed zoning amendment (spurred primarily by a development on Norris Street) will come to a vote either at this meeting or very soon. At issue is the appropriateness of language introduced in the years following the demise of rent control when new housing was being encouraged and when there may have been insufficient attention paid to the unintended consequences of those policies. One interesting idea expressed in this discussion and at the recent Roundtable meeting with the City Council and the Planning Board is to detail what could actually be built in various parts of the city under the current zoning ordinance. At a recent neighborhood study meeting (for Mid-Cambridge), CDD staff showed maps detailing where and how many new housing units could be built as of right without the need to seek a variance. Most proposed zoning changes are done either by developers who want increased densities for their projects (for which they often offer "community benefits" for the privilege) or by neighbors threatened by a specific development proposal. Ideally, the Planning Board and the Community Development Department should conduct "what if" studies throughout the city to identify potential problems before they arise.
Manager's Agenda #32. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a request for approve of the alteration, layout and acceptance of the portion of Vassar Street that is between Massachusetts Avenue and Audrey Street in the City of Cambridge.
This is about the sidewalk bicycle paths that were underwritten by MIT along Vassar Street. Sadly, there are City staff who believe that the only safe place for cyclists is on the sidewalk, and they choose to ignore any testimony to the contrary. Few people will disagree with the value of such facilities along high-speed arterial roads such as Memorial Drive, but there are strong arguments to be made against such facilities along ordinary roads, especially when the creation of such sidepaths causes on-street lanes to be narrowed to the point that they become less safe for cyclists who choose to travel on the road rather than on the sidewalk (such as the current proposal for Western Avenue). The Vassar Street facilities are, at best, unnecessary.
Unfinished Business #7. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing on Apr 6, 2011 and a follow-up public meeting on May 17, 2011 to consider a petition to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance filed by Novartis Institute for BioMedical Research, joined by M.I.T. as land owner, to allow for the creation of a new Special District 15 along a portion of Massachusetts Avenue between Albany Street and Windsor Street opposite the location of the Novartis main campus at the former Necco Building. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 6, 2011. Planning Board hearing held Mar 29, 2011. Petition expires July 5, 2011.
Committee Report #5. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on June 15, 2011 to continue to consider a petition to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance filed by Novartis Institute for BioMedical Research, joined by M.I.T. as land owner, to allow for the creation of a new Special District 15 along a portion of Massachusetts Avenue between Albany Street and Windsor Street opposite the location of the Novartis main campus at the former Necco Building.
There is little doubt that the Novartis Petition, possibly with some amendments and certainly with some "community benefits" forked over, will pass either this week or next. Everybody loves Novartis. In the report, Councillor Reeves notes that the matter of community benefits has been referred to the Government Operations and Rules Committee to explore the issues of what principles should govern the negotiations for community benefits and to develop a formula based on these issues, but nothing has yet come of this. Reeves states that "there should be a community benefit fund and the City Councillors should decide what community agencies should benefit. He himself would tend to favor the settlement houses because they benefit some of the most disadvantaged residents."
It is indeed unfortunate that the Government Operations Committee has chosen not to address this issue. The inherent danger in the increased use of these "community benefits" deals is that the City Council might never reject a zoning petition as long as it has sufficient money promised that can be allocated at the discretion of the City Council. The committee report states that "Novartis is prepared to offer $1 million to go to the City of Cambridge for allocation of such benefits to the community as the City Council determines."
Unfinished Business #8. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing on Apr 6, 2011 for the purpose of considering the re-filed Fox petition to rezone an area primarily along Cottage Park Avenue from Business A-2 to Residence B. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 20, 2011. Planning Board hearing held Mar 29, 2011. Petition expires July 5, 2011.
As with the Novartis Petition, this must come to a vote either this week or next, or it will expire. The Planning Board has not yet reported on the re-filed Fox petition, but it gave a negative recommendation in January on the original petition.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Co-Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee for a public meeting held on June 8, 2011 to discuss clarification/correction to the City Manager's contract.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to submit an order allocating funds from the current budget so that the City Council can hire outside counsel to provide independent advice about the manager's employment contract and his request to amend it. Councillor Kelley
These two items will likely guarantee the attendance of the perennial Healy-haters - led by Councillor Kelley's mentor/ghost writer Richard Clarey who has carried on his vengeful campaign for decades through a variety of venues. It's one thing to harbor ill feelings about Robert Healy or even to take the position that the City should cave in to every lawsuit filed by those seeking "to milk Mother Cambridge" (as Councillor Reeves once characterized it). It's an entirely different matter to opportunistically try to use an unintentional error in the wording of the Manager's contract to renegotiate that contract after the fact. - Robert Winters
June 6, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights
The City Council returns Monday to a relatively light agenda. I suspect there will also be some discussion of the major water main break that occurred Saturday night. While most people tend to focus on the inconvenience and losses due to flooded basements, the most serious aspect to the incident was the period of a few hours during which fire protection was seriously compromised due to the lack of any water pressure at fire hydrants in a large portion of the city. Thankfully, there was little or no damage to the Main Library and the Water Department workers did themselves proud by completing all the essential work within one day. A section of Broadway may remain closed for part of the work week as the Trowbridge/Broadway intersection is restored.
Here are a few items of interest on the Agenda:
City Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-33, regarding the feasibility of using City-installed and managed cameras in the Clifton Street area.
Though I suppose the ACLU whiners may show up to protest this perceived intrusion, hopefully sense will prevail this time and the City Council will give its blessing. On the heels of the City Council's pinheaded disapproval a few years ago of cameras provided by the federal government (at no cost), one can understand why the City Manager states that "it is not my intention to purchase these cameras absent a City Council endorsement."
There is one annual item from the City Manager about balancing the books prior to the June 30 end of the fiscal year. More interesting, however, is a string of rescissions for money authorized by various loan orders which are no longer necessary. This is the content of City Manager's Agenda items #20 through #26.
City Manager's Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order authorizing the City Manager to transfer appropriations of available balances prior to the close of the books for FY10-11.
City Manager's Agenda #20-26. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to various loan orders requesting the rescission of the remaining amounts of the loan orders:
#20. $5,000 of $1,355,000 authorized by the City Council on May 12, 1997 for the first phase of the Fiber Optic Infrastructure Project. This project has been successfully completed and the balance of $5,000 on the loan order is no longer required.
#21. $315,000 of $315,000 authorized by the City Council on May 11, 1998 for the second phase of the Fiber Optic Infrastructure Project. This project has been successfully completed and the balance of $315,000 on the loan order is no longer required.
#22. $495 of $31,500,000 authorized by the City Council on Feb 23, 2004 for the construction of the new Main Library. This project has been successfully completed and the balance of $495 on the loan order is no longer required.
#23. $1,555 of $157,405 authorized by the City Council on May 20, 2002 for the Public Works Department Sewer Division Infiltration/Inflow Project. This project has been successfully completed and the balance of $1,555 on the loan order is no longer required.
#24. $205,000 of $305,000 authorized by the City Council on Feb 22, 1999 for the Public Works Department Sewer Division. This project has been successfully completed and the balance of $205,000 on the loan order is no longer required.
#25. $277,358 of $5,700,000 authorized by the City Council on June 4, 2007 for renovations to the War Memorial. The War Memorial renovation project has been successfully completed and the balance of $277,358 represents less than 1% of the total project cost including the State grant and other loan authorizations.
#26. $700,000 of $1,000,000 authorized by the City Council on May 18, 2009 for the remediation of soil contamination at Yerxa Road. The original estimate for the remediation of soil contamination and other environmental issues at Yerxa Road was $1,000,000. However, the bids received were considerably lower, thus creating a surplus of $700,000 in the loan authorization.
We tend to expect only requests for additional appropriations, so it's noteworthy when the opposite is the case. Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that the Yerxa Road project cost only 30% of what was authorized. There's also something charming about the $495 left over from the $31,500,000 loan authorization for the Main Library. The overall cost for the new Library and related projects was actually considerably more than $31.5 million.
Unfinished Business #8. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing on Apr 6, 2011 and a follow-up public meeting on May 17, 2011 to consider a petition to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance filed by Novartis Institute for BioMedical Research, joined by M.I.T. as land owner, to allow for the creation of a new Special District 15 along a portion of Massachusetts Avenue between Albany Street and Windsor Street opposite the location of the Novartis main campus at the former Necco Building. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 6, 2011. Planning Board hearing held Mar 29, 2011. Petition expires July 5, 2011.
This zoning petition could come to a final vote at this meeting. On the other hand, the MIT/Forest City petition affecting a nearby area expires July 13 and there may be some logic in deliberating and voting on these two petitions in some unified way rather than piecemeal.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and the City Solicitor to provide the City Council with background information on the current ownership of the land that was transferred to Neighbors for a Better Community for the benefit of the Area Four community and whether it has been or is being sold and how the benefits will accrue to the community. Councillor Simmons
This Order really should be amended to more appropriately reflect the possibly criminal aspects of what happened with the self-serving "Neighbors for a Better Community." The Council Order only says "ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and the City Solicitor to provide the City Council with background information on the current ownership of the land, whether it has been or is being sold and how the benefits will accrue to the community."
There really should be additional language in this Order directing the City's Law Department to investigate and potentially prosecute those who have misappropriated funds, though technically this arrangement was made only between the developer and this ad-hoc group during the negotiations prior to a zoning vote. In a related matter, a full accounting of the $195,000 payoff made a decade ago to 13 individuals who protested a project across the street from the Alewife T Station should be made public. That money was initially offered by Oaktree to the Affordable Housing Trust ($60,000) and the Mystic River Watershed Association ($135,000), but it was placed under the control of these 13 individuals instead after some legal conflicts. Where did the money go?
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to contact relevant City officials and the officials of Belmont, Arlington and appropriate State agencies and non-profit agencies such as the Trustees of Reservations to determine if the Silver Maple Forest could be purchased for preservation. Councillor Kelley
If there's any of that $135,000 left (see above) it might make a good down payment on the purchase. Perhaps Councillor Kelley can provide one or two thirteenths of the answer. - Robert Winters
June 7 Update: Order #1 was greatly amended before passing on an 8-0 vote.
Amended Order #1 June 6, 2011
May 23, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights - Budget Adoption
The main item on the menu is the adoption of the FY2012 Budget and a variety of final authorizations to borrow money for capital projects. The Manager's Agenda also includes responses to 12 of the 36 items on the 2011 Awaiting Report list. Another 16 items from 2010 remain on Awaiting Report. Perhaps a little more spring cleaning is in order.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-53, regarding a report on way to make the Follen Street/Little Concord Avenue intersection safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.
Bicycle safety expert John Allen has a few things to say regarding the original Order as well as in response to this report. John Allen is the author of Street Smarts, a guide for safe cycling that has been adopted in several states. It is generally best to heed his advice even when it goes against current trends/fads. I know of no one who understands the nuts and bolts of bicycling safety more than John Allen.
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-12, regarding a report on any foreseeable tax revenue implications of Vertex's decision to leave Cambridge.
The analysis from Director of Assessment Bob Reardon indicates that the length of time associated with Vertex' exodus as well as the continuing high demand for Cambridge lab space will result in no significant tax impacts. The sky shall not fall.
Manager's Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to information regarding Information Technology (IT), which was requested at the Information Technology Department (ITD) Budget Hearing.
Though much of this report will appeal only to techies, two items are noteworthy:
• Citizen Complaint System - Enhancements to the current Cambridge Request System (CRS) to allow the public to enter a complaint directly to the work order system and receive notification of the work order ticket, an estimate of when the problem will be resolved and notification when the problem is resolved. The Complaint System will include access to a website database that shows the ticket and status.
• An Optimized Search Function - Using Google Search, enhance the search function on the City website to return more relevant information.
Manager's Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to dedicated funding for GLBT Commission activities.
Manager's Agenda #16. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-02, regarding a report on tax treatment of health benefits for couples in same sex marriages.
The first of these provides $2,500 in supplemental funds to the GLBT Commission in addition to continuing support from other departments. This may not satisfy those who would prefer a dedicated staff position, but the whole matter of staffing for this and similar commissions still needs some attention and political will. The second of these indicates that the total financial impact of this added benefit is quite manageable - the estimated cost to the City with full implementation is approximately $12,000 per year; for the School Department the cost with full implementation is estimated to be closer to $21,000 per year.
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to ask the City's private law firm to waive any statute of limitations defense regarding potential liability to Cambridge for its actions and advice in the Monteiro case. [Charter Right exercised by Vice Mayor Davis on Order Number Fourteen of May 16, 2011.]
Perhaps this Order is now moot since the expiration referenced in this Order occurred yesterday. It's hard to know for sure what the intent of this Order was, but its author appears to be Councillor Kelley's mentor Richard Clarey who has been at war with the City Manager for perhaps two decades. On the surface, the Order seems designed to drive a wedge between the City administration and its outside legal counsel. Specifically, if the City's actions in the dismissal of a problematic employee were done on the advice of this legal counsel, the case can be made that City's actions were not "retaliation." This Order suggests that the City should retain the option of suing its own legal counsel - not exactly the best move in ongoing litigation.
Budget-related items to be voted at this meeting:
Committee Report #1. Finance Committee Report for public hearings held on May 4, 2011, May 11, 2011 and May 12, 2011 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2012 and recommending adoption of the budget in the amount of $439,008,170.
Committee Report #2. Finance Committee Report for a public hearing held on May 11, 2011 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2012 and recommending adoption of the budget in the amount of $14,902,620.
Committee Report #3. Finance Committee Report for a public hearing held on May 11, 2011 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2012 and recommending adoption of the budget in the amount of $11,613,225.
Unfinished Business #10-13, 15-17. Various orders requesting appropriation and authorization to borrow:
Barring a delayed Rapture, it's expected that the General Fund Budget ($439,008,170) will pass on an 8-1 vote with Councillor Kelley, as always, voting in the negative. You can expect a speech from Kelley regarding the Law Department budget, possibly conflated with the topic of Charter Right #2. Though the Annual Budget is the single most important vote by the City Council almost every year, there are basically never more than a few minor changes to the Manager's submitted budget - regardless how much time is spent pontificating about the Budget. High priority items for individual councillors are usually worked out (when feasible) before submission of the proposed Budget, so the adoption is usually noncontroversial. If Cambridge's financial resources were as strained as many other Massachusetts cities and towns, it might be an entirely different story.
Unfinished Business #14. Ordinance Committee Report for a public meeting held on Mar 2, 2011 to consider a zoning petition originally filed by Chestnut Hill Realty and re-filed by the City Council to create a new section that would allow for the construction of rental units in the basement levels of existing multifamily buildings in Residence C Districts within 1200 feet of Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge Street or the Red Line through a special permit process. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after May 16, 2011. Planning Board hearing held Mar 29, 2011. Petition expires May 31, 2011.
This "workforce housing" petition will likely be voted at this meeting or be allowed to expire if there are insufficient votes to pass it. As has been mentioned here many times, the amount of campaign contributions that flowed from the petitioner to several elected councillors makes this a vote worthy of scrutiny.
Committee Report #4. Ordinance Committee Report for a public hearing on Apr 6, 2011 and a follow-up public meeting on May 17, 2011 to consider a petition to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance filed by Novartis Institute for BioMedical Research, joined by M.I.T. as land owner, to allow for the creation of a new Special District 15 along a portion of Massachusetts Avenue between Albany Street and Windsor Street opposite the location of the Novartis main campus at the former Necco Building.
This will likely be Passed to a 2nd Reading tonight, perhaps with the amendments recommended by the Planning Board. When it comes to a final vote, most likely in a few weeks, it will almost certainly be passed. Together with the concurrent MIT/Forest City petition affecting an area just up the street on Mass. Ave., there will likely be a major transformation of Mass. Ave. over the next few year between Sydney Street and the railroad tracks. - Robert Winters
May 16, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights
There was actually a Special City Council meeting last week (May 9) to move along three capital budget items that were subject to the charter right at the May 2 meeting. Details are available here. The City Manager's Agenda this week contains a variety of transfers of funds between statutory categories within a number of departmental budgets - general housekeeping in advance of the anticipated vote on the annual budget next week. There are also Planning Board reports on two current zoning petitions - one unfavorable (Chestnut Hill Realty) and one favorable (Novartis) with proposed amendments.
Manager's Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board not to adoption the Chestnut Hill Realty Zoning Petition.
Unfinished Business #15. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on Mar 2, 2011 to consider a zoning petition originally filed by Chestnut Hill Realty and re-filed by the City Council to create a new section that would allow for the construction of rental units in the basement levels of existing multifamily buildings in Residence C Districts within 1200 feet of Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge Street or the Red Line through a special permit process. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after May 16, 2011. Planning Board hearing held Mar 29, 2011. Petition expires May 31, 2011.
The City Council could potentially vote on the Chestnut Hill Realty petition at this meeting. This petition reeked of mendacity from its introduction as a vehicle supposedly for the creation of basement "workforce housing." It seemed clearly designed entirely to maximize potential revenue from existing properties. The Planning Board report explains some of the negative aspects of the petition without explicitly calling out the petitioners for their mendacity. One potentially interesting aspect to this petition is the extraordinary amount of money that was passed from the top brass of Chestnut Hill Realty into the campaign accounts of (at least) two city councillors. Even if innocent of attempting to buy votes, the scale of the contributions cast enough doubt to fill a basement (or several basements).
Manager's Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the petition by Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research to create a new Special District 15 on the site bounded by Massachusetts Avenue, Albany Street, Osborn Street, State Street and Windsor Street.
This petition will likely be passed to a 2nd Reading and come to a final vote in the next few weeks. It seems certain that this petition will prevail with appropriate amendments. The Planning Board seems to have done a good job in proposing design guidelines and regulating the massing of any future buildings, though the 85 foot height limit on the Mass. Ave. frontage may seem a bit high. The maximum height in the affected area could be as great as 140 feet. In any case, this portion of Mass. Ave. and the neighboring section that is the subject of the MIT/Forest City petition will likely soon experience a radical transformation - hopefully for the best.
Charter Right #1. A petition has been received from Theresa M. Stone, Executive Vice-President and Treasurer, MIT, together with a transmittal letter from Steven C. Marsh, Managing Director, MIT Investment Management Company to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to add a new section 13.80 to the Zoning Ordinances entitled PUD-5 District and to amend the Zoning Map to add a new PUD-5 District in the Kendall Square area; said petition rezones a 26-acre parcel in the Kendall Square area. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Applications and Petitions Number Four of May 2, 2011.] [Text of petition]
The May 9 City Council Roundtable meeting with the Goody Clancey consulting firm working on the Kendall Square/Central Square (K2C2) analysis yielded a fairly optimistic response from most in attendance. The scale of MIT's proposal for Kendall Square is very significant - enough to have triggered a major backlash movement had it been introduced a decade or so ago - yet most affected parties now seem more interested in working constructively with the City, MIT, and other major property owners in the area to ensure the maximum benefit to the adjacent neighborhoods. The change has been gradual, but there has been a radical shift in the manner in which major development proposals are now received by both elected officials and residents. With some good faith on all sides, there is the possibility of some great outcomes.
At one of the recent East Cambridge Planning Team forums about the future of Kendall Square, I made some suggestions that might have been viewed as ridiculous, i.e. a batting cage and/or a miniature gold course in the heart of the new Kendall Square. I actually wasn't kidding. Anyone who knows the ways of MIT will understand that the unusual and even the seemingly ridiculous can often be exactly the right match. Perhaps a rollercoaster that wraps around the buildings?
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to designate the appropriate person to fill the pot holes and dangerous road imperfections on the stretch of Putnam Avenue between Western and Massachusetts Avenues, especially those that appear near the curbs where bicyclists must ride. Vice Mayor Davis
I'm glad someone said it. Usually, the City does an impressive job at patching the potholes at the end of winter. This year it's been an adventure on many streets, including Pleasant St. between Mass. Ave. and Western Ave., Mt. Auburn Street near Fresh Pond Parkway, many portions of Broadway, and other Cambridge roads. Is this the new traffic calming technique?
Order #9. That the City Council go on record as requesting that the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy maintain the existing State laws governing cable licensing, which adequately protect cities and towns, residents of the Commonwealth, and video service providers. Vice Mayor Davis
I'm not entirely convinced about this. While I don't believe cities and towns should lose the ability to negotiate good contracts with potential television providers, it would be a shame if potential competitors to Comcast (The Evil Empire) were dissuaded from doing business in Cambridge. The status quo is not the best.
Order #12. That the City Manager direct the appropriate department heads to install a discreet, unobtrusive, drop down projector presentation screen in the Sullivan Chamber and report back to the City Council. Councillor Cheung
You might have to rearrange or remove some of the painted portraits of former mayors in order to accommodate the screen. I have some suggestions where you could start.
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to ask the the City's private law firm to waive any statute of limitations defense regarding potential liability to Cambridge for its actions and advice in the Monteiro case. Councillor Kelley
It's hard to tell what Councillor Kelley's motive is here. He recently said how he wants the City Council to take over the Law Department (not exactly kosher under the city charter). My guess is that Kelley is just taking direction from his handlers in order to undermine the City's legal strategy.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee for a public meeting held on Apr 26, 2011 to conduct a follow-up meeting on outdated city ordinances.
There are some interesting proposals contained in the committee report. I especially like the idea of permitting food vendors in city parks, though I imagine they would probably be selling organic roll-ups rather than hot dogs or sausages - this is Cambridge after all. I'm a little concerned about some of the proposed changes affecting mixed residential/commercial areas. I don't believe any of the city councillors live in such zones, but I live right in the middle of one. Will they look after my best interests? Sometimes the only way residents can negotiate for a peaceful existence is when businesses have to seek a variance for a change of use. It doesn't prevent the change so much as help to ensure that it's something we can all live with. - Robert Winters
Special Cambridge City Council meeting - May 9, 2011 - AGENDA
Agenda Item No. 8A May 2, 2011
ORDERED: That $2,000,000 is appropriated, in addition to any amounts previously appropriated, for the purpose of financing the restoration of the Harvard Square Tunnel (Cambridge Street Underpass); and to meet this appropriation the Treasurer with the approval of the City Manager is authorized to borrow $2,000,000 under Chapter 44 of the General Laws or any other enabling authority.
2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $300,000 to provide funds to facilitate coordination among the various consultants working on the design and planning projects for Kendall Square and perform interim repairs in the area. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on City Manager Agenda Number Nine of May 2, 2011.] The question comes on adoption on or after May 23, 2011.
Agenda Item No. 9A May 2, 2011
ORDERED: That $300,000 is appropriated, in addition to any amounts previously appropriated, for the purpose of financing repairs, design and planning of the Kendall Square area on Main Street between Broadway and Ames Street; and to meet this appropriation the Treasurer with the approval of the City Manager is authorized to borrow $300,000 under Chapter 44 of the General Laws or any other enabling authority.
3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $3,000,000 to provide funds for the architectural design and construction of an elementary school to be either rebuilt or renovated as part of the multi-year Elementary School Rebuilding Program. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons on City Manager Agenda Number Twelve of May 2, 2011.] The question comes on adoption on or after May 23, 2011.
Agenda Item No. 12A May 2, 2011
ORDERED: That $3,000,000 is appropriated for the purpose of financing the architectural design and construction of an elementary school project to be rebuilt or renovated as part of the multi-year Elementary School Rebuilding Program; and to meet this appropriation the Treasurer with the approval of the City Manager is authorized to borrow $3,000,000 under Chapter 44 of the General Laws or any other enabling authority.
May 2, 2011 City Council Agenda - The Budget Cometh
Top of the Agenda is the Budget Overview by the City Manager, 6 major loan authorizations, and an expenditure related to the consultants addressing planning issues for the Kendall Square/Central Square area. The content of each item speaks for itself. The Budget Hearings start this Wednesday.
Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,000,000 to provide funds for the second phase of the reconstruction of the Harvard Square Tunnel (Cambridge Street Underpass).
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $300,000 to provide funds to facilitate coordination among the various consultants working on the design and planning projects for Kendall Square and perform interim repairs in the area.
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $1,300,000 to provide funds for improvements to Alberico, David Nunes and Fulmore Parks and the establishment of a community garden at Riverside Press Park.
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $33,754,300 to continue sewer projects in the Harvard Square, Agassiz, Western Avenue and Alewife Watershed areas of the City.
Manager's Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $3,000,000 to provide funds for the architectural design and construction of an elementary school to be either rebuilt or renovated as part of the multi-year Elementary School Rebuilding Program.
Manager's Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,000,000 to provide funds for improvements to several City facilities including the East Cambridge and Inman Square Fire Stations and the Ryan Garage / Simard Building at Public Works.
Manager's Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of several streets included in the Complete Streets Initiative as shown in the five year street and sidewalk program.
Unfinished Business #12. That the FY2012 City Budget be referred to the Finance Committee, with the exception that the Budget Overview be postponed to a certain date, that being the May 2, 2011 City Council meeting and will be placed on Unfinished Business at which time the City Manager will give an overview of the FY2012 City Budget. [Order Number Twelve of Apr 25, 2011 referred to Unfinished Business.]
Discussion and action on several Orders from April 25 were postponed via charter right. These include:
Charter Right #3. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a complete and comprehensive list of all concessions made to the City and broader Cambridge community by developers and the universities in exchange for zoning relief, special permits, or Council approval. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Reeves on Order Number Eleven of Apr 25, 2011 (Councillor Cheung).]
Councillor Cheung's Order concerns the "community benefits" and other forms of soft currency associated with the wheeling and dealing for zoning amendments - a questionable practice that elected officials seem to relish. It's no wonder that discussion of the Order was postponed.
Charter Right #4. That the City Manager is requested to review all PILOT agreements with non-profits and institutions in the city. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Kelley on Order Number Thirteen of Apr 25, 2011 (Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Simmons).]
This Order from Councillors Davis and Simmons is motivated by Mayor Menino's recent initiative in Boston and calls for a review of all existing and potential payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreements with non-profits and institutions in Cambridge. At the last meeting, Vice Mayor Davis expressed some dissatisfaction that Menino had not also gone after religious institutions for taxes. It's not at all clear what the sponsors of this Order would like to see come out of this review, and it's worth noting that it was not so long ago that the City of Cambridge executed long-term PILOT agreements with (at least) both Harvard and MIT.
Applications & Petitions #4. A petition has been received from Theresa M. Stone, Executive Vice-President and Treasurer, MIT, together with a transmittal letter from Steven C. Marsh, Managing Director, MIT Investment Management Company to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to add a new section 13.80 to the Zoning Ordinances entitled PUD-5 District and to amend the Zoning Map to add a new PUD-5 District in the Kendall Square area; said petition rezones a 26-acre parcel in the Kendall Square area. [Text of petition]
This petition has been anticipated for some time. The full buildout associated with this zoning proposal is very significant, but it's mostly confined to an area within the existing MIT campus. Neighboring East Cambridge nonetheless has a significant stake in the outcome. This is primarily a good and interesting proposal if anything close to the image presented at public meetings becomes reality. Based on the recent optimistic actions of all the major Kendall Square property owners we've seen lately, good things will come - regardless of any role the City or its consultants have yet to play.
Communications #1. A communication was received from Thomas J. LaRosa, Acting General Counsel, Department of Conservation and Recreation, informing the City that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, acting through the DCR, has under consideration the acquisition of approximately 2.2753+ acres of land, or other property interest, in the City of Cambridge. The property is located between a previously protected section of the Watertown Greenway in Watertown and Fresh Pond.
This concerns the railroad right-of-way that runs along Fresh Pond, behind the Shaw's on Mt. Auburn Street, along the ege of the Mt. Auburn Cemetery and into Watertown. Hopefully, this will soon become a recreational path - a plan that's been discussed for an eternity but which may finally become a reality.
Resolutions #28-63 by Councillor Reeves are a regurgitation of the Cambridge winners of the Boston Phoenix's 2011 "Best of Boston" reader contest. That's 36 totally irrelevant suitably engrossed resolutions costing perhaps $5 or more each plus postage. It's just great spending other people's money. This makes you wonder what exactly is the job description of a city councillor.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation to examine how parking spaces are designated for delivery/loading with a view towards reclaiming some of these spaces for the use of the general public. Councillor Simmons
You know, if the City's Traffic Board mandated by state law had been appointed, there may have been a vehicle for residents and businesses to actually petition for changes in how these spaces are regulated. Just saying....
Order #7. That the City Council amend Rule 23A which deals with the Order of Business to include a dedicated section for Councillors to make announcements. Councillor Simmons
Does this really require a change in the Rules just to make occasional announcements? Answer - No.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on Mar 2, 2011 to consider a zoning petition originally filed by Chestnut Hill Realty and re-filed by the City Council to create a new section that would allow for the construction of rental units in the basement levels of existing multifamily buildings in Residence C Districts within 1200 feet of Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge Street or the Red Line through a special permit process.
Communications & Report #1. A communication was received from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, regarding motion to discharge the Ordinance Committee of the Re-filed Chestnut Hill Zoning Amendment Petition.
As I've said before, regardless of the merits this is a case where you have to follow the money. The petitioners (Zuker and company of Chestnut Hill Realty) have contributed obscene amounts of money to the political campaigns of several city councillors. They are asking for the right to squeeze nearly 200 additional units of housing into the basements of existing buildings and have comically referred to this cash bonanza as "workforce housing".
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Co-Chairs of the Government Operations and Rules Committee for a public meeting held on Apr 14, 2011 to discuss moving to a paperless City Council Agenda, connecting City Council goals and City Department staff and City Council Committees to foster efficient and collaborative results and a proposal to amend the Municipal Code to require posting of the City Manager's contract 96 hours before it is to be voted on by the City Council.
Though I could not attend this meeting, the report seems to suggest that (a) half the councillors would like to keep their printed agendas; and (b) they're willing to pass either a rules change or an ordinance regarding the posting of a future contract in advance of the vote, but they're not sure which. Great. Wonderful. But not really all that important. - Robert Winters
April 25, 2011 City Council Agenda - An Air of Resignation
The most interesting item on this week's agenda is a March 10 communication to the Mayor from Councillor Simmons in which she informs him that she has resigned from half (5) of the City Council committees on which she serves. Why only half a resignation? If the job no longer interests you, why not go all the way? Oh yeah - big paycheck, minimal responsibilities, great retirement and health care benefits, and your own personal valet.
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the FY2011 submitted budget and appropriation orders.
This is, of course, the big item on the agenda - the biggest item of the year. The Budget Hearings (mostly pro-forma during which the same councillors ask the same questions they ask every year) are still to come with a final vote expected in mid-May. That said, the Budget Hearings (and the conversations that you can have with City officials while the hearings are happening) can be one of the best lessons for new City Council candidates.
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to begin filing the necessary paperwork with the Federal Railroad Administration to designate the East Cambridge railroad crossings as an official Quiet Zone. [Charter Right exercised on Order Number Three of Apr 4, 2011.]
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to relay opposition to additional train service through East Cambridge until a full environmental impact assessment and a public participation process are completed. [Charter Right exercised on Order Number Four of Apr 4, 2011.]
These two Orders from the April 4 meeting appear to be primarily obstructions to the Tim Murray Express. Normally I find obstructionist tactics to be distasteful, but Lt. Gov. Tim's fast-tracking of his Worcester to North Station rail plan leaves little other choice.
Charter Right #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and other relevant City staff and report back to the City Council with a detailed and formal legal opinion on the ability of 5.28 conversions to bypass use prohibitions in the Table of Uses. [Charter Right exercised on Order Number Eight of Apr 4, 2011.]
Presumably there will be some kind of legal opinion forthcoming on this before the re-filed zoning petition comes to a vote. It seems clear enough that the answer will not be what Councillor Kelley wants to hear, i.e. that it is often the case that some parts of the zoning code (or any law for that matter) supersede other parts.
Communications #1. A communication was received from Carl F. Barron, transmitting thanks for the resolution on his speedy recovery.
Best wishes to Carl - the man who stuck with Central Square through the toughest of times.
Resolution #13. Welcome Gather Here, a fabric, yarn and fibers store, to Cambridge. Councillor Seidel
This is in the building next to mine, right next to the new yoga studio. Just down the street is the Broadway Bicycle School. Until recently, this stretch of Broadway was "Antique Row" where at one time there were perhaps 7 businesses dealing in antiques and other vintage goods. They are all gone now, but perhaps we have the nucleus of a new theme for the block - participatory arts and crafts. Gather Here appears to be quite popular - a most welcome addition to the block.
Resolution #57. Happy 50th Birthday wishes to Budget Director David Kale. Councillor Toomey
David, you don't look a day over 49! I hope you'll have my copy of the Budget Book waiting for me Monday night after the councillors get theirs.
Resolution #66. Congratulations to Assistant City Manager for Human Services Ellen Semonoff on being appointed by President Obama as a member of the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative and Public Health. Councillor Decker, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Cheung, Mayor Maher
An excellent choice by El Presidente. Ellen has always been one of the most sincere and dedicated people I have known in Cambridge City government. It's a good thing this is just an advisory committee because we'd like to keep her.
Resolution #69. Acknowledge May 22, 2011 as Harvey Milk Day. Councillor Simmons
Let's not forget that when Harvey Milk was murdered in 1978, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone was also murdered. The murderer, Dan White, was sentenced to only 5 years in prison after killing these two men. Fortunately, this murderer had the good grace to commit suicide in 1985 a little over a year after being released from prison. How does a double murderer get sentenced to only 5 years in prison? Answer - blame it on the twinkies.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff and report back to the City Council on the feasibility of allowing property owners to get separate sewerage and water meters so that people are not charged sewerage rates for water used outside the home. Councillor Kelley
Property owners have had this option for many years, though you might never know it from the Water Department's website. There is no "sewerage meter" involved - just a separate water meter for outdoor irrigation use. The property owner is billed for the water passing through both meters, but only the domestic use meter is billed for sewerage. Call the Water Department if you have a substantial amount of outdoor water use. There are costs involved in the installation, but it may be worth it if your irrigation use is substantial.
Order #5. That the regular City Council meeting scheduled for Mon, May 9, 2011 be changed to a Round Table for the purpose of discussing the planning process for Kendall and Central Squares with the Community Development Department and the consulting firm Goody Clancy. Mayor Maher
The public meetings yet to be scheduled by Goody Clancy and the Community Development Department will be the place to go. My guess is that this Roundtable meeting will primarily be an opportunity for a few Red Ribbons to be waved about in honor of an unimpressive effort that will hopefully soon draw to a close in time for a more substantial planning process to commence. If the Red Ribbon Etc. Commission has had any value at all, it will be in the continuing efforts of some business owners and property owners who have taken on initiatives for the betterment of Central Square independent of any ribbons or municipal election campaigns.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation to create a plan which would reduce the overall pedestrian crossing distance of the highway to the relocated Lechmere Station by reducing the proposed number of traffic lanes, either through lanes or dedicated turn lanes, and to work with the MassDOT to implement the plan and report back to the City Council. Councillor Toomey
This Order is a constructive response to a rumored plan from the Dept. of Transportation to actually widen the highway in the vicinity of the Lechmere Station - a plan that is bewildering at best. Every plan to date associated with the relocation of the Lechmere Station to the NorthPoint side of the O'Brien Highway (formerly Bridge Street) indicated an "urban boulevard" that would be much more pedestrian friendly than the current configuration and with no additional traffic lanes. Let's hope that the urban boulevard prevails over some obsolete highway plan.
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a complete and comprehensive list of all concessions made to the City and broader Cambridge community by developers and the universities in exchange for zoning relief, special permits, or Council approval. Councillor Cheung
This is a most interesting order. There are some councillors who believe sincerely in the idea of zoning relief as currency to be spent to purchase "community benefits." Others (including me) find the practice to be the slipperiest of slippery slopes in which almost anything goes as long as the price is sufficiently high. It's bad enough that the unquenchable desire for additional real estate taxes often conflicts with good planning, but it's even worse when zoning votes are delivered in exchange for one-time monetary contributions to favored charities. Perhaps this Order together with Order #11 of Feb 7, 2011 and Order #1 of Dec 13, 2010 will help shine a little sunlight onto this questionable practice.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee and Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee for a joint public meeting held on Mar 22, 2011 to discuss the future of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.
This was a very interesting committee meeting in which a lot of misconceptions about the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority were dispelled. Some very informative background material on the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority is available courtesy of Bob Simha and Joesph Tulimieri.
Communications and Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from City Councillor E. Denise Simmons, transmitting her withdrawal from the Transportation, Traffic and Parking, Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Human Services, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations and University Relations Committees.
This is not the first committee resignation of the current City Council term, but it's the biggest by far. Councillor Decker quit the Neighborhood and Long-term Planning Committee a year ago and Councillor Toomey quit as co-chair of the Ordinance Committee a few months ago. Councillor Simmons' resignation from 5 committees is unprecedented in the several decades during which I've followed the Cambridge City Council. As Woody Allen once said, "eighty percent of success is just showing up." I'm sure there is a back story of some kind here - perhaps the frustration of dealing with colleagues who feel that "their committee" is a personal venue for acting out. Then again, Councillor Simmons' Civic Unity Committee is really a committee of one.
Councillor Simmons states in her letter that "the number of committees that I sit on has become an impediment to my effectiveness as a City Councillor." To this I'll simply note that through the end of March, Councillor Cheung had attended 44 committee meetings and Councillor Seidel had attended 41 committee meetings. Councillor Simmons had attended only 19 committee meetings and had chaired only 5 of them. I have a lot of respect for people who actually show up for work and do their job in exchange for their salary and benefits. For a city councillor to walk away from most of her committee assignments while still enjoying a substantial paycheck and the luxury of a personal staff assistant is despicable. Candidates take note - there may be a City Council seat available this November. - Robert Winters
April 4, 2011 City Council Agenda - Trains, Trends, & Mileage
It's mostly routine stuff this week. Here are a few that stood out for me:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-30, regarding a report on a plan and timeline for the implementation of a curbside composting program.
The short version: Great idea, 3000 tons per year of food scraps could be diverted, but processing capacity is a major barrier to expansion, so we'll have to wait a few years until an organics recycling facility in the Boston area is a reality.
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-35, regarding a report on data regarding demographic and population trends though the year 2025.
In addition to the information in the report, some miscellaneous Cambridge demographic information (including recent US Census information) is assembled at http://rwinters.com/docs/population.htm. The information in the report is clear enough, but it's still not clear exactly what information the councillors (and Mr. Seidel in particular) were looking for with this request.
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $350,000 to the Community Development Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures account from the revenue sources described below to allow for the hiring of a consultant to work on the future development of Kendall Square and Central Square.
It's worth emphasizing that neither the City administration nor the City's consultant can really determine what eventually is developed in Central Square, in Kendall Square, or those spaces between and beyond these areas. Proposals for traffic changes and design for the public spaces, i.e. streets and sidewalks, will certainly come of this, and maybe even a few zoning recommendations, but ultimately the ball will be in the court of those who own the property and who pay for any development. Boston-based Goody Clancy is the chosen consultant.
Manager's Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the request to re-file a zoning petition to amend Section 5.28.2 of the Zoning Ordinance.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and other relevant City staff and report back to the City Council with a detailed and formal legal opinion on the ability of 5.28 conversions to bypass use prohibitions in the Table of Uses. Councillor Kelley and Councillor Cheung
Some form of an amendment to this section of the Zoning Ordinance will eventually be passed, but apparently the core amendments are going to be re-filed with new hearings before the Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to begin filing the necessary paperwork with the Federal Railroad Administration to designate the East Cambridge railroad crossings as an official Quiet Zone. Councillor Cheung and Vice Mayor Davis
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to relay opposition to additional train service through East Cambridge until a full environmental impact assessment and a public participation process are completed. Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Cheung
It's interesting that the standard method of objecting to a proposal is not to oppose it directly but to weigh it down with regulatory hurdles. Best of luck, councillors, as we hop on board the Lt. Gov. Tim Murray Express!
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to commit the necessary staff and resources to explore the possibility of increasing the number of Single Residency Occupancy units or studio apartments in Cambridge. Councillor Simmons
Exactly what is Councillor Simmons' wish here? Is she claiming that there are not enough studio apartments in Cambridge? Or is she trying to expand the supply of rooming houses for people "in transition," i.e., in and out of institutions of one kind or another? Is there any doubt that most of these will end up in Central Square?
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City department heads and members of area university communities regarding the safety of nuclear reactors in Cambridge. Councillor Seidel
No one will question the importance of safety of these reactors, but this is just a re-run of the same inquiries made a number of years ago. Look it up, councillor. You may find that all of your questions have already been answered several times over.
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the possibility of inclusion of visuals in Cambridge zoning documents to aid in the understanding of requirements and regulations. Councillor Seidel
How about pop-up books? Colorforms?
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to determine whether the goals of the proposed bill in the Massachusetts House of Representatives Number 00958 (attached) could be accomplished by home rule petition, and, if so, to draft a home rule petition to be returned to the City Council by the City Council meeting of May 2, 2011. Councillor Seidel
In a nutshell, the idea is to allow individual cities and towns to have more control in the determination of fines for a variety of motor vehicle and other violations. Great idea, as long as it doesn't turn into just another way to increase revenue.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Civic Unity Committee for a public meeting held on Mar 9, 2011 to continue discussing with the Civic Unity Citizen Advisory Committee the recommendations of the Cambridge Review Committee Report: "Missed Opportunities, Shared Responsibilities," and implementation of these recommendations.
I'll refrain from extended comments on this other than to say that "To Protect and Serve" is the only mission statement necessary for the Cambridge Police; and maybe it's not the best practice for an individual city councillor to hand-pick a "Civic Unity Citizen Advisory Committee" as a means of getting additional mileage out of a minor incident on Ware Street. - Robert Winters
March 21, 2011 City Council Agenda - Water & Snow & Everything Else
Here are the highlights as seen from my vantage point high atop Broadway in Mid-Cambridge.
Resolution #31. Congratulating Mr. Michael Muehe, Executive Director of the Cambridge Commission for Persons with Disabilities, for receiving the 2011 Advocate and Activist for Disability Rights Award. Mayor Maher
Read the Cambridge Chronicle story on Michael's well-deserved award. Cambridge is lucky to have him.
City Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-26, regarding a report on the details of the purchase agreement for Northpoint.
The entire report is interesting. In particular, it states that "the MBTA will convey the site of the existing Lechmere Station to Pan Am, following the completion of the new Lechmere Station." This is important for those who have envisioned a public market for this space. Any such proposals must now be brought to Pan Am and development partners HYM Investment Group.
City Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2011 and ending Mar 31, 2012.
The Manager's recommendations are noteworthy in that the water & sewer rates will remain unchanged.
City Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,264,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account ($1,114,000) and to General Fund Public Works Extraordinary Equipment account ($150,000) to cover current and anticipated additional snowstorm expenses associated with snow plowing contracts, salt and other material and repair costs.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Transportation, Traffic and Parking Committee for a public meeting held on Feb 10, 2011 to discuss snow clearance and operations issues.
Everyone knew that this winter's snow was going to be costly. Now we have estimates of the the actual costs (so far). It's interesting that the City is anticipating the reimbursement for a portion of the snow-related costs from FEMA. One point that should be made is that in neighboring towns with overnight parking bans, snow clearance was much easier to accomplish than in Cambridge where it's really no longer possible (or desirable) to impose such a ban. Newton not only has no requirement for residents to clear sidewalks, they also don't expend any effort to assist pedestrian traffic. In Newton Center, for example, there were snow banks several feet high blocking crosswalks. Pedestrians walking along Rte. 16 near Newton-Wellesley Hospital had no other option than to share the travel lanes with fast-moving motor vehicles. Sure, some parts of Cambridge were less than ideal, but we were better than fellow AAA-bond-rated Newton in every way.
One very important point made by commenters is that the lack of drainage at crosswalks was as great a problem as the snow mounds and that the ability to correct this is often beyond the means of residents armed only with shovels and icebreakers.
Order #5. That the annual CPI-U adjustment for members of the City Council and School Committee as described by City Ordinance be waived until FY13. Mayor Maher
As the Order states: "Employees of the City of Cambridge who are represented by a variety of collective bargaining agreements have responded to the current economic climate by accepting a zero percent (0%) increase for FY12 which begins on July 1, 2011." The City Council and School Committee in this Order voluntarily accept the same waiver of any pay increase until FY13.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to look into the feasibility of doing a "deep clean" of our city, including but not limited to, extra street sweeping if necessary, aggressive removal of graffiti and trash collection on sidewalks and in parks. Councillor Decker
This is a very good idea, though any notion of the City doing a "deep clean" should be done in concert with resident initiatives - many of which are already being planned. City resources can only be stretched so much, but there's a huge reservoir of civic-minded residents who are more than willing to plan and participate in neighborhood cleanups and similar initiatives. In fact, it's probably the best way for neighborhood groups to gain legitimacy among residents - far moreso than showing up for hearings before City boards and commissions or stepping up to the Open Mike at a Monday night City Council meeting. If you really want to make a difference, join forces with City Year or a similar organization.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with MassDOT to add the underpasses in their proposal to rehabilitate the Anderson Bridge and request that MassDOT work with the Cambridge Community Development Department and the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to refine and implement this plan. Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Cheung
As attractive as this idea is, it's not without logistical difficulties or potential negative consequences. The presence of pedestrians and cyclists on the street is one aspect of "traffic calming" and banishing a portion of these pedestrians and cyclists to an under-bridge crossing may have the unintended consquence of relinquishing the intersections at either end of the bridge to motor vehicles. Tunneling through the bridge structure for a pedestrian underpass may also create a difficult-to-maintain attractive nuisance that cyclists and pedestrians may actually choose to avoid. The best idea I've heard is to erect a boardwalk underpass like the one under the BU Bridge on the Boston side of the Charles River, but the word is that some in the rowing community are objecting to this idea. It's cheaper to build, easier to maintain, and much more pedestrian-friendly than a dark tunnel.
Order #8. That the City Council hereby requests that President Obama and our Congressional delegation does not cut the Community Services Block Grant funding and to restore any lost funding so that the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee and other community action agencies can continue to do the important work that they do. Mayor Maher
OK, there are some marvelous services performed by CEOC, but one might hope that an Order like this would at least recommend that CEOC evaluate its various services for potential cost-savings in light of potential loss of funding. On a related note, I recommend the New York Times Op-Ed column "Make Everyone Hurt" by David Brooks. It's just not sensible to insist that every program everywhere continue to be fully funded regardless of the economic circumstances.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development and review the current facade improvement program to target specific squares for greater facade improvement and an expanded budget to accomplish this goal. Councillor Reeves
Perhaps a little quantification of the current costs and limitations of the City's Facade Improvement Program would be in order. Is the current budget inadequate? This Order also hints at giving Central Square favored status in the provision of these funds and it's not so clear that advocates from other parts of the city will agree with this intent.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Peace Commission and the Cambridge Commission on the Status of Women on how their future programming efforts might include public information programs which highlight political unrest around the world, the status of men, women and children in these emerging states, what role America has played previously and should be playing now and in the future in these places. Councillor Reeves
I should probably just keep my mouth shut about Orders like this. I have never been convinced that it is the role of the City of Cambridge to act as either an information clearinghouse or as a conduit for political advocacy in international affairs. There are plenty of other organizations, some based in Cambridge, that do this on their own dime. People who are keen on these issues should support those organizations.
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to convene a meeting with the Council, Community Development Department, Planning Board, and other relevant stakeholders to inform all about the future planning efforts for Kendall Square, Central Square and other areas of the city. Councillor Reeves
This is, of course, a good idea. We can only hope that the good councillor will not use this as yet another opportunity to express his disappointment in not being consulted by MIT planners or his disagreement in the hiring of the new Assistant City Manager for Community Development. The comic aspects of these red-ribbon tirades have worn off and it has become boring and unproductive.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Civic Unity Committee for a public meeting held on Feb 9, 2011 to hear a presentation from the Cambridge Police Department (CPD) on what action has been taken with regard to the recommendations of the Cambridge Review Committee Report: "Missed Opportunities, Shared Responsibilities."
As I began reading this report, I have to admit that I was expecting it to be yet another obsolete rehash of the Great Gates-Crowley Kerfuffle. In fact, the report indicates that Police Commissioner Haas has taken advantage of that situation to enhance the training in the Cambridge Police Department in regard to de-escalation in some interactions when appropriate. - Robert Winters
March 7, 2011 City Council Agenda: - Foreign Affairs Redux... and the Muddy Charles Under Siege
There are at least two potentially flammable items on this week's agenda. First, there's this:
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-02, regarding a report on unfair financial burden placed on same-sex married employees of Cambridge.
Though the report seems reasonable enough, some of the more activist elements may come out demanding something more than mere reason. The response from the Personnel Department is worth the read.
Sadly, Councillor Toomey's exercise of his Charter Right last week on an Order of Councillor Decker could lead to a bad rerun of last week's anti-Israel speechmaking. It would come as no surprise if this issue also brought out the other side this week. The relevant item is this:
Charter Right #2. That the City Council go on record seeking information about the nature of a delegation to Israel. [Charter Right exercised on Order #20 of Feb 28, 2011.]
Members of the "Peace Commission," their friends, and their former executive director will likely once again (from the safety of the Sullivan Chamber) inexpertly instruct the city councillors about Middle Eastern affairs. Let's just hope it doesn't go on for another two hours. On a lighter note, the prophet of Franklin Street apparently has some late-breaking news about either the Rapture or the Apocalypse - set to occur sometime this month:
Communications #1. A communication was received from Peter Valentine, 37 Brookline Street, to assist a planet wide understanding of an upcoming major planet wide event.
Resolution #13. Retirement of Richard Scali from the License Commission. Mayor Maher
According to Marc Levy's Cambridge blog, Mr. Scali has been on a personal leave of absence for at least the last four months.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to begin a process with City Department Heads to determine possible projects that could be completed with the help of Code for America and be prepared to apply for their 2013 program. Councillor Toomey
This Order comes on the heels of last week's Order #3 and Order #19 of a similar nature. Perhaps there may be further "innovation agendas" down the road for City departments unrelated to the middle school proposal now before the School Committee.
Order #3. That the City Manager is hereby requested to direct the appropriate department heads to look into whether the City of Cambridge would benefit from a curb side composting program and the means in which we could implement such a program. Councillor Cheung
Having spent many years as Cambridge's "Compost Man," I could say much about this Order. Ultimately it's a great idea for a host of reasons, but there are financial and logistical challenges that cannot be denied. Nonetheless, perhaps one day soon we may see the return of the "honey wagon" to the streets of Cambridge.
Order #4. That the Cambridge City Council go on record encouraging MIT to allow for the Muddy Charles Pub to remain open. Councillor Cheung and Councillor Toomey
Though one could accuse Councillors Cheung and Toomey of butting into university affairs, I'm with them on this one. The Muddy was always a favorite of mine when I was in graduate school at MIT. It's also the place where I watched Bucky "Bleepin'" Dent hit the home run in the playoff game in 1978 between the Yankees and the Red Sox. Having grown up as a Yankees fan, I was on the unpopular side that day and had to leave the Muddy via the window at the end of the game. Eventually, I changed allegiances. It will be a sad day indeed should the Muddy Charles Pub be forced to close - not to mention completely inconsistent with MIT traditions.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council in the immediate future on the feasibility of using City-installed and City-managed cameras as part of an overall safety program for the immediate Clifton Street area. Councillor Kelley
Mayor Maher will also support this. Anyone else? Or is Nancy Murray of the ACLU still pressing your buttons?
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with data regarding demographic and population trends through the year 2025 for the City of Cambridge. Councillor Seidel
It's hard to imagine that City staff can actually make such predictions going out more than a few years, but whatever they come up with will likely be interesting and potentially provocative. - Robert Winters
Feb 28, 2011 City Council Agenda - National & Foreign Affairs Night
This week brings a bonanza of Council Orders wishfully intended to direct the course of national and foreign affairs. There are five Orders relating to labor issues in the State of Wisconsin that read like photocopies of Talking Points memos from the National Democratic Party. Perhaps there should be a separate category for Parrot Orders like these. There's also an Order about Libya and the soon-to-be-deceased Colonel Qaddafi from Councillor Simmons, and an Order from Councillor Decker objecting to the fact that some City officials and others had the audacity to learn a thing or two from Israeli security experts. The horrors! Meanwhile, back home, Councillor Reeves apparently wants to institute an affirmative action policy for liquor licenses. You can't make this stuff up!
Here are the agenda items that warrant comment:
City Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-138, regarding a report on the feasibility of adding historical sub-signs to street signs and the possibility of commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812 with street sub-signs.
As the Manager reports, "Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department staff have met with the Historic Commission and over the next few weeks will be meeting again to work out a small scale historic signage program that will focus on the streets related to important historic places and dates in the War of 1812." This is one of the great things about living in Cambridge. There's a historical component to nearly everything in the city - either because it was itself historical or, in the case of the Cambridgeport street names, it commemorates an historical event. There's also something endearing about the fact that we can commemorate the site of the Washington Elm where the United States Army began and retain street names commemorating the War of 1812 while being one of the few cities in the USA to have a "Peace Commission".
City Manager's Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-130, regarding a report on the status of installing community gardens at Riverside Press Park.
The Manager reports that "A recommendation for $60,000 for this purpose will be included in the submitted FY12 Capital Budget for City Council consideration." We're also waiting to hear of any progress on the possibility of the Whittemore Avenue and Magoun Street community garden coming into City ownership - the subject of a Feb 7 Order and a recent Executive Session. Let's hope that works out.
City Manager's Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-09, regarding North Massachusetts Avenue development.
According to the Manager's report, "In response to neighborhood interest, CDD is developing a revision to the current zoning which would require commercial uses on the ground floor of most new projects, and provide a strong incentive to include ground floor retail. This proposed revision is expected to be the subject of a public discussion at the Planning Board in early spring, and followed by submission to the City Council."
This is good news, but there's more to be done. Cambridge has been in a transitional state for more than a decade during which small-scale neighborhood retail has been transforming into condominium housing (because that's where the money is). This has also been the case with old industrial and institutional buildings - sometimes with undesirable results as evidenced by the current dual zoning petitions to revise Section 5.28 of the Zoning Ordinance. It may be time for a more comprehensive look at the various mixed-use zones throughout the city.
Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Zevart M. Hollisian, Trustee of Garabed B. Hollisian Trust and L-Z Realty Trust and Seth D. Alexander, President, MIT Investment Management Company, requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance by extending the Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District from Green Street out to Massachusetts Avenue in the area adjacent to Blanche Street; said parcel to be developed by Forest City.
This University Park extension has been anticipated for the last several months and follows on the heels of the proposed Novartis expansion and its own zoning petition for an area just a block away from the MIT proposal. This kind of piece-by-piece reactive zoning is not the way to plan the future of a city. Taken together, these two proposals have the potential to transform that section of Massachusetts Avenue significantly. Some of this is welcome and long overdue, but the proposed scale of these combined developments will completely change that area, especially in regard to building heights. It's curious that we have a City Council subcommittee called the "Neighborhood and Long-term Planning Committee" that appears to do little relating to the apparent purpose of the committee other than to react to zoning petitions. Ultimately, if recent history is any indication, the likely outcome will be that the developers will get everything they want, and the elected officials will be content to extract questionable "community benefits packages" to be used as political currency.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to communicate with the Assessing Department and with the owners of the buildings in Central Square to notify them of Red Ribbon Commission future meetings. Councillor Reeves and Councillor Cheung
This Order requires comment. By most accounts, the current "Red Ribbon Commission" has been a failure. The initial invitees were primarily business and property owners, though some neighborhood residents chose to crash the party. Nonetheless, this Order calls for contacting the property owners. The minutes of a recent Central Square Business Association meeting contain the following statement about the Red Ribbon Commission: "Board members reported on general dissatisfaction with progress and focus of monthly commission meetings and subcommittees. The Property Owners subcommittee has not even met yet, and there have been complaints that the Infrastructure subcommittee was closed to new members. It was agreed that board members will push for more focus through their sub-committee assignments. George (Metzger) will consider making a more direct outreach to Councilor Reeves."
Meanwhile, at last week's East Cambridge Planning Team forum on Kendall/Central Squares, Mr. Reeves told of all the "exciting" things that were coming out of his commission. Really? In truth, the only interesting developments now occurring in Central Square are those that have been happening independent of Reeves' commission - largely the result of a gradually recovering economy. The Reeves commission has basically consisted of Councillor Reeves repeatedly (and annoyingly) telling everyone about how personally offended he was to have been out of the loop as MIT and Forest City hatched their plans for their upcoming University Park expansion out to Mass. Ave. That's the whole dynamic - Reeves floats an unformed idea or an expression of dissatisfaction and the participants react. It will be interesting to see what, if any, "exciting" things come out of this commission - just in time for this fall's municipal election.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the City's Economic Development staff and License Commission to identify potential minority candidates for future liquor licenses. Councillor Reeves
The intent of Reeves' Order seems to be to somehow bring about either the transfer of liquor licenses or the addition of new liquor licenses specifically for business owners meeting specific racial or ethnic criteria. I hope I'm not the only one offended by this. If the City Council passes rubbish like this, then they should all be sent packing. This Order warrants a Roll Call vote. Who will support affirmative action for liquor licenses?
Order #3. That the City Manager is hereby requested to confer with the Budget Department and direct the appropriate department heads to create a program in Cambridge similar to the Boston's Department of Urban Mechanics which will develop and implement new ideas that improve City service delivery and report back to the City Council with a funding and human resource plan to implement such a program. Councillor Cheung
Order #19. That as part of the upcoming budget process, the City Manager is requested to create a capital budget for the development of internet and mobile-based tools and set aside funds for the personnel necessary to enact such development. Councillor Cheung, Councillor Decker
These two Orders cover essentially the same topic - creating more technologically innovative ways for the City to conduct its affairs. This includes things as simple as expanding the list of bills payable online to more complex tools for engaging residents to be active participants in civic affairs (including reporting and response mechanisms for everything from potholes and unshoveled sidewalks to license and zoning violations).
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with details of the purchase agreement for Northpoint. Councillor Toomey and Councillor Cheung
This is news to this observer. As the economy slowly recovers, Northpoint development is bound to follow. Moving the Lechmere station and expansion of the Green Line to West Medford are intertwined with this development. Significant alterations to the road network around Lechmere and the nature of the Monsignor O'Brien Highway (formerly Bridge Street) all hinge on what happens at Northpoint.
Order #8. Amendment to Cambridge Municipal Code regarding City Manager's contract being posted 96 hours before it is to be voted on by the City Council. Councillor Cheung
It's curious that this is being proposed now. Unless there's some kind of late breaking news, the next discussion of this contract is a year away. Perhaps this is a case of blog-driven legislation. It's a good idea in any case to have more of this out in the open and this is a very reasonable proposal, though anyone who has been paying attention would have read the 2002 contract, the 2006 contract, and the current 2009 contract right here at the Cambridge Civic Journal - no need to assign the task to some Northeastern students to "research" this. My recollection is that at the time each of these contracts was signed, there was minimal public comment and the source of the commentary was entirely predictable. I was there for all of the contract signings going back to the early 1990s and I gladly exchanged a handshake with Bob Healy each time.
Order #11. That the City Council calls on various international stakeholders, including the United States, to advocate for the immediate resignation of Colonel Qaddafi. Councillor Simmons
Orders like this are why people make jokes about Cambridge. "That the City Council calls on various international stakeholders, including the United States, to advocate for the immediate resignation of Colonel Qaddafi." Yeah, I'm sure that will tip the balance.
Order #13. That the City of Cambridge go on record thanking Governor Deval Patrick for standing in solidarity with the workers from Wisconsin and all across the country who are being attacked. Councillor Reeves, Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Cheung
Order #14. That the City of Cambridge go on record thanking Congressman Capuano for standing in solidarity with the workers from Wisconsin and all across the country. Councillor Reeves, Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Cheung
Order #15. That the City of Cambridge go on record as standing in solidarity with the Massachusetts AFL-CIO in support of all union workers who are being attacked. Councillor Reeves, Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Cheung
Order #16. That the City of Cambridge go on record as standing in solidarity with the workers from Wisconsin and all across the country. Councillor Reeves, Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Cheung
Order #22. That the City of Cambridge go on record as standing in solidarity with AFSCME and all public employee union workers. Councillor Reeves, Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Cheung
These are five nearly identical Orders laced with phrases like "attempt to bust the union", "unions have been the backbone of this country", "Wall Street recklessness and CEO greed", "Governor Walker is in bed with the billionaire Koch brothers", and "standing in solidarity with the workers from Wisconsin". I understand the appeal of these sentiments, but it would be so much more productive if Cambridge City officials and elected officials across the country would directly address the underlying issues even as they raise their fists and prepare "to get a little bloody." There are distinctions between unions in the private sector and public employee unions, including the right to strike. Also, anyone who does not work for the government expects to pay more than a token percentage of their health care insurance costs (my share is 25%, for example) and most would argue that government employees should pay a percentage comparable to other employees. There are legitimate issues here and we would all benefit from a real discussion. Unfortunately, what we get instead is "solidarity" and an unwillingness to acknowledge some of the major structural problems in municipal, state, and federal budgets across the country. It's great for political organizing and generating campaign contributions, but it's also evasive - not unlike the shallow rhetoric of some of the Tea Party activists. By the way, city councillors, would you care to disclose all the details of your pension plans and health care contributions?
Order #20. That the City Council go on record seeking information about the nature of a delegation to Israel. Councillor Decker
It's difficult to understand why Councillor Decker gets so worked up about Israel as evidenced by her statement that "This trip was designed to observe Israel's 'counter-terrorism strategies and tactics', tactics which are associated with indefinite detention, illegal occupation, torture, lacking any constitutional guidance." There are neighboring countries where any "infidel" is not even permitted to set foot in the country and where women are, for all intents and purposes, enslaved and subject to "honor killings" and other unspeakable horrors. Mysteriously, no City Council Orders are drafted highlighting that reality.
Order #21. That the City Manager is requested to hire a consultant nationally recognized as an expert to assess the strengths and weaknesses of how Cambridge does economic development and propose actions for improvements. Councillor Cheung, Councillor Simmons and Councillor Decker
The main thrust of this Order is that "as part of the upcoming budget process, the City Manager be and hereby is requested to create a budget for an increased scale of economic development activity, including programs for the recruitment of job-creating companies to the city, support services for growing companies, and any other recommendations the aforementioned consultant may offer." The Order seems to suggest that Cambridge is somehow economically disadvantaged and that the situation is dire and in need of emergency intervention. Is this really the case? Most indications would seem to suggest otherwise.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee for a public meeting held on Jan 25, 2011 to discuss reviewing ordinances detrimental to community goals.
The call of this meeting was a bit puzzling. The original phrasing was "to discuss current city ordinances that are hurting business growth," but this was changed to the more benign "to discuss reviewing ordinances detrimental to community goals". Nonetheless, virtually all of the suggestions presented at the meeting were about easing restrictions that might hinder business growth. Some of the ideas presented are quite good, but many of us have come to the realization that "streamlining" a process can just as easily lead to limiting the ability of neighbors to ensure peaceful coexistence with their commercial neighbors. For many of us, including those of us who live in a Business A-1 zone, this can have very personal consequences. - Robert Winters
Feb 14, 2011 City Council Agenda - Valentine's Day
It's the lightest of agendas coming up this Monday in the Sullivan Chamber. The only items of interest I'll note on this "Cambridge blogger's website" are the following:
Communications #3. A communication was received from Peter Zak Valentine, regarding the Health Care Bill.
The text of Peter's letter is included here for your entertainment - from the National Officer in Charge.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to designate an individual in his office or in the Cambridge Police Department for the specific purpose of providing information to the City Council and the community-at-large about incidents, be they of crimes, fires, or floods that occur in Cambridge on a timely basis. Councillor Simmons and Councillor Cheung
Every few years after a criminal incident there's an Order like this one to create another position or designate a person for this task. The problem, if there is a problem, is not in the lack of personnel. It's a matter of whether the job is being done as it should be. Complicating things in the case of criminal incidents is that sometimes there are good reasons for not disseminating this information while the bad guys are still being sought.
Order #5. That the Mayor, the City Clerk and/or City Council's committee on Government Operations and Rules plan a meeting of the City Council to go over the new changes of the Open Meeting Law. Councillor Simmons
We all believe in open and transparent government, but the fact is that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. The additional record-keeping and prohibitions against a wide range of ordinary ways of communicating can be pretty stifling. There does come a point of diminishing returns in open government where the costs start to outweigh the benefits. Seriously, should every advisory committee with no actual regulatory authority have to adhere to the same rules as legislators? On the other hand, it wouldn't be a bad idea to have all of the wheeling and dealing over zoning amendments more out in the open.
Order #6. That the City Manager address the problem of cars that have been left unshoveled for long periods of time causing problems for snow plows and difficulty parking. Councillor Decker
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Public Works to investigate designated spots near intersections for residents to move snow which would be picked up by DPW, snow melting machines and whether there are additional parks, parking lots or other public spaces that could be used to dump snow for this winter and in the future. Councillor Cheung
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to report back with clarification on what the policy is regarding ticketing of cars who are parked more than three feet from the curb due to snowbanks. Councillor Toomey
Snow, snow, and more snow. The DPW has done a great job under trying circumstances this winter. What a joy it is to see that the temperature may rise to 50° later this week. That said, a few warm days won't solve all of the problems as noted in these Orders and we could use a few more visits from the trucks to help things along. It's been really miserable for all who have to park on the streets of Cambridge. I haven't moved my vehicle for weeks. There are some good ideas about how we can better deal with all the snow (and I do mean we - not just the men and women of DPW). In these days of social media that can help coordinate a revolution in Egypt, we can probably use the same tools to coordinate the allocation and/or removal of snow on the streets of Cambridge. Maybe not revolutionary, but still worth looking into.
Other notable items:
Les Barber, zoning mensch of the Community Development Department, enjoys his last day before retirement on Friday, Feb 25.
As was noted in a Late Order at the February 7 City Council meeting, former City Councillor Brian Murphy will soon take the reins as Assistant City Manager in charge of the Community Development Department. I met at length with Brian when he first ran for City Council. I suggested that he attend the Budget Hearings to learn more about City government and meet all the players in the City administration. Brian attended every one of those hearings. As a councillor, he then chaired the Finance Committee. He and David Maher were also the prime players among the elected officials in negotiating with Harvard in their major Riverside development a few years ago. You have to respect a guy who actually shows up and does his job, and I'm sure Brian will be a popular hands-on manager at Community Development.
Speaking of the Finance Committee, Councillor Decker initiated a series of Finance Committee hearings for early public input on the upcoming FY2012 Budget. The first hearing only had one public attendee, but the second meeting on Feb 12 had perhaps a dozen or more. Hopefully attendance will be better if this becomes the norm in the future. Those of us who attended were treated to a top-notch interactive presentation with Louis DePasquale, David Kale, and other people from the City Finance Department and the Budget Office. - Robert Winters
City Manager's Budget Guidelines to City Department Heads (for upcoming FY2012 Budget)
• Salary and Wage Budgets can increase to reflect, Increments, Pensions, Health Insurance, Medicare and Allowance increases. This includes a projected 11% increase in health insurance costs and a 5.5% increase in pension costs over the current fiscal year.
• All vacancies will be reviewed. Position reductions may occur as part of this process. Therefore, budget submissions should include a description of the operational impact on your department if vacant positions are eliminated.
• For FY12, it is the City Manager's goal to submit a budget to the City Council that supports their priorities with the same number of or fewer positions.
• Non-Salary Budgets are to be level funded. Generally, no increases to Other Ordinary Maintenance, Travel and Training or Extraordinary Expenditure accounts.
• All non-personnel operating items with contractual increases must be absorbed within the budget and not knowingly under-budgeted. Major contracts for services must be reviewed to ensure departments have sufficient funds to meet contractual needs. Energy budgets will be reviewed on a department by department basis. Departments will need to document, for their budget hearing, large cost increases and the impact on their operating budgets if the increases are absorbed in their present level of service budget.
• Extraordinary Expenditures must be updated and one-time items from the current fiscal year eliminated.
• Reductions in Grant Funded programs cannot be absorbed into the General Fund Budget.
• Each Department will be asked to review their current operations and provide suggestions to achieve savings through service/position reductions, restructuring or efficiencies.
Feb 7, 2011 City Council Agenda - Bond ratings, community benefits, and City boards and commissions
City Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge receiving three Triple A ratings from the nation's major credit rating agencies.
It's become almost routine that the City of Cambridge receives the highest possible bond ratings. Expect all the councillors to make the usual flattering speeches, and possibly the usual suspects during public comment suggesting that the City administration has somehow sacrificed quality of life on the altar of municipal bond ratings. It's worth noting that with so much attention being paid nationally to the matter of unfunded pension liabilities (and other post-employment benefits), Cambridge would not be receiving the bond ratings that it does if it was on particularly shaky ground in these areas.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner regarding the increase of graffiti in the vicinity of Chatham Street, Dana Street, Broadway and Massachusetts Avenue with the view of increasing police patrols in the area and increasing efforts to make residents aware of the graffiti hotline. Mayor Maher
Making more people aware of the graffiti hotline may not necessarily lead to productive results. Here on Broadway we made such a call and didn't get a call back until about a month later. The message essentially was that the City can't do anything regarding private property, and for the tagging on utility poles, mailboxes, etc., nothing would be done until at least next Spring. The City should be applauded for its good intentions, but things do sometimes fall flat in the execution.
Another example is the Rodent Hotline. Several years ago, I called in about an infestation of several foot-long rats in my neighbor's yard/junkpile. That led to Inspectional Services addressing that problem, but also requiring me to remove my old VW Bus (parts car) from my yard even though this was unrelated to the rodent problem. My tenants and I like that my backyard is a better place now, but the immediacy of the directive meant that I didn't have time to harvest the parts I would have liked to keep. I no longer recommend calling the Rodent Hotline to anyone due to the possibility of unintended consequences.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant State and City staff about the possibility of retaining the pedestrian light to allow at-grade crossing of Memorial Drive after the completion of the footbridge. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Seidel
Considering the distance between traffic signals on Memorial Drive west of this location, this would not be a burden on traffic and it would be a good alternative for many people, including cyclists. If the DCR has issues with this, perhaps they might accept relocating the traffic signal from Pleasant Street to Magazine Street.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to inquire into the feasibility of instituting a phone book opt-out program in Cambridge to reduce waste and the costs associated with that waste. Councillor Decker and Councillor Cheung
Great idea - and essentially identical to the March 17, 2008 Order from Councillor Seidel. Whatever became of that Order? Phone book publishers make their money on how many of these obsolete books they can spread around, so I imagine there will be resistance to cutting back. Yellow Book is famous for its deceptive mailings that fool unwary businesses into spending hundreds of dollars per year for these useless listings.
Order #5. That the Mayor convene a Roundtable meeting with the Planning Board to discuss issues of mutual interest and concern. Councillor Seidel, Councillor Reeves, Councillor Kelley and Councillor Cheung
Considering the fact that the most controversial matters that come before the City Council are zoning petitions which also come before the Planning Board, you have to wonder why the two bodies don't meet more often just to better understand the priorities of the respective bodies. That said, city councillors have not shown any particular mastery in zoning matters other than how to shake down an applicant for "community benefits" (see below).
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Department of Public Works to make accessible to the public, either on the city's website or by constituent request, all un-cleared sidewalk complaints received, and all violations issued either due to those complaints or otherwise. Councillor Cheung
This clearly is in reference to the requests from Saul Tannenbaum for this data that he put into publicly accessible maps [Jan 14 report], [Jan 29 report][Jan 31 report]. His actions are civics at its best. Not only should Saul (and others) have access to this data at no cost, any previous charges should be refunded. Better yet, the City should post this information and create these maps.
Order #11. The Cambridge City Council should begin as soon as possible to develop principles which will guide future community benefit negotiations for future development projects where large renovations are requested. Councillor Reeves
This is not the first Order on this topic. However, the more fundamental issue is the erosive effect of this practice of shaking down developers for "community benefits" in exchange for votes for zoning petitions. It's difficult to imagine the current City Council ever voting down an upzoning petition from a major developer with deep pockets who is in a position to effortlessly donate a few million dollars in exchange for gaining many millions of dollars in value to their project. The sky is literally the limit. Planning goals are often in direct conflict with the promise of a bonanza of "community benefits." Rather than working out policies for guiding future community benefits negotiations, perhaps the City Council should consider eliminating or severely limiting the practice.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee for a public meeting held on Jan 6, 2011 to receive a draft Request for Proposal (RFP) for a development consultant for Kendall and Central Square and the transition area (Lafayette Square).
This was an interesting committee meeting that tested the limits of the City Charter. Normally, elected councillors have to be very careful about leaning on City departments in matters involving any kind of hiring. The meeting was informative regarding both the scope and limitations of the RFP. It also remains quite clear that the greatest impact (or lack of impact) on Kendall Square and Central Square and all points in between will come from the property owners who make the investments in their properties. Except for zoning restrictions, the City's role will be limited to supporting these initiatives and trying to influence them to whatever degree they can.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Civic Unity Committee for a public meeting held on Jan 5, 2011 to hold a discussion between the Civic Unity Committee and the Civic Unity Advisory Committee.
Councillor Simmons submitted a document entitled "The Civic Unity Committee" (Attachment A) and provided a brief history of the Civic Unity Committee. It was very interesting to read about the history of this advisory committee during the 1940s and 1950s, and it's worth considering what role such an advisory committee might play today. However, if City officials really wish to revisit what role, if any, this committee should be playing, the process should not end with this one committee. Though it would require the kind of leadership this City Council most likely does not possess, there is some wisdom in revisiting the missions of the Peace Commission, the Human Rights Commission, and several other City boards whose missions overlap. Indeed, perhaps there should be a process in which ALL of the City's boards and commissions revise their missions and are consolidated as appropriate for greater effectiveness. - Robert Winters
Jan 31, 2011 City Council Agenda - The Joy of Zoning, The Agony of Street Cleaning, and The Evil Empire
Coming up this Monday are the following items of interest (or objects of derision, depending on your point of view):
Zoning Petitions - We have one new one from Novartis and two old ones to be re-filed.
Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Chris Klee, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research and Seth D. Alexander, President, MIT Investment Management Company, requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance and Map to allow for the creation of a new Special District 15 along a portion of Massachusetts Avenue between Albany Street and Windsor Street opposite the location of the Novartis main campus at the former Necco Building.
This petition has been anticipated for several months. Novartis wants to expand its presence on Mass. Ave. near MIT and consolidate its Cambridge operations into this area. Everybody loves Novartis, but will the City Council gladly accept the proposal to allow building heights up to 140 feet by Special Permit? That's perhaps twice the height of anything there now and more like what might be seen in Kendall Square. The situation now with this City Council and zoning petitions from major players is that approval is almost guaranteed and the only issue is what "community benefits" can be extracted from the petitioner. I hope they do better with this one.
Order #8. That the City Council re-file the Chestnut Hill Reality zoning petition. Mayor Maher and Councillor Seidel
Order #12. That the City Council re-file the petition by William H. Fox et al to amend the zoning in the area of Cottage Park Avenue on Feb 17, 2011 and refer it to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board for hearing and report. Councillor Seidel
The first of these had its Ordinance Committee hearing snowed out, so the re-filing is purely procedural. The Fox petition received a negative recommendation from the Planning Board in part because there are unresolved issues pertaining to yet another zoning petition - the City Council Petition to amend Section 5.28.2 of the Zoning Ordinance (conversion of nonresidential structures to residential use). The timing will now allow the City Council petition to be resolved before the Fox petition is considered for adoption.
Resolution #3. Retirement of Les Barber from the Community Development Department. Vice Mayor Davis
Resolution #6. Retirement of Elaine Madden from the Community Development Department. Mayor Maher
These are both significant exits from the Community Development Department. Elaine Madden has been a long-time Economic Development Project Planner, and Les Barber is Director of Zoning and the key person in all matters relating to zoning issues in Cambridge. The Community Development Department is currently headed by Acting Assistant City Manager Susan Glazer while the process of finding the permanent successor to former head Beth Rubenstein continues. This is undoubtedly a major transition time for the department.
Once upon a time, the primary mission of the Community Development Department was commercial development and growing the real estate tax base of the City. It was common back then for the department to publish major planning blueprint documents for developable parts of the city. Some of these plans became reality and others largely remained on the shelf as citizen downzoning movements cut back the plans. With the demise of rent control, the department's emphasis shifted toward housing development, including "affordable housing" projects and inclusionary zoning. While this emphasis has clearly not disappeared, there has been an apparent shift toward economic development in the department. Major personnel changes could solidify this change in focus.
Order #1. The City Manager is requested to communicate with the Central Square Business Association and the Community Development Department to set up and design a competition to design the future of Cambridge. Councillor Reeves
Order #2. The City Manager is requested to communicate with Eric Lander of the Broad Institute, The Kendall Square Business Association and the Community Development Department to set up and design a proactive science game. Councillor Reeves
Reading these Orders leaves one with a view of Councillor Reeves as starstruck by Eric Lander of the Broad Institute. I'm sure everyone will welcome the idea of sponsoring design competitions for some of the major squares and thoroughfares of Cambridge. On the other hand, one might think that with a Community Development Department consisting of 44 people, the goal "to design the future of Cambridge" will be viewed as more than just a student design project.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on any foreseeable tax revenue implication of Vertex's decision to leave Cambridge and the amount of office space potentially being vacated. Councillor Toomey and Councillor Simmons
Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to determine what incentives were given to Vertex as part of their relocation deal and evaluate how Cambridge could offer those same incentives to companies it is attempting to lure from out of state to the city. Councillor Cheung
There have been indications that the City Manager did, in fact, offer such incentives to Vertex, but these were not the only factors in the decision by Vertex to relocate to Boston. There could be a significant short-term impact of Vertex leaving, especially in light of the fact that Vertex was the 6th largest employer in the city. On the other hand, by all accounts there is still significant and growing demand by life science companies to locate in Cambridge. One question that is not often asked, but perhaps should be asked, is whether it is healthy in the long term to have so much of the local economy dominated by the life sciences and any other single industry. It's not quite the same as Detroit and the automobile industry, but it's generally best to not balance your economic stability on too narrow a base. At least we'll always have the universities.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate departments to remove improperly placed furniture items that are reserving parking spaces. Councillor Kelley
I know that Councillor Kelley hasn't been around very long, but it has been standard practice for a long time for the Public Works Department to remove these objects after a few days grace period. Though I'm sure there are some exceptions here and there, reserving parking spaces is relatively rare in Cambridge. It's probably fair to say that Public Works employees have been pretty busy in recent days and perhaps gathering up all the old chairs and buckets and other markers hasn't been the top priority.
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to evaluate the possibility of continuing street cleaning days through the winter for the purpose of using those days to clear non-arteries of snow. Councillor Cheung
I believe I can speak for most Cambridge residents here and say that we'd like to keep those three months of relative peace without having to worry about whether you're parked on the even or the odd side of the street on those two dreaded days out of each month. It was Councillor Davis who filed an Order a few years ago that resulted in December being added to the street cleaning schedule. Now Councillor Cheung wants to add the remaining three months to the schedule. Please don't. If anything, give us back December. If any street has a special need for snow clearance, the street can be posted on a case-by-case basis. In fact, residents can always request Public Works to do this if staff and equipment are available after things have settled down after a big snow event.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to devise a way to publicize events happening in the community in a visible location at the Main Library. Vice Mayor Davis
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to devise a method to publicize events that are taking place at the Main Library, both before events occur and as they are happening, so patrons visiting the library may attend. Vice Mayor Davis
From the Department of Redundancy Department. One would think that councillors or their personal staff (a.k.a. campaign staff) would actually read their own Orders before submitting essentially duplicate Orders.
Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department, the Cambridge Arts Council and other relevant entities to ensure that public art is taken into consideration during the planning processes of the Kendall and Central Square areas, as well as along Massachusetts Avenue from Harvard to Porter Squares. Councillor Seidel
Of course I'm sure that Councillor Seidel is aware of the "One Percent for the Arts" requirement in all major City projects. This includes all of the areas he mentions in the Order. The problem is not so much whether the City integrates public art into major projects but rather if the City does it well. One aspect to this not often mentioned is that the architects who are involved in planning major projects often see themselves as artists, yet a separate process is undertaken for the "art" part of the project. This has not always yielded the best results.
Order #18. That this City Council go on record encouraging the City of Cambridge to strengthen the language of the Cable Television Renewal License. Councillor Decker, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Toomey
If you read this Order, you'll see that Councillors Decker, Cheung, and Toomey want to take Comcast to task only over whether or not they will abide by the City's smorgasbord of labor ordinances. Though current federal law severely restricts what issues can be negotiated by the City Manager in the relicensing (only public access, educational, and governmental programming), one might hope that city councillors would use their bully pulpits to pressure Comcast (a.k.a. The Evil Empire) to provide better service and better options to Cambridge residents. This is a City Council that does not hesitate to interject its views on foreign policy and a host of other matters unrelated to the City of Cambridge. Yet when it comes to something as simple as pressuring Comcast to offer an affordable Cable TV package for those who want a little more than broadcast TV that includes Red Sox games and maybe a movie channel or two, the City Council remains uncharacteristically silent. - Robert Winters
Jan 24, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights
As I am preoccupied with getting my courses ready for the start of the new semester, I'll have to keep this one brief this week. Here are the items that struck me as significant or otherwise noteworthy:
City Manager's Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-189, regarding a report on the legitimacy of the tax exempt claim of Education First.
The report reveals little that was not already known. I take this opportunity simply to note that this was initiated by an Order from Councillor Toomey that was a consequence of a zoning vote a few weeks ago that also was the last straw leading to Councillor Toomey's resignation as Co-chair of the Ordinance Committee. At the root of that controversy was the continued breakdown in trust between Councillor Toomey and the other Co-Chair, Councillor Seidel, that first became apparent during the controversy over last fall's vote to amend the Sign Ordinance. You may remember that during that controversy, Councillor Seidel gave every indication in committee that he would be voting one way and then voted the opposite way apparently due to political concerns. As former Councillor Sullivan often said, "Your word is your bond."
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of the Arts Council and report back on the feasibility of the Arts Council partnering with local arts organization to establish a similar program to Shakespeare in the Park in Cambridge. Councillor Toomey
Good idea! The Cambridge Common, Danehy Park, and Magazine Beach would all be great venues for this sort of thing. Cambridge often just goes through the motions with the River Festival and Octoberfest and other regular attractions. Theater in the park (not just for kids) would be a great addition.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to contact Eric Lander, Broad Institute, to create a competition to design a Kendall Square of the future. Councillor Reeves
Wait! Isn't the City now putting out to bid a contract for a consultant to address the whole stretch from Kendall to Central Square stating at Kendall? We should gather input from all comers, but is the Braod Institute now being called upon to faciliate the future of Cambridge? Let me guess... BioTech!
Order #9. That the Austin, Texas "Parking Benefit District Pilot Program" be referred to the Council Committee on Transportation, Traffic, and Parking for further consideration and review. Councillor Seidel
Upon reading this, my greatest fear is that the Traffic Department will simply use this as an excuse to install more parking meters in residential areas. They will then say, "Trust us. We're doing it for your own good."
Miscellaneous #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the 2010 Town Gown Reports. [summary]
Now.... back to writing my lectures. - Robert Winters
Jan 10, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights
The 2011 Election Year is now in progress. Look for extra City Council committee meetings in the next few months as otherwise dormant councillors dream up items before it's too late for their campaign literature and newsletters. Interesting items on Monday's agenda include these:
City Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-134, regarding a report on reducing energy consumption by ways of deleting and/or limiting email storage.
The originating Order was this:
O-15 Sept 13, 2010
The City Manager's response informs us: "The IT Department implemented an e-mail storage tool called ArcMail which allows us to store all e-mail received on one server. We limit the amount of e-mail that any staff member can store to 300MB.... The ArcMail server has a copy of all e-mail received and it will never exceed the one server it runs on."
So I guess this means that the impact is somewhat less than the two percent of all carbon dioxide emissions generated by the City as suggested by this alarmist Order - one little computer quietly purring away in City Hall. Polar bears can sleep easy tonight in North Cambridge. Councillor Davis is already planning ways to provide heat and hot water for City Hall from the waste energy from that computer.
Resolution #30. Congratulations to City Councillor Marjorie Decker and her husband Bahij Bandar on the birth of their daughter, Laurice Catherine Bandar. Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Davis
The Resolution pretty much sums up what all of us are thinking. Congratulations and I hope everyone's OK.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads and report back to the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee with the current policies impacting food trucks, the reasoning behind said policies and potential impact it has on the food truck industry and on the city in general. Councillor Cheung
Anything that can be done to make Cambridge a welcoming place for these vendors should be done (within reason, of course). They were always the best option at MIT and at Harvard. What I'd really like to see are a few old-fashioned hot dog stands selling those snappy Sabrett hot dogs. Oops, my New York City roots are showing....
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Commissioner of Public Works and other City departments to look into practices that will mitigate problems that occur (plowing snow into areas that have been shoveled by residents) and the insufficient and/or improper shoveling of the pedestrian way. Councillor Simmons
Another winter, another version of this Order. There is, however, one new wrinkle on this old story. With the new single-stream recycling toters, the option of laying the blue bins atop the snow is now no longer an option for some. This means that residents have no choice but to dig a channel from the sidewalk to the street in which to roll the toter for curbside collection. My advice is that after you've shoveled out a channel, erect a barricade at the curb to deflect the snow when the plows come by. When the plows are done, take down the barricade and you still have clear path to the street.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the total number of same-sex married City employees currently receiving health benefits, the estimated valuation of the federal tax placed on those health benefits of employees currently impacted by this discrimination and a proposed plan for how the city will take a stand as a national leader who values all city employees as equal and how the City will carry the burden of discriminatory taxation on behalf of the impacted employees beginning with 2011 tax filing. Councillor Simmons, Councillor Seidel, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Kelley
The operative phrase is: "how the City will carry the burden of discriminatory taxation on behalf of the impacted employees." Translation: Open your wallets, Cambridge taxpayers. Isn't this an outgrowth of the federal health care legislation? You know, the one everyone would love once they actually read it?
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to investigate the possibility of allowing owners alternatives to alter flat roof structures for the purposes of creating better rain water runoff collection through a zoning mechanism. Mayor Maher
The odd thing about this Order is how it is cast as a zoning issue. It seems more like a plumbing issue. Will we next be seeing charts and tables prescribing where rain barrels can be situated in different zoning districts? Will they have to pass a design review?
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to appoint appropriate city staff, including the City Solicitor, to work with the Cambridge GLBT Commission to create a city-wide ordinance on gender-neutral bathrooms. Councillor Simmons, Councillor Seidel, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Kelley
Order #9. That the City Manager is hereby requested to report back to the City Council with immediate clarification on the City's interpretation of the Responsible Employer Ordinance statute and a detailed report on how it is implemented and enacted. Councillor Cheung and Councillor Decker
Translation: Keeps those campaign checks from the labor unions coming fast. November's not so far away. - Robert Winters