2012 City Council Agenda Notes
(transferred from main Council Notes page)
Kendall Returns - Dec 17, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
Here are some of the more interesting items on this week's agenda:
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-67, regarding a report on implementing a ban on trucks transporting hazardous materials through the City.
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-137, regarding a report on wait times during past elections such as the Nov 6th Presidential Election.
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-116, regarding a report on maintaining the present Central Square Farmer's Market permit rate.
In particular, I take note of this: "...staff have calculated a loss of revenue of $2,270.70 for the 2012 market season. This loss will double to $4,541.70 in the 2013 market season now that the new Pay and Display meter system has been installed." Unless my math is broken, this says that the City just doubled the cost of parking in the Central Square lots. It's also interesting that the City chooses to view the continued use of a portion of a parking lot for the Farmer's Market as a doubling of loss. I guess the City's Traffic & Parking Dept. will always have its glass half-empty rather than half-full.
Manager's Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Policy Order O-2 of Dec 3, 2012, relative to the impact the recently passed medical marijuana referendum might have on Cambridge and provide any suggested zoning or local ordinance changes relevant to this new law. [Proposed Zoning Amendment]
Unfinished Business #10. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Oct 3, 2012 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Patty Chen, et al. to amend the Zoning Ordinance in Section 20.300 Central Square Overlay District in Section 20.304.5 Use Limitations and Restrictions. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 17, 2012. Planning Board hearing held Nov 20, 2012. Petition expires Feb 12, 2013.
Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Massachusetts Institute of Technology to amend the Zoning Ordinance by adding a new Section 13.80 and amend the Zoning Map by adding a new PUD-5 District.
Communications #1. A communication was received from the Central Square Advisory Committee describing their vision for Central Square.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to discuss ways to ban tandem tractor-trailers from entering the city. Councillor vanBeuzekom
Order #7. That the City Council approve the response contained in Communications and Reports from City Officers Number One dated Dec 17, 2012 regarding an Open Meeting Law complaint and direct the City Clerk to forward said response to the Office of the Attorney General and Mr. Stohlman. Mayor Davis
Order #8. That City Council affirm the policy that every resident automobile is allowed to park in resident-only areas throughout the city regardless of where the car is principally garaged. Councillor vanBeuzekom
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Interim City Clerk Donna P. Lopez transmitting the response to an Open Meeting Law Complaint.
Comments to follow as time permits..... - RW
Prospect Pubs, Planning, and Pilot Programs - Dec 10, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
It will be difficult to top last week's excitement when the City Council voted 8-1 to appoint Rich Rossi to succeed Bob Healy as City Manager starting July 1, 2013. The only other point I'll make about that excellent decision is directed to those who have suggested that the appointment be an "interim" or "acting" appointment. This is not the lifetime appointment of a Pope or a Supreme Court Justice. Just because Bob Healy has served for over three decades does not change the fact that for his entire term, contract or no contract, Bob Healy served "at the pleasure of the City Council." The same will be true of Rich Rossi. There is nothing interim nor permanent about the job. Unless someone is filling in due to an unexpected departure, you're either the City Manager or you're not. The public elects the City Council who then hires their choice of City Manager. The democracy part takes place every 2 years in November. If anyone is especially passionate about this, you can pull papers next July to be a City Council candidate or start recruiting candidates you can support.
Here are the items that I found interesting:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the Patty Chen, et al Zoning Petition.
The Council has until Feb 12, 2013 to pass this petition that would slightly expand the set of streets on which bars and alcohol-serving entertainment venues may locate their entrances to include one block of Prospect Street north of Mass. Ave. The Planning Board supports it, and little or no objection from the public has been heard. It's a good idea and should be approved forthwith. People are waiting to open for business.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a report from the Department of Public Works that summarizes the results from a feasibility study regarding a possible pilot program for curbside food scraps collection from residents for composting.
From the Executive Summary:
This is an exciting development. Many of us will continue to compost organics in our backyards, but if the pilot is successful and the program can eventually be expanded to a citywide program, this will be a great service to those who either cannot set up composting at home or who may prefer an organics collection service. Bring back the honey wagon! What was old is new again.
Applications and Petitions #2. 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 to amend the Zoning Ordinance and Map by extending the Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District from Green Street out to Massachusetts Avenue in the area adjacent to Blanche Street; said petition includes a map and a commitment letter.
This is essentially the same petition that was filed last March together with the committments subsequently made in July prior to the expiration of that petition. The main argument then for why the petition should be allowed to expire was that the Central Square Advisory Committee 2011/2012 was still in the process of formulating its recommendations. That process is now complete, so the time is right to revisit this proposal.
Communications #1. Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Tom Stohlman.
Order #9. That the City Clerk, in consultation with the Law Department, draft a response regarding an Open Meeting Law complaint received on Dec 4, 2012 for the City Council's consideration at its Dec 17, 2012 City Council meeting in order to meet the Dec 21, 2012 deadline. Mayor Davis
It is doubtful that there is any merit to the claim that the Open Meeting Law was violated in the drafting of last week's Order on the appointment of Rich Rossi as City Manager starting next July. As City Clerk Donna Lopez clearly explained last week, the Order was drafted by a minority of City Council members and was submitted to the City Clerk who then circulated the Order to provide other councillors the opportunity to sign on as cosponsors. This is standard procedure. There were neither meetings involving a majority of councillors nor were there "serial meetings." It is likely that some councillors had conversations on the topic, but the intention of the Open Meeting Law has never been to require elected officials to avoid all conversation except when meeting in a public session.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the cause and other details of the power outage on Nov 29, 2012. Mayor Davis
The best report I've seen so far is by John Hawkinson of MIT's The Tech.
Communications and Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor Henrietta Davis transmitting a copy of the Silver Ribbon Commission Report.
There report is available here. [Thanks to the Mayor's Office for posting the 50-page original document!] - RW
The Apprentice, starring Richard Rossi - Dec 3, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
Everything else on the agenda pales in comparison to:
Order #6: That the City Council appoint Richard C. Rossi as City Manager of the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts beginning on July 1, 2013 for a period of three years ending on June 30, 2016. Councillor Maher, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Reeves, Councillor Toomey, Mayor Davis and Councillor Decker
Though some of the usual suspects are throwing fits about this sudden turn of events, it is neither surprising nor unwelcome. The only surprising thing about the City Council taking this action is how quickly they chose to do so. Several weeks ago I wrote on this page, "I would not be at all surprised if the whole process falls apart by next summer and 5 councillors just make a motion from the floor to hire someone they like." My estimate was perhaps a bit too cautious. The City Council should be congratulated for their wisdom and their decisiveness. The goal-setting and soul-searching will proceed as planned. This important crossroads in the life of the city will be more like a bend in the road, and that's a good thing. The next steps for Kendall Square and Central Square are on the horizon, and it will be helpful to have competent city management firmly established as these waters are navigated.
Rich Rossi has been Deputy City Manager for decades. If serving as an apprentice prepares someone for a job, then there is no question that Rich is the most qualified person for this job at this time. An expensive intergalactic search could have been conducted, but it's hard to imagine there being another candidate as well-prepared for the job and who knows Cambridge as thoroughly. As Bob Healy said several months ago, "He's the best athlete in the draft."
Elsewhere on the agenda, there are these:
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-88, regarding a report on how the City plans to maintain grade separated bikeways and keep them free from sand, branches and other debris.
The report states, "Grade separate bikeways are being swept clear of debris at least as frequently as residential street sweeping, monthly from April through December. The City sweeps these areas more frequently, if time permits. During the winter months, cycle tracks are cleared of snow and ice as soon as practicable." For the proposed Western Avenue sidewalk track, it will lie precisely where winter snow is normally piled, and where rubbish and recycling will be set out for curbside collection. It is unlikely that salt or other substance will be spread on the sidewalk to keep the lane free of ice. Even if miraculously the track is kept clear, the number of poor-visibility intersections will make this boondoggle an adventure. It will also reduce cycling speeds and mobility, and the narrowed road lanes will be less safe for those of us who choose to travel in the road (as we do on every other street).
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the impact the recently passed medical marijuana referendum might have on Cambridge and provide any suggested zoning or local ordinance changes relevant to this new law. Councillor Kelley
Many cities and towns in Massachusetts are now grappling with how this will be managed, and Cambridge is no exception. Zoning laws were originally designed to manage the conflicting interests of residents, businesses, and industry, but they are now used (rightly or wrongly) to dictate almost to a microscopic level what may or may not exist in every zoning district. It will be interesting to see what efforts will now be made to monkeywrench the result of the recent referendum. Where would you want this use permitted?
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Oct 3, 2012 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Patty Chen, et al. to amend the Zoning Ordinance in Section 20.300 Central Square Overlay District in Section 20.304.5 Use Limitations and Restrictions.
This is the zoning petition that would modify Section 20.300 to allow clubs to have an entrance on a portion of Prospect Street (and not just on Massachusetts Avenue or Main Street). This is a sensible modification that does not overreach what is needed to allow the All-Asia to relocate to its proposed new location on Prospect Street. The new name of the club was originally supposed to be Valhalla, but it is now being reported that it will instead be called the Prospect Lounge. Shades of the old Prospect Buffet that used to grace the east side of that formerly tough stretch of road.
On a related note, the Central Square Advisory Committee 2011/2012 just wrapped up its year-long process. The complete recommendations will have their initial presentation at the Planning Board on Tuesday (Dec 4). The members of the Advisory Committee drafted a Memorandum from the Central Square Advisory Committee 2011/2012 on its Final Recommendations. It's worth the read. - RW
Addendum - After much public comment and some heartfelt statements by councillors, the City Council voted 8-1 to approve Order #6 appointing Richard Rossi as City Manager to succeed Robert Healy beginning July 1, 2013. Only Councillor Kelley voted in the negative. After the vote, Richie gave a marvelous speech about growing up in Cambridge, of his priorities, and of his great appreciation for being given this opportunity. It was a great evening.
The Public Comment period was predictable with the usual suspects flinging criticism based on their indignance at not being consulted. Perhaps the lowest of the commentary came from Pebble Gifford who wanted the Council to amend the Order to have Mr. Rossi appointed as Interim City Manager or Acting City Manager. It's really so thoughtful of the Hilliard Street upper crust to make sure that people know their place. - RW
Nov 19, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda highlights
Here are some items that jump out as worthy of comment:
City Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Council Order Number 10, dated 5/23/2011, regarding Biogen return to Cambridge.
Biogen Idec Inc. intends to soon relocate its headquarters to Cambridge where it now has a substantial presence. As the Manager's letter states, "The remaining outstanding barrier is the zoning requirement that a cafeteria be located on the ground floor of the building and open to the public at least 20 hours per week." This seems like a completely reasonable accommodation, especially if the local business association makes a parallel effort to create affordable food options in the immediate area. Most people would likely choose to eat in a restaurant than in the cafeteria of a life sciences building anyway. Perhaps that existing provision in the zoning code is a vestige of the days when Kendall Square had vanishing dining options. That's no longer the case, though the provision of affordable dining options could still use some attention.
Resolution #15. Resolution on the death of William M. Hogan, Jr. Councillor Maher
William Hogan was a former Cambridge City Councillor and first Vice Mayor under the Plan E Charter. He was the last surviving councillor elected in 1941 in Cambridge's first PR election under the Plan E Charter adopted the previous year. He died at the age of 100. He would have been about 27 when he was elected (in 1939) and 31 when he left office. He ran unsuccessfully for reelection in 1943. He was among the last elected councillors-at-large in 1939 under the previous charter and the first under the new Plan E charter.
Resolution #25. Thanks to City staff for their work on Election Day. Mayor Davis
Order #16. That the City Manager confer with the Election Commission to make information publicly available on wait times throughout Election Day and the number of booths at each precinct. Councillor Cheung and Councillor vanBeuzekom
Though I had to wait over 40 minutes in line to vote this year, when I got to the front of the line I saw only efficiency and courtesy from the the poll workers at the City Hall Annex. Though things may have run faster with more booths, the real slowdown was caused by the presence of several additional nonbinding ballot questions that most people did not have an opportunity to read prior to voting. If it were my call, I would allow voters the option to vote outside of the booths if they don't mind doing so. The checking in, checking out, and inserting of ballots into the scanner go very quickly. The limiting factor is the number of booths. One of the great advantages of scannable paper ballots is that there is no strict limit on how many voters can simultaneously if there is some flexibility in where you can fill out your ballot. Mayor Davis' appreciation of election workers stands in marked contrast to the recent bellyaching of one of her colleagues.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to investigate creating a pilot program for installing mini exercise stations on major walking routes throughout the city, perhaps at bus stops, subway stations and public parks. Mayor Davis
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to look into the installation of public drinking fountains at additional locations in the city - possibly working with the Cambridge Arts Council on interesting designs. Mayor Davis
These are interesting and creative suggestions. Every such installation, however, will have to be maintained and that could be problematic. I'm inclined to believe that public parks and plazas would be a lot more appropriate than bus stops and subway stations.
Order #4. That the Cambridge City Council go on record urging the members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee to pass MA Senate Bill 2314, "An Act Relative to Plastic Bag Reduction." Councillor vanBeuzekom
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Law Department to prepare language for an amendment to the Municipal Code to ban the use of polystyrene-based disposable food containers and to provide a waiver provision similar to the by-law of the Town of Brookline. Councillor Cheung and Mayor Davis
I'm glad that there is attention being given to some of these more annoying aspects of waste management, especially the reduction of materials for which there are limited recycling options. It should be noted that consumers have always been able to avoid plastic bags simply by providing their own reusable bags when shopping. Regarding the banning of polystyrene food containers, don't be surprised if some food vendors replace them by even more wasteful containers made of other plastics that rarely make it into the recycling stream.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate city officials to explore the possibility of completing and submitting the Bicycle Friendly Community application by Feb 26, 2013 so that the City of Cambridge may be included in the next review cycle and join together with other communities in participating in the Bicycle Friendly Community program. Councillor vanBeuzekom
As a daily cyclist, I continue to scrutinize the City's decisions regarding safe accommodation for cyclists and transportation policies that often seem more rooted in hostility toward motor vehicle operators than in the promotion of good alternatives. The City does seem to be doing a better job in their design of on-street bike lanes, though they routinely err in their treatment of these lanes at intersections. State law requires that right-turning vehicles move as far right as possible before making their turn, yet the City often stripes bike lanes with a solid line right up to intersections. Unless a motor vehicle operator drives in the bike lane immediately before turning, there will be a greater risk of turning into a cyclist passing on the right - and many cyclists are oblivious to this danger. The City is also installing "cycle tracks" on some streets that will create significant conflicts at driveways and intersections and will most likely narrow travel lanes to the point where on-street cyclists wishing to maintain more than casual recreational speeds are endangered. I don't expect these realities to be reflected in the City's application, and City planners have been unresponsive in their cycle track juggernaut.
Order #9. Special Permit process pursuant to MGL 40A as it relates to the impact of re-filing a zoning petition on pending special permits or special permits that have been granted. Councillor Kelley
Though I won't speak to the merits of this Order, the confusion by city councillors over the recent "move to withdraw" the Yanow Petition indicated that a little more schooling on zoning regulations and procedures may be in order.
Order #11. That the Cambridge City Council go on record urging the members of the Massachusetts Committee on House Steering, Policy and Scheduling to pass MA House Bill 4165, "An Act Relative to Speed Limits." Councillor vanBeuzekom
This legislation would reduce the speed limit within "thickly settled areas" and business districts from the current level of 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour. As a "thickly settled area", all of Cambridge would likely be covered by this reduced speed limit. While this would make sense in many Cambridge locations, especially on narrow streets with many parked cars, there are plenty of other streets where the existing 30mph speed limit makes more sense. This proposal is introduced every few years and is usually not supported by transportation engineers who argue that, in the absence of other factors, speed limits should be set according to prevailing speeds in order to minimize conflicts.
Order #20. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate city officials to explore the possibility of communicating appropriate storm preparedness through the website and text messages sent by the city. Councillor vanBeuzekom
This is a good suggestion and consistent with the City's long-standing practice of encouraging residents to help keep storm drains clear during and after winter storms. Having braved Sandy's wrath on several occasions to clear the storm drains in my neighborhood, I think it would be very helpful if people were more aware of keeping these drains unobstructed. That means not only parking clear of the drains, but also picking up a rake and getting out there to help keep the drains clear.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on Oct 19, 2012 to discuss Community Benefits.
The report suggests that the City Council has a long way to go before really coming to terms with this issue. In simple terms, a community benefit is the money paid or benefit provided by a developer for up-zoning property. However, when city councillors are closely involved in deciding how these funds should be spent, the funds often go toward pet projects or priorities of individual councillors. The default option is often affordable housing. One of the more refreshing aspects of the Goody Clancy process for Kendall Square and Central Square has been the expanded definition of community benefits to include things like the exclusion of ground floor retail in the calculation of building densities, financial support for retail in the form of either reduced rent or outfitting the space, and the creation of public spaces for markets and other purposes. These and other ideas are welcome additions to the discussion of what community benefits might flow from permitting additional density in appropriate locations. This committee report only refers to housing and human services, and that's far too limiting. The Government Operations Committee and Ordinance Committee would be well-advised to absorb the forthcoming recommendations regarding Kendall Square and Central Square before redefining what constitute community benefits and how any related funds should be disbursed. It should also be stated that when community benefits are tied to up-zoning proposals, there is the very real possibility that every such proposal will be granted as long as enough cash is put on the table - regardless if the proposal makes good planning sense. - Robert Winters
Meanwhile, outside of Ohio - Nov 5, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda highlights
On Election Eve when the focus of one or more members of the City Council is on the next day, the tradition is to have a very short meeting. Colleagues generally respect this, and it's considered offensive to violate this tradition. Here are a few items that drew my attention for this (hopefully) short meeting:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the results of the bi-annual Citizens Opinion Survey for 2012. [Survey Results]
Short version - everybody's happy except for a few raised eyebrows about the quality of the public schools. The once ultimate priority among residents on affordable housing is now barely a blip on the radar. People are now more concerned about public safety and quality City services. Nobody is outraged by the tax rates, especially condo owners.
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-115, regarding additional information requested on accessibility and other potential barriers at polling locations.
This is a follow-up report requested by Councillor Decker who spent the last meeting berating good City employees for no good reason. Just because a politician has some skin in the game does not give her license to bully people who are doing their best under circumstances over which they may not have total control. One has to wonder whether elevation to the state legislature will bring a little grace and perspective to this politician. If not, she should expect a lot of pushback from her future colleagues and maybe an actual challenger in the 2014 election.
Charter Right #2. That the Mayor and the Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee are requested to provide updates every other week on the status of the City Manager search process to the City Council and to work with the City's Information Technology staff to have those updates posted on the City Council website under a separate tab on the City Council's page on the City's website. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Davis on Order Number One of Oct 22, 2012.]
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on Oct 24, 2012 to discuss the visioning process for the City of Cambridge and the City Manager search.
The City Manager selection process carries on - sort of. At the recent committee meeting, the strong suggestion was that the councillors should expect glacial progress with an actual candidate not arriving until possibly 2014 after the current City Council term has passed. Naturally, that suggestion didn't sit well with some councillors - ironically the same councillors who were most in favor of an elaborate process of self-realization, soul-searching, goal-setting, and kumbaya-singing prior to hiring a successor to Bob Healy. I expect there to now be some movement toward a more abbreviated process, and I would not be at all surprised if the whole process falls apart by next summer and 5 councillors just make a motion from the floor to hire someone they like.
Unfinished Business #10. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Oct 3, 2012 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Susan Yanow, et al to rezone......
Nothing will likely happen with this silly petition to downzone Central Square. The Council voted to "leave to withdraw" at the previous meeting in response to a request of one of the petitioners to withdraw the petition. Expect it to gather dust on Unfinished Business until it expires on New Year's Day. Meanwhile, the actual planning process with Goody/Clancy and the short-term "Central Square Advisory Committee 20011-12" continues. Their next meeting is Wed, Nov 7 to attempt to formulate final recommendations. Where it all goes from there is an open question.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Public Works on the feasibility of installing recycling bins adjacent to trash bins and report back to the City Council. Councillor Cheung and Councillor vanBeuzekom
It should be noted that there has already been a dramatic increase in the number of "Big Belly" recycling bins in Central Square and elsewhere. There is a cost associated with each new installation, but there are also considerations about maintenance of these bins. They can very easily become just another trash bin to careless people, and that does not promote recycling.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department, the Chief Information Officer of the Information Technology Department and any other relevant departments to evaluate the feasibility of ensuring all city-sponsored committee hearing minutes are available online and report back to the City Council. Councillor Cheung and Councillor vanBeuzekom
No argument with this Order, but I wonder sometimes what the actual demand really is for this enhanced availability and whether the cost is always worth it. Let's hope that the response to this Order is just a revision to the protocol for generating and making these documents available - rather than a lot of additional labor with greatly diminishing returns.
One more thing: Life will go on relatively unchanged for most people regardless of Tuesday's election outcome. You might not believe that based on all the rhetoric generated by the Senate and Presidential election campaigns. - RW
October 22, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights: Culture, Rats, and Parking
Tonight's City Council agenda is short but contains a few interesting items:
Resolution #4. Congratulations to the newly state-designated Central Square Cultural District. Councillor Reeves
This is yet another signal of the ongoing revival of Central Square and the need to maintain the positive momentum. The next steps should involve some additional housing construction and "filling the gaps" where inappropriate one-story buildings now occupy parcels that once had more appropriate scale buildings - on the order of perhaps 4 or 5 stories at the sidewalk. There seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel regarding the eventual report of Goody/Clancy and the associated short-term advisory committee for Central Square. One of the greatest problems over the years is that interest in Central Square is cyclical - a push for some flavor of improvements and then the excitement dies down for another decade or so. It is certainly the case that Central Square is not Kendall Square and that the appropriate densities for these respective areas are not the same, but the right balance has to be created in Central Square so that the residents, businesses, and cultural attractions can all thrive - and we're not there yet.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Oct 3, 2012 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Susan Yanow, et al to rezone from the existing Business A to Business A-1 the areas bounded by Windsor, Main Streets, Bishop Allen Drive, Columbia, Prospect and Norfolk Streets; rezone from the existing Bus. B and CRDD to a proposed new district Bus. B-3 in the area bounded by Green, Landsdowne, Magazine and Prospect Streets and Mass. Ave. define as a protected neighborhood zone the area zoned Res. C-1 and bounded by Portland, Main and Windsor Streets and a line 120 feet north of and parallel to Main Street; rezone the areas currently identified as Municipal Parking Lots along Bishop Allen Drive to a proposed new Municipal Parking District (MP).
There is word going around today that the petitioners have withdrawn their petition. It's not really clear that a petition that has been filed with 36 signatures can be "withdrawn" simply on the word of one or several of its proponents. There seems to be a suggestion that this withdrawal is being done strategically with the intent of revising and re-filing the petition. This would be a mistake. Such an absurd petition should be voted and defeated. Zoning petitions should not be filed simply as expressions of unhappiness. That's what "letters to the editor" and the public comment period during City Council meetings are for.
Order #1. That the Mayor and the Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee are requested to provide updates every other week on the status of the City Manager search process to the City Council and to work with the City's Information Technology staff to have those updates posted on the City Council website under a separate tab on the City Council's page on the City's website. Councillor Kelley
All sentiments like this are in order. The choice of city manager is the single most important decision to be made by the City Council, and residents and other interested parties have a right to know what's going on so that they can express themselves to their elected representatives - the only 9 people who will actually make the decision. My main reservation in this matter is that this might turn into some kind of "process carnival" in which every aspect of life in Cambridge is discussed with minimal focus on the only thing that really matters - the capacity to competently manage this city. I also have some concern that with this City Council, the tail might wag the dog and we could end up with a hopelessly wrong choice for the next city manager.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to work together with Inspectional Services Department, the Department of Public Works, the Law Department, the Public Information Department, the Public Health Department and a group of concerned residents and property owners to explore action on suggestions for controlling the rodent population. Councillor vanBeuzekom
This is one area in which her City Council colleagues should definitely heed the advice of Councillor vanBeuzekom. Prior to her election, Minka was an expert member of the Cambridge Rodent Task Force. Rodents quake in fear at the mention of her name.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City officials to explore the possibility of completing an on-street parking census and the impacts of a plan for the gradual reduction of on-street parking spaces over the next decades. Councillor vanBeuzekom
Here's where I part company with Councillor vanBeuzekom. Though some of my climate change friends may believe otherwise, on-street parking spaces are an essential resource for those who live in this "streetcar suburb" and who do not have access to off-street parking. I cannot respect the desire of an elected official who has off-street parking dictating to the rest of us that we should lose our parking in order to produce a negligible effect on world climate. - Robert Winters
Another light agenda....
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor, the License Commission, and all other relevant parties to drop the City's lawsuit regarding Uber and Uber-like smartphone technology, and constructively move forward with revisions to city ordinances that allow new technologies such as Uber to function within the city. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Decker on Order Number Four of Oct 1, 2012.]
Communications #1, 2, 4, 7. Sundry communications transmitting written protest to the Susan Yanow, et al. Zoning Petition.
Order #2. That the City Council instruct the City Manager and all City departments to boycott the services provided by HEI Le Meridien Cambridge Hotel. Councillor Reeves and Vice Mayor Simmons
Order #3. That the City Manager work together with the Assessing Department and all other relevant parties to explore the feasibility of granting small commercial properties a modest exemption on their real estate property taxes and report back to the City Council. Councillor vanBeuzekom and Councillor Toomey
Order #4. That the City Manager work together with all relevant parties to dedicate a revolving fund that finances interest-free loans for energy-efficiency improvements and/or onsite energy generation for property owners and report back to the City Council. Councillor vanBeuzekom and Mayor Davis
Honestly, it's a bit of a stretch to call these "highlights". Most of the really important matters such as the search for the next city manager, the disposition of the Yanow Petition, and the eventual recommendations from Goody/Clancy and its related advisory committee for Central Square (and subsequent zoning proposals) are weeks and months away. In the meantime, we'll get to hear lots about taxis and hotel workers.
It seems like Order #3 is a non-starter unless the Legislature decides to rewrite the rules regarding which exemptions to the property tax are legal. Order #4 seems as though it might be legal, but it's not so clear whether the City of Cambridge should be extending loans to property owners at a time when bank interest rates for home improvement loans are already at record lows.
More comments on Monday, perhaps, if there's time after preparing my lectures. - RW
Gathering Storm in Central Square - Oct 1, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here are a few items of interest on tonight's agenda:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Mass Dept. of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2013.
Here are some excerpts from the City Manager's message on this topic:
"I am pleased to inform you that the actual FY13 property tax levy of $316,947,770 reflects a $17,857,132 or 5.97% increase from FY12, which is lower than the estimated increase projected in May 2012. The FY13 Budget adopted by the City Council in May 2012 projected a property tax levy increase of $19.7 million, or 6.6%, to $318,818,195 in order to fund operating and capital expenditures. The FY13 operating budget has increased by 2.87%."
"Based on a property tax levy of $316.9 million, the FY13 residential tax rate will be $8.66 per thousand dollars of value, which is an increase of $0.18, or 2.1% from FY12. The commercial tax rate will be $21.50, which is an increase of $0.74, or 3.6% from FY12. Both increases in the tax rate are less than FY12."
"This recommendation includes the use of $11 million in reserve accounts to lower the property tax levy; $2 million from overlay surplus; and $9 million in Free Cash. It should be noted that the certified Free Cash amount of $115.8 million is the highest amount in the City's history and represents a $13.6 million increase over last year. Also, $0.6 million from the School Debt Stabilization Fund is used to offset increases in debt service costs that would otherwise have been funded from property taxes."
"Additionally, I am recommending that $10 million from Free Cash, as was stated at the time of the budget, be appropriated to the City's Debt Stabilization Fund to offset anticipated debt service costs in the future for the City's major capital projects especially in relation to the Elementary School reconstruction plan. This appropriation will help stabilize tax levy increases related to these projects in future years. This practice of using the Debt Stabilization Fund to offset debt service costs has resulted in a successful capital projects program, while maintaining stable property tax levy growth in past years."
"Approximately 74.9% of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100 in their FY13 tax bill. In addition, another 15.8% of residential taxpayers will see an increase between $100 and $250. Therefore, a total of 90.7% of the residential taxpayers will see no increase or an increase of less than $250. This will be the eighth year in a row that a majority of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no change or an increase of less than $100. This accomplishment should not be taken for granted given the national economic uncertainties, while maintaining city and school services that citizens have come to expect and while providing a strong capital improvement program highlighted by major projects such as the Mayor Russell/West Cambridge Youth and Community Center, Healy Public Safety Facility, Main Public Library, War Memorial Recreation Center and CRLS."
This week will see a Planning Board hearing (Tuesday) and an Ordinance Committee hearing (Wednesday) on the Yanow Petition (a.k.a. the Permanant Parking Petition). This petition calls for reductions in allowed height and density in Central Square at a time when all discussions to this point have been about maintaining or marginally increasing the allowed density as an incentive for new housing, repairing some of the current deficits in the Square, plus other community benefits. The petition also seeks to enshrine surface parking lots as the pinnacle of urban design. If ever there was a zoning petition that should be laughed out of the City Council and the Planning Board, this is that petition.
Communication #1. A communication was received from CARU Associates, et al., transmitting written protest to the Susan Yanow, et al. Zoning Petition.
This communication from Central Square property owners suggests sufficient opposition that the Yanow Petition will likely require 7 of 9 City Council votes for adoption, though that calculation has not yet been made. There appears to be near-unanimous opposition from Central Square business owners and commercial property owners.
Resolution #4. Resolution on the death of James Leo Sullivan. Councillor Maher
I don't know if I ever met the man, but I have always admired James Leo Sullivan from afar. He set the standard for professional city management in Cambridge and mentored his successor Robert W. Healy. His obituary (which appeared in the Lowell Sun) is rich in information. If anyone has any photos of James Leo Sullivan that may be posted here, including photos of him with contemporaries, they would be greatly appreciated. James Leo Sullivan served as City Manager from June 1968 to April 1970 and then again from April 1974 to July 1981. He was succeeded in 1981 by Robert W. Healy.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on Sept 19, 2012 to continue discussions to develop a hiring process for the position of City Manager.
Among other things discussed at this committee meeting was the desire to gather as much community input as possible to advise this most important decision that the City Council can make. Soliciting and receiving input from a representative cross section of Cambridge residents and others with interests in Cambridge is not an easy task. All too often we hear only from the "self-anointed, self-appointed" groups claiming to represent others. The real challenge for the city councillors will be to craft a medium-term and long-term vision for the next decade or more and then choose the right person to implement that vision. That person might now be in the City administration or it could be someone hired from elsewhere. Let's hope that the elected officials listen to all the people in the city as they make their decisions. - Robert Winters
A Light Comedy - Sept 24 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
The Sullivan Chamber will be occupied Monday night, but the business could not be lighter. World-traveling Councillor Leland Cheung would be well-advised not to return for this meeting. Indeed, the most interesting items are the two communications from Peter Valentine, a.k.a. National Officer in Charge:
Communications #1. A communication was received from Peter Valentine, 37 Brookline Street regarding removing the US Military Flag from the Council Chamber and replace with the National Flag of the United States of America.
Communications #2. A communication was received from Peter Valentine, 37 Brookline Street regarding a preliminary format for we the people evolving an undefeatable constitution.
The first of these reads as follows:
Communications: To The City Council and Citizenry from Peter Valentine 37 Brookline St. 10/10/2012
Many years ago I explained to The Council that it was a violation of the People's US Constitutional Rights to have a US Military Flag as the symbol of the Flag of the United States of America in the Council Chamber because where there is a military flag there is only military law not constitutional law.
We were not and are not involved in Cambridge MA in a military circumstance or military subject matter.
I informed the council that the military flag had to be removed and replaced by the standard United States of America Flag.
The Council paid no attention to my request.
It is the act of a hypocrite to sign an oath where one swears to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and require people to stand and swear allegiance to the United States of America and the Constitution for which it stands but at the same time to deny the people their constitutional rights by the presence in the Council Chamber of a US Military Flag.
Therefore I do order, as the National Officer in Charge, in the Name of the Protection of the Full Spectrum of the Constitutional Rights of the People of the United States of America, that the Council remove the US Military Flag from the Council Chamber and replace it with the National Flag of the United States of America.
The National Officer in Charge
I'm sure the councillors will all snap to attention. Meanwhile, there's this:
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to take the necessary measures to ensure that the mitigation money from Novartis be allocated all or in part to the Upward Bound Program, with a view of giving the program an additional year to continue, and the hope that the additional funding will give the program staff, families and supporters an additional year to seek outside funding. Vice Mayor Simmons
I might be convinced that this would be a good action to take, but it contradicts the whole ongoing discussion about what "mitigation" is appropriate (if any) when the City Council grants zoning relief for major developments, and how that money should be allocated. The general sense of the City Council has been to move away from lobbying to direct these funds toward pet projects of individual councillors - no matter how worthy. - Robert Winters
End of Summer - The City Council Returns - Sept 10 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
The first agenda item is the culmination of the annual faux process of allocation of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds. The outcome is always determined before the CPA Committee even meets. In fact, the outcomes every year were determined ten years ago, but feel free to peruse the details:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, requesting that the City Council formally appropriate/allocate the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds as follows:
Though it's hard to discern what progress the Cambridge Police and the District Attorney's Office have made in the Willow St. murder case, at least there is a report on the agenda (and in the Cambridge Chronicle - thanks).
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 12-76 and 12-77, regarding discussion on violence and the youth perspective in reaction to the Willow Street shooting.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner to determine a format that will accommodate the City Council and the victim's family for an update on the status of the Willow Street shooting in May. Councillor Reeves
One of my neighbors was a classmate of murder victim Charlene Moore, and she and many people have been mystified by the seeming lack of progress in this case. We're all hoping that law enforcement is now "making the case" and not just hoping for clues.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-93, regarding a report on the feasibility of supporting the concept of human-powered bicycle cabs.
I mention this item only to raise the issue of how these wider human-powered vehicles will navigate Western Ave. after the travel lanes are narrowed and cyclists are pushed onto the sidewalk. Same goes for the Metro Pedal vehicles making pickups and deliveries around town.
Manager's Agenda #17. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-100, regarding a report on whether emails to Councillors either through the City email or to their personal accounts may be shared with the general public.
The city councillors may want to ask for a second opinion on this one. This legal opinion seems to suggest that e-mail messages sent to city councillors' private e-mail accounts are to be considered public records. Who shall be the first to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for these private e-mail messages?
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to expand enforcement of the prohibition on Cambridge pick-ups by non-Cambridge cabs not specifically called to Cambridge.
I'll say it again: We'd all be better off if the entire taxicab industry was deregulated and taxi owners and drivers were required only to prove that they meet basic safety standards. It's a cab cartel now - plain and simple.
Unfinished Business #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $81,500,000 to provide funds for architectural design, construction and other associated costs of the King School project. The question comes on adoption on or after Aug 13, 2012.
This is just the formality of a final vote on the appropriation which will allow the project to proceed.
Resolution #11. Resolution on the death of Charles L. Stead, Sr. Councillor Maher, Mayor Davis, Vice Mayor Simmons
Resolution #49. Resolution on the death of Henrietta S. Attles, Ed.D. Councillor Reeves, Vice Mayor Simmons, Mayor Davis
These resolutions mark the passing of two very important players in the Cambridge schools. Many of the city councillors will likely make statements about one or both of these very significant Cantabrigians. Charles Stead was a Cambridge school principal who was hated by some and beloved by many. Henrietta S. Attles first ran and was elected to the Cambridge School Committee in 1979. She was reelected in 1981 but was defeated in the 1983 election. She served from 1980-1983. The meeting room of the Cambridge School Committee is named for her.
Resolution #26. Retirement of David Holland from the Budget Department. Mayor Davis
Resolution #118. Retirement of Eileen Ginnetty from the Council on Aging. Councillor Maher
Dave Holland and Eileen Ginnetty are two of the more familiar faces in their respective departments. Best wishes to both of them in their retirement.
Order #6. That the City Ordinance Committee resume discussing the outlines of a formal Community Benefits & Mitigation Plan for projects within the city with the goal of making a recommendation on a policy that the City Council can vote on by year's end. Vice Mayor Simmons
Order #8. That the Housing Committee review the City's inclusionary zoning policy, to explore the possibility and feasibility of increasing the percentage of affordable housing that must be included in any new development. Vice Mayor Simmons
These interrelated Orders concern the unresolved matter begun several years ago about updating and standardizing the way developers are asked to contribute to the city - either when seeking changes in zoning or when building projects as-of-right. The Inclusionary Zoning law was crafted at the time of its passage to be relatively cost neutral for housing developers, i.e. in exchange for providing affordable units they would be given a density bonus to allow for additional market-rate units. Any proposed update would likely demand even more affordable units and would likely then have to grant even greater density bonuses. This should spur some serious debate, especially in light of the highly divergent views of high density advocates and downzoning advocates spawned by discussions over the last two years about the future of Kendall Square, Central Square, and the transition area between these centers.
Order #11. That the Government Operations and Rules Committee publish a schedule of meetings devoted to the City Manager selection process and issue periodic statements so that the public may be informed as to the chosen selection process and timeline for the upcoming appointment. Councillor Reeves
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on June 22, 2012 to have an initial discussion with the City Manager to develop a comprehensive short and long term succession plan.
Who could argue with this Order? What's really striking is the silence surrounding what is arguably the single most important responsibility of the City Council. There is another meeting of the Government Operations & Rules Committee scheduled for Wed, Sept 19 at 9:00am in the Ackermann Room "to continue discussion to develop a hiring process for the position of City Manager."
Order #12. That the City Council suggest that the Cambridge Housing Authority study and consider the feasibility and reasonableness of placing long-term affordable housing deed restrictions on developments such as Newtowne Court and Washington Elms so that these developments will always be dedicated long-term affordability housing areas. Councillor Reeves
Part of the genesis of this Order is the strategic misstep in the series of meetings on Central Square when Goody/Clancy showed an image indicating some of this public housing being potentially replaced with new housing built at greater density. There was never any actual plan to do this - just a concept - but it has served as an alarm for organizing public housing tenants. It does seem, however, that placing deed restrictions to lock in place what is there now might be a poor policy - unless the flexibility to redevelop with no net loss of housing units is written into any such deed restrictions. It can also be reasonably argued that concentrating this much public housing into one area is a rather outdated and unenlightened public policy.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and report back to the City Council on how the City is facilitating affordable housing opportunities for middle class families. Councillor Toomey
Despite some of the sentiments expressed in recent years about providing middle-inclome housing in the Central Square area, the question of how this can be done remains largely unanswered. Is the plan to ultimately have the Cambridge Housing Authority become the intake mechanism for all of the lower-income and middle-income housing in Cambridge?
Order #15. That the City Council go on record agreeing that a minimum of 80% of mitigation funds should be distributed within the neighborhoods that are impacted by these projects. Councillor Toomey
This is really a recurring Order that will likely go nowhere. Most of the new development in Cambridge is concentrated into just a few areas and most of the city councillors ultimately vote for spreading the loot.
Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to create an inventory of the vacant lots and derelict buildings throughout Cambridge that the City could potentially purchase to add to the city's open space inventory for other city uses. Mayor Davis
This reminds me of an initiative pressed years ago by City Councillor Ed Cyr to set up a "Land Bank" of City-owned parcels that would be used for building affordable housing. It didn't go over well, but rent control was still in place in those days. This predated the creation of the Affordable Housing Trust (which looks for housing opportunities) and the Open Space Acquisition Fund (which looks for open space opportunities).
Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with information on the new parking arrangements in the vicinity of the former Longfellow School on Broadway as they relate to the operation at the school building and to work with the School Department and the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to minimize the impact on the neighborhood. Councillor Toomey
I recently wrote a letter of support to the BZA for a local business to have its parking requirement waived due to the availability of on-street parking, but I also warned that much of this parking would likely disappear with the reactivation of the old Longfellow School building. I also recommended to the BZA that the Traffic & Parking Department should be dissuaded from using the metered spaces that are supposed to be there for patrons of the local businesses. At times like this I become cynically convinced that City departments never talk to each other.
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department to conduct a preliminary exploration of an east west bike path alongside the commuter rail line or along the old haul route. Councillor Cheung
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Chair of the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee for a public meeting held on Aug 6, 2012 to receive an overview from the Community Development Department of the Grand Junction Rail with the Trail (RWT) Feasibility Study of 2006 and to discuss actions the City can make towards its construction.
The possibility of sharing the Grand Junction right-of-way has been under discussion for years, including the recent subcommittee meeting chaired by Councillor Toomey. Those of us who served on the Green Ribbon Open Space Committee were advocating for this goal last century.
Order #20. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to itemize all mitigation commitments throughout the city to be compiled into a single document. Councillor Cheung
Perhaps a small, sad chapter can reserved at the end of the document on mitigation for the disgraceful privately negotiated and publicly accepted "mitigation" that created "Neighbors for a Better Community" (NBC) in order to receive a parcel land and cash that have been used for no other purpose than the personal enrichment of members of one family.
Order #21. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to report back to the City Council on what strategies other cities have used to dissuade land-banking and what may be applicable in Cambridge. Councillor Cheung
The problem is not land-banking so much as nonproductive very-long-term land-banking. Assembling parcels as part of a greater plan is normal. Indeed, that was a primary role of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority during its active years. This Order could use a little more detail and refinement. It never makes much sense for a property owner or developer to sink a lot of money into the preservation of properties that are destined to soon be redeveloped.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from ... Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom, Chair of the Environment Committee for a public meeting held on Aug 8, 2012 to discuss implementation of a plan for separate trash or recycling curbside pickup for small businesses along existing curbside routes.
I spoke at this meeting against the idea of the City taking on the cost of business recycling. However, based on the discussion at this meeting I have become much more aware of how some businesses in mixed-use buildings in my own neighborhood routinely put all their rubbish and recycling out along with the residential rubbish and recycling - at no cost to the businesses. I still don't believe the City should be taking on these costs, but there is a fairness issue that needs to be resolved when some businesses are paying for these services and others are getting a free ride. - Robert Winters
Town and City (Forest City, that is) - Aug 6, 2012 Cambridge City Council Special Meeting Agenda Highlights
Last week's annual Midsummer meeting unanimously resolved most of the pending zoning petitions before the City Council, but deliberation and a possible vote on the Forest City/MIT petition was delayed one week as late negotiations continued toward a possible resolution. Public comment at the July 30 meeting was remarkable in its alarmism, disregard for protocol, and distortion of facts. The bottom line is that Forest City could build a functional building right now within the constraints of existing zoning, but that building would contain no retail frontage on Mass. Ave. and provide no "community benefits" whatsoever other than expanding the number of jobs for biotech workers. The question to be answered by the City Council is whether they want to allow a relatively small increase in height (from 80 ft to 95 ft not including rooftop mechanicals that would be added either way) and additional floor area in exchange for a much improved retail corridor and guarantees of long-term affordability of existing housing at University Park and the promise of additional affordable units.
The greatest difficulty of this petition (and a related "Permanent Parking Petition" as well as another petition yet to come calling for no additional density increases anywhere in the city) is that it has been caught in the crosshairs of a political campaign. This was perhaps best captured by one July 30 commenter who matter-of-factly said to the city councillors that the real purpose of their petition was to buy time so that they could replace the City Council. Perhaps it is not such a wise move to instruct city councillors to support a petition that is supposedly designed to defeat them in the next municipal election.
In addition to some priceless communications from naysayers, the agenda for the Aug 6 Special Meeting really consists of just four items - three committee reports on the Forest City/MIT petition on Unfinished Business and a communication from Mayor Davis containing additional information on the University Park housing and a FAQ from the Community Development Department.
The Monday, Aug 6 meeting at City Hall starts at 7:30pm. - Robert Winters
Aug 6, 9:30pm update - The petition was allowed to expire without coming to a vote.
Mayor Henrietta Davis released the following statement (July 31, 2012):
I'm writing to update you on the status of the Forest City Zoning Petition.
Right now, without needing City Council permission, Forest City can build up to 80 feet and just under 139,000 square feet of space. They would not be required to provide ground floor retail or other benefits for the community. They are asking for an additional 15 feet in height and an additional 107,000 square feet to be used for lab space and ground floor retail.
Originally Forest City also proposed a high rise residential structure. I'm pleased to report that Forest City has removed this portion of the proposal, a residential tower at the corner of Sidney Street and Green Street that would have abutted the Mass Ave park and cast some shadows on Jill Brown-Rhone Park.
The most important news is that the Mayor's Office is now working with representatives of Forest City and the Chair of the Ordinance Committee to address housing needs in other ways:
1. We are hoping Forest City will extend affordability on approximately over 150 units of housing in University Park by 50 years. The units are now set to lose their affordable status starting in the next decade.
2. It is also proposed the Forest City provide 20 new units of affordable housing, possibly in connection with a new housing development.
I appreciate that this had been a difficult and complex process for the community. In order to continue and possibly complete negotiations with Forest City, I have scheduled a special City Council meeting at City Hall for next Monday August 6 at 7:30 PM. The public is welcome to attend.
COMMUNICATIONS AND REPORTS FROM CITY OFFICERS
Midsummer at the Council - July 30 City Council Agenda Highlights
The annual Midsummer meeting of the Cambridge City Council always sports one of the longest agendas of the year (being the only meeting between June and September). This year is light compared to other years with "only" 26 items on the City Manager's Agenda, 10 on the Calendar, 5 Applications & Petitions, 43 Communications (mainly from an orchestrated effort opposing the Forest City/MIT zoning petition as a proxy for Central Square zoning recommendations yet to come), 71 Resolutions, 34 Orders, and 7 Committee Reports. Most of the items are the usual drivel, but a few stand out or are guaranteed to generate comment. Here are the items that caught my attention:
King School/Putnam Ave. Upper School Reconstruction:
The list of new features associated with this school is impressive. Some residents have argued that a complete teardown is not necessary and that may be a part of the discussion at this meeting.
Manager's Agenda #26. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-57, regarding the City Council's request for a report regarding the question of appropriate regulation of satellite dishes.
The report includes proposed language for a possible ordinance regulating how satellite dishes could be located on buildings. Federal law does not allow these devices to be too harshly regulated nor fees to be charged, but there is some flexibility to allow regulation of placement on building unless there are no feasible alternatives.
Forest City/MIT Zoning Petition:
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on June 27, 2012 to continue discussion on the petition of Forest City/MIT to amend the Zoning Ordinances by extending the Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District from Green Street out to Massachusetts Avenue in the area adjacent to Blanche Street and further to provide for the potential development of a residential building on Sidney Street between Massachusetts Avenue and Green Street.
Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on July 25, 2012 to continue discussion on the petition of Forest City/MIT to amend the Zoning Ordinances by extending the Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District from Green Street out to Massachusetts Avenue in the area adjacent to Blanche Street and further to provide for the potential development of a residential building on Sidney Street between Massachusetts Avenue and Green Street.
The twisted rhetoric and misinformation that has grown around this matter is beyond incredible. Here are a few truths to consider:
Much of the public comment associated with the Forest City/MIT petition has centered on matters unrelated to this site or the petition. It is being used a proxy for possible future Central Square zoning recommendations yet to come. It is likely that there will be future recommendations for strategic increases in density in Central Square - largely driven by the desire to create more housing opportunities in the area and to provide other community benefits. Opponents have stated that the Forest City/MIT petition should be delayed pending the final report of the Goody Clancy study and its associated advisory committee, yet all indications are that the current proposal is consistent with that process. This makes this assertion little more than a red herring or a transparent delay tactic.
Ultimately, the fate of any zoning petition comes down to how the nine city councillors will vote, and six votes are needed for ordination in this case. It will be a shame if this matter is decided not by the merits of the proposal but by entirely political considerations. One councillor has a long-term friendship with one of the opponents. Another pro-density councillor lives on Essex Street where some of her neighbors are at the core of the opposition - based on an unrelated concern that parking lots on Bishop Allen Drive may one day become sites for future housing. These and other councillors have been seeking rationale for voting against this petition even though those who were on the Council in 2011 voted unanimously in favor of the Novartis Petition that provided fewer "community benefits" and more height than the current proposal. If this petition fails, it will be a victory for hypocrisy.
City Council Zoning Petition for School Site Zoning:
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on July 19, 2012 to conduct a follow-up meeting on the petition to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge by adding to Section 5.50 entitled "Special Dimensional Regulations" a section 5.54 entitled "Special Regulations for Municipal Elementary and Middle (K-8) Schools.
This petition is primarily crafted to allow sufficient flexibility in the reconstruction or renovation of the proposed middle/upper schools that are at the heart of the so-called "Innovation Agenda." This should be relatively noncontroversial.
North Mass. Ave. Rezoning Petition:
Manager's Agenda #24. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Planning Board's recommendation with regard to the North Massachusetts Avenue Rezoning Petition.
Unfinished Business #10. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 6, 2012 to discuss the petition from the Planning Board to rezone the North Massachusetts Avenue area. A hearing was also scheduled at 4:15pm to discuss a petition of the Planning Board to amend the Zoning Map for an area along North Massachusetts Avenue in the vicinity of Trolley Square and Linear Park from Business A-2 to Residence C-2B. The petitions were discussed together. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after July 2, 2012. Planning Board hearing held May 15, 2012. Petition expires Sept 4, 2012.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on June 28, 2012 to continue discussion on the petitions from the Planning Board to rezone the North Massachusetts Avenue area and to amend the Zoning Map for an area along Massachusetts Avenue in the vicinity of Trolley Square and Linear Park from Business A-2 to Residence C-2B.
Order #20. That the petition to amend the zoning map along Massachusetts Avenue in the vicinity of Trolley Square and Linear Park from Business A-2 to Residence C-2B be re-filed on Sept 5, 2012. Councillor Maher
There are two petitions in play here. The Planning Board petition to incentivize retail in this stretch of Mass. Ave. has plenty of neighborhood support and the blessing of the Planning Board. It will likely be voted at this meeting. The other petition that is more specific to the Trolley Sq. area has not yet been passed to a 2nd Reading and expires before the next City Council meeting, hence the Order that it be re-filed.
Northpoint Zoning Revision:
This is a relatively minor revision to previously approved zoning for this area (2003). It has the blessing of the Planning Board.
The "Permanent Parking Petition":
There was an unsuccessful effort at the June 18 City Council meeting to introduce this petition as a late order. The petition proposes to do the opposite of every anticipated recommendation of the ongoing Goody/Clancy process relating to the Central Square area. Ironically, these same petitioners endorse waiting until the final Goody/Clancy report before any action is taken on the Forest City/MIT petition. This is just civic comedy - proposing the opposite while at the same time arguing that Goody/Clancy should be used as a guide. This petition would also sanctify the permanent existence of surface parking lots around Central Square.
There is a need for a robust discussion on the pros and cons of additional density in Central Square to take place. We should all look forward to such a discussion. This petition contributes nothing to that discussion.
Resolution #21. Resolution on the death of Anne F. Williamson. Councillor Maher, Mayor Davis
Anne Williamson was a long-time friend and one of the most reasonable and rational people I have known in civic affairs in Cambridge.
Resolution #48. Resolution on the retirement of Gordon Gottsche. Councillor Toomey, Mayor Davis, Vice Mayor Simmons
Gordon Gottsche, the Executive Director of the non-profit Just-A-Start, is practically a Cambridge institution. We should all wish him well in his retirement.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council in Executive Session the nature of the possibility of six lawsuits, their status, and any others that might have been filed. Councillor Reeves
This seems like the next step in what will likely be a miserable effort by this councillor to leverage the upcoming process of hiring the next city manager. Let's hope that there are at least five city councillors who will not allow themselves to be led around.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Conservation and Recreation to create the placement of appropriate signage or indication of entry into the City of Cambridge on or around the North Bank Pedestrian Bridge. Councillor vanBeuzekom
This is a nice sentiment, but there's a small problem of geography. A significant part of North Point Park on the Cambridge side of the new bridge is actually in Boston. The city boundary is determined by the historic channel of the Charles River, and many iterations of filling and redefining the boundary of the river have led to this oddity. Perhaps there should be a legislative fix putting the park entirely in Cambridge, but this really is a metropolitan park and the municipal boundaries should not be overly emphasized.
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff and report back to the City Council on whether a tagging program could be implemented to notify owners of bicycles that have been removed from sign posts by the Department of Public Works and contact information for retrieval of said bicycle. Councillor Kelley
As we like to say, "Same Roads, Same Rules." When an automobile is tagged and towed on street cleaning day, the cops and tow truck drivers never leave a note. Cyclists are obligated to know the rules, and that includes rules regarding the use of sign posts for long-term personal parking.
Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council statistical information regarding enforcement citations for loud motorcycle mufflers, car radios and the City's plan to address these issues. Councillor Kelley
I am completely in support of this Order and for action to be taken to crack down on this aural abuse, but this matter has been brought up time and time again and it never goes anywhere.
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff on whether, and under what conditions, emails to both Council@Cambridgema.gov and to individual Councillors, at both their personal and City emails, may be shared with the general public and what, if any, redaction of personal information should be done prior to such sharing, whether the sharing of an email is by forwarding it to others or by posting it to a website. Councillor Kelley
This is an intriguing Order. Some of the hate mail originating from nitwits on the right and left might provide for entertaining reading. My personal belief is that anyone who sends inflammatory e-mail does so in full recognition that it may come back to embarrass the writer. On the other hand, if there was an expectation that ordinary messages to public officials would be thrown into the public arena, this would likely lead to fewer people contacting elected officials. Perhaps simply asking elected officials to use reasonable discretion is answer enough to this Order.
Order #30. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to report back to the City Council with an estimate of how sequestration would affect municipal finances and the finances of human services organizations that partner with the City. Councillor Cheung
I have to confess that I have no idea what this Order is asking. I know what carbon sequestration is and I know what it means to sequester a jury, but beyond that I have no idea.
Order #32. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments on the feasibility of providing bike regulations to a wider audience including through media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, public service announcements and newspaper ads, increased enforcement and installation of signs informing bikers that they must obey the rules of the road. Councillor Cheung
Though this is certainly a good idea, I believe it can be fairly said that almost all cyclists are completely aware of the Rules of the Road. Some of them just choose to ignore those rules. Will a few "tweets" change their scofflaw behavior? Probably not. In contrast, it's likely true that periodic aggressive ticketing of cyclists does have the desired effect.
Order #33. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to expand enforcement of the prohibition on Cambridge pick-ups by non-Cambridge cabs not specifically called to Cambridge. Councillor Cheung
There is another point of view that questions the whole idea of granting exclusive rights to certain cab operators and perhaps even the very idea of hackney licensing. Does this licensing really serve the public good? Or does it merely inflate the value of hackney licenses and drive up consumer costs? Though it would have to be done across all city and town boundaries, perhaps we'd all be better off if hackney licenses were eliminated. This, of course, won't put any "Elect Candidate X" bumper stickers on any Cambridge cabs. - Robert Winters
Update: Here are the main things that happened at the marathon July 30 City Council meeting:
1) Action on the Forest City/MIT Zoning Petition was delayed until a Special City Council meeting scheduled for Mon, Aug 6 at 7:30pm with this as the sole agenda item. Mayor Davis and Councillor Maher indicated that there may be additional provisions included in the agreement that would protect 168 expiring-use affordable housing units that are part of University Park.
2) The appropriation and authorization to borrow $81,500,000 to provide funds for architectural design, construction and other associated costs of the King School project was passed unanimously to a 2nd Reading.
3) The City Council Zoning Petition for School Site Zoning was ordained unanimously.
4) The NorthPoint Zoning Petition was ordained unanimously.
5) The North Mass. Ave. Rezoning Petition was ordained unanimously, and the related zoning petition for the Trolley Sq. area is to be re-filed on Sept 5.
6) The Area Four Neighborhood Preservation Petition (a.k.a. the Permanant Parking Petition) was received and referred to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee (where it will be received with great laughter and derision). - RW
Ready for Summer Break - June 18 City Council Agenda Highlights
Tonight's meeting is the last regular meeting before the City Council takes its summer vacation. There will be a Roundtable meeting next week (June 25) with the School Committee and the Superintendent of Schools on how the City's Five Year Financial Plan will impact the School District's building renovation plan. The next voting meetings will be the Midsummer Meeting on July 30 and the Regular Meeting on Sept 10. There are also two potentially consequential committee meetings coming up - (1) Government Operations & Rules this Friday, June 22 at 10:00am "to have an initial discussion with the City Manager to develop a comprehensive short and long term succession plan." (Ackermann Room); and (2) Ordinance Committee on Wed, June 27 at 4:00pm "to continue discussion on the petition of Forest City/MIT..." (Sullivan Chamber). [There's also a Tues, June 19, 8:00pm Planning Board hearing on the Forest City/MIT petition.]
The Gov't Operations Committee meeting will be the initial meeting on how things may proceed as we look ahead to Bob Healy's retirement a year from now. There have been no public indications to date about the process or of the inclinations of any individual councillors (though it's likely that some are already plotting to call the shots).
The Ordinance Committee meeting could bring some excitement as activists respond to real and perceived threats to the "livability" of the greater Central Square area. At least one new ad hoc organization (Cambridge Residents Alliance) has already sprouted in response to the proposed 165 ft. residential tower that had been proposed adjacent to the Central Square fire house. There is a somewhat delicious irony to housing activists being agreeable to the commercial construction and opposed to the housing construction, but I suppose the devil is in the details. The provisions in the proposed zoning amendment that would have permitted the residential tower were taken out at last week's meeting, but the general alarm has already been rung and the reaction will continue. Perhaps the most significant aspect to the public reaction is the perception that the Forest City/MIT proposal is just the first of a wave of "upzoning" proposals that will steamroll their way from Kendall Square up Main Street and through all of Central Square. The activists are saying that nothing should be approved until the ongoing Goody/Clancy study is completed, but most indications are that the central recommendations from that study will be for density, density, and more density. The activists are also calling for a one-year moratorium on all upzoning petions. Perhaps the activism would be better spent on formulating alternative proposals instead of simply saying NO in every imaginable form.
We learned at last week's meeting that our Budget Director, David Kale, will be leaving to become Town Manager of Belmont. Not only will Belmont be gaining a great fiscal manager, they'll also be gaining a great baseball man - one of many on the City Manager's team. Perhaps Belmont should be required to send us a "player to be named later" to complete the deal.
Another big news item in Central Square was the announcement that the Korean grocery chain H Mart will be opening an 18,000 sq. ft. grocery market in Central Square in the space previously occupied by The Harvest (14,500 sq. ft.) plus an additional 3,500 sq. ft. next door. I've been advocating for a Super 88 store for this location, so this is a very good move, in my opinion. It is probable that this will be a relatively affordable grocery store in contrast to the Whole Foods trend of overpriced food which has sent many a Cantabrigian over the Somerville line to Market Basket. The property owner (Morris Naggar and 3MJ Realty) may have earned some serious good will with this lease. The new grocery store is expected to open early next year after extensive renovations.
For tonight's City Council meeting, here are a few items of interest:
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the City Council Petition to Modify Zoning Requirements for Municipal K-8 School Sites (Proposed Section 5.54).
This zoning change will facilitate the renovation/reconstruction of the proposed middle schools (grades 6-8) that are at the center of the "Innovation Agenda". The Planning Board recommends the zoning change with the caveat that language be inserted to ensure the retention of publicly enjoyable open space. The zoning petition will presumably be moved to a 2nd Reading and be eligible for Ordination at the July 30 Midsummer meeting (when several zoning petitions may come to a vote).
Manager's Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the CJUF III Northpoint LLC Zoning Petition to Amend Section 13.700.
The Planning Board recommends adoption as proposed, saying "the proposed changes have been carefully crafted and developed in close consultation with neighbors and City officials, and the Board believes that these changes will only further improve the final development from what was previously proposed." The North Point development may actually start to take shape in the next few years.
Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the purchase of 53.6 acres of watershed land in Lincoln, MA, for $1,152,247 from Community Preservation Act Open Space Reserve Fund, for the purposes of drinking water supply protection and land conservation.
The land in question is a combination of wetland and buildable land along Route 2 in proximity with the Hobbs Brook - a principal water source for Cambridge. The brook flows into the Hobbs Brook Reservoir (near the intersection of Route 2 and Route 128) which then joins the Stony Brook before flowing into the Stony Brook Basin not far from Brandeis University. The water supply then travels via aqueduct to Fresh Pond. The argument is made annualy that Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds should only be used for open space acquisition within Cambridge city limits, but if watershed protection is not part of the preservation of community then I don't know what is. The money can come either from CPA funds or from the water ratepayers, but these are just two different pockets. Nothing prevents the City from acquiring other open space as part of the regular budget process.
Charter Right #2. That a Task Force be formed to review Cambridge's current program to creatively encourage and maximize participation in PILOT agreements with the City, and to evaluate the possibilities of implementing SILOT (Services In Lieu of Payment) and/or GILOT (Grants In Lieu of Payment) programs.
This matter was discussed briefly last week. There are certainly some possibilities here, but efforts to compel tax-exempt property owners to contribute additional money and/or services to the City opens a rather large can of worms. Should churches be compelled to contribute the "the state"? The intended target may be hospitals and other technically nonprofit institutions such as Mount Auburn Hospital, but ultimately this is something that might best be accomplished via good will rather than ordinance.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with an explanation of what processes and procedures have been instituted to help ensure that discrimination and wrongful termination complaints do not arise in the future. Councillor Kelley
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 11, 2012 to discuss an appropriation of $11,917,462 from Free Cash to the General Fund Law Department Travel and Training (Judgment and Damages) account which appeared as Agenda Item Number Fifteen of Apr 23, 2012.
This is an example of the worst kind of "faux righteousness." For better or worse, the Monteiro case and other claims have been settled and the litigants have received their ransoms - significantly more than their continued employment would have generated. The City administration has repeatedly made clear that policies are now in place to prevent the kinds of problems alleged in those lawsuits. Councillor Kelley wishes that the City Council and the City administration should now profusely apologize for infractions real or imagined in addition to the settlements - even though most settlements like these include provisions that both parties do not acknowledge wrongdoing. It's difficult to understand what exactly Kelley is trying to accomplish. The matter has been settled and little is to be gained from continuing to stir the pot.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff, to include the City Clerk's Office, to determine how best to put direct communications to the City Council on the City Council's website to make the information contained in them readily available to the public even though it does not become part of a particular City Council agenda. Councillor Kelley
This specifically refers to communications from the City administration in response to City Council requests for information. Other than simple informal requests, one might have been led to believe that this information is always part of the City Manager's Agenda, but apparently this is not the case. It seems that any request for information passed by majority vote at a public meeting should have a response that is also included in the proceedings of a public meeting of the same body, or at least be available for public inspection at the City Clerk's Office. There are many communications that don't properly belong in the public arena, but this should not include a response to a request voted at a public meeting as long as it is practicable to do so.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to refer the matter of a ban on soda and sugar-sweetened beverages in restaurants to the Cambridge Public Health Department for a recommendation. Mayor Davis
Nanny government at its very worst. Note that our good Mayor is proposing a BAN, not just a limitation. Does the Mayor know that chocolate cake also contains sugar? Shall we ban chocolate cake? Will Mayor Davis lead a march on Toscannini's to demand that ice cream be driven out of Cambridge with the same zeal that St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland?
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Assistant City Manager for Community Development to have a 3-D model created of all potential development projects resulting from zoning petitions. Councillor Decker
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public hearing held on June 5, 2012 to review the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority's (CRA) relationship with the city, how the CRA was set up and who is the CRA's governing body.
This was an informative meeting with plenty of history and perspective. The newly reconstituted CRA Board is a great group with a skilled executive director and legal counsel. It will be interesting to see what role the CRA plays in future plans in and around Kendall Square. Still unknown is whether the CRA will settle solely into a maintenance role and eventually phase itself out, or possibly find a new role to play either in the Kendall Square area or elsewhere in the city. - Robert Winters
June 19 - A post-meeting comment (from CCJ Forum) about the late zoning petition introduced at last night's City Council meeting:
I think you have to look at last night’s hastily written proposals for downzoning and a moratorium on new zoning petitions not so much as actual ideas but as reactions to events over which people feel they have no control. Many people feel that neither the Red Ribbon thing nor the Goody/Clancy advisory committees were especially representative of the residents of the respective areas. I can’t speak for the Kendall Square part, but I personally feel that the Red Ribbon thing was formed around a select group of friends and supporters of one city councillor, and the Goody/Clancy Central Square committee excluded many voices. Some of us feel that the only chance we have had for any input is during the closing 5-10 minutes of the Goody/Clancy meetings after all has been said and done.
There is also a widely held perception that the Goody/Clancy consultants came into the process with an overriding belief that “density cures all” and that their recommendations are virtually guaranteed to reflect this belief. Some of us have tried our best to interject other principles, e.g. the need for “retail diversity.” (That was my phrase, by the way, and I really hope it stays in the Central Square recommendations.) I don’t know of too many people who have tried to have a voice in the Central Square process who are opposed to density. The questions are “where?” and “how much?”.
I disagree that this is only about Economics 101 and supply and demand. People do have an established right – legally and ethically – to influence what can and should be built in their cities. That’s why we have zoning laws. Sure, they can be abused, but it’s not the case that just because there is demand for real estate, zoning ordinances should be modified to accommodate any and all development proposals. Cambridge will continue to be attractive and economically robust even if the current zoning ordinances stand as is. It’s not necessary that all new pharmaceutical companies locate in Cambridge, nor is it necessarily a wise strategy to turn Cambridge into an economic monoculture.
Regarding housing, why is it so essential that Cambridge provide all the new housing in the urban core? Don’t you think there should also be robust commercial development and housing development elsewhere? Why is it mandatory that all of this should happen in Cambridge? I don’t personally want Cambridge to morph into downtown Boston just because people and businesses say they want to be here. At least part of that demand is driven by the negative side of the equation. Because of crime, bad schools, even more restrictive zoning or other problems, many neighborhoods of Boston and other surrounding communities are not even considered for housing or business development.
I disagree with the notion that there’s some kind of economic state of war with neighboring communities that requires us to act quickly to prevent any business from deciding to locate elsewhere. I think it was wise to make an effort to accommodate Google in Kendall Square, but this does not extend to every company that says they want to be here if only height and density limits are lifted. I look at Kendall Square as Cambridge’s designated sky-high district, and I’m relatively agreeable to most of the proposed density there. I also think there will be people – mainly the trendy, entrepreneurial 20-somethings – who will also want to live in tall buildings there while they develop their pharmaceuticals and iPhone gadgets. I doubt very much if many families will actually choose to live there (at least not for long).
Central Square is not Kendall Square, and many of us who do favor some additional density in Central Square (possibly within the existing zoning limits or with strategic modifications) do not want to see the area overrun. That said, I can’t say that I support the zoning petition that was unveiled last night nor do I think that a moratorium is needed. That strategy seems to me to be more of a political organizing tool than a strategy for thoughtful planning. It’s also an inevitable reaction to a widely held perception that residents have had little influence in the unfolding events. Please note what I said in the article: “Perhaps the most significant aspect to the public reaction is the perception that the Forest City/MIT proposal is just the first of a wave of ‘upzoning’ proposals that will steamroll their way from Kendall Square up Main Street and through all of Central Square.” - RW
On the Agenda - Highlights of the June 11, 2012 Cambridge City Council meeting
There are several substantial items on the agenda this week. Among them:
City Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-33, regarding a report on a plan for implementing separate trash or recycling curbside pickup for small businesses along existing curbside pickup routes. ["Please be advised that I am not recommending the implementation of such a program given the cost impacts to the City."]
This responds to an Order that grew, at least in part, out of East Cambridge traffic congestion problems caused by multiple collection vehicles. Needless to say, the suggestion that the City should take over all collection did not resonate with these multiple waste haulers. The real deal-breaker is the very substantial additional cost.
City Manager's Agenda #28. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the purchase of 53.6 acres of watershed land in Lincoln, MA, for $1,152,247 from Community Preservation Act Open Space Reserve Fund, for the purposes of drinking water supply protection and land conservation.
This watershed land is located on the north side of Route 2 in Lincoln just east of Bedford Road. The City has in recent years acquired numerous parcels through which the Hobbs Brook flows en route to the Cambridge Reservoir (Hobbs Basin) in the vicinity of Route 2 and Route 128. Some may argue that Community Preservation Act open space funds should be spent exclusively within the city limits, but watershed protection is generally a very good investment.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Police Commissioner, the Superintendent of Schools, and other appropriate personnel to organize a youth-focused community forum to discuss issues related to the shooting at Willow Street on June 3, 2012, to allow our young people a chance to openly communicate their concerns, grievances, and ideas directly with City officials and administrators. Vice Mayor Simmons
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Police Commissioner and to urge him to reach out to the various stake holders in the community, including building managers, property owners, and local business owners, in an attempt to proactively address the summer violence before it has a chance to begin. Vice Mayor Simmons
Though the law enforcement aspects of the shooting near Donnelly Field are appropriately in the hands of the Cambridge Police and the District Attorney, it is appropriate that Vice Mayor Denise Simmons should take a leadership role in the many other necessary responses to this incident that hit uncomfortably close to home. The greatest opportunity for leadership lies among the young people who know the victims and who may be able to help in the resolution of the case and in the prevention of future violence.
Order #4. That a Task Force be formed to review Cambridge's current program to creatively encourage and maximize participation in PILOT agreements with the City, and to evaluate the possibilities of implementing SILOT (Services In Lieu of Payment) and/or GILOT (Grants In Lieu of Payment) programs. Councillor vanBeuzekom and Councillor Cheung
The motivation of this Order appears to be a comparable program by the City of Boston that has achieved some success in generating addition revenue from tax-exempt institutions. Though the prospects are not great for additional payments in lieu of taxes, there is clearly plenty of opportunity for non-profit and educational institutions to offer services in lieu of taxes. The major colleges already provide many such services and could probably do more with some facilitation.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City and Harvard staff to determine who is doing what on the Cambridge Street Overpass, how through passage is being safely managed, how signage has been displayed, what the overall plans for this project are and the timing of the work and its expected completion date. Councillor Kelley
There was a very comprehensive presentation about this made at a recent meeting of the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association. Though substantial work is planned, the disruption both to the tunnel and the plaza above should be acceptable. The redesigned plaza will no longer have its familar grassy areas, but it will have the potential to become an important new public space for both Harvard and the City. [Details on the project (DPW) - Check out all the tabs.] I just hope the Harvard planners have an alternative for driving stakes into the ground when they want to install a tent. It's not so easy to drive stakes into concreate pavers.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with an explanation of how the City plans to maintain grade separated bikeways and keep them as free from sand, branches and other debris as the adjacent streets. Councillor Kelley
The larger issue is the grade-separated facilties themselves. While City officials and the public continually frown upon bicycling on sidewalks, they are simultaneously designing it into the Western Avenue project commencing later this year. To those of us who choose to ride in the street with all other vehicles, the City proposal will be less safe for us and slower for the cyclists who use the sidewalk track. It is very unlikely that the sidewalk track will be kept free of snow and ice in the winter. [“Cycle track”: a sidewalk by another name]
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with an explanation of how the locations for the three bike corrals currently in place in Cambridge were determined. Councillor Kelley
Good question. One of these corrals appeared recently in front of the Broadway Bicycle School. It's empty basically all the time. [Correction: On Monday there were 8 bikes locked up there, probably related to the City Hall Annex.] Cyclists coming to the Broadway Bicycle School generally bring their bikes inside to work on them. Meanwhile in places all over Cambridge there are derelict bikes chained up for months at a time taking up many of the available locations for locking up a bike.
Order #14. That the City Manager confer with the appropriate departments to discuss the potential of installing security cameras in the Donnelly Field area and report back to the City Council. Councillor Toomey
The recent shooting at Donnelly Field does not in and of itself justify the installation of such cameras, but their presence could very well have resolved this case in short order. Though the government conspiracy theorists may feel otherwise, their arguments against these cameras remain weak. Public spaces are public and cameras strategically located along roads and on public buildings can and do help in solving crimes.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 15, 2012 to discuss the petition of Forest City/MIT to amend the Zoning Ordinances by extending the Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District from Green Street out to Massachusetts Avenue in the area adjacent to Blanche Street and further to provide for the potential development of a residential building on Sidney Street between Massachusetts Avenue and Green Street.
A few thoughts on this (more to follow in the coming weeks as the various advisory committees complete their efforts):
Though the proposal for the All-Asia block is similar to what MIT/Forest City proposed last year, the proposal for a 165-foot residential tower next to the Lafayette Square fire house apparently came out of the Community Development Department. Forest City was receptive to the idea, but it wasn't their idea. A more human-scale residential building next to the firehouse might be more acceptable as long as an equivalent amount of open space is relocated to a site people would actually use. MIT/Forest City's primary motivation is the development of the All-Asia block - something they would have done 20 years ago if they had sufficient control of the property. Significant height (about 140 ft.) and density is also proposed there. Of great concern to some MIT faculty is the current trend of MIT sacrificing properties close to the core campus to private development (e.g., Pfizer, Novartis) that might otherwise have supported the academic mission of the Institute.
I would caution people against taking an either-or view of this or any of the other proposals that will soon appear for future development in the greater Central Square area. Some will be opposed to any additional height or density and others will be receptive to any and all additional height or density. I find both of these points of view to be lacking. Surely there is room for people to express their own "vision" for what they want the future of Central Square to be - as opposed to simply reacting to the proposals of others. It's ironic that the City Council has a Neighborhood & Long-term Planning Committee, yet two things the committee apparently doesn't do are neighborhood and long-term planning.
I would much rather see the emphasis be on increasing density within the envelope currently prescribed by the zoning code with some strategic modification to induce good uses. The zoning is actually pretty generous already and there are many underbuilt sites in the area - including the All-Asia block. My "vision" for Central Square primarily consists of replacing the one-story and two-story "taxpayer" buildings with buildings that rise 3 to 5 stories at Mass. Ave. and possibly step back an additional story or two. I feel that a good-looking ten-story building like the Central Square Building at Mass. Ave. and Western Ave. should be the (anomalous) upper limit for height. I might be convinced that one other such building should be built, but this should not be the norm. Central Square is not Kendall Square, and it should not be redeveloped in the manner of Kendall Square. The Central Square neighborhood is already somewhat dense and can afford to be more dense if the gaps along Mass. Ave. are better developed and if some of the back lots see new construction. If housing in new buildings close to work is what is needed, I would suggest that the best place for new housing would be in Kendall Square, in the area between Main Street and Mass. Ave. replacing some of the old industrial properties, and on some (not all) of the parking lots.
Regarding the issue of shadows cast by taller buildings, I've always felt this to be primarily a naysayer strategy transparently intended to block a given proposal. In Jill Brown-Rhone Park (Lafayette Square), the City has installed umbrellas in that area because of the excess sunniness. I would prefer to see a shorter building than the 165 foot tower currently proposed, but I don't really care about the shadows. I simply prefer a more human scale in an area that is primarily oriented toward neighborhood people rather than trans-national industries. We have Kendall Square and downtown Boston for that sort of thing.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 23, 2012 to discuss a petition to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge by adding to Section 5.50 entitled "Special Dimensional Regulations" a section 5.54 entitled "Special Regulations for Municipal Elementary and Middle (K-8) Schools.
This is largely a formality despite some of the scary and dishonest e-mail alerts distributed by some activists with nothing better to do than spread false rumors about unlimited heights, unlimited parking, exemption from all zoning, and the consolidation of all middle school programs into a single "supersized" building. False, false, false, and false. - Robert Winters
Of Lesser Importance - June 4, 2012 City Council Agenda Highlights
Tonight's meeting is not the main thing on the minds of most Cantabrigians today. Last night's shooting on Willow Street in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood that left one girl (Charlene Holmes, age 16) dead and another (Thania-Lee Cotto, age 17) in critical condition is on the minds of everyone today. According to reports, the two girls were best friends and neither of them was the intended target. A candlelight vigil is planned for 7:00pm.
Of lesser importance are the following agenda items:
Communications #1. A communication was received from Forest City transmitting expanded shadow studies for the proposed Forest City Project on Massachusetts Avenue.
Attention is being misdirected toward whether or not the proposed 165 foot residential tower next to the Lafayette Square fire station would cast shadows on the park across the street. The more significant issue is whether this is an appropriate height for Central Square and whether it would set a precedent for future development proposals. What's appropriate for Kendall Square is not necessarily appropriate for Central Square. Most of the public reaction to the proposed tower has been decidedly negative, but it has served to distract attention from the core proposal to redevelop the nearby 300 block of Mass. Ave. to a very significant height (145 feet) and density.
Resolution #22. Resolution on the death of Robert I. Winters. Councillor Maher, Mayor Davis
This is the father of Planning Board member (and friend) Pam Winters. He died last week at the age of 90. Because of our shared name, several people who saw the obituary came up to me with comments like, "You look well." As sad as this is, it's good to have friends who can make the best of things.
Resolution #25. Congratulations to City Councillor Leland Cheung on the occasion of his graduations from Harvard University and MIT. Councillor Reeves, Councillor Toomey, Mayor Davis, Councillor Decker, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Maher, Vice Mayor Simmons and Councillor vanBeuzekom
Yes indeed, congratulations to Leland. I guess this means he's now going to have to look for a job....
Resolution #38. Welcome Reverend Al Sharpton and Reverend Melvin E. Wilson to the City of Cambridge. Councillor Reeves
I don't know about the latter, but I'll pass on the former.
Order #1. That the City Manager confer with the Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation with a view in mind of changing the "Traffic Regulations in Appendix D, City of Cambridge - Traffic Department Parking Ticket Violations - Schedule 13 by striking out the penalty fee of $30.00 and inserting in place thereof the fee of $5.00 as it relates to Section 16.7 entitled" Street Cleaning. Councillor Cheung
I don't know about the need for the fee reduction, but maybe there should be a cap put on the capture and storage fees charged by the towing companies as a precondition for their getting a contract with the City. Those are the fees that really hammer you - not what the City gets.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner and discuss increasing patrols aimed at preventing graffiti in the Wellington Harrington and East Cambridge area. Councillor Toomey
It's often the case that tagging is associated with other illegal activity. Removing the graffiti will not abolish gangs any more than removing Central Square benches will cure alcoholism, but tolerance of tagging and negligence in removing it is inexcusable. It should be noted that this is the area of last night's murder.
Order #8. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the appropriate departments on the cost, user price, and payback period if Cambridge were to build its own broadband network and report back to the Cambridge City Council. Councillor Cheung
An old idea comes round again. There were plans to do this some time ago and I even volunteered my roof as a site for a wireless router for the network. This would, of course, directly challenge Comcast, a.k.a. The Evil Empire. I've always suspected that it was the objection of Comcast that put an end to the previous initiative.
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to ascertain how the potential increase in student loan rates might impact Cambridge students and report back to the City Council. Councillor Cheung
This is an example of a Democratic Party Talking Points memo being repurposed in the form of a City Council Order. The answer is clear enough - it would negatively impact students just as any increase in costs would. The text of the Order makes clear that this is really criticism of a recent vote in the U.S. Senate. For what it's worth, I agree with the sentiment that these loan rates should remain comparable with other (currently low) interest rates. What offends me is that forgiveness of (significant) student loan debt is being used as a tool to rally votes in the upcoming presidential election. Some of us "old school" types still believe in the principle that, whether or not the rates are negotiable, you should still repay your debts.
Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to look into the feasibility of providing a map of long term parking spots for rental on the city website and report back to the Cambridge City Council. Councillor Cheung
Though this Order refers to "long term parking spots for non-residents looking to visit family members for extended periods of time", it should be quite obvious that such a map will inevitably be used by other non-residents. A better resolution would be for the Department of Traffic, Parking, & Transportation to issue temporary permits for family members on a case-by-case basis. They most likely already do so. - Robert Winters
Passing the Budget and the Shape of Things to Come - May 21, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
The FY2013 General Fund Budget [$454,384,460], the Water Fund Budget [$14,144,080], and the Public Investment Fund [$21,277,065] will be approved this week along with final votes on 5 loan authorization orders totaling $17,442,670 to cover various public works projects. That's the Big Stuff. In addition, there are a few other items sure to attract some interest from the councillors and the public.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-61, regarding a report on implementing a Buy Local policy.
To the Honorable, the City Council:
In response to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-61, regarding a report on implementing a Buy Local policy, please be advised that the procurement of goods and services is controlled by State Law, MGL Chapter 30B. This statute does not permit the granting of preferential treatment for businesses in local cities or towns.
I am extremely skeptical that the Legislature would enact an amendment authorizing such a preference due to the potential "balkanization" impact.
Very truly yours, Robert W. Healy, City Manager
There has been a fair amount of agitation from several councillors to adopt some sort of local preference for City purchasing. They're not going to like this response and will likely quote statutes from other states to justify the worthiness of the concept of giving local preference. This, however, is Massachusetts and Chapter 30B is fairly restrictive in what cities and towns can and cannot do when it comes to purchasing and awarding contracts for goods and services. The Manager's statement about "balkanization" could just as easily be applied to periodic efforts to require residency for City jobs. The taxicab industry, on the other hand, is solidly located in the Balkans. A Boston cab picking up a fare in Cambridge (or vice-versa) could spark all-out war.
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Acting City Solicitor to prepare draft language to the Municipal Code that will increase the fines for violations to the dog ordinance and refer said language to the Ordinance Committee. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Kelley on Order Number Thirteen of May 14, 2012.]
This was Councillor vanBeuzekom's late Order from last week that was appropriately delayed by Councillor Kelley. The Dog Lobby can both bark and bite and there's a good chance that some of them will come barking in opposition at this meeting. Seriously, proposing changes in fees via a late Order with no public notice is very bad move.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department and report back to the City Council on the current status of the Inlet Bridge and steps the City can take to ensure that agreements with the Commonwealth are upheld. Councillor Toomey
I have a place on my shelf at home for City reports and plans for projects that never materialized. There's the well known stuff like the Inner Belt, but there's also the rapidly disappearing "Urban Ring" plan for public transportation, the pedestrian walkway that was supposed to be suspended from the back of the Museum of Science garage to reconnect the fabulous walkway behind the Museum that looks out over the Charles, and perhaps now the less consequential "Inlet Bridge" designed to create another means of access to the new NorthPoint Park and the brand-new bridge over the RR tracks to Charlestown. Maybe it's time we pulled some of these plans off the shelf and put them back on the table for a fresh look.
Elsewhere in town, the newly reconstituted Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) will have their first meeting Monday evening at the same time as the City Council meeting. Up at Harvard, if you haven't yet heard of the plans for the space between Harvard Yard and the Science Center above the tunnel, you may want to check it out. Major rejuvenation of the tunnel structure will commence after Commencement. The redesigned plaza will lose most of its greenery but promises to become a significant new civic space - not just for Harvard.
Meanwhile, we are getting close to the day when the Kendall and Central Square Goody/Clancy advisory committees communicate their thoughts on their respective Squares. It appears that the Harvest Market in Central Square will soon disappear or have to relocate into another (smaller) space. Mega-profit plans for the Naggar property, well-wrapped in red ribbons from political friends, are moving forward hungrily awaiting zoning changes to allow significantly greater density. Densification is the latest craze - quite the contrast from the wave of downzoning proposals that were common a decade or so ago. Further down the street, proposed plans for a 165 foot residential tower next to the Lafayette Square fire station and another 145 foot tall proposed building in the 300 block of Mass. Ave. are receiving their first taste of pushback from a wary public. - Robert Winters
Ducks in a Row - May 14, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
This week's meeting is in many ways the set-up meeting preceding next week's meeting at which the FY2013 Budget will be approved. There are 5 loan authorization orders On the Table totaling $17,442,670 to cover various public works projects that will be voted this week to get all the ducks in a row. Beyond this, it's all miscellany.
Order #3. That the Mayor is requested to confer with relevant City staff and City Councillors and report back to the City Council on the status of the process for filling the City Manager and City Clerk positions. Councillor Kelley
Orders like this one make me laugh. Councillor Kelley is the house obstructionist who always votes in the most contrary way in all matters relating to the City Manager. This has earned him the privilege of playing no role whatsoever in the eventual selection of the next city manager (he may have company). If any other councillor offers a substitute order, it will likely eclipse Kelley's order - even if the substitution is just a punctuation change. In matters of consequence, especially in matters such as this, I would expect the process to be begin with an Order from any of 6 councillors - a list that does not include Councillor Kelley.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Conservation Commission to provide an explanation of how the waiting lists for community garden plots work. Councillor Cheung
This reminds me of the thoroughly unenlightened mandate laid down several years ago by the Community Development Department regarding the assignment of plots in community gardens. Rather than maintaining an organic mix of new gardeners and long-time gardeners, they proposed evicting any gardener who had tilled their plot for more than three years. It was disappointing to have the Community Development Department ripping the community out of community gardening. In contrast, the Conservation Commission staff generally kept a more balanced approach and I hope this is still the case. The best community gardens in Cambridge are generally the ones in which the gardeners manage their own affairs with adequate City support and minimal intrusion. They have always encouraged sufficient turnover for new gardeners.
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and report back on a proposed plan of action to improve safety in area of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street. Councillor Cheung
I pass by this intersection often and the white bicycle marking where Phyo Kyaw was killed in late December is a chilling reminder of how suddenly a life can end. There are rumors circulating about the circumstances of that death, but the matter is now with the District Attorney and details are hard to come by. The intersection is rated as one of the city's most dangerous, but this is as much a function of the volume of traffic - motor vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian - as it is about any design flaw. Indeed, it's just an ordinary intersection of two roads. It would be interesting to see a comparison between the frequency of accidents before and after the City "improved" Vassar Street with its absurd "cycle track" design and narrowing of the roadway. For those of us who bicycle in the road rather than on the sidewalk, that was no improvement. The City is planning to "improve" Western Avenue in a similar manner beginning later this year. - Robert Winters
Budget Season - April 30, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
The centerpiece of tonight's meeting is the FY2013 Budget. The Budget Hearings of the Finance Committee will commence this week. See schedule below.
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board petition to amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge for an area along North Massachusetts Avenue.
From the report: "The petition amends the Zoning Map by changing the zoning of an area in the vicinity of Trolley Square and Linear Park from Business A-2 to Residence C-2B. This will allow a similar density to the current Business A-2 zoning district, but is limited to residential uses and provides increased setback and open space standards. The proposed map change is complementary to the proposed zoning text changes to the Mass. Ave. Overlay District previously submitted to the Council."
The meatiest items on the agenda are the annual Big Capital items to be financed by bonds. These are always introduced around the time of the submission of the annual budget. Here are this year's Big Ticket items:
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,100,000 to provide funds for the replacement of the slate roof on City Hall and additional funds for the replacement of the roofs on the Ryan Garage and Simard Buildings at Public Works.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $5,000,000 to provide funds for improvements to the Kendall Square area including Main Street between Broadway and Ames Street including the reconstruction of streets and sidewalks and the installation of new pedestrian-scale public lighting, street furniture, trees, and other beautification measures.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $1,245,000 to provide funds for the acquisition of a ladder truck and pumper to replace vehicles that have been in service since 1994 and 1991, respectively.
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $1,540,000 to provide funds for the design, regrade, drainage, and installation of new synthetic field surfaces on the soccer fields at Danehy Park.
Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $7,557,670 to provide funds for construction of sewer separation, stormwater management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City's Alewife watershed.
The central item on tonight's agenda is the Budget Overview (672 KB PDF). It is always informative and usually very responsive to most of the concerns expressed by councillors during the months leading up to the submission of the budget. The Manager's presentation is invariable followed by well-deserved praise from most of the councillors. Indeed, their jobs are made so much easier because of the efforts of the City Manager's Office and the Finance Department to plan and provide adequate funding for all the services and programs that Cambridge provides. [Download the entire FY2013 Budget Book (18.2MB PDF)]
Unfinished Business #6. That the FY2013 City Budget be referred to the Finance Committee, with the exception that the Budget Overview be postponed to ... the Apr 30, 2012 City Council meeting ... at which time the City Manager will give an overview of the 2013 City Budget....
Then there's this:
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report to the City Council on appropriate regulation of satellite dishes, possibly through an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance. Mayor Davis
I don't suppose anyone likes the idea of satellite dishes decorating the exterior of many residential buildings in Cambridge, but this is the consequence of the predatory pricing of Comcast's Evil Empire. If the City Council acts in such a way as to make it difficult to find an affordable alternative to the Evil Empire, then they have indeed gone over to The Dark Side. - Robert Winters
Schedule of Budget Hearings:
Wed, May 2
9:00am The City Council's Finance Committee will conduct a public hearing on the FY2013 City Budget. This hearing to be televised. (Sullivan Chamber)
Wed, May 9
9:00am The City Council's Finance Committee will conduct a public hearing on the FY2013 City Budget. This hearing to be televised. (Sullivan Chamber)
Date changes for individual departments may occur.
Wed, May 16
6:00pm The City Council's Finance Committee will conduct a public hearing on the FY2013 School Department Budget. This hearing to be televised. (Sullivan Chamber)
April 23, 2012 Cambridge City Council Meeting Highlights - featuring the Proposed FY2013 Budget
The FY2013 Budget for the City of Cambridge will be submitted this Monday, April 23 to the City Council. Here's a table of the bottom line for all of the City Departments for FY2013 as well as FY2005 and FY2012 for comparison:
City of Cambridge FY2013 Budget
Note 1: There's nothing special about FY2005 for making comparisions. That's just the earliest year with available online budget summaries.
Note 2: Don't jump to conclusions about the apparent jump in budget for the Peace Commission or the apparent drop in budget for the Police Review Advisory Board. They now share an Executive Director, so the changes are most likely related to which budget is covering that salary.
The proposed FY2013 Budget is City Manager's Agenda #1. There are a few other items on the agenda as well. For example:
City Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Police Review & Advisory Board for a term of five years, effective Apr 17, 2012:
City Manager's Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Board of Zoning Appeals effective Apr 18, 2012:
City Manager's Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Human Rights Commissioner for three year terms effective Apr 18, 2012:
It's apparently catch-up time for appointments to City boards and commissions.
City Manager's Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $11,917,462 from Free Cash to the General Fund Law Department Travel and Training (Judgment and Damages) account.
This is the formal balancing of the books to account for the payment out of free cash to cover the legal settlement costs relating to the unfortunate outcome of the lawsuits of Monteiro, Wong, and Stamper. Hopefully we'll not see any other opportunistic lawsuits like these any time soon.
Resolution #11. Resolution on the death of Timothy J. Decker. Vice Mayor Simmons, Councillor Maher, Councillor Cheung, Mayor Davis, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Reeves, Councillor Toomey and Councillor vanBeuzekom
Sincere condolences to Marjorie Decker on the loss of her father.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the feasibility of converting portions of the 4th floor of City Hall, or some other under-utilized building space already owned by the City, into office space for the eight members of the City Council who do not currently have office space within City Hall. Vice Mayor Simmons and Councillor Cheung
This unnecessary Order will likely be approved on a unanimous or near-unanimous vote. It should be noted that during course of the last decade or so, city councillors were granted exclusive parking spaces behind City Hall (usually vacant), their own personal assistants (primarily campaign workers), and magnificent salary increases. The job description remains the same as it was in 1941. Note that the City Council budget has also increased 68% in 8 years. This Order rather absurdly asserts that city councillors lack sufficient space in City Hall. This doesn't pass the sniff test.
Order #6. That the matter of Reconsideration in Rule Sixteen of the City Council Rules be referred to the Government Operations and Rules Committee for review. Councillor Maher
This is a good idea, especially since at least one councillor has chosen to file Reconsideration purely to delay matters that have been overwhelmingly supported. Some councillors appear to have never been acquainted with Robert's Rules or Order or even the City Council's own adopted rules. This is good for occasional comedy, but not so great for efficient meetings.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine if Cambridge can take similar steps towards being re-certified to regulate basic cable costs in the City of Cambridge and to report back to the City Council. Councillor Toomey
I won't hold my breath expecting anything to come of this. The Evil Empire of Comcast shall not yield. Besides, it's not the "basic cable" costs that are the big problem with Comcast. It's the fact that all the other cable packages are absurdly overpriced and the City is not legally permitted to negotiate any of those rates or selections. That's why I dumped Comcast and use a roof antenna. - Robert Winters
Well-Appointed - April 9, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
Tonight's meeting features several notable appointments by the City Manager. The first is this:
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Nancy Tauber as the Executive Director of the Cambridge Kids' Council effective Apr 24, 2012.
I cannot imagine a better choice to head this agency. I have often wondered what exactly the Kids' Council does - primarily because most of what I think it should do is already managed in the Dept. of Human Services Programs, the School Department, and elsewhere. If the theory is that all this child-centered programming should be coordinated within the Kids' Council, then there's been a big gap between theory and reality. The addition of Nancy Tauber as Executive Director is a great step forward to realizing what this agency is supposed to be about.
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, requesting City Council confirmation of members of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Board in accordance with Chapter 121B of the Massachusetts General Laws.
Though any complaints about the delay in making these appointments are entirely valid, the quality of the four appointments to the CRA certainly make up for this. Joining state appointee Barry Zevin will be (pending City Council approval) Margaret Drury, Kathleen Born, Chris Bator, and Conrad Crawford. Recently retired City Clerk Margaret Drury and former City Councillor and current architect Kathleen Born are stunningly good choices. Based on the credentials of the other two gentlemen, they also seem to be excellent choices.
April 9, 2012
In accordance with Chapter 121B of the Massachusetts General Laws, I am submitting the following names for City Council confirmation as members of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Board.
D. Margaret Drury, 1-year term to expire April 12, 2013:
Chris Bator, 3-year term to expire April 12, 2015:
Conrad Crawford, 4-year term to expire April 12, 2016:
Kathleen Born, 5-year term to expire April 12, 2017:
Since this recommendation results in a reconstruction of the Board, my recommendation results in staggered terms with one member's term expiring in each of the five years. Subsequent appointments would be for 5-year terms.
Very truly yours, Robert W. Healy, City Manager
Though the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority is most known for the redevelopment of the Kendall Square MXD district, the CRA in the past played a major role in housing development in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood and elsewhere. It is certainly possible that the CRA could again take on that role elsewhere in the city.
Applications & Petitions #2. An application was received from Cambridge Housing Authority requesting permission for a curb cut at the premises numbered 7 Temple Street; said petition has received approval from Inspectional Services, Traffic, Parking and Transportation, Historical Commission and Public Works. No response has been received from the neighborhood association.
This is the first sign in a long time that the proposed Cambridge Housing Authority residential project on the site of the long-abandoned YWCA pool on Temple Street may at last be moving forward.
Order #2. Urge greater cooperation from the Cambridge Housing Authority to better serve the people of Cambridge. Vice Mayor Simmons and Councillor Cheung
This is a very long-winded Order that on the one hand could be interpreted as a statement of exasperation by city councillors at the nonresponsiveness of personnel at the CHA. On the other hand, the age-old practice of elected officials delivering CHA housing to constituents could be the basis of this Order. Should elected officials be actively placing individuals in public housing? Considering the political implications of providing such an economic benefit to potential voters, one might argue that all housing placements should be done objectively without any political influence. It's very hard to read between the lines of this Order to discern its real intent.
Order #3. That the petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance to add to the Special Dimensional Regulations a Special Regulation for Municipal Elementary and Middle (K-8) Schools be referred to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee for a hearing and report. Councillor Maher
This matter was introduced at the end of the last Council term as a necessary step in the planning for future school reconstruction. The delay in choosing a mayor and in appointing the Council subcommittees pushed this matter back, but it will now move forward with Ordinance Committee and Planning Board hearings.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant departments in order to present to the City Council a map of Cambridge that shows, by location and by date, all of the areas where construction is and will be taking place over the coming decade. Vice Mayor Simmons
An initial read of this Order suggests some kind of mystical powers within CDD to peer into the future. Some projects are definitely in the planning stage, but it's doubtful whether CDD could accurately state where and what will be built more than a couple of years into the future. Even the dense-pack proposals now being crafted by Goody Clancy as part of the Kendall Square/Central Square (K2C2) Study may not be realized anytime soon, if ever.
Order #8. That a one-time suspension of Council Rule 23B be allowed, for the broadcast of the Wed, Apr 25, 2012, 4:00pm Cambridge City Council Roundtable Meeting (a meeting to receive an update from Goody Clancy and the Community Development Department on the Kendall Central Study.) Councillor vanBeuzekom
None of the recent Kendall Square and Central Square studies and its related committee meetings, with and without the red ribbons, have involved much in the way of community participation. Indeed, the Red Ribbon report from last year seemed disconnected from much of the discussion that took place at the various minimally publicized meetings leading up to the report. It's doubtful that broadcasting the April 25 Roundtable meeting (no public comment allowed) will do much for either public awareness or involvement.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor's Office, the City Auditor and the Community Development Department to explore the City of Cambridge's relationship with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority and any of its current and future development projects. Councillor vanBeuzekom and Vice Mayor Simmons
The time is certainly right for evaluating the past, present, and possible future role of the CRA. This should not, however, delay the City Council from approving the four persons appointed by the City Manager. After the newly reconstituted CRA Board meets and gets organized, it might be a good time to have a City Council Roundtable meeting with the CRA Board and its Executive Director. - Robert Winters
Apr 2, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights and other News from the People's Republic
There's not much to say about the meeting itself, but the agenda items do bring a few other things to mind.
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the supplemental appropriation of a Metropolitan Area Planning Council Regional Bike Parking Program Grant in the amount of $24,948 to the Grant Fund Community Development Department Other Ordinary Maintenance account to purchase bicycle parking racks.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a $2,000 grant received form the Cambridge Health Department to the Grant Fund Community Development Department Salary and Wages account to pay for an intern who will work with city staff to promote cycling and to research and plan for bicycle parking in numerous locations around Cambridge.
This is all well and good, but there are a few things about all these bike posts sprouting through the sidewalks of Cambridge that need to be said. First, it's incredible how many abandoned bikes are clogging up these posts. The fact that the DPW guy in charge of wrangling bikes was arrested for stealing bicycles may be a factor, but I'd love to hear a truck making the rounds announcing "Bike rack cleaning. No parking on the odd side of the street or your bike will be tagged and towed. Bike rack cleaning...."
Another curious fact of these bike racks is that the responsibility of property owners to provide space for bikes for their residential and commercial tenants is being transferred to the City. On my block, my tenants store their bikes in the basement or behind the house but other property owners provide no space at all on premises for bicycles. The plan is apparently to transfer this responsibility entirely to the City by installing bike racks on the sidewalk - even though the primary users are not customers but tenants of the buildings. One commercial building with plentiful basement space and four commercial parking spaces behind the building now has no parking on premises for either bikes or motor vehicles. The parking spaces were given to an abutting residential condo building, and the City will be providing bike parking on the sidewalk. I wish I could externalize all my responsibilities like that.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-34, regarding a report on designated open space within the MXD District. [attachment]
This report really should have been provided a month ago when the controversy over the Kendall Square rooftop garden first arose. Better late than never, I suppose. It would be more informative if there was an accompanying document showing the whole range of current and planned open space in the wider area, especially the new open space that came out of the Alexandria rezoning process.
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the North Massachusetts Avenue Rezoning Petition received from the Planning Board. [attachment]
This petition concerns the part of Mass. Ave. from Porter Square to the Arlington line. As the report states, the principal elements of the proposed zoning are maintaining ground floor retail (non·residential uses on the ground floor would be required), protecting historic structures, facilitating outdoor seating, and adjusting the Business A2 (BA2) district boundaries. The closing sentence states, "The Planning Board feels that the proposed zoning changes reflect key opportunities to allow North Massachusetts Avenue to continue to evolve into an inviting, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use street with active ground floors."
Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a request that the City Council authorize the City Manager to seek approval from the Office of the Inspector General to utilize "Construction Manager-at-Risk" as the contracting method for the Martin Luther King School Renovation Project.
I don't profess to understand what advantages this may have, but anything that may potentially limit costs is welcome. We've spent a lot of money in recent years on the Library, the Police Station, and the High School, and much more will be spent during the next decade in reconstructing buildings that will house the new middle school programs.
Order #1. That the City Council schedule a Roundtable Meeting for Wed, Apr 25, 2012 at 4:00pm to receive an update from Goody Clancy and the Community Development Department on the Kendall Central Study. Mayor Davis
This is one of MANY meetings coming up regarding possible plans for both Kendall Square and Central Square. One criticism I would express about the Goody Clancy role in this is the strong sense that their primary goal even before entering into this was to dramatically increase the residential and commercial density everywhere possible between Kendall Square and Central Square. Some of this is good, but the whole process feels like a juggernaut with the various advisory committees simply receiving the "vision" of the planners and not the other way around. Perhaps the upcoming meetings on Apr 4 (Central), Apr 5 (Kendall), Apr 6 (Kendall), Apr 10 (Kendall), Apr 11 (Central), Apr 12 (Kendall), Apr 25 (Goody Clancy at the City Council), and Apr 26 (Kendall) will bring out some more residents - few of whom have attended any of the previous meetings.
So many of the people who will be affected by proposals for Central Square have had little or no input into these ongoing discussions. This includes the Red Ribbon stuff of the last two years. The first news for some will be when places like the Clear Conscience Café and the Harvest Market are hustled out of their spaces to make room for other things. Other favorite places will be priced out of Central Square as it continues its transformation toward upscale restaurants as basic retail outlets pass into history. It's popular to talk about buying local, but we are swiftly moving toward a future where a trip to Somerville or Everett will be necessary for anyone seeking affordable groceries, clothing, and other basic needs.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the Council on the legal requirements for public notice and meetings including issues on legibility, regulatory framework and definition and public comment at said meeting or hearing. Councillor Kelley
The impetus for this Order is the proposed Dunkin Donuts next to the Evergood Market at Mass. Ave. and Shepard St. It's doubtful whether there would have been such outrage if the Dunkin Donuts was proposed to open on Broadway or in East Cambridge or Central Square. Alas, not all neighborhoods have a Master Plan. - Robert Winters
Ins and Outs - Monday, Mar 26 City Council meeting and other news
Though there is a City Council meeting this week, all the really interesting stuff happened at last week's meeting and in the days that followed. The Biggest Item by far was last week's Order relating to the extension of the City Manager's contract through June 2013 coupled with Bob Healy's statement that he would retire at the end of the contract. As if one major retirement wasn't enough, State Representative Alice Wolf announced on Thursday that she would not seek reelection this Fall. As expected, City Councillor Marjorie Decker then announced her candidacy for the seat now occupied by State Rep. Wolf. Others may yet toss their hats into the ring for the Democratic Primary in September and there's a decent chance that there may even be a challenger in the November General Election.
Meanwhile at this week's City Council meeting, there are a few interesting agenda items:
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Larry Ward as an Election Commissioner for term of four years, effective Apr 1, 2012, in accordance with Chapter 239 of the Acts of 1921 as amended.
The Manager had a tough choice between nominees Tom Stohlman and Larry Ward. I suppose it didn't hurt that Councillors Reeves and Simmons were actively supporting Larry Ward (who will be a fabulous election commissioner). If there's an opening on the Planning Board anytime soon, I hope Tom Stohlman is interested. Even better, let's hope Tom runs for City Council again and wins.
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Board of Zoning Appeal to restart the process of the Dunkin Donuts cafe/coffee shop at 1678 Massachusetts Avenue. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Order Number Seventeen of Mar 19, 2012.]
The discussion on this at the end of the March 19 City Council meeting illuminated the kind of elitism of which Cantabigians are often accused. If this was yet another yuppie café there would be no objections. (The site is next door to the Evergood Market.) Think of the bright side, folks. With a donut shop, you'll have plenty of police protection. (I know I'll get grief for that....)
Applications & Petitions #6. 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.
The Forest City/University Park zoning petition returns. This would alter the zoning in the area bounded on three sides by Green Street, Blanche Street, and Mass. Ave. easterly to the former Cambridgeport Saloon (even more formerly Fathers Four) to extend the Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District (CRDD) to include this block. The 7-page petition is here: http://www2.cambridgema.gov/CityOfCambridge_Content/documents/Foresst%20City%20%20Sidney%20St.pdf.
Resolution #1. Congratulations to Mayor Emeritus Walter J. Sullivan and Marion Sullivan as they prepare to celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary on July 22, 2012. Vice Mayor Simmons, Councillor Toomey
No parking on the odd side of the street or your car will be tagged and towed. Street Cleaning. No parking on the odd side of the street or your car will be tagged and towed. Street Cleaning. No parking on the odd side of the street or your car will be tagged and towed. Street Cleaning.....
Resolution #7. Thanks to State Representative Alice Wolf for her years of service to the citizens of Cambridge. Mayor Davis, Councillor Toomey, Councillor vanBeuzekom
Absolutely, yet I couldn't help but notice that Marjorie Decker wasn't listed as a cosponsor. Perhaps she was busy.....
It never ceases to amaze me how much the Democratic Party in Massachusetts abhors contested elections within its own party. This was the case when Marjorie Decker challenged Paul Demakis in 2002 and all the party regulars recoiled in horror. It makes you wonder what will happen if another Democratic hat comes flying into the ring for Wolf's seat. Meanwhile, in the other House and Senate Cambridge districts, all we hear are crickets. - Robert Winters
Getting Down to Business - Mar 19, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
There can be little doubt that this meeting is the most serious meeting so far this year and possibly for this entire year. Front and center on the agenda is City Council Order #7, cosponsored by seven of the nine city councillors, calling for an extension of the City Manager's contract (through mid-2013) and a commitment to begin consideration of how the process of succession might be conducted should this be the final contract extension for City Manager Robert W. Healy. There has been no recent public statement from Mr. Healy regarding his wishes for any additional contract extension, but a short-term extension like the one proposed seems consistent with statements made in recent years. It is noteworthy that seven of the nine city councillors had the good sense to grant a contract extension. The two councillors who did not sign on to this Order are Councillor Kelley (who has been a vocal opponent of Mr. Healy since long before his time as a councillor) and Councillor Reeves (speculation encouraged).
O-7 Mar 19, 2012
Regardless whether any addition contract extensions occur in the future, there is wisdom in this City Council developing some kind of vision of how the City will one day, perhaps next year, make the difficult transition to a new City Manager after three decades of extraordinarily competent leadership. Let's just hope that when the time comes this City Council or a future City Council is up to the task.
Elsewhere on the agenda:
Manager's Agenda #1. 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, 2012 and ending Mar 31, 2013.
The proposal is that the water and sewer rates remain unchanged for the coming year - the 2nd consecutive year of 0% increases. The future may not be as bright with projected water rate increases in the coming few years of 1.1%, 0.2%, 1.3%, and 2.0% but more significant projected sewer rate increases of 5.8%, 9.1%, 6.0%, and 10.2%. Sewer costs are currently about 72% of a typical water/sewer bill, so escalating sewer rates will have a significant impact down the road even as the water rates remain relatively stable.
On The Table #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a request from Boston Properties Limited Partnership ("Boston Properties") for the modification of two existing open space restriction covenants on buildings located at Four and Five Cambridge Center in connection with the creation of a new 47,000 square foot urban park and new open space restriction covenant for a net gain 28,853 square feet of public open space.
The proposal introduced several weeks ago by Boston Properties (to reduce the rooftop garden on the Kendall Square garage in exchange for greatly extending the agreement to maintain the garden and landscaping additional open space in the Kendall Square MXD District) was Tabled in order to allow more time for public process and, presumably, negotiation. Much of the public comment to date has been resoundingly negative, and there has been at least one proposal (from the East Cambridge Planning Team) to link any changes to the existing rooftop park to the provision of comparable space on adjacent buildings and a commitment to build the housing mandated by zoning guidelines. There are efforts to lure prize tenant Google away from Cambridge should this matter be long delayed, so there is some pressure on the City Council to resolve this soon and, hopefully, amicably for all affected parties.
Communications #3-32 and #36-111. A barrage of computer-generated petitions regarding the proposed reconfiguration of Community Schools programs associated with the temporary relocation of the King School and the programs housed therein.
It took me all of about a week to grow tired of the computer-generated communications that these "change.org" petitions produce - all identical lemming-like statements of dissatisfaction over whatever the flavor-of-the-week gripe happens to be. There are aspects of the proposed Community Schools reconfiguration worthy of discussion, but advocacy by the pound is thoroughly unappealing. Several well-considered letters from a few thoughtful individuals carry so much more weight than 76 sheep clicking "send" on a petition-generating website.
Much more entertaining are the following communications from the Odd Wizard of Franklin Street.
Communication #34. A communication was received from Peter Valentine regarding activity throughout the nation and territories where the national interests are involved.
Peter urges the following: To all True Americans from Peter Valentine, National Officer In Charge under the authority of a Constitutional State of "Imminent Danger That Will Not Admit Delay" 37 Brookline St., 3/9/2012. Orders that all governments in the United States of America be it Town, City, State or National implement a Department of Constitutional monitoring, investigation and corrective action to whatever degree necessary pertaining to any rights violations that a citizen believes a government may have perpetuated against a citizens' constitutional rights. And further to all True Americans be it known that the National Officer In Charge is aware of all subversive activity throughout the nation and territories where the national interests are involved whether it be enemies who have infiltrated the government, the security forces or to undermine the security and well being of society in general. As Above, So Below. The term True American does not have to be defined because if you are a True American, You have The intelligence to Know What It Means.
Communication #113. A communication was received from Peter Valentine regarding the way to end all the world's problems is for everyone to become creative instead of average and or despotic.
Peter urges the following: To all True Americans from The National Officer In Charge, under the authority of a "Constitutional State of Imminent Danger That Will Not Admit Delay", citizen Peter Valentine, 37 Brookline St. 3/11/2012. The Officer In Charge sends the Directive forward that the way to end all the world's problems if for everyone to become Creative instead of Average and or Despotic.
Resolution #1. Retirement of Darleen G. Bonislawski from the Election Commission. Mayor Davis
Darleen Bonislawski has served honorably as an Election Commissioner since 1988 (24 years). As one of the few residents who ever goes to meetings of the Election Commission, I'll note that Darleen has been the most outspoken commissioner advocating for members of under-represented communities to register and to vote. Her successor must be appointed by April 1 from a list of three persons nominated by the Cambridge Democratic City Committee. Two of those nominees, Tom Stohlman and Larry Ward, are superb choices - either of whom would be an excellent choice to succeed Darleen.
Order #3. That the City Manager, in conjunction with the Community Development Department, is requested to investigate the improper leases and rental of owned affordable housing units. Councillor Reeves
What a revelation. It's somewhat reminiscent of the days of rent control when property owners were constrained in what they could legally charge for rent, but many tenants were earning great money (including a former mayor) and other tenants were subletting their rent-controlled apartments for substantially more than the maximum legal rent. I guess it just goes to show that we're all good capitalists at heart. That includes many people in subsidized housing who are expert at being "poor on paper" in order to qualify for taxpayer-supported cheap housing, and apparently a few ultra-capitalists who are now using their taxpayer-supported housing as a tradable commodity. All Hail Marx and Lenin here in the Peoples Republic!
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Information Technology Department and the Government Operations and Rules Committee to look into the feasibility of recording all roll call votes online and report back to the Cambridge City Council. Councillor Cheung
As the ultimate Council observer, I endorse this wholeheartedly. It does, however, seem rather odd that the City is so enslaved and choked by its own technology that the IT Department is required when all that is needed is a simple annotation indicating how people voted. This is already done for some items voted by the City Council. - Robert Winters
Parks, Petitions, and Pickups - Mar 5, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
The proposal introduced last week by Boston Properties (to reduce the rooftop garden on the Kendall Square garage in exchange for greatly extending the agreement to maintain the garden and landscaping additional open space in the Kendall Square MXD District) elicited a great deal of public comment (almost all opposed to reducing the size of the garden) and a renewed interest by city councillors in the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority that guides the development of the MXD District and much of the Kendall Square area. It was agreed that the matter should be tabled until March 19 so that some public process and additional conversations might take place. The relevant agenda item is this:
On The Table #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a request from Boston Properties Limited Partnership ("Boston Properties") for the modification of two existing open space restriction covenants on buildings located at Four and Five Cambridge Center in connection with the creation of a new 47,000 square foot urban park and new open space restriction covenant for a net gain 28,853 square feet of public open space. [Placed on Table on motion of Councillor Toomey on Feb 27, 2011.]
One response is the following Order from Councillor Toomey that questions what constitutes open space in that area and whether the area to be landscaped as a "Dog and People Park" has not already been designated for other use.
Order #2. That the City Manager is request to report back to the City Council on what is designated open space within the MXD District in Kendall Square. Councillor Toomey
Some of the discussion by councillors at last week's meeting focused on the membership of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA). Though this Board is supposed to have an executive director and five members (four appointed by the City Manager subject to approval by the City Council, and one appointed by the governor), most of the seats have remained essentially or actually vacant for some time. The City Manager last week let it be known that he is now interviewing possible new appointees for this Board. It is not unreasonable to speculate that a renewed CRA could play a role in projects not only in the Kendall Square area but also elsewhere in Cambridge (as it has in the long past).
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to look into the feasibility of hiring an ombudsman to serve as a liaison and internal advocate for community members. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Decker on Order Number One of Feb 27, 2012.]
This was Councillors Cheung and vanBeuzekom's Order last week - a good sentiment but perhaps not the best response to perceptions by some that the Community Development Department (CDD) is not working in the best interest of the residents of the city. As mentioned here last week, everyone at CDD should be and for the most part is already "a liason and internal advocate for community members".
Unfinished Business #3. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a hearing held on December 28, 2011 to consider an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance on the petition filed by Julia Bishop, et al. and re-filed by the City Council to amend Section 17.20 of the Zoning Ordinance - Regulations for Special District 2 located in North Cambridge along Linear Park.
It is expected that this Petition which was amended last week and which has been the focus of so much public testimony and organizing since last summer will be voted this week. The Law Department is expected to address issues of possible spot zoning prior to the Council vote on ordination.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Commissioner of Public Works with the intention of devising a plan for implementing curbside pick up for small businesses along existing curbside pick up routes and to report back to the City Council. Councillor Toomey
There was a day not so long ago when the City picked up rubbish from many or most Cambridge businesses, but the policy has for some time been to shift this responsibility from the City to private vendors hired by the businesses or commercial building owners. This same policy has carried over to recycling services. Councillor Toomey's well-intentioned Order should be understood in the larger context of all solid waste disposal by businesses. For example, if recycling services are provided at low or no cost to small businesses, then this would create a financial incentive for businesses to recycle as much as possible. [This has been the experience in cities and towns with "pay as you throw" systems in which residents can recycle at no cost but must pay by the bag or barrel for rubbish disposal.] This could substantially increase costs for the City. There certainly would be greater efficiency in using the same vehicles for both residential and commercial recycling, but contracts would have to be rewritten and volumes and costs estimated before considering a shift back toward the City providing these services.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to provide to the City Council the response to the Massachusetts Food Association's letter as it relates to City Council Policy Order Number 10 regarding banning of plastic bag usage by Cambridge retailers. Councillor vanBeuzekom
It will be interesting to see both the Massachusetts Food Association's letter opposing such a ban as well as the City Manager's response. Consumers should be routinely providing their own bags without government intervention, but whether they do or don't it would still make more sense to have a common policy at all stores and not different policies in different cities and towns.
Finally, it must be noted that this will be the first City Council meeting since the retirement of City Clerk D. Margaret Drury. Interim City Clerk Donna Lopez was sworn in at last week's meeting. The complete list of Cambridge Town Clerks and City Clerks going back to 1632 is posted at http://rwinters.com/clerks-managers.htm. - Robert Winters
To Halve and Halve Not - Feb 27, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
Now that Cambridge has a Mayor, all things are now possible - world peace, affordable space travel, and eternal life - just to name a few. Regarding more mundane affairs, perhaps Mayor Davis will set a new standard by appointing the City Council committees in record time. I hope so - I have a rocket to catch.
The Really Big Item on the agenda this week seems to be City Manager's Agenda #1 - a recommendation that the City Council approve a plan submitted by Boston Properties to cut in half the rooftop garden that exists in Kendall Square between Cambridge Center Buildings Four and Five. If you haven't yet visited that garden, you should. You can get to it via the Marriott. It's an unexpected oasis nestled among the taller buildings in Kendall Square perhaps 70 feet above ground. Apparently the playful folks at Google want to connect their rented spaces in two adjacent buildings by constructing a connector that will consume half of the rooftop garden - the sunnier half, by the way. And wouldn't you know it - if they can't do this they'll have to move and Cambridge will lose the jobs, the prestige, the taxes, and the firstborn males of its residents. Search engines will cease to function and the Charles River will turn to blood.
The proposal asks that the Ancient Covenants mandating the rooftop park be modified in exchange for landscaping a narrow, triangular piece of land at the bend of Binney Street abutting the railroad tracks for use as a "Dog and People Park". Methinks there's room to negotiate for something better. It's also a bit strange to have proposals like this come forward while the K2C2 (Kendall Square/Central Square) planning process involving the Goody/Clancy firm is ongoing. The Manager's recommendation calls for diminution of process and a quick decision. The Council shouldn't needlessly delay, but it's doubtful that a few more weeks of consideration will cause Google to move to Ashtabula. [Read the full proposal (9.5MB)]
It's an interesting juxtaposition that Manager's Agenda #8 is also on the agenda. This is an appropriation of $1,000,000 received from Alexandria Real Estate (ARE) that will be used to enable the City to plan and design improvements at the Rogers Street Park and the Triangle Park while ascertaining the appropriate open space needs of eastern Cambridge.
Elsewhere on the agenda, Councillor Kelley filed for Reconsideration of his failed Feb 13 Order that asks the City Manager "to direct City staff to replace the words 'approve' and 'disapprove' with the words 'support' and 'do not support' or, as appropriate, by some other terms that will help clarify where relevant authority rests when considering curb cuts." The Order failed with only Councillors Kelley, Decker, and vanBeuzekom supporting it. Or maybe approving it. Never mind. This is also the subject of Charter Right #2 that would refer the matter to the Gov't Operations & Rules Committee which may or may not ultimately approve or support it or possibly not approve or not support it.
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-23, regarding the continuation of the Longfellow Community School program and Longfellow Neighborhood Council.
The Manager proposes that starting this fall when the King/Amigos building closes for renovations that the Community School currently operating in the King/Amigos building will move to the Amigos Building (on Upton Street) where the majority of its program participants will attend school. The Community School operating in the Longfellow neighborhood will provide programming to the King School and neighborhood children in the Longfellow building. With the reopening of the Longfellow Building this summer, the program will be able to offer robust programming in the building for children who attend the King School or come from the neighborhood. In addition, the Longfellow Community School will be able to continue to provide community programming for the Longfellow neighborhood. The City will contract with the Cambridge Community Center, located around the corner from the King School, to provide community support until the King School reopens. All in all, this seems like a good solution for each of the affected schools and neighborhoods.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to look into the feasibility of hiring an ombudsman to serve as a liaison and internal advocate for community members. Councillor Cheung and Councillor vanBeuzekom
This brings to mind a time when the Cambridge Police Department had a separate Community Oriented Policing liasson. When Ronnie Watson took over as Police Commission one of the first things he did was to eliminate this position. His argument was that the entire department should be doing Community Oriented Policing as a matter of policy. This same argument can be made regarding the Community Development Department. Is the genesis of this Order the perception that CDD is not doing "community oriented" planning and development? Are existing staff not effectively mediating between the City's need to grow the tax base, the needs of property owners/developers, and the needs of residents? If this is not the case, then hiring an additional "liaison and internal advocate for community members" will solve nothing. My personal experience with CDD has generally been very good, though I do sometimes feel that the economic development staff don't understand the need to keep neighbors in the loop. Everyone at CDD should be acting as community liassons. Most of them already do.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to provide the City Council with a written annual report for the Parking and Transportation Demand Management (PTDM) Ordinance within four weeks time. Councillor vanBeuzekom
The PTDM Ordinance was developed as a replacement for the Interim Parking Freeze that was part of a settlement over alleged violations of earlier agreements relating to the Clean Air Act. Quite a few consequences grew out of that settlement and subsequent ordinances - dedicated bike lanes, required traffic impact studies, mandatory PTDM plans for new developments, unregulated parking spaces transformed to metered or otherwise regulated parking, etc. These things have become almost a matter of religion without periodically assessing their need or impact. Things do change. When the price of gasoline exceeds $5 or more, things will change even more and the City's ordinances should not remain stuck in time. Periodic reports, assessments, and possible modifications should be the rule and not the exception. Good Order, Minka.
Order #4. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to appoint a local MBTA Advisory Council of CDD staff and residents to meet regularly and assess MBTA funding, programming and service cuts and report back to the City Council. Councillor Decker
This is another good Order, though it brings to mind a curiosity in the way City departments are currently structured. The Transporation Planning staff is now part of the Community Development Department (CDD), though one might wonder why it's not part of the Traffic, Parking, & Transportation Department (TPT). In other cities, you might expect to see parks and open space planning integrated into the public works department, but in Cambridge it's part of CDD. Community Schoools are staffed through the Human Services and not by the School Department. MBTA services affect Cambridge residents in many ways and it's appropriate that there should be more than just ad hoc gatherings when a crisis arises. Whether this should be staffed by CDD or by the Transportation, Traffic & Parking Dept. is worth considering. The fact that CDD produced a great document regarding the proposed MBTA fare increases and service cuts for last week's Special Meeting is a point in their favor, but I can't help but think that we'd all benefit from having the focus of TPT shift away from tickets and fundraising toward a broader view of all transportation.
It must also be noted that this will be the last City Council meeting for retiring City Clerk D. Margaret Drury. She has been an invaluable asset to every city councillor with whom she has served since her appointment in 1992. - Robert Winters
A Very Special Cambridge City Council Meeting - Feb 22, 2012 - Mayor Henrietta Davis and Vice Mayor Denise Simmons elected
Tonight The Nine shall meet to gather information and public testimony on the effects on Cambridge of the proposed MBTA cuts and fare increases and to develop a policy statement in preparation for the Feb 29 MBTA public hearing at
Today's date coincides with the date two years ago when the previous mayoral impasse was broken and David Maher was elected mayor. Though I don't recall the date in 1996 when Sheila Russell was finally elected mayor, I believe that impasse lasted longer. Since then, the dates were Jan 26, 1998 (Duehay, 3rd ballot), Feb 15, 2000 (Galluccio, 5th ballot), Jan 7, 2002 (Sullivan, 1st ballot), Jan 5, 2004 (Sullivan, 1st ballot), Jan 2, 2006 (Reeves, 1st ballot), Jan 14, 2008 (Simmons, 2nd ballot), and Feb 22, 2010 (Maher, 6th ballot). If this history is any indication, there's a good chance this wuill be resolved tonight or at next Monday's regular meeting. The 1948 mayoral marathon required 1,321 ballots before Michael J. Neville was elected mayor in late April.
It seems as though everyone who pays attention to the mayoral balloting has their own theory about what should happen or what might happen. I have my own theories as well. In fact, I have written out a scenario of how I believe this thing will ultimately play out. In the spirit of Werner Heisenberg, I won't yet reveal my theory lest it influence the experiment. It will be revealed in 39 days. Hopefully, The Nine will have decided on The One by then. In the meantime, any mayoral ballots will be recorded at http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=1750.
The real substance of this meeting are the proposed MBTA fare increases and service cuts. It's not clear how much leverage the Cambridge City Council or the City of Cambridge has in this, but some kind of coherent response is needed. A major focus in Cambridge over the last decade or so has been on transit-oriented development and shifting away from dependence on automobiles. It would be a major setback to have this derailed by disincentives to public transit use, especially when calculations indicate that increases in efficiency and a very modest increase in the gasoline tax could resolve this. The state legislature also has an obligation to unburden the MBTA of the debt caused by mitigation costs related to The Big Dig. However this is ultimately resolved, it's important that future MBTA financing be primarily self-sustaining so that we won't be faced with similar threats every few years. - Robert Winters
The Nine Mayor Problem - Feb 13, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
The City Council took its 7th Mayoral Ballot last week even though one of the councillors (Kelley) was absent. It's really getting ridiculous at this point, and maybe the councillors will soon realize that the choice has nothing to do with substance or leadership and everything to do with personal ego and aspiration. If common sense miraculously prevails, perhaps they'll settle on a compromise [Hey, weren't all of you satisfied with how David Maher handled the job last term?] and move on to the appointment of City Council committees, the business of representing the citizens, and just doing their job. Now there's a concept! In the meantime, let's refer to all nine of them as "Mayor" just to neutralize the false sense of importance.
It's pretty much certain that there will be one or more mayoral ballots taken at this meeting. Hopefully they'll settle this early in the meeting and we'll have Council committees in place by the time of the following meeting (Feb 27). If not, their pay should be docked. Any mayoral votes taken at this meeting will be posted at http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=1750.
There are a few agenda items for this meeting, starting with the Big Ticket Items:
City Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the rescission of $14,881,482 which is the balance of the loan order approved by the City Council on Nov 17, 2008 for renovations to the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS).
City Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation of an additional $6,515,000 to cover unanticipated costs related to renovations to the old police station at Five Western Avenue in Central Square. This appropriation will be financed through a loan order for $5,770,000 and a transfer of $745,000 in bond proceeds from the Radio Replacement project.
Unfinished Business #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the authorization to borrow an amount not to exceed $36,800,000 for the purpose of refinancing existing General Obligation Bonds to acquire lower interest rates than those currently being paid. The question comes on adoption on or after Feb 13, 2012.
The first of these is good news - the CRLS renovations cost less than anticipated, but it was still a lot of money. The second is the reverse - the renovations of the old Police Station will cost another $6.5 million on top of the $14.5 million loan already authorized. The third is the refinancing Order passed two weeks earlier which is now up for final adoption.
City Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the proposed MBTA fare increases and service cuts.
There has been a lot of public reaction to the proposed substantial MBTA fare increases and service reductions. The theme running through much of this is that the debt loaded onto the MBTA by the state legislature is the main cause of its structural deficit: "The financial problem is compounded by the MBTA's approximately $5 billion in debt, the majority of which is from the Central Artery/Tunnel project (CA/T). Transit expansion projects were included in the CA/T project to mitigate the traffic growth and environmental impacts caused by the greater capacity of the tunnel, as compared with the former elevated expressway. One third of current MBTA operating expenses pay for this debt service, meaning investments that would keep the system in a state of good repair and running reliably are repeatedly postponed." Without that debt, the current fares would cover most of the operations. The MBTA will hold a public meeting in Cambridge on February 29, 2012 from 6-8pm at the Cambridge Senior Center.
On the Table #1. The Wyman Street curb cut.
Regardless of the merits, this whole matter has become very tiresome. There must be some form of Solomonic wisdom that will satisfy the concerns of all parties. It's a curb cut - not an international peace treaty.
Unfinished Business #2. Election of the Mayor and Vice Mayor
See comments above. Please end this absurdity.
Resolution #12. Retirement of D. Margaret Drury from the City Clerk's Office. Mayor Reeves
It would be nice to read the text of this Resolution online. Ironically, it is the policy of the City Clerk that only the Policy Orders are viewable online - not the ceremonial Resolutions. I'm sure there are many nice things expressed in the Resolution, but we can only guess.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct City staff to replace the words "approve" and "disapprove" with the words "support" and "do not support" or, as appropriate, by some other terms that will help clarify where relevant authority rests when considering curb cuts. Mayor Kelley
This is the biggest load of semantic crap I've seen in the City Council in ages. Perhaps Mayor Kelley also feels that when a pollster calls asking if he approves of the President's handling of the economy, this will automatically establish or extend federal economic policy.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the ownership status of the Cambridge Street overpass plaza and any relevant conditions of that ownership, to include responsibilities for maintenance, the ability to close off areas of the plaza to the general public and the power to grant location rights to food trucks. Mayor Kelley
One of the joys of sticking around for a few years is that you can better appreciate the recurrence of events. I still have fond memories of Councillor Al Vellucci filing a virtually identical Order more than two decades ago. None of the sitting councillors have the flair of good old Al Vellucci. In applying pressure on Harvard University for some issue of the day, Al took to the Council floor telling of his vision of families from East Cambridge setting up victory gardens on the overpass where they could grow basil and other garden delights. I don't recall if this led to any definitive statements about who was responsible for what, but my recollection is that the land is City-owned and that Harvard is responsible for maintaining it. Whether this extends to permitting food trucks to operate there (a very good thing, in my opinion) may be in that grey area that I'm glad still exists.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development to ascertain the date or approximate date on which the shelter at Brookline and Erie Streets will be installed and report back to the City Council. Mayor Simmons
Speaking of the recurrence of events spread over the years, this proposed bus shelter across the street from Mayor Simmons' insurance company office has been the subject of so many Council Orders that I've lost count.
Order #8. That the City Council urges the Community Development Department to work with the Floating Rock and their landlord Just Mass LLC toward finding an equitable compromise that would be fair to both parties, and that would allow the Floating Rock to remain in operation in Central Square. Mayor Simmons
This is an interesting new role for CDD - negotiating leases for commercial tenants. Better get in line, folks. As the gentrification of Central Square continues, there may be the need for many more such Council Orders and CDD intervention as familiar haunts are squeezed out in favor of more upscale venues.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the Council on the continuation of the Longfellow Community School Program and its companion program, the Longfellow Neighborhood Council. Mayor vanBeuzekom
We were down this road before when the Longfellow Elementary School was relocated/merged with the Kennedy School in East Cambridge about ten years ago. The Community School Program was originally designed to more fully utilize public school buildings to provide additional community benefit, so in that sense it was somewhat logical to end the Longfellow Community School when the school was closed. However, over time each community school and its associated community council does assume a life of its own - independent of the physical building - and an argument could be made for its preservation even if the building closed. The Longfellow program was temporarily relocated and was preserved.
In the case of the Longfellow School, the building never went away. It was simply re-purposed for other school uses as well as for the temporary location of the Main Library during its renovation/expansion. It's quite justifiable for the associated community school and the Longfellow Neighborhood Council to be preserved. It is, however, a fact that the identity of these community schools is often tied to the person who is in charge of the program - in this case, Penny Kleespies who recently retired. This is a natural time for the City and the City Manager to evaluate the future of the program.
I personally believe there is value in maintaining this community school and its neighborhood council with the understanding that it must identify what its future mission is to be. Mid-Cambridge is the most populous neighborhood in the city and this program has the potential to be a great benefit. The Longfellow building is currently moth-balled, and the Community School is not able to remain in the building (I'm not sure exactly where it is now operating). Next year (presumably) the King School will be temporarily moved into the Longfellow building while its current building is demolished and reconstructed. I assume that the King School's community school program may come with it for the duration. This will then be repeated with two other schools later in the decade.
This does not bode well for the existing Longfellow Community School Program if the other programs move with their respective schools. If a community school program is to serve the local neighborhood, it seems to me that simply cycling several other community school programs through the Longfellow building does nothing for Mid-Cambridge. On the other hand, our brilliant School Committee saw fit to eliminate all elementary schools from the city's most populous neighborhood when it closed the Longfellow School a decade ago.
I will not rally around the preservation of any program simply because it exists or because there is some sentiment to preserve somebody's job. That's the kind of patronage attitude that has corrupted the state and this city for years. I do, however, believe that if the whole purpose of community school programs is to "foster community" and provide a space and programming for local neighborhoods, then the city's most populous neighborhood should not be denied this service.
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department about developing a process which would require developers seeking zoning relief to build a model of the area impacted by the proposed developments prior to coming before the City Council for voting purposes. Mayor Decker
This is already done with many, perhaps most, major proposed developments when they come before the Planning Board. Whether this should be required by the City Council is questionable. The architectural expertise is at the Planning Board, and if they feel the need for cardboard or styrofoam models (or pop-up books) for projects, that should be their call. City councillors are not elected to serve as architects. They always have the option of attending Planning Board meetings if they feel the need for a more enriched architectural perspective.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Transportation, Traffic and Parking Committee for a public meeting held on Sept 15, 2011 to discuss bike parking, enforcement, bike sharing and facilities.
There are a few odd topics from this meeting held 5 months ago and only now reported. For example:
"Ms. Seiderman noted that Cambridge parking meters do not, contrary to Mayor Kelley's statement, have bike rings attached to them as City staff and drivers needing to access the meter heads can find attached bicycles difficult to get around." – This is a statement that needs to be challenged. Cyclists have been locking the bikes to parking meters for as long as there have been locks and parking meters. The possibility that someone cannot access the meter head due to a parked bicycle seems extraordinarily unlikely.
"Mayor Kelley stated that he is not a cycle track advocate." – On this we agree. With all the rhetoric about conflicts caused by bicyclists riding on sidewalks, it seems wrong-headed to set up "cycle tracks" on sidewalks that are guaranteed to significantly increase conflicts with pedestrians. This is what I see nearly every day on Vassar Street where those tracks are installed. It's one thing to build separate facilities to parallel Memorial Drive or another highway, but they make little sense elsewhere where vehicular speeds are moderate. Children can and do ride on the sidewalk, but this is not the place for adults. - Robert Winters
Feb 6, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
Actually, there aren't any. Councillor Kelley announced last week that he would not be at this meeting, so unless that changes, don't expect a mayoral ballot to take place at this meeting. Also, two of the more controversial matters that were tabled last week via Charter Right were the following Orders from Councillor Kelley that likely have minimal support from his colleagues. Expect them to be "Placed on File under Rule 19" without action, or possibly be amended by substitution to introduce plans more suitable to the majority of councillors.
Charter Right #12. That the Acting Chair of the City Council is requested to appoint a temporary committee of three Council members to start the process of searching for and hiring a replacement City Clerk. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Davis on Order Number Four of Jan 30, 2012 submitted by Councillor Kelley.]
Charter Right #13. That the Acting Chair of the City Council is requested to appoint a temporary committee of three City Council members to start the process of setting up a City Council review of the City Manager and to start the discussion with the City Manager of his intentions. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Davis on Order Number Five of Jan 30, 2012 submitted by Councillor Kelley.]
Unfinished Business #15. That the matter of the election of the Mayor and Vice Mayor be referred to Unfinished Business. Jan 30, 2012 ballot #4 (Councillor Cheung three votes; Councillor Davis one vote; Councillor Decker three votes; Councillor Kelley one vote and Councillor Toomey one vote) ballot #5 taken (Councillor Cheung three votes; Councillor Davis one vote; Councillor Decker two votes; Councillor Reeves two votes and Councillor Toomey one vote) ballot #6 taken (Councillor Cheung three votes; Councillor Davis one vote; Councillor Decker two votes; Councillor Reeves two vote and Councillor Toomey one vote)
That's pretty much it until next week. It will be more interesting to see what happens Tuesday night at the School Committee meeting when they are expected to vote on the "Academic Challenge Plan" that's part of the ongoing Innovation Agenda implementation. Will the School Committee vote in favor of mediocrity? Probably. Or maybe they'll delay the vote. - Robert Winters
Only 1,318 Ballots To Go - Jan 30, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Though not the longest of agendas, there are a few hot items that could provoke either some interesting debate or a hasty exercise of the Charter Right. There's also the unresolved matter of electing the Chair of the City Council, i.e. the Mayor. Here are the items that drew my interest this week:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a draft amendment to the GLBT Ordinance increasing the maximum number of commissioners from fifteen to twenty.
Often it's been the case that City boards and commissions draw too few (acceptable) candidates, but in this case the GLBT folks received enough good applicants that they felt an ordinance change was warranted to increase the number of members on this advisory committee. It's always good to see a growth in civic interest. More people should apply for City boards and commissions.
Manager's Agenda #2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 - Various grant-funded appropriations to the Dept. of Human Service Programs.
These items tend to come in bunches and are often not highlighted because the City of Cambridge has become so routinely successful in securing these grants and supporting these programs. We really do have some great people working for our Department of Human Services Programs under the leadership of Asst. City Manager Ellen Semonoff.
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for $67,000 to the Public Works Grant Fund Salaries and Wages account ($22,590) and to the Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account ($44,410) to research, plan and possibly implement a Pilot Curbside Food Scraps Collection Program for Residents to be accomplished in two phases.
This is one of those Back to the Future things. As many of you know, Cambridge once had citywide food waste (garbage) collection where the old "honey wagon" would make the rounds collecting the buckets from back yards all around the city with the collected material destined for pig slop or other uses. The concrete-lined, steel-capped pits from those days can still be found in many Cambridge yards. The piggery days are long gone, but the wisdom of recycling organic waste for composting (and greenhouse gas reduction) remains. This is an undoubtedly good initiative to consider, though its economic viability remains unclear. A pilot program, if feasible, would be a welcome start. That said, many of us have been composting most of our kitchen and yard waste in our back yards for many years and will continue to do so.
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the authorization to borrow an amount not to exceed $36,800,000 for the purpose of refinancing existing General Obligation Bonds to acquire lower interest rates than those currently being paid.
Louis DePasquale and the Finance Department are always on the job getting the best deals for taxpayers. It almost makes you want to forgive Louis for being a life-long avid Yankees fan.
On The Table #1 and #2 - The curb cuts at 37 Lancaster St. (#1) and at 9 Wyman St. (#2).
I imagine both of these curb cuts will be approved either at this meeting or pretty soon, but these applications (as well as our never-ending stream of zoning petitions) do serve to highlight the degree to which residential and commercial development proposals bring out the passions of abutters and others living near to these developments. It's often not the curb cut itself that sets people off, but rather the belief that the developers are pulling a fast one and have not been entirely honest about their ultimate intentions. For example, in the case of the Wyman Street curb cut, there is a belief that ultimately this mammoth single-family structure that claims the need for entries on two different streets will one day become something entirely different. In truth, abutting residents and city councillors have very limited tools for influencing most projects, and zoning is often a very blunt instrument.
Unfinished Business #3 - The Election of a Mayor.
It's possible that the City Council could resolve this before February, but if neither of the two 3-vote candidates (Cheung and Decker) or those who are supporting them relent, this could go on for many more weeks. Ultimately, if this drags on too long, those councillors who are committed to neither of these candidates could peel off a couple of votes from one or both of them to elect someone else. Several days ago I discovered a series of Harvard Crimson writings from The Great Mayoral Marathon of 1948 in which it took 4 months, 35 sessions, and 1,321 ballots before the City Council managed to assemble 5 votes to elect Mayor Michael J. Neville. The Crimson writers gave very entertaining accounts of the marathon. You can read them at http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=1796. If there is a mayoral vote at this meeting, the results will be posted at http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=1750.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to contact Sagewell, Inc. with the view in mind of providing a city-wide thermal analysis to Cambridge residents and report back to the Council within two weeks in time for an early winter 2012 thermal scan. Councillor vanBeuzekom, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Davis
This is a welcome Order. When the Cambridge Energy Alliance was established a few years ago amid lots of fanfare, there was plenty of discussion about how to best advise and assist residential and commercial property owners in order to move toward the goal of a far more energy-efficient city. Perhaps the early excitement can be revived if more effort goes into showing where the improvements are most needed and just how much money there is to be saved.
Order #4. That the Acting Chair of the City Council is requested to appoint a temporary committee of three Council members to start the process of searching for and hiring a replacement City Clerk. Councillor Kelley
Order #5. That the Acting Chair of the City Council is requested to appoint a temporary committee of three City Council members to start the process of setting up a City Council review of the City Manager and to start the discussion with the City Manager of his intentions. Councillor Kelley
Order #6. That the City Clerk and Deputy City Clerk develop an interim plan for the City Council as it relates to the retirement of the City Clerk; such plan to include whatever reassignment of duties and responsibilities are required to carry out the operations of the City Clerk's Office during this interim period. Councillor Maher
These three Orders deserve comment as a group in that they concern two of the three people appointed by the City Council under the Plan E Charter, namely the City Clerk and the City Manager (the other being the City Auditor). Insofar as City Council subcommittees should be undertaking the responsibilities outlined in Councillor Kelley's Orders #4 and #5, perhaps this is the best argument for why this City Council should elect an actual Mayor with the authority to appoint these committees. Normally, this would fall to the Government Operations & Rules Committee.
Regarding Order #5, the City Manager's contract stipulates that "In the event written notice is not given, by either party to this agreement to the other six months prior to the termination date as hereinabove provided, this agreement shall extend on the terms and conditions as herein provided for a period of one year." Since the termination date of the current contract is September 30, 2012, this means that the City Council and the City Manager have until the end of March to make their intentions known. Since Councillor Kelley is the only councillor who voted against the Manager's contract in 2009 (and voted Present on the previous 2006 contract), it seems somewhat aggressive that he should be the one proposing the procedures now.
Councillor Maher's Order #6 is more constructive. City Clerk D. Margaret Drury has announced that her last day at work will be February 29 - just one month from now. The smooth operation of the City Clerk's Office is vital for residents and for the City Council and, as Councillor Maher points out, Deputy City Clerk Donna Lopez has 42 years of experience working in the City Clerk's Office. This Order would appoint Donna Lopez as Interim City Clerk of Cambridge, effective March 1, 2012. It is hard to imagine any councillor objecting to this Order, except possibly for the purpose of removing the term "Interim" from the title.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and report back with recommendation on zoning changes for the Sullivan Courthouse and neighboring parcels. Councillor Toomey
As many have pointed out, if the former use of that building had not been as a courthouse, it is unlikely that it would have been built at its current height. Several city councillors have suggested that there be a reduction in the height if and when the building is redeveloped or replaced, and some of these ideas are included in the Order. One could argue that Councillor Toomey's Order does not go far enough in specifying to CDD what zoning changes might be most appropriate. If, upon analysis, the CDD finds the specifications to be economically unsound, they presumably would recommend compromise zoning language.
Order #8. City Council support of Senate Bill S.772 which expresses the desire for the United States Congress to draft a Constitutional Amendment in response to the Citizens United decision. Councillor Cheung and Councillor Decker
I've had numerous conversations recently about this court decision and all of the money that has flowed into political advertisement as a consequence of the decision. The campaign to amend the U.S. Constitution to reverse the effects of the decision seems to be based on the underlying belief that most voters are idiots. That is, when subjected to misleading mass media political advertising, they will simply accept as fact whatever rubbish is broadcast. They must therefore be prevented from such bad influence, and if it takes a constitutional amendment to do this, then so be it.
Maybe voters are not predominantly idiots. Perhaps, as these well-funded rubbish campaigns become more common, voters will develop the ability to tell the difference between fact and fiction, and the more millions that are spent, the more these advertisements will be seen as entertainment rather than information. Needless to say, many people are now getting their information, whether accurate or not, from a dizzying array of web sources most of which are not affected in any way by the Citizens United decision. Personally, I'm more concerned by threats to regulate speech on the web than I am by the ability of corporations to advertise political rubbish.
Communications and Reports #1. A communication was received from Councillor Craig A. Kelley, regarding the subject of the late resolutions not being read.
In principle, I have to agree with Councillor Kelley on this one. The full text of ceremonial resolutions is not now publicly available but, for goodness sake, if you are going to pass a death resolution when somebody dies, you should at least have the courtesy to read the person's name. Personally, though I don't see the need to print the full text of ceremonial resolutions, it should be publicly available on the City web site. - Robert Winters
Will there be a Mayor? - Jan 23, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda
In addition to the regular items on the meeting agenda, there's still the lingering question of whether this City Council plans to elect a mayor this term. The results of the first two ballots may or may not be meaningful - it all depends upon whether the two who amassed 3 votes each last time (Cheung, Decker) can ever make it to 5 votes. If not, eventually the votes will find their way to a candidate who has majority acceptability, and that may not be either of the two current frontrunners. The relevant agenda item is Unfinished Business #3. The votes taken will continue to be recorded here: http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=1750. Feel free to comment.
Fundamentally, this matters more to the councillors than it does to the residents of the city. It really only determines who gets to appoint the committees, chair the meetings, get a paycheck bonus, and have the privilege of planning a few senior picnics. The one exception is that the mayor becomes the 7th voting member and Chair of the School Committee, and this is potentially consequential in that they are right now making decisions about the new upper school structure (Innovation Agenda). It would be nice if the person elected as Mayor actually believes in and is willing to act in support of academic excellence. [Ref.: Cambridge Public Schools Academic Challenge Plan]
There's one other potential consequence of this mayoral election. If the choice of mayor causes many Cambridge residents to shake their heads in disbelief, this could lead some to seek a change in the Charter to have a popularly elected mayor (which would continue to be more ceremonial than substantial) or perhaps even more fundamental Charter change (along with the inevitable unintended consequences). On the other hand, civic interest is currently so dreadfully low that it's hard to imagine any person or group having enough interest to carry out such a campaign. In any case, it would be a mistake to blame the system for the failings of the people we elect.
It's interesting that Resolution #22 (sponsored by 8 councillors) offers congratulations to Councillor Henrietta Davis on being named Chair of the National League of Cities International Council. Meanwhile, back in Cambridge, none of these 8 councillors seem willing to vote for Davis as mayor.
There are several energy/environment Orders on this agenda:
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to devise and implement a system for annually reporting the energy use of each municipal building, including schools and buildings leased by the city, and to communicate this information to the public by making it available on the city website and through other means such as displays in building lobbies and city publications. Councillor Davis and Councillor vanBeuzekom
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to designate a committee to include the City's Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Affairs, to analyze various scenarios for installation of renewable energy facilities for city buildings. Councillor Davis
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to revisit instituting a ban on plastic bags from retail institutions. Councillor Decker and Councillor vanBeuzekom
Order #11. That this City Council go on record requesting that Cambridge go "coal-free" in an effort to combat the negative effects such energy has on health, economics and social justice. Councillor Decker and Councillor vanBeuzekom
Councillor vanBeuzekom is wasting no time promoting some of the things that really matter to her, and the combination of her and Councillor Davis should keep these issues in the forefront for the next two years. In Order #10, most of the emphasis is on pollution, but there is an even more basic reason for dissuading people from using plastic bags. They inevitably make their way into the single-stream recycling containers (even though it's against the rules) and they foul up the machinery at the Charlestown processing plant. However, banning Cambridge retailers from using plastic bags is not a particularly great strategy when so many of us do our shopping in Somerville and elsewhere. Rules governing product packaging and recycling have to be regional or statewide to be effective.
It's worth reading this plan that dates primarily to 1984 and 1990. Councillor Toomey's focus seems to be on hiring Cambridge residents for construction projects. It's interesting that a proposed ordinance change in 2008 in response to threatened litigation would have relaxed portions of the Ordinance relating to the hiring of Cambridge residents, but the matter was placed on file without action.
Order #12. That this City Council go on record strongly suggesting that Equity World only work with companies that do meet community standards and to provide further information regarding why they chose to work with a company that does not. Councillor Decker
Yet another Order filed on behalf of the labor unions. The Order states that a certain contractor has been "accused of fraud, asbestos violations, debarments, apprenticeship issues and DOL issues." It's interesting that a Council Order should be based on accusations without any reference to whether this contractor has ever been found guilty of any of these accusations.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the Council on how appropriate information pertaining to parking sticker location (how many parking stickers are issued to a street or address) may be made readily available, free of charge and on the City's website, to the general public or, if that is not possible, what information may be made available and why any limitations on dissemination of such information exists. Councillor Kelley
Nobody likes competing for on-street parking spaces, but do we really want to categorize buildings and the neighbors who live in them by how many resident stickers are issued for each building?
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to develop a complete list of all agreements which give continuing benefit to the residents of Cambridge and the mechanism for keeping track of expiration, enforcement or change of ownership. Councillor vanBeuzekom
This is the kind of thing you might think is already routinely done, but it's doubtful that it is. It might be a good idea to merge this information with the identification scheme proposed in Order #15 of Aug 1, 2011 (comments here).
A Clean Slate - Jan 9, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda
This is the first regular meeting of the 2012-13 City Council term and, except for a few matters of Unfinished Business, it's a clean slate. Because the new City Council was unable to elect a mayor at its Inaugural Meeting last week, it is expected that one or more mayoral ballots may occur at this meeting. It's anyone's guess whether they will succeed in electing a mayor this time, but there will be no City Council committees appointed until there is a mayor. The relevant agenda item is Unfinished Business #1. In the event that this is decided later in the meeting, I invite my diligent civic friends to report the play-by-play as a comment at http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=1750 at the earliest opportunity.
Resolution #21. Retirement of Robert M. Stevens as Director of Veterans Services for the City of Cambridge. Councillor Kelley
Bob Stevens is a good man whose company has been enjoyed by all who have worked with him and by many others (including me). Enjoy your retirement!
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to present a plan to offer recycling receptacles in the public realm such as in parks and city squares. Councillor Davis and Councillor vanBeuzekom
There are now many solar-powered "Big Belly" trash containers in Central Square and elsewhere. Ideally, some of these might be repurposed for single-stream recycling, but the signage would have to be unmistakably clear indicating that only recyclable materials are to be deposited in the containers. This Order references dual purpose solar-powered containers in use in Somerville, but such an additional purchase would likely be a nontrivial additional cost.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate departments and report back to the City Council with an opinion on whether the widespread use of rodent resistant trash bags would improve the City's pest management efforts. Councillor Cheung
The theory is that some scent or chemical is added to the plastic to deter the rodents. Cambridge rodents are, of course, more intelligent than ordinary rodents and will surely research the matter and gnaw their way toward a solution.
Order #6. That the City Clerk, who is the Parliamentarian of the City Council, is requested to organize a review of Robert Rules of Order beginning with the current Council and every new Council hereafter, with a view towards ensuring transparent, orderly and productive deliberations of the City Council. Councillor Simmons, Councillor Cheung and Councillor vanBeuzekom
This has been a sore spot for several city councillors - most notably Councillor Simmons and Councillor Kelley. Proper procedure during the regular meetings would be welcome, but it would be even more helpful if the City Council committees could be restored to productive use. With a few exceptions, Council committees have largely become places where the Chair of the committee carries out a pet project or two - hardly a collaborative process. Committee attendance has declined accordingly, and the last City Council had a number of significant resignations from committees. Some committees met rarely, and one committee did not meet at all during the entire Council term. There has also been a proliferation of single-councillor ad-hoc committees (Red, Blue, and Silver Ribbon Committees) that are not subject to any of the rules applicable to regular City Council committees.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to prepare a home rule petition to delegate the approval of curb cuts and report back to the Council with the necessary legislative language. Councillor Cheung
This was an early issue from Councillor Decker a decade ago. Delegating the approval of curb cuts seems like a good idea in most instances, but there have been a few significant cases in which the City Council's authority in this matter has played a role in negotiating a better outcome for neighbors.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a letter from former Mayor and City Councillor David P. Maher, regarding executive session minutes of City Council discussions of the Monteiro case.
Former Mayor Maher has determined that there is no longer a need for these minutes to remain confidential. They go now to the Law Department for review and possible exemptions before public disclosure. Perhaps there will be an interesting twist revealed with this disclosure, but this dead horse has now been beaten beyond recognition. - Robert Winters