2014 City Council Agenda Notes
(transferred from main Council Notes page)
Closing Out the Year - Dec 15, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda
This will be the last City Council meeting for the year. Here are a few items that piqued my interest:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Board of Zoning Appeal, effective Dec 15, 2014:
The rejuvenation of the City's boards and commissions continues. The application deadlines for several other boards expired recently and we should see additional appointments with the new year. It's worth noting that there are other current opportunities for citizen involvement, including the new Participatory Budget Pilot Program. Next year will also bring out lots of participants in the Citywide Comprehensive Planning process. Next year will also be a municipal election year, so if you have ever considered candidacy, this is probably the time to start thinking more seriously about it.
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the Teague, et al Zoning Petition.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 12, 2014 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Charles D. Teague, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to clarify the existing ordinance so that said ordinance can be enforced: to (1) align the zoning amendment expiration date in the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to be the same as state law; (2) align the Special Permit criteria with adjudicated state law; and (3) require that the master plan be followed whereas following the master plan is optional under state law.
There were three parts to this petition. The first part called for a technical correction in the expiration dates for zoning petitions and was noncontroversial - a simple correction that the City Council should have addressed more than a year ago when they were first alerted to the discrepancy by the City Solicitor. The Planning Board endorsed this correction. The second and third parts of the petition were soundly rejected by the Planning Board for a variety of reasons and presumably the City Council will see things similarly. Additional comments may be found here. Mr. Teague is becoming something of a serial petitioner who generates far more heat than light.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the results of the bi-annual City of Cambridge Citizen Telephone Survey for 2014.
As the Manager's communication notes: "Affordable housing/housing was reported as the 'single most important issue facing the City of Cambridge today' by 18% of respondents in this year's survey. This is up from 8% in 2012 and replaces education (10%) as the most important issue identified. Traffic/bikes, a new issue this year, was also identified as the 'most important issue' by 10% of survey respondents. Other new issues raised in the 2014 survey include development/overdevelopment (3%), construction (2%), climate change (2%), and parking (1%)."
Statistical surveys are not always so easy to interpret, but one thing I've always noted in these bi-annual surveys is the disconnect between the priorities of the activist community and the priorities of the residents at large. A big challenge as we enter into the Citywide Comprehensive Planning process will be to promote participation by people representing the whole city and not just those who have the spare time (and the fervor) to go to meetings. It's also very likely that priorities are not uniform across the city. In some locations traffic congestion will be a far greater issue than the affordability of housing, while in other locations the opposite will be the case. The activists will promote the view that the city is going to hell in a handbasket yet the surveys consistently indicate general satisfaction. So it goes.
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the revised ordinance titled "Checkout Bag Ordinance", the related regulations and application for exemption. [Attachments]
Unfinished Business #10. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on Dec 19, 2013 to conduct a public hearing on an amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.67 entitled relating to Plastic Bag Reduction. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 24, 2014.
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone regarding the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance.
Councillor Carlone has expressed interest in having this matter voted at this meeting. Several points are worth noting. First, a significant number of Cambridge residents do most of their shopping outside of Cambridge due to access and affordability (can you say "Market Basket") , so a City ordinance will likely have limited effect. Second, it's so simple for people to bring their own durable bags for their regular shopping and it's bewildering that many people continue to come home with unnecessary plastic bags. Third, there are differences between the originally proposed "Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance" and the modified "Checkout Bag Ordinance" with related regulations forwarded by City staff. On balance, the latter is the preferred alternative. Above all, there should have been (and hopefully soon will be) a lot more promotion of reusable bags in addition to the enactment of prohibitions and penalties.
Manager's Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the C.F. Hathaway & Sons Bakery at 15-33 Richdale Avenue, received from Executive Director of the Historical Commission Charles Sullivan.
I'll simply once again express my gratitude to the Cambridge Historical Commission for all their research and excellent publications. They're all keepers.
Manager's Agenda #17. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the Foundry Building process, including the City's plans to collaborate with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (the "CRA") to redevelop the Foundry building in a way that meets the vision and objectives expressed by the City Council and the community.
It's been interesting witnessing the dynamic between the practical and financial necessities of carrying out a project like this and the desires of interested parties to gain some measure of control. In a way it's like a microcosm of the difference between managed government and highly politicized government. All things considered, I'll take the former.
Resolution #2. The Cambridge City Council go on record commending the STEAM Working Group, the STEAM Summit Steering Committee, and the STEAM Summit presenters and thanking all of the attendees for supporting the Economic Development & University Relations and the Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebrations committees' initiative to take actionable steps toward creating a better, more prosperous future for learners of all ages. Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Mazen
While I applaud the effort, especially the sincere desires of Vice Mayor Benzan for whom this has consistently been a high priority, as an educator I find myself somewhat skeptical of the outcomes. I have seen so many iterations of "the next big thing" in education - the New Math, technology in the classroom, a parade of new curriculum promising to cure all ills, differentiated instruction, flipped classrooms and more. In the end it will always come down to the personal connection between teachers and students. In some respects this latest initiative is reminiscent of the days of trade schools and "manual training" - what was old is new again. I really do hope that great things come of this latest installment, especially insofar as there's such a pressing need to connect all young residents to the economic opportunities necessary for social mobility that are available locally. [Did that sound too lofty coming from me?] In any case, good luck!
If there's one thing I wish would have happened it would be to have a collaboration between mathematics people from all levels of education in Cambridge (elementary schools through Harvard and MIT) getting together to develop a comprehensive view and plan to make the greatest impact outside of the context of City Council subcommittees. Perhaps there are still some opportunities for such a collaboration.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to initiate a program to deploy body cameras for police. Councillor Cheung
Order #2. That the Civic Unity Committee schedule a meeting to discuss the local impact and ramifications of these recent events upon Cambridge and the City Manager is requested to ensure that the appropriate City personnel are available to participate in this meeting, and to ensure that proper notice goes out to the community to ensure that those who wish to attend and take part in this conversation can do so. Councillor Simmons
As others have pointed out, there would be a huge contradiction between forbidding surveillance cameras on city streets while installing them on every police officer. It would be worthwhile to at least have the hardware available for optional use by police in appropriate situations. Regarding Order #2, I do hope that a discussion of street obstructions is part of the agenda. Freedom of speech and the right to obstruct (either roadways or abortion clinics) are not interchangeable. Rallies and marches are as American as apple pie, but people still have a right to go about their business. - Robert Winters
The Central Square Olympics - Dec 8, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda
After a year or two of thumb twiddling, moratorium threats, and Master Plan myth-making, things are starting to perk up again in Central Square. At the previous meeting, the Twining/Normany zoning petition arrived to reignite the conversation. In response to City Council inaction, that petition now seeks to amend the zoning in a very small (though still important) portion of Central Square to allow greater heights in exchange for the provision of new housing, additional retail and more. Some aspects of the petition reflect goals expressed in the prior C2 recommendations. Many of us now wonder how we came to this point where initiatives by residents, the City Council, and the City administration were left to gather dust, and a zoning petition from a private developer was necessary to get things moving again. At tonight's meeting we now also have an Council Order calling for a hearing and finally some movement on the moth-balled C2 plan and recommendations. It's just a hearing, mind you, without any actual zoning proposal.
Order #6. That the Ordinance Committee schedule a hearing to discuss the C2 plan and recommendations and that the Community Development Department be prepared to present any changes or recommendations to this plan and that members of the C2 Committee be invited to attend. Councillor Cheung, Councillor McGovern and Vice Mayor Benzan
There is, of course, a decent chance that nothing will come of any of this. The municipal election year is quickly approaching and our wonderfully progressive councillors dare not tread any path that might irritate their potential supporters. Besides, don't you know that we have to produce a Master Plan before doing anything whatsoever? Well, that's what at least some moratorium-lovin' reactivists would have you believe. In contrast, it's great watching the City of Somerville charge forward with Union Square plans and other projects. Perhaps we should create a sister city relationship with our northern neighbor.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on how all the Citywide Planning efforts will impact staff workload, and any capacity considerations the City Council should take into account when contemplating these or other initiatives. Councillor Cheung
Yes, but perhaps we should add a clause to the order specifically addressing the City Council workload which apparently must be very, very burdensome. [Please pardon the sarcasm.] See above paragraph. That said, it will be most unfortunate if the upcoming Citywide Planning effort ends up being largely an exercise in staff-intensive hand-holding leading nowhere.
Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-107, regarding a report on next steps to advance the creation of the Grand Junction Multi-use Path.
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff and members of the public to determine what, if any, changes should be made to the Harvard Square "Super Crosswalk" complex, to include the bike crossing at Church Street Councillor Kelley
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to evaluate, through the up-coming winter, any opportunities to expand the use of off-street snow removal equipment, with particular attention to the concerns of wheelchair access, essential pedestrian routes, and off-grade cycle tracks. Councillor Cheung
I'm grouping these three items together because they all have some relationship to bicycle use in Cambridge. The proposed Grand Junction Path is a great initiative in that it provides an amenity over and above the existing road network. There are a lot of people who enjoy such amenities for recreation and, in this case, the new route may actually provide a useful transportation connection between MIT, East Cambridge, and Cambridgeport and (hopefully) housing opportunities in Allston, Somerville, and beyond.
On the other hand, as evidenced by last week's Bicycle Network Plan open house, some City staff remain hopelessly naive about actual cycling in Cambridge (and elsewhere). They see the segregation of cyclists off the road as the preferred alternative. The images they show of streets like Vassar Street show nothing but sunny days and no conflicts with vehicles or pedestrians. The reality that those of us see daily is quite different - a less-safe roadway narrowed to the point where there remains very little room for cyclists to safely share, ice and snow and blocked entries in the winter, significant conflicts with pedestrians (and wrong-way cyclists), and trucks and taxis with no other option than to park on the sidewalk. The north side of Concord Avenue near Fresh Pond is even worse. The segregationists would like to replicate this design on Magazine Street. Even worse, the plan for Massachusetts Avenue from MIT to Harvard appears to favor wedging cyclists into a narrow corridor between parked cars and the curb with countless obstructions and conflicts. This will likely also involve the narrowing of road lanes to the point where road cyclists will be endangered and the inevitable double-parked car will bring traffic to a standstill.
Communications #1. A communication was received from Saul Tannenbaum, 16 Cottage Street transmitting five reasons why hosting the Olympics is a terrible idea.
Order #11. That the Council go on record in opposition to any bid to host the Olympics that does not begin with broad community discussion and deliberation, including stakeholders from surrounding communities that would be impacted were the Olympics to be held in Boston. Councillor Cheung and Councillor Kelley
There are differing opinions on the value of hosting the Olympics. One concern I have is that the people of the Greater Boston area tend to be a bit on the parochial side and they're likely to resent all these outsiders. There's also some legitimate concern about the illegitimacy of the process of procuring the Olympics. There's a chance that some improvements in transportation infrastructure could come of it all, but there are no guarantees. I'm personally skeptical about the substitution of planning for a multi-week event for actual long-term planning for decades to come.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a draft framework for a Community Benefits and Mitigation Plan no later than Jan 26, 2015. Councillor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern
This is a can that has been kicked down the road for several years now. Every new project, especially those that require zoning changes, seems to come with its own roll-your-own ideas about community benefits and mitigation. We can do better. - Robert Winters
In the Pipeline - Coming up at the Nov 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting
The City Council was supposed to tour the Alewife area this morning to learn the things that all of them should already have known for some time. Perhaps the rain gave them a reprieve. Meanwhile, here are some things on tonight's menu:
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-132, regarding a report on monitoring aged pipelines to prevent unexpected breaks.
One of the realities of older cities is that some of the infrastructure has been in place for many decades and maybe even for a century or more. The Water Department used to have on display some of the water pipes that were excavated when replaced. They were so occluded that you couldn't believe water could even pass through them. It's not just the water pipes, of course. There are still plenty of "direct bury" electrical lines that are not in conduit, and blocks and neighborhoods that often operate at full capacity and beyond just begging for a failure. The gas line to my house recently had to be re-lined due to low pressure from the street. When they excavated, they found that the century-old gas line was so degraded and perforated that the packed earth was all that was keeping gas in the line. Renewing old cities is a neverending task.
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Calendar Item Number 2, dated June 16, 2014, regarding the legality and feasibility of instituting a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage ordinance.
The City Solicitor's analysis is an interesting read. The bottom line is this: "Although no Massachusetts court has analyzed the legality of a minimum wage ordinance, based on cases that have analyzed local legislation of the landlord-tenant "civil relationship," it appears that a minimum wage ordinance would lie outside of the City's authority under the Massachusetts Constitution."
Manager's Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Cambridge Conversations final report, Strategic Recommendations for a Citywide Plan.
The more interesting process will be the comprehensive planning process that will soon commence. Hopefully that will be as productive as the one that took place in 1992 leading up to the Growth Policy Document: "Toward a Sustainable Future" that still stands at the core of the current "master plan" for the city. My greatest concern is that this could degenerate into an arena where competing factions spend more time lobbying for their predetermined positions that they do cooperatively sketching out balanced plans for te good of the city. The fact that this will get underway at the same time that municipal election campaigns are being organized will likely further pollute the waters.
One of the things I found interesting about the "Cambridge Conversations" process is how fundamentally different many of the public comments were from much of what now occupies the activist sphere. There is generally a tremendous amount of satisfaction with the way the city has evolved in recent years and the fact that so many people want to live here is proof of this. This is not so surprising in that most established neighborhoods have largely been unaffected by recent growth - except for the escalating cost of housing. Most of the growth has taken place in areas that were formerly industrial - consistent with established plans.
Quite a few people, including me, identified the lack of coordinated regional planning as a concern - especially transportation planning. My guess is that the stickiest point next year will revolve around housing. Everybody will say how important affordable housing is, but the battle lines will be drawn between those who support additional housing development in Cambridge and the region vs. those who want to severely restrict new housing with the possible exception of subsidized low- and moderate-income housing.
The best outcome next year will be if the focus can be on "place making" in interesting and creative ways instead of just fighting over how much density or how high the buildings should be. People all over the country are moving back into cities, and figuring out how best to accommodate that trend and create great urban environments should be high on the priority list.
Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Normandy Real Estate Partners and Twining Properties to amend Article 20.000 of the Zoning Ordinance and Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge by adding a new Section 20.800 entitled Mass and Main Residential Mixed Income Subdistrict within the Central Square Overlay District.
This is guaranteed to get a lot of attention in the coming months. Rather than prematurely argue the merits of the petition, I'll simply say that this is a symptom of a serious problem with the current Cambridge City Council. An extensive planning process (K2C2) was completed about two years ago that culminated in recommendations for Kendall and Central Squares. The City Council has been in a state of paralysis since then. They are under no obligation to support all of the recommendations, but they certainly should be discussing them and proposing changes that can garner majority support. Instead, they have done nothing. So a property owner has to come forward with a zoning petition to jump-start the process.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all relevant City Staff and Departments to examine the feasibility of posting advisory signage to broadly encourage a motor vehicle speed limit of 20 to 25 miles per hour on City streets. Councillor Carlone
I really don't think that traffic signage should be about "encouragement" other than the occasional "SLOW" sign. The City lacks the authority to arbitrarily establish speed limits, but there are some specific street types for which that authority should be sought. For example, a one-way street with parking on both sides and a relatively narrow travel lane should have no greater than a 25mph speed limit. Streets with bike lanes should be regulated in such a way that motor vehicle speeds in lanes adjacent to a bike lane should not be more than 15-20mph above typical bike speeds. There should also be much stricter enforcement of all traffic laws (and, yes, that includes cyclists).
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to assess the possibility of adding dedicated cycling infrastructure to Pearl Street as a part of the reconstruction process. Councillor Cheung
Councillor Cheung's order conveniently uses the phrase "dedicated cycling infrastructure" rather than "cycle track." Contradicting many of Councillor Cheung's assertions is the Vassar Street example where traffic is now routinely choked, there is almost no safe space remaining in the roadway except to "take the lane," emergency vehicles now avoid the street for safety's sake, and trucks routinely park on the sidewalk due to the extreme inflexibility of the road design. For a great example of cycle tracks in practice on Concord Ave., see cambridgecivic.com/?p=2285 and especially the video at vimeo.com/55394832.
It's also an established fact that when parking is removed travel speeds increase. I'm sure the City would then decide to turn Pearl Street into an obstacle course of speed tables and raised intersections. What is the incentive for complicating the road in this way? Have there been many bike accidents along this road? In the map at youarehere.cc/p/bicycle-accidents/cambridge, all I see is darkness on Pearl Street - few, if any, reported accidents. In other words, this is a "solution" in search of a problem. The preferred alternative would be to do a complete repaving of the street with appropriate street markings. Kids can continue to ride legally on the sidewalks if they wish.
Order #5. The City Manager is requested to confer with the Election Commission and the appropriate City departments to determine a feasibility study and subsequent action plan, instituting suffrage for immigrants in Cambridge. Councillor Mazen
This notion comes up every decade or so and thankfully has gone nowhere each time even when a home rule petition was able to squeak by before getting buried by the state legislature. We already have a suffrage mechanism for immigrants. It's called citizenship. Many people, including me, feel that citizenship and the right to choose elected officials are indistinguishable. I would not want non-citizens electing my representatives - even in municipal elections.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to examine ways to streamline both the City's process and the City's technology for replying to Massachusetts Public Records Law requests and to examine how major cities' open data and FOIA requests are handled, including options for a full time data management team including representatives of the City Clerk's office, the City Solicitor's office, and IT. Councillor Mazen
The only question in this regard should be which information should be publicly available - not the cost or difficulty in obtaining it. It's understandable that accessing some documents may require significant time and that there should be a cost associated with that, but this should not apply to the wide range of data that can be made publicly available with relative ease. - Robert Winters
STEM and Root - On the Agenda of the Nov 10, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting
It's a very short agenda this week. Here are a few items of interest with brief comments.
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the License Commission to approve the jitney application of Groupzoom, Inc., d/b/a Bridj for a six month pilot program.
Bridj has been described as a cross between a bus and a taxi service. It's a Cambridge-based company that ran into regulatory roadblocks several months ago when planning to launch its service in Cambridge. These are interesting times with the emergence of services like Uber and the widespread availability of applications for mobile communication devices that make services like Uber and Bridj possible. This recommendation from the Cambridge License Commission is for a six-month pilot program but it does seem like the future is upon us and we'll be seeing a lot more services like this in the future. There was a day when omnibuses and trains were all run outside of government control. Could we be going Back to the Future?
Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from Whitehead Institute, Nine Cambridge Center, to amend the Zoning Ordinance, Sections 14.32.1 and 14.32.2 to provide for an increment of 60,000 square feet of GFA to be allowed by special permit in a portion of the MXD District, in Section 14.70 by retitling "Special Provisions Applicable Within the Ames Street District" and by adding a new Section 14.72 "Special Provisions Applicable Outside the Ames Street District.
The proposal seems sound, but the fact that it does not propose to build housing (only contribute money toward that goal) might translate into some resistance. Not every site is appropriate for housing and this may be one such site. It also proposes to simply expand an existing structure. However, this petition should focus some attention on the bigger picture of adding housing in Kendall Square in locations such as the site of the Volpe Transportation Center down the street. I'm sure there will be some who will say that no changes should be approved until the "Master Plan" process is complete, but that really borders on the ridiculous in a district such as this.
Communications #1. A communication was received from Michael Brandon, 27 Seven Pines Avenue, regarding the Planning Board appointments.
Translation: Mr. Brandon is unhappy with the recent appointments to the Planning Board. His description of the appointments: "Despite the dedication, expertise, civic-mindedness, and good intentions of the board members, this same-as-it-ever-was, opaquely picked panel of powerless project tweakers is obviously designed and inherently destined to obey the administrative staff's instructions and support the rampant, unplanned, uncoordinated, uncontrolled overdevelopment of the city's neighborhoods and natural resources that continues to degrade the quality of residents' lives." I beg to differ. The current Planning Board members and the new appointees are all great people whose interests align well with the great majority of Cambridge residents.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to locate the additional funding needed to move forward with the archiving and preservation of all City Council records in the Vault Phase II project. Councillor Simmons
Cambridge is an historic city that should appropriately maintain all of its historic treasures - including the records of City Council proceedings. Whether or not this project can be completed in the current budget cycle, it does have to happen. The City has done a lot in this regard over the last decade or so, especially in conjunction with the opening of the new Main Library and its most excellent Cambridge Room.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee and Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee for a joint public meeting held on Oct 28, 2014 for the STEAM working group and its subcommittees to discuss how best to present their research to the greater Cambridge community and for working group members to collectively put forth sound recommendations around: STEAM workforce development, the alignment of all stakeholders, access for all to the innovation economy, and partnerships that will speed the journey.
I have been looking over the committee reports on this for a while now and it's hard for me to get a clear picture of what's going on other than some "brainstorming," creating some kind of web portal, and creating a new "coordinator" job. Maybe this will all turn out great, but so far it seems more like a lot of politically-oriented people riding on board the current national STEM bandwagon. One might think from these reports that education and excitement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics has been thoroughly lacking in elementary and secondary schools in Cambridge. That's not the case. There is, however, a gap between the world of MIT, Harvard, and a host of science and technology-oriented companies in Cambridge and many young Cambridge residents who could benefit from jobs and other opportunities in these schools, labs, and companies. I worry that advocacy relating to the Foundry Building as well as much of this other STEM/STEAM discussion may lead to enhanced opportunities for young people who were already going to find good opportunities anyway. Only time will tell if those who might otherwise have been left out will somehow get excited about the opportunities around them and get a head start on developing the kind of skills that will be necessary to access these opportunities.
Frankly, this isn't something that should be bubbling up from a couple of City Council subcommittees. Efforts in this regard should really be growing out of a partnership between the Cambridge School Department, our great local universities, and some of the companies that have been locating in Cambridge during the last few decades. They have had some representation at these committee meetings, but it would be so much better if they were driving the initiative. Otherwise the whole initiative could just come and go with only an extra job left in its wake. The entire Cambridge School Department and all the other local schools have to be at the root of any lasting change.
I am old enough to remember President Kennedy's exhortations on the importance of science and mathematics education in the era of the space program. So many young people, including me, drew inspiration from what was happening during those years. I don't know what the modern-day equivalent inspiration might be, but that's really what is needed in order to get people jazzed about mathematics, science, and related fields. - Robert Winters
Boarding and Baiting - Nov 3, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda
There's a reception this Wednesday honoring the many volunteer members of Cambridge's boards & commissions. The City administration, the Mayor and, presumably, all of the city councillors actually appreciate the efforts of these residents who give their time and energy in support of their city - all without compensation. Some board members deserve special thanks and recognition for their willingness to serve on regulatory boards such as the Planning Board which often has to decide controversial cases. Their public service and generosity often puts them in the crosshairs of malcontent activists who thrive on negativity.
The long-awaited appointments of several new Planning Board members are on this week's agenda. As with every current member of the Planning Board, the new appointees will bring wisdom and a generous spirit to the Planning Board. Unfortunately, the anti-everything activists await them only with slings and arrows. One especially sorry individual even characterized the appointments in a message titled "Healy-Lite locks and loads his 'Planning' Board" stating that "Member-for-Life Chairman Hugh Russell and five other real estate and construction industry reps were retained and extended" and "three more connected pro-development insiders added to the team." His unhappiness is apparently tied to his great disappointment that an applicant who has repeatedly been involved in lawsuits against the City was not appointed (shocking!). The appointments by City Manager Richard Rossi are, in fact, excellent choices and his message to the City Council shows just how responsive this City administration has been to feedback from the public.
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appointments of the following citizens to the Planning Board effective Dec 1, 2014: Mary T. Flynn, Louis J. Bacci Jr., and Thacher Tiffany (Associate Member), and I have reappointed H. Theodore Cohen, and Catherine Preston Connolly.
Nov 3, 2014
I am pleased to inform you that I have appointed the following citizens to the Planning Board effective Dec 1, 2014: Mary T. Flynn, Louis J. Bacci Jr., and Thacher Tiffany (Associate Member), and I have reappointed H. Theodore Cohen, and Catherine Preston Connolly. They will be serving on the Board with continuing members Steven Cohen, Tom Sieniewicz, Hugh Russell, and Ahmed Nur (Associate Member).
Let's extend a hearty welcome to Mary Flynn, Luis Bacci, and Thacher Tiffany who will lend their various talents to the planning of their city. Let's also extend heartfelt thanks to outgoing members Pam Winters and Steve Winter who have given so much of themselves over the years as members of the Planning Board. As with the newly appointed members, they are our neighbors and friends.
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appointments of members to the Police Review & Advisory Board effective Oct 23, 2014: Mertin Betts, reappointment to a 5-year term; and Beverly C. Sealey, appointment to a 5-year term.
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Ivria Glass Fried as a member of the Conservation Commission for a term of 3-years effective Nov 1, 2014.
Much attention has been focused on the Planning Board appointments, but there are many City boards - and hundreds of appointments to be made. The Police Review & Advisory Board (PRAB) and the Conservation Commission are two boards that also serve crucial functions within the City of Cambridge requiring special expertise. We're lucky to have as much available talent in Cambridge as we do.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommendation to change the street name "Rumeal Robinson Place" to Norfolk Place.
I have lived long enough in Cambridge to remember that street being renamed in honor of former CRLS basketball star Rumeal Robinson who went on to achieve fame in both college basketball (Univ. of Michigan) and in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks and several other teams. After his playing career ended he tried his hand at property development in Jamaica and ended up being arrested and charged with bank fraud, bribery and wire fraud. He was found guilty and served time in jail. His adoptive mother, Helen Ford, was swindled out of her home by one of Robinson's business associates when Robinson asked her to use it as collateral for a loan. The agenda item contains only the message from the City Engineer: "I have received requests from property owners and residents of Rumeal Robinson Place, formerly known as Norfolk Place, to change the name of the street back to Norfolk Place. I have consulted with both the Historical Commission and the Traffic Department regarding this request and have also met with the residents and property owners of the street. All parties are supportive of the requested change." Considering the background, it's no surprise that everyone is in agreement that the name of the street should revert back to Norfolk Place. [You can read one account of the story here.]
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-19, regarding an update on the Concord-Alewife Plan.
The short version is that the Concord-Alewife Plan was well-conceived and the associated zoning was adopted by the City Council in 2006. At the core of the plan was the goal of introducing housing into this previously commercial precinct to transform it to a mixed use district. Now that the recovering economy has led to housing production in this area, some activists have risen up over the last few years to oppose it. The plan will not be reviewed separately but the City expects to "develop recommendations for possibly updating the plan and zoning in the Concord-Alewife area as the early phase of the upcoming Citywide Planning process in the context of the overall city goals and objectives." Next year is shaping up as an interesting battleground between the pro-growth and no-growth forces. Quite a few cans have now been kicked down the road that we'll now have to travel.
Order #2. The City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, the Department of Public Works and Boston Properties BXP to determine the financial feasibility of the repair needed to the Galaxy: Earth Sphere sculpture and fountain. Councillor Mazen
There's some interesting background (and photos) on this in former Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Associate Director Thad Tercyak's article "MBTA Role in Cambridge Center Project – Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project, 1979-1989". The artist's name, by the way, is Joe Davis.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to provide the City Council with a listing of all available land and buildings currently on the market or potentially for sale in order to initiate a discussion about land purchase and subsequent development of 100% mixed-income housing. Councillor McGovern, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Kelley and Councillor Simmons
I'm sure some developers would also like to get a copy of that listing once it becomes a public record. It will save them a few bucks on research. Two points can here be made. First, it's not such a good idea to show your cards in potential real estate transactions. Second, consider carefully how neighborhood residents will perceive their City government. Most people tend to want to preserve what now exists - even if this is not in their overall best interest or that of the city and the region. The choice they may end up with is between a developer wanting to build lots of gilded condos or the City wanting to build subsidized housing. It's likely that neither option will match the ideal of existing residents. - Robert Winters
From Evacuation Plans to Traffic Calming – Notable Items on the October 27 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-82, regarding a report on the feasibility of preparing a climate change checklist and evacuation plan for residents.
Everyone can appreciate the need to know how to "get out of Dodge" in the event of a serious emergency, but it's interesting how the motivation has shifted over the years from "nuclear attack" to "climate change". It's worth noting that the motivating City Council order was specifically about climate change but the Manager's response wisely refers to general emergency preparedness "utilizing an all-hazards approach."
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-48, regarding the appointment of the Central Square Action Team strategies that will help Central Square capitalize on and enhance its designation as a Cultural District.
This is a good move for Central Square and its current "Cultural District" designation. Overdependence on one or two people from the Central Square Business Association was not sustainable. Now there will be a lot more stakeholders who can steer things in good directions and exercise greater creativity.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on Participatory Budgeting in Cambridge.
I am interested in this experiment but I'm also very skeptical. Putting cash ($500,000 to start) on the table when there are potentially competing interest groups can be risky business. Years have passed and people are still debating what should go into the Foundry building that was given to the City. I can easily imagine a scenario where one interest group packs a few meetings demanding that their pet project be funded. It's also very problematic that few, if any, of the "neighborhood organizations" in Cambridge are especially representative of their respective neighborhoods. The devil will be in the details. The City will hold an information session on Tues, Oct 28 from 6:00-7:30pm at the Citywide Senior Center for community members who are interested in serving on the Steering Committee (SC) or learning how to otherwise get involved with PB in Cambridge. I hope that more than just the usual suspects attend this meeting.
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-45, regarding the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance.
This communication gives revised language for a "Checkout Bag Ordinance." The key requirement would be that "Retail Establishments which provide Recyclable Paper Bags or Compostable Plastic Bags shall charge for each such bag provided not less than an amount established by Regulations promulgated by the (Public Works) Commissioner. This Checkout Bag charge shall be retained by the Retail Establishment." Note that the fee would be for any checkout bag that is not deemed "reusable" including paper bags. There are some provisions for short-term exemptions. The penalty would be "not more than $300 for each violation and each day a violation occurs shall constitute a separate offense."
Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-84, regarding the Planning Board process.
There are a number of sensible improvements that can and should be made, but why on Earth must everything in Cambridge be turned into a process that takes anywhere from a half year to several years to complete? Does this really produce a better product in most cases?
Communication #3. A communication was received from Patrick W. Barrett III, 41A Pleasant Street, regarding the policy order on Lots #5 and #6 of Oct 20, 2014.
The main point I take from this letter is that a long planning process for Central Square took place a couple of years ago that led to numerous specific recommendations. Our new "activist" City Council has done nothing with that report other than to cherry-pick particular ideas that match the personal politics of specific councillors. In terms of the bigger picture, the City Council has shown great expertise in sitting on its hands.
Communication #4. A communication was received from Peter Valentine transmitting information on sitting.
See above remark.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to commission a study of Cambridge Youth Centers with a focus on use rates and underutilized space. Councillor Mazen
Though I gladly welcome some correction on this, my observation over the years has been that some of the City's youth centers have been created as much for political reasons as for practical need. We all hope that these centers are well utilized, but past reports have shown this to not always be the case. Now that people are talking about STEM, STEAM, the Foundry Building, pre-K and various other possible initiatives, it's definitely time to honestly assess what already exists and to see how everything can be made to work effectively for everyone. This is a good Order.
Order #2. The City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department, the Arts Council, and the Department of Public Works to determine the feasibility of creating and maintaining one or more street piano(s) in one or more parks and/or plazas in Cambridge. Councillor Mazen
It was fun having the piano in Lafayette Square a few years ago and we could use more public pianos, miniature golf, and other good stuff. Often the best initiatives are the simplest ones.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Department, the Fire Department, and other appropriate City departments to review the negative impacts, if any, of street-narrowing initiatives. Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Kelley and Councillor McGovern
This Order strikes at the heart of the zealotry exhibited by some City staff who are on a mission to make the landscape as hostile as possible toward motor vehicle operators. Calming traffic is a good thing, but when all flexibility in the roadway is eliminated all it can take is one vehicle to break down or a minor fender-bender and traffic can be brought to a standstill. The "road diet" advocates are, in my humble opinion, ignorant of the realities of actual road usage, especially in winter conditions.
Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the appropriate City departments to install a raised intersection and traffic-calming measures in front of Cadbury Commons on Sherman Street. Councillor Cheung
Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to investigate the status of the Masse Hardware Company sites located at 243 Walden Street and 253 Walden Street and, if available, consider acquiring one or both sites for mixed-income affordable housing of a suitable scale and report back to the Council regarding findings. Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern
These two Orders appear to directly respond to the housing development proposed for the Masse properties on two corners of the intersection of Walden and Sherman Streets. It is also worth noting that Orders such as #17 nowadays make reference to "middle-income affordable housing" rather than just "affordable housing." This seems to acknowledge the political reality that those who object to proposed housing developments may not be too keen about replacing those proposed high-priced condos with a low-income housing.
Committee Reports #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee for a public hearing held on Oct 8, 2014 to review the City Council's most recent goals and to make recommendations for the FY16 Goals; said goals to include a goal relating to City-wide planning.
I could say much about this meeting that was supposed to be about all of the City Council's major goals. One city councillor used this meeting to repeatedly press for the single, overly specific goal of hiring a "STEAM coordinator." That seemed to entirely miss the point of the meeting. One of the more positive goals expressed was for the re-invigoration of philanthropy as a means of funding various initiatives. With some of the big companies locating especially in Kendall Square, that goal could potentially be very consequential. - Robert Winters
Preview of the Oct 20, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here are a few items on this week's Agenda that seem interesting and worthy of comment.
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-36, regarding a report on the feasibility of offering residents an online option to complete the City's annual census.
This is a welcome option that will hopefully streamline the census and save on postage. Ideally, the City could avoid mailing out the form to those residents who have already completed it online.
Applications & Petitions #3. A petition was received from Alvin Helfeld, et al., 417 Concord Avenue, requesting the Fern Street remodeling plan be reevaluated so that parking is allowed on the left side of the street.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with City project and traffic planners to see if a compromise can be reached which will allow parking on one side of Fern Street while accomplishing City efforts to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety. Mayor Maher and Councillor McGovern
In addition to complaints about the loss of parking in the planned design for Fern St., City officials also plan to force bicycles off the street and onto the sidewalk. This is apparently a nondebatable issue. It's one thing to safely accommodate children by allowing sufficient space on sidewalks away from business zones, but narrowing road lanes to force other cyclists off the road is both wrong-headed and hostile. At least in this case there appears to be about 15 ft. of road width that might safely accommodate both a motor vehicle and a bicycle sharing the lane. Otherwise a cyclist has no choice but to be forced onto the sidewalk. We would all like to see an interesting and artistic plan for this street, but the current plan still needs work.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Finance to discuss the feasibility of introducing a Home Rule Petition requesting an increase to the residential exemption. Councillor Toomey
Somerville has already done this. The standard used to be that the City Council could exempt up to 20% of the assessed value of an owner-occupied home from the local property tax. In 2003 the state legislature amended this to permit up to a 30% exemption, and the City of Cambridge has chosen to do this since then. Since the tax levy is independent of this, the net effect (for owner-occupied homes) is to shift the tax burden onto higher-valued homes. In FY15, the break-even assessed value in Cambridge is approximately $1,282,800. Somerville's home rule petition was approved and increased the allowable exemption to 35%. It seems certain that a similar petition from Cambridge would also be approved if the City Council chose to pursue this option.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and the City Solicitor with the intent of producing language for an affordable housing overlay district to be considered by the City Council. Councillor Toomey, Councillor McGovern, Councillor Cheung and Vice Mayor Benzan
Order #20. The City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of collaborating with partners like the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA), and/or companies in the private and public sector to achieve the desired development objectives in a manner most cost-effective to the City and that ensures the City will retain a high degree of control over the ultimate outcome of the City-owned Lots 5 and 6. Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Carlone
Order #5 doesn't specify whether this "affordable housing overlay district" would be in one or more specific areas or if it would be city-wide (in which case it would be silly to call it an overlay district since it would a city-wide change to the Zoning Ordinance). Coupled with Order #20, one gets the impression that the intention here may be to simply designate some parts of the city as areas where only families whose combined income is below a certain threshold are welcome. This is the antithesis of the more thoughtful inclusionary zoning that creates an incentive for more economically integrated "affordable" housing units, especially in new higher density housing proximate to transit. The required percentage of inclusionary units can and should be debated and possibly increased, but inclusion beats the alternative of economic segregation. It should also be emphasized that Central Square and environs, in particular, should not be the sole location for such a proposed overlay district.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back on possible next steps to advance the creation of the Grand Junction Multi Use Path on City and CRA-controlled property identified as Phase 1 in the Grand Junction Feasibility Study. Councillor Toomey
The timing of this Order follows the recent release of MIT's study on its share of this corridor.
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to take all steps to ensure that the owner of the property on the Belmont-owned portion of the Silver Maple Forest is informed of the opposition to the use of Cambridge land is used for this project. Councillor McGovern, Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen
Yeah, I'm sure the property owner is completely oblivious to the nearly decade-long series of challenges to the proposed project and the fact that building on the Cambridge portion of this parcel is unwelcome. Did the sponsors of this Order read the following statement from the City Manager in his report last month?: "The project is located within the Little River watershed, which is 8.16 square miles and the larger Mystic River watershed, which is 76 square miles. The project area represents approximately 0.3% of the total Little River watershed and 0.03% of the Mystic River watershed. The project will provide a conservation easement on a total of 7.95 acres, including all of the 2.6 acres in Cambridge."
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Affordable Housing Trust to investigate the status of the Tokyo restaurant site on Fresh Pond Parkway and if available, consider acquiring this site and report back to the Council regarding findings. Councillor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Benzan and Mayor Maher
When I read Orders like this one, I am reminded of the efforts over 20 years ago by some city councillors to create a "Land Bank" consisting of every undeveloped City-owned parcel, no matter how small, that might possibly be available for "affordable housing" development. The plan was hatched with absolutely no regard to the sentiments of existing residents. In fact, included in that plan was the possibility of repurposing a building and part of the playground in Corporal Burns Park on Banks St. as affordable housing. Thankfully that plan went down in flames. Building new housing in the Greater Boston area, including "affordable housing," is essential, but we should also be wary of efforts to identify every single available parcel for this single purpose. Large housing developments are perfect for the including of affordable housing units and a good case can be made for increasing the required percentage of inclusionary housing units in those projects. The Tokyo restaurant site may or may not be a good site for the Affordable Housing Trust to acquire (though it's likely unavailable), but all such proposals have to be considered in the context of their surroundings. It would not be wise to create an atmosphere where residents see the City as an invasion force. In the long term that would likely be counterproductive.
Order #14. That the following amendment to the Zoning Ordinance be referred to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee for hearing and report: That the areas bounded by Garden, Walden and Sherman Streets and the park currently zoned Business A be rezoned to Residence C-1 to be consistent with the surrounding area. Councillor Cheung
This is interesting in that the site where Masse's Hardware and its warehouse existed for many years remains zoned in recognition of its previous commercial use even though the abutting neighborhood, including the site of Paddy's Lunch across the street, is zoned as Residence C-1. This proposed amendment would uniformize the zoning. The result would be that fewer housing units could be built there by removing the anomalous zoning that now exists which allows for higher densities. This is not a site that's close to transit, so the case for "smart growth" and higher density housing really is not applicable here. That said, it's unfortunate that zoning proposals are so often reactive than proactive.
Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of hosting a Cambridge Challenge Competition for Transportation that offers a prize to the resident or group of residents that come up with the best viable solution to solve our greatest traffic issues. Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Carlone, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Mazen
This could be an interesting exercise. I especially like seeing some of the "out of the box" thinking that can result from these kinds of exercises. Don't be too shocked if some of the proposals include monorails, personal flying machines, or quantum tunnelling. This is Cambridge, after all. Among the entries, I'm sure, will be some creative and viable concepts. Hopefully not all of them will be shot down by residents fearful of change. My own fear is that City insiders will use the exercise to justify forcing more cyclists off the roads and onto the sidewalks.
Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department, the Arts Council, the Department of Public Works to determine the feasibility of creating an adult playground in Cambridge. Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone
I though Cambridge was an adult playground. (It is for me.)
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Personnel Director and City Solicitor to determine if a point system similar to the system that awards preferences to Cambridge residents for Affordable Housing units can be used in the hiring process thereby providing a local preference for Cambridge residents when applying for positions within the City of Cambridge. Councillor Toomey
The potential flaw in proposals like this is that it presumes that anyone wishing to work for the City of Cambridge can afford to live in the City of Cambridge. Thankfully there's no residency requirement being proposed. We all would like to see more Cambridge residents getting Cambridge jobs, but if every city and town chose to make this too rigid a rule this would create more problems than solutions. A little incentive may good, but not too much.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 30, 2014 with the Community Development Department to provide updates on inclusionary zoning, linkage, the Nexus Study, the three expiring use buildings (Briston Arms, the Close Building and Fresh Pond Apartments) that the City is working to preserve and preferences for affordable housing waitlists.
As many wise people have pointed out, it's far more cost effective to preserve existing affordable housing than it is to build new affordable housing. The Affordable Housing Trust and the Community Development Department have made the preservation of these expiring-use buildings a high priority. The Nexus Study and possible revisions to the linkage fees from new commercial development are long overdue. The Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance may also need revision, but everyone needs to understand that requiring additional inclusionary units also likely means permitting additional density. That's most likely a good trade-off. One idea that I hope is explored is the idea of a stepped increase in the percentage of inclusionary units required for larger housing developments. - Robert Winters
A Taxing Situation - September 29, 2014 Cambridge City Council Notes
Short agenda this week. Quite likely the most discussed items will be the Orders from last week that were delayed via Charter Right. There's also the formality of tax classification that will be the subject of a 6:30pm hearing.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2015. [Manager's letter]
Charter Right #1. That as we undertake the Cambridge Conversations and the Master Planning Process, the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to study emerging business types in Cambridge and how they are affected by the use regulations in the Zoning Ordinance, and to recommend changes to the Zoning Ordinance that will help classify such businesses in a clear, rational way that supports the long-term interests of the community and instruct the Community Development Department to evaluate appropriate ways to facilitate home-based businesses above and beyond what is currently allowed. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on Order Number Five of Sept 22, 2014.]
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the Planning Board to begin testing strategies to enhance such engagement at the earliest opportunity by methods such as requiring developers to hold a public meeting in the neighborhood and provide a report along with the permit application describing public input and changes to the project as a result of such input and to suggest changes to the Planning Board rules, which could be adopted by the Planning Board and/or Zoning Ordinance, which could be enacted by the City Council to codify successful community engagement strategies. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on Order Number Six of Sept 22, 2014.]
Both of these Orders from last week are helpful. There's nothing especially complex about these proposals. As in the case of a current zoning petition that would make expiration dates for zoning petitions consistent with state law, the most useful proposals are usually pretty obvious and the only question is why it takes so long for city councillors to propose them. Much of this is just good housekeeping.
Charter Right #3. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to consult with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of installing "no smoking marijuana" signs in city playgrounds and that signs further provide that persons found to be doing so could be fined in accordance to Massachusetts General Laws: CHAPTER 94C, Section 32L. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on Order Number Fourteen of Sept 22, 2014.]
Please see comments from last week. If there is one new ordinance I'd love to see in Cambridge, it would be an ordinance mandating the reduction of visual clutter from regulatory signs. You can barely walk twenty feet along many Cambridge streets without encountering another such sign. Enough! - Robert Winters
Interesting Items on the September 22, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here's a sample of what's on this week's relatively brief agenda.
Order #3. That the Government Operations, Rules & Claims committee is requested to hold a meeting to discuss changing the terms used in Council "Orders" to more accurately reflect their message. Councillor Kelley
Perhaps Councillor Kelley is interpreting "Order" as might be expected as a former member of the United States Marine Corps. Perhaps the more appropriate interpretation is like when you order from a menu. If this were done verbally, the conversation might go something like this:
Councillor: Excuse me, sir, but may I have fries with that cheeseburger?
OR, as it often goes:
Councillor: What do you recommend?
Order #5. That as we undertake the Cambridge Conversations and the Master Planning Process, the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to study emerging business types in Cambridge and how they are affected by the use regulations in the Zoning Ordinance, and to recommend changes to the Zoning Ordinance that will help classify such businesses in a clear, rational way that supports the long-term interests of the community and instruct the Community Development Department to evaluate appropriate ways to facilitate home-based businesses above and beyond what is currently allowed. Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Benzan
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the Planning Board to begin testing strategies to enhance such engagement at the earliest opportunity by methods such as requiring developers to hold a public meeting in the neighborhood and provide a report along with the permit application describing public input and changes to the project as a result of such input and to suggest changes to the Planning Board rules, which could be adopted by the Planning Board and/or Zoning Ordinance, which could be enacted by the City Council to codify successful community engagement strategies. Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Benzan
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of conducting a series of walks through Alewife for the purpose of better knowing the area in preparation for the Dec 1, 2014 roundtable discussion about city-wide planning Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern, Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone
These are the kinds of Orders many of us have been waiting to see now that time-wasting distractions like the Carlone Petition have been put to bed. Order #6, in particular, proposes a specific procedural change that could help prevent some of the misunderstandings that have been associated with various development proposals.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Finance Department to determine the possible structure, size, and plans for a discretionary budget. Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone
This smells like trouble. My prediction is that if such a "discretionary budget" is established with which city councillors can vote to fund projects outside of the usual budget process, there will be pressure to grow the budget steadily every year so that councillors can fund extracurricular projects outside of city management. I'm particularly intrigued by the squishiness of the Whereas statement that "With detailed criteria and procedures - and with an agreed upon culture that emphasizes city efficiency and emergent needs, and not personal projects - a Discretionary Budgeting process can make the city even more responsive and innovative." Does anyone seriously believe that such an agreed upon culture will rule the day and that personal projects would be de-emphasized? Anyone ever hear of The Foundry?
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant state-level authorities regarding the potential for enhanced pedestrian safety measures along Memorial Drive in the vicinity of the MIT Sailing Pavilion. Councillor Carlone
This is a pretty good Order. If one were to make a list of roads and locations in Cambridge that are especially treacherous, that list should include quite a few places along Memorial Drive that are dangerous not only for pedestrians crossing the road but also for motor vehicle operators who park alongside vehicles moving at speeds well in excess of the posted speed limits. I would also put most of Fresh Pond Parkway and Alewife Brook Parkway on my list of dangerous roads for pedestrians.
Order #14. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to consult with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of installing "no smoking marijuana" signs in city playgrounds and that signs further provide that persons found to be doing so could be fined in accordance to Massachusetts General Laws: CHAPTER 94C, Section 32L. Vice Mayor Benzan
I believe this Order may need a few more clauses, such as:
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting information on the Timothy R. Flaherty, et al. zoning petition recommending referring to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee for further hearings and reports.
So like, hey man, how did we miss the expiration date for the zoning petition to expand the area where the medical marijuana dispensary can be built? Bummer, man! - Robert Winters
Postscript: On Applications & Petitions #1, an application from Starbucks requesting permission for three benches in front of 1662 Mass. Ave., Councillor Carlone objected to the placement of the benches directly in front of the premises due to it not being ADA compliant. Though he perhaps didn't explain his objection so clearly, his point was correct. The proposed placement of the benches abutting the building is right where a blind person would least expect them. Good call, councillor.
On Order #3, Councillor Kelley would like to change the term "Ordered" to "Requested" in the wording of City Council Orders. City Clerk Donna Lopez explained that the current wording is consistent with state law and City Council rules. Councillor Mazen opined that the word "Ordered" should be interpreted literally by the City Manager so that he would do exactly what the City Council dictated regardless of other considerations.
On Order #8, Councillor Mazen pushed the envelope even further in his argument for giving the City Council their own "discretionary budget" outside the management of the City administration. The central theme in his argument was that city councillors possess expertise in some areas beyond what City staff can comprehend. You have to love the hubris. This, by the way, is the same Councillor Mazen who several months ago stated, in response to issues raised about personal staff for councillors, that each city councillor should have "full staff". Apparently a single aide is not adequate to support the grand plans and brilliant vision of some individual councillors. Councillor Kelley was refreshing in noting that the proposed "discretionary budget" seemed more like a "City Council slush fund". The matter was referred to the Finance Committee for further discussion after most of the city councillors were dismissive of the proposal.
The Ides of September - Sept 15, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
This week's central agenda item is the vote to approve the appropriation of CPA funds.
Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, requesting that the City Council formally appropriate/allocate the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds as follows:
The information is provided here only to highlight the City's continuing commitment to dedicating the maximum 80% of Community Preservation Act funds toward Affordable Housing initiatives and the minimum 10% each to Open Space Acquisition and to Historic Preservation. These are the only three permissible uses for CPA funds.
Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from Charles D. Teague, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to clarify existing ordinance so that said ordinance can be enforced: align the zoning amendment expiration date in the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to be the same as state law, align the Special Permit criteria with adjudicated state law and require that the master plan be followed whereas following the master plan is optional under state law.
As to the first proposal regarding expiration dates of zoning petitions, this is a simple correction that the City Council should have addressed when they were first alerted to the discrepancy by the City Solicitor. I wrote here on July 29, 2013: "The ambiguity between zoning petition expiration dates can be simply resolved via a minor change in the Zoning Ordinance. It's baffling why no city councillor has yet proposed this solution."
The second proposal calls for changing the language in the Zoning Ordinance so that Special Permits "may be granted" rather than "will normally be granted" by the Planning Board if all the Special Permit criteria are met. This would be a major change from a relatively clear process with established criteria to an environment in which there may as well be no criteria at all.
The third proposal is actually pretty funny (as well as absurd). Mr. Teague was perhaps the single most outspoken person making the claim during last year's municipal election season that Cambridge had no master plan. Now he's saying that the very thing he said did not exist must now be followed to the letter. Even if Mr. Teague had a change of heart regarding his beliefs, it would perhaps be a good idea if he tried to understand the difference between planning principles and legally enforceable ordinances. It's an important difference.
Resolution #18. Declare Sept 21, 2014 as Gratitude Day in the City of Cambridge. Mayor Maher
I am most grateful to Mayor Maher for this Resolution.
Order #4. Scheduling of Roundtable/Working Meetings on Oct 6, 2014 with the Affordable Housing Trust, Dec 1, 2014 to discuss city-wide planning including discussions with the Planning Board and Jan 12, 2015 to discuss city-wide planning including discussions with the Planning Board. Mayor Maher
Order #5. That the Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee schedule a meeting to review the City Council's most recent goals and make recommendations for FY16 Goals to include the addition of a goal relating to City-Wide Planning. Mayor Maher
It's worth noting that these steps addressing City-Wide Planning are taking place the week after the distraction of the Carlone Petition was finally eliminated. This is not to say that there won't be other zoning petitions forthcoming. In particular, it seems likely that those who wish to block the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment and those opposed to building housing in the Alewife area may yet have a few cards to play.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public meeting held on July 9, 2014 to discuss the Community Development Department's efforts to preserve expiring use buildings, and a discussion about inclusionary zoning and the Nexus study.
In the spirit of moving on to more important business, it's about time that these housing-related matters are fully addressed. In particular, an increase in the inclusionary zoning requirement will likely have to permit additional density to cover the cost of the additional "affordable" units. That will likely require some uncomfortable political choices. The preservation of expiring use buildings is now a top priority of the Affordable Housing Trust and the Housing Division of the Community Development Department. Suffice to say that the cost of preserving existing affordable housing units is generally far less than building new affordable housing units. - Robert Winters
Back in Session - Notable Items on the Sept 8, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Summer's over. Here are a few agenda items that caught my eye.
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-72, regarding a report on evaluating parking around the Sullivan Courthouse.
There is little doubt that issues of traffic and parking will continue to be part of the discussion of the future use of the Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike St. A proper comparison should be between the previous active use as a courthouse/prison vs. the proposed uses for office/housing/retail. The availability of on-street resident parking and an analysis of the existing structured parking in the area are part of this discussion. This report addresses the former.
Manager's Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-80, regarding a report on fluoride in the City's water supply.
Read Saul Tannenbaum's take on this: https://www.cctvcambridge.org/WaterFluoridation
Manager's Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-75, regarding a report on possible options for preserving the Silver Maple Forest. [Letters from DPW Commissioner Owen O'Riordan and DCR Commissioner John Murray]
Most people, including the City Manager, feel that this area would be preferably preserved as open space but, as the report and the attached letters indicate, "it's complicated" and there are plenty of competing priorities when it comes to land acquisition.
Applications & Petitions #8. A zoning petition has been received from CJUF III Northpoint LLC to amend certain provision of the City of Cambridge Zoning Ordinance that govern the Planned Unit Development in the North Point Residence District to allow limited amounts of off-street retail parking.
This appears to address the need for sufficient parking to support retail uses planned for the North Point area. This is completely in line with the nearly universal desire for mixed use development in this area and elsewhere in the city.
Communications #7. A communication was received from Gerald Bergman, 82 Elm Street, regarding the ongoing debate about the Carlone Petition.
Most communications sent to the City Council in recent years have been boring repetitions of talking points pushed by various advocacy groups. Gerry Bergman's letter, in contrast, is a substantial appeal that greater attention be paid to the affordability of housing. Whether you agree or disagree with the points he makes, Gerry's letter offers detailed suggestions and is worth reading. Even if the affordability of housing is an issue that can only be meaningfully addressed regionally, it's important that Cambridge continue to hold up its part of that conversation.
Resolution #4. Resolution on the death of Peter A. Vellucci. Councillor Toomey
Resolution #5. Resolution on the death of Mayor Emeritus Walter J. Sullivan. Mayor Maher, Councillor Toomey and Councillor Simmons
I note these resolutions simply to once again note the loss of these two major Cambridge political figures on the same day in early August.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report to the City Council that details how many City jobs have been outsourced to outside vendors since 2010, how the decision is made to consider outsourcing a job that was originally an internal hire, how the outside vendors are chosen, what the benefits to the City are of outsourcing these jobs to outside vendors, and whether individuals working in these positions have the same job benefits and protections as those who work directly for the City have. Councillor Simmons and Councillor McGovern
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report to the City Council that outlines what the City's hiring process is, whether Cambridge residents are given preference when applying for jobs, whether internal candidates are given preference over external candidates, and what the City's procedure is for encouraging employee advancement and professional development for current employees. Councillor Simmons and Councillor McGovern
Both of these Orders seem like reasonable requests for clarification of policies regarding the hiring and advancement of City employees. They provide an interesting contrast with the discussions and resulting ordinance of 20 years ago that mandated residency for many City jobs. Whether or not you agreed with that short-lived ordinance (it was repealed a few months after ordination when a new City Council took office), the simple fact is that the high cost of housing in Cambridge creates a significant dilemma if the ideal is to have people who work in (and for) Cambridge also live in Cambridge.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with Community Development Department and report back to the City Council with a summary of previous recommendations for the Volpe Center site included in planning studies such as but not limited to, ECAPS, Neighborhood Planning Studies, K2, and efforts by the East Cambridge Planning Team and that the report summarize zoning and zoning overlays, and outline the development potential and limitation of this area. Councillor Toomey
The future of the Volpe Transportation Center site in Kendall Square may well prove to be one of the major planning opportunities for the next few years if it does become available for redevelopment. Much of the housing recommendations in the K2 study were focused on the Volpe site and there have been indications that the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority and the Community Development Department are eager to realize those recommendations in some form or another.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and any other appropriate City or State Departments to create a pedestrian stairway leading from the sidewalk on Alewife Brook Parkway to the Fresh Pond Mall parking lot. Councillor McGovern
Though this seems like a perfectly reasonable idea that builds upon what people are already doing today, I expect that ADA requirements will drive up the cost and complexity of such an accommodation to the point where nothing happens.
Order #10. The City Manager report back to the City Council with an update on work underway to recommend changes to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, next steps to be taken by staff and the City Council toward the goal of amending the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance to increase the ratio of required affordable units, and implications of such an increase so that the City Council can be prepared to take up changes to this important Ordinance. Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Benzan
This is a timely Order that acknowledges the fact that there will be trade-offs associated with any change in the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, e.g. the need to permit additional height and density in order to deliver the desired affordable housing units.
Order #12. The City Manager is requested to work with the City Clerk and the IT Department to create a searchable, sortable public online resource which clearly displays all policy orders that have come before the City Council, including also: each City Council member's voting record, information on the City Manager's progress on each order, any departmental notes related to any given order, and an estimated timeline related to any given order. Councillor Mazen
For any consequential City Council Order, this is usually achieved by the inclusion of language in the Order requiring a report back from the City Manager. The inclusion of each councillor's voting record seems more politically motivated than anything else and, besides, most Orders pass unanimously. It is perhaps better to let the City Manager and the various City departments do their job of prioritizing and acting on City Council orders without unnecessary bookkeeping of every action taken and when. Then again, if micromanagement is your thing, then this Order is for you. For the most part, the City administration has been very responsive to City Council requests over the last few years even when juggling many such requests.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Chair of the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee for a public hearing held on Aug 14, 2014 to review expenditures/allotments in reference to the City Council Travel and City Council Resolutions with possible amendments, the position of Deputy City Clerk and any other items that may properly come before the Committee.
The central recommendations of this report are that (a) individual councillors should get an increase in their annual allotments for job-related travel; (b) councillors should restrain themselves from submitting excessive numbers of resolutions; and (c) Paula Crane should be appointed as Deputy City Clerk. These are all good proposals. There was some discussion of placing a strict quota on how many resolutions each councillor could file, but it does seem that voluntary compliance is the better way to go with public shaming of any councillor who goes overboard.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 30, 2014 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Dennis Carlone, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to designate the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.
Committee Report #7. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Aug 27, 2014 to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to designate the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.
These are the reports of the two Ordinance Committee hearings concerning the Carlone Petition which will hopefully be euthanized in short order. Even Councillor Carlone acknowledged that this was really about putting the brakes on at most three projects currently in the pipeline (Courthouse redevelopment, New Street housing, and Alewife Triangle housing). It will be in everyone's best interest if this petition is put to sleep and attention redirected toward the proposed citywide planning process. That said, the intense focus by some advocates on the Courthouse and other projects could lead to other zoning petitions in the coming weeks that are more site-specific.
One thing I'll say specifically about the second Ordinance Committee meeting on this topic was how effectively some of the more specious claims by some advocates (regarding the Alewife area and New Street) were refuted. Specifically, requirements for any new development in the Alewife area would produce greater flood storage capacity than now exists, and any "brownfield" aspects of proposed housing sites on New Street are subject to full review and required remediation. In short, redevelopment would yield cleaner sites and greater flood protection than doing nothing - in addition to any new housing that is provided. Then again, perhaps this is really all about traffic in the final analysis, and the fact that residential housing has minimal traffic impact is something people just don't want to hear.
UPDATE: The Carlone Petition was euthanized at the Sept 8 meeting. A motion to pass it to a 2nd Reading failed on a 3-5-1 vote with Councillors Carlone, Mazen, and Simmons voting YES; and Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillors Kelley, McGovern, Toomey, and Mayor Maher voting NO. Councillor Cheung was ABSENT.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Mayor David P. Maher announcing the formation of a Special Mayor's Commission to explore the issues surrounding poverty and its effects on our community and Councillor McGovern will chair this Commission.
Good idea, Mr. Mayor, and you chose the right Chair.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting copies of two Acts of 2014 signed by the Governor, An Act Authorizing the Department of Conservation and Recreation to Lease Certain Parkland in the City of Cambridge; and An Act Authorizing the Commissioner of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to Convey a certain parcel of land in the City of Cambridge.
I look forward to hearing a little more detail about the second of the two documents having to do with land conveyed in the North Point area (possibly for the proposed skate park). The first of these concerns the lease of the Powder House at Magazine Beach to the City of Cambridge. This opens up the possibility of an active use of this structure in conjunction with the great restoration work now underway. - Robert Winters
Midsummer Night's Distraction - July 28, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda
The City Council returns briefly on Monday for its only meeting of the summer. Due to renovations to the Sullivan Chamber, this meeting will take place in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room, 459 Broadway, CRLS. Here is a sampler of items of interest:
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $133,437.51 funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to the Grant Fund Police Salary and Wages account ($97,423.51) and to the Grant Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance Account ($36,014) which is a reimbursement of expenditures related to the 2013 Marathon Bombing during the week of Apr 15, 2013 through Apr 24, 2013 and will be used to offset overtime costs and to purchase a Morphotrak system used for identifying latent finger prints.
Though there isn't really anything controversial in this, I'm reminded of an appropriation a few months ago to cover costs associated with bomb-sniffing dogs that led to concerns about excessive police presence. In the end, most of us just got to pet Kevin, a very nice and very talented police dog.
Manager's Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to zoning text prepared by the Community Development Department in regard to a request made by the Ordinance Committee at its June 9 public hearing on the Chun, et al. Zoning Petition, which proposes amending the zoning in the Cambridge Highlands neighborhood.
Nothing special to say here - just that maybe third time's the charm. This is the Chun III Petition.
Manager's Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-71, regarding a report on the feasibility of streamlining the permitting process for one-day permits for food trucks visiting Cambridge for special events.
I suppose some steps have to be taken to ensure public safety, but I remember being a youngster in New York when all you needed was a low-cost vendor's permit and you could just park a cart along a road and sell hot dogs and other tasty stuff. I did that for a part of a summer and never once had to deal with regulators, inspectors, the fire department, or anyone else for that matter. When did eveything get so damn complicated?
Manager's Agenda #35. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-52, regarding a report on New Street improvements.
Not long ago, a City Council proposal to improve New Street was assailed by those who felt that improvements would facilitate the approval of new housing on that street - even though their original complaint was about the dreadful state of the street. Solution = Problem (to some). I hear that some paint has been applied to the street to better guide the traffic. The proposed improvements will be better still. The horror!
Manager's Agenda #37. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, request support from the City Council of my intention to submit an application for funding under the Commonwealth's Infrastructure Investment Incentive Program (referred to as the "I-Cubed" program).
The report provides some explanation. "The I-Cubed program provides a mechanism for funding public infrastructure associated with economic development projects. It relies on new state tax revenues derived primarily from new jobs associated with the project to pay debt service on the bonds which are issued by the Commonwealth to fund the infrastructure." The application is for future development in the NorthPoint area.
Manager's Agenda #38. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the Cambridge Conversations: Preliminary Summary of Process and Input.
The report covers only the initial "conversations" phase of the larger "Master Plan" process and mainly consists of a compilation of impressions expressed by residents. Some have suggested that the whole process may take several years.
Manager's Agenda #39. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to actions I am taking in light of the July 16, 2014 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in the case of Merit Construction Alliance v. City of Quincy as it relates to the Responsible Employer Ordinance.
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to determine if there are other options for requiring apprenticeship programs and to report back to the City Council with a legal opinion on how to proceed in ensuring these programs remain part of the Cambridge Employment Plan. Councillor McGovern and Councillor Simmons
The Order is in response to the fact that the court decision renders some of the City's legally mandated apprentice programs unenforceable. Ideally, voluntary compliance with the intent of that law could still provide the same benefits.
Manager's Agenda #41. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to proposed amendment to Chapter 6.04 of the Cambridge Municipal Code (the "Animal Control Regulations").
Those who fail to scoop the poop may soon have to pick up or pay more. Other proposed changes include giving Ranger Jean at Fresh Pond the authority to enforce all aspects of the Animal Control Regulations. Does this include speeding, lane violations, or failure to yield to smaller dogs?
Unfinished Business #8. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on June 24, 2014 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code entitled "Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance." The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after July 14, 2014.
This matter was passed to a 2nd Resolution at the June 30 meeting and is now in the queue for ordination. As this is not an especially onerous regulation, it could well be voted and approved at this meeting.
Resolution #11. Resolution on the death of Seth Teller. Councillor Toomey
I knew Seth primarily via email and only met him briefly a few times. In addition to being a popular professor at MIT, he was recently very involved in organizing opposition to the proposed redevelopment of the former Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike Street (which will have its next hearing at the Planning Board on Tues, July 29). People who involve themselves in Cambridge civic affairs may often line up on opposite sides of an issue, but they are all players on the same field. When someone dies so unexpectedly, it leaves a void that crosses all lines.
Resolution #36. Resolution on the death of Kensley David. Vice Mayor Benzan
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to devise and implement a system that will require the City to publicize and convene a community meeting within 72 hours of any catastrophic event - including but not limited to murders, shootings, or other similar episodes - that could impact public safety or the perception of public safety. Councillor Simmons
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Police Commissioner and report back to the City Council and the community on the specific number of additional police officers that will be assigned to patrol Area IV neighborhoods, whether this increased police presence will be in place through the winter months, and what other additional measures will be undertaken by the Police Department in Area IV. Councillor Simmons
Kensley David was the young man who was recently murdered on Windsor Street. The two Orders are in response to this tragedy.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to resume negotiations with Mr. Fawcett regarding the Whittemore Avenue Community Garden and to explore the possibility of securing this space by eminent domain. Councillor Carlone
Many of us would love to see this community garden restored and made a permanent part of the city's inventory of community gardens. It's worth mentioning, however, that over the years there have been a number of such community gardens on private property that were voluntarily made available to residents thanks to the generosity of the property owners. One such garden on Putnam Ave. some years ago was at the center of a controversy when new housing was proposed for that lot. Would that property owner have ever made the lot available for a community garden if he knew that one day it would prevent other uses on that lot? Let's hope that in the present case some mutually acceptable agreement can be reached.
Order #4. That the City Council go on record affirming its support for the preservation of the Silver Maple Forest. Councillor Carlone
Yeah, sure, let's have another resolution. Many of us would like to see open space like this preserved, but these orders are getting tiresome. It's interesting that the language of the Order is directed toward the property owner "sending him our warmest regards" but also calling for taking "any and all legal steps necessary to prevent the City from providing any water or sewer connections to the proposed Silver Maple Forest development site". That's something of a mixed message. The "Silver Maple Forest" is the 15.6 acre site of a controversial development project along Acorn Park Drive in the Alewife area located at the intersection of Cambridge, Belmont, and Arlington.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments regarding the loss of on-street parking spaces as well as the loss of a handicap parking space in Municipal Lot #8 as a result of the reconstruction/reconfiguration of Western Avenue. Councillor Toomey
My greatest concern about the Western Avenue reconfiguration has been that in order to accommodate bicycles on the sidewalk it would lead to dangerously narrowed lanes in the roadway that would endanger those of us who prefer to cycle on the roadway rather than on the sidewalk. There is still much work to be done before the road is completed, but recent visits have only confirmed my fears. This roadway will be worse for both motor vehicles and bicycles, and I fully expect less safety for pedestrians, bicycles, and motor vehicles.
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to work with community experts, local universities and the Cambridge Water Department to produce a research study determining the possible harmfully effects of continuing to fluoridate the city’s water supply. Councillor Mazen
I don't really know that fluoride is needed in the water supply in this day and age when every toothpaste has all the fluoride needed to provide any necessary dental health benefits. That said, I do love the alarmist language in the order like "adding industrial-grade fluoride chemicals to the public water supply". The Order calls for a research study but already contains the conclusions that "Fluoride is classified by the FDA as a drug, not a nutrient, with many side effects and known neurotoxicity and therefore it is not appropriate to add to a city's water supply" and "More than 33 studies have reported an association between fluoride drinking water concentration and reduced IQ." Having consumed lots and lots of fluoridated water over the last 59 years, I can only imagine how brilliant I might have been had I only abstained from consuming this toxic beverage known as water.
Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to form an advisory committee comprised of residents, business leaders and planning professionals to advise the City Manager and staff on ways to improve the Planning Board process while also determining ways to make the special permit process more understandable and transparent to the public and look for opportunities to provide greater public involvement and engagement. Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Simmons
This is, in my opinion, the real centerpiece of this meeting's agenda. The Carlone Petition introduced at the June 30 meeting would politicize all Special Permit development projects over a certain size. It's a dreadful proposal. There is, however, a perception in some quarters that the current Planning Board procedures for hearings and decisions on Special Permits do not permit adequate public review and input. Whether true or not, this Order proposes that the City Manager form an advisory committee comprised of residents, business leaders and planning professionals to advise the City Manager and staff on ways to improve the Planning Board process. One simple revision that would make a lot of sense would simply be to have a proponent first bring in a concept and solicit public input prior to coming in with a fully-designed development proposal. Subsequent meetings would then benefit from this early feedback from the public.
If the City Council has any wisdom at all, they will pass this Order and ask that the City Manager move quickly to form this advisory committee and propose useful procedural changes at the Planning Board (which may soon see one or more new members). This could make things better for both residents and Planning Board members. This would be far better than disempowering the Planning Board and turning every development proposal into political theater before the City Council.
Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and reach out to the principals at Vecna to work with them and assist the company with its plan to create new retail and open space opportunities which could significantly add to the vitality of this growing area of Cambridgepark Drive. Mayor Maher
One of the most positive trends I've noticed over the last year or two is that ground-floor retail is being regularly characterized as a community benefit. It wasn't all that long ago that only open space and "affordable housing" were seen as community benefits. Nowadays there is a lot of emphasis put on "place making" and that's a very good development.
Order #20. That the City of Cambridge joins with our fellow citizens, municipalities and elected officials across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in calling for a boycott of Market Basket stores in the spirit of unity with current and former employees of Market Basket Mayor Maher
As a regular Market Basket shopper, I do hope there's some kind of resolution soon. However, I don't think it's good that elected officials or elected bodies are calling for boycotts. That's a decision best left to individuals.
Order #23. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all appropriate departments and explore the feasibility of creating a Cambridge City Youth Council that will represent the youth population of the city and serve as an advisory board to the City Council. Councillor Cheung
I thought we already had such an advisory board - the Kids' Council. Their charge may be to coordinate services relevant to Cambridge youth, but advising the City Council could be added to that charge. Having a new, separate group seems a bit redundant. Modifying the existing Kids' Council seems like a simpler and more effective idea.
Order #24. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Community Development Department on the feasibility of producing a Cambridge Sustainability Plan with stated priority goals to complement Cambridge's Master Plan. Councillor Cheung
I'm inclined to say that the policy goals contained in the Growth Policy Document (1992) coupled with the 2006 update is the Cambridge Sustainability Plan and it's a pretty good one. I would expect a few revisions to grow out of the next process but it's not like we have to revert to Square One.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee for a public hearing held on June 11, 2014 to explore the way forward for a shared use with a rail and trail path along the Grand Junction Corridor.
All good ideas, so let's get things moving. I would especially like to see some fresh ideas on how best to connect to the Somerville Community Path.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on July 2, 2014 to discuss the Timothy R. Flaherty, et al. zoning petition requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge to expand the Medical Marijuana Overlay District, MMD-1 to encompass 61 Mooney Street.
No comment - just the observation that Planning Board report has been received and with the Ordinance Committee report this matter could now be moved to a 2nd Reading putting it in the queue for ordination in September.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Leland Cheung transmitting information on The Rush to Build Walkable Urban Grocery Stores.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey Jr. regarding his appeal of a public records denial with the Division of Capital and Asset Management and Maintenance regarding the sale price of the Sullivan Courthouse.
Both of these communication have a relationship to the Legatt McCall proposal to redevelop the former Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike St. One of the benefits touted by the developer would be a new neighborhood grocery store to be located on the ground level of the First Street Garage. Regarding the sale price of the Courthouse property, I doubt whether that will be made known until the final transfer of title has taken place. As of this past Tuesday, no papers had been passed. It was anticipated that the transaction would be completed soon after the prisoners were evacuated from the jail and that took place last month. Perhaps we'll learn more at the July 29 Planning Board hearing. - Robert Winters
Master Plans and Monkey Wrenches - June 30, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda
The curtain falls tonight on the FY2014 Fiscal Year as the City Council enters its Summer Recess - but not without a little controversy. Councillor Dennis "Pearl Harbor" Carlone is the first signer of a new zoning petition that is almost guaranteed to bring some fireworks in advance of the July 4 holiday. The petition has near zero chance of ultimately passing but stands out prominently in its disrespect for the Planning Board, the Community Development Department, and previous Cambridge City Councils who have passed a variety of zoning petitions with detailed Special Permit criteria spelled out to guide the Planning Board in the granting of Special Permits under the Zoning Ordinance.
Applications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been filed by Dennis Carlone, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to designate the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.
The intent of this petition appears to be to enact an effective 30-month moratorium on all larger proposed developments in Cambridge by turning each project into a political football. Except for Councillors Carlone and Mazen (first and last signers), the signers of the petition consist almost entirely of principal players of the Cambridge Residents Alliance who have made no secret of their desire to enact such a moratorium. The essential component of the petition is the transfer of Project Review Special Permit authority from the Planning Board (where there is substantial professional expertise) to the City Council. Anyone who has ever witnessed the Planning Board working together to devise detailed conditions on the granting of a Special Permit should now imagine what this process might look like if conducted by the City Council as they play to the favor of their various political supporters. I shudder to think of it.
Fortunately, it appears that this misguided proposal has the support of only the two city councillors who signed it. Ideally, the City Council would just vote it down and declare it Dead On Arrival, but it's possible that it may be formally referred to the Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee (co-chaired by Carlone) so that it can receive a proper funeral. As a zoning petition, it would require 6 of 9 city councillors to support it and that's pretty much an impossibility unless they start lacing the Kool-Aid with hallucinogens.
Meanwhile the initial phase (Cambridge Conversations) of the upcoming review and possible revision of the City's existing master plans has been met with expressions of satisfaction from most members of the public. Perhaps this is why Carlone and Company have chosen to toss a monkey wrench into the process. Political organizing thrives so much more when wrapped in controversy.
Communications #6. A communication was received from Rick Snedeker, 107 Clifton Street regarding a request for a Special Act Charter for Cambridge that does not include Proportional Representation.
This is included primarily for comic relief. This Snedeker fellow has now written a series of letters to the Cambridge Chronicle detailing his hostility regarding the structure of Cambridge city government and the way municipal elections are conducted. He believes that having 90% of ballots count toward the election of city councillors is more disenfranchising than a winner-take-all election where often fewer than 50% of ballots count toward the election of a candidate. That's interesting math. He would have elections of ward councillors by simple plurality vote with no runoffs or primary elections. This installment from Snedeker also calls for the Mayor and City Council to be able to dismiss any City department head by a simple majority vote. I can only imagine the thrilling City Council meetings when a department head says something not to the liking of the elected councillors.
Communications #11. Sundry communications were received regarding the East Cambridge Courthouse.
There are 38 individual signed letters plus an additional 74 petition signatures in support of the proposed redevelopment of the Courthouse building. The prisoners are now out of the East Cambridge Courthouse and the transfer of the property from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to Legatt McCall, the chosen developer, is imminent. While there is clear opposition to the proposed redevelopment from many residents, it's pretty clear that this is not a unanimously held position. The Planning Board is expected to make a decision on the Special Permit for the 40 Thorndike Street proposal at its July 29 meeting (to be held in East Cambridge, most likely at the Kennedy-Longfellow School). Regardless what the Planning Board decides, it is very likely that lawsuits will follow.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee and Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee for a joint public meeting held on June 25, 2014 to discuss the ongoing out of school/STEAM working group research.
I'm sure the participants at this meeting meant well and I think we all want to see some good programs developed in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM). The report, however, is remarkable in some of its convoluted quotes. Some of my favorites are these: "Councillor Mazen explained that it's important for one subgroup to track other subgroup. People in this subgroup should ask other subgroups: Are we talking around the subject or are we addressing it?" and "Councillor Mazen confessed he isn't opposed to having another subgroup but he feels that this can fall into other subgroups and can also be discussed by each subgroup." and "Councillor Mazen said he hoped next time will be an opportunity for everybody to work more circularly about a coordinator position".
Exactly how does one "work more circularly?" Does it involve beating around the bush? I'll have to consult with my subgroup about this. - Robert Winters
Note: Due to construction in the Sullivan Chamber, this City Council meeting will take place in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at 459 Broadway (CRLS).
Reports, Responses, and Requests on the June 16, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda
This week's agenda is dominated by a long list of reports from the City Manager. Of the 36 items on "Awaiting Report", we can now scratch off 15 of them. The City Council will, of course, continue to pile on more requests before they vacate for much of the summer.
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-47, regarding a report on enforcement of ICE detainers against persons who may be wanted for immigration purposes.
After all the impassioned testimony at the meeting when this Order was introduced, Commissioner Haas' words say it best: "In many respects, the practices of the Department go beyond the scope of the City Council Order..."
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-21, regarding a report on the implementation of a city-wide job fair for Cambridge residents.
This was a great initiative from Vice Mayor Benzan. The event is scheduled for Wed, Oct 8, 2014 from 10:00am to 1:00pm at the IBM Innovation Center, 1 Rogers Street at Charles Park.
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-41, regarding the feasibility of push cart vendors and local artists both at Carl Barron Plaza and similar places in Central Square.
It never ceases to amaze me just how complicated it can become to carry out an otherwise simple initiative. Perhaps the most unsatisfying aspect of the proposed pilot program is that no food vendors will be permitted "due to limits on Peddler Licenses within 300 ft of a Common Victualer License and the Fast Order Food Cap in Central Square." I was really looking forward to picking up a pretzel or a hot dog smothered in sauerkraut and mustard on the street in Central Square. Regulations be damned!
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-42, regarding a report on relocating the Planning Board hearing on the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment to a site in East Cambridge.
The Planning Board public hearing for 40 Thorndike Street will be held in East Cambridge, but the date and location has not yet been determined. The word at a recent meeting of the new Neighborhood Assn. of E. Cambridge was that the likely date would be July 15. The remaining prisoners in the jail are expected to leave (rather than escape) in the next week or two and it is anticipated that the transfer of the property from the Commonwealth and the designated developer Leggat McCall will be completed immediately following the closing of the jail. Though many have argued that the Commonwealth should have assumed greater responsibility for the environmental remediation of the property and possibly even the demolition of the existing building, it would appear that state involvement will cease with the transfer of the property. After that it will all be in the hands of the developers, the Planning Board, the various neighborhood groups, and the courts.
Manager's Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-50, regarding a report on an update of the City's composting pilot program.
Some highlights: Total collected to date, almost 30,000 lbs, (after week 9) averaging 3,270 lbs/wk (1.7 tons) over 555 participating households. From the pre-pilot trash run, the average household had 18.75 lbs/wk of trash. Composting reduces that ~33% to 12.1 lbs/wk. 64% of households now produce one bag of trash or less per week. 78% noticed they have less trash, 50% say their trash weighs less and 45% say that their trash smells better. So far, so good.
Manager's Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-37, regarding a report on the feasibility of painting green all designated bike lanes on all major streets.
The Bottom Line: "Our current policy is to install colored pavement markings at locations where it may be necessary for a vehicle or pedestrian to cross a bicycle facility. We believe reserving these special colored markings for conflict zones really emphasizes the importance of the location and indicates to all users that they need to give this area greater attention and proceed with caution. If all lanes were colored – we would lose the opportunity to differentiate these special locations of heightened importance." Makes a lot of sense.
Manager's Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-46, regarding an analysis and assessment of the position of Aide to the City Council.
The manager is recommending that the salary for these positions be increase by $3200, effective in FY14 (the current fiscal year). The original Order called for making these full-time positions, but the Manager's response only speaks of a salary increase. The committee report on this matter called for analysis of these positions but was not sufficiently explicit about what analysis should take place - even though the issue of the legality of the fundamentally patronage jobs was questioned at the hearing.
A message circulated by Councillor Kelley summarizes things rather well: "If one believes that Councillors should have personal assistants (often former campaign managers, donors, neighbors or other campaign supporters) then this pay raise may make sense. If you believe, as I do, that this extra layer of expensive bureaucracy gets in the way of Councillor-to-Councillor communication, has no professional standards or requirements in hiring, results in confusion as more political appointees get involved in issues and gives incumbents a massive City-funded leg up on challengers, you may wish to oppose the suggestion that assistants get a $3200/year pay raise, bringing the compensation for this part-time job up into the 50K range."
Manager's Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-54, regarding the feasibility of installing a large screen television to show the World Cup Matches.
Look for a large screen television showing the World Cup Matches to appear in the Lafayette Square area around Sat, June 28 and continue through the final round which ends on Sun, July 13. It should be a fun time in Central Square - unless the wrong team loses or the right team wins in which case let's hope the police are ready to manage the crowds.
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department to determine the legality and if feasible, the institution of a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage ordinance for the City of Cambridge, with special provisions for small businesses. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Amended Order Number Seven of June 9, 2014.]
As I stated last week, it seems perfectly clear that without enabling legislation from the state legislature, the City of Cambridge does not have the authority to institute its own minimum wage law. It also seems pretty certain that any Home Rule authority granted by the legislature would most likely require approval by local voters. This initiative has more to do with political organizing than anything else. Meanwhile the state is proceeding with what will likely be a successful enactment of a revised state minimum wage law (with some exceptions) somewhere around $11 per hour.
Resolution #12. Congratulations to Katherine Watkins on being appointed as City Engineer/Assistant Commissioner for Engineering for the City of Cambridge. Councillor Cheung
Excellent choice of a well-deserving and thoroughly qualified engineer and a wonderful person. We are really lucky to have people like this working for the City of Cambridge.
Order #5. That the City Council go on the record in opposition to any type of casino project in the Greater Boston area whether constructed and managed by Mohegan Sun or Wynn Resorts. Councillor Mazen
It's not our call and I seriously doubt whether anyone charged with making the decisions will take this Order seriously.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all appropriate city departments on the feasibility of allowing zoning data such as special permits, variances, and building permits to be available on the City's Open Data Portal. Councillor Cheung
This is a good idea and it reminds me of an Order from Councillor Kelley some time ago calling for the tagging of all data relating to a given property across various City databases so that a person could get a complete picture. It's probably also worth saying that now that we have the City's Open Data Portal we will likely get another request every week for something else that should be included in the publicly accessible data. This will likely keep a lot of people busy for a long time.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a communication from Councillor Nadeem Mazen requesting the approval of the City Council to attend the 10th Annual International Fab Lab Conference in Barcelona, Spain.
It's interesting that the conference that Councillor Mazen wishes to attend with City support just happens to overlap substantially with what he does in his own personal business/employment. Perhaps this will start a trend. Councillor Simmons can have the City pay for her attendance at a conference of independent insurance brokers because, well, Cantabrigians need insurance. Councillor McGovern can attend a conference of social workers because, well, there's a need for social work in Cambridge. Councillor Carlone can attend a conference of architects on the City dime because, well, we have a lot of nice architecture in Cambridge. You get the picture. - Robert Winters
Open data, bottle bans, and minimum wages - Interesting items on the June 9, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda
In addition to 17 all-important birthday resolutions from Councillor McGovern and various other business items, there are the following items that piqued my interest:
Manager's Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-13, regarding a report on putting information on traffic enforcement, accidents and parking tickets online in a format that would allow electronic data analysis by the general public. [In particular: On June 4, the City launched its new open data site (http://data.cambridgema.gov). This web based tool will be ever evolving; current datasets will be updated with new information on a regular basis, new data sets will be published as they come available, and datasets requested by the public will be reviewed and made available when feasible.]
The new data site is pretty interesting and the promise of it being "ever evolving" is bound to please many who are just itching to crunch some numbers. So far I've only scouted out the Assessing data which is a big improvement over the existing tool that's been on the City website for a number of years. You can sort on any of the fields and export data in 8 different formats. You can even check out the location of all the fire hydrants in the city.
Manager's Agenda #23. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-18, regarding the Foundry Building.
The essential elements of this communication consist of a possible timeline for redevelopment of the Foundry building, a framework for a cooperative arrangement with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and a list of the next few opportunities for public input.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to prepare a draft ordinance that will limit the sale of single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter or less in the City of Cambridge. Councillor Cheung, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mazen and Vice Mayor Benzan
The proposed ban on plastic bags is still pending under Unfinished Business and our restless City Council certainly can't let too much time pass without banning something. However, in spite of the co-sponsorship by four councillors and the magnificent expertise of their personal aides, I honestly can't tell what exactly they wish to ban other than the fact that it will be a container that holds less than one liter. The language in the Order prominently refers to "non-carbonated beverages, water, iced tea, juice and sports drinks" in one section referencing to state's proposed Updated Bottle Bill, but there is a later reference to "limiting the sale of non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water in single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter or less." The specific directive in the Order says only "to prepare a draft ordinance that will limit the sale of single-serving PET bottles of 1 liter or less." So, does this refer only to bottled water or to all of the other non-carbonated beverages? Does it ban smaller-size carbonated beverages as well? There is a reference to "expansion of alternative water sources, including public drinking fountains" that might lead one to believe that only bottled water is covered under this proposal, but that's not what the Order actually says. Surely eight people could have drafted an Order that's as transparent as water.
Ban or no ban, many people will continue to stock up at Market Basket in Somerville. Clever marketing people may also come out with a new 1.01 liter bottle to allow people to refresh themselves. Meanwhile, I'm taking bets on what next this City Council intends to ban.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department to determine the feasibility of instituting a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage ordinance for the City of Cambridge, with special provisions for small businesses. Councillor Mazen
Despite what may have occurred in places like Seattle, San Francisco, and Santa Fe, it seems perfectly clear that without enabling legislation from the state legislature, the City of Cambridge does not have the authority to institute its own minimum wage law. It also seems pretty certain that any Home Rule authority granted by the legislature would most likely require approval by local voters. Maybe that's really the intention of the sponsor - the tried-and-true political organizing tool of a ballot question.
The only way a proposal such as this might make sense would be as a statewide proposal. The proposal also focuses almost exclusively on wage earners who are covering the costs for a household (which is where a "living wage" is meaningful). There are a lot of other people working jobs only to generate some extra spending money, including many students working in various campus jobs. Is the proposed $15/hour minimum wage appropriate across the board? Probably not. In any case, enacting this in one relatively small city could do more harm than good. - Robert Winters
On the Menu at the June 2, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting:
The central item on this week's agenda is the approval of the FY2015 Budget.
Unfinished Business #6-12: Public Investment loan authorizations totaling $15,405,655. In addition to funds for a variety of other essential investments, this sum includes $9,205,655 for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, stormwater management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City's Western Avenue and Agassiz areas as well as the Sewer Capital Repairs Program and public toilet installation at Harvard Square.
Committee Reports #1-3: Finance Committee reports for public hearings held on May 8, 2014, May 15, 2014 and May 21, 2014 relative to the General Fund Budget ($488,932,550), the Water Fund Budget ($13,964,275), and the Public Investment Fund ($16,548,370) for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2015.
Perhaps the only loose end is the tempest over the Cambridge Health Alliance plan to merge its Psychiatric Emergency Service (PES) and main emergency room at Cambridge Hospital. As is often the case, the submitted Budget will likely be passed with little or no change.
Reconsideration #2. [Order #13 of May 19, 2014]: That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department, the Election Commission, and the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance to determine the feasibility of publicly funded elections for Cambridge, taking into account models for implementation from other municipalities as well as the exploration of new publicly funded models. Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone [Order Adopted as Amended, Reconsideration Filed by Councillor Mazen; Motion to refer to Gov’t Operations approved on a 5-3-1 Roll Call vote with Benzan, Cheung, Simmons, Toomey, and Maher voting YES; Carlone, Mazen, McGovern voting NO; Kelley ABSENT]
Communications #7-62 (56 in all): Sundry communications regarding public financing of elections.
This is a bizarre choice on the part of Councillor Nadeem "Occupy" Mazen. Introducing the May 19 Order to look into the possibility of public funding for Cambridge municipal elections was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and the matter was appropriately referred to the Government Operations Committee for further discussion and possible action. The content of the Order was not amended at the previous meeting, so the objection here is purely about whether the matter should have been referred to committee. Apparently, Councillor Mazen wants this matter to only be discussed before the full City Council during its televised regular Monday meetings and he feels so strongly about this that he filed for Reconsideration and organized an email campaign to have his way. I expect there will be some public comment on this, but it's hard to imagine a majority of the City Council reversing its sensible choice to refer this matter to the committee where it belongs. My sense is that Councillor Mazen would prefer to have the discussion "out in the streets", but he will likely have to settle for "in committee".
The matter of publicly funded municipal elections is interesting for a number of reasons, though it's not at all clear whether any are applicable in this context. The chief motivations seem to be (a) lowering the barrier for entry for candidates, (b) increasing the ideological and socio-economic diversity among candidates, (c) expanding the range of policy positions put before the electorate, (d) making elections more competitive, and (e) reducing the influence of private contributions on both candidates and officeholders. Well, at least this is what is contained in the text of the Order.
In Cambridge it only takes 50 valid signatures to be a municipal candidate, so there is effectively no barrier for entry. What a candidate does after entry is another matter. Councillor Kelley and School Committee member Fantini run very effective campaigns on very little money simply be maintaining effective communication with their potential voters. Other candidates choose to hire "rent-a-campaigns" from a variety of companies such as Sage Systems and, yes, this requires money. It's noteworthy that the incumbent candidate who spent the most in the 2013 election was defeated, so it's clearly not just about the money.
As for ideological diversity among the candidates, anyone who attended any of the 2013 candidate forums will attest to not only a diversity of opinion but also a diversity of competence. It's also important to emphasize that in a PR election it's possible to target your campaign to ultimately achieve the 10% of ballots (14.3% for School Committee) necessary for election, but you do have to be a match for some constituency. In this regard the barrier to election is not nearly so high for candidates representing diverse points of view. Proportional representation facilitates diverse points of view. I worry that public funding in a PR election might translate into a group getting a dozen or more people to run as a slate where the individual candidates receive public funds and then pool their resources to fund their slate. There is clearly a lot of detail that warrants further discussion before wandering down this road.
The real problem in the Cambridge municipal elections is the difficulty in getting a less-than-interested electorate to spend a minimum amount of time getting familiar with the candidates. It's also not so appealing for a resident to actually choose to be a candidate - and this is not primarily because of the associated cost. I get the feeling that the role of campaign contributions from people associated with real estate interests may be a major factor in why some people might support publicly funded elections, but if we are to question this practice then we should also raise questions about money from unions, money from outside of Cambridge, and money from various other sources having nothing to do with municipal governance. The fact that campaign managers are subsequently hired as "Council Aides" should also be on the list of practices in need of closer scrutiny. If there's any one reform I would welcome it would be a cap on spending, but that would almost certainly run afoul of constitutional rights.
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to proposed amendments to the Tobacco Ordinance (Chapter 8.28, Restrictions on Youth Access and Sale of Tobacco Products and on Smoking in Workplaces and Public Places). This amended ordinance includes recommendations previously transmitted to the City Council on July 29, 2013 and includes additional amendments that have subsequently been added. [Read Report]
While I imagine the proposed amendments will ultimately be supported, I expect there will be some lively discussion in the Ordinance Committee specifically on the proposals (a) to prohibit smoking in all parks and municipal open space, and (b) to prohibit smoking in all outdoor seating areas adjacent to restaurants where food is served.
Resolution #15. Urging members of the Cambridge community to participate in the Charlene Holmes memorial walk on June 3rd, 2014. Councillor Cheung
I'm grateful that some people are keeping this matter in the public eye. To the best of my knowledge there have been no arrests in the murder of Charlene Holmes even though many have suggested that the killer may be known to witnesses of the murder.
Order #1. That the City Manager work with the Police Commissioner to ensure that only in cases where immigration agents have a criminal warrant, or Cambridge officials have a legitimate law enforcement purpose not related to immigration, will Cambridge Police comply with federal ICE detainer requests to hold persons solely for immigration purposes. Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Cheung
Cambridge follows Mayor Curtatone of Somerville. Even if this change in policy is a good idea, it would be very helpful to hear the perspective of the Cambridge Police Department prior to implementing such a policy.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City Personnel and with the Central Square Business Association in order to establish a Central Square Action Team that will be charged with recommending and helping implement strategies that will help Central Square to capitalize on and enhance its designation as a Cultural District in the months and years to come. Councillor Simmons
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of installing a large screen at a central location, like Lafayette Square, in order to project a number of soccer matches involving the United States and countries that are representative of the Cambridge resident population and determine the feasibility of granting special permits to food trucks and other food vendors during the duration of these games. Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of developing units of up to 100% affordable, middle-income, senior, and family housing units at the corner of Bishop Allen Drive and Norfolk Street and a plaza in Central Square with affordable food and retail space. Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern
The potential of Central Square appears to now be a high priority for some of our city councillors. On a related note, the Cambridge River Festival will take place this Saturday, June 7 from noon to 6:00pm in Central Square (due to construction along Memorial Drive). Order #13 will require a lot more discussion - especially in the context of the range of recommendations presented during the recent K2C2 process.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with an update on the City's composting pilot program. Councillor Toomey
I'll be interested to see the numbers, but the pilot program was only recently begun and it's doubtful whether the data will be sufficiently informative to draw any conclusions at this point.
Order #6. That the City Manager confer with the Community Development Department, the Public Works Department, the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and any other relevant City Departments to discuss ways in which the city can improve the design of New Street for both pedestrians and vehicles, and report back to the City Council with recommendations. Councillor McGovern, Councillor Carlone and Mayor Maher
I wandered around the New Street area after spending the afternoon at the very well-attended Fresh Pond Day event on Saturday. This Order addresses what the obvious deficiencies are for this street - insufficient sidewalks, very poor parking practices, and the basic fact that it was not originally laid out as a typical residential street. Contrary to the general alarm about new housing being developed on New Street, I would characterize the housing built to date as maybe being a little on the bland side but I simply cannot fathom why people see this moderate scale housing as constituting some kind of a crisis. If some features of the street, the sidewalks, and the parking are reconfigured, and if laws regarding blocking the public (pedestrian) way are enforced, this could be a dandy residential street right across from the city's biggest park. Then again, actual solutions do often get in the way of political organizing.
Order #8. That the City Manager confer with the Community Development Department to work with local banking institutions to ensure financing opportunities are available for residents wishing to purchase shares in limited equity cooperative housing within Cambridge and also research and explore options for expanding the limited equity cooperative housing stock with Cambridge. Councillor Mazen
I remember when limited equity coops were all the rage during the rent control era. I'd be interested to see just how many of them were actually established and if all of them are still active. It may be a good alternative today and could potentially provide some of the affordable housing that City officials desire with minimal need for City involvement. I'd love to hear what objections the banks may have to financing them. Perhaps it's the potential difficulties associated with the restrictions on re-sale, but surely this is something the lawyers and banks should be able to work out. Buying into a limited equity coop may not be for everyone, but it's probably a good option for some.
Order #10. That the City Manager confer with the Cambridge Community Development Department and the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department on the feasibility of creating designated parking stalls for food truck vendors in areas that allow them to sell their food but not harm established brick and mortar restaurants, and proactively finding spots on private roadways willing to host food trucks, and to compile a comprehensive list that offers clarity and certainty on available and suitable locations. Councillor Cheung
Having once worked on a hot dog truck as an adolescent, I hope we can find a way to accommodate a wide variety of food vendors - trucks, carts, stands, etc. The Order refers to "culinary entrepreneurs" and "restaurant quality food." I do hope this includes such things as hot dogs, bagels, pretzels, sausages, and maybe even a cold fizzy drink on a hot day.
The Courthouse Debate and other Key Items on the May 19, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Perhaps the Really Big Item this week is the whole matter of how to proceed on the Sullivan Courthouse controversy. Two reports from the City Solicitor were tabled at the May 5 meeting and are scheduled to be discussed at this meeting. There is also an Order calling for the next Planning Board meeting on this matter to be held at a suitable space in East Cambridge.
On The Table #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the submission of two legal opinions as part of the City Manager's Supplemental Agenda on Mon, May 5, 2014, regarding Awaiting Report Item Number 14-22 concerning the Sullivan Courthouse and Council Order Number 13 of Mar 17, 2014 concerning the First Street Garage. [City Manager Agenda Number Eleven of May 5, 2014 Placed on Table for further discussion at City Council Meeting of May 19, 2014.]
On The Table #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-22, regarding whether the Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse qualifies as a pre-existing non-confirming structure. [City Manager Agenda Number Fifteen of May 5, 2014 Placed on Table.]
On The Table #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Council Order Number 13, dated Mar 17, 2014, which requested that city staff determine the relevant zoning requirements for the Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse with respect to use of the First Street Garage. [City Manager Agenda Number Sixteen of May 5, 2014 Placed on Table.]
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with all relevant City staff and departments in an effort to move the Planning Board's upcoming hearing on the Special Permit application for the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment from the Citywide Senior Center to a gymnasium or auditorium-type location within or nearby the East Cambridge neighborhood and report back to the City Council on this matter. Councillor Carlone
I attended a meeting on this topic yesterday organized by the new "Neighborhood Association of East Cambridge" (NAEC) that was spawned in response to the courthouse disposition. Leading the discussion were David de Swaan, Bethany Stevens, Seth Teller, and Ilan Levy. Mr. de Swaan made clear that the meeting was to be "about facts, not opinions" and this was largely true. There were, as expected, some rather strong opinions expressed by at least one of the presenters who said, "We have not been well-served by the City apparatus." He called the Planning Board a "rubber stamp board" and (incorrectly) asserted that Planning Board members whose terms had expired were serving illegally on the board. Massachusetts law says otherwise. Though this may be bad practice, any board member whose term has expired may legally serve until his replacement is appointed. The speaker also emphatically expressed his disappointment with the Community Development Department; the Department of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation; and Inspectional Services - suggesting that they were all "asleep at the switch" in regard to the disposition of the Courthouse building.
The Planning Board decision on whether to grant a Special Permit is, I believe, currently anticipated to occur at its June 17 meeting. If I understand this correctly, as long as the minimum parking requirements are met both on site together with leasing from either the nearby City garage or the Galleria, then the decision may hinge on whether the proposal will have a "significant detrimental impact" compared to the previous use of the property. The Planning Board may otherwise be required to issue the Special Permit. There are good arguments to be made on either side of this issue, but one has to believe that a change from a prison to a mixed office/residential use is certainly a net positive. Perhaps this is why so much of the rhetoric seems to be centered around potential changes in wind, reflected light, and the likelihood that the building may be intensely used during late hours. Traffic and parking concerns are also an issue, but it's not so clear that these will be significantly different than how things were during the decades when the courthouse was in operation on the site.
There are some abutters who are likely to pursue a lawsuit arguing that the property is not legally a "pre-existing non-conforming structure." This conflicts with the opinion of the City Solicitor whose opinion was characterized by one of the NAEC presenters as simply "transferred from the developer." Others at this meeting apparently feel that the best strategy would be to create maximum delay so that further political avenues may be pursued after Gov. Patrick's term is over and a new administration is in place.
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-25, regarding a report on the status of the Grand Junction Path project.
Order #17. The City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department regarding the feasibility of hiring a design consultant to design the rails-with-trail path along the Grand Junction corridor and to include money in next year's budget for design funds for the Grand Junction Rails-with-Trails path. Councillor Cheung
The report provides an excellent summary of the current situation and the history of the Grand Junction corridor over the years. This is, without a doubt, a project that needs to be pursued. If created in conjunction with new housing options in Somerville, Cambridge, and Allston, this could be a great accomplishment that everybody will one day celebrate.
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a proposed ordinance concerning building energy use reporting and disclosure.
This is perhaps the one feature of last year's "Net Zero petition" that had nearly unanimous support. As the Manager's statement says, "The ordinance would also enable the City and the community to plan more effectively for energy efficiency and renewable energy."
Applications & Petitions #4. A zoning petition has been filed by Timothy R. Flaherty, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge to expand the Medical Marijuana Overlay District, MMD-1 to encompass 61 Mooney Street.
This would be a very minor alterarion to the existing district. I suppose we may presume from this petition that there is a state-sanctioned dispensary that wants to move to a Mooney Street location.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments as to whether it would be feasible to issue licenses/permits to push cart vendors and local artists, both at Carl Barron Plaza and similar spaces in Central Square. Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Cheung
When I served on a committee almost 20 years ago that made recommendations for streetscape and other improvements to the Central Square area, pushcart vendors were definitely a part of what was envisioned for the widened sidewalks and in places like Carl Barron Plaza. Some of the commercial establishments at that time had concerns about competition from vendors who did not have to pay property taxes, but the truth is that these kinds of uses can improve business for all parties if done well. I personally hope it's not just pushcarts and artists. A hot dog stand would be great. I'm sure the vegan and gluten-free crowd will disagree.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to determine the feasibility of taking the Vail Court lot by eminent domain for the good of the community. Councillor Simmons
While there is nearly unanimous agreement that something should happen with the long-abandoned Vail Court property (where Temple Street meets Bishop Allen Drive), eminent domain seems like a bad road to go down - whether done by the City or by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority with the City's blessing. On the other hand, perhaps the mere threat of eminent domain may lead to some positive action by the property owner.
Order #7. Urge the Cambridge Housing Authority to delay implementing the smoking ban until such time as the organization can identify a new source of funding to robustly initiate the various smoking cessation programs that will be necessary to assist its tenants in complying with this new policy. Councillor Simmons
Don't delay. Other than the courting of votes, there is no reason to grant exceptional status to CHA properties. Banning smoking in all of these properties is in the best interest of all and there's no excuse for delay. People will adapt to the change.
Order #9. That without discounting the gravity of the crimes perpetrated against Yngve Raustein, the City Council does hereby go on record expressing support for Joseph Donovan's application for parole, which will be reviewed on May 29, 2014. Councillor Carlone, Councillor McGovern and Vice Mayor Benzan
This is a good action for the City Council to take. The site joedonovanproject.com provides the essential details of the case:
On Sept 18, 1992 at 9:45pm along Memorial Drive, three Cambridge teenagers – Joseph Donovan, Shon McHugh and Alfredo Velez – exchanged words with 21 year-old MIT student Yngve Raustein. This led to Joseph Donovan punching Raustein sending him to the ground, but it was McHugh who then pulled a knife and stabbed Raustein to death. Because McHugh was only 15 at the time, he was tried in juvenile court, received a 20 year sentence, served only 11 years for the murder, and has now been free for over a decade. Velez was sentenced to 20 years and served less than 10 years. Because Donovan was 17 at the time of the incident, he was tried as an adult for complicity with the murder and received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He has now served 22 years in prison while the actual murderer walks free. Both surviving members of Yngve Raustein's immediate family, including his mother and his brother, support the application for Donovan's release.
Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the status of relocating the Department of Public Works and any plans for creating open space at the current location once DPW operations are moved. Councillor Toomey
Having volunteered in numerous recycling and composting initiatives over the years, I have a certain fondness for 147 Hampshire St. (DPW Headquarters) and the Public Works Yard. That said, there are many better uses for that property as long as an appropriate alternative can be found for a new DPW yard. The current central location has been great for the Recycling Drop-off Center and other uses, but the surrounding neighborhood is quite dense and could benefit greatly from some well-planned open space on that site.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department, the Election Commission, and the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance to determine the feasibility of publicly funded elections for Cambridge, taking into account models for implementation from other municipalities as well as the exploration of new publicly funded models. Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone
While I can certainly respect the sentiment espoused by this Order, I cannot imagine any reasonable way for such a proposal to be administered, and I'm not really convinced that it's a good idea. Contrary to what is stated in the Order, public funding will likely not reduce the influence of private contributions unless there's also a cap imposed on overall spending, and I don't see that happening. If the receipt of public funds is made conditional on refusing many private sources, then most or all of the successful campaigns will likely not participate, and this may become little more than a financing plan for fringe candidates.
In matters such as this, perhaps we should all take a few lessons from Craig Kelley and Fred Fantini who consistently run successful municipal election campaigns on a shoestring budget. If they can do it, I'm sure other candidates can do it. That seems like the preferred course of action.
Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to detail how the non-zoning recommendations that have emerged from the K2C2 Report can and will be implemented in the months ahead. Councillor Simmons
It is my understanding that the recently rejuvenated Central Square Advisory Committee will advise on these matters, but there have not yet been any solid plans put forward for either the non-zoning recommendations or possible zoning recommendations. Hopefully there will be some movement on both as this year progresses.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee for a public meeting held on May 6, 2014 to discuss the effectiveness of the City Council Aide positions as well as procedural issues regarding the submission of policy orders and resolutions.
It's unfortunate that this is cast as a question of the "effectiveness of the City Council Aide positions" when the real question is whether it's appropriate that tax dollars should be given to what are undeniably political patronage jobs. If the City Council or its committees need enhanced staffing, there are far better and more legally defensible ways to provide such support. As I have stated before, political privilege is like entropy. It always increases. - Robert Winters
Cinco de Mayo - Key Items on the May 5, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here are a few things that caught my attention:
Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-34, regarding a report on the City's legal options on preventing the use of electronic billboards in the City.
Apparently, Clear Channel would like to replace many of its existing billboards with electronic versions. There's a hearing this week (May 8) in Boston regarding a plan to change the billboard where Broadway crosses the Grand Junction RR tracks (picture is from 2009 - an especially entertaining ad). The current mechanical sign has the capacity to rotate between, I believe, three different advertisements. Installing new advertisements takes time and money, but an electronic billboard would allow for an unlimited variety of advertisements at essentially no additional cost beyond routine maintenance of the display. It's pretty clear why Clear Channel and other billboard owners would like to make the change.
This is potentially a delicate legal matter. Once upon a time Cambridge sought to have all such billboards removed and, if I remember correctly, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. New billboards are now prohibited, but existing bilboards are grandfathered.
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-07, regarding a report on the what steps would be necessary to change the method by which surplus votes are transferred in municipal elections and whether the Fractional Transfer Method could replace the Cincinnati Method and whether this requires a Charter change. [Read the report]
The report lays out various options the City could pursue if there was the will to make a change. It could be as simple as a majority vote of the Election Commission if there was even one place in the country in that was using Fractional Transfer (or something very close to it) at the time of passage of M.G.L. Chapter 54A in 1938. Since this is extremely unlikely (believe me, I looked into this a dozen years ago), the next simplest route would be to seek a Special Act of the Legislature via a Home Rule petition. The report wisely suggests that if the City Council and the Election Commission really want to pursue this, a consultant specializing in proportional representation and municipal elections should be hired to develop a "comprehensive plan regarding the possible effects, costs, implementation, laws/regulations, proposed schedules and completion dates, pros/cons, skills and knowledge required, etc., with regard to such replacement" before any proposal to move toward replacing the Cincinnati Method of surplus ballot transfer with the Fractional Transfer Method proceeds. This would be a wise course of action, especially since other changes would have to be made regarding recount rights and procedures. Specifically, existing law permits a defeated candidate to seek a "manual recount", so what exactly would that mean under a proposed system with fractional ballot transfers conducted by computer?
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Cambridge Climate Protection Action Committee recommended goals and objectives.
It's worth the read, but perhaps the most relevant two phrases in the report are: "Cambridge’s contribution to atmospheric greenhouse gases is miniscule on a global level" and "The city must also begin to prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change even as we work to minimize the degree of those impacts." From a long-term investment point of view, many actions taken in the name of adaptation to climate change can also be good long-term infrastructure investments. Regardless how one feels about climate change, such investments are likely to be in the best interest of the city and its residents even if not all of the worst-case scenarios pan out.
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the submission of two legal opinions as part of the City Manager's Supplemental Agenda on Mon, May 5, 2014, regarding Awaiting Report Item Number 14-22 concerning the Sullivan Courthouse and Council Order Number 13 of Mar 17, 2014 concerning the First Street Garage.
This remains one of the most significant challenges of this City Council term, and there's a chance that this will ultimately be decided in court. The City Manager promises to have responses at this meeting on (a) the legal opinion from the City Solicitor on whether the Sullivan Courthouse qualifies as a pre-existing non-conforming structure; and (b) the relevant zoning requirements for the First Street Garage. Meanwhile, the chosen developer for the property (Leggat McCall) has now introduced a plan to lease parking in the Galleria garage. This could greatly complicate the City's options because any arrangements involving the City-owned First Street Garage would afford the City some leverage in the project.
Manager's Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-12, regarding a report on developing a City parking ticket for parking in bike lanes violations.
Charter Right #3. That the City Council hereby endorses the National Association of City Transportation Official's Urban Street Design Guide. [Order #12 of Apr 28, 2014]
Order #3. That the City Manager confer with the School Department; the Public Health Department; the Community Development Department; the Police Department; the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department; and any other relevant departments on the establishment of a Safe Routes to School Program for Cambridge which includes safety improvements to the street infrastructure as well as promotion and education components. Councillor McGovern and Councillor Mazen
One thing common to these three agenda items is the reference to cycling infrastructure, and there are divergent points of view regarding what facilities are appropriate in different contexts. One case in point is Vassar Street where "cycle tracks" were installed a number of years ago to mixed reviews. Travel lanes in the road were narrowed to the point where a cyclist who wants to use the roadway has little choice but to "take the lane". Pedestrians routinely use the sidewalk bicycle lanes, and delivery vehicles now park in the middle of the sidewalk because there's no longer any place to pull over in the roadway. Nearby on Ames Street, the City installed another "cycle track" to the right of parked vehicles, so now when a delivery truck stops to make deliveries they do so across the path of cyclists.
Few people disagree on the value of separate facilities for bicycles alongside arterial roadways and along recreational trails such as rail-to trail conversions, but there is plenty of room for disagreement on how best to accommodate cyclists on ordinary roads. Personally, I prefer to share the road with other vehicles and follow the same rules as motor vehicles.
Order #1. That the City Manager direct the Community Development Department to develop and create a solar PV incentive program for residential property owners in Cambridge, and to request any necessary budget allocations to fund such work, including potential staffing and direct funding of solar installation incentives, and using student canvassers to reach homes and businesses that have been pre-screened as suitable for solar PV installation. Councillor McGovern and Vice Mayor Benzan
This is the kind of initiative I hope would come about as the City talks about "net zero" and other matters involving energy management. The bottom line is that if homeowners and other property owners can access such programs at a reasonable cost, many would do so in a heartbeat. In this regard, the carrot is far preferable to the stick.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with all relevant City Staff and Departments to prepare draft language that would enable the City Council to implement the 2002 nexus study recommendations, as an interim measure pending completion of the new nexus study. Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen
An adjustment to the current formula is overdue. The current Housing Contribution rate is $4.58 per square foot of applicable gross floor area (of new commercial development) and the recommendation 12 years ago was to increase this to $7.83 (which would now be about $10 per sq. ft. in current dollars). It's worth emphasizing that these contributions are only associated with new commercial development.
Order #8. That the City Council does hereby go on record naming D. Margaret Drury as Clerk Emeritus of the City of Cambridge in recognition of her outstanding service to the City of Cambridge and its residents. Mayor Maher
If the Vatican can have a Pope Emeritus, we can certainly have a Clerk Emeritus. We also had Mayor Emeritus Al Vellucci. Perhaps we should recognize Bob Healy as City Manager Emeritus.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Information Technology Department and members of the volunteer community to arrange an informal question and answer session with members of the City Council regarding the new Open Data Ordinance which is to come before the City Council. Councillor Mazen
This was the subject of Committee Report #1 at the Oct 21, 2013 City Council meeting.
Order #10. That the City Council go on record urging elected officials of U.S. House and Senate to promote and support legislation that classifies broadband providers like Comcast as a telecommunications service under the common carriers provision of Title II of the Communications Act. Councillor Mazen
Though I don't understand the genesis of this Order or if there is any kind of coordinated effort toward its goal, any actions to retain "net neutrality" are welcome. - Robert Winters
FY2015 Budget - Key Items on the April 28, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda
The central item on this week's agenda is the submission of the FY2015 Budget. The City Manager will present a Budget Overview at this meeting, and the series of Budget Hearings will take place over the next several weeks (May 8, May 15, and May 21). It is anticipated that the final vote to approve the budget will take place on June 2.
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the FY2015 submitted budget and appropriation orders.
Note 1: Though the City Council's budget is up just 1.7% over last year, it rose 75.4% over the decade - faster than all other entities in the General Government category.
Note 2: The overall submitted budget is $510,437,525 representing a 3.5% increase over last year's budget.
Note 3: The Public Investment Fund this year include $3,800,000 for Information Technology Initiatives - apparently a response to a variety of City Council Orders in this area.
Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Chun, et al zoning petition with suggestions for a possible alternative approach.
No particular comments here - just two reports from the Planning Board worth noting.
Manager's Agenda #9-15. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow:
(a) $1,150,000 to provide funds for the design, drainage, and installation of new synthetic field surfaces on the soccer fields at Danehy Park.
(b) $150,000 to provide funds for the purchase and installation of mechanical components to ensure the operational integrity of the elevator at the Robert W. Healy Public Safety Facility.
(c) $550,000 to provide funds for renovations to the Thomas P. O’Neil, Jr. Fresh Pond Golf Course.
(d) $2,600,000 to provide funds for planning and municipal building renovations, including a Comprehensive Facilities Improvement Plan, design and construction of improvements at the City Hall Annex and upgrades to the City Hall Third Floor Women’s Restroom.
(e) $750,000 to provide funds for building renovations, including water infiltration system repair at the Haggerty School, replacement of the emergency generator at the Graham & Parks, Tobin and Cambridgeport Schools, and boiler replacement at the Graham & Parks School.
(f) $9,205,655 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, stormwater management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Western Avenue and Agassiz areas as well as the Sewer Capital Repairs Program and public toilet installation at Harvard Square.
(g) $1,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.
These loan authorization orders are times to coincide with the FY2015 budget process.
Manager's Agenda #16-17. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the rescission of the remaining amount:
(a) $1,000,000 of the loan order authorized by the City Council on May 21, 2012 for the City Hall Roof replacement project.
(b) $100,000 of the loan order authorized by the City Council on May 21, 2012 for the Ryan Garage and Simard Building Roof Replacement project.
We got lucky with a very favorable bidding environment for both of these roof replacement projects.
On The Table #5. That the Cambridge Community Development Department shall hold a series of public meetings to discuss the range of planning and zoning issues that have recently been in active discussion across the city, including, but not limited to, all varieties of housing (such as affordable, middle income, or other types of housing units), the amount, type and location of new and existing development, pre-fabricated units, transportation, congestion, open space, streetscape design, building design, sustainability, infrastructure and economic development with recommendations for moving forward on short range and long range planning work that is recommended as an outgrowth of these discussions. [Order Number Fifteen of Apr 7, 2014 Placed on Table on motion of Councillor Simmons on Apr 7, 2014.]
Communications & Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a revised planning order submitted by Mayor David P. Maher and Councillor Dennis Carlone regarding the Master Plan.
This was the central agenda item at the April 7 meeting at which the Mayor was requested to negotiate a substitute Order that might win the support of a clear majority of councillors. The essential difference between Order #14 and Order #15 at that meeting concerned whether any new look at comprehensive city planning should be a political process conducted within certain City Council committees (Order #14) or if it should be directed by those City entities (the Planning Board and the Community Development Department) whose job it is to carry out these activities.
It seems very unlikely that the proposed schedule can be met. It's also not at all clear whether such a short time-frame is even a good idea. It may simply prove to be just a series of meetings in which activists opposed to new housing development send their troops to each and every meeting/workshop to create the (false) impression that the residents of the city are up in arms over the "tsunami of development." Hopefully some rational people will attend to help balance the tone. The intent of the proposed Order appears to be to conduct a short process that will then lead to a larger planning process. It seems likely, however, that some people will intentionally misinterpret this to imply that the goal of the short process is to produce a set of specific goals and that the larger process will then be for producing ways to implement those goals. This is NOT what the Order says.
I'm concerned that the Order calls for the short process to culminate in a report to the City Council via the Ordinance Committee by the end of July. The purpose of the Ordinance Committee is to deliberate on proposed ordinances, and these come to the committee as a result of City Council Orders. I cannot recall any precedent for the Ordinance Committee ever bypassing this protocol. It would be far better for the report to be delivered at a regular or special City Council meeting after which one or more Orders would be submitted and approved by a majority of the City Council to look into specific proposals or a plan for a larger process. I hope the City Council modifies the proposed Maher/Carlone Order accordingly.
The competing Orders of April 7 differed primarily in regard to which body should ultimately conduct a review of comprehensive planning for the city. The proposed Maher/Carlone Order only calls for a consultant to conduct the short process. It is silent on the matter of who shall conduct the longer process. The City Council will ultimately have to approve any significant proposed changes in policy, but any extensive process leading up to that approval should not be conducted by the City Council or any of its subcommittees.
Another aspect of this issue is whether there should be any kind of moratorium imposed on either new development or on changes to existing zoning that would allow any greater development. Though none of the proposed orders specifically call for such a moratorium, many activists who want to slow or stop housing growth have expressed this as a goal and they will continue to advocate for it. Other activists who favor new housing and "smart growth" will continue to advocate for their position. It seems likely that these competing points of view will not find resolution any time soon.
Unfinished Business #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow an additional $11,000,000 to provide funds for construction and other associated costs of the King School project. The question comes on adoption on or after Apr 21, 2014.
This loan authorization order will likely get its final approval at this meeting.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to revisit the City’s policy of establishing Hubway stations in residential areas to determine whether this policy adequately balances the needs of the community and the desires of the residents and to report back to the City Council in a timely fashion. Councillor Simmons
I suspect this Order grew out of the objections from some residents in the Dana Park area in Cambridgeport to a new on-street Hubway installation on Lawrence Street.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to draft a legal opinion on whether it is legally permissible to require a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) as part of the Board of Zoning Appeal special permit and variance application process and the Planning Board Project Review Special Permit application process and report back to the City Council on this matter. Councillor Cheung
I'm guessing that this is not legal. There are plenty of worthy goals that cannot be turned into legally binding requirements. You will not, for example, find anything in the zoning code that mandates that union members must be employed in the construction of new buildings. A Memorandum of Understanding is one thing, but writing such agreements into zoning language is something entirely different.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to determine what options may exist to provide dedicated office space to the members of the City Council. Councillor Simmons, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Carlone
Allow me to simply point out that during the last 15 years, city councillors have gained reserved parking spots behind City Hall that used to be available to full-time employees at City Hall; they saw their salaries rise dramatically; and they granted themselves the right to hire people from their political campaigns as taxpayer-funded "personal aides". In addition to the City Council office, the Sullivan Chamber, and relatively recent additional office space for councillors (and their "aides"), this Order now calls for there to be "dedicated office space to the members of the City Council". Almost all of the city councillors have other jobs. The job of a city councillor is not now and was never meant to be a full-time job. Adequate meeting space is what is needed - not private offices for individual councillors.
Order #11. That the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee is requested to provide an update to the City Council on any progress that has been made in drafting a Community Benefits & Mitigation Plan, and that an expected timeframe in which a formal recommendation on policy might be made to the City Council is also provided. Councillor Simmons
I was wondering when this issue was going to find its way back into City Council consideration. It's a tricky issue that's been batted around now for a number of years without any serious movement.
Order #12. That the City Council hereby endorses the National Association of City Transportation Official’s Urban Street Design Guide. Councillor Carlone
I hope the City Council takes the time to carefully go through this Design Guide before rubber-stamping it. For example, the NACTO website prominently features "cycle tracks" as their preferred facility for accommodating bicycle traffic. There are many people (including me) who disagree with this approach, and I have no doubt that if some of the designs were presented to the public there would be considerable debate. If one of the important roles of the City Council is to listen to the public, I would expect that at the very least this Design Guide should first get a hearing before the City Council's Transportation & Public Utilities Committee prior to any approval.
Order #16. That the City Manager direct the Community Development Department to work with the owner of 362 and 364 Rindge Avenue, non-profit housing agencies, the Affordable Housing Trust, and other potential public and private partners to develop a plan with the ultimate goal being the preservation of affordable units. Councillor Mazen
These buildings were mentioned at a recent meeting of the City Council Housing Committee meeting as significant expiring-use residential buildings that were a high priority in retaining affordable housing in Cambridge. Though it's good to have a City Council Order to emphasize this matter, it was already a top priority among the City's various housing agencies and partners.
Order #28. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Public Works and Traffic, Parking, and Transportation Department on the feasibility of painting green all designated bicycle lanes on all major streets. Councillor Cheung
It's feasible to lay down paint, but it would then also have to be maintained. Most of the painted lanes the City has marked in the past have long since faded away, and except for key locations where they may be useful, they will again fade quickly. It's better to provide this extra treatment at fewer priority locations that can be regularly maintained. - Robert Winters
Master Plan Mythology and other Big Items on the Apr 7, 2014 City Council Agenda
There has been a great deal of myth-making in Cambridge over the last couple of years that, arguably, began with the "Central Squared" report from the "Red Ribbon Commission on the Delights and Concerns of Central Square" in December 2011. One of the more emphasized recommendations in that report was for the development of a significant amount of new housing (primarily targeting middle-income residents) in the Central Square area. This led to the formation of a group called "Essex Street Neighbors" who, along with other Area Four activists, opposed this concept and promptly filed a zoning petition to obstruct any such future plans. Even as most planners embraced principles of transit oriented development and smart growth, these residents moved in exactly the opposite direction by advocating for the preservation of surface parking lots and a decrease in density in the vicinity of transit in Central Square.
Their petition was eventually allowed to expire and the group re-branded itself as the Cambridge Residents Alliance (CRA) as it added activist partners including key players with the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods (ACN). As the "K2C2 process" got underway with the goal of making recommendations for Kendall Square (K2) and Central Square (C2) and the areas in between, the newly branded Cambridge Residents Alliance continued to oppose any zoning petitions or recommendations that might result in added density (including new housing). One part of their rhetorical arsenal was a call for a "citywide master plan" in the wake of what their group has characterized as a "tsunami of development". The clear implication in all of their rhetoric was that new development - primarily housing development - was being done with little or no guidance from the Planning Board or the Community Development Department and with minimal attention paid to transportation concerns.
That rhetoric continued unabated during the 2013 municipal election season as the Cambridge Residents Alliance and its Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods partners were ever-present at campaign events and actively tried to lure candidates over to their way of thinking - with some success. They ultimately endorsed just one candidate - Dennis Carlone - who was elected and who subsequently took on Mike Connolly as his "council aide". Mr. Connolly continues to be listed as the Secretary of the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods and is a primary communications person for the Cambridge Residents Alliance even though he is now being subsidized by the City of Cambridge. While these personal council aide positions have been filled with political supporters of the respective councillors from the beginning, never has the position become as overtly political as it has now become with the hiring of Mr. Connolly.
The CRA/ACN activists have continued their political organizing this year by targeting residents in areas where new housing has been built or where it is proposed to be built. In every instance the rhetoric is of the "tsunami of development" or "unbridled development".
It is interesting that the agenda of the April 7 City Council meeting includes not only an Order (from Councillors Carlone, Mazen, and Simmons) that is the capstone of the master plan mythology crafted over the last two years, but also an alternative Order (from Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern) that offers a much more factual point of view and, most significantly, an acknowledgment that the Planning Board and the Community Development Department have actually been doing their job and carrying out established City Council policies in recent years - including the development of new housing in accordance with smart growth principals and overall policies promoted by regional entities such as the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).
I find the discussion of the need for a "master plan" for Cambridge to be, on the one hand, naive and, on the other hand, disingenuous. Though I have not examined the zoning codes from other cities in great detail, I seriously doubt whether there are too many with as much detail as Cambridge's Zoning Ordinance. It's VERY prescriptive with its wide variety of overlay districts and planned unit developments. Cambridge's Zoning Ordinance coupled with its Growth Policy Document (initiated 20 years ago and updated several years ago) really does give a very comprehensive picture of Cambridge's "master plan". Cambridge officials are also ever-present at all regional planning meetings - especially those involving transportation planning.
Perhaps the real reason for all the talk now and during the recent City Council election about a "master plan" comes down to a single overriding policy and not actually about a master plan or any failings in the zoning code. That single policy is that housing is encouraged (with associated incentives in the zoning ordinance) on sites that were formally commercial or industrial. If you look at most of the significant housing developments now or recently under construction you'll find that most of these replaced non-housing uses. This policy is also very consistent with all of the regional plans developed and promoted by the MAPC and other regional planning entities.
I believe most planners, including Dennis Carlone, will tell you that housing is not a major contributor to motor vehicle traffic - at least not compared to commercial uses. If traffic is what's getting the activists' panties in a twist, they should not be looking at new housing as the cause for their discomfort. My sense has been that you can look to pass-through traffic in the Alewife area as the primary cause of any trouble there and not to anything recently or currently being built in Cambridge. The simple fact is that the highway part of Route 2 ends abruptly at Alewife and all that traffic has to connect to their destinations somehow, and it does lead to a ripple effect that clogs things up elsewhere.
There is also a fair amount of regional traffic that simply passes through parts of Cambridge at the eastern end in order to connect to arterials such as the Mass Pike. The River Street/Prospect Street corridor is problematic because it's a major connection from the Mass Pike. Unless a "Master Plan" intends to build new arterials to relieve the traffic, and we all know that will not and should not happen, then the call for a "master plan" is little more than a populist myth designed to win votes or, perhaps more correctly, a disguised effort to stop the development of new housing.
Here are a few more specific comments on the meeting agenda items:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointments of the following persons as members of the Central Square Advisory Committee as set out in Section 20.300 of the Zoning Ordinance.
Though I was personally very pleased to be reappointed to the CSAC, it was especially refreshing to see among the appointees a number of new names. This is a hopeful sign. The CSAC is purely advisory and has no actual regulatory authority, but it has the potential to be very helpful in facilitating community discussion on matters relating to Central Square. I look forward to the expanded role that has been proposed for the body.
Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-09, regarding a report on the status of the new Lechmere Station development and plans for the current Lechmere site.
I'll simply quote from the last paragraph: "Redevelopment on the current Lechmere Station site is permitted as part of an approved PUD master plan for the North Point area (Planning Board Special Permit #179). Part of the current station site will accommodate a northerly extension of First Street to Monsignor O’Brien Highway. The remaining land is permitted for residential development with a maximum height of 65 feet, with retail uses and plaza space at the ground level. Redevelopment would be contingent upon completion of the new station and transfer of the land to the private developer." This has the potential to really transform this site into something far better than is there today.
Manager's Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow an additional $11,000,000 to provide funds for construction and other associated costs of the King School project.
The additional cost will likely surprise no one. Bear in mind that this is just the first in a series of what will certainly be several more very expensive school replacement projects associated with the plans embodied in the School Departments "Innovation Agenda".
Order #7. That the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee is requested to review and evaluate the overall effectiveness of the Council Aide positions. Mayor Maher
I am intrigued by the introduction of this Order at this time. While I have consistently questioned the idea of personal aides for city councillors, I have never questioned the need for adequate staffing. I have to wonder if the overt politicization of the council aide positions this year has anything to do with the timing of this Order. My other concern is that our well-paid councillors may actually want to turn these into full-time positions - an absurd proposition without justification, but not an impossibility.
Order #8. That the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge be amended to limit the number of non-locally owned financial institutions not to exceed the number of existing established financial institutions; said limit be in the overlay districts of Central, Harvard and Kendall Squares. Councillor Cheung
I can't imagine any way that this could be done consistent with the laws of the Commonwealth or the United States Constitution.
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to support the intent of the Master Plan initiative which seeks to provide the City Council, its committees, City Staff, members of the public, and all interested stakeholders with an opportunity to further explore traffic congestion, transportation financing, pedestrian safety, resident parking, and a desire for enhanced multi-modal transit infrastructure throughout the city. Councillor Carlone, Councillor Simmons and Councillor Mazen
Order #15. That the Cambridge Community Development Department shall hold a series of public meetings to discuss the range of planning and zoning issues that have recently been in active discussion across the city, including, but not limited to, all varieties of housing (such as affordable, middle income, or other types of housing units), the amount, type and location of new and existing development, pre-fabricated units, transportation, congestion, open space, streetscape design, building design, sustainability, infrastructure and economic development with recommendations for moving forward on short range and long range planning work that is recommended as an outgrowth of these discussions. Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern
See comments above. I only hope that the greater wisdom prevails and that the Order from Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern picks up a clear majority of votes. Professional courtesy and collegiality notwithstanding, I hope that if any part the "Master Plan" order is approved then it should be radically amended to remove the various references to noble goals that would, in fact, be thwarted by its underlying goal of slowing or stopping the construction of new housing in Cambridge.
Order #16. That the City Council urgently requests that MassDOT start the permitting process for underpasses for Anderson Memorial Bridge, Western Avenue Bridge and River Street Bridge immediately, given that MassDOT has changed its construction and design plans for all three of the above bridges where it is now possible for the timely addition of underpasses to such plans Mayor Maher and Councillor Carlone
Though I may find the notion of bike/pedestrian pathway without street crossings along the Charles River quite appealing, I'm also quite respectful of the cost and engineering difficulties associated with such a plan. I could imagine ways to do this at the BU Bridge or the Anderson Memorial Bridge, but it's much more difficult to see a way to make this so at either the Western Avenue Bridge and River Street Bridge (or, for that matter, at the Mass. Ave. bridge). - Robert Winters
Noteworthy Items from the March 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here are a few interesting items. Additional comments may follow.
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-10, regarding the feasibility of establishing an online list or map that indicates all outstanding pothole repair requests. ["In response to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-10, regarding the feasibility of establishing an online list or map that indicates all outstanding pothole repair requests, I am happy to report that this option is now available on the City's website at: http://www.cambridgema.gov/iReport/mapofopenservicerequestsforpotholes."]
Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-16, regarding a report on the status of the First Street Garage RFP process. [The last statement says it all: "I will take no further action as to this proposed disposition until I receive further guidance from the City Council."]
Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board that the Council not adopt the Linear Park Zoning Petition. [Planning Board report]
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,720,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account to cover winter 2013-2014 snowstorm expenses associated with snow plowing contracts, salt and other material and repair costs.
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a request for the City Council to move to Executive Session to discuss pending litigation in the case of Soto vs City of Cambridge. [Read the complaint here: http://www.universalhub.com/files/soto-complaint.pdf]
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City staff and report back to the Council on the possibility of instituting a parking sticker system that allows limited non-residential ability to purchase stickers to park on residential streets during normal weekday working hours. Councillor Kelley
Order #2. That the Mayor is requested to confer with relevant members of the School Department and the School Committee and report back to the City Council on the status of any CPS efforts to ascertain why students choose Charter Schools over CPS options and any subsequent efforts by CPS to bring those students back into the District. Councillor Kelley and Councillor Carlone
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to search for and examine any companies that could potentially offer to deploy fiber optic internet in the city. Councillor Cheung
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to draft proposed language that will allow for the inclusionary zoning formula to be based on the gross square footage of a project rather than like units. Mayor Maher
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Human Services to report to the City Council on the implementation of a city-wide job fair exclusively for Cambridge residents. Vice Mayor Benzan
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a task force composed of experts, residents, the Cambridge Housing Authority, and representatives from the local universities charged with developing a municipal broadband proposal for Cambridge, potentially also including extension of city fiber into public housing properties. Councillor Mazen, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Carlone
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to seek a legal opinion from the City Solicitor on whether the Sullivan Courthouse qualifies as a pre-existing nonconforming structure and to report back to the City Council and Planning Board with this legal opinion. Councillor Toomey
Broadband, Bikes, and Buildings - March 17, 2014 City Council Agenda highlights
One highlight of this meeting is the annual presentation of the water/sewer rates for the upcoming Fiscal Year (FY15). The rest of the meeting could well be dominated by the ongoing saga of the future of two East Cambridge buildings - the Foundry building and the former Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse. But first, the water and sewer:
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2014 and ending Mar 31, 2015. [City Manager's Letter]
This will be the 4th straight year of no increases in the water rate. Sewer rates continue to see moderate increases. Here's the 10-year history of water/sewer rate increases (rates are per CcF, i.e. 100 cu. ft., approx. 750 gallons):
Ten Year History of Water/Sewer Rate Increases
Cambridge does a good job at delivering great water inexpensively. Sewerage costs considerably more.
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $150,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expenditures account which will be used to hire a team of technical consultants to work with the Getting to Net Zero Task Force and City staff and provide subject matter advice and analysis.
It will be interesting to see where this task force eventually goes. One route could be to regulate and tax everyone into submission. Hopefully something better will come of these efforts, e.g. programs to enable homes and workplaces to be made greatly more energy efficient with associated long-term cost savings.
Resolution #16. Resolution on the death of Rosemary "Rosy" White. Mayor Maher
Resolution #27. Resolution on the death of Steven Brion-Meisels. Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern
I didn't know Steven Brion-Meisels, but I knew of him. Marc McGovern's comment sums him up pretty well: "He was one of the most gentle, considerate, peaceful people I have ever met and he did a great deal for the children of Cambridge."
I have personally known Rosy White for over 20 years. I originally met her when she served as the campaign manager for City Council candidate (and former State Rep.) Elaine Noble who ran in 1991 and 1993. I will always value Rosy's great sense of humor which is the most important quality anyone can possess.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to develop proposed ordinance language that will limit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products in the City of Cambridge to individuals 21 years of age or older. Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Councillor Carlone
As with the campaign a decade ago to prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants, and other indoor spaces, I find myself straddling the line between personal freedom and regulation for the well-being of those directly affected by the noxious behavior of others. This proposed ordinance would forbid the sale to anyone under 21 years of age "any product containing, made, or derived from tobacco or nicotine that is intended for human consumption, whether smoked, chewed, absorbed, dissolved, inhaled, snorted, sniffed, or ingested by any other means including, but not limited to, cigarettes, cigars, little cigars, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco, snuff, or electronic cigarettes, electronic cigars, electronic pipes, or other similar products that rely on vaporization or aerosolization."
If the residents of Cambridge and Massachusetts find acceptable restricting anyone younger than 21 from buying or consuming alcoholic beverages, they'll probably be agreeable to applying the same standard to tobacco products. If this is to be the law, I'm glad the proposal applies to so-called "e-cigarettes". I actually find these to be more disturbing than actual smoking. They seem more like an acknowledgement of addiction than the burning and inhalation of tobacco, and it's only a matter of time before their apparatus is modified to inhale other substances. Perhaps the next generation of products will involve direct intraveneous injection without the need to soil the lungs.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to develop a City parking ticket for parking in bike lanes. Councillor Kelley
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to consult with appropriate City staff, cyclists and others in an attempt to figure out a more effective way for cyclists to use public bike parking for short, medium and long-term bike storage to alleviate the problem of abandoned bikes clogging bike parking facilities and to ensure that cyclists have appropriate public space in which to lock their bikes. Councillor Kelley
I'm with Councillor Kelley 100% regarding the clearing of derelict bikes that are now cluttering up all the City's bike posts. I spoke with DPW Commissioner Owen O'Riordan about this a few days ago and my understanding is that DPW will be ramping up the tagging and removal very soon. I can agree with people using them short term where they live, but they really should bring their bikes into their buildings or elsewhere on the property rather than using up City-funded facilities for private use. This can be a real conflict in mixed residential/commercial areas.
I'm also in agreement regarding unnecessary parking in bike lanes, but I'm willing to acknowledge that sometimes this is unavoidable, especially with some delivery vehicles. They also park at taxi stands and bus stops for short periods when options are limited. One thing I do not agree with is giving a hard time to delivery vehicles that park in so-called "cycle tracks" at street grade level where the City has mandated that motor vehicles may not park next to the curb because they want bikes to ride between the parked vehicles and the curb. This is an abysmally bad idea in places where deliveries must be made. I know that some members of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee have been irritated by such occurrences on Ames Street, but my sympathies lie with the delivery vehicle drivers there. The natural place for motor vehicles to park will always be right next to the curb.
Order #10. That the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee hold an appropriate number of public hearings to investigate internet access issues in Cambridge, to include possible expansion of the City's fiber optic network and use by private entities and business of that network. Councillor Kelley
I've been hearing about this now for over a decade and at one point even volunteered the roof of my building to install equipment to further the goal. As near as I can tell, all of the City's efforts have gone nowhere. Perhaps the best course of action would be for a group of movers and shakers to form their own task force, develop some resources, and make this happen with minimal City involvement. Rumor has it that there are a few entrepreneurs living in Cambridge who know a thing or two about such things.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the status of the First Street Garage RFP process and that the City Council urge the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance and the developer of the Sullivan Courthouse to work together to reduce the height, traffic, and environmental impacts of the developer's proposal so as to gain community support and resolve the uncertainty that surrounds the project. Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Toomey
It's anybody's guess how this matter will ultimately be resolved, but it seems certain that unless the Commonwealth intervenes in an active way (which may mean accepting a lot more of the financial burden in the disposition of this property), the eventual outcome could be something that's loved by nobody. I do wish people would use better comparatives when assessing the impact of the various proposals. For example, any measure of traffic impact should compare with the property when it was actively used as a courthouse/jail and not during recent years when sagebrush could have been blowing through the near-vacant property. Perhaps the worst-case outcome would be for the Commonwealth's selected developer, Legatt-McCall, to just build whatever they can as-of-right in this nonconforming property. The trickiest part of this Council Order may be the potential impossibility of gaining "community support" in an environment where some people continue to insist that the only acceptable outcome is to have any future building on this site conform to current zoning.
Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to determine the legal and regulatory process necessary to collaborate with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA), companies in the private sector, and/or local universities, and/or donors that are willing to partner with the City to achieve the desired development objectives at the Foundry Building and report back to the City Council on the best manner in which to implement and fund the future community use of the building. Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Carlone and Councillor Toomey
On the Table #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Arts Council to determine the types of spaces that are most needed within the local arts community with the view of using the Foundry to fill those needs and to allocate appropriate funds to make appropriate upgrades for the purpose of creating a community arts center. (Order Amended by Substitution.) [Order Number Ten of Jan 27, 2014 Placed on Table on motion of Mayor Maher on Jan 27, 2014.]
The Foundry issue seems a lot easier to resolve than the future of the Sullivan Courthouse. It's been trending toward a Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) role for the last month or so, and Order #16 seems consistent with this trend. I suspect that the programming of the space will continue to be debated for some time to come with good arguments being made for early childhood education, an arts center, and for some kind of Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics (STEAM) center. These proposed uses are only partially compatible, and it's still necessary to have the building work financially. One of the more interesting aspects of this process has been the growing acceptance of CRA involvement in this and potentially other projects around the city (as opposed to just Kendall Square). The CRA now even has a webpage for its strategic plan and potential initiatives. Not so long ago there was concern expressed about having the CRA involved in development projects because of their "lack of accountability." Now they are coming to be seen as a vehicle for delivering desirable outcomes.
Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to confer with a representative from MIT with the view in mind of arranging attendance by an MIT representative to present the findings of the Graduate Student Housing Working Group to the City Council in either a roundtable or special meeting format. Councillor Cheung
The report from MIT's Graduate Student Housing Working Group was pretty simple to read and digest. No decisions have been made yet where new housing will eventually be built, but the MIT administration has now quantified what the housing needs are. Other than the politics, it's hard to see exactly what a roundtable or special meeting would add to the discussion, but I guess there's no harm in asking. The main thing is that MIT representatives promised an honest evaluation of their (graduate student) housing needs when they sought approval of the MIT/Kendall zoning petition and they delivered on that promise. Some of the new housing will appear in and around Kendall Square, but it's likely that most of it will be constructed elsewhere on the MIT campus and on other nearby MIT-owned property.
Order #20. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor regarding the possibility of contacting the Attorney General's Office and requesting that a representative be made available to attend an upcoming Open Meeting Law training for the City Council. Councillor Mazen
While it is certainly a good idea to have such a training (especially now that some councillors are using their "aides" as a means of getting around the restrictions of the law), it would be much better if the state legislature would intervene by evaluating and amending some of the more counterproductive aspects of their law. - Robert Winters
|City Manager's Report of Foundry Building (for Monday, March 3 Special City Council meeting)|
From Central Square to Lechmere - Preview of the Feb 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here are a few comment-worthy items on this week's agenda:
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-04, regarding an update on when the Central Square Branch Library will reopen.
The Manager informs us that "We anticipate the reopening no later than March 10th, weather permitting. In the meantime, please know that the book drop will remain open for the duration of the project."
Applications & Petitions #5. An application was received from Zevart Hollisian requesting permission for a curb cut at the premises numbered 300 Massachusetts Avenue; 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 in reference to the project now under construction that was the subject of a contentious zoning petition a year ago. Though the petition ultimately passed unanimously, I would be surprised if some disgruntled activists showed up now to obstruct the necessary curb cuts.
Applications & Petitions #8. An application was received from Massachusetts Institute of Technology requesting permission for a temporary banner across Massachusetts Avenue at Norfolk Street, fifty-seven banners on poles in Harvard Square, ninety-three banners on poles along Massachusetts Avenue from Memorial Drive to Harvard Square, sixteen banners on poles along Broadway from Ellery Street to Felton Street and eighteen banners on poles along Massachusetts Avenue from Inman Street to Bigelow Street announcing the Cambridge Science Festival Apr 18-27, 2014. Approval has been received from the Electrical Department.
I highlight this item only for the purpose of noting the date of this year's Science Festival (April 18-27). Every year brings something new and interesting.
Resolution #8. Resolution on the death of Carl F. Barron. Mayor Maher
Carl Barron was one of the most generous civic benefactors that Cambridge has known over many decades. Never shy about expressing his point of view and backing it up financially, Carl funded scholarships for CRLS graduates and improved health care facilities at Mount Auburn Hospital. He was the Central Square merchant who stayed in Central Square when everyone else was fleeing to the suburban malls. When we first met in 1992, we had little in common other than our dedication to the improvement of Central Square and the fact that we appreciated each other's sense of humor. Times change and Central Square is changing, but many of us will still remember Carl for all that he did for the area during some of its toughest days.
Resolution #20. Congratulations to the Central Square Business Association, House of Vans and the Middle East on the Snochi Winter Festival. Councillor Cheung
Speaking of the changing Central Square, did you ever think we'd have a pop-up winter carnival with snowboarding in Central Square? Well, last week we did.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and report back to the City Council on the matter of the closure of Lechmere Station before a new station is completed and operational and provide time lines for the new Lechmere Station development and plans for the current Lechmere site. Councillor Toomey
In addition to Councillor Toomey's concern about potential disruption to people who need to access the Green Line at Lechmere, he also wants "time lines for the new Lechmere Station development and plans for the current Lechmere site." This was a hot topic a couple of years ago when various neighborhood people were circulating the idea of a year-round market that might be developed as part of the current Lechmere Station site when it is vacated and the station moved to the other side of the McGrath Highway as part of the Green Line extension. What are the current plans for the Lechmere site?
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner and other appropriate City personnel and then report back to the City Council on the feasibility of installing a permanent Cambridge Police Officer within City Hall to better ensure the safety of the public and the people who work within the building. Councillor Simmons
I'm curious not only about the need expressed in this Order but also as to why it's being submitted now. Cambridge City Hall has seen its share of controversy over the years, especially during the days of rent control, but it's actually been relatively nonconfrontational through it all. Councillor Simmons' argument could be made for just about any building that is publicly accessible, but it's not at all clear that City Hall has any greater need for a dedicated police presence that any other place. Should the proposed policy be implemented, I expect that the City Hall Police Officer will have a lot of time on his or her hands. This doesn't seem like the best way to deplot police resourses. I could perhaps understand it for public meetings with large attendance, but otherwise it seems unnecessary.
Order #7. That the City Council go on record urging local business owners to make a concerted effort to shovel a path to parking meters immediately in or around their establishments. Councillor Simmons
Perhaps this Order should be amended to urge local business owners to also shovel out the bike posts in front of their businesses. Motor vehicles are not the only vehicles that need a parking space that can be accessed.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Mayor David P. Maher regarding a retrospective talk on the career of Roger Boothe, Director of Urban Design, on Tues, Feb 25, 2014 at 5:30pm at the Main Library.
I do hope they record this event and make it available for later viewing. Roger Boothe will be retiring this month. He has been an invaluable resource within the Community Development Department for as long as I can remember. He's also a hell of a great guy. - Robert Winters
Leaving Cincinnati? Feb 10, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
Here are a few Agenda items that sparked some interest.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the Early Education Services Task Force.
As the report states, "The charge to the Task Force is to identify a range of possible options for expansion of early childhood services and to explore the benefits and challenges of each option." Candidates and elected officials have talked for some time about the value of early education services as an effective means of preventing future achievement gaps and other hardships. Many people believe that directing these resources early may lessen the need for corrective action later. We have now apparently entered into the planning and implementation phase of this initiative.
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-03, regarding the progress of the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Committee.
The ECKOS planning study committee has been meeting for much of this past year to develop an initial vision and goals for the entire open space network in Kendall Square and vicinity building upon the K2C2 Planning Study. There is now underway a planning and design competition. My only question is where they will be locating the miniature golf course. I'm dead serious. Think about how amazing it would be to have a sculpture garden that doubles as a mini-golf course.
Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-02, regarding a report on determining whether Councillors "replying all" to emails, addressed to the firstname.lastname@example.org on business that may subsequently come before the Council are unintentionally violating the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law.
Though everyone applauds the goal of transparency in public process and open meetings that encourage civic participation, one really has to wonder if we've now gone way over to the other side when every interaction among elected officials and between elected officials and the public entails the risk technically violating this law. I simply cannot believe this was the intention of the legislature when they drafted the current version of the law.
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining the noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 33 municipalities in the United States with three AAA ratings from the nation's three major credit rating agencies.
We've come to take Cambridge's credit-worthiness for granted, but it's the result of the City administration and the City Council maintaining a steady financial plan even as we've undertaken some very ambitious and expensive projects. We often hear about Cambridge's "free cash" and excess levy capacity whenever someone wants the City to break the bank to pay for another public amenity, but maintaining such a buffer is precisely why our bond ratings are so good.
Unfinished Business #3. That City Council Rule 35A be amended to provide that no suspension of the rules shall be required for late ceremonial resolutions filed after the close of the meeting agenda or before resolutions are voted on at the meeting. [Order Number Eight of Feb 3, 2014 Placed on Unfinished Business on Feb 3, 2014.]
Unfinished Business #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a letter from Mayor David P. Maher regarding the Ad-Hoc Committee relative to changes to Rule 26 of the City Council Rules. [Communication and Report from City Officers Number Four of Feb 3, 2014 Placed on Unfinished Business on Feb 3, 2014.]
It was interesting to hear some of the back-and-forth at last week's City Council meeting about these proposed rules changes. The most significant changes are the reduction of the number of City Council Committees from 17 to 11 and the establishment of quorums for each of these committees. The proposals are simple, sensible, and workable (in spite of being called "fierce and complicated" by one observer). If all goes well, the rules changes (mainly the consolidation of committees) will be voted at this meeting and the City Council committee appointments will be made public. I'm looking forward to seeing how well this group of nine works together on specific matters in committee.
Resolution #1. Congratulations to State Representative Marjorie Decker for spearheading an amendment to fund a total of $13.5 million in Cambridge infrastructure transportation projects that was unanimously passed by the members of the State House of Representatives. Vice Mayor Benzan
Though it clearly takes more than one representative in a House of 140 members to bring home the bacon, it's good to see Marjorie Decker and the entire Cambridge delegation getting the job done. My understanding is that the Mass. State Senate and ultimately the Governor still have to weigh in before the deal is done. The noted $13.5 million is for the design and reconstruction of roads and sidewalks in Harvard Square and on River Street. There is also $3 million for completing the design and construction of the Inlet Bridge connecting North Point Park to the O'Brien Highway; $1.5 million for the design of a rail trail in the Grand Junction Railroad corridor in Cambridge, Somerville and Charlestown; $1.3 million for the Watertown Greenway which runs from Watertown to the Fresh Pond Reservation in Cambridge; $500,000 for construction at Fresh Pond Parkway and Mount Auburn Street; and $500,000 for a new pedestrian bridge at Alewife. None of this is final, but the signs are good.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all relevant city departments and engage with the leadership of Globe Direct to ensure that Cambridge residents who have not subscribed to weekly Globe Direct circulars and have indicated that they do not wish to receive more are promptly removed from further distribution lists. Councillor Cheung, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Carlone
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on Dec 19, 2013 to conduct a public hearing on an amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.68 entitled relating to Plastic Bag Reduction.
The topic of Order #3 is also contained in the committee report, i.e. those unnecessary red plastic bags containing advertisements that now litter Cambridge porches, sidewalks, and anywhere else they can toss them. The main subject of the committee report is a proposed ban on plastic shopping bags that's been kicked around for the last year or two. I need to point out that opinions are not unanimous in the recycling advocacy world on this topic. If plastic bags are replaced by paper bags, this is not necessarily a net positive from an environmental point of view. The hope is that the use of reusable grocery bags will greatly increase, and a proposed mandatory fee on paper bags is meant to encourage this. It's also worth mentioning that many Cambridge residents (perhaps most) do their grocery shopping outside of Cambridge, e.g. the Somerville Market Basket, and may be only minimally affected by this proposed ordinance.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department and the Election Commission to determine what steps would be necessary to change the method by which surplus votes are transferred in municipal elections and whether the Fractional Transfer Method could replace the Cincinnati Method. Councillor Carlone
This is a good Order but it needs at least one more "Whereas" to emphasize the real reason why this reform should be considered. Allow me to go through this point by point (and you can feel free to tune this out if you've heard this before):
First, let's be clear that a candidate does not need to reach the election quota in order to be elected. The purpose of the quota to to limit the number of ballots a winning candidate is allowed to keep in order to assure proportional representation. It does happen in some elections that candidates elected late in the process do not reach quota, but all other candidates have then been defeated and the number of candidates is reduced to the number to be elected.
It's true that the Cincinnati method involves an element of chance, and that never sits well with people. It is, however, a fair system in that there is no systematic bias for or against any individual candidate, election precinct, or any subset of the electorate. The fact that shuffling and then recounting the ballots may give slightly different results is a serious problem, especially if there's a close election.
The primary reason why a change should be considered to a system that is independent of ballot order is not because the current method in unfair, but rather because it creates a perverse incentive for a losing candidate to seek a recount solely to take advantage of this random element. The recent Recount cost an additional $109,604 and served only to prove the relative accuracy of the original scan of the ballots. [It should also be noted that much of this cost is caused by the substantial time needed to recreate the original ballot order. If this sequence didn't matter, things would go a lot faster and cost far less.]
The Fractional Transfer Method noted in the Council Order is a ballot-order-independent method, but it must be noted that this requires somewhat more than simply changing the way surplus ballots are transferred. An equally important aspect of the method is how it deals with the election of a candidate during a round. In order to not have ballots transferred early in the round be treated differently than those transferred later in the round, it's necessary that candidates be allowed to go over-quota during the round and then have their total reduced to quota using the same fractional transfer rules. The Fractional Transfer Method is actually the default option for the tabulation software Cambridge uses. The use of the Cambridge Rules is an optional set of rules built into the software.
The real purpose of the Order is to get information from the Law Department and the Election Commission about what steps would be required in order to make a change. The Election Commission can make changes to the procedures by simple majority vote to another method consistent with the principles of the law, but only to another method in use at the time of enactment of the law (1938), and there is no evidence of Fractional Transfer being in use anywhere at that time. The real goal should be to add this method to the list of permissible methods now that it can be done simply and quickly using modern technology. It is likely that this can be accomplished via a Home Rule Petition and a subsequent Special Act of the State Legislature. However, it's important to also clarify how such a change might affect other provisions in the law, e.g. the right to a manual recount. It would perhaps be best if the standard for a recount could be clarified so that verification of voter intent followed by a computer count would be the preferred procedure should there be a call for a recount.
In anticipation of future conversations about this, today I carried out the Fractional Transfer Method and compared it with the Cincinnati Method for 7 City Council elections from 2001 through 2013. I will be happy to share the results with anyone who is interested (the winners are the same, by the way, though order of election does change in some elections). I also plan to do this for School Committee elections over this same period. - Robert Winters
Feb 3, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
Here are some items of interest. Comments may follow this afternoon.
1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $20,000 to the General Fund Election Other Ordinary Maintenance account from additional election revenue to pay for costs related to the municipal election recount.
Communications #7. A communication was received from John A. Hawkinson transmitting an Open Meeting Law complaint regarding meeting announcements not being posted on the City's web site.
Order #4. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinance filed by John Chun, et al be refiled. Mayor Maher
Order #7. That the City Council go on record opposing the most recent fee increases proposed for no-value liquor licenses due to the undue financial burden they would place on business owners in the City. Councillor Cheung
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting the legal opinion received from City Solicitor Nancy E. Glowa regarding quorum requirements for City Council Committees.
Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting the legal opinion received from City Solicitor Nancy E. Glowa regarding the submission of late policy orders during a public meeting.
Communications & Reports #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a letter from Mayor David P. Maher regarding committee assignments.
Communications & Reports #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a letter from Mayor David P. Maher regarding the Ad-Hoc Committee relative to changes to the City Council Rules.
Striking Before the Iron's Hot - Jan 27, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
This week brings two Orders relating to the disposition of the Foundry Building that was added to the City's assets as a result of the Alexandria rezoning process a few years ago. One City report last June recommended that the building be sold, but advocates for a variety of possible future uses have been making their wishes known ever since the building was transferred to the City. It's not so clear that any real consensus has been developed about what the next steps should be. In any case, we now have two somewhat competing Orders trying to steer the discussion. It's possible that the City Council committee appointments might be made known at this meeting, but it's not an agenda item. Here are some of the more interesting agenda items:
City Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a presentation on Poverty in Cambridge based on census data and American Community Survey data. [presentation dated Jan 21, 2013 (PDF)]
The data in this presentation dates to 2009-2011. At that point the median household income in Cambridge was $69,259; it was $130,349 for married couples with children, $92,604 for a single father with children, and $46,809 for a single mother with children. Black or Hispanic residents were more than three times as likely to be living in poverty as White or Asian residents. It's a short and not very detailed report, but it's interesting.
City Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an appropriation of $2,450,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures Account for audiovisual upgrades in City buildings, including: the Sullivan Chamber, the Ackermann Room, and Sophie J. Anastos Room in City Hall; the Senior Center Ballroom; the City Hall Annex Community Room; the Lombardi Room at 831 Massachusetts Avenue; the Walter J. Sullivan Water Treatment Plant Lobby at 250 Fresh Pond Parkway; and a portable AV system.
This appropriation is long overdue - and it's unfortunate that it's coming only after the strongest advocate for these improvements, Councillor Ken Reeves, has exited the City Council. Anyone who has attended public meetings and events over the years has experienced their share of malfunctioning equipment, poor acoustics, and presentations that could only be viewed if you picked the right seat. The range of proposed improvements is impressive and the price tag seems to be well worth it. The only thing I would add would be to have the City Council staff review the seating in the Sullivan Chamber where, under the current configuration, many of the audience seats are difficult to access and much of the space near the entry door lacks seating. Creating multiple aisles for greater access and providing some movable folding chairs would be a big improvement. [I'm speaking now as the official "long term observer" in the Sullivan Chamber.]
Resolution #11. Resolution on the death of Frederick "Chip" Norton. Mayor Maher
The announcement of Chip's unexpected death on January 13 left many of us stunned. Chip was the Watershed Manager for the Cambridge Water Department who led many public tours at Fresh Pond and in the Cambridge watershed in Weston, Waltham, Lexington, and Lincoln. He was one of the most decent, friendly people you could ever know and Cambridge was so lucky to have him working to protect the Cambridge watershed and educating people about our water supply.
My first serious involvement in Cambridge civic affairs came with my appointment to the Mayor's Water & Sewer Advisory Committee by Mayor Al Vellucci around 1988. Ever since then I've maintained a friendly relationship with many of the people who are responsible for Cambridge's water supply. For some of us, this is not just the death of a respected City employee but also the loss of a friend.
Order #1. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinances to rezone the northern border of Richdale Avenue from Upland Road to Walden Street from C1-A to residential C-1 be refiled Mayor Maher
Order #2. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinances in the Linear Park area be refiled. Mayor Maher
There are routine re-filings of zoning petitions that expired during the closing days of the previous Council term. They will now be the first order of business for the new Ordinance Committee whose Chair has not yet been announced. The only thing for sure is that the Chair won't be Mayor Maher. The mayor sits as an ex-officio member on all City Council committees but is the Chair of none of them.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City personnel to initiate a traffic and parking study pertaining to the further development of Area IV if one is not already available. Councillor Simmons
The incentive for this Order is apparently the long-anticipated opening of the H-Mart grocery store which is now finally starting to take shape in the old Harvest Market space. The Order also references the new 10 Essex Street building that will bring another 46 units of much needed houisng to the Central Square area plus ground floor retail (possibly associated with H-Mart). There's little doubt that the new housing and retail will have some impact on the surrounding area, but these are great new additions to Central Square. It's not so clear what additional purpose will be served by a traffic and parking study other than to confirm the obvious.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to compile a comprehensive list of nonprofit, for-profit, neighborhood associations, and distinguished individual-practitioner stakeholders who benefit from, inform, or participate in STEAM-related education and training in an effort to determine the feasibility of dedicating the Foundry to STEAM related entities. Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Mazen
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Arts Council to determine the types of spaces that are most needed within the local arts community with the view of using the Foundry to fill those needs and to allocate appropriate funds to make appropriate upgrades for the purpose of creating a community arts center. Councillor Toomey
These are probably the agenda items that will bring out more public comment than everything else combined. That said, there seem to be a number of assertions made that are not necessarily accurate. For example, the Benzan/Mazen Order #9 states that "Our neighborhoods are in dire need of substantial new space dedicated to mentorship, apprenticeship, scholarship, fabrication, expression, and training related to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics)." When was this conclusion determined? If anything, what has become clear is that there is now passionate advocacy for many goals, and they are not necessarily all compatible. The Toomey Order #10 favors a community arts center. The previous City Council exhibited more than a little sentiment toward use of some of the Foundry space for entreprenuerial/innovation space.
There have been numerous instances over the years where political advocacy for "community space" ran well ahead of actual demand. Youth Centers have been built that were not particularly well-utilized. In East Cambridge, the Multicultural Arts Center hasn't always lived up to its public purpose. One could certainly argue that the latest trend toward STEM and STEAM are really educational functions that should more properly be developed in conjuction with the Cambridge Public Schools (and which may require a range of new employees). Though it's appreciated seeing both new councillors and long-term councillors jumping in early to address the future of the Foundry issue, it does seem that they are striking the iron before it's hot.
I would respectfully suggest that we should first take a step back and assess what all the unmet demands really are (and not just what some advocates say they are) and what assets the City has to meet these demands. It's particularly interesting that councillors who bought into the need for a "master plan" for development have not yet expressed any interest in a "master plan" for the many auxiliary services that the City does deliver and should deliver using its variety of school buildings, youth centers, and other facilities, including the Foundry building.
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and Massachusetts Attorney General to determine whether Councillors ‘replying all' to emails addressed to the email@example.com on business that may subsequently come before the Council are unintentionally violating the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law. Councillor Cheung
I hope I'm not the only one who believes that there's a need for Councillor Toomey and his colleagues in the State House to tweak the Open Meeting Law to correct for the numerous unintended consequences that it has caused that do harm to collegiality and cooperation among elected officials and with the public.
Order #12. That the City Council go on record urging swift passage of the STEM Gateways Act. Councillor Cheung
As a STEM person myself (mathematics lecturer), I can't argue with the sentiments contained in this Order. - Robert Winters
Setting the Table - January 13, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
The City Council successfully elected David Maher as Mayor at its January 6 Inaugural meeting, but now the business of representation begins. The appointment of City Council subcommittees and their Chairs will likely be announced in two weeks, but there's little doubt that some of the new councillors will try to assert themselves right away. Hopefully the twists and turns of the recent mayoral vote will fade quickly leaving only the spin of the blogosphere.
One observation I've recently made is that the current City Council committees don't really match the skill sets of the elected councillors. The City Council and the Mayor should take a serious look at the committee structure and possible merge some of them and invent others to better take advantage of what these 9 councillors may have to offer.
Here are a few specific Agenda items worthy of attention:
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the new Nexus Study for Incentive Zoning Ordinance.
This communication simply informs the Council that the process is underway and that a consultant will soon be hired to conduct the study "to assess the impact of non-residential development on the City's housing market." ... "A nexus study establishes the basis for requiring contributions from commercial developments as set forth in the Incentive Zoning Provisions. The new study will quantify the current impact of new commercial development on housing affordability. Study recommendations could form the basis for changes to the Incentive Zoning Provisions."
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $16,100,824 in funds received from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Grant to the Public Works Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures account for the Alewife Sewer Separation Program.
Mr. Rossi states: "This grant will fund the Concord Avenue construction costs, engineering services and final costs associated with the other Alewife area contracts.... The City has been working with the MWRA for over sixteen years executing projects in the Alewife watershed to reduce combined sewer overflows to the Alewife Brook. These improvements are part of the court-ordered cleanup of the Boston Harbor."
This is the real measure of a well-managed city - maintaining all of the things that allow a city to smoothly function, especially those things that would not otherwise receive any attention from those who see things only in political terms.
Applications & Petitions #3. An application was received from Whittemore Realty Trust requesting permission for three curb cuts at the premises numbered 12A-12B-12C Whittemore Avenue; said petition has received approval from Inspectional Services, Traffic, Parking and Transportation, Historical Commission and Public Works. Chair of neighborhood association disapproves the curb cuts and vice chair of the neighborhood association approves the curb cuts.
The entertaining part of this is that the Chair and Vice-Chair are husband and wife, so why wouldn't they disagree? The ridiculous part is that the response states that "I know of no opposition to the curb cuts. The opposition relates to non curb cut matters."
Note to councillors, especially the new guys: The matter before you is a curb cut application. Anything not relating to the curb cut application should affect your vote about as much as your preference in music or beer.
Resolution #19. Resolution on the death of Beatrice L. (Levy) Davis. Mayor Maher
Beatrice Davis was the mother of our recent Mayor Henrietta Davis.
Order #2. That the City Council go on record expressing support for fair wages and benefits for Cambridge's adjunct professors, the right of Cambridge's adjunct professors to form a union, and the adoption of free and fair union election principles, similar to those that have been adopted by many higher education institutions in other U.S. cities, which establish the commitment that workers are "free" to make up their own mind under "fair" voting conditions. Councillor Cheung
This is a matter that affects quite a few people who live or work in and around Cambridge. Standards vary widely among the various institutions, departments, and programs. Whether or not the formation of a union is the right approach, there really should be some reasonable minimum standards. If our local universities can sign on to a "sustainability compact" they should also be more than willing to ensure a little economic sustainability among their part-time and adjunct faculty. What exactly is the best way to achieve this is not so obvious, but the sentiment expressed in Council Cheung's Order is a good one.
The next three items share a common thread:
Communication #7. A communication was received from Tom Stohlman, 19 Channing Street transmitting suggested changes to the Council rules.
Order #5. That the Mayor is requested to schedule a City Council/School Committee retreat in the near future to allow all of Cambridge's municipal elected officials the opportunity to converse with each other and discuss shared priorities for this term. Councillor Simmons
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting the action taken by the Cambridge City Council on an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Ilan Levy dated Dec 10, 2013.
First, I really don't understand why Tom Stohlman has chosen to appoint himself "hall monitor" for the Cambridge City Council. The Council rules work reasonably well and I believe there are some adults among our newly elected representatives who can decide how best to conduct their meetings. I actually agree with Mr. Stohlman's first suggestion that the School Committee and the Mayor might consider a new custom of having the Mayor not necessarily act as Chair of the School Committee (just as the Vice President of the USA does not customarily act as President of the Senate even though this is what the Constitution states).
Mr. Stohlman's second suggestion (that the City Council should discuss who should be Mayor) is now a moot point, though I'm sure that many such discussions took place prior to last week's mayoral vote. The matter of what the Mayor of Cambridge actually does has been discussed forever by both elected and unelected people. I seriously doubt whether any new revelations will be forthcoming. I'll not comment on the remaining laundry list of suggestions from Mr. Stohlman. It's a mixed bag, but I especially don't care for his later suggestions that would turn every public hearing into a marathon.
I'm curious what Mr. Stohlman and his fellow complaint-filing pals might have to say about Order #5. If there were a combined City Council/School Committee Retreat, would it have to be streamed live and a stenographic record kept of all that is said?
Finally, I take note of the latest response from the City Council and City Clerk to yet another tiresome complaint. There were, I believe, three such complaints filed during the last term. The first was from Tom Stohlman who disagreed with the City Council's actions in the choice of City Manager. The only real error there was in the long-standing practice allowing councillors to sign on as co-sponsors on City Council Orders circulated independently by the City Clerk (without discussion). That protocol has now been modified. The second complaint was from Charles Teague who objected to the MIT/Kendall zoning vote long after that matter had been put to bed. The latest (from Ilan Levy) is based only on speculation by the complainant regarding the disposition of the Foundry Building in East Cambridge.
I really hope that civic participation during the next few years is characterized more by discussion, cooperation, and understanding than by threats of legal filings with the Commonwealth whenever an action is taken with which one disagrees. A little more respect for the elected officials, the City administration, and the many people who work for the City is in order. In the end, most of our goals are the same. - Robert Winters