2016 City Council Agenda Notes
(transferred from main Council Notes page)

Closing Down an Unusual Year - Dec 19, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda Notes

This will be the last City Council meeting of the year. Here are a few agenda items worthy of some comment:Darwin's sidewalk sign

On the Table #1 and #2. Sidewalk sandwich board applications (CareWell Urgent Care, Esmeralda) languishing On the Table since being tabled by Councillor Devereux on Apr 25, 2016.

Applications & Petitions #1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. Applications and reapplications for sidewalk sandwich boards for Esmeralda, Honeycomb Creamery, Darwin's Ltd., Marimekko, and Mundo/Lux.

Normally I wouldn't even bother noting such minor goings-on, but when did the lowly sidewalk sandwich board become such a big deal? This year has been the Year of the Mountainous Molehill with the Cambridge City Council focusing excessively on advertising and identification signs on buildings, and on darkening as many lights as possible. We'll soon be a city of totally anonymous buildings that will only be identifiable via iPhone apps. Apparently the only signage that's completely OK is graffiti.

Bunches of Communications supporting the building of 100% affordable housing on the City-owned parking lots on Bishop Allen Drive.

Needless to say, all housing is affordable to someone. So the real question is what mix of household incomes should be represented in any new housing that may be constructed on these sites? Is segregating people by income the best strategy in the long term? The beauty of Inclusionary Zoning is that it integrates people of different income levels within the same buildings. I hope that any housing that may be created on these parking lots at leasts tries to achieve some sort of economic integration. Most of the communications posted in the agenda make no reference to economic integration. In fact, they bear all the signs of an organized effort - nearly identical phrases transcribed in response to an appeal from a single source.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Police Department and other relevant city departments to allow Officer Peter Neal to purchase Rumba upon his retirement.   Councillor Cheung

This is a very nice gesture, but my understanding is that these police dogs (and I've met them all) were trained as bomb-sniffers at some expense and may not yet be eligible for retirement. If Rumba is nearing retirement age, I hope she gets a generous pension of dog bones and biscuits and gets to live happily ever after with Officer Neal.

Order #2. City Council support of asking the Cambridge Historical Commission to initiate a landmark designation study process on the Abbott Building in Harvard Square.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

We all want to see the bones of Harvard Square kept somewhat intact even as new owners and new businesses replace others, and this building is certainly deserving of landmark status. That said, some alteration could still make for a better project. There is, however, something backwards about landmarking only after plans have been submitted. Wouldn't it make more sense to identify and landmark buildings (or entire areas) before they are purchased for redevelopment?

During a recent hearing on Harvard Square that was inspired by this development proposal, one public commenter offered an interesting proposal to create a mid-block alley through this property that would extend Palmer Street and serve as an interesting entryway to any businesses in this building. That would certainly disrupt the "historic facade" of the building, but it was an interesting idea that would be consistent with the many other alleyways and connections that are abundant in Harvard Square. Personally, I just hope that any displaced businesses can be accommodated somewhere in the greater Harvard Square area, though we would certainly welcome them in Central Square or another Cambridge location.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 1, 2016 to discuss the zoning petition submitted by Nabil Sater, et al to amend the Zoning Ordinances in the Central Square Overlay District, Section 20.300.

This petition - the Central Square Restoration Petition - received unanimous approval by the Planning Board at its initial hearing. It usually takes at least two meetings, so that's at least one measure of the quality of this petition. Central Square, however, has always been a political football, so I expect that some councillors will try to modify the petition in some ways, hopefully positive ways, in order to get their fingerprints on the football. It's worth noting that the Planning Board characterized this petition as a good interim measure and made it quite clear that other changes to the zoning in Central Square might be forthcoming as the Envision Cambridge process navigates its way through the next couple of years.

Comments?

After the Fire - the Dec 12, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting (postponed from Dec 5)

Dec 3 fireLast week's meeting was postponed due to the relief efforts associated with the Berkshire Street fire. Any business then before the City Council paled in comparison to the devastation caused by the 10-alarm fire on Sat, Dec 3 in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood. In the midst of it all it was great to see Cantabrigians pulling together to help residents directly impacted by the conflagration. This is a neighborhood where people identify buildings by the names of the families who inhabit them - some for generations.

On the expanded meeting agenda for this week, here are some items of interest:

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with suggested changes to Cambridge’s policy regarding advertising revenue that could help support the continuation and expansion of Hubway in the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

The economic sustainability of Hubway may require additional advertising revenue or increased user fees (currently $20/month or $85/year). Or you could just buy a bike and a good lock.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to make the appropriate staff available to assist the Mayor’s Office in facilitating a community conversation about the roles and intersection of race, class, gender, and culture in Cambridge within the first quarter of 2017.   Mayor Simmons

Mayor Simmons has organized such events in the past and does a pretty good job at it.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding the potential of building affordable housing on City-owned parking lots along Bishop Allen Drive.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

At some point, city councillors and City staff will have to start distinguishing between "building affordable housing" and "making housing affordable". As an interim measure, creating housing accessible to low and moderate income people who access it by applying to a government agency or quasi-governmental entity makes sense. However, this contributes to the division of housing into high-cost housing for the well-to-do and subsidized housing for the not-so-well-to-do. It doesn't do much for those who are simply looking for an affordable place to live and who are not inclined to seek government-owned or government-controlled housing. Affordable options for most people should be available without having to apply to a governmental agency.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department with the intention of ensuring that zoning and building code restrictions will not prohibit the rebuilding of the damaged structures and to report back to the City Council with necessary language or steps needed to ensure a straightforward process for families and current property owners to rebuild.   Councillor Toomey

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Inspectional Services Department, the Community Development Department, the Legal Department and any other appropriate city departments to determine what measures can be taken to fast-track the rebuilding of homes impacted by the fire that may be non-conforming with the current zoning code and report back to the Council in a timely manner on what actions can be considered.   Councillor Devereux

These are both very timely, and if there's any need to insert an emergency amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to facilitate this, the City Council should fast-track it. Hopefully there's insurance money to cover most or all of the costs of rebuilding.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to ensure that all money raised during this campaign is distributed to the Wellington Harrington residents impacted by this incident and to report back to the City Council when all funds are distributed.   Councillor Toomey

So far it seems that City efforts and the efforts of the Mayor's Office have been well-coordinated with the Red Cross and other agencies. Cambridge should be very proud of all these efforts and those of individuals who have stepped forward to assist with money, materials, and housing.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Director of Communications, the Community Development Department, the Human Services Department, and Public Safety Departments to develop an outreach and communications plan for renters in Cambridge about the importance and availability of renters insurance and consult with these departments to assist low- and moderate-income tenants in acquiring affordable renters insurance policies, and to report back on both orders.   Councillor Devereux

Though clearly motivated by the Berkshire Street fire, the reality is that most Cambridge residents and certainly most residents in this affected neighborhood are renters. Buildings can be rebuilt, but the loss of personal property can be equally devastating. People often don't think about rental insurance, so this is, as they say, "a teachable moment".

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with DCR to request that the speed limit be reduced to 25 mph on Fresh Pond Parkway from the BB&N Upper School campus to the Route 2/16 split west of the Alewife MBTA station.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

Though it may not make sense to lower the speed limit to 25 mph on a limited-access highway or an arterial road with relatively few street crossings, Fresh Pond Parkway and Alewife Brook Parkway both have many intersections where vehicles and pedestrians and abundantly present. Since Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville are all reducing the speed limit on City-owned streets, the DCR should do the same on all of their roads that operate like major city streets. Having uniform traffic standards regardless of ownership makes a lot of sense.

Order #12. That the City Council’s Government Operations Committee seek to identify a suitable site to honor Representative Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. for his long and distinguished commitment to the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Maher, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung

This is a great idea. I certainly hope that City Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. will continue in his role on the City Council for years to come - maybe even as Mayor.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 16, 2016 to discuss gradually increasing the parking permit fee and to consider other improvements to the program to help fund the City’s budget towards reducing vehicle miles traveled and to promote alternative forms of transportation.

This was the meeting where some city councillors (Mazen, Devereux) argued in favor of dramatic increases in the Resident Permit Parking fee. Basically, they would like to jack it up as high as they can politically get away with. Councillor Devereux wants to jack the fees up as a way of disincentivising automobile ownership - at least for those with lower incomes. She also noted that Uber does not have enough curb space to pull over and that this could be relieved by driving out resident parking from major streets. In a Twitter post recently she also expressed her desire to double Cambridge parking meter rates like Boston is planning to do in the Seaport District. Gee, thanks.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 27, 2016 to discuss a zoning petition by the City Council to amend four sections in Article 19.000 of the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 27, 2016 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Title 15 entitled “Buildings and Construction” by adding a new Chapter 15.22 entitled “Outdoor Lighting.”

Rather than get into the details of all this, I will simply note that it is so classically Cambridge that a proposal that was originally intended to limit light trespass into bedroom windows has now morphed into a showdown on the aesthetics of building signage and architectural lighting. It almost makes me yearn for the days of "spectacular lighting" such as the one adorning the Shell gas station on Memorial Drive or, even more spectacularly, the much-beloved Citgo sign overseeing the good fortunes of the Red Sox. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Navigating the Post-Apocalypse in the Peoples Republic - Nov 21, 2016 Cambridge City Council Preview

Peoples RepublicWhile the Orange Emperor prepares to assume the throne, Cambridge responds with symbolic acts of virtual warfare. I expect that the next two months will be dominated by discussions of Sanctuary Cities and declarations of our municipal virtue.

Here are the City Council agenda items that seem most noteworthy:

Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an update on the drought conditions.

The drought persists, but things appear to be less dire than they seemed a month ago. The reservoirs are slowing gaining water and we have been able to use Cambridge water to some degree, so the cost of purchasing MWRA water is less than was projected.

Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to various projects and initiatives related to the City’s Bicycle Safety Work Plan.

City staff seem to be approaching this more thoughtfully than the "my way or the highway" approach suggested in recent City Council orders. For example, there is a substantial analysis of the pros and cons of completely revising the good plans already developed for Huron Avenue. Based on that analysis and the impacts associated with making major changes to the design at this point in construction, City staff does not plan to modify the layout of Huron Avenue.

There definitely are some modifications to street configuration and on-street parking that can be made for greater bicycle safety, but this is best done in conjunction with a thoughtful process involving all stakeholders - and not with the banging of drums. It is worth noting that at a recent City Council committee meeting on a possible increase in the cost of a resident parking permit, one councillor clearly stated that she hoped that by jacking the sticker price up sufficiently high it would lead to enough people giving up their vehicles so that parking could be eliminated from most or all of Broadway, Cambridge Street, Hampshire Street and Massachusetts Avenue. She especially liked that Uber vehicles would more easily be able to pick up passengers on these streets. Public process may be time-consuming, but it's far preferable to a dictatorial City Council.

Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the zoning amendments with recommended changes to the Inclusionary Housing Provisions.

Presumably, the zoning amendment process will now commence with referral to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee. It will be interesting to see if the shifting economic forecasts associated with changes in Washington, D.C. will affect the view of how viable the proposed 20% Inclusionary Zoning percentage might be.

Charter Right #1. The City Manager confer with the City Solicitor on the possibility of allowing non-citizen Cambridge residents to vote in municipal elections without a home-rule petition. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Cheung on Nov 7, 2016.]

Perhaps the juxtaposition of this with the Sanctuary City discussion may give this a boost, but I still think that individual cities and towns should not be setting their own policies in matters such as this. For a hundred years the standard has been that Citizenship = "Right to Vote", and a lot of us agree with that definition. I will again add that just about everyone is a citizen of some country and they likely still retain those voting rights even if they currently reside in Cambridge.

Order #3. That all Awaiting Report items on the Awaiting Report List on Nov 7, 2016 be placed on file.   Councillor Cheung

Perhaps most of the slate should be wiped clean, but maybe councillors should be afforded the privilege of selecting a few or the more substantial requests for retention on the list. While they're at it, we could also use a little Fall Cleaning of some of the items that are On the Table collecting dust and going nowhere. The City Clerk will, I'm sure, appreciate the gesture.


Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to commit to funding any and all programs that may be in jeopardy should the federal funds affect the viability of these programs.   Councillor Cheung, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Kelley

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to forward a letter to Cambridge organizations and City Departments regarding the status of our Sanctuary/Trust Act City and what this means for working non-citizens and the resources available.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen
[References1985 Sanctuary City resolution    2006 Sanctuary City resolution    Joint Statement by City Manager & Mayor Simmons]

Order #8. Nov 28th Roundtable/Working Meeting be changed to discuss Cambridge remaining a Sanctuary City.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

As an exercise, let's separate out the substance of these Sanctuary City resolutions from all the other statements of conditions, causes, and virtue.

The essential clauses of the 1985 resolution are:
"The City Council wishes to clarify its desire not to expend City resources, beyond the requirements of federal law, in voluntarily assisting or cooperating with investigations of alleged violations of immigration law by Salvadorean, Guatemalan or Haitian refugees, or in gathering or disseminating information on the citizenship status of those residing in the City of Cambridge"; and
"RESOLVED: That the City of Cambridge not participate in any form in the compounding of injustice against refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti or in the federal government's persecution of those, who in good faith, offer humanitarian assistance to the refugees"; and
"ORDERED: That the City Council declares it to be the policy of the City of Cambridge that, to the extent legally possible, no department or employee of the City of Cambridge will violate established or future sanctuaries by officially assisting or voluntarily cooperating with investigations or arrest procedures, public or clandestine, relating to alleged violations of immigration law by refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala or Haiti, or by those offering sanctuary"; and
"ORDERED: That no city employee or department, to the extent legally possible, will request information about or otherwise assist in the investigation of the citizenship status of any City resident, will disseminate information regarding the citizenship of a City resident, or condition the provision of City of Cambridge services or benefits on matters related to citizenship."

The 2006 resolution actually added little other than statements about how the Cambridge City Council at that time disagreed with a bill then working its way through the U.S. Congress.

Those were some pretty substantial statements in 1985, but they really aren't all that severe. In a nutshell, they basically say that the City of Cambridge won't carry out the work of the federal government in carrying out a policy with which the City of Cambridge has great disagreement. The federal government doesn't round up people who have failed to pay parking tickets while in the City of Cambridge, so this is, in some respects, just a statement that we'll do our jobs and the federal government can do their jobs.

What is insidious about the current situation is the threat of federal funds being withheld to any city choosing to not do the job of federal authorities. That's almost like saying that we're going to withhold your paycheck until you do your boss's job in addition to your own. Cambridge residents pay federal taxes (sorry, you can't claim the Peoples Republic of Cambridge as a sovereign state), so federal funding is really just a mechanism through which we get back some of our own money. What is most offensive is the manner in which the federal government attempts to micromanage local communities via the threat of withholding federal funds that they have extracted from residents of those same communities via taxation. This practice has been growing for years and is not particular to the latest dispute over Sanctuary Cities. Even President Obama threatened to withhold educational funds based on failure to reconfigure bathrooms, and there are plenty of other examples of federal authorities using taxation as a means of dictating policy.

So, the question I have is simply this: What aspects of Cambridge's Sanctuary City resolutions are actually in violation of federal law? Indeed, the last statement of the 1985 resolution states quite clearly that "the provisions of this Resolution shall be severable, and if any phrase, clause, sentence or provision of this Resolution is declared by a court of component jurisdiction to be contrary to the Constitution of the United States or of the Commonwealth or the applicability thereof to any agency, person or circumstances is held invalid, the validity of the remainder of this Resolution and the applicability thereof to any other agency, person or circumstances shall not be affected thereby."


Order #7. That the City Council go on record requesting that the Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee hold a hearing or hearings on the attached proposed surveillance ordinance, and that representatives of the ACLU be invited to this hearing or hearings to discuss the necessity of such an ordinance.   Mayor Simmons

I'm not exactly sure who wrote the text of this proposed surveillance ordinance, but I'm pretty sure he wears a tin foil hat.


On the Table #7. The City Manager coordinate with the Finance Department, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and community stakeholders to outline a proposed system of governance, management, and stakeholder engagement for the Foundry, to be discussed in a public forum with the Council and community. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Oct 31, 2016.]

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 6, 2016 to discuss the redevelopment of the Foundry Building.

The more I hear about this the better I feel about how the City and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority came to this point. It seems as though every piece of real estate for which the City Council has some control has become a political football in a game in which All Great Things ride on the outcome. The Foundry is, at the end of the day, just another building. The City has lots of buildings serving community purposes, including multiple Youth Centers and all of the Community Schools programs. While everybody stamps their feet about The Foundry, where is the fervor about all of these other City programs and facilities? Perhaps the best thing would be to start viewing The Foundry as just another asset in an enlarged inventory of facilities. Maybe then we could start thinking less selfishly and more holistically. When was the last time the City Council and the School Committee looked at the bigger picture and asked if we're making the most of all of the City's assets?

Comments?

On the Eve of Celebration or Disaster - Nov 7, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda highlights

Question?With the Presidential election looming, it feels almost like the early 1960s when many people believed that nuclear annihilation was a real possibility. In contrast, the kerfuffles and excesses of the little fish in our City Council pond seem almost quaint. Here are a few items to distract you from the national picture:

Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, requesting the City Council accept Chapter 218 of the Acts of 2016, “An Act Modernizing Municipal Finance and Government”, Sections 193 and 194 giving municipalities the authority to reduce speed limits on all ways other than state highways.

You may recall that not long ago the City Council hastily voted to reduce the speed limit to 20mph citywide. This led to a thoughtful response from the Dept. of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation recommending a citywide limit of 25mph with a lower speed limit for legitimate "safety zones" (as was the intent of the state enabling legislation). The City Council was also alerted at that time to the fact that any change had to wait until the new state law went into effect before adopting its provisions. That time has now arrived and we'll shortly be seeing a 25mph limit in Boston, Somerville, Cambridge, and likely other places.

Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to Council Order No. 15, dated Oct 31, 2016, regarding a Request for Proposal for consultant services related to the visioning, programming, governance, and re-purposing of the Harvard Square Kiosk as well as creating a Harvard Square Kiosk Working Group.

Charter Right #1. The City Manager coordinate with the Finance Department, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and community stakeholders to outline a proposed system of governance, management, and stakeholder engagement for the Foundry, to be discussed in a public forum with the Council and community. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Oct 31, 2016.]

Both of these agenda items concern efforts by the City Council to intervene in processes that have been long underway and thoughtfully planned and implemented. Residents, including councillors, can raise questions and make recommendations about the outcomes of these process, but intervening in contracts is probably not the best way to proceed. In the case of the Harvard Square Kiosk and the surrounding plaza, the City is simply hiring a firm to create a vision for the programming, operation and governance of the kiosk and plaza. That consultant will be working with City staff and a working group of stakeholders on this task. The City has agreed to allow more time for public input on its Request for Proposals and to possibly generate additional respondents.

In the Foundry matter, the City Council voted to allow the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority to shepherd the process leading to the selection of bidder who promises to achieve both the programmatic and financial goals specified by both the City Council and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority. Now some city councillors want to go back to the drawing board and change the goals in such a way that the City's costs to operate this "gift" from Alexandria Real Estate will be substantially increased.

Order #2. That the City Council urge the City Manager to establish a deadline of Nov 1, 2017 for fully implementing the various street improvements and safety measures for increasing bicycle safety that were passed during the Oct 17, 2016 meeting.   Mayor Simmons

I hope that the interpretation of this Order is that whatever street improvements and safety measures are implemented are those that result from a thoughtful public process rather than in response to a blitzkrieg of pre-cooked solutions from activists.

Order #3. The City Manager confer with the City Solicitor on the possibility of allowing non-citizen Cambridge residents to vote in municipal elections without a home-rule petition.   Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

Every few years there's some kind of movement to allow non-citizens to vote in Cambridge municipal elections. This Order makes statements like "non-citizens ... are presently barred from formally voicing their opinions" that are clearly misleading. The Order also fails to note that any non-citizen living in Cambridge is a citizen of some country and generally is able to vote in those elections. Home rule petitions from Cambridge and elsewhere have been filed before and have not been approved. I certainly hope this is not approved either, but the Order also apparently seeks some kind of legal loophole that would allow non-citizen voting without any state approval. I seriously doubt if that is possible. In matters like voting it's best to have uniformity across all cities and towns in Massachusetts in terms of eligibility to vote in all elections.

Order #4. That the City Manager request permission from the DCR to continue Sunday closings on Memorial Drive year-round, starting in early 2017, and to work with the Cambridge Police, Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and Public Works Departments and any other staff to implement this plan, and to report back to the Council as soon as possible on the feasibility and schedule.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

I would rather see this expressed as a request to extend the season for this road closure rather than a year-round Sunday closure. There are consequences to these road closures, including increased traffic on other streets, and the costs should be weighed against the benefits (as well as the actual demand).

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report on behalf of Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 2, 2016 to discuss bicycle safety in Cambridge.

In reading this report I was glad to see that some City staff were taking a more thoughtful and measured approach than some city councillors. There is a lot of room for discussion and alternatives than just the blitzkrieg of orders introduced at the Oct 17 City Council meeting. I also hope that our elected officials can be educated about the difference between actual safety measures and politically expedient actions that don't address the acual causes of cycling fatalities and injuries.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Councillor David P. Maher, transmitting the Proposed Employment Agreement between the City of Cambridge and Louis A. DePasquale.

It appears that Louis DePasquale's first day of work in his new role as City Manager will be Monday, Nov 14, 2016 and his contract will extend through Jan 8, 2021.

Comments?

Trick or Treat - October 31, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Happy Halloween!The ghosts and goblins will descend on City Hall this Monday. Here are a few agenda items of possible interest:

Sundry communications advocating for the segregation of two-wheeled vehicles from other vehicles.

Order #10. That the City Council acknowledges that said residents and other users desire the City to immediately enact safety improvements to bicycle infrastructure, starting with separated bike lanes on all major city thoroughfares.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux

I have been bicycling in Cambridge for over 35 years without incident, so I continue to be surprised by statements that Cambridge roads are some kind of death trap. It's simply not true. Is cycling in Cambridge absolutely safe? Of course not - nor is driving or navigating the streets as a pedestrian.

Most of us can easily identify particular intersections that really are fundamentally unsafe and have been for a long time. Chief on my list would be the Porter Square intersection, Inman Square, River Street coming from the river toward Central Square, much of the McGrath/O'Brien Highway, and the rotary at the BU Bridge. If I gave it some more thought, I'm sure I could come up with more.

I very much appreciate all input from all sources who have good concepts for how a difficult intersection like Porter Square could be made better. Some of those ideas may even be counter-intuitive, e.g. removing all the signals and other devices and forcing everyone to pass through with extreme caution. Even if you think that's crazy, it's still worthy of consideration - though it would definitely not be my chosen remedy. [Reference: woonerf, shared street]

What I really resent in some of the proposals introduced at the Cambridge City Council is their primary focus on "protected bike lanes" without any discussion of the many potential down sides of that proposal. They certainly don't address the actual problem – dangerous intersections. Side paths make a lot of sense in places where there is a significant differential in speeds between motor vehicles and cyclists, e.g. along Memorial Drive. They also make a lot of sense along a twisting road where a faster moving vehicle might come up on a cyclist on a curve, especially if there is little or no shoulder. I don't think they make a lot of sense on straight roads with moderate speeds.

Here are a few examples of what will likely happen if cyclists are channelled into a corridor between parked cars and the curb:

(a) Cyclists of varying speeds will have difficulty sorting themselves out since passing will be more difficult.

(b) Motor vehicles entering a road at an unsignalized intersection will have to block this "protected lane" just to be able to see the traffic before entering the intersection. Most pedestrians are already familiar with this and often have to decide between crossing in front of the car or behind the car. This will be much more problematic for bicycles moving at speeds greatly in excess of a pedestrian.

(c) Picking up and dropping off kids at the local school will become an adventure with significantly narrowed travel lanes and bicycles moving past on the passenger side. We have two Montessori schools on my block, a Cambridge public school across the street, and soon a day care center. Add the coffee shop to that and you have a disaster waiting to happen. Bicycle altercations along my street are few, if any. As I mentioned above, the primary danger is at difficult intersections with turning traffic.

(d) With significantly narrowed travel lanes, traffic congestion will soar in spite of any prophecies to the contrary. Locations where there is now room to maneuver around a turning vehicle will come to a standstill. I understand that this is what many of the "Complete Streets" advocates want to happen, but I really do hope there is at least some effort made to hear what others have to say.

(e) Pedestrians crossing a street will now be essentially crossing three streets and will have to take great caution - much more than they must now do.

(f) Faster moving cyclists will continue to use the regular travel lanes. Their speeds are not all that different than motor vehicles on many Cambridge streets, especially if there's even moderate compliance with the lower speed limits that are proposed citywide. For these cyclists, there will be far less wiggle room for passing and they will often have little choice but to "take the lane".

(g) Based on all the conflicts that are introduced it is more than likely that advocates will conclude that the only way to make things work is to remove the parking altogether. I see this as almost inevitable. Some will rejoice at this, but many others will not. As has been pointed out very eloquently on this list, people do get older and their mobility may be reduced for this and other reasons. You cannot simply wish away the need for some (many) people to have access to a motor vehicle and to be able to park it at least somewhere near where they live. In my neighborhood many of the streets are almost fully parked much of the time.

(h) Snow events will bring everything to a standstill. In particular, the ideal practice of plowing streets most of the way to the curb will be far more difficult when streets are divided into multiple sections. As we all know, sometimes the only practical option is to not plow all the way to the curb since there's need for that additional storage. What happens then? My guess is that winter cyclists will simply ride in the regular travel lanes which will now be far narrower than they are now.

If the City is absolutely set on trying out this idea, they should start with one road as a pilot and see what problems do or do not develop and evaluate the results honestly. I think it's very important that any such evaluation be done by an objective party.

There were two important matters embedded in the torrent of City Council orders introduced two weeks ago - (1) addressing problematic intersections (like Porter Square); and (2) addressing the fundamental incompatibility between vulnerable users (including pedestrians and cyclists) and very large trucks with limited visibility.

I also feel that much more attention needs to be spent on identifying quieter alternatives for cyclists. In Medford, one of the most significant recommendations in their Bicycle Infrastructure Master Plan is the conversion of some streets to "bicycle boulevards" where cyclists are given very explicit priority without being segregated. That would be a good thing to do for a number of Cambridge streets.

PS - I have neither the time nor the inclination to write petitions or gather signatures on this topic. It's easy to get signatures when you tell people that your way is the only way to achieve "safe streets". I believe that a lot more discussion needs to take place on this topic - and not in a hypercharged political atmosphere.

Order #2. That the Public Safety Committee hold a public hearing to hear about the various uses of drones in Cambridge and any concerns residents may have about them, with the goal of recommending guidelines for a municipal ordinance that would protect the public safety and the privacy of residents.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Kelley

Order #12. That the City Manager is request to confer with the City of Boston to include Cambridge in the autonomous vehicle initiative as a partner.   Councillor Mazen

It's entertaining to see the juxtaposition of orders expressing concern for public safety from unmanned drones while eagerly embracing unmanned motor vehicles.

Order #5. That the City Council go on record in support of asking the Cambridge Historical Commission to initiate a landmark designation study process on the Harvard Square kiosk.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

The entire area is already landmarked, and nobody is even considering doing anything to the Kiosk other than restoring it to a state much closer to what it was when first built. That said, if double-landmarking gives you thrills, knock yourself out.

Order #8. The City Manager coordinate with the Finance Department, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and community stakeholders to outline a proposed system of governance, management, and stakeholder engagement, to be discussed in a public forum with the Council and community.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

Translation - Throw the baby out with the bathwater. The City Council voted on a process with their eyes wide open, but apparently some city councillors would prefer to maintain a heavy hand on all aspects of the management of this City asset.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 28, 2016 to discuss the ongoing drought and the impact on the Cambridge water supply, what restrictions on water use may be appropriate to consider and what public outreach is needed on water conservation measures.

Anything that helps educate residents about basic City infrastructure, especially something like drinking water and fire protection, is welcome. It continues to amaze me how many people, including civic activists and even city councillors, don't understand some of the most basic things that we all take for granted every day.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 29, 2016 to discuss different models for campaign finance reform and publicly-funded municipal elections in Cambridge, and will focus on receiving feedback from the community.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 25, 2016 to discuss improving voter turnout for the municipal elections in Cambridge through voter reward options and will focus on receiving feedback from the community.

I gave testimony at both of these hearings. The "voter reward" idea is an absolute nonstarter. Campaign finance is a topic worthy of a lot of discussion, but most of what was presented at the hearing on that topic was at best underwhelming and misdirected.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, informing the City Council they may go into Executive Session on Monday to discuss on-going contract negotiations with the prospective City Manager.

I hope this gets settled at this meeting and that a contract is signed either this Monday or next.

Comments?

Coming up at the October 17, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

The dominant items this week are a flurry of environment-related communications from Acting City Manager Lisa Peterson and a torrent of bicycle-related City Council orders. There is also the anticipated filing of the "Central Square Restoration Petition." Here are some of the more interesting items:

Cambridge water
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $3,600,000 from the Water Fund Retained Earnings account to the Water Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance account to fund the purchase of water from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) for approximately three months.

One again we see the wisdom of the Cambridge Water Board in establishing years ago this backup plan for emergencies and prolonged droughts. Hopefully we'll be able to get back on Cambridge water (from Lexington, Lincoln, Weston, and Waltham) before too long.


Early Voting
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $93,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Election Other Ordinary Maintenance account to pay for costs associated with early voting for the State/Presidential election.

Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the transfer of $33,500 from the General Fund Employee Benefits (salary adjustment) Salary and Wages account to the General Fund Election Salary and Wages account to pay for wages associated with early voting for the State/Presidential election.

As you can see, Early Voting isn't cheap. It will be interesting to see what the actual utilization is by location, day, and time of day so that Early Voting can be done most efficiently in future state and federal elections.


Environment/Energy/Climate
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $120,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account to execute a Zero Waste Plan for the City.

Perhaps the most interesting sentence in the report is this: "The first phase of this plan is to ready the City for the expansion Citywide of the curb-side organics collection program. It is presently expected that such will occur in the fall of 2017."

Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $190,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance account to complete a Low Carbon Energy Supply Study.

Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $47,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance account to complete a community-wide Greenhouse gas inventory.

Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $38,300 from Free Cash to the General Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance account which will be used to procure consultant services to augment Cambridge’s core environmental goals.

I'm not sure why all of these appropriations appear on this agenda this week. It seems to not be a coincidence.


Zoning Petitions
Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board not to adopt the Urban Agriculture Zoning Petition to allow for the completion of the work of the Urban Agriculture Task Force.

Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the William Noyes Webster Foundation, Inc, Zoning Petition (expansion of Medical Marijuana Overlay District 1 in Alewife).

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 22, 2016 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Jane W. Heatley, President of the William Noyes Webster Foundation, Inc. to amend Section 20.700, Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts by extending the district.

In regard to this and other marijuana-related zoning petitions, they may all be eventually eclipsed by (a) a citywide change in the use tables in most business zones and (b) the outcome of Question 4 on Election Day that may legalize/regulate recreational marijuana. In spite of a variety of statements saying that there is no relation between medicinal marijuana legalization/regulation and recreational marijuana legalization/regulation, this seems nearly certain to be only a temporary state of affairs.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 5, 2016 to discuss the refiled petition to amend the Zoning Map in the Riverside Neighborhood from the existing Residence C-1 to Residence C within the area bounded by Franklin Street, River Street and Putnam Avenue.

It was interesting to read articles in the Boston Globe and elsewhere taking a very dim view of this zoning petition as thwarting the creation of affordable housing in the name of "neighborhood preservation". I suspect the truth is a little more nuanced, e.g. the desire to slow or stop infill/backyard development. It's not at all clear that any of that kind of development is leading to much or any "affordable" housing.

Applications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been received entitled "Central Square Restoration Petition," to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance in Article 2.000 ("Definitions") and Article 20.300 ("Central Square Overlay District") signed by area residents.

Though some may try to characterize this petition (whose lead signers are members of the Sater family who own and operate The Middle East) as some kind of upzoning of Central Square, I'd have to say that the name "Central Square Restoration Petition" characterizes it much better. Central Square used to be a major shopping destination and civic center for the greater Cambridgeport area (before the somewhat arbitrary re-designation of neighborhood names). It's in recovery, but it could be so much better than it is now. This petition cobbles together some of the better (and less controversial) ideas from the C2 Committee a few years back plus some other forward-looking features. The review before the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee should provide great opportunities for people of good will to "envision" Central Square in a manner that actually leads somewhere other than a dusty shelf along with decades of planning studies.


City Manager Search Process
Manager's Agenda #20. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $25,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund City Council Other Ordinary Maintenance account ($21,500) and to the City Council Travel & Training account ($3,500) to fund expenditures related to the City Manager search process.

It's much better to be now looking back at this process - the first ever during the Plan E era (since 1941). The official transition to City Manager Louis A. DePasquale is expected be completed within another week or so when all contract details are finalized.


BicycleBicycling-related
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department and the Cambridge Police Commissioner, and to report back to the City Council on what specific recommendations and measures the City should consider in order to prevent future bicycle accidents and fatalities from occurring, and to make our streets safer for bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Kelley

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City Departments to design a pilot system of flex-post separated bike lanes and intersections, along Massachusetts Avenue, Hampshire Street, and Cambridge Street to determine how installation of flex-posts might be used as either interim or permanent bike safety solutions while other infrastructure improvements can be designed and analyzed for safety and implemented as appropriate.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Kelley

Order #4. That the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations committee be and hereby is requested to hold a committee hearing to discuss the possibility of adding a bike-bus lane to Pearl Street and any measures that can be taken to accommodate on-street parking preferences of residents.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to include separated bicycle facilities or adjacent off-street paths in any plans for reconstructing all or part of Massachusetts Avenue, along the entire length of the reconstructed segment and to give first priority to the safety and convenience of the most vulnerable road users – pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users – with second priority to the safety and convenience of motor vehicles in any plans for reconstructing all or part of Massachusetts Avenue.   Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mazen

Order #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, Department of Public Works, Community Development Department, Fire Department, Police Department, Budget Department, and other relevant City departments to install pilot program protected bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue between Cedar Street and Harvard Square starting on Nov 1, 2016, to install pilot program protected bike lanes on Cambridge Street between Inman Square and Quincy Street and to install pilot program protected bike lanes on Broadway between Prospect Street and Quincy Street, all for the period of at least one month.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to include protected bike lanes on both sides of Huron Avenue for the full length of its reconstruction, per the Cambridge Bicycle Plan.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to form a Vision Zero Working Group comprised of staff from the relevant City departments and residents to collaboratively develop and review traffic safety plans, street designs, public education initiatives, traffic enforcement and related policies with the shared goal of eliminating crashes that result in serious injuries and deaths as quickly as possible.   Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to consult with staff on what authority the City has to further restrict the routes of travel and delivery hours of oversized trucks on City street.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern

These are a mix of good ideas and ill-considered opportunism in the wake of a tragic death in Porter Square. On the good side are Orders #2, #8, and #11. Order #2 asks City staff, including CDD and the Police Department, to report back on specific recommendations that might prevent future bicycle accidents and fatalities from occurring, and to make city streets safer for bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians. This is both timely and appropriate. We all know of locations, primarily complicated intersections, that need to be made safer for all users. Porter Square is one such location. We can likely assume that the Police Department will base their recommendations on actual causes rather than on a wish list generated by an advocacy group.

Order #8 is also a sensible request to establish a "Vision Zero Working Group" comprised of staff from relevant City departments and residents "to collaboratively develop and review traffic safety plans, street designs, public education initiatives, traffic enforcement and related policies with the shared goal of eliminating crashes that result in serious injuries and deaths as quickly as possible." We should hope that this group will take a broad look at the whole picture of safety and operation in the design of roadways, intersections, and signaling systems (as opposed to the narrow view of single issue advocacy).

Order #11 addresses the problem of the operation of oversized trucks on City streets. There may be limitations on what the City can do based on federal and state laws regulating interstate commerce, but there may be some opportunities. There certainly should be. Anyone who has ever seen an 18-wheeler blocking a swath of sidewalk and street lanes just to make a small delivery to a 24-hour store understands the current absurdity of the status quo. Every cyclist also needs to understand that whenever there is a large truck in the vicinity it is essential to get away from it pronto. Even if you believe you're riding lawfully, you still may not even be seen by the truck driver - and the risk is simply never worth it.

In contrast, Orders #3-7 are opportunistic moves that attempt to cure problems that don't necessarily exist and to do so with maximal disruption. The recent death in Porter Square was on a stretch of road where parking was prohibited and where there is already a "protected turn lane" for bikes heading inbound wanting to make a left turn toward Somerville Avenue, though it's not clear that many cyclists actually use it. This is what makes it so strange to hear advocates arguing for elimination of on-street parking and the segregation of cyclists from the roadway in response to this fatality. It will be helpful to eventually get a full report from the Cambridge Police and the District Attorney's Office on the exact cause of this fatality (and other fatalities in the last few years). It is often the case that the actual cause of such a tragedy does not coincide with the early conclusions of advocates who are understandably upset in the aftermath of tragedy.

I really hope that our elected city councillors pause and take a deep breath before demanding changes that will have little or no effect (and maybe even have negative effects) on actual safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. Address problematic intersections and designate some streets as bicycle-priority streets (like Harvard Street, Garden Street, Magazine Street and others) before radically altering currently well-functioning streets by destroying sight lines and dramatically increasing traffic congestion for little or no benefit. Eliminate parking at bends in streets where conflicts between cyclists and motorists are most likely. There's plenty to do right now in simply addressing intersection safety - and that's where most of the safety problems are. Let reason prevail. There is a whole city full of people - pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, residents with and without private parking, and businesses with and without customer or employee parking that need to be heard. Doing anything less would be undemocratic.


Alewife area
Order #9. City Council opposition to any pathway or other intrusion which might be developed through the woods, marshes, or Bordering Land Subject to Flooding (BLSF) or other natural resource habitat to create a pedestrian trail to the Alewife T stop from areas west and north of Little River and to any other development which could in any way impact the 100-year flood plain which is predicted to experience such flooding every 30 years, and wetlands, BLSF, or bordering vegetated wetlands (BVW), associated with the Alewife Reservation.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux

I can't speak to the broader goal here, but there is at least one location where a pedestrian bridge over the Little River in the vicinity of the recreated wetland area and its boardwalks would be a very welcome addition by creating a very nice walking loop.


Ordinances, Prohibitions, Bans
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 15, 2016 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Title 6 entitled “Animals” by adding a new Chapter 6.20 entitled “Restrictions on the Sale of Animals in Pet Shops.”

I certainly hope we don't ban excessively here. Unless such a ban were do be done statewide, the only effect will be to move the business to neighboring cities and towns or causing such sales to take place outside of established businesses.


Harvard Square Kiosk
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 28, 2016 for the purpose of discussing the redesign of the Out of Town News Kiosk.

This was an interesting meeting - especially in learning that it may be possible to bring utilities to the Kiosk that don't currently exist. While it's clear that some would like this structure to primarily serve visitors to Harvard Square, I still would love for it to have an active use where residents to gather. It doesn't have to be a hot dog stand or lunch counter, but it sure would be great to again have something like that right in the middle of Harvard Square. My dream is still to be able to watch Red Sox games there projected onto a wall of the Kiosk while eating a hot dog in the open air.

Comments?

Special Cambridge City Council meeting - Sept 29, 2016

ORDERS
1. Offer of employment as City Manager to Louis A. DePasquale.   Councillor Toomey
Adopted 9-0

2. Appointment of Lisa C. Peterson as Acting City Manager   Mayor Simmons
Adopted 9-0

3. City enter into a contract with Elizabeth Valerio and John Foskett.   Councillor Maher
Adopted 9-0

TEXT OF ORDERS
O-1     Sept 29, 2016  Adopted 9-0
COUNCILLOR TOOMEY
ORDERED: That the City Council make an offer of employment as City Manager to Louis A. DePasquale, conditioned upon the successful negotiations of a contract with terms agreeable to both parties.

O-2     Sept 29, 2016  Adopted 9-0
MAYOR SIMMONS
ORDERED: That the City Council appoint Lisa C. Peterson as Acting City Manager commencing on Oct 1, 2016 and continuing until a new City Manager is appointed and that during her appointment as Acting City Manager that she be compensated with a weekly stipend of $1,000.00 in addition to her regular salary.

O-3     Sept 29, 2016  Adopted 9-0
COUNCILLOR MAHER
ORDERED: That the City Council request that the City enter into a contract with Elizabeth Valerio and John Foskett of the Deutsch, Williams Firm to advise the City Council in negotiating a contract with the prospective City Manager.

Decisions, Decisions.... Notable items on the Sept 26, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda

Barring any unexpected turns of events, this will be the last regular City Council meeting with City Manager Richard Rossi.

Decisions, Decisions....Here are the items that seem most interesting:

Appointments by the Manager
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Affordable Housing Trust: Reappointments: Peter Daly (2-year term), Florrie Darwin (1-year term), Gwendolen Noyes (1-year term), Susan Schlesinger (3-year term), James Stockard, Jr. (3-year term), William Tibbs (2-year term). New Appointment: Elaine Thorne (3-year term)

Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Water Board for a term of 5-years, effective Sept 26, 2016: Kathleen Kelly, Jason Marshall

Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the reappointment of the following persons as members of the Planning Board for a term of five years, effective Sept 26, 2016: Steven Cohen, Hugh Russell and Tom Sieniewicz

Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the Steering Committee for the City’s Birth to Grade Three Partnership.

Manager's Agenda #13. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Cambridge Arts Council Advisory Board for a term of 3 years effective Oct 1, 2016: Christine Lamas Weinberg, Katherine Shozawa and Olufolakemi Alalade

I have come to look upon those who choose to serve on City boards and commissions as possessing a sort of nobility. Regardless of their age, these public-spirited people are like the Village Elders. They serve without compensation and, in some cases, most notably the Planning Board, they devote a significant amount of time in this voluntary capacity. Perhaps we should form a congress of all those who serve or who have served at one time - The League of Extraordinary Ladies and Gentlemen.


Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Outdoor Lighting Zoning recommendations.

These are the zoning amendments that would go along with the proposed Outdoor Lighting Ordinance. It has been interesting, and at least somewhat entertaining, watching how this reasonable proposal to regulate intrusive lighting has led to some people wanting to expand it to deal with all lighting, including advertising signage that shine into the bedrooms of no one. This seems like a particularly Cambridge sort of thing - a proposal to regulate something turning into a proposal to regulate everything. I like the idea of establishing some standards for outdoor lighting, particularly in residential areas, as a courtesy to those who would like to get a good night's sleep. What this has to do with decorative lighting, especially garish and aesthetically questionable lighting in places like North Point, escapes me. Perhaps that's the real point of these zoning recommendations - to grant the Planning Board some regulatory authority for this other stuff while the Municipal Lighting Ordinance remains focused on ensuring that spotlights don't shine into people's bedroom windows or darken the night sky.

Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted 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 FY2017:
A. Authorize the use of Free Cash of $10,180,000 to reduce the FY17 tax rate;
B. Authorize $2,000,000 in overlay surplus/reserves to be used for reducing the FY17 tax rate;
C. Authorize $1,700,000 from the City Debt Stabilization Fund to be used as a revenue source to the General Fund Budget;
D. Authorize $517,970 from the School Debt Stabilization Fund to be used as a revenue source to the General Fund Budget;
E. Appropriate $8,000,000 from Free Cash to the City Debt Stabilization Fund;
F. Classify property into five classes;
G. Adopt the minimum residential factor of 55.9103%;
H. Approve the residential exemption factor of 30% for owner-occupied homes;
I. Vote to double the normal value of the statutory exemption;
J. Vote the FY17 exemption of $309.00 allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 17D;
K. Vote the FY17 asset limits of $61,298.00 allowed Under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 17E;
L. Vote the FY17 income and asset limits allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 41D as follows: income and assets limits for elderly persons from income limits of $25,346 for those who are single and $38,019 for those who are married, asset limits of $50,689 for those who are single and $69,698 for those who are married;
M. Vote the income limit for deferral of real estate taxes by elderly persons as determined by the Commissioner of Revenue for the purposes of MGL Chapter 62, Section 6, subsection (k) for a single person ($57,000) and for married ($85,000).

As Bob Healy would always say, the City doesn't set the property tax rates. The Department of Revenue does. He would also add that once these votes are taken these rates are virtually guaranteed to be the same as those given in the communication: "Based on a property tax levy of $372.7 million, the FY17 residential tax rate will be $6.49 per thousand dollars of value, subject to Department of Revenue approval. This is a decrease of $0.50, or -7.2% from FY16. The commercial tax rate will be $16.12, which is a decrease of $1.59, or -9.0% from FY16." Don't jump for joy just yet. Property values have been escalating so rapidly (average of 13.5% in one year for residential properties) that you should expect to pay a bit more, especially in Riverside and Cambridgeport.

Manager's Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Broadband Task Force recommendations and Tilson Report.

Boondoggle alert. One estimate is that it would cost $187 million dollars to build such a network, and there's no guarantee that customers would leave Comcast or another Internet service provider in favor of such a new network, especially if Comcast adjusts its pricing structure a little. That's a lot of public money expended for a discount. Anyway, this report just calls for a Feasibility Study.

Manager's Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to City accomplishments during City Manager 2013-2016.

Read Rich Rossi's memo. It has been a busy few years. Then think for a while about all of the major capital projects Richie has played a lead role in over the last few decades. It will make you feel pretty good about City government in Cambridge - even on the evening when votes are being taken to determine how much property tax you'll be paying this year.

Manager's Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-16, regarding the plan to take Vail Court by eminent domain.

Hallelujah! The City takes this step only when absolutely necessary, and this is long overdue.

Manager's Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the City's Agreement with MassDOT and MBTA regarding funding contribution agreement for Green Line Extension Project.

These are the details associated with the announced agreement that was made several months ago.


Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to refer the attached short-term rental draft ordinance to the City Solicitor, Inspectional Services Department and any other relevant department for comment and review as components of a potential short-term rental ordinance and be referred to a joint hearing of the Housing and Public Safety Committees scheduled on Oct 26, 2016, at 5:30pm for discussion, and to hear back from the City on the proposed policies.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux

The Statement of Purpose says it best: "The purpose of this ordinance shall be to make the operation of short-term rentals legal for Cambridge residents, protect the safety of renters, owners, visitors, and neighbors, and ensure that short-term rentals will not be a detriment to the character and livability of the surrounding residential neighborhood."

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Aug 30, 2016 to continue public discussion regarding the recent completed Inclusionary Housing Study and the Draft Recommendations of the Community Development Department.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 8, 2016 to continue the public discussion regarding the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and Draft Recommendations of the Community Development Department.

The Housing Committee has now voted that the Community Development Department's recommendations for Inclusionary Zoning be forwarded to the full City Council with a favorable recommendation. Primarily this will set the Inclusionary Housing required percentage for new construction over a minimum size at 20% net, though the City Council could still modify this proposed percentage. There will apparently still be some discussion about whether this will be phased in and, if so, over what period. I still remain skeptical whether this requirement will be economically feasible beyond the short term. I also have some misgivings about a future in which only wealthy people will be able to afford market housing with everyone else having to apply to a government agency to access housing that is affordable to them. The biggest mistake made over the last 20+ years was in allowing most of the housing stock of two- and three-family houses to be converted into now-unaffordable condominiums. That had previously been one of the most significant sources of affordable housing for both owners and renters.

Thurs, Sept 29
5:30pm   Special City Council Meeting to vote on extending an offer to a finalist for the position of City Manager. Additionally, the City Council may meet in Executive Session to conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with the prospective City Manager or to conduct contract negotiations with the prospective City Manager.  (Sullivan Chamber)

Later this week the City Council will vote on whether Jay Ash, Paul Fetherston, or Louis DePasquale will be the next City Manager of Cambridge. As I stated at the microphone last Monday - I wish the City Council good wisdom and good luck. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Choice Items on the September 19, 2016 City Council Meeting Agenda

Peoples Republic of CambridgeHere are the items that struck me as most interesting:

Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-73 and Council Order Number 4 (of Sept 12, 2016), regarding lowering speed limits in the City.

In short, the City Council jumped the gun last week. For starters, the City Council must first vote to accept those sections of the new state law that would give them the authority to lower local speed limits. They cannot even do this until Nov 7. The intention of City traffic officials was to lower the speed limit on City-owned roads to 25mph, and this communication makes quite clear that a 20mph speed limit would be a challenge to enforce - to say the least. I challenge anyone driving in Cambridge to maintain a consistent speed of 20mph or less while driving in Cambridge. It's not unreasonable on a relatively narrow street that's parked on both sides, but it borders on the absurd on many other streets. A limit of 25mph is doable, but not 20mph. That lower limit should be reserved for locations where it actually makes sense.

Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a report from Public Works Commissioner Owen O'Riordan, regarding the Polystyrene Ordinance implementation. [Report]

One more example of how the City Council likes to take steps that they think will make them look "progressive" without actually thinking through the possible consequences. Few people would dispute the parts of this Ordinance that deals with expanded polystyrene (EPS), i.e. "Styrofoam". The issue is with other polystyrene products like straws, cups, lids and utensils. The available alternatives - bioplastic compostable products - decompose at much slower rates than are acceptable at any of the facilities that accept organic waste from the City of Cambridge. These materials will be rejected at these facilities. Public policy has to be based on more than just wishful thinking. I was at the committee meeting when these other materials were abruptly added to the proposed ordinance without so much as a conversation.

Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to CPA [Community Preservation Act]. [Report]

As always, it's 80% for affordable housing projects ($6,880,000 plus $1,280,000 in state matching funds), 10% for open space acquisition ($860,000 plus $160,000 in state matching funds), and 10% for historic preservation projects ($860,000 plus $1,280,000 in state matching funds). Additional fund balances will also be expended toward these three areas.

Resolution #2. Thanks to City Manager Richard Rossi for his 45 years of service to the City of Cambridge and best wishes for a truly happy and joyful retirement.   Mayor Simmons

Having known Rich Rossi for 27 years of those 45 years of service, I join in wishing Richie all the best in his many years of blissful retirement. I have known very few people who are as expert at getting things done as Rich Rossi. The people of Cambridge owe him a world class "thank you".

Tues, Sept 20

6:00pm-9:00pm   Meet the Finalists Forum  (Fitzgerald Theater, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School)

The City Council’s Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee, is inviting the public to a Meet the Finalists forum on Tues, Sept 20, 2016, from 6:00pm to 9:00pm in the Fitzgerald Theater located in the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. This forum is an opportunity for the public to meet the three finalist vying to succeed outgoing City Manager Richard C. Rossi. The meeting will be broadcast live on the City’s Municipal Cable Channel, 22-CityView.

Wed, Sept 21

5:30pm   Special City Council Meeting to publicly interview finalists for the position of City Manager, the City Council may meet in Executive Session to conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with the prospective City Manager or to conduct contract negotiations with the prospective City Manager.  (Sullivan Chamber)

Vote on the selection of the next City Manager expected week of Sept 26 (possibly Thurs, Sept 29).

I have watched this process evolve from the beginning and have kept a safe distance throughout. Now that we have three candidates before us it will be interesting to see if the 9 city councillors can reach consensus (and a majority vote) on one of these three excellent candidates (Jay Ash, Louis DePasquale, and Paul Fetherston). It will also be interesting to watch how the activists may try to influence the decision and how they will respond when a decision is made. If the City Council can actually come to some kind of unanimous or near-unanimous agreement on this most important decision, it may signal their ability to thoughtfully and cooperatively decide on other matters of significance. Hope springs eternal. - Robert Winters

Comments?

The Return - Notable agenda items for the Sept 12, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Peoples Republic of CambridgeThis is the "Back from Summer Vacation" meeting of the Cambridge City Council. Here are a few items that are at least somewhat interesting (with minimal comments):

Appointments to Boards & Commissions:

Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointments of the following persons as a members of the Commission on Immigrant Rights & Citizenship, effective Sept 1, 2016: Leslie DiTrani, Sana Ghafoor, Alejandro Heredia-Santoyo, Karin Lin, Marcio Macedo, Roxana Maldonado-Garcia, Swati Sawant, Jennifer Sparks, Merline Sylvain-Williams, Melanie Torres, and Yarlennys Villaman

Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointments of the following persons as a members of the Cambridge Public Art Commission for a term of three years: Judy Ann Goldman and Cecily Miller

Manager's Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a full member of the Cambridge Board of Zoning Appeals for a term of 5 years, effective Aug 29, 2016: Andrea Hickey

Manager's Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Cambridge Commission for Persons with Disabilities for a term of three years, effective Sept 12, 2016: Katie Ashwill Allen, Stelios Gragoudas, Mike Langlois, Luis Loya and Julie Miller


Appointments by the City Council:

Order #11. Reappointment of James Monagle as City Auditor.   Mayor Simmons

Order #12. Reappointment of Donna P. Lopez as City Clerk.   Mayor Simmons

Two of my favorite people in City government. The City Council gets to appoint the City Manager, the City Auditor, and the City Clerk (and by recent tradition, the Deputy City Clerk). The Really Big Question is whether the City Council will meet its proposed date of Sept 26 to appoint the next City Manager. That's just two weeks from now. In the meantime, congratulations to Jim and Donna (assuming their unanimous reappointment).


Buildings, architecture, and historic preservation:

Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the final Landmark Designation Report for the Ivory Sands House at 145 Elm Street and the Cambridge Historical Commission's recommendation.

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Historical Commission to produce a new status report that reviews the Harvard Square Conservation District’s effectiveness since 2005, and that considers whether new zoning regulations may be necessary to fulfill the community’s goals.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

My guess is that this is motivated by a combination of Curious George, the Kiosk, and, of course, some really problematic property owners who don't understand the value of keeping good long-term commercial tenants.


Marijuana-related:

Unfinished Business #10. A proposed amendment to the Ordinance entitled "Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge" as amended by the Planning Board recommendation to expand the requirements of the North Massachusetts Avenue Sub-district (Section 20.110) applicable generally within the portions of the Massachusetts Avenue Overlay District (MAOD) zoned Business A-2 (BA-2). The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Aug 15, 2016. Planning Board hearing was held June 21, 2016. Petition expires Sept 20, 2016.

Order #19. Zoning Changes for Medical Marijuana Dispensaries.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 31, 2016 on a zoning petition by Healthy Pharms, Inc., to amend Section 20.700 Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts by creating an additional Medical Marijuana Overlay District (MMD-4). The new MMD-4 District would be coterminous with the Business B and Office 3 Districts that are within the Harvard Square Overlay District. The petition would also establish as criteria specific to the MMD-4 District that permissible dispensaries must be retail only (with no cultivation), must be set back from the sidewalk by a minimum of 15 feet and be appropriately shielded from public view, must be less than 10,000 square feet in size, are preferably located in areas with access to pedestrian and public transportation, and may be 250 feet, instead of the standard 500 feet, distant from a school, daycare center, preschool or afterschool facility or any facility in which children commonly congregate, or closer only if it is determined by the Planning Board to be sufficiently buffered such that users will not be adversely impacted by the operation of the dispensary.

Let's hope that the City Council finally figures out that you can't address the siting of marijuana dispensaries by a series of one-off zoning petitions.


Bicycle facilities, speed limits, and punishing drivers for the unpardonable sin of owning a motor vehicle:

Order #20. That the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee be and hereby is requested to hold a hearing to discuss how City staff review use of bike infrastructure to determine what works, what does not work and what could be improved and to specifically discuss the possibility of making the Western Avenue cycle track a two-direction bike facility.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Maher

The path along Concord Ave. abutting Fresh Pond would also function better as a two-way path.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to deem all residential zones as “Safety Zones” and lower speed limits to 20 MPH and to lower the speed limit in all office and business zones to 25 MPH.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Toomey

This is incredibly short-sighted. Many residential streets should appropriately have 25mph speed limits, especially streets where there's barely enough room for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to safely pass each other, but 20mph is more appropriate for an intensely pedestrian area such as Harvard Square or Central Square. There are many streets where the current 30mph speed limit is completely appropriate.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and other relevant City departments and report back to the City Council concrete next steps on how to go about lowering our speed limits as well as the timeline for these actions.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mazen

As stated above, this should be done in a more granular way rather than as a single citywide speed limit set so low that few people will respect it.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Traffic and Parking Department and all other appropriate City Departments to report back to the City Council on recommendations to gradually increase the parking permit fee and consider other improvements to the program to help fund the city’s budget towards reducing vehicle miles traveled and promoting alternative forms of transportation.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen

My guess is that Councillors Devereux and Mazen would like only bicycles and driverless vehicles to soon be allowed to operate in Cambridge. This is just a step toward that future. It's interesting that ZipCar founder Robin Chase is simultaneously tweeting comparisons between restaurant costs, housing costs, and the cost of a parking permit. I guess she believes that all three should be exorbitantly expensive.


Winner of the "Most Obnoxious Committee Meeting of 2016":

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on July 27, 2016 to hear from public safety officials on training equipment, response and communication policies pertaining to demonstrations, protests, memorials and similar actions involving large numbers of people in public space, ranging from CRLS student walkouts to Black Lives Matter memorials to the “let out” time of bars to Pokémon Go chasing and similar internet-driven meetups.


Everything Else:

Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the notification of approval of the Kendall Square Foundry Development Partners as the development entity for the Foundry.

Manager's Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to early voting sites.

Manager's Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-67, regarding a report on the Classification of Commercial Land Use and Recommendations study.

Charter Right #2. An application was received from Pill Hardware, requesting permission for a display of merchandise in front of the premises numbered 743 Massachusetts Avenue. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Devereux on Aug 1, 2016.]

Order #1. That the City Council go on record calling on the Massachusetts State Legislature to pass an Act affirming a terminally ill patient’s right to compassionate aid in dying.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of creating a temporary jobs program geared toward Cambridge’s homeless population and/or determine the feasibility of awarding homeless with priority in the City’s 9-week temporary jobs program.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Mazen

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Aug 15, 2016 to continue the public discussion regarding the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and the Affordable Housing Trusts’ recommendations to the City Council.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a copy of a letter from Hanne Rush, Assistant Attorney General, Division of Open Government, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Office of the Attorney General, One Ashburton Place, Boston, MA, regarding the resolution of an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by John Hawkinson on May 4, 2016.

You could define "frivilous" by some of these complaints. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Selected Agenda Items for the Aug 1, 2016 Cambridge City Council (Midsummer) meeting

There are a lot of substantive matters on the agenda for this meeting - primarily on the City Manager's Agenda and in a dozen City Council committee reports covering a range of topics. Here's a sampler of some items that I found especially interesting. The meeting is taking place at the Attles Meeting Room at CRLS (where the School Committee usually meets).

Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-43, regarding publishing a Cambridge Voter's Guide to be distributed to each household in Cambridge a month before the 2017 municipal election.

Order #2. That the regular City Council meeting scheduled for Oct 24, 2016 be a Roundtable/Working meeting to discuss election issues with the Election Commission.   Mayor Simmons

My guess is that the best we can hope for on the City side will be an improved and expanded guide to PR voting, relevant dates, and a list of candidate names with addresses and possibly photos. Having assembled the Cambridge Candidate Pages for over a decade, I will attest to the fact that voters do want information about candidates, especially in the days immediately preceding the election, but asking the Election Commission (and inevitably the Law Department) to manage this will open a huge can of worms. It would be preferable to get local media outlets to work out a cooperative arrangement to make unbiased information available about municipal candidates. Better coordination of candidate forums would also be helpful, but that also is out of the hands of City officials.

Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a $45,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection 604b Water Quality Management Planning Program, to be used to fund conceptual green street design plans for three public rights of ways, as well as guidance on green street implementation in space-constrained residential settings; with a focus on smaller scale reconstruction projects that are not part of larger utility reconstruction projects.

For those who haven't yet seen some of the innovative stormwater management projects in West Cambridge and along Western Avenue, you should check them out. It would be great if more of these projects could be done on a smaller scale. If done right, street trees might actually have a chance to flourish.

Manager's Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the "Friends of MAPOCO" Zoning Petition.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 22, 2016 to discuss a petition by Peter B. Kroon, et al, also known as Friends of MAPOCO, to expand the requirements of the North Massachusetts Avenue Sub-district (Section 20.110) applicable generally within the portions of the Massachusetts Avenue Overlay District (MAOD) zoned Business A-2 (BA-2).

This zoning petition will likely now sail through to a 2nd Reading and eventual adoption as amended.

Manager's Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to authorizing the Purchasing Agent to award a five (5) year, two (2) month contract to the successful proposer on the Metropolitan Area Planning Council Bike Share System RFP.

The idea is for Cambridge, Somerville, Boston, and Brookline to jointly put out a longer-term request for proposals in order to entice more vendors, hopefully allow for more consistency in service, and possibly get a better price.

Manager's Agenda #29. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to pursuing the planning and development of a multi-use, bicycle and pedestrian pathway along the Grand Junction corridor that links East Cambridge, Kendall Square, MIT, and Cambridgeport, with potential connections into Boston and Somerville.

Manager's Agenda #30. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Items Number 16-46 and 16-59, regarding the Grand Junction Greenway, including the status of construction, developer contributions, and the zoning overlay.

It's nice to see the cooperation of the Mass. Dept. of Transportation in these efforts.

Manager's Agenda #32. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-22, regarding the opposition to investment funds from the Retirement System.

Some of you may remember the extensive public testimony and countless communications on the topic of the Cambridge Retirement System divesting any funds from any entity that is in any way supporting the production or upgrading of nuclear weapons systems. As it turns out, this was a typical Cambridge tempest in a teapot. As this report states: "upon reviewing the summary, that the Fund's investments in the production and/or upgrading of nuclear weapons systems is de minimis." I hope everyone at least had fun making their speeches and writing all those letters that all turned out to be about nothing.

Manager's Agenda #33. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-54, regarding finding a long term solution to adding a dog park in East Cambridge by the end of 2016 and fencing in a temporary location for off leash use by the end of Summer, 2016.

Take note, politicos: There are a lot of Cambridge voters who really love their dogs and want places for them to run and play. Actually, there's a lot more interest in dogs than in nuclear weapons divestment.

Manager's Agenda #36. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the submission of the attached Home Rule Petition that would authorize the City of Cambridge to include in the planned reconstruction (the “Project”) of the King Open / Cambridge Street Upper School and Community Complex (“KOCSUS”) the area that is presently occupied by the public swimming pool known as the Gold Star Pool (the “Gold Star Pool Site”) and to construct subsurface geothermal wells in a portion of Donnelly Field that lies directly along and adjacent to the current southerly boundary of the KOCSUS site (the “School Site”).

This is really a formality, but I always find it interesting which things require state authorization and which things do not.

Manager's Agenda #37. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the request that the City Council move to Executive Session.

Manager's Agenda #38. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $42,655 within statutory accounts of the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expenditure account to complete the purchase of two parcels from the B&M Corporation for the purpose of creating a future multi-use path and greenway.

These items are about making the necessary purchases to complete the Cambridge-owned portion of the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway along the now-abandoned railroad right-of-way. This will be a nice off-road addition when it's finally complete a few years from now.

Applications & Petitions #3. An application was received from Pill Hardware, requesting permission for a display of merchandise in front of the premises numbered 748 Massachusetts Avenue.

Central SquareWhenever I hear people talk about preserving the "funkiness" of Central Square, I want to remind people that before Central Square was "funky" it was an incredibly vital shopping district. It's really worth looking back at some of the available "Perceptual Form of the City" photos from over 50 years ago. This application to allow the display of mechandise on the sidewalk in front of Pill Hardware reminded me of one of those old photos. It's also a scene you can see today in Inman Square. The image shown is actually the frontage where the Mass & Main project is planned. This is the kind of thing some of us would love to see in some form as Central Square rediscovers its past and defines its future. It doesn't have to be just overpriced bars and restaurants.

Applications & Petitions #4. A zoning petition has been received from William Noyes Webster Foundation, Inc. to amend the provisions of the Medical Marijuana District Section 20.700 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Map.

Order #11. City Council support to Commonwealth Alternative Care to operate a Registered Marijuana Dispensary at 61 Mooney Street pursuant to local zoning and permitting.   Councillor Cheung

It should pretty clear by now that the way the City Council is handling the siting of medical marijuana dispensaries in totally wrong. Will there be a new zoning petition every time one of these facilities is proposed?

Resolution #6. Congratulations to Patrick and Norma Jean Barrett on the birth of their daughter Gemma Evelyn Barrett.   Councillor Toomey

Resolution #8. Congratulations to Jada Simmons and Toju Ononeme on their nuptials.   Councillor Toomey

Resolution #11. Resolution on the retirement of James Cullinane from the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department.   Mayor Simmons

This is a triple celebration - a birth, a marriage, and a retirement. Cambridge feels like such a little village sometimes.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Commissioner of Public Works with the intention of reinstating trash and recycling pick up for small businesses.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Maher

This proposal has been made at various times over the last 25 years. A case can be made for this based on the fact that the commercial property tax rate is considerably higher than the residential tax rate and perhaps there should be some benefits to go along with the payment of those taxes. The additional cost and time could be significant, but perhaps there could at least be some accomodation for mixed residential/commercial buildings where the lines are often already intentionally blurred. [This happens, for example, right next door to me, and this has been the case for decades.]

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on how traffic laws pertaining to crosswalks are currently enforced throughout the City, whether there are any regions where the City has found motorists tend to ignore crosswalk laws, and whether there are additional methods of reporting violators, raising awareness of applicable laws, and enacting stricter laws to ultimately increase pedestrian safety.   Mayor Simmons

Traffic laws pertaining to crosswalks are enforced? That's news to me. If we're taking requests, how about let's also start enforcing the requirement that motor vehicles must be parked less than a foot from the curb. That would make cycling safer. I never see that enforced.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Purchasing Department, the Community Development Department and any other appropriate departments to provide the City Council with an update on the status of the Classification of Commercial Land Use and Recommendations Study.   Councillor Devereux

This is included here only because I'm curious what's behind it. [Read the Request for Proposals] The RFP says: "In short, the expected result of this study is a commercial land use classification system that makes sense in modern Cambridge, that would be understandable to all community members, and that would be able to effectively regulate commercial use types as they evolve. Based on the study recommendations, the City would determine how the zoning could be amended to fit the recommended system, through either targeted changes to the current ordinance or a more substantial restructuring of the Table of Use Regulations." Uh, OK.


Inclusionary Housing Committee Reports:
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on May 31, 2016 to continue discussion regarding the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study with community feedback from the May 18, 2016 hearing being shared and discussed with consultant David Paul Rosen & Associates.

Committee Report #11. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on July 11, 2016 to continue the discussion regarding the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and the Affordable Housing Trust’s recommendations to the City Council.

Committee Report #12. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on May 18, 2016 to discuss the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and will focus on receiving feedback from the community.

Some revisions to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance seem inevitable later this year, but the economic foundations in the study still seem (to me) to be a bit shaky, especially the idea of increasing the net affordable housing percentage from 11.6% to 20% without any allowance for additional density. My first concern is that if the requirement is too high then it may be more economically advantageous to build something other than housing, e.g. labs. My other concern is that since zoning changes require a two-thirds vote for ordination there might never be the political will to actually lower the requirement even if the economics warrant a decrease. It would be better if there was some way to index the requirement based on current economics.


Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 28, 2016 to discuss the parameters for a potential zoning proposal that includes the Volpe Transportation System Center.

The Volpe zoning dilemma is unique in that it is contrained not only by the funding mechanism for a new Volpe building and the need to ensure that a developer might actually be able to deliver a development without financial loss, but also by a range of competing interests from residents for housing and open space. This may not even be a solvable problem even though the potential benefits could be enormous.

Committee Report #7. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee and Mayor E. Denise Simmons and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee, for a joint public hearing held on July 19, 2016 to discuss the presence and impact of short-term rental units (Airbnb, FlipKey, VRBO, etc.) in Cambridge, and to hear suggestions from community members and operators on how best to address the challenges of this emerging market.

This was an incredibly informative hearing. My guess is that short-term rentals in owner-occupied buildings may get the blessing of the City Council but perhaps not so for residential properties that are effectively being operated as hotels by non-resident owner/investors. Another hearing on this topic is scheduled for Wednesday, August 3rd.

Committee Report #8. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on June 29, 2016 to receive an update regarding the City Manager's Search in the Focus Groups that took place and the development of the draft profile.

I'm taking bets now on whether the City Council will successfully meet its proposed September 26 date for selecting the next City Manager. Even if they do make a decision by then, it's likely that there will still be a period of time before the new City Manager can take the reins (unless it's an internal candidate).

Committee Report #9. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on June 23, 2016 to discuss the proposed changes to the current liquor license regulations and the City Council policy goals on liquor licenses, economic development, the impact on neighborhoods and local businesses.

This was also an interesting hearing at which the rationale for these proposed changes was clarified.

Committee Report #10. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee and Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on July 19, 2016, to discuss safety issues as it relates to cyclist and pedestrians in Inman Square, and to hear suggestions from community members and on how best to address the safety challenges of this intersection.

This was a very well-attended meeting, especially by cyclists who were invited through various social media channels. The presentation by City officials was informative. The only down side was the manner in which attention to the safety of Inman Square was deflected by some, especially during public comment, toward other infrastructure proposals that have little to no bearing on the safety of this or any other Cambridge intersection. It was also interesting that numerous residents of Antrim Street were in attendence with concerns over the possiblity that one of the proposed realignment schemes might have the unintended consequence of redirecting more traffic onto Antrim Street.

Barring any emergencies, the next City Council meeting after this will be on September 12.

Comments?

Taking a Break - Preview of June 27, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda

This will be the last regular meeting of the City Council before the summer break. They won't reconvene until the Special Midsummer Meeting on August 1. Here are a few items that I found at least somewhat interesting.

859 Mass. Ave.
859 Massachusetts Avenue

Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $750,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account to pay for design services for the building located at 859 Massachusetts Avenue and a feasibility study for municipal facilities. [The interesting part is the statement that "The renovation project at 859 Massachusetts Avenue is estimated to cost approximately $5 million."]

I am curious about the costs. I can perhaps understand the $750,000 price tag if this includes a feasibility study for a range of municipal facilities (as opposed to just for this one building). What I cannot grasp is the statement: "The renovation project at 859 Massachusetts Avenue is estimated to cost approximately $5 million." Sure, as a municipal facility it will have to be made fully handicap accessible, and a lot of reconfiguration will be necessary for its new use. That said, it seems as though you could knock it down and build an entirely new building for well under $5 million. This estimate works out to nearly $1000 per sq. ft. I do hope at least one city councillor asks for some explanation of this estimated cost.


UPDATE: City Manager Richard Rossi explained at the meeting that the facilities study as well as the $5 million renovation cost will cover three buildings - the newly acquired 859 Mass. Ave. building as well as 831 Mass. Ave. (the Lombardi Building) and 3 Bigelow St. (currently used for transitional housing). One possible outcome is that 859 Mass. Ave. would be used for housing and 3 Bigelow St. would be converted municipal uses and possibly joined to an expanded 831 Mass. Ave. This actually makes a lot of sense and would be well worth the cost of renovation.


Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item 16-29, regarding the implementation of the C2 non-zoning recommendations. [Report]

This update does include some timeframes for some of the more achievable and generally acceptable goals, but the involvement of the Central Square Advisory Committee (CSAC) in helping to shape this has been hampered by staff changes at CDD. Hopefully this will be resolved soon, and perhaps the CSAC may be useful in facilitating additional public dialogue. Lest the perfect become the enemy of the good, some of the more controversial and difficult-to-achieve stuff can probably wait. Meanwhile, a new zoning petition to implement some of the more universally acceptable C2 zoning recommendations is expected later this year.

Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a communication from the Affordable Housing Trust relative to the Inclusionary Housing Study. [Report]

This is a great statement of support from the Affordable Housing Trust, but it's still not so easy to see how the economics of the proposed changes would work without at least some adjustment of the density bonus to cover the additional costs associated with increasing the inclusionary housing requirement to a full 20% of a new residential building.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Healthy Pharms Inc., to amend the provisions of the Medical Marijuana Overlay district section 20.700 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Map.

You had to know this and other similar petitions were coming when the most recent borderline spot zoning change was made for the vicinity of Ellery St. and Mass. Ave. (Sage Cannabis). At some point the City Council will have to take a more comprehensive look at the Medical Marijuana Overlay district section of the Zoning Code instead of taking these one petition at a time. It may make more sense to just eliminate that section entirely and delegate the regulation of these facilities to the License Commission or other appropriate agency.

Resolutions #1-16. Congratulations to students elected for 2016-2017 to the CRLS student government and as representatives to the School Committee.

The CRLS student government voted earlier this year to use Ranked Choice Voting (and Proportional Representation) in their elections. I had the honor of tabulating the votes for them using the same software that the City of Cambridge uses in its municipal elections. Congratulations to all the winners!

Order #1. Declare that the five black marble slabs that comprise the perimeter of the Prince Hall Monument, which were mined in Africa and now are located upon the historic Cambridge Common, represent the more than 5,000 Black men who helped fight for this country’s independence during the Revolutionary War.   Mayor Simmons

This is one of the reasons I really love Mayor Simmons. She knows and cares about history - especially local history. It was Mayor Simmons who several years ago was responsible for bringing the Prince Hall Monument to the Cambridge Common.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding the feasibility of the City of Cambridge filing its own home rule petition regarding reduced speed limits in thickly settled areas in conjunction with the City of Boston’s current efforts.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Boston and Cambridge filing Home Rule petitions to be able to adjust some speed limits is not the ideal way to do this. What is really needed is for the Massachusetts Legislature to amend the Massachusetts General Laws so that there are more distinctions than just "thickly settled areas" in determining local speed limits. For example, a one-way street that is parked on both sides with a relatively narrow travel lane (like many Cambridge streets) should be declared a "neighborhood street" (or something like that), and it should have a speed limit of no more than 20-25 mph. There are other streets that by their very geometry should also be put in this category without having to carry out a detailed traffic study to justify the reduced speed. This should be established statewide. The 30 mph standard is still perfectly fine for many streets. All of Cambridge is "thickly settled", but not all roads in Cambridge can safely accommodate the same speeds.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of implementing a truck ban on Prospect Street during certain times of the day, or to otherwise mitigate the impact of the trucks utilizing this street.   Mayor Simmons

Heavy truck traffic on Prospect Street (except for local deliveries) has been banned for a long time.

Order #10. That the proposed addition to Title 6, entitled “Animals,” regarding the restriction on the sale of animals in pet shops be referred to the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

Many people choose to seek pets from local shelters, but it's really wrongheaded to unfairly restrict the ways a person can obtain a pet. The proposed ordinance would require that "A pet shop may offer for sale only those birds, mammals, or reptiles that the pet shop has obtained from or displays in cooperation with... an animal care facility... or... an animal rescue organization." A simpler ordinance would simply require that any such sales be accompanied by appropriate documentation of the source of the animal up for adoption/sale.

Not on the Agenda, but important:
This past Thursday (June 23), a Cambridge cyclist (Amanda Phillips) was killed on Cambridge Street near Inman Square. The indications are that the cyclist was riding close enough to parked cars that when a driver opened a car door into the path of the cyclist this caused her to fall to the street where she was then fatally struck by a motor vehicle. The incident was eerily similar to a incident in July 2001 when a woman (Dana Laird) was killed in Central Square. (My photos of that day were actually subpoenaed in the subsequent civil case.) Though there are some serious issues associated with traffic safety in Inman Square (especially for cyclists and pedestrians), this fatality is not directly related to those issues. This could just as well have happened elsewhere. Is there anything that can be done to prevent such an incident in the future?

There is no one right answer to this question. For starters, cyclists should never ride close to parked cars. Motor vehicle operators should always check and double-check before opening doors into a travel lane. Some will argue that the only solution is to move all cyclists off the roads so that they become the sole domain of motor vehicles. I disagree. There is a place for separate facilities, such as twisting roads and places where there is a great speed differential between bikes and motor vehicles (like along Memorial Drive or any DCR parkway), but in a local setting the best streets are still shared streets where all vehicles are clearly visible to each other. We have to do a much better job of educating cyclists and motor vehicle operators about how to safely operate their vehicles.


UPDATE: There was plenty of public comment at this meeting in response to the death of cyclist Amanda Phillips in the vicinity of Inman Square - much of it arguing for the need of "separated bike lanes" or "cycle tracks" that would remove cyclists from the regular travel lanes on Cambridge Street. However, the well-circulated description of what happened may not actually coincide with the facts. It has now been reported that this may not have been a simple case of a cyclist riding along a road when a door was opened into her path. It may actually be the case that Ms. Phillips was transitioning from the sidewalk into the street when she came around the parked car and either struck the door or swerved to avoid it. If this turns out to be the case, then the driver may well have checked for cyclists and saw none prior to opening the car door. We'll have to wait to see the report of the investigation before knowing exactly what happened next. This is important because the primary objection to cycle tracks is that they may actually be more dangerous at intersections and driveways by obscuring cyclists from the field of view of motorists - and there are plenty of intersections and driveways along that stretch of Cambridge Street.


There was also another murder (Anthony Clay, 49) in The Port on Friday night/Saturday morning on Harvard Street across from Greene-Rose Park. This neighborhood, and especially the area on or near Windsor Street has been the site of several murders over the last few years. We're all hoping for justice to be served in this latest murder, but at what point do we say "Enough is Enough"? We can "Envision Cambridge" from now until eternity, but it doesn't really mean much when the most basic human right is denied. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Hot Town, Summer in the City - Coming up at the June 20, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

City HallHere are a few of the more interesting agenda items this week:

Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative the transfer of $860,000 within statutory accounts of the Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditure account for the acquisition of two parcels of the Watertown Branch railroad from B&M Corporation for the purpose of creating a future multi-use path and greenway.

The communication doesn't specify exactly which railroad parcels are being purchased, but presumably this includes at least the section adjacent to Fresh Pond. The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) will soon be constructing the connection to the existing multi-use path in Watertown.

Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to recommendations from the Outdoor Lighting Task Force that address the potential detrimental impact of outdoor lighting and propose solutions that diminish existing problems and address problems that may be created by new development. [Report][Proposed Ordinance (HTML)]

The Task Force was appointed Dec 2, 2013 and was originally expected to complete its report and draft Ordinance by Spring 2014. It clearly took a lot longer than that with many different iterations of the proposed Ordinance. It's worth noting that the Ordinance will apply not only to new construction but to all properties in Cambridge with several years to bring all properties into compliance with the Ordinance.

Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the approval and appropriation of an additional One Million, Two Hundred Thirty-Six Thousand, One Hundred Twenty-Five ($1,236,125) Dollars from Free Cash to the General Fund Law Department Travel & Training (Judgment & Damages) account, in order to settle the damages to be paid to the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, Inc. (the “Chamber”) with regard to the City’s eminent domain taking of the Chamber’s property on June 13, 2016.

This will complete the transaction. No word yet on exactly what use this building will serve.

Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-48, regarding a report on posting Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) information on the Election Commission website. [Election Commission page on Campaign and Political Finance][OCPF Reports]

Though this makes navigation from the Election Commission website a bit clearer, it's unfortunately still the case that campaign finance reporting for State Representative and State Senate candidates remains very sparse. The need only file periodic reports 8 days before each primary election or general election and at the end of each calendar year. In contrast, municipal candidates in cities the size of Cambridge must maintain depository accounts with reports twice per month. One has to wonder why the reporting requirements are far less frequent for state candidates.

Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a report on the continued progress on the application for funding under the Commonwealth’s Infrastructure Investment Incentive Program (I-Cubed) for the North Point area of the City. [Report]

As the report states: "The Infrastructure Investment Incentive Program (known as “I-Cubed”) is a Commonwealth program and proven economic development tool that uses new state tax revenues to build public infrastructure in areas that will generate economic and community benefits." In addition: "The I-Cubed infrastructure improvements will reconnect North Point to East Cambridge and jump-start the development of the North Point neighborhood."

Resolution #2. Retirement of Terry Dumas from the Cambridge Housing Authority.   Mayor Simmons

Terry Dumas served as Director of the Planning and Development Department for over 25 years, and as a staff member of the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) for a total of 33 years.

Order #1. That the City of Cambridge stand in solidarity with the people of Orlando, the LGBTQ community, the LatinX community, the Muslim-American community, and all people in this country who reject the kind of violence that has visited far too many communities in recent years.   Councillor Cheung, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

This is a strong statement of solidarity from the City Council, though the last "Whereas" could perhaps have stayed more on point.

Order #3. That a joint hearing of the Public Safety and Housing Committees be formed for the purpose of gathering testimony from stakeholders in the City regarding the impact of short-term rentals on our communities with a view in mind to draft an ordinance that meets the goals outlined above, and to refer that proposed ordinance to the Ordinance Committee at the appropriate time.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Craig Kelley, regarding Short-Term Rentals in Cambridge: An Overview of Current Usage and Patterns as well as Policy Recommendations. [Kelley Communication]

The "sharing economy" is evolving and the question of whether to regulate or exactly how to regulate such enterprises as Uber and Airbnb is now coming into focus. Just as some taxi regulations should naturally also apply to Uber, the question of whether frequent Airbnb rentals should be treated the same way as hotels of lodging houses has to be eventually addressed. This is especially true in the case where housing originally built for regular tenancy is now being used effectively like a motel.

Order #8. That the City Council hold a joint meeting of Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration, and the Government Operations committee to discuss different models for campaign finance reform and publicly-funded municipal elections in Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux

Hot on the heels of a recent Order calling for cash prizes for voting (based on some rather shoddy "research"), this week's edition reintroduces an Order from a year or so ago calling for taxpayer-financed local election campaigns. There really isn't any legal way to restrict what a candidate chooses to spend on his or her campaign, so any such program would only apply to those who agree to specified limitations/restrictions. As much as I abhor the stratospheric spending on recent City Council campaigns, my strong sense is that this proposal would open a rather large can of worms. I also don't think it should be imposed without the prior approval of voters.

Order #10. The City Manager is requested to coordinate with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of introducing a municipal ID program in the city and respond to any and all community feedback regarding its possible implementation.   Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

I seriously doubt that the cost of obtaining a state ID is prohibitive, and a state ID would be applicable outside of our small city. A program providing assistance in getting a state ID would make a lot more sense.

Order #12. The City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to organize regular suppers on the second Saturday of each month, starting on the 13th of August, with free food for the Cambridge community in open public spaces throughout the various Cambridge neighborhoods.   Councillor Mazen

Who pays for all the free food?

Order #13. That the City Council go on record in support of S.2327, an act promoting housing and sustainable development.   Councillor Toomey

It will be interesting to see how much of this bill survives after all of the suburban legislators hack out all the really important provisions that might require their respective communities to share in the burden of providing affordable housing.

Comments?

Kicking Off the Post-Columbian Era - June 13, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Now that Christopher Columbus is persona non grata in the City of Cambridge, the search for the New World continues...

Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the reappointment of Larry Ward and appointment of Charles Marquardt as Election Commissioners.

Congratulations to Larry Ward on his reappointment to another term (through 2020) and to Charlie Marquardt on his appointment (through 2017) to complete the term of the late Peter Sheinfeld.

Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Rainwater Separation from Flat Roofs Zoning Petition. [Report]

Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Riverside Neighborhood Protective Zoning Petition. [Report]

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 25, 2016 to amend the Zoning Map in the Riverside neighborhood from the existing Residence C-1 to Residence C within the area bounded by Franklin and River Streets and Putnam Avenue.

That's two negative Planning Board recommendations. In addition, the Flat Roofs Zoning Petition was Placed on File due to the Ordinance Committee hearing not being held pursuant to M.G.L. Chapter 40A. The Flat Roofs Zoning Petition does have merit but needs refinement.

Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommendation that the City Council approve an Order to take by eminent domain a parcel of land comprising approximately 5,000 square feet of land located at 859 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge which is presently owned by the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and that the City Council approve an Order appropriating One Million Three Hundred Sixty-Three Thousand Eight Hundred Seventy-Five ($1,363,875) Dollars to the General Fund Law Department Travel & Training (Judgment & Damages) Account from Free Cash.

We don't see too many eminent domain takings, though this is a "friendly taking". It hasn't yet been determined whether this will end up as housing or for expansion of City offices. However, having watched the trend over the last 15+ years where city councillors got expanded office space, magnificent salary increases, and their own designated parking spots (previously were available to others), my guess is that unless this building is used for affordable housing somebody will get bumped up the street to provide even more full-time space in City Hall for our part-time city councillors.

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager review City policies on the availability and use of City office and meeting space for non-City appointed functions by non-City officials. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Mazen on June 6, 2016] [Order #4 of June 6, 2016]

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager review and report back to the City Council on the City’s policies and best practices in the use and supervision of City Council interns. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Mazen on June 6, 2016] [Order #5 of June 6, 2016]

These two Orders were the subject of quite the kerfuffle at last week's City Council meeting. The Orders themselves were worded so neutrally that you had to wonder what motivated Councillor Kelley to write them, but the heated exchange revealed that the attendees of one unofficial gathering somehow connected to one councillor was in conflict with an official meeting scheduled to take place in the same location. It seems pretty clear that if councillors intend to use City Hall as a staging ground for "civic engagement" only peripherally related to the business of the City Council, there will need to be some greater clarity about the rules and protocols. This isn't Dewey Square and people can't just Occupy wherever they please whenever they please.

Order #1. That the Mayor convene a Task Force charged with establishing recommendations for the City Council on what the ideal minimum wage in Cambridge should be, and how to best implement this increase without creating unintended consequences in Cambridge or elsewhere.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Toomey

I suppose one could argue that the Community Advisory Board on the Living Wage has already been working on this, but what's wrong with a little redundancy? In any case, it has already been established that the City Council does not have the authority to impose a citywide minimum wage. That could change if the state legislature chose to grant such authority, but there are plenty of good reasons why it would be better to maintain a uniform statewide minimum wage in addition to the federal minimum wage.

Order #2. That the City Council reaffirm the month of October as Italian Heritage Month in the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Maher

Columbus $5 stampIt was interesting to read the actual language of the City Council Order of last week declaring the 2nd Monday of October to be Indigenous Peoples' Day. Nowhere in that Order does it say anything about it no longer being recognized as Columbus Day, so it really now has two designations instead of one having replaced the other. This week's Order simply reinforces the idea that Columbus Day hasn't really been so much about Columbus but rather a commemoration of our brethren with Italian heritage.

Order #4. The City Manager is requested to coordinate with the Election Commission in order to operate at least 5 early polling locations, for the entire day, for the entirety of the 11-day early voting period, coordinate with the appropriate departments to develop and launch an awareness campaign that will educate Cambridge voters, and operate the polling locations as non-precinct based, “Vote Centers,” thereby allowing anyone desiring to vote early the ability to do so at the center most convenient location.   Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux

Why not also prescribe the color of the curtains on the voting booths as long as you're micromanaging down to this level? It's one thing for the City Council to express a policy regarding expanded early voting opportunities, but how this should be carried out is still a management issue with real cost consequences. It's not at all clear how many early voting days, hours, or locations are realistically needed, and the cost per day quoted by Common Cause seems completely unrealistic.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate city departments to determine the feasibility of requiring gas pump labels with information about the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels at all gas stations in the City.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

Why stop there? I'm sure the authors of this Order may also wish to mandate appropriate labeling of beef products based on the same criteria. I'm just wondering what the gas pumps would say. Perhaps something like: "You are an evil bastard for using fossil fuels in your earth-killing machine. Shame on you!" I'm sure they'll also insist on placing signs in front of homes that use natural gas for heating and cooking declaring them to be unmutual enemies of the people.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to coordinate with the appropriate departments to explore voter reward options for municipal elections that are most appealing for citizens and businesses alike.   Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

Suffice to say that higher voter turnout is not a desirable end in itself if the only reason for the additional (likely uninformed) voters is a cash reward or other prize. Perhaps our elected officials could instead start by doing a better job of explaining why casting an informed ballot matters before doling out the cash.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on June 2, 2016 to discuss and review a proposed list of community focus groups that the search firm will be conducting with various groups during the month of June and any other business that may properly come before the committee.

The process continues and your input is being actively sought. You can access schedules, documents, and more at www.cambridgema.gov/CityCouncil/citymanagersearch.

Comments?

Goodbye, Columbus? - On the Cambridge City Council Agenda - June 6, 2016

Christopher ColumbusThis week's meeting is a sure bet to bring out hordes of people speaking in favor of (a) housing preferences for "certified artists", (b) voting rights for non-citizens in local elections, and (c) striking the phrase "Columbus Day" from the list of acceptable speech within the City of Cambridge. There are also a few agenda items that actually matter, but they will likely have to wait until after what is expected to be a prolonged period of Public Comment featuring a long list of invitees from one particular city councillor.

Here are the items that drew my attention this week:

Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $42,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Finance (Personnel) Other Ordinary Maintenance account to be used to procure consultant services to assist in the hiring of a new City Manager.

The amount isn't so important nor is the particular consultant (GovHR - based in Chicago) that has been chosen to assist in the search for the next City Manager. What is noteworthy is that according to materials made available at the June 2 meeting of the Government Operations, Rules, and Claims Committee is that a series of 19 Focus Group meetings involving 96 "key constituency groups" is scheduled to take place between Thurs, June 9 and Thurs, June 16 - plus additional Focus Group meetings to bring the total to 28 such meetings. There will also be two drop-in sessions for City employees, one-on-one interviews with each City Council member, and approximately 16 one-on-one meetings with key City staff. The ultimate goal is to identify candidates leading up to a City Council vote to select the next City Manager (hopefully) by the end of September.

You can access schedules, documents, and more at www.cambridgema.gov/CityCouncil/citymanagersearch.

Manager's Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-9, regarding the organization of a Volpe Task Force.

The Community Development Department (CDD) proposes that a small working group (composed of a mix of residents from the surrounding neighborhoods – East Cambridge, the Port/Area 4, and Wellington-Harrington - along with representatives of the Kendall Square business community) be appointed. In Phase 1, the working group would work with staff and a consultant to support the Ordinance Committee’s development of a Volpe framework and would involve assembling the broad program parameters for the project including key ideas such as urban form, public realm, and goals for the character of the area. In Phase 2, the working group's work would inform the rezoning of the Volpe parcel after the General Services Administration (GSA) has selected a developer for the Volpe site.

Manager's Agenda #26. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter as Director of Libraries, effective Aug 23, 2016.

Ms. Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter will have some pretty big shoes to fill, and we all wish her well when she takes the reins of the Library later this summer.

Charter Right #1. That the Housing Committee hold a meeting to discuss the Inclusionary Zoning preferential point system to determine if there are certain occupations that should receive preferential points to prioritize their position on the Inclusionary Zoning list. [Order #7 of May 23, 2016, Amended by Substitution. Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons.]

This is the first of the three agenda items that will likely draw a crowd of invited guests to Public Comment. As I stated when this Order was proposed, this is a walk down a very slippery slope when you start giving housing priorities to people who have chosen specific lifestyles, professions, or hobbies. The original Order specifically called out "certified artists", but this was amended to be non-specific.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with appropriate City personnel to determine the cost and feasibility of adding additional parking levels to the Green Street Garage.   Mayor Simmons

That whole block on which the Manning Apartments, the Central Square Branch Library, and the Green Street Parking Garage could use a more comprehensive look. The Manning Apartments are now undergoing renovations. If other Central Square parking lots eventually give way to housing, there will be at least some need for replacement parking and this is the most logical site. There are, of course, some who would simply wish away all motor vehicles, but even with a net drop in motor vehicles there will still be the need for some additional capacity on or near this site should new housing be built or if some additional density weaves its way into Central Square.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Executive Director of the Cambridge Election Commission to publish at an appropriate and clearly identified central location on the City’s website by Aug 1, 2016 all Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Office of Campaign and Political Finance information.   Councillor Toomey

All of this information will eventually be available on the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) website. The problem is that it's only available in a timely way for candidates with depository accounts - and this does not include any of the State Representative or State Senate candidates. Those candidates only have to report immediately before each primary and general election and at the end of each year. Since all of the data is reported through the State's OCPF site, there's really little that the City can do other than to provide a link to this site that will only have updated information relatively late in the game.

Order #4. That the City Manager review City policies on the availability and use of City office and meeting space for non-City appointed functions by non-City officials.   Councillor Kelley

Order #5. That the City Manager review and report back to the City Council on the City’s policies and best practices in the use and supervision of City Council interns.   Councillor Kelley

I'm not quite sure what exactly is being sought here, but I will once again express my misgivings with the whole idea of personal aides for city councillors. There are some people currently serving in this role who would be great as additional staff working for City Council committees, but not as personal assistants. Interns are, I believe, something entirely different. These have generally been unpaid volunteers who work with individual councillors of specific initiatives. Even if they produce great things, they are not City employees and they should not have any special access to City resources, including offices, meeting rooms, or anything else over and above what any ordinary resident may access. More specifically, it needs to be emphasized that City Hall is not a place to build a political organization or movement dressed up as a personal initiative of any individual city councillor.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to assess the cost and feasibility of placing sunscreen dispensers containing broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher at Cambridge parks and playgrounds.   Vice Mayor McGovern

Two words - nanny government. These "dispensers" already exist - they're called "stores". You can buy sunscreen there.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Civic Unity Committee, for a joint public hearing held on May 12, 2016 to discuss all issues related to non-citizen representation and outreach in Cambridge.

This is the second of the three agenda items that will likely draw a crowd of invited guests to Public Comment. In addition to the completely relevant and useful discussions about resources for people who have moved to Cambridge from elsewhere, this report also contains a proposed Order furthering the idea of non-citizen voting in Cambridge municipal elections. Cambridge has a long history of being welcoming to immigrants and for providing resources for them. The idea of voting is something completely different and any standards regarding age or citizenship status should be uniform across all cities and towns. If the state legislature wants to take up this issue, so be it, but this is not something Cambridge should be doing unilaterally. Furthermore, there are many people, including me, who feel that Voting and Citizenship are intertwined and that the appropriate way to acquire the right to vote is to become a citizen.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on May 20, 2016 to review and consider an extension to the current City Manager’s contract, to review and approve a response to the May 4, 2016 Open Meeting Law complaint of John Hawkinson and to continue development and approval of the new City Manager search process.

To the part of this report relating to this frivolous Open Meeting Law complaint, I will only say that just because one has a legal right to do something that consumes time and resources for no useful purpose, this hardly justifies doing so - unless you're primary goal is to waste everybody's time and to alienate those with whom you might otherwise have a cooperative relationship.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on May 24, 2016 to discuss the Green Line Extension Project (GLX).

Just read the report. The Cambridge and Somerville contribution toward making this a reality should be moved along without hesitation, i.e. on the fast track.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations Committee and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of Civic Unity Committee, for a joint public hearing held on May 26, 2016 to discuss Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

This is the third of the three agenda items that will likely draw a crowd of invited guests to Public Comment. Suffice to say that regardless how the City Council votes on this, almost everyone, including me, will continue to refer to Columbus Day as Columbus Day - even if we acknowledge some of the more despicable aspects of world history. Most of us don't know much about Christopher Columbus nor do we particularly care about what he did or represented over five centuries ago. Columbus Day has for many of us represented the start of the migration of European people to this continent. That is not something I find in the least way objectionable. It is how my ancestors came to be here generations ago, so it is, in a sense, how I personally came to be here. If there is to be a name change, let's call it Immigration Day and have it be a celebration of all immigrants who came to this continent and who continue to come to this continent and specifically to this country. This is not dismissing any of the great things that may be said of those whose ancestors were here earlier, but let's not choose sides. How about declaring the day before or after Columbus Day to be "Indigenous Peoples' Day" and we can celebrate our choices in our own way. Many people will, of course, just go shopping. - Robert Winters


Update #1: The City Council voted 9-0 to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day. So in Cambridge, it's Goodbye Columbus. Elsewhere, nothing has changed. I suppose the most substantial effect will be in the Cambridge schools where from now on Columbus' name will be associated with Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, and Charlie Manson.

Update #2: The City Council voted to extend the contract of City Manager Rossi through the end of September to allow time to (hopefully) complete the search for the next City Manager.

Comments?

Budget Adoption Night - Highlights of the May 23, 2016 Cambridge City Council Meeting Agenda

Budgets: FY2005-FY2017The main order of business for this meeting is the vote to adopt the FY2017 Budget and related loan authorizations. There is, however, nothing to debate. Rarely are there any changes to the City Manager's proposed budget, so this usually amounts to a sequence of well-deserved thank-yous to City staff and the Chair of the Finance Committee for jobs well done. In addition to the committee reports relative to the Budget, there are a few other items of potential interest:

Relative to proposed changes to the current liquor license regulations:

Reconsideration #1. Councillor Devereux filed reconsideration of the vote taken at the City Council meeting of May 9, 2016 on Policy Order #2 as amended that the Public Safety Committee conduct a public hearing to discuss proposed changes to the current liquor license regulations and the City Council policy goals on liquor licenses, economic development, the impact on neighborhoods and local business and that the License Commission refrain from any liquor license regulations changes until said hearing before the Public Safety Committee.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Councillor Jan Devereux, explaining why reconsideration was filed on the order adopted on May 9th pertaining to proposed changes to the city's liquor licensing regulations.

I will not pretend to understand all of the reasons for the License Commission's proposal to revise some of these regulations. Many date to an earlier time and some do not align with current state laws/regulations - hence the need for revision. On the other hand, one could also argue that the state laws and regulation could use some revision as well. For example, the current Cambridge practice of permitting sidewalk dining where the pedestrian way bisects the restaurant and the seating is apparently a no-no. Does anyone seriously believe it would be good to change this? State law also requires any outside dining that includes alcoholic beverages to be essentially enclosed in a steel cage. That's idiotic - but that's the law. [On an unrelated matter, if the legislature feels to compelled to address the matter of who may enter a given bathroom, don't you think they should also address the need to simply HAVE a public bathroom in areas where people may feel the need to use one. Isn't this a civil right?]

I found it interesting that it is not permissible for any licensed establishment to offer or deliver any free alcoholic drinks to any person or group of persons. Where I came from it was very common that after buying a few beers at a bar the bartender would "buy you back one" and, most likely, see a bigger tip later as a result. We even had one sentimental bartender who would sometimes send a free pitcher to your table if you played "Good Night Irene" on the jukebox (he was a widower whose wife's name was Irene). All this generosity and sentimentality is apparently illegal here in the Land of the Puritans.

Regarding the issue of "cap areas" and artificial limits on pouring licenses, this limited supply seems guaranteed to just drive up the value of a transferable license with no concurrent public good. It seems preferable that the License Commission should simply exercise good judgment of a case-by-case basis (assuming that revocation of licenses remains an available option for chronic or egregious offenders).

Regarding the notion that there may never have been a legal basis on which the City Council could (and did) delegate to the License Commission some regulatory authority, I shudder to think how things would be otherwise. A sizable fraction of City Council business would be consumed by this, and I can easily imagine Public Comment being dominated by patrons and potential patrons of various bars and nightclubs.

I continue to marvel at how basic maintenance-level legislation often evades the state legislature - simple corrections for ordinary purposes. Why does it remain so difficult to adjust the funding formulas for charter schools? Why can't we have a more rational way of filling legislative vacancies? How about making a few modifications to the Open Meeting Law to address the problem of frivilous complaints? If the legislature can devote time to who can use which bathroom, then surely they can take up some of these other matters.


Relative to the vote to approve the FY2017 Budget:

Unfinished Business #5-11. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow:

#5: $17,350,000 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Alewife Watershed, Cambridgeport Neighborhood, and areas in Harvard Square as well as the Sewer Capital Repairs Program.

#6: $5,000,000 to provide funds for a Comprehensive Facilities Improvement Plan.

#7: $2,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

#8: $149,600,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including construction for the King Open/Cambridge Street Schools & Community Complex, building envelope repairs at the Fletcher Maynard Academy, and a new boiler at the Amigos School.

#9: $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.

#10: $4,000,000 to provide funds for the renovations of the Out of Town News Kiosk Building and adjacent plaza area in Harvard Square.

#11: $10,000,000 to provide funds for the design and construction of a multi-use path/greenway along the eastern Grand Junction railroad right of way from Broadway to the city line.

That's a total of $188,100,000 in Loan Orders - dominated by the cost of construction of the King Open/Cambridge Street Schools & Community Complex.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearings held on May 5, 2016, May 12, 2016 and May 10, 2016 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2017 and recommending adoption of the General Fund Budget in the amount of $538,608,450.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 12, 2016 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2017 and recommending adoption of the Water fund Budget in the amount of $13,969,210.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 12, 2016 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2017 and recommending adoption of the Public Investment Budget in the amount of $16,890,570.

These are the three traditional Finance Committee reports associated with the Budget approval.


Relative to City Manager appointments to City Boards & Commissions:

Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following members to the Cambridge Human Rights Commission for a term of three years, effective May 23, 2016: Olinda Marshall and Chara Itoka

Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following members to the Cambridge Arts Council Advisory Board for a term of three years, effective June 1, 2016: Luis Edgardo Cotto, Lori Lander and Stella Aguirre McGregor.

Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the reappointment of the following members to the Cambridge Public Art Commission for a term of three years, effective June 1, 2016: David De Celis and Dina Deitsch.

Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Coordinating Council for Children, Youth and Families (aka Family Policy Council) for the 2016-17 term: Tony Clark.

Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Harvard Square Advisory Board for a term of two years, effective May 23, 2016: Bridget Dinsmore and Maximillan Frank.

Manager's Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a full member of the Cambridge Board of Zoning Appeals for a term of 5 years, effective May 23, 2016: Patrick Tedesco.

Manager's Agenda #22. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Police Review & Advisory Board for a term of five years, effective May 23, 2016: Ted Robitaille.

Many appointments to Cambridge Civic University - no tuition required. Being an active member of a City volunteer board provides a great civic education as well as an opportunity to fully participate as a resident.


Other matters on the City Manager's Agenda:

Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $10,500 from the General Fund City Council Travel and Training account to the General Fund City Council Other Ordinary Maintenance account for the facilitation of a goal setting session on June 8.

I hope and expect that this is a public meeting, but I'll be happy to just watch without comment.

Manager's Agenda #16. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $404,505 associated with Forest City’s 300 Massachusetts Avenue building project (Ordinance #1354) from the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund to the Grant Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance account which will be used to support middle income housing programs for Cambridge residents with consideration of neighborhoods impacted by development.

Manager's Agenda #17. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $375,000 associated with Novartis’ Special District 15 (opposite the NECCO Building; Ordinance #1338) from the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund to the Grant Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance which will be used to support middle income housing programs for Cambridge residents with consideration of neighborhoods impacted by development.

Every little bit helps.

Manager's Agenda #23. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, requesting the City Council move to Executive Session for an update on the potential acquisition of property located at 859 Massachusetts Avenue by eminent domain.

This has been the home of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce since the 1970s and any eminent domain action will be what is known as a "friendly taking". I'm not sure what City functions might end up there. There's a neat photo of the ribbon-cutting when the Chamber first moved there.


Notable City Council Orders & Resolutions:

Resolution #3. Urge all Cantabrigians to pause on Memorial Day, and every day, to remember and pay tribute to our nation’s defenders, living and deceased, for their service and devotion to country.   Vice Mayor McGovern

With every passing year I find myself feeling more and more grateful to all the veterans who have served.

Order #5. That the City Council formally go on record declaring June 2, 2016 to be Gun Violence Awareness Day, and in encouraging all Cambridge residents to work proactively and collaboratively in preventing this shameful epidemic of violence to continue.   Mayor Simmons

Cambridge has seen its own share of gun violence during the last few years with several murders still unsolved (or at least unprosecuted for lack of witnesses coming forward to help make a solid case for prosecutors).

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to collaborate with the Cambridge Arts Council to create a process for Artist Certification to ensure that applicants are full-time/career practicing artists and is requested to prioritize the placement of artists in the Inclusionary Housing Program by assigning artists who have been certified by the Cambridge Arts Council one additional point in the Rental Application Pool.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Cheung

This is not the first time there has been a City Council Order like this, and I remain unconvinced that this is a wise idea. It is never a good idea to play favorites like this. If we want to give preferential treatment to artists, what about the thousands of others who work traditional labor-intensive jobs at less than a living wage? Do child-care workers deserve less that artists? I can assure you that there are also many adjunct faculty who have annual incomes comparable to starving artists. Don't they count as much as artists? Perhaps everyone should just declare themselves to be performance artists and fill out the appropriate application form at the Cambridge Arts Council. - Robert Winters

Comments?

At the Signpost Up Ahead - the May 9, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are some of the items that drew my attention this week:

Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Conservation Commission for a term to expire November : Dorothy Altman, Edward Pickering, Purvi Patel

Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Fresh Pond Master Plan Advisory Board effective May 9, 2016: Janice Snow (3-year term), Jim Barton (3-year term), Janet Burns (2-year term), Deborah Masterson (3-year term), Ann Roosevelt (3-year term), Claudia Thompson (2-year term), Susan Agger (2-year term)

I continue to celebrate all of the great people who agree to volunteer for Cambridge boards and commissions. Not only is it a great opportunity to offer your own insights and talents in the service of your community, it's also a great education that costs nothing but the time you put into the endeavor.

Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Police Superintendent Christopher J. Burke as Acting Police Commissioner, effective May 8, 2016.

When I heard about this at last Thursday's Budget Hearings, I couldn't help but think of things said by outgoing Police Commissioner Robert Haas and former Commissioner Ronnie Watson regarding the "bench strength" we have developed in the Police Department and other City departments. We often have multiple great people who can step up into a leadership role either temporarily or permanently. Congratulations to Commissioner Burke, and grateful thanks to Commisioner Robert Haas for his years of service!

Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-39, regarding the Green Line Extension (GLX) Project.

Much could be said about the latest developments in the status of the proposed Green Line Extension and the unprecedented offers of financial assistance from Cambridge, Somerville, and other parties to improve the chances of it becoming a reality. It's definitely worth reading the multiple communications from City Manager Rossi (and Somerville Mayor Curtatone) on this topic. Even if the project is scaled back and is somewhat less spectacular than originally proposed, this is something that really needs to more forward in some form and I hope the contributions from Cambridge and Somerville help to influence the decision to carry on.

Resolution #4. That the City Council go on record congratulating the 2015-2016 Cambridge Rindge and Latin Boys’ Basketball players, coaches, and support staff for their well-earned championship and recognizing them for their dedication and hard work.   Vice Mayor McGovern

I'm crossing my fingers hoping that our heroic Cambridge Falcons will be there for the reading of this resolution!

Order #1. 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, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern

Speed Limit UnknownI have been thinking a lot lately about how often the wrong questions and wrong solutions are offered in a variety of settings. This is one of them. As stated in this Order, there is plenty of evidence available showing how rapidly the risk of fatalities and severe injuries increases with motor vehicle speed. However, there are also compelling arguments that can be made in support of common standards across the borders of cities and towns. The issue really isn't what speed limit Cambridge or some other town should have the right to impose. The real issue is what the common standards should be for different kinds of roads and situations.

For example, on the many local one-way streets in Cambridge where there is one relatively narrow lane with cars parked on either side, the speed limit should be no more than 25mph because there is simply no time to otherwise react if someone were to dart out from between parked cars. Also, on these and other streets, no motor vehicle should ever pass a cyclist or pedestrian without at least 3 or 4 feet of clearance - and never at a great differential in speed. These are the kinds of laws that should be adjusted, and they should be adjusted statewide rather than by individual municipality. This is not just about whether or not a town is "thickly settled" and thereby subject to a 30mph speed limit (which is often not enforced other than to raise revenue). Standards for speed limits, sight lines, lane width, and more should be based on actual safety rather than political discretion. The proposal contained in this Order and in a concurrent effort in Boston should be addressed more comprehensively by the state legislature. Even the name "thickly settled" speaks to the archaic nature of how speed limits and safety standards are established and enforced.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on May 3, 2016.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Councillor Jan Devereux, suggesting a random drawing of four City Councillors to serve on the Preliminary Screening Committee on the city manager's selection process.

The process continues. I'm perplexed at the addition of an "interfaith community representative" to the proposed Preliminary-Screening Committee. Unless the next City Manager will be delivering sermons, I see absolutely no reason to rub out the line between church and state here. Regarding Councillor Devereux's proposed random selection of City Council representatives in the screening process, I will say only that there are reasons why a majority of councillors choose a Mayor and how that Mayor chooses people to chair important City Council committees like the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee. There is still a place for good judgment here that is best not replaced by the successive flipping of coins or drawing of names from a hat. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Dos de Mayo - Interesting Items on the May 2, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Dos de MayoIt's a pretty short agenda this week as we head toward the Budget Hearings starting Thurs, May 5. Here are a few choice cuts:

Resolution #1. Congratulations to the recipients of the 2016 Outstanding City Employee Award.   Mayor Simmons

One of my favorite events. Special congratulations to Sandy Albano. The Awards Ceremony is this Friday, May 6 at 9:30am in the Sullivan Chamber at City Hall.

Order #2. That the Economic Development and University Relations Committee be and hereby is requested to review City Ordinance 12.08.010 Encroachments onto streets – Permit required – Fee – Exceptions to discuss whether including additional approval criteria and adjusting the permitting fees is appropriate.   Councillor Devereux, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Mazen

On the Table #3-5. Three separate applications requesting permission for a sandwich board sign in front of the respective premises.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting additional information on sandwich board sign application for Mexicali Burrito.

How did sandwich boards get elevated to the highest level of attention in this City Council term? Can the color of sidewalks be far behind? Is adjusting the fee required for displaying a sandwich board sign really necessary? I often encounter a sandwich sign partially obstructing the sidewalk in front of a small place on Mass. Ave. on my way to MIT. I just move the sign to a location where it's less of an obstruction. Problem solved. If a business continues to obstruct the public way after a warning, just revoke the permit. Again, problem solved. Recently I saw a complaint filed on See-Click-Fix about a mattress that was set out on rubbish day on Inman Street that had toppled onto the sidewalk. Wouldn't it have been simpler to just move the mattress out of the way than to photograph it and file a complaint with the City? It's not like that property owner will be putting out mattresses every week. Simple solutions aren't complicated.

Order #4. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to coordinate with the appropriate City departments to publish a Cambridge voter guide to be distributed to each household in Cambridge a month before the 2017 municipal election.   Councillor Mazen, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern

Interesting proposal. Having curated the Cambridge Candidate Pages for the last 7 municipal elections, I'm in a rather unique position to comment on this. My purpose in setting up the Candidate Pages was always to provide a neutral, level playing field with the hope that it would mitigate the advantages that incumbents and candidates with very deep pockets had in getting their name and campaigns out to voters. Judging from the number of hits, especially in the days immediately before each municipal election, the Candidate Pages have been quite successful.

Some of the things that you may not know about is that in every election there are candidates who fail to provide basic candidate information even after repeated requests, candidates who frequently ask to change their posted information, candidates who submit statements that are truth-challenged, and candidates who are totally uncooperative - even though the site is completely neutral. There is also the rather severe constraint that this imposes on me personally since I have to refrain from saying what I really think about the various candidates in order to maintain some impartiality as the curator of the Candidate Pages. If the City chooses to go forward with this, I suppose this would give me the freedom to say exactly what I think about the candidates - something I am often asked to do and which I have resisted doing ever since I started the Candidate Pages. I may still choose to be impartial, but having this option does carry with it a certain appeal.

I can't help but wonder how things will play out when some of the more "out there" candidates object to what's permitted to go into the proposed voter guide. Will fact checking be required? Who will be in charge of putting this together and interacting with the candidates and their campaigns? This could open an interesting can of worms. I might speculate that with this free political advertising this could lead to local political parties (or entities that are effectively political parties) recruiting scores of candidates just to pack the pages with their platform. When all the fringe candidates get included, this might end up looking more like a comic book than a voter guide. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Real Money - The City of Cambridge FY2017 Budget tops the April 25, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda

FY2017 BudgetOne of the things that distinguishes a city manager submitted budget from what you might see in a city with a strong mayor form of government is its consistency from year to year. Rather than see budgets for individual departments or initiatives skyrocket or plummet depending on which voters the mayor is courting, we generally see in the Cambridge budgets predictable changes based on rational objectives. That's worth remembering the next time someone tries to convince you that we need to change the charter.

Here are what I see as the most notable agenda items this week:

Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the FY2017 submitted budget and appropriation orders. [$560,592,915 total proposed FY17 Operating Budget - a 5.4% increase over FY2016; $13,969,210 Water Fund; $16,890,570 Public Investment Fund; (plus the total of $188,100,000 in Loan Orders - see #5-11 below)]

Communications and Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Judith T. Martin, Executive Secretary to the School Committee transmitting a copy of an order from the School Committee recommending the FY17 General Fund Budget of the Cambridge Public Schools be adopted in the sum of $172,793,980.00.

The City Manager and his Finance staff are expected to give a Budget Overview at this meeting during which they'll provide additional details (and a possible correction to the apparently missing Conservation Commission budget). The FY2017 Budget Book (either in print or online) is also expected to be made available around the time of the meeting. The Budget Hearings conducted by the City Council's Finance Committee commence May 5.

For the sake of comparison, here's a table showing how some of the budgets have changed over the last year, 2 years, and 12 years.

GENERAL GOVERNMENT FY05 adopted FY15 adopted FY16 adopted FY17 proposed 1 yr % change 2 yr % change 12 yr % change
City Clerk $720,925 $1,240,705 $1,123,935 $1,217,510 8.3 -1.9 68.9
City Council $975,570 $1,711,115 $1,789,700 $1,880,205 5.1 9.9 92.7
Election Commission $756,540 $1,072,390 $1,149,425 $1,308,220 13.8 22.0 72.9
Employee Benefits $20,499,920 $32,882,665 $33,025,885 $37,756,330 14.3 14.8 84.2
Executive $1,353,140 $2,298,685 $2,356,150 $2,463,020 4.5 7.1 82.0
Finance $8,837,560 $14,540,220 $16,024,605 $17,151,925 7.0 18.0 94.1
General Services $984,345 $704,725 $683,040 $710,735 4.1 0.9 -27.8
Law $1,780,975 $2,176,975 $2,174,415 $2,219,965 2.1 2.0 24.6
Mayor $430,035 $589,680 $586,635 $671,920 14.5 13.9 56.2
Public Celebrations $671,505 $874,335 $905,900 $939,685 3.7 7.5 39.9
Reserve $37,500 $37,500 $37,500 $40,000 6.7 6.7 6.7
TOTAL $37,048,015 $58,128,995 $59,857,190 $66,359,515 10.9 14.2 79.1
PUBLIC SAFETY FY05 adopted FY15 adopted FY16 adopted FY17 proposed 1 yr % change 2 yr % change 12 yr % change
Animal Commission $228,870 $323,535 $331,365 $338,775 2.2 4.7 48.0
Electrical $2,239,640 $2,767,880 $2,594,885 $2,809,845 8.3 1.5 25.5
Emergency Communications $3,097,485 $4,631,960 $5,077,255 $5,342,040 5.2 15.3 72.5
Fire $28,891,840 $44,661,535 $44,990,895 $46,094,005 2.5 3.2 59.5
Inspectional Services $2,261,215 $3,270,335 $3,414,450 $3,706,080 8.5 13.3 63.9
License Commission $726,735 $1,063,745 $1,183,145 $1,240,340 4.8 16.6 70.7
Police $31,515,220 $49,260,625 $50,646,165 $51,145,765 1.0 3.8 62.3
Police Review & Advisory Board $77,210 $75,235 $77,435 $3,700 -95.2 -95.1 -95.2
Traffic, Parking & Transportation $8,175,095 $11,088,415 $11,483,870 $12,299,375 7.1 10.9 50.4
Weights & Measures $98,910 $142,935 $145,875 $148,945 2.1 4.2 50.6
TOTAL $77,450,040 $117,286,200 $119,945,340 $123,128,870 2.7 5.0 59.0
COMMUNITY MAINT/DEVELOPMENT FY05 adopted FY15 adopted FY16 adopted FY17 proposed 1 yr % change 2 yr % change 12 yr % change
Cable T.V. $999,500 $1,452,495 $1,536,585 $1,642,360 6.9 13.1 64.3
Community Development $4,472,620 $6,335,440 $7,359,590 $8,464,085 15.0 33.6 89.2
Conservation Commission $89,760 $127,770 $130,585 - ?? ?? ??
Debt Service $23,917,070 $50,446,035 $54,664,525 $58,096,295 6.3 15.2 142.9
Historical Commission $457,580 $687,860 $654,580 $644,990 -1.5 -6.2 41.0
Peace Commission $76,215 $148,445 $151,510 $154,690 2.1 4.2 103.0
Public Works $23,648,125 $33,634,490 $35,090,060 $37,181,700 6.0 10.5 57.2
TOTAL $53,660,870 $92,832,535 $99,587,435 $106,184,120 6.6 14.4 97.9
HUMAN RESOURCE/DEVELOPMENT FY05 adopted FY15 adopted FY16 adopted FY17 proposed 1 yr % change 2 yr % change 12 yr % change
Commission on Women $155,860 $241,295 $246,425 $253,965 3.1 5.3 62.9
Human Rights Commission $158,730 $266,890 $275,140 $257,270 -6.5 -3.6 62.1
Human Services $14,581,590 $24,225,290 $25,354,795 $27,926,755 10.1 15.3 91.5
Library $5,461,430 $9,249,325 $9,723,990 $9,702,575 -0.2 4.9 77.7
Veterans $510,885 $1,092,655 $1,123,070 $1,102,545 -1.8 0.9 115.8
TOTAL $20,868,495 $35,075,455 $36,723,420 $39,243,110 6.9 11.9 88.0
CITY TOTAL $189,027,420 $303,323,185 $316,113,385 $334,915,615 5.9 10.4 77.2
EDUCATION FY05 adopted FY15 adopted FY16 adopted FY17 proposed 1 yr % change 2 yr % change 12 yr % change
Schools Operating (TOTAL) $122,053,195 $156,669,635 $163,940,420 $172,793,980 5.4 10.3 41.6
INTERGOVERNMENTAL FY05 adopted FY15 adopted FY16 adopted FY17 proposed 1 yr % change 2 yr % change 12 yr % change
Cambridge Health Alliance $6,500,000 $6,750,000 $7,000,000 $7,000,000 0.0 3.7 7.7
Cherry Sheet Assessments $11,569,960 $21,504,975 $21,336,755 $21,984,465 3.0 2.2 90.0
MWRA $16,177,455 $22,189,730 $23,516,200 $23,898,855 1.6 7.7 47.7
TOTAL $34,247,415 $50,444,705 $51,852,955 $52,883,320 2.0 4.8 54.4
GRAND TOTALS $345,328,030 $510,437,525 $531,906,760 $560,592,915 5.4 9.8 62.3
FY05 adopted FY15 adopted FY16 adopted FY17 proposed 1 yr % change 2 yr % change 12 yr % change
WATER $17,098,120 $13,964,275 $13,964,115 $13,969,210 0.0 0.0 -18.3
PUBLIC INVESTMENT $8,834,255 $31,954,025 $18,076,290 $16,890,570 -6.6 -47.1 91.2

Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-14, regarding the possibility of closing two lanes to cars on Memorial Drive on April 29th for Walk/Ride Day.

I hate to say "I told you so", but... no, I actually enjoy saying "I told you so." The City's application was not approved due to concerns of the State Police around traffic safety and congestion. There was never any realistic chance that this would be approved. I told you so.

Manager's Agenda #5-11. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow:

#5: $17,350,000 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Alewife Watershed, Cambridgeport Neighborhood, and areas in Harvard Square as well as the Sewer Capital Repairs Program.

#6: $5,000,000 to provide funds for a Comprehensive Facilities Improvement Plan.

#7: $2,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

#8: $149,600,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including construction for the King Open/Cambridge Street Schools & Community Complex, building envelope repairs at the Fletcher Maynard Academy, and a new boiler at the Amigos School.

#9: $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.

#10: $4,000,000 to provide funds for the renovations of the Out of Town News Kiosk Building and adjacent plaza area in Harvard Square.

#11: $10,000,000 to provide funds for the design and construction of a multi-use path/greenway along the eastern Grand Junction railroad right of way from Broadway to the city line.

That's a total of $188,100,000 in Loan Orders - dominated by the cost of construction of the King Open/Cambridge Street Schools & Community Complex.


Manager's Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a report on potential issues related to the Barrett, et al. Zoning Amendment.

As promised on the night the Barrett Petition was passed, the proposed amendments have arrived.

Manager's Agenda #20. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge receiving a 5-STAR Rating from STAR Communities (STAR) - the highest score ever given in the country and Cambridge is one of only four cities nationally to earn the top 5-STAR rating.

More gold stars for Cambridge.

Unfinished Business #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 24, 2016 to discuss a zoning petition by the Sage Cannabis, Inc. to amend the Zoning Ordinance in Section 20.700 Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts by creating an additional Medical Marijuana Overlay District (MMD-3). Question comes of Passing To Be Ordained on or after Apr 18, 2016. Planning Board hearing held on Mar 15, 2016. Petition expires June 22, 2016.

Manager's Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-34, which requested a legal opinion on the legality of the Zoning Petition filed by Sage Cannabis, Inc. For a medical marijuana dispensary and whether it is spot zoning.

Communications and Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from Councillor Craig A. Kelley, regarding MDD-3 Special District Zoning Petition or the draft letter from the City Manager of non-opposition to the Department of Public Health for Sage Cannabis, Inc.

The Sage Cannabis Petition will likely sail through ordination at this meeting, but the communication from Councillor Kelley is interesting. Apparently, in some other places where marijuana dispensaries have been approved there were agreements signed that would produce revenues for the host cities. It's a bit odd that Cambridge with its host of community benefit and other mitigation protocols in place never asked for anything from Sage Cannabis.

Communication #1. A communication was received from Steven C. Marsh, Managing Director, Real Estate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Investment Management Company, 238 Main Street, providing a brief update on several requirements related to the Kendall Square zoning (PUD-5).

This letter notes that:
1) MIT's first community fund contribution payment of $2.5 million and its first community-based organization fund payment of $1 million were made to the City on July 3, 2013; and MIT's second community fund contribution payment of $2.5 million and second community-based organization fund payment of $1 million were recently made to the City on Apr 7, 2016 bringing MIT's contributions to $7M. Two more sets of payments will be made in the future, as stipulated by the Kendall PUD-5 final documents.

2) MIT has been working with the City to finalize the property transfer of 35 Cherry Street. The City is working through a community process to determine the future use of the parcel, after which the closing and the transfer of title will be finalized. The City's acquisition of 35 Cherry Street includes the stipulation that the parcel be used "in perpetuity in a manner that directly benefit residents in the Area Four Neighborhood and surrounding communities."

3) MIT's $500,000 contribution to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority's Grand Junction pathway project between Main Street and Broadway has enabled that work to proceed to the point that a grand opening celebration is now being planned for the spring.

Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of Suzanne Schell Pearce.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Maher

Cambridge has lost one of the most kind-hearted activists I personally ever met.

Order #1. That the City Council go on record urging the National League of Cities to move the venue for the NLC City Summit scheduled to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, in November 2017 to another state which does not have such discriminatory legislation on the books.   Mayor Simmons

Punishing the local businesses who had no say whatsoever in what laws their state government chose to pass.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council and the community with a response to the concerns and assessment of the Bring Your Own Bag ordinance.   Mayor Simmons

This might also be a good time to get some feedback on reactions to the proposed polystyrene ban set to go into effect later this year. There's nothing wrong with tweaking ordinances when necessary.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department, the Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Affairs, and other appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of waiving the motor vehicle excise tax for electric vehicles.   Councillor Devereux

First, this would require authorization from the state. Second, it's a slippery road to travel when you start taxing people differently based on what you perceive to be better behavior. Why not charge different excise taxes for people who use their vehicles less frequently?

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council if any progress has been made on the willingness of the City of Cambridge to contribute to a successful Green Line Extension and if there has been conversations with local developers regarding the same.   Councillor Toomey

Though I suppose you can make the case that "local developers" and cities through which public transit passes derive benefit from the presence of the transit, this is still a sorry state of affairs when the state and the MBTA cannot manage their fiscal affairs to maintain and enhance their assets.

Order #8. City Council opposition to any off-peak hour fare surcharges as a means of mitigation for continued off-peak hours T service and support for a fair and equitable solution to mitigating the loss of late night T service, specifically one that does not unduly burden those with the least flexibility in their reliance on an affordable means of off-hours transportation.   Councillor Cheung

I didn't know this was even being considered. It is worth mentioning that when the T shuts down at night the cost of transportation goes up considerably for those who must then take taxis or one of the pseudo-taxi services.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 6, 2016 to continue to discuss the development of the process for the selection of a new City Manager.

The process continues. Hopefully not for too long and leading to a good outcome. If the Council becomes deadlocked, I'm happy to make the decision. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Up the Inclusionary - Hot Topics on the April 11, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Inclusionary ZoningHere are the relatively few agenda items that seem interesting this week:

City Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, recommending the reappointment of Conrad Crawford to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.

City Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, recommending appointment of Naomie Stephen to the Cambridge Housing Authority.

These are the only two City Boards for which City Council approval is required for appointments by the City Manager. Under recently amended protocols, these will each have a City Council committee hearing prior to coming back to the City Council for a vote.

City Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study.

This is by far the most significant agenda item. Any change to Inclusionary Zoning would be a zoning amendment, so this matter will now have to be referred to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board for further deliberation. The study and the Manager's recommendation call for a substantial increase in the inclusionary requirement. If I read it correctly, the current 15% requirement (which ends up being under 12% of the new units created after the density bonus is added in) would go up to somewhere between 17% and 20% after the density bonus is added. Some activists will, no doubt, want an even higher percentage, but there are at least some indications that the sky is no longer the limit in terms of housing prices and rents. There may be some logic in exercising at least a little caution in increasing the mandatory requirements.

Resolution #4. Resolution on the death of Dorothy Steele.   Councillor Toomey

If you didn't see the recent Eric Moskowitz article on Dorothy Steele on the front page of the Boston Globe (Apr 5, 2016), you really should. It was one of the most beautifully written tributes I've ever read in a newspaper.

Order #2. That all future Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee meetings related to the selection of a new City Manager be televised.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux

The actual level of interest in this process among the general public is not nearly as great as the sponsors of the Order seem to think. Interest will definitely pick as we get nearer to an actual vote, but for now it's just the usual suspects.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to write a letter to the Department of Public Health indicating the City of Cambridge's non-opposition for Sage Cannabis Inc., application to operate a RMD in the Business B-2 (MMD-3 Zoning) District within the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts.   Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern

I can certainly understand why the City Council might support a zoning change to allow Sage Cannabis to operate a medical marijuana dispensary at a location not previously permitted under zoning, but does the City Council really have to also write them a letter of recommendation? Surely the zoning change should be sufficient. - Robert Winters

Comments?

No Foolin' – Coming up at the April 4 Cambridge City Council meeting

Every once in a while, reality can be like an April Fools joke on an April Fools joke. As I was preparing to post my annual April Fools Edition of the Cambridge Civic Journal, along came Order #1 on this agenda. See below.

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and other relevant City departments to consider the pending State legislation and pending legislation in the City of Boston and any other actions that would allow Cambridge to institute municipal lobbying regulations. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Kelley on Mar 21, 2016.]

As I stated in advance of the previous meeting, this is a "solution" in search of a problem. Modeled on a similar proposal being explored in Boston, this Order would require that "lobbyists ... to file twice-yearly reports declaring campaign contributions, the names of their clients, policies that they tried to influence or that they advocated on behalf of, compensation received from clients, and dates of lobbying communications." Who exactly are we talking about here? Is this specifically targeting property owners and their representatives who bring forward zoning petitions or file Special Permit applications? Would this also apply to people employed by the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the government relations people associated with the city's major universities? Would representatives of hotel worker unions or the Sierra Club have to register and provide a log of all their activities? Why not also require anyone with a financial interest in the outcome of any City administration or City Council action to register and to provide detailed records of all of their interactions? What exactly is the problem that this measure seeks to cure? Should a residents organization registered as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit also then be required to divulge all of their contributions and expenditures if they exceed the minimum threshold?

Charter Right #3. That the City Manager is requested to update the City Council on the effects of the removal of sidewalk vaults in Central Square. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Kelley on Mar 21, 2016.]

Once again, this is just one of many things that continue to need attention in Central Square. See page 24 of the Central Square Action Plan (1987) which states; "Even upon completion of the MBTA project there will be many areas without trees or greenery because of the extensive vault and utility system that lies beneath the sidewalks. Improvement and maintenance of these improvements to Central Square's physical image, both public and private, is essential to gain consumer confidence and interest." Next time you walk through Central Square, take note of the broken sidewalk pavement, the missing, sunken, or heaving bricks (especially neat the T entrances), the number of dead or dying trees, and the tree wells that serve little function other than trip hazards.

Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from the Riverside Neighborhood Protective Zoning Proposal to amend the Zoning Map and the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by changing the current zoning designation for the parcels within the Putnam Avenue-Franklin Street and River Street boundaries from C-1 to C zoning.

Though I may need a registered municipal lobbyist to help me read and understand the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance, as near as I can tell this would reduce the permitted Floor/Area Ratio (FAR) from 0.75 to 0.6 (compare to 0.5 for Res A districts), increase the minimum lot area from 1500 sq. ft. to 1800 sq. ft., and increase the minimum ration of private open space from 30% to 36%. The biggest question I have is what fraction of residential properties in Riverside that might now be legally conforming to the Code would be made nonconforming. Would this change make it all but impossible for homeowners to make even modest changes to their buildings without have to expend a lot of time on money seeking a variance (that they might likely not even get)?

Resolution #7. Resolution on the death of Peter Sheinfeld.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Maher, Mayor Simmons

Peter has been a friend for many years. This was an entirely unexpected death - here one day gone the next. Peter had a constellation of friends as eclectic as Peter's many interests. I'll have more to say elsewhere - especially when some of the people who have known Peter over the years get together soon to exchange recollections.

Order #1. That the City Council go on record asking the Massachusetts State Legislature to review the symbolism of the Official Seal of Massachusetts to determine whether it may be perpetuating or promoting hurtful symbolism.   Mayor Simmons

Great Seal of MassachusettsI had just put the finishing touches on an April Fools joke about the City of Cambridge changing its City seal to obliterate any and all references to anything more controversial than Winnie the Pooh when I saw this City Council order on this week's agenda. Is this what the future holds - that every historical reference has to be sanitized? This has become ridiculous. I'm sure somebody will be offended no matter what.

In any case, here's what Wikipedia has to say on the subject: "The seal was adopted by the Provincial Congress on Dec 13, 1780. The shield depicts an Algonquian Native American with bow and arrow; the arrow is pointed downward, signifying peace. A white star with five points appears next to the figure's head. A blue ribbon (blue, signifying the Blue Hills of Quincy, Canton and Milton) surrounds the shield, bearing the state motto "Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem" This comes from the Book of Mottoes in the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen, Denmark; written about 1659 by Algernon Sydney, English soldier and politician. It was adopted in 1775 by the Provincial Congress and the literal translation is, "With a sword, she seeks quiet peace under liberty." Although the looser English translation more commonly used is, "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty." Above the shield is the state military crest: a bent arm holding a broadsword aloft. The sword has its blade up, to remind that it was through the American Revolution that independence was won."

Go ahead. Be offended. Get a life.

Order #3. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinance in 5.23 Height Exceptions Proposal for Converting Flat Concave Roofs for Green Uses be referred to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board for hearing and report.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern

This seems to be a reintroduction of something Councillor Kelley had pushed in the last City Council term. There is certainly some merit in the goal.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to take steps necessary to impose a moratorium, to include the possibility of the City Council implementing a zoning change, on the permitting of all new restaurants where a wood-fired oven is used as a significant method of food preparation.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

I can't say that a moratorium is warranted here, but one thing I will say is that in this age when "mixed-use districts" are being encouraged is that there doesn't seem to nearly enough attention paid to what the reasonable standards and expectations should be for places (like mine) where businesses and residents are crowded together. Perhaps it's not enough to just hope that the Cambridge License Commission will ensure that everyone gets along.

This specific Order is about emissions from restaurants (I'm interested in which ones in particular triggered the Order), but there's not a whole lot to be found in the Zoning Ordinance addressing the reality that some businesses that might operate late into the night in the middle of Central Square or Harvard Square might not be a welcome addition to a more neighborhood-scale mixed use district. This is something I got to thinking about a few years ago during the MIT/Kendall rezoning. Many people came out advocating for more housing (generally a great thing) but there was little attention paid to whether that housing should be located in the busiest location in Kendall Square or perhaps, more appropriately, with at least some small separation from all the activity. I suppose you could argue that tall buildings provide such separation but maybe being a short walk away is preferred.

Sorry for the digression, but I do think that the issue of well-functioning mixed-use districts that don't drive people crazy is a topic that needs more discussion.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to initiate a process to add high-capacity dedicated motor scooter and motorcycle on-street parking within dense commercial areas, taking care to coordinate with local residents, businesses, and business associations.   Councillor Mazen

The City already does this during the warmer weather months for bikes, so why not? If the City is already OK with removing a few parking spaces in favor of bike parking, allowing for scooters and maybe creating smaller spaces for motorcycles seems worth considering. We're already seeing some of these scooters parked on sidewalks. On a related matter, we could really use a purge of all the derelict bicycles that are occupying the various bike posts and bike racks around the city.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works, the City Arborist and any other relevant City departments to discuss the feasibility of an education campaign that would be available to all property owners through tax bills and other sources to educate residents about watering street trees near their property, refilling Gator Bags, and other tips for caring for street trees and the possibility of implementing an "Adopt-a-Tree" program.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

There's already a really good program in place for this. It's called: "Just Do It." Seriously, if there's a street tree near your house that needs a little love, just adopt it and start taking care of it. Nobody from the City is going to haul you into court for doing so, and the costs are small enough that you hardly need a tax abatement to cover them. I've been pruning and watering trees in my neighborhood for years. The core message in this Order is that people just need a little more information and initiative - and that's worth it. If you do the math you'll quickly realize that when it comes to basic neighborhood maintenance (including keeping storm drains clear), there's no way it can get done if you expect others to do it. So..... Just Do It.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to investigate the possibility of allowing local businesses to voluntarily donate collected bag fees to non-profit organizations, the newly designed Community Benefits Fund, or the Cambridge Non-Profit Coalition.   Councillor Cheung

The language is curious, don't you think? Do we really have to take legislative action to allow local businesses to make voluntary donations to non-profit organizations? Perhaps it would be appropriate to change "allow" to "encourage" and provide some suggestions for where the fees might be directed.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with the number of parking spaces in the City of Cambridge as well as the number of cars registered in the city.   Councillor Cheung

I would like to see this information, but the aggregate totals have little value. It would be much better if this could perhaps also be done by neighborhood or other some convenient divisions.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to develop a timeline for the implementation of the C2 non-zoning recommendations.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

While many of us appreciate the intention here, it needs to be pointed out that those non-zoning recommendations are just recommendations and some of them are pretty general and not necessarily in a form that can or should be implemented. The C2 recommendations were to be further refined with the help of the Central Square Advisory Committee, but that process could use a little more attention (and a little spark).

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to ban all taxpayer-funded travel to North Carolina due to the recently passed discriminatory legislation against the LGBTQ community.   Councillor Toomey

The specific legislation is kind of backwards, but one core aspect of the North Carolina law is not so different than how we do things in Massachusetts. I'm not talking about bathrooms here, but rather the principle that some things are best done uniformly throughout a state and some things can and should be determined at the discretion of individual cities and towns. In Massachusetts there are many things that can only be enacted via Home Rule legislation.

Order #20. City Council support of State Senate Bill S. 1022 which would allow municipalities in Massachusetts to set their own minimum wage without contest.   Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

Here's a perfect illustration of the dilemma of who should have authority in enacting a law - the city or the state. Personally, I feel that minimum wage laws are appropriately determined at the federal level and at the state level - and NOT at the municipal level. The same was true about the smoking ban and it's also true for standards on voting. Uniformity across municipal boundaries is generally a good idea. If you want to adjust the minimum wage, talk to your state legislators and maybe suggest different zones in the state, but don't have different standards in every city and town.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 11, 2016 to discuss the continued employment of City Manager Richard Rossi beyond June 30, 2016 and to initiate negotiations for a successor employment contract and any other related business put forth.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 23, 2016 to discuss the development of the process for the selection of a new City Manager.

The process has begun and the next meeting is Wed, Apr 6. I just hope everyone can stay on task and not try to cure all ills when they should be focusing on hiring a person. I also really hope we can identify someone (soon) who can not only manager a city with a large budget but who also already has great familiarity with Cambridge and its people.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting the determination on an Open Meeting Law Complaint of Kim Courtney dated Oct 28, 2015, amended on Jan 5, 2016.

There really does come a point when the filing of complaints rises to the level of harassment. I'm glad this pointless complaint has been dismissed, but it's a shame that time and money had to be wasted on the changing of these particular diapers.

Comments?

Happy Spring! Coming up at the March 21, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Happy Spring!
Happy Spring!

Here are a few items that aroused my interest:

Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Peter L. Cohen, et al., Zoning Petition, with a recommendation that the issue be incorporated into a broader study.

Not much to say about this except that the Planning Board recommends that "the issue of parking location may be best studied as part of the Envision Cambridge citywide planning process." There are some who would like to freeze all new construction until that process is complete (which is silly), but there are lots of issues major and minor that can be made part of that discussion without bringing the city to a screeching halt.

Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Complete Streets Policy and Council Order.

Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the adoption of a Policy Order committing Vision Zero, a set of goals of eliminating transportation fatalities and serious injuries.

I don't think anyone can argue against the general concept of safer streets that accommodate all modes of travel. My only concern here is that there needs to be some understanding that there is no universal agreement on how best to accomplish this. Some people will not be satisfied until all cyclists are removed from the roadways under the dogma that creating segregated facilities is the only safe way to accommodate cyclists. Many of us disagree strongly with that assumption except where there is a great differential in relative speeds of cyclists and motor vehicles, e.g. along most DCR parkways. I certainly hope that in accepting these reports there is no implied endorsement of segregated cycling facilities in all or even most circumstances.

Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2016 and ending Mar 31, 2017.

The Bottom Line: Another 0% increase in the water consumption block rate and a 3.2% increase in the sewer use block rate, resulting in a 2.4% increase in the combined rate for the period beginning Apr 1, 2016 and ending Mar 31, 2017. This is the sixth consecutive year that the City has been able to produce a 0% increase in the water rate.

Resolution #1. Congratulations to the CRLS Boys Basketball Team on their hard-earned semifinals victory and best wishes in the upcoming State Championship games against St. John's Shrewsbury.   Councillor Toomey, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

You can add the Division 1 State Championship to the resolution. The Cambridge Falcons (CRLS Boys Basketball) won the state title Saturday night against St. John's, 66-51.

Resolution #2. Retirement of Susan Flannery from the Cambridge Public Library.   Mayor Simmons

We have been blessed with Susan Flannery as Director of the Cambridge Public Library for over two decades. Enjoy your retirement! The Order declares March 30 as Susan Flannery Day in the City of Cambridge. Celebrate by reading a book!

Resolution #3. That the City Council declare Apr 9, 2016 to be Tom Lehrer Day in the City of Cambridge.   Mayor Simmons

Yet another fine example of how mathematicians can be good at more than just mathematics. The Resolution declares April 9 to be Tom Lehrer Day in the City of Cambridge. Coincidentally, that's also the anniversary of my own mathematics doctoral defense - a personal holiday of sorts. I think I have all of Tom Lehrer's records.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council as to what steps may have already been undertaken to examine the question of the legality of tying the Living Wage Ordinance to the Linkage Ordinance, what additional measures must be taken in order to obtain a definitive answer, and what the timeline for this process is projected to be.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

It's not entirely clear what is intended here, but I don't think it's such a good idea to intermingle policies regarding what can be built in Cambridge and how developers or commercial tenants should pay their workers. To the best of my understanding, there are also no requirements about hiring union workers in the zoning code, and only the Commonwealth and the federal government have the authority to determine any minimum wage or living wage.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and other relevant City departments to consider the pending State legislation and pending legislation in the City of Boston and any other actions that would allow Cambridge to institute municipal lobbying regulations.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen

Not only is this unnecessary given the limited authority of city councillors under the Plan E Charter, it also reads like an accusation from three city councillors directed at their colleagues. All campaign contributions are now easily accessible public records. There is no need for any additional layer of bureaucracy. This is a "solution" in search of a problem.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Managing Director of the Cambridge Water Department for the purpose of creating an online database of lead service lines similar to the one created by the Boston Water and Sewer Commission and to disseminate information to residents about the Cambridge Water Department's free quality testing and lead service pipe replacement services.   Councillor Toomey

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Water Department to create an informational web page that will provide plumbing infrastructure installation tips for residents, commercial customers, and contractors in the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

Unlike other cities across the country, the City of Cambridge has been way ahead of the game in terms of testing and replacement of lead services. My house is a good example. I replaced my old service in conjunction with an emergency repair by the Water Department some years ago, and my building has been one of the City's lead and copper testing sites for nearly three decades. We are definitely not Flint, Michigan.

Order #7. That the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Art, and Celebrations Committee and the Civic Unity Committee hold a joint hearing to determine the feasibility of facilitating the appointment of an “Non-Citizen Representative” to the City Council.   Councillor Mazen, Mayor Simmons

This is a ridiculous proposal. There has never been a day in the history of Cambridge when a non-citizen couldn't bring concerns to any of the elected city councillors with every expectation that those concerns would be addressed. All five items proposed are already available to any member of the public - citizen or not. It is also abundantly clear that the appropriate City Council Committee for the substance of this Order would be the Government Operations Committee - and neither of the two committees specified in the Order.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to update the City Council on the effects of the removal of sidewalk vaults in Central Square.   Councillor Cheung

For those not in the know, the continued presence of hollow sidewalks, a.k.a. sidewalk vaults or area ways, in Central Square is one of the main reasons why the sidewalks routinely fail and are difficult to maintain. Eliminating these area ways is not cheap and the financial burden primarily rests with the property owners. At the very least the City could require that these be remedied as a precondition for any City grant programs or zoning relief. This is just one of many things that continue to need attention in Central Square. - Robert Winters

Comments?

The Eve of the Ides - March 14, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting highlights

Ides of MarchWith the announcement last Friday that City Manager Richard Rossi would not be seeking a contract extension at the end of his term this summer, things got really interesting really fast around City Hall. People are already speculating on possible successors. Let's just hope that the relative peace that we've see so far this term manages to reign - even as those with divergent points of view jockey for position to influence the process to come. The City Council's Government Operations, Rules, and Claims Committee will meet at 10:00am on Wed, Mar 23 to continue the discussion of the process and schedule for selecting the next City Manager.

In the meantime, we do have a regular meeting this week. Here are a few items of some interest - with minimal comment:

Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining the noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 36 municipalities in the United States with three AAA ratings from the nation's three major credit rating agencies.

This has become an annual event that is treated almost as routine - but it isn't. It speaks volumes regarding the fiscal policies of the City Management balanced against the policy initiatives of the City Council.

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to form a special working group that will be tasked with developing a framework for the continued stewardship, curatorship and oversight of the Out of Town Kiosk in Harvard Square.

The discussion of this item during the previous City Council meeting had more than a few hints of the desire of some city councillors to micromanage a process best left to the kind of public process that is generally followed in projects like this. Now if only half that much attention could be focused on Central Square.

Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of Margaret Carney-Myers.   Councillor Mazen

Resolution #8. Resolution on the death of Steven Warren Reckhow.   Councillor Maher

I remember Margaret from 25 years ago when some of us expended great effort organizing "Earth Day" events for Cambridge. Though they divorced some time ago, it is worth noting that Margaret was once married to former Cambridge City Councillor Jonathan Myers. The last time I saw her was several years ago while giving some lessons on composting at a community garden in Cambridgeport.

Steve Reckhow's rapid health decline and death came as quite a shock. Steve and his wife Sylvia have owned the property next to me on Broadway - the former Hubley's auction house - for a number of years now. They redeveloped that property and the triple-decker behind me with great attention to energy conservation and historic preservation. The Broadway building now houses the Barismo/Dwelltime coffee shop and the Wildflower Montessori School.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with relevant City departments to develop data on residents of housing developments with 16 units or more to capture such demographic information as the City might find relevant for future planning, to include the number and age of residents, as well as the percent of owner-occupied units, broken down by unit size, specific building and building location.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux

I like information as much as anyone, but this seems a bit on the intrusive side. Perhaps they can just take the information from the annual street listing and be satisfied with that. Do we really need to categorize everything and everybody to such a degree?

Comments?

Leapin' Legislators - Items of Interest on the Feb 29, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda

FrogThere's not much to leap about on this week's agenda, but here are a few items that stirred my interest:

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the progress made in acquiring the Vail Court property, including a financial impact statement and a plan to move forward in acquiring this property through eminent domain. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Mazen on Feb 22, 2016.]

Under normal circumstances, an eminent domain taking of residential property is not the best course of action, but Vail Court is clearly exceptional. This property has been derelict now not for years, but for decades. It is problematic for abutters and for anyone who cares about the greater Central Square neighborhood.

Unfinished Business #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Mayor E. Denise Simmons transmitting proposed changes to the City Council Rules and the City Council Committee Assignments for the Council Term 2016-2017. [Placed On Unfinished Business for one week on Feb 22, 2016 per Rule 36b.]

For those unfamiliar with the City Council Rules, any rules change is required to "lay on the table" for at least a week before it can be finalized. Since the standing City Council committees are established within the City Council Rules, they are not formally reconfigured until the rules are finalized. However, since the Chairs of each of the committees were announced weeks ago, there was nothing preventing them from scheduling meetings. So far, only the Finance Committee has scheduled meetings.

Applications & Petitions #1. A petition was received from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, requesting permission for twenty-five banners on poles along Massachusetts Avenue from Memorial Drive to Vassar Street and six banners on poles along Broadway from Longfellow Bridge to Third Street to publicize the upcoming MIT celebration of their move from Boston to Cambridge 100 years ago.

This should be fun. The official "Crossing the Charles procession and competition" is set to take place on May 7.

Dancing FrogResolution #8. Congratulations to the African American Heritage Alliance on the unveiling of a memorial quilt which will illuminate the unique history and vital contributions of African Americans in Cambridge through the creation and dissemination of an historic trail, educational materials, and programs for residents and visitors.   Mayor Simmons

One of the greatest things about living in Cambridge is that there's history to be discovered on almost any street in the city. This is a great addition to the historical fabric.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor, the City Assessor and the Community Development Department to prepare a Municipal Transfer Tax Ordinance and, if required, appropriate Home Rule Petition, to implement a municipal transfer tax on real estate transactions in the City of Cambridge such that the value of a real estate transaction not less than $1 million be taxed on a sliding scale based on said transaction value, with proceeds being earmarked for affordable housing initiatives in the City, and to report back to the City Council.   Councillor Toomey

This will likely go nowhere in the state legislature, but it's an interesting new angle on generating funds for affordable housing programs. Legally there's a rather large obstruction to this proposal going anywhere - namely that the Community Preservation Act is already funded by such a tax on real estate transactions, and Cambridge already allots 80% of that CPA revenue toward affordable housing.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to form a special working group that will be tasked with developing a framework for the continued stewardship, curatorship and oversight of the Out of Town Kiosk in Harvard Square.   Councillor Maher, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern

Perhaps this same special working group can take on the establishment of a jointly operated storefront abutting Carl Barron Plaza in Central Square that would house a Cambridge Police substation, coordination of MBTA bus activities, an information kiosk, and the promised public restroom from the last Participatory Budget process. Oh yeah, that's in Central Square, so I suppose that means it will be assigned a lower priority.

Arguably, the most significant thing on this week's agenda doesn't appear on the agenda at all - namely the question of a contract extension for City Manager Richard Rossi. According to the current contract, there is no set date by which Mr. Rossi must inform the City Council of his intentions, but the City Council is obliged to notify Mr. Rossi of their intentions no later than March 1, 2016. There is no doubt that the City and its residents would be well-served by having Rich Rossi continue as City Manager for at least another year or two (preferably more). I sincerely hope that a majority of the City Councillors will see the wisdom in signaling their intention this Monday to enter into discussions with Mr. Rossi on a contract extension. Indeed, based on Mr. Rossi's superlative performance over the last few years, I can see no reason why the vote should be anything other than unanimous. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Back to Work (Really) - Monday, Feb 22, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Committee Members
Ordinance Carlone (Co-Chair), Cheung (Co-Chair)
(committee of the whole)
Finance McGovern (Chair)
(committee of the whole)
Government Operations,
Rules, and Claims
Maher (Chair), Cheung,
Mazen, McGovern, Toomey
Housing Mayor Simmons (Co-Chair),
McGovern (Co-Chair),
Carlone, Devereux, Maher
Economic Development and
University Relations
Devereux (Chair), Carlone,
Cheung, Mazen, McGovern
Human Services & Veterans McGovern (Chair), Devereux,
Maher, Mazen, Toomey
Health & Environment Devereux (Chair), Carlone,
Kelley, McGovern, Toomey
Neighborhood and Long Term
Planning, Public Facilities,
Art, and Celebrations
Mazen (Chair), Carlone,
Cheung, Devereux, Maher
Transportation
& Public Utilities
Toomey (Chair), Carlone,
Cheung, Kelley, Mazen
Civic Unity McGovern (Chair), Devereux, Kelley,
Mazen, Mayor Simmons
Public Safety Kelley (Chair), Maher, Mazen,
McGovern, Toomey

Back to WorkNote: Much of this meeting's agenda was originally set for February 8, but all City of Cambridge offices were closed that day due to snow. All of those items were carried over to the February 22 agenda.


The 2016-2017 City Council committee assignments have been announced by Mayor Simmons. There are also proposed amended 2016-2017 City Council Rules on the agenda for this week's meeting. The proposed changes include uniformizing most City Council committees at 5 members and allowing for the possibility that some Roundtable meetings may be televised. One curious departure from tradition is that Mayor Simmons will co-chair the Housing Committee and also be a regular member of the Civic Unity Committee. In all my year's of Council-watching, I don't recall the Mayor being anything other than an ex-officio member of any subcommittees (other than committees of the whole) and certainly never a co-chair. I have to interpret this a strong desire of Mayor Simmons to continue work begun on these committees during the last term.

I'm especially pleased by the appointments to the Government Operations, Rules, & Claims Committee - especially with the City Manager's contract discussion coming up (very) soon. The City Council must give notice of its intentions no later than March 1.

Other interesting items on this coming Monday's City Council agenda:

Manager's Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Sharlene Yang as the new STEAM Coordinator.

So much of the focus on STEM/STEAM has seemed like little more than political fashion, but if any of these efforts result in matching young people growing up in Cambridge with real opportunities in the local economy of today, it will all have been worth it. That said, a coordinator needs to have something to coordinate and it will be interesting to see if the required opportunities develop.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Sage Cannabis, Inc., to amend the provisions of the Medical Marijuana Overlay District Section 20.700 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Map.

Communications #8. A communication was received from Michael Dundas, Chief Executive Officer, Sage Cannabis, Inc., 13 Commercial Way, Milford, MA, regarding a status update on the zoning amendment petition APP 2015 #72 filed with the Cambridge City Clerk on Nov 9, 2015.

Order #3. That the zoning petition filed by Milford Medicinals, Inc. be placed on file.   Mayor Simmons

It's hard to say where this matter is going to ultimately end up, but it's important to note that the City Council and City staff spent a considerable amount of time on the current zoning that delineates two areas where medical marijuana dispensaries can operate. Has the case really been made that those districts are inadequate and that additional mini-districts have to be established whenever a medical marijuana dispensary wants to operate elsewhere? It's also worth considering how the marijuana sales landscape will take shape in the event that the ballot question on legalization prevails later this year.

Resolution #18. Congratulations to the MIT-based members of the LIGO collaboration on their contributions to the observation of gravitational waves.   Councillor Cheung

Occasionally my worlds collide. The "chirp" of two black holes colliding was the talk in every corner of MIT on February 11. Even MIT President Rafael Reif was as excited as a kid at a carnival.

Order #5. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to amend the provisions of the PUD-KS District set forth in Section 13.10 of the Zoning Ordinances and which includes a majority of the Volpe Transportation Systems Center site, be refiled as of Feb 9, 2015.   Councillor Carlone

This re-filing has been anticipated for some time, and now there will be an Ordinance Committee to work on it.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant City departments to study the benefits of a wellbeing index and plan for how it might be incorporated into various City planning processes, including the city wide Master Plan.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern

Call me skeptical. I just read the following description of a wellbeing index: "The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is designed to be the Dow Jones of health, giving a daily measure of people's wellbeing at the close of every day. With a daily measure, determining the correlation between the places where people work and the communities in which they live, and how it impacts their wellbeing, is now possible. Additionally, the index will increase an understanding of how those factors impact the financial health of corporations and communities." This seems to be in part a continuation of the spectrum of policies that Cambridge planners have been using for years in promoting transportation alternatives and integrating passive and active recreational opportunities wherever possible. My skepticism comes from the potential subjectivity of such a measure. I'm reminded how when various measures of cycling safety led to inconclusive results, a new "comfort index" was invented in order to justify specific policies regarding road design that some planners wanted. How shall we measure "wellbeing"?

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding how the decision to move these festivals out of Central Square was reached, what plans the City has to initiate other festivals in Central Square to replace these lost activities, and what can be done to return these festivals to Central Square.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

It would be great if the Central Square Worlds Fair could one day be revived, but these events don't come cheap, and they don't all yield benefits for the existing businesses in Central Square.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department, the Public Works Department, and any other relevant City department to level the sidewalks and add new lighting to Carl Barron Plaza prior to any renovations taking place.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

Any significant renovations to Carl Barron Plaza will likely be delayed until the River Street improvements happen a couple of years from now. That said, basic maintenance of the sidewalks and better lighting shouldn't be delayed. One comprehensive improvement that could also be made now would be a jointly operated storefront abutting the plaza that would house a Cambridge Police substation, coordination of MBTA bus activities, an information kiosk, and the promised public restroom from the last Participatory Budget process. An outside public restroom (the Portland Loo) recently open in the Harvard Square area, but it would be so much better (and more secure) if such a facility in Central Square was done jointly with enhanced police presence. The plumbing will also be a lot simpler.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the progress made in acquiring the Vail Court property, including a financial impact statement and a plan to move forward in acquiring this property through eminent domain.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

The perennial sore thumb continues to throb. Non-friendly eminent domain takings are a huge hassle and don't always end well, but this situation is ridiculous.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Clerk to communicate the City Council’s strong support of Harvard’s graduate research and teaching assistants to choose collective bargaining to the Harvard University administration.   Councillor Cheung

Some form of collective bargaining may make sense here, but being a graduate student teaching assistant is not a career option and should not be categorized the same way as long-term jobs are - unionized or not. More than anything else, this is really a test of the ethical standards of universities like Harvard, and any discussion of what constitutes fairness should also be extended to adjunct faculty for whom this often does constitute a career choice.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to seek permission from the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) for the use of two lanes (one in each direction) of Memorial Drive for non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians only and further to coordinate with the appropriate city departments to close two lanes to cars (one in each direction) on Memorial Drive on Apr 29, 2016, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Walk/Ride Days, and the kick-off of the 5th Annual Walk/Ride Day Corporate Challenge.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Mayor Simmons

Though there may be some popular appeal in doing something like this, the unfortunate reality is that the DCR "parkways" have become essential links between the urban core and major roads like the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 2. This includes the need for a through lane as well as a turning lane at numerous locations. Removing two travel lanes or even shutting these roads down altogether may be fine on weekends and holidays, but the road already operates at capacity during rush hour on working days. It is hard to imagine the DCR agreeing to such a road closure on a busy Friday. If so, perhaps the name should be changed from "Walk/Ride Day" to "Piss Off Thousands of Commuters Day." - Robert Winters

Comments?

Groundhog Eve - A Few Items from the Feb 1, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting agenda

groundhogPerhaps there will be just six more weeks of winter, then it will get cold again. Until then, here are a few comment-worthy items on tap for this Monday:

Resolution #1. Happy Birthday wishes to former Mayor and City Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves.   Councillor Maher

Happy birthday, Ken!

Order #1. That the Cambridge City Council go on record in full support of H.3019/S.1810, H.3073/S.1807, and S.1809 as needed protections for area bicyclists.   Councillor Kelley

It's interesting that 55 years ago the same-numbered bill read: "1961 House Bill 3019. An Act Providing A Penalty For Operating A Motor Vehicle So Dangerously Under The Circumstances That The Operator Should Be Conscious That He Is Unreasonably Endangering The Lives Or Safety Of The Public."

The first of these measures would mandate better mirrors and side guards on some vehicles as a means of helping to prevent catastrophic injuries to cyclists. (A significant fraction of cyclist fatalities involve altercations with very large vehicles). The third of these measures would clarify the rights of a cyclist in a crosswalk (which could make a big difference in terms of legal liability in the event of injury or death). Bicycles are vehicles, but in a situation like the Minuteman Bikeway where there are crosswalks at intersections it's currently not clear what a cyclist is supposed to do - proceed with caution or dismount and walk.

The second of these measures is the most significant. It attempts to define "vulnerable user" and includes cyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders, people in wheelchairs, tractor operators, and people riding an animal. The proposed law would require that a safe distance of at least three feet be maintained for a motor vehicle traveling at thirty miles per hour or less, and one additional foot of clearance for every ten miles per hour above thirty miles per hour. The law would also require that if a passing vehicle cannot maintain this safe distance when overtaking a "vulnerable user", the overtaking vehicle shall use all or part of an adjacent lane, crossing the centerline if necessary, if it is safe to do so or wait for a safe opportunity to overtake. This should be standard practice anyway for any good driver, but it will be great if this is enshrined in law. The greatest danger for cyclists (and pedestrians) occurs when there are turning vehicles, but there is also some risk (and some fear) of getting "brushed back" by a careless motor vehicle operator who does give a wide berth when passing a cyclist, a pedestrian or, for that matter, even a slower motor vehicle.

If I could wave a magic wand and command the legislature to do right, I would also mandate lower speed limits on any road where the distance between moving vehicles and parked vehicles is below some minimum, e.g. many Cambridge one-way streets with cars parked on both sides. Nobody should be driving more than 25mph on streets like Lee St., Fayette St., or Antrim St. (just to name a couple of streets in my own neighborhood). I will also point out that according to the above proposed law regarding vulnerable users it may not even be physically possible to legally pass a cyclist on such road.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development with the intention of organizing a Volpe Task Force made up of representatives from abutting neighborhood groups and Kendall Square residents and businesses.   Councillor Toomey

I would have thought that such a group would already have been formed, but this does again bring up the dilemma of who really represents the people in the various neighborhoods of Cambridge. I am reminded of Al Vellucci's oft-stated phrase "the self-anointed, self-appointed."

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Information Technology Department and any other relevant City departments on ways the City of Cambridge can implement such a service with the goal of notifying residents of city-wide and neighborhood events and meetings via automated calls or text messages.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux

This isn't a bad idea, but I have to wonder who will decide which meetings and events will be deemed call- or email-worthy and which residents will be contacted (abutters, immediate neighborhood, citywide).

Order #4. That the City Council go on record in support of the Bikeshare Transit Act.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux

This would provide an additional source of funds for expanding services like Hubway. Let me just say that as a cyclist who likes to work on my own bike, there' nothing like getting to know your own wheels.

Order #9. City Council support of a grant application by the City of Cambridge to the U.S. Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge, proposing the development of an automated, connected-vehicle transportation system that has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.   Councillor Toomey

Beyond all the greenhouse gas stuff, this grant could help in the development of the future Grand Junction Multi-use path which will help link together residential, commercial, and educational centers in Somerville, Cambridge, and Allston. There are reasons for doing this that go beyond climate change, but I suppose that's where the money is to be found in this political environment.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting notification from the President of the Massachusetts State Senate, calling for a special election to be held on Tues, May 10, 2016, to fill an existing vacancy in the First Suffolk and Middlesex Senatorial District [Petruccelli].

This means that there will also have to be a primary on Tues, April 12 and, since it's unlikely that we'll see a viable Republican or other party candidate, that's when the actual decision will be made with the Democrat running unopposed or minimally opposed on May 10. Special elections like this should not be conducted in this way. If there is to be a primary, it should be a single open primary where the top two finishers, regardless of party, advance to the final election. Better yet, require ranked-choice-voting (RCV) with transferable votes to elect a single winner and eliminate the primary altogether. It's idiotic that legislators should be determined in a low turnout primary. Isn't Massachusetts supposed to be a hotbed of intellect and innovation? Why can't we get elections right?

Don't forget - the Presidential Primary is also taking place on Tues, March 1.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., transmitting a series of articles regarding the affordable housing crisis. [San Francisco's Self-Defeating Housing Activists] [What's the Matter with San Francisco?]

The comparison of San Francisco and Cambridge may be imperfect, but the underlying issues explored in these articles do have some relevance here.

We'll also likely get the 2016-17 City Council Committee Assignments at this meeting (or at least we hope so). - Robert Winters

Comments?

Tasty menu items for the Jan 25, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

MenuMore than anything else, I'm hoping that the membership and Chairs of the City Council subcommittees will be completed in time for this Monday's meeting. There's also the possibility that the committees themselves could undergo some changes. In 2014 the number of committees was reduced from 17 to 11 via consolidation. It's unlikely that this number will be further reduced, but some reconfiguration is not out of the question.

Other than the committee appointments, here are some morsels that aroused my interest:

Order #1. City Council support of H.3933 which will create a parity between the effective tax rates paid by the richest and poorest in Massachusetts.   Councillor Toomey

Regardless of the merits of the proposal, it's hard to tell what is meant here by "parity between the effective tax rates paid by the richest and poorest in Massachusetts". The proposed constitutional amendment would add an additional 4% tax on top of the current 5.1% state income tax on earnings in excess of $1 million in any tax year.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to communicate the Cambridge City Council’s full support of the Cambridge Housing Authority's proposed project funding to the Commonwealth and MassDevelopment and to convey the immediacy of the Cambridge Housing Authority’s need in requesting that the Commonwealth approve tax-exempt bond financing without delay.   Councillor Cheung, Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

This would be one more step to ensure that the financing is available to carry out the necessary renovations to the Manning Apartments in the Central Square area.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to coordinate with the appropriate City departments to report back with a rough estimate of capital and operating expenditures for a pilot City of Cambridge tool library for the year 2017.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux

This is an intriguing proposal, though it seems like the best model would be more like a public-private partnership. Compare with Parts and Crafts in Somerville.

Order #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to coordinate with the Clerk’s Office and the appropriate departments to implement within three months an electronic public comment display in the Sullivan Chamber, listing the speaker’s name and affiliation as well as a timer.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Cheung

Just get a better timer - perhaps one with a green, yellow, and red light to alert the speaker when his or her time is drawing to a close. There is no need for "an electronic public comment display.... listing the speaker’s name and affiliation". Each speaker now provides that information verbally and that is sufficient.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Public Works and the Community Development Department to work with Eversource and other power providers to plan and implement infrastructure improvements to fully support future development in Cambridge and further to confer with the appropriate departments to draft an amendment to the City’s Zoning Ordinance that would see projects needing a special permit undergo a power needs assessment as part of the permitting process.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Devereux

This is a modified version of an order from the Dec 21, 2015 meeting. More attention needs to be given to the evolving infrastructure needs in Cambridge as new housing and other structures are introduced - not as a means of blocking development but to ensure that such things as electrical power are adequate to support future needs.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 14, 2015 to discuss the climate change vulnerability assessment.

I make note of this report only because my testimony at this hearing relates to the above Order regarding electrical infrastructure needs.

Order #9. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Affairs with a view in mind of scheduling two finance committee hearings to be chaired by a Councillor of the Mayor’s choosing, one as an update from the head of the Finance Department and the other to review budget priorities, to be held in the middle of February.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux

It is likely that this Order will simply be redirected to the Finance Committee to schedule these meetings if the City Council committee assignments are completed in time for this meeting.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to amend Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich dated Jan 5, 2016.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Hasson Rashid dated Jan 8, 2016.

Shoo, fly. When well-meaning laws like the Open Meeting Law degenerate into vehicles for malcontents to act out their psychological issues, it's time for the State Legislature to consider amending the laws to better respect their intended purpose. City officials should not be required to waste their time on complaints such as the two listed above. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Starting from Scratch - Agenda Items from the Jan 11, 2016 Cambridge City Council Meeting

City HallIt's hard to characterize as "new" an elected body that's 8/9 the same as the previous one, but it's a clean slate nonetheless with a new Mayor. We'll have to wait and see where this train takes us. Also, the City Clerk's Office has changed the way they make meeting materials available starting with the new Council term. It's good in some ways, but it's a lot more difficult in other ways, especially in linking to specific documents without having to open up a 30MB PDF file just to find a single item buried among 300 pages. Here are a few agenda items that seem worthy of comment:

Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, in response to the City Council's request for a legal opinion on whether the City can act either through ordinance, home rule petition or additional avenues to protect tenants from dramatic rent increases or unfair evictions, and whether the City has the ability to strengthen the tenant protections provided under the state Condominium Conversion Act.

As the City Solicitor's opinion makes clear, municipalities have very limited authority in such matters, especially in the regulation of rents, but some specific tenant protections could possibly be enacted via a successful Home Rule petition.

Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Barrett, et al, Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #9. 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 19, 2015 to discuss a petition filed by Patrick W. Barrett III, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by amending Article 2.000 ("Definitions") and Article 4.000, Section 4.22 ("Accessory Apartment"). The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 28, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held on Oct 27, 2015. Petition expires Feb 17, 2016.

Communications #1. A communication was received from Patrick W. Barrett III, Esq., regarding the Barrett Petition.

These three items refer to the Barrett Petition that would modify zoning relating to Accessory Apartments and Basement Space. With a Feb 17 expiration date, now would be a good time to get the City Council Committee assignments completed so that the Ordinance Committee could reconvene and iron out any desirable amendments to this petition.

[UPDATE: The Barrett Petition passed (as amended only to insert an effective date of May 1, 2016) by a 7-1-1 vote (Cheung, Kelley, Maher, Mazen, McGovern. Simmons, Toomey voted YES; Carlone voted NO; Devereux voted PRESENT).]

Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item #15-32 (2015), regarding a report on the economic analysis for Central Square. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on City Manager Agenda Number Twenty-six of Dec 21, 2015.]

The timeliness, scope, and accuracy of this report hardly makes it a good starting point to reactivate discussions on the future of Central Square, but it's something. Even a refutation of some of its assumptions would refocus some attention back to this area.

Charter Right #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to amend article 4.000 of the Zoning Ordinance to require that a power needs assessment be a requirement for appropriate projects that undergo special permit review. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Order Number Twelve of Dec 21, 2015.]

There was a residential project proposed for 10 Essex Street that went through its required hearings and approvals two years ago and was never built. At the time, one topic discussed was the need to accommodate an electrical vault accessible from the street. This otherwise technical detail was relevant in light of the fact that the abutting new H-Mart in Central Square (which would have an entrance through this proposed building) had its opening delayed for a long time due to inadequate electrical infrastructure to service that block. Only a temporary waiver permitted the opening of this now very popular store and one might speculate that this could be related to the failure to build this welcome transit-oriented development. Either that or it's the usual inaction of this particular property owner.

When the City's latest Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment findings were announced recently, I made the point that the adequacy of the city's electrical infrastructure should have been given more attention in that study. Councillor Cheung's Order of Dec 21 is relevant in that it seeks to ensure adequate electrical infrastructure for new large developments, but greater attention also needs to be paid to the entire electrical network of the city, especially in view of potential additional burdens - often on very aged and inadequate electrical lines - that may come with extended summer heat waves.

Charter Right #6. That the City Manager is requested to coordinate with the appropriate departments to give recognized community groups the ability to present alongside or directly after city staff, on the record and as part of the presentation agenda during meetings of the Ordinance Committee. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Order Number Thirteen of Dec 21, 2015.]

I really hope this proposal is discarded outright or radically amended into something sensible. There simply is no standard for what constitutes a "recognized community group", and the proposal would in all likelihood simply confer a special status upon a political entity such as the "Cambridge Residents Alliance" to present their official review of all proposals to come before the Ordinance Committee. Nothing now prevents members of this or any other organization from presenting oral or written testimony just like any other citizen or interested party.

[UPDATE: After a curious discussion, this matter was referred to the Government Operations & Rules Committee (not yet appointed).]

Unfinished Business #8. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 18, 2015 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to amend Article 6.000 to create a new Section 6.24 Car-sharing Provision that will create a definition and general provisions for Car-sharing and will allow the limited use of parking spaces. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 28, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held Oct 27, 2015. Amendment submitted by Councillor Cheung on Dec 21, 2015. Petition expires Feb 16, 2016.

This will likely be ordained at this meeting (or very soon) now that the public notice requirements have been met.

[UPDATE: The Car-sharing Zoning Amendment passed on a 7-2 vote with Councillors Kelley and Toomey voting NO. Councillor Toomey has since filed for Reconsideration of the vote.]

Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Peter L. Cohen, with regard to a proposed amendment to the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to restrict garage development in dimensionally non-conforming lots.

I don't know much about this petition, but judging from the signatures on the petition it sounds like someone wants to build a garage on a dimensionally non-conforming lot on or around Donnell St. or R.C. Kelley St.

Resolution #5. Resolution on the retirement of Elaine Thorne.   Mayor Simmons

Elaine Thorne has, in addition to other duties, served as the staff person for the Central Square Advisory Committee for many years. She has been a great friend for over two decades and I wish her well in her retirement. Perhaps one day we may see her again as a citizen member of on the City's boards & commissions. Her expertise and her perspective as a life-long Cantabrigian would be a welcome addition.

Resolution #7. Congratulations Chip Norton and Henrietta Davis.   Mayor Simmons

It is very appropriate for this year's Fresh Pond Stewardship Award to be awarded to Chip Norton and Henrietta Davis. It was nearly two years ago that Chip Norton died unexpectedly, but he served many years working to protect the watershed areas of the Cambridge water supply. Henrietta Davis has also been an advocate for Fresh Pond and the watershed areas for many years (though I do wish she would return the MAPC Cambridge watershed study I loaned her many years ago!).

Order #3. That the City Council Ordinance Committee be and hereby is requested to review the attached proposed amendment to §12.16.030 Trees—Climbing, Signposting, Fastening horses.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey

You certainly have to read the text of the Order to appreciate its intent, namely to address the problem of bicycles being recklessly locked to living trees. I do enjoy occasionally looking at the sometimes obsolete language of some of Cambridge's more dated ordinances. For example: "9.04.070 - Throwing objects in streets or on bridges. No person shall play ball or throw a stone or other missile in any street, or upon or from any bridge." You didn't know that stickball was illegal in the streets of Cambridge, did you?

Order #4. That the matter of creating smoke free places of employment to protect all workers in unenclosed areas be referred to the Ordinance Committee for consideration.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

A motivation for this proposed amendment seems to be to address the potential dangers of smoking at construction sites where there are flammable materials present. The fire at the new Putnam Ave. school that delayed its opening for six months seems to be the most obvious example of this hazard.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and other relevant departments to draft a zoning ordinance that would see the installation of solar panels be as of right in all zoning districts in the City.   Councillor Cheung

This is a reintroduction of an Order from Oct 19, 2015. It remains an excellent idea after any potential conflicts have been resolved.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and report back to the City Council with language that could create a Grand Junction Overlay District that would help to create incentives and ensure the completion of the Grand Junction Multiuse Path.   Councillor Toomey

This is basically a reintroduction of an Order passed on Feb 23, 2015. The only difference now is that there is some sense that funding may be more difficult to come by in light of the scaling back or indefinite delay of other MBTA projects, e.g. the Green Line Extension. Some "Occupy" types have suggested that "Cambridge should just build it", but that's problematic if you don't own or control the right-of-way or, most importantly, the RR bridge over the Charles River that carries an active rail line. That said, creating an overlay district with incentives for abutting property owners to facilitate the construction is a good start.

Order #8. That the City Council go on record accepting the attached provisions of Chapter 162 of the Acts of 2015, the same being ‘AN ACT RELATIVE TO THE TAX STATUS OF CERTAIN LAND OWNED BY A HOUSING AUTHORITY WITHIN THE CITY OF CAMBRIDGE.”   Mayor Simmons

It's hard to say whether this was done for a specific property or in connection with some of the creative financing plans the Cambridge Housing Authority has been exploring and adopting. In any case, the Act was adopted and signed by the Governor, so all that's left is for the City Council to accept its provisions.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Transmitting An Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich, 955 Massachusetts Avenue #259, Cambridge, regarding the amended Minutes of the City Council meeting of Aug 10, 2015.

We can only hope that these two mosquitoes will soon fly away or find another host on which to feed. - Robert Winters

Comments?