2017 City Council Agenda Notes
(transferred from main Council Notes page)

Preview of Sept 25, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

City HallHere are the items that drew my attention this week:

Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 17-55 and 17-64, regarding an update on Bicycle Lane Implementation and Outreach.

Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of 17 persons as a members of the Pedestrian Committee for a term of two years.

Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of 18 persons as a members of the Bicycle Committee for a term of two years.

Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of 20 persons as a members of the Transit Committee.

While I'm glad to see all of these appointments and reappointments to these volunteer committees, there is an important point that needs to be stated. These are ADVISORY committees. They consist of a lot of really dedicated people who put a lot of time and thought into their committee work, and we are grateful for their service. However, recommendations from these or any other advisory committees should never be the final word. City staff and ultimately the elected officials bear that responsibility, especially when a committee consists primarily, if not exclusively, of advocates for a single point of view. Do members of the Bicycle Committee take into account the needs of all residents and others who need to travel through the city? Do they factor in all four seasons? Are the needs of delivery vehicles taken into account? What happens when what is ideal for transit users is in conflict with a proposal from the Bicycle Committee? What happens when the needs of residents and local businesses conflict with the demands of a subset of cycling advocates?

I served on the Recycling Advisory Committee for two decades. During that time I always tried to evaluate any proposals from the point of view of all residents - and not just the most zealous recycling advocates. I'm not at all convinced that this is done in some of these other advisory committees. In fact, I honestly believe that anyone with a contrary view would never even be appointed to the Bicycle Committee.

One day the Envision Cambridge consultants, its associated Advisory Committee (of which I am a member), and City staff will issue its recommendations and hopefully lay out a workable vision for city planning for the near future and the long term. Should the City Council adopt those recommendations without debate? Will modifications to the plan be forbidden? Of course not. When the Recycling Advisory Committee offered recommendations they were rarely accepted without question.

Nonetheless, as Mr. Barr's report spells out, the Cambridge Bicycle Plan "lays out a vision for where the City intends to implement bicycle facilities in the future". Did the Cambridge City Council ever really analyze that plan? Was any of it open to revision or negotiation? Or was it just accepted as a non-negotiable plan for the sake of political expedience? Does it address actual safety or is it primarily about "comfort", convenience, and "turf"? Most importantly, was any effort ever expended to balance the needs of all road users?

Manager's Agenda #13. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-30, regarding a report on partnering with DCR and the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association to revitalize Magazine Beach.

I'm grateful to all of the people who are helping to transform this space into something great.

Manager's Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an amendment to the Foundry Demonstration Project Plan.

How many years has it been now?

Manager's Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Community Preservation Act (CPA) recommendations for FY2018. [Attachments]

No surprises here – the legal maximum of 80% for subsidized/regulated housing, and the legal minimum of 10% each for open space acquisition and historic preservation.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Law Department, the Community Development Department, and any other appropriate City departments to update the City Council on what is being done to address the Council’s request for actions on vacant and abandoned buildings.   Councillor Devereux

There are plenty of good steps that can be taken, but the City Council needs to start by rethinking their earlier non-starter proposal that would have levied fines so steep that any court on the planet would recognize it as a regulatory taking. They can also try working with these property ownerts to bring about best outcomes.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Information Technology Department and other appropriate City personnel and report back to the City Council on the effectiveness of the SeeClickFix system.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

The system works well in some ways, but it really depends a lot on which department is responding. It has also degenerated in some ways into a vehicle for advocacy where some users flood the system just to push their point of view. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Interesting Agenda Items on the Sept 18, 2017 City Council Agenda

City HallThe City Council meeting last week was dominated by a rhetorical clash over municipal political campaign finance (or perhaps, more correctly, over how to use this as a wedge issue in this year's municipal election campaign). This week appears to be more routine, though anything is possible in the midst of the political season.

Here are some things I find interesting on this week's agenda:

Charter Right #2. 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 Fee Ordinance and, if required, an appropriate Home Rule Petition, to implement a municipal transfer fee on sale of all residential, commercial and institutional properties where the buyer pays 1% of purchase price on any amount in excess of $2.5 million and an additional 4% of the purchase price on any amount more than $5 million.

Charter Right #3. City Council support of H.3512 in the Massachusetts Legislature, allowing Massachusetts to obtain a fee on large real estate transactions that will be put towards affordable housing endeavors.

As I said last week, there may be some merit in these proposals, but as long as the focus remains exclusively on raising more revenue to regulate even more housing while not solving the affordability question more generally, this is all just pissing in the wind.

Applications & Petitions #1. A Zoning Petition has been received from Joseph Maguire, SVP - Real Estate Development & Asset Services, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc., to amend certain provisions of Article 13.000 of the Zoning Ordinance to allow for the creation of Innovation Office Space in the PUD-3A and PUD-4C Zoning Districts.

I would like to learn more about the motivation for this change. It seems minor, but interesting.

Resolution #9. Resolution on the death of Cleo Stoughton.   Councillor Devereux

Cleo was a transportation planner at the Community Development Department. She recently passed away at the age of 28 after battling cancer.

Resolution #11. Congratulations to Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian for being honored for his exemplary work in reducing crime and incarceration rates by the Adolescent Consultation Services.   Mayor Simmons

I just want to give a shout-out to Sheriff Koutoujian. His efforts to match prison inmates with work projects provided us with the labor to clear previously inaccessible parts of the towpath along the Middlesex Canal in Billerica. I was able to lead a better hike along the canal, and all of the prisoners enjoyed the work - a really great community service.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on the status of the Light Cambridge Committee and anticipated next steps.   Councillor Maher

The idea here is to promote appropriate architectural lighting of culturally or historically significant sites in Cambridge. It does not appear to be controversial, but it does seem that lighting draws political attention like moths.

Order #4. That the Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee are requested to schedule hearings to take up the attached proposed Comprehensive Housing Plan for review and consideration in the near future.   Mayor Simmons

I'll have to read this very long proposal a bit more carefully. Either that or you can explain it all to me. It just seems like we've been arguing the same points about housing for decades and we just keep spinning our wheels.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director to the Election Commission and the Election Commissioners with the view in mind of adding a link to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance on the Election Commission website.   Councillor Toomey

There's already a link there, but you can get some easier to digest summaries here and here.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a schedule for resubmitting a revised draft of the Outdoor Lighting Ordinance that incorporates clearer wording and/or more clearly explains each section in less technical jargon and is more coherent in its entirety, with the goal of seeing such an Ordinance adopted by the end of this City Council term.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

I was getting kinda curious about whatever became of this. Here it returns - just in time to shine a light on it during election season.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Office of Workforce Development and other appropriate City personnel to establish a comprehensive and robust skilled labor trades program, with a view toward increasing the number of Cambridge residents working in the skilled labor trades.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Toomey, Vice Mayor McGovern

The truth is that the City could do more to address income inequality by taking on initiatives like this than all the combined political rhetoric on the issue. There are a lot of people now in Cambridge who need people to work on their houses and can afford to pay for that work. There's plenty of work to do.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to establish an aggressive outreach program to all property owners, with a view towards purchasing any properties possible and converting these properties into affordable housing.   Mayor Simmons

I'm always a bit suspicious about initiatives like this. I don't know that I would be comfortable with the City scooping up any properties just to regulate them. It almost sounds as though the goal is to regulate as much housing as possible - like a back door recreation of rent control. I don't like the rampant speculation that's been happening with Cambridge residential properties, but I'm equally uncomfortable with putting so much residential property under government control.

Committee Report #1. 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 May 16 to discuss tenant protections, anti-displacement policies, and Inclusionary Housing tenant selection policies; the Committee will also discuss any updates received from the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA), including a report on the issuance of CHA Choice Vouchers to public housing applicants.

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 July 26 to discuss the next steps for the Foundry Building including: financing, community benefit, non-profit ecosystem, and community engagement.

Committee Report #3. 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 6 to discuss the recently published “City of Cambridge Getting to Net Zero Action Plan: Fiscal Year 2016 Progress Report” and to receive a general update on the Net Zero Action Plan. Councillor Devereux stated that there is information in the report explaining how the City originally adopted the Net Zero Policy. It began with a citizen petition, and was later adopted by the City Council. The Community Development Department will be producing yearly progress reports to track movements on the way towards the ultimate Net Zero goal. This hearing is to discuss the first progress report.

No comments to offer on these committee reports - just links for you to read them if you wish. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Fall Semester at the Sullivan School - Sept 11, 2017 City Council Agenda Highlights.

City HallThe City Council returns from Summer Vacation this week. In addition to appropriation requests for a wide range of essential programs, here's a look at what seems interesting - at least to me.

Manager's Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-45, regarding a report on formulating a plan that will provide relief and fair compensation to liquor license holders that have been impacted by dramatic devaluing of their liquor licenses, and Awaiting Report Item Number 17-72, regarding an update on the progress and plan to address the concerns relative to the sale of liquor licenses. [Reports from City Solicitor and License Commission Chair]

This City Solicitor's response is pretty much what was logically expected. The final paragraph states: "Therefore, in my opinion, the License Commission has no legal obligation to provide compensation to alcohol license holders who may be experiencing a devaluation of their alcohol license on the private market. There may be ways that the License Commission could mitigate the devaluation of certain alcohol licenses, such as by exercising its discretion not to issue new alcohol licenses, but there is nothing of which we are aware that would require the License Commission to do so."

The true value of a liquor license is in the income it can generate in the normal course of business. It was never meant to be a retirement investment. Like taxi medallions and confederate currency, not all things were meant to have lasting value.

Manager's Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Harvard Square Conservation District Study Committee, effective Sept 1, 2017: Christopher Mackin, Jerry Murphy, Christopher Angelakis, Jessica Sculley, William Barry, Joseph Ferrara and Kyle Sheffield.

Manager's Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Central Square Advisory Committee for a term of three years, effective Sept 11, 2017: Tahir Kapoor

Never underestimate the value of our volunteer citizen boards and commissions. Congratulations and thank you to all the appointees.

Charter Right #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a Non-Binding Public Opinion Advisory Question Petition filed with the Election Commission on July 14, 2017. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Cheung on Aug 7, 2017]

It's likely that we'll have more posturing on this issue at this meeting. It's worth noting, by the way, that the mailing address for the petitioners is the business address for Councillor Mazen.

There is a worthwhile conversation to be had regarding various ways to level the playing field for candidates, but this is not the way to do it. For starters, the statement of the petitioners reads more like an accusation than a proposal. More importantly, the proposal asks voters to "buy a pig in a poke". There are no specifics provided - only that public financing of political campaigns is to be supported like motherhood and apple pie. I will simply suggest that if a voter understood this to mean that new candidates would receive a small stipend to get their campaign started there might be a fair amount of support. On the other hand, if the goal is to grant $50,000 to every candidate to waste in any way they see fit, it's almost certain that voters would not support this. The details matter. It also matters that we use PR elections in Cambridge, and slates would certainly be formed just to aggregate money to support the slate candidates.

It's worth noting that Communication #12 comes from Adam Strich, the person who delivered the signatures to the Election Commission for this proposed ballot question. His words should make clear where these petitioners are coming from: "It’s hardly a secret that more than a few councillors are in the pocket of special interests, big developer in particular. I would imagine, however, that you didn’t enter into public service aspiring to become corporate stooges and shills. But whatever idealism you may have had was gradually eroded by the realities of local politics – in particular, by the need to maintain a war chest large enough to fund the practically endless campaigning required of you. All of that is completely understandable; I’m not here to judge. I would hope, though, that you retain some sense of unease regarding this state of affairs, and that such feelings would lead you to embrace the opportunity to provide public funding for municipal election campaigns, so that you can finally serve the hardworking residents of this great city, rather than your current robber baron overlords. Thank you."

Councillor Toomey has a somewhat different view. See Order #23. Perhaps throwing even more money into the furnace of municipal election campaigns isn't really the answer.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Christopher D. Smith, et al., to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by adding sections and provisions to Article 13.000 regarding Graduate Student Housing Production Requirements.

Some candidates and advocates have been referring to this as the MIT graduate student petition. However, it didn't come from the MIT Graduate Student Union and, in fact, 4 of the 16 signers are new City Council candidates hoping to exploit the controversy. Most people will agree that MIT should be providing more housing for graduate students and possibly for post-docs. In fact, MIT agrees. How much graduate housing is appropriate is open to question and should not be prescribed in zoning. Most MIT graduates have preferred to live off-campus and generally choose to do so as long as they can find a place where they can afford the rent. Hopefully MIT can provide greater clarity regarding its plans to build more graduate (and undergraduate) student housing - both how much and where - between now and the vote on the Volpe Petition. Perhaps a Memorandum of Understanding can be signed with some commitments. That would be the better approach.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to streamline recording and transcription requirements in line with those currently in place for the Planning Board for the Board of Zoning Appeal and the Historical Commission.   Councillor Devereux

There does come a point of diminishing returns. Is it really that important to have a play-by-play of every discussion regarding dormers, paint colors, and types of shingles?

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to update the City Council on a Police Substation in Central Square.   Mayor Simmons

I'll once again say that a multi-service space for police, MBTA workers, and public information - with a public bathroom - would have been the right approach. Separate little huts for each of these purposes isn't the best plan. We could, however, use a little more police presence in Central Square regardless.

Order #10. That the City Manager update the City Council on progress for the goal of 1,000 New Affordable Units by the end of the decade.   Mayor Simmons

If you factor in all the Inclusionary units in the pipeline we might actually be doing pretty well. However, the greater problem is not the number of regulated "affordable units" so much as the general loss of affordability in market housing, and that can only be solved regionally. I hate to break it to you Cambridge, but you cannot house the world unilaterally.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update on the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Study.   Councillor Toomey

This is useful information in the ongoing discussion of the Volpe Petition. What will the Big Picture be for residents and workers navigating their way through the greater Kendall Square area when everything is built out?

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City staff to identify and share with the City Council possible solutions to regulatory or legislative gaps on the local or state level that would help clarify how emerging types of conveyances can most safely and effectively be incorporated into Cambridge’s Urban Mobility planning and infrastructure investments.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner and the Fire Chief with the view in mind of creating and developing city wide alternate routes for fire apparatus and emergency police vehicles in an emergency situation that would avoid travel routes where there is backed up traffic.   Councillor Toomey

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of procuring additional fire apparatus, especially rescue vehicles and ambulances, in the East Cambridge and the Port area.   Councillor Toomey

Every day I see how some of the City's well-intentioned roadway reallocations effectively choke some roads, make it more difficult for buses and delivery vehicles to navigate, and make it virtually impossible to pause to pick up or drop off people or goods. Curb access is disappearing even as the need for improved curb access is increasing in a world of online shopping, Uber and Lyft vehicles, and a variety of new modes of transportation. The only thing the Traffic Department (a.k.a. the Department of Wishful Thinking) seems to prioritize is novice cyclists. I shudder to think what we'll have to contend with when there's either snow or a motor vehicle breakdown. The City is rapidly removing all flexibility in the roads. Pretty soon the only way a driver will be able to yield to an emergency service vehicle will be by running down some "flexi-posts".

Order #21. 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 Fee Ordinance and, if required, an appropriate Home Rule Petition, to implement a municipal transfer fee on sale of all residential, commercial and institutional properties where the buyer pays 1% of purchase price on any amount in excess of $2.5 million and an additional 4% of the purchase price on any amount more than $5 million.   Councillor Toomey

Order #22. City Council support of H.3512 in the Massachusetts Legislature, allowing Massachusetts to obtain a fee on large real estate transactions that will be put towards affordable housing endeavors.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

There may be some merit in these proposals, but as long as the focus remains exclusively on raising more revenue to regulate even more housing while not solving the affordability question more generally, this is all just pissing in the wind.

Order #23. Establishment of a "Cambridge Municipal Election People's Pledge" program.   Councillor Toomey

This "modest proposal" does manage to make a few interesting points - most significantly regarding the amount of money being spent this year and in recent years on some municipal election campaigns. While some candidates speak ill of money from "developers", some of these same candidates have a political base encompassing the loftier socio-economic classes and are graced with $500 and $1000 checks like the falling of autumn leaves. It's also interesting how many candidates pay big money or campaign managers and even pay people to canvass for them. That's not how things used to be done. Candidates had actual supporters for many of those tasks. Maybe the dirty little secret now is that some campaigns only have as much support as they can purchase.

I can't say that I support all of Councillor Toomey's proposals in this "People's Pledge", but some of them do have some merit. In the meantime, we can settle on disclosure - making abundantly clear where campaign funds come from and how efficiently those funds are spent. Let the voters judge.

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 Aug 2, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a new Planning Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center site in Kendall Square.

I'll simply say that if the current City Council cannot settle this with a good outcome by the Oct 31 expiration date, then perhaps they should be judged accordingly a week later. There are some great opportunities here if these nine councillors can earn their pay and create those good outcomes. - Robert Winters

Comments?

A Midsummer's Night - Featured Agenda items for the August 7, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Midsummer NightThe summer's only City Council meeting will be held at the Attles Meeting Room at CRLS. In addition to essential items like board appointments and the ordination of (some iteration of) the City Council zoning petition to legalize and regulate short-term rentals, there will likely be a significant turnout during public comment on several other hot items now being fueled by social media. Here's my short list of interesting or potentially controversial items. Comments to follow Monday morning.

Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Jones and Hall Houses at 66-68 Otis Street, received from the Historical Commission. [Report]

Not much to say here other than how much I appreciate these detailed reports from the Cambridge Historical Commission.

Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-8, regarding a report the Urban Agriculture Ordinance. [Report]

The attached report is actually a proposed zoning amendment (that would go along with the more general Urban Agriculture Ordinance) that would permit beekeeping under certain conditions as an allowed use in residential, institutional, office and laboratory zones, as well as in conjunction with retail, manufacturing, and light industry uses (if I am reading it correctly).

Upshot: The Beekeeping Zoning Petition was referred to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board. The City Manager reported that there may still be a way to go with the rest of the proposed Urban Agriculture Ordinance


Manager's Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a revised version of the Short-Term Rentals zoning petition text, incorporating changes from the July 5, 2017 Ordinance Committee hearing. [Text of Revised Version]

Unfinished Business #9. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to create a new Chapter 4.60 – to regulate Short-Term Rentals (STR). The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 26, 2017. Planning Board Hearing held May 23, 2017. Petition expires Aug 29, 2017.

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 July 5, 2017 to continue the discussion on the City Council petition on short-term rentals and will potentially discuss the feasibility of grandfathering non-conforming uses related to STR, breakdown of owner adjacent full unit STR statistics, clarification of whether a small two family can be treated as an operator occupied single STR unit and implementation by Inspectional Services Department.

This is really the central topic for this meeting. Not all points are yet agreed upon, but it is expected that this zoning amendment will be ordained in some form at this meeting. It's important not only for Cambridge as other cities may possibly pass similar ordinances based on this model.

Upshot: The STR zoning petition was ordained unanimously with some clarifications, especially in the change from a proposed 2-year schedule for inspection and licensing to a 5-year schedule. The City Council reiterated that landlord approval and, if applcable condo association approval is mandatory. Councillor Mazen wanted to permit tenants to list their apartment on Airbnb without seeking landlord approval. There were also amendments proposed, primarily by Councillor Carlone, to not permit "owner-adjacent" units to be eligible for short-term rental, but those amendments were defeated on 4-5 votes with only Calone, Devereux, Mazen, and McGovern in favor. Everybody acknowledged the efforts of Craig Kelley and especially Wil Durbin in shepherding this over the past year to a successful conclusion. [Text of Ordinance #1397]


Charter Right #1. A rezoning petition has been received from MIT/GSA Volpe to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by adding a new Section 13.90 to Article 13.000 and amend the Zoning Map to add new PUD-7 District. [Text of MIT/Volpe Petition]

Order #16. 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 to continue to pursue a Grand Junction Overlay District and to confer with MIT about incorporating plans for the Grand Junction Path into the design process for the Volpe Site and report back to the City Council by Sept 18th, 2017.   Councillor Toomey

There's really nothing to do on this topic at this meeting, but it is the next big thing before the City Council. The Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee already held their first hearings on the petition (in spite of the pointless Charter Right) and additional hearings are expected in September. The expiration date of the petition is Oct 31, 2017 - one week before the municipal election. If the City Council blows this opportunity to get a good outcome it will be unforgivable. This is where Councillor Carlone can play a pivotal role with his professional background if only the City Council can rise above the politics. The order regarding the Grand Junction corridor isn't really directly related to the Volpe question, but Volpe represents leverage.

Upshot: Though there was no action item here, Ordinance Committee Co-Chair Carlone made clear that he expected that some contribution by MIT toward the realization of the Grand Junction Path should be part of any Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) tied to ordination of the MIT/Volpe Petition.


Unfinished Business #10. An amendment to the Municipal Code in Title 6 entitled “Animals” to insert a new Chapter 6.20 entitled “Restrictions on the sale of animals in Pet Shops.” The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after July 10, 2017.

This is not a zoning matter and there's no deadline for when it should be ordained, but it's possible that something could happen at this meeting.

Upshot: The proposed ordinance was ordained on an 8-1 vote with Councillor Maher voting NO.

Resolution #8. Congratulations to Superintendents Steven DeMarco and Christine Elow.   Councillor Maher, Councillor Toomey

I would like, in particular, to celebrate Christine Elow's appointment. She has been an extraordinary representative from the CPD in matters relating to Central Square and she is very deserving. Cambridge residents should feel very good about our Police Department and where it is headed. Our new Police Commissioner Branville Bard assumes command on August 21.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and the City Arborist with the view in mind of drafting appropriate language for an ordinance that would require a public hearing before the Ordinance Committee or any other appropriate department before the removal of 4 or more trees from private property.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern

These are always sticky proposals when perceived public benefit clashes with private property rights.


Order #13. The Cambridge City Council is calling on Governor Charles Baker and his administration to cease any efforts in enacting any Massachusetts legislation that would be used to detain, hold or jail anyone that has met any requirements to be released under Massachusetts Criminal Statutes.   Vice Mayor McGovern

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to establish a public fund that can be utilized in the event that the Trump Administration withholds federal funds from Cambridge as a Sanctuary City.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

There probably is some acceptable middle ground here that acknowledges that local police departments are not federal agents and should not be required to act as such in detaining people whose actions wouldn't normally warrant arrest and detention. This is at least as much about practicality as it is about political ideology.


Order #14. Order Relating to Bicycle Lanes.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Maher, Councillor Toomey

Anyone who actually reads this Order will likely see it as very reasonable. Nonetheless, social media is now lighting up calling for there to be no discussion or consideration due to claims that the Order would "kill all the momentum that advocates have gathered toward building protected bike lanes". Their description suggests a juggernaut that has every intention of running over all who would oppose or even question their agenda. I found it interesting that none of the "calls to action" I have seen so far provide the text of the Order. I suspect that it might "kill all the momentum" if people understood that there is nothing unreasonable being proposed in the Order. This is unfortunately a political turf war at this point being fueled by self-righteous activists who cannot possibly imagine that other points of view exist.

Upshot: The Boston Cyclist Union and allies successfully packed the meeting with many of their speakers referring to the Order as a "moratorium" which it obviously is not. Mayor Simmons substituted new language and a stripped-down version of the Order was approved. There are lots of tools for improving bicycle safety. Unfortunately, any such discussion is apparently off-limits and non-debatable. No discussion of traffic calming, parallel "calm streets", shared streets (or woonerfs), or maintaining standard bike lanes in places where curb access for vehicles is warranted. It's "separated bike lanes" or nothing. I'm very disappointed in this group of city councillors.

Order #15. Porter Square Intersection Update.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Carlone

The Porter Square intersection currently sucks on may levels. The question is whether or not a modification would suck less or possibly more. What should really happen (but it won't because it would be prohibitively expensive and might involve property takings or getting air rights over the commuter rail tracks) would be a radical reconfiguration of the whole area.


Order #22. That the City Manager confer with relevant City departments and report back to the City Council on the status of the City’s plans to review and possibly implement a municipal Broadband system.   Councillor Kelley

Order #25. That the Municipal Broadband Task Force be reconstituted and that the City Manager is requested to report back on successful cost-effective procurement for phase II by the end of calendar year.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Though I'm interested in where this may be going, my chief concern is that the price tag could be astronomical and that we might be investing in technologies that might become outmoded soon after we have made the investment.


Order #24. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council, at the first meeting in September, as to the progress and plan to address the concerns regarding the sale of liquor licenses.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern

I seriously doubt whether a solution to this dilemma can be devised that will satisfy anyone. Sometimes you just have to take a big loss.


Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, regarding a request of a copy of City Council's Executive Session Minutes from June 12, 2017.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a copy of an Open Meeting Law Complaint Decision - OML 2017-106, filed by John Hawkinson on Mar 13, 2017, alleging that the City Council improperly redacted certain August and October 2016 executive session minutes and that said minutes failed to include a summary of the discussions. [Conclusion: There was no violation of the Open Meeting Law.]

It's unfortunate that the Open Meeting Law has become little more than a means to annoy City staff. Complaints like the ones referenced above all involve trivial matters rather than matters of substance.


Communications & Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a Non-Binding Public Opinion Advisory Question Petition filed with the Election Commission on July 14, 2017.

I don't know how many will come out to speak on this or how the City Council will act on it. Personally, I feel that the proposal is Not Ready For Prime Time. The case for tax-funded political campaign financing simply has not been made in the context of Cambridge's PR municipal elections. I hope this matter is not placed on the municipal ballot until a more comprehensive discussion has taken place. It is worth noting that there are many new candidates this year and obtaining voluntary contributions does not seem to be a heavy burden for the more credible candidates who actually well-rooted in Cambridge. I will also continue to question the belief that municipal election campaigns need to be very expensive. Indeed, the greater problem is excess spending rather than inadequate funds. [CC Receipts][CC Bank Reports].

Upshot: Councillor Cheung exercised his Charter Right on this matter based on the loaded language in the preamble in the proposed ballot question: "the undue influence of a few wealthy donors and special interest groups on municipal elections" and "the potential to erode the people's confidence in their elected officials" and "undermining the objectives of responsible government". The petitioners would have fared better if they had dropped all that language and just popped the question. Personally, I suspect the timing of this ballot question was done very deliberately to mesh with themes now being emphasized by some City Council candidates and their endorsing organizations. For example, the Cambridge Residents Alliance has on this year's City Council candidate questionnaire" Will you work for establishing a program that increases voter participation by providing some city funds to candidates running for City Council?" That said, it was a Mazen group that proposed the ballot question.

There was some interesting maneuvering at the end of the City Council meeting (which had been extended to 12:45am). Councillor Mazen proposed having a Special City Council Meeting on Wednesday morning on this specific matter due to this being an "emergency" because the deadline for inclusion on the ballot is imminent. This would be a violation of the state Open Meeting Law which requires 48 hour notice. Ironically, Mazen did this at the suggestion of the above-referenced individual who files Open Meeting Law complaints regularly. In the end the time of the meeting expired and no action was taken. The petitioners may still attempt to gather the necessary 6500+ signatures to place the question on the ballot. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Here Comes Summer - Featured Attractions for the June 26, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

On Vacation - See you in AugustThe City Council goes on Summer Vacation after this meeting except for what will likely be a fun-filled Midsummer Meeting on August 7. Here are a few items that drew my attention this week:

Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-31, regarding a report on the status of the Community Garden program.

This is useful information. However, any property owner can make space available for gardeners - residential property owners, institutional owners, and others. Even the narrowest strips of land can be gardened. Some of the best community gardens in Cambridge have been on private property.


Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-6, regarding an analysis and evaluation of "pop up" bicycle lanes.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to accelerate the planning and installation of two or more protected bike lanes by September, to produce a plan by October 2017 for the roll-out of protected bike lanes on all major city thoroughfares, to ensure that the Bike Plan recommendations are fully implemented on all road projects, and that additional infrastructure changes to provide for safety are implemented when possible.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern

First, don't count on there being any actual analysis and evaluation of the "pop up" bicycle lanes. Unless there's a fatality in one of them they'll remain regardless how dysfunctional or unnecessary thay may be. As for this latest Council order on the subject, I'm now finally starting to get a sense of what the word "progressive" really means - pushing through changes with minimal analysis and without consulting those affected under the belief that they will one day agree with you. In other words - the opposite of actual democracy. There is a place for segregated bike paths - primarily along arterial roadways, but there are plenty of reasons why they are not ideal for streets with many cross streets and driveways. They also send the rather clear message that cyclists are not welcome on the road and they should stay on the sidewalk like obedient children.


Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Street Performers Ordinance as well as Arts Council staffing and programming.

Not much to say here - just interesting information.

Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 17-46, 17-47, 17-48 and 17-49, short term rentals.

The regulation of short term rentals has become the central legislative theme for this year. There will be at least one more Ordinance Committee meeting to refine things, and ordination is expected at the Midsummer meeting (August 7).

Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an amendment to the City’s previous submission of a Home Rule Petition to the Legislature whereby I requested authorization 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 “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.

Again, not much to say here - just interesting information.

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Affordable Housing Trust with the view in mind of immediately contacting the Episcopal Divinity School to begin negotiations for the purchase of 8-acre Episcopal Divinity School site for construction of critically needed affordable housing units including single occupancy spaces and middle income housing, particularly housing for eligible Cambridge residents, families, starter apartments for young adults, veterans, homeless and seniors who have been displaced. [Charter Right exercised by Vice Mayor McGovern on June 19, 2017.]

It's very unlike that any portion of this site will become available for subsidized housing - for a variety of reasons. It is, however, fun to listen to the well-heeled activists come up with creative ways to oppose it while still trying to look like high-minded progressives. For this, thank you Councillor Toomey for filing the Order.

Unfinished Business #10. An amendment to the Municipal Code Ordinance that Title 8 entitled “Health and Safety” be amended by adding a new Chapter 8.69 entitled “Running Bamboo Ordinance.” The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 26, 2017.

Perhaps this will be ordained at this meeting. My only question is: "What will the Cambridge City Council ban next?"


Applications & Petitions #2. A rezoning petition has been received from MIT/GSA Volpe to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by adding a new Section 13.90 to Article 13.000 and amend the Zoning Map to add new PUD-7 District.

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 7, 2017 to have a general discussion to receive an update on the planning that has been going on for the Volpe Project. [appended materials]

This has been a long time coming. If you want to learn more and participate, MIT is hosting a workshop on Thurs, June 29 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm in the Kendall Marriott hotel. There will be plenty of other opportunities in the future to be heard.


Order #1. City Council support of Massachusetts House of Representatives bill H.3542, legislation to establish a Massachusetts Infrastructure Bank designed to encourage borrowing and facilitate growth for municipalities.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux

It's an interesting idea, but my sense is that it would make more sense for municipalities facing far greater challenges and with fewer resources than Cambridge. Our AAA bond rating has its advantages.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested work with the Department of Public Works and the Cambridge Arts Council to formally review the use of the Fern Street path as currently designed and consider options to ensure that the path functions as a safe, shared bicycle and pedestrian path and to work with the Department of Public Works to consider whether it is appropriate and feasible for a skateboarding feature to be included at Danehy Park.   Councillor Devereux

The planners delivered a skate park that was never mentioned when they were selling the concept to neighbors as an artsy bike path.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with Department of Public Works and Cambridge Fire Department (CFD) staff and other relevant City officials to determine if new facilities are needed by either DPW or CFD to best carry out their respective missions in the future and, if so, what type of facilities they would need and how much space that would require and where they might possibly be located.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey, Vice Mayor McGovern

This is an important matter that has to be explored, but sufficiently large sites are disappearing fast - especially in parts of the city where access to and from the site can be done efficiently.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on May 17, 2017 to discuss updates and data collected thus far for the Retail Strategic Plan, and other matters pertaining to the Study. [appended materials]

This continues to be an interesting topic both in the committee and as part of the Envision Cambridge process. That said, the City doesn't control economics or consumer habits, so the best we can do will always be a good guess. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Almost Summer - June 19, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

On the HorizonAs is often the case, a packed agenda is followed by a light agenda. Here are a few items of possible interest on this relatively lean menu:

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and any other appropriate City departments on the feasibility and cost of installing computerized traffic signals along the City’s main corridors.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen

This Order could easily have been written 40 years ago when the issue wasn't climate change so much as air quality. Back then a number of two-way streets were made one-way in order to move traffic through more quickly. I might argue that some of those one-way streets should be restored to two-way so that desirable routes can be made less circuitous. [Word has it that the Prospect Street bridge to Union Square, Somerville may be restored to two-way traffic - a good idea, in my opinion.] Of course all the best technology will still not resolve the problem of intersections with heavy traffic on both streets. Shorter or longer signal cycles won't change the average throughput for an F-rated intersection when traffic is queued up in both directions.

Order #3. That the matter of reviewing the placement of the Committee Reports section within the City Council agenda be referred to the Rules Committee for consideration.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Kelley

There is a certain logic in doing this consistent with Robert's Rules of Order. One could argue that Committee Reports are more in line with "Old Business" and City Council Orders are really "New Business", and Old Business is generally taken up before New Business.

Order #5. City Council opposition to dismantling of the Dodd-Frank reforms that were put into place following the 2007-2010 Great Recession.   Councillor Carlone

The race is on to see which City Council candidates will most effectively associate themselves with national politics in this election year. There's plenty of red meat to work with - even though the City Council has close to zero influence in national and international affairs.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Affordable Housing Trust with the view in mind of immediately contacting the Episcopal Divinity School to begin negotiations for the purchase of 8-acre Episcopal Divinity School site for construction of critically needed affordable housing units including single occupancy spaces and middle income housing, particularly housing for eligible Cambridge residents, families, starter apartments for young adults, veterans, homeless and seniors who have been displaced.   Councillor Toomey

A few years ago it was Shady Hill Square and a call to pack subsidized housing into the middle of that Square just to stick it to the residents who wanted to preserve the open space that was part of the original design of this group of buildings when built. Now the call is to insert subsidized housing into a parcel facing Brattle Street with land values somewhere in the stratosphere. It's hard to interpret this as anything other than a statement sticking it to Brattle Street just because it's Brattle Street.

Order #7. That the City Council go on record opposing H.R.38 and S.446, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, and calls on its representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to vote against these bills, and to work with their colleagues to oppose these bills.   Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern

See Order #5 above. That said, the lunatics are clearly running the Congressional asylum if they really believe that gun-toting dudes from the deepest red states should have license to pack heat in Massachusetts just because they come from or simply visited a wacky state in order to get a gun and a license. Even some bars in the Wild West required patrons to check their weapons at the door.

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 May 30, 2017 to discuss the role of police officers in the community, the installation of a police substation in Central Square and the stationing of a uniformed police officer in City Hall.

Though I like the idea of having a police officer in the vicinity of City Hall, I really don't think the best use of highly-trained police is to serve as professional greeters. Regarding the installation of a police substation in Central Square, this would only make sense if done as a multi-purpose storefront location for police, MBTA workers, public information, and a public bathroom. That, of course, would require coordination among different agencies, so it will never happen. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Coming up at the June 12, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

It's a loaded agenda this week. Not so many Council Orders, but plenty on the City Manager's Agenda and Committee Reports. Here are a few brief comments on some of these matters.

Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for authorization to transfer a leasehold interest in the property at 1-15 Vail Court to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust and to appropriation $750,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures to facilitate the abatement and demolition of the existing structures on the site.

The Vail Court project slowly moves along. In an ideal world there would be a more comprehensive plan for not only the Vail Court property but also the adjacent parking lot at Prospect St. and Bishop Allen Drive that could transform that whole block into something great. I haven't heard anything lately regarding challenges to the compensation for the eminent domain taking.

Vail Court - 2013
Vail Court in 2013

Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-4, regarding current or potential future public-private partnerships that could deliver an operational Foundry that consists of significant community space for the community.

The gift that keeps on giving. </sarcasm>

Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-39, regarding a report on the City's policy of conducting CORI checks on applicants of the Mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program.

As the Manager's letter notes: "It is a state requirement that every staff person or volunteer who works with children in a licensed summer camp or a childcare setting must have gone thru the CORI process." Indeed, even those of us who teach at Harvard Summer School have to submit to this every year. However, as the letter says: "The CORI record results are not used in any way to deny young people an opportunity to participate in the Mayor’s Program." Seems fair enough.


Community Benefits $$

Manager's Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Community Benefits Advisory Committee for a term of three years, effective June 1, 2017: Kathryn Fenneman, Risa Mednick, Elizabeth Aguilo, Cibele Goncalves, Daniel Liss, Rowan Murphy, Amy Salomon, Geeta Pradhan, Susan Lapierre, Paul Parravano, Ellen Semonoff, Sandra Clarke, and Lisa Peterson (Chair)

Manager's Agenda #20. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $3,728,500 from Free Cash to the Community Benefits Stabilization Fund.

Manager's Agenda #21. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,366,506 from Free Cash to the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund.

This represents the culmination of an idea that was first proposed some years ago - namely that instead of "mitigation" being worked out in what sometimes were side deals with individual councillors in order to gain their support, money is now to be deposited into the General Fund, worthy recipients and projects will be vetted by the advisory committee, and then ultimately voted by a majority of the City Council. I'm still not sure how this would work for donations of real property (as was the case with the Foundry Building).


A Bonanza of Planning Board Reports

Manager's Agenda #22. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Zoning Petition regarding rooftop spaces in the Harvard Square Overlay District.

"...the Board believes that a more comprehensive examination of Harvard Square’s zoning needs, including community discussion, should be undertaken before implementing a single limited zoning change."

Manager's Agenda #23. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the petition to rezone the block bounded by Third Street, Cambridge Street, Second Street and Gore Street from Business A to a new designation Business A-5.

"...the Board believes that this petition would benefit from additional study and input from the community to determine if it should stand alone or if there should be a broader vision for the area as a whole, and also to determine the range of impacts such change(s) might have. Some of this study may occur in the future as the Envision Cambridge process focuses on major corridors, including Massachusetts Avenue and Cambridge Street."

Manager's Agenda #24. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Observatory Hill Village (Mahon, et al.) Zoning Petition.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 18, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition filed by the Friends of Observatory Hill Village to establish the Observatory Hill Village Overlay District.

According to the petitioners, "the zoning petition was submitted to preserve the business residential mix [in this 3-block long stretch of Concord Ave.]. Developers have an economic interest and an incentive to replace commercial retail buildings with high end housing. This puts the businesses at risk." It seems likely that this petition is headed for re-working and re-filing.

Manager's Agenda #25. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation (no recommendation at this time) on the Zoning Petition regarding vacant or abandoned buildings.

The key sentence here is: "The Board also believes that the proposed fee structure needs to be reconsidered, especially in consultation with the Law Department as to the legality of certain of its provisions." Basically, the fee that was proposed is a clear regulatory taking and could never pass legal muster. Perhaps if they can replace that with something reasonable this petition could be re-filed and perhaps some good will come of it.

Manager's Agenda #26. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the City Council Petition on Short-Term Rental Housing.

Committee Report #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 May 31, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance to create a new chapter 4.60 to regulate short-term rentals (STR).

There may be some additional details to be ironed out prior to ordination, but this is the petition that seems destined to pass. It will likely be passed to a 2nd Reading at this meeting and enter the queue for ordination in a couple of weeks or at the Midsummer meeting in August at the latest. The petition expires Aug 29.

Manager's Agenda #27. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Cockrill, et al., Petition on Short-Term Rental Housing.

Committee Report #6. 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 May 24, 2017 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Latoyea Hawkins Cockrill, et al. to regulate short-term rental uses throughout the City.

This petition was apparently filed by industry people who favor the proliferation of short-term rentals with minimal regulation. It won't be ordained and the City Council would be wise to just let it die without even being passed to a 2nd Reading. It's interesting that the first signer after whom the petition is named doesn't even support it. In the committee report Councillor Devereux suggests that in light of this fact the City should reconsider how petitions are named. In fact, there's already an established precedent for this situation. In the year 2000 the "Yoder Petition" was renamed the "Tringo Petition" when Ralph Yoder stated that he no longer supported the petition that bore his name. The new name was derived from the second signature on the petition. Perhaps we should now refer to the "Cockrill Petition" as the "Stonehouse Petition" after the next valid signature on the petition, but for all we know he may not support it either. Seriously, the petitioners should really be taken to the woodshed for how they pushed this petition.


Manager's Agenda #29. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-7, regarding an update on the City's Community Choice Electricity Aggregation Plan.

I'm now almost convinced that this may be a good thing. I've been getting offers for several years now from energy companies who want me to sign up with them and lock in a reduced rate. The Eversource rate is then often later adjusted to be lower, so I've always told them to take a hike. Apparently, with the City's arrangement I could go back to Eversource at any time if I don't like the relative cost, so I suppose I'll just go along. It's an opt-out arrangement, so many of us will just allow laziness to prevail.

Manager's Agenda #34. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $750,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures Account to be used to conduct geotechnical, and environmental services to support the site assessment for a Concept Plan to site the new school on Callahan Field and future Feasibility Study for the Tobin School project.

This could yield an attractive option to construct the new school adjacent to the existing school. The entire area used to be brickyards and then landfill.

Manager's Agenda #36. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Department Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures Account for the citywide curbside organics program.

If all goes well we could have citywide organics collection possibly by next April. This appropriation will provide for purchase of a rubbish packer and purchase and delivery of curbside bins, kitchen collector pails and other materials and services necessary to roll out the program to approximately 20,000 households (in addition to the 5,200 households on the Monday trash route that currently have organics collection).

Order #2. That the City Council condemn President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and urge Governor Charles D. Baker to publicly commit to ensuring that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts similarly adheres to the goals and ideals of the Paris Climate Agreement.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Nobody should be surprised by the introduction of this City Council order. My guess is that neither the Commonwealth nor the City will be changing any plans as a result of the bloviations of the current occupant of the White House.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and the Planning Board to determine how Visual Preference Surveys (VPS) could be incorporated into the planning and zoning process.   Councillor Carlone

I did one of these surveys not long ago. It seemed like a useful exercise for things like building heights relative to street width and how retail fits in with residential. That said, I don't know that it would be wise to make this a binding requirement so much as an advisory measure of public support for various options. I hate to think where we'd be if every proposed change was subject to plebiscite.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the License Commission with the intent of formulating a plan that will provide relief and fair compensation to liquor license holders that have been impacted by dramatic devaluing of their liquor license.   Councillor Toomey

The value of liquor licenses may go the way of taxicab medallions. I have sympathy for someone who sank a lot of money into the purchase of a liquor license from an existing license-holder, but the old phrase "caveat emptor" still applies. Taxpayers should not be asked to bear the lost value of something freely purchased by a willing buyer from a willing seller. Times change. The loss of value of a license in no way reduces the ability to operate a business profitably.

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 May 22, 2017 to discuss the creation of a section in the agenda entitled “General Council Discussion;” and dedications to identify a suitable location site to honor the commitment to the City made by City Councillor and State Representative Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. and to identify an appropriate building to dedicate to Richard C. Rossi’s decades of service to Cambridge.

I attended and gave testimony during the first part of this meeting. The topic grew out of a City Council order from Councillor Kelley to carve out a section in the City Council agenda where any councillor could inform his colleagues what he's been working on in a manner that doesn't violate the Open Meeting Law. What interested me is the emergent (and questionable) practice of some councillors holding unpublicized and essentially private meetings leading to policy proposals. There is a better way. Any councillor can give adequate notice and hold a public meeting of an ad-hoc committee (possibly with just one councillor) on any topic. Anyone interested in that topic could then attend and possibly provide useful input.

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 May 23, 2017 to discuss a proposed Municipal Code amendment to Title 8 entitled “Health and Safety” by adding a new Chapter 8.69 entitled “Running Bamboo Ordinance.”

It looks like the City Council may finally be running with the Running Bamboo Ordinance. Now they'll have start thinking about the next thing to be banned. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Budget Passage - Notable May 22, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Items

Allston projectIt is expected that the City's FY2018 Budget will be approved at this meeting. In addition, there are a few other items of interest.

The Pike
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a letter written by Community Representative and former Mayor Henrietta Davis to Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack regarding the Allston I-90 project.

Order #1. City Council endorsement of the letter of Community Representative and former Mayor Henrietta Davis to Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack regarding the Allston I-90 project, prepared in consultation with the community and City of Cambridge officials.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

You should really understand the whole proposed project and not get too caught up in the details of whether or not the River Street exit ramp from Storrow Drive should be preserved as is. [Jan 19 Cambridge presentation] It's a VERY interesting project and there's no question that the current state of the affected area is ripe for significant change in every way.


The FY2018 Budget
Unfinished Business #7-10 relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow (7) $20,000,000 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 the Port neighborhood; (8) $4,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks; (9) $2,000,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including roof repairs at the Fletcher Maynard Academy, and a new boiler at an elementary school; and (10) $5,000,000 to provide funds for the Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan.

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 2, 2017, May 10, 2017 and May 9, 2017 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the General Fund Budget in the amount of $568,246,680.

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 10, 2017 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the Water fund Budget in the amount of $13,973,850.

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 10, 2017 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the Public Investment Budget in the amount of $19,912,815.

Councillors - Please limit your "thank you" remarks to under one minute per councillor. Your unanimous vote on the Budget will send that message clearly enough.


Peace, Love and Understanding
Resolution #8. Declare June 12 to be Loving Day in Cambridge.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

It's not what you think. Then again, maybe it is.

Order #2. City Council in support of Somerville officials in their efforts to achieve 20% affordable housing in all development projects.   Councillor Carlone

This is pretty clearly about whether or not a waiver should be granted in the Assembly Row project. The situation there was that the developer (Federal Realty) was eligible for the waiver because it had entered into a master planned agreement with the City of Somerville prior to the raising of the affordable housing requirement for a building of that size from 12.5 percent to 20 percent. On Thursday, May 18 the waiver was granted, so this Order is essentially moot (unless there are additional projects permitted prior to the increase in the inclusionary requirement).

There is, however, one very questionable aspect to this City Council Order. It is not addressed to the Somerville Board of Alderman but rather calls on the Cambridge City Council "to stand in support of Somerville officials, like Alderman Matthew McLaughlin, in their efforts to achieve 20% affordable housing in all development projects." This reads an awful lot like a candidate endorsement. The Order also calls specifically for sending "a suitably engrossed copy of this resolution to Somerville Alderman Matthew McLaughlin on behalf of the entire City Council." This Order should really be amended to address the issue rather than the incumbent Somerville Alderman seeking reelection this November. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Interesting Items on the May 15, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are a few choice items on this week's menu:Yeah, it's Robert's birthday

Charter Right #1. A communication was received from Councillor Craig A. Kelley, apologizing to his Colleagues, City Manager and City Staff for not attending tonight's meeting in order to attend a conference on climate change adaptation and expressing his thoughts and apology for the events at the Budget Hearing. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on May 8, 2017.]

Let's get this one all clear up front. The issue here is that one city councillor (Mazen) acted abusively toward City employees during a recent Budget Hearing and used a malcontent resident's letter as cover to justify his inquisition. Last week's (May 8) City Council meeting ended with a heated interchange resulting from Mayor Simmons' defense of City employees which upset the super-sized ego of the offending councillor. The story should probably end there since nobody wants the drama to continue. There is an Order on this week's agenda (#7 - see below) that may represent some sort of resolution of this matter.

My hope is that one positive outcome of this kerfuffle is that councillors might get a better grip on what constitutes decent behavior toward City employees and of what is appropriate under the City Charter (which spells out quite clearly that if a city councillor wants to take issue with a department or any individual employee he or she should deal with the matter through the City Manager). If a councillor wants to propose any policy changes, that's what City Council orders are for, and they require a majority vote - though, quite frankly, city councillors often vote for policy orders without challenge or discussion out of a misplaced sense of courtesy toward their colleagues. If a matter is referred to a City Council committee for further discussion, it is incumbent on the sponsor(s) of the Order to convince his or her colleagues about the merit of the proposal. In the case of proposals involving elections (such as paying people to vote or using public money to subsidize City Council election campaigns), a convincing case was never made for those proposals.

Applications & Petitions #3. A petition was received from Cambridge Arts Council requesting eleven temporary banners to be hung on light poles along the north bound traffic lane side of First Street between Binney and Cambridge Streets, announcing the Cambridge Arts River Festival on Sat, June 3, 2017 from 11:00am to 6:00pm along the East Cambridge Waterfront in Lechmere Canal Park and in the DCR parklands adjacent to Cambridge Parkway.

Applications & Petitions #4. An application was received from Cambridge Arts Council requesting permission for two temporary banners across Massachusetts Avenue at City Hall and across JFK Street at Mount Auburn Street announcing the Hong Kong Boston Dragon Boat Festival on Sun, June 11th.

I highlight these only to remind everyone of the many attractions that occur during the months of May and June. The Riverfest worked out pretty well in the Lechmere Canal area last year, though many of us still would like to see it eventually return upstream to the area near the Weeks Footbridge.

Resolution #7. Resolution on the death of Harold J. Aseph III.   Councillor Maher, Councillor Toomey

Just read this. It's one of the most thoughtfully and beautifully written death resolutions I've ever seen from the City Council. [It was written by Fran Cronin.]

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of installing one or more park benches around the Fresh Pond Reservation for the benefit of Cambridge residents, particularly senior citizens who would benefit from such conveniences.   Mayor Simmons

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate staff about providing some appropriate seating on the grassy hill at Kingsley Park.   Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern

These would be welcome additions - and not just for senior citizens.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the School Department, Human Resources, and any other relevant City departments to determine what it would look like financially and logistically for the new Tobin School to house half of Cambridge’s 3 and 4 year olds with the goal of providing universal pre-k split between the Tobin School and another school to be redesigned in the near future.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Devereux

I'm interested to see what the cost implications of this might be. It will likely be quite expensive. Having looked at what parents with good incomes shell out for the two pre-K schools and a day-care facility on my (very short) block in Cambridge, I'm sure some of those people would love to have a "public option". It could be the only affordable option for people of lower income.

Update: Councillor Carlone (wisely) suggested that it would be preferable if any pre-K options were diversified in the sense that they should be smaller groupings spread throughout the city rather than be concentrated into one or two school buildings.

Order #4. That a Standing Committee made up of three School Committee members, three City Councillors the Superintendent, the City Manager, as well as other members to be determined, be established to meet monthly to discuss issues pertinent to the School Department and the City and to improve communication between the School Committee and City Council.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

The City Council should think long and hard about the wisdom of this. It could go either way in terms of resolving conflicts or creating conflicts between these two elected bodies. I could easily see this becoming a place where some city councillors try to steer things that are really meant to be decided by the School Committee and the School Department. On the other hand, there are some matters such as community schools and after-school programming, that falls under the Department of Human Services Programs even though they take place in public school buildings and which the City Council clearly has some policy-making role. They may want to reconsider the plan of meeting monthly. That seems too frequent. Quarterly (and as needed) would be more than enough. Even then it would be meeting more frequently than half of the other City Council committees.

Update: Councillor Kelley floated the idea that perhaps there should be a charter change that "combines the School Committee and the City Council". This, of course, can only be interpreted as a suggestion that the School Committee be eliminated and its functions turned over to a subcommittee of the City Council. I am eager to hear how School Committee members feel about the idea.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and any other relevant City departments with a view in mind for a city-wide expansion of the piloted North Massachusetts Avenue and Kendall Square store frontage limitations, entrepreneurial co-working space, and local retail zoning regulations.   Councillor Cheung

A current topic of discussion in the Envision Cambridge process is "Corridors", i.e. main thoroughfares in the city, including most retail locations. I doubt whether a single city-wide standard is appropriate, but some of these "corridors" could use a little reinvention.

Update: Councillor Mazen expressed his desire that an co-working space be subsidized - either from taxes or through some kind of nebulous "inclusionary" requirement. This, I suppose, would then require some City department to decide who will be eligible for this subsidized space - and the slow shift toward government control continues. Councillor Devereux suggested that this needs more study in concert with the ongoing Retail Strategic Plan. Councillor Carlone suggested that this proposal should be put on hold for now and that it is becoming clear that retail can no longer be supported everywhere.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Mayor’s Office, the City Clerk’s Office, and the Finance Chair to establish a framework for periodic Roundtables throughout each term that will provide City Councillors opportunities to invite different Department Heads in for open, unrestricted discussions on topics of interest to the City Councillors.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mazen

This was exactly the intention of the City Council when Roundtable meetings were first established - way back around 1999. The City Council unearths its own history. As for "unrestricted discussions", I do hope that this does not include inquisitions and/or browbeating of department heads or other City employees. - Robert Winters

Update: Though most councillors seemed generally supportive of the idea, Councillor Devereux suggested that rather than do this as City Council Roundtable meetings they should be done within meetings of the Finance Committee which would allow public comment. Mayor Simmons explained that the idea was to have a more general discussion - not just about finance-related matters. Councillor Devereux wanted some clarification of what the expectations would be noting that Roundtable meetings with City departments often center around some kind of formal presentation followed by questions and discussion.

Councillor Carlone won the wisdom prize by proposing that such freewheeling discussions with City departments take place within existing City Council committees whose focus aligns with the particular department - and not just the Finance Committee. In fact, many years ago most of the City Council committees aligned almost exactly with City departments. It might be a good idea to move back closer to that system so that City Council discussion could be better aligned with what City government actually does.

At the very least, we can probably do with much shorter PowerPoint presentations at City Council Roundtables and more freewheeling informal discussion. That was the original idea when Roundtable meetings were established nearly two decades ago. - RW

Comments?

Noteworthy Agenda Items from the May 8, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

May 8, 2017 Cambridge City Council meetingHere are the agenda items this week that I found interesting:

Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the recommended appointment of Kathleen L. Born as a member of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority for a term of five years.

The appointment of Kathy Born to the CRA by Bob Healy in 2012 was an inspired choice, and City Manager Louis DePasquale continues the inspiration. One correction to the manager's message is that Kathy actually served four terms on the Cambridge City Council. She was first elected in 1993 and served from 1994 through 2001 including one term as Vice Mayor.

There are only two Boards which the City Manager appoints that are subject to City Council approval - the Cambridge Housing Authority and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, so this appointment must formally be passed to the Neighborhood and Long-Term Planning Etcetera Committee before going to the City Council for confirmation (which as assured).

Applications & Petitions #1. A communication was received from Richard Harding, et al., 189 Windsor Street, transmitting notification to withdraw their zoning petition.

Contrary to the statement in this petition, there were actually 17 registered Cambridge voters who signed the original petition. If 5 of them submit a letter to withdraw the petition, even if these are the authors of the petition, that still leaves 12 registered voters who have not written to ask that the petition be withdrawn - 2 more than the minimum requirement. I believe this means that the original petition remains intact. It's a moot point, however. The petitioners have extracted their desired pound of flesh out of the developer and that's really what this petition was all about.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City’s transportation planning staff to reach out to Bridj’s Founder and Chief Executive Matthew George to discuss whether there are opportunities for collaboration in meeting the needs of Cambridge residents for more flexible transit.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen

This would make for an interesting way to navigate around the municipal procurement regulations. Though I'm sure this company may have something to offer, the City would have to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) or similar device to ALL possible bidders. Those who call the shots at Bridj could then submit a proposal and possibly sign a contract. The real question is whether the City has an identified need around which an RFP could be written. It's not the role of the City to approach private companies asking if there's anything the City can do to keep them afloat.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to create a permanent office or public-private initiative for the purpose of fostering charitable giving in Cambridge and to work with non-profits to study the local charitable giving landscape, measuring the estimated maximum charitable carrying capacity of the city.   Councillor Mazen

This is a good intention, but perhaps the more important goal should be to promote existing charitable giving organizations like the Cambridge Community Foundation rather than creating new City administrative positions.

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 Apr 19, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge by creating a new Section 11.900 Maintenance and Security of Vacant or Abandoned Buildings. The proposed zoning would require that any building that is deemed to be vacant or abandoned for longer than 90 days shall be registered with the Inspectional Services Department, shall be secured and maintained so that it does not exhibit any evidence of vacancy, and shall pay an annual registration fee.

The basic premise of this initiative seems to be to come down hard on any property owner who leaves a property vacant for too long - either due to land-banking, wanting to flip a property for a tidy profit, or because of a dysfunctional property owner. I have serious concerns about the confiscatory nature of the original proposal that actually sought to extract the entire assessed value of a vacant property by means of fees in in only two years. That is clearly a regulatory taking and it would never stand up to a court challenge. It's also an obnoxious example of government overreach. I assume the language will be modified to make this merely combative and confrontational rather than confiscatory.

Nobody likes having important properties (such as the Harvard Square Cinema) sitting vacant for years, but the best way to get good results is still to open up a conversation with the property owner. It would be better if parties other than City officials or elected councillors had those conversations.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Councillor Craig A. Kelley, apologizing to his Colleagues, City Manager and City Staff for not attending tonight's meeting in order to attend a conference on climate change adaptation and expressing his thoughts and apology for the events at the Budget Hearing.

I greatly appreciate Councillor Kelley's calling out the unforgivable misbehavior of one obnoxious soon-to-be-former city councillor at last week's Budget Hearings. - Robert Winters


The Budget Hearings continue this week on Tues, May 9 at 6:00pm (School Department Budget) and on Wed, May 10 at 9:00am (City Budget). The budget is available online at: www.cambridgema.gov.   [Complete schedule with Budget Book references]   [multi-year comparisons]

Wednesday's departments are as follows (the underlined ones are the ones that have been pulled (so far) by councillors for discussion).

Cambridge Health Alliance    
Public Works
Water
Community Development
Historical Commission
Peace Commission / Police Review & Advisory Board    
Cable TV
Debt Service
Library
Human Services
Women’s Commission
Human Rights Commission    
Veterans Services
MWRA
Cherry Sheet
City Overview
Finacial Summaries
Revenue
Public Investment
* Date changes for individual departments may occur. The public is invited to attend and be heard.
These hearings will be cablecast live on Municipal Television.

Comments?

May Day at City Hall - Noteworthy agenda items for the May 1, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

The real action this week commences Tuesday at 9:00am with the first of the two FY2018 City Budget Hearings. Here's the lineup for the May 2 hearing:

Mayor’s Office
Executive - Leadership
Employees’ Committee on Diversity
Domestic & Gender Based Violence Prevention Initiative
Equity and Inclusion
Public Information Office
Tourism
City Council
City Clerk
Law
Finance Admin.    
Budget
Personnel
Assessing
Purchasing
Auditing
Treasury/Revenue
Information Technology    
Employee Benefits
General Services
Election Commission
Public Celebrations
Reserve
Animal Commission
Fire Department
Police Department
Traffic, Parking & Transportation
Inspectional Services
License Commission
Weights & Measures
Electrical
Emergency Communications

May Day!Here are a few items from the City Council meeting's relatively brief agenda that caught my eye:

Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $240,000 of Virtual Net Metering (VNM) credits to the General Fund Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account to cover invoices related to the VNM agreement for the photovoltaic project known as “Summer Street Solar.”

As the communication states: "Under the agreement the City will receive monthly checks from Eversource representing the value of the credits and will pay the solar developer 85% of the credits received. Checks will be deposited into a revenue account. ... The City executed this and other virtual net metering agreements as part of the strategy our energy broker recommended to help finance the procurement of 100% renewable energy. ... The 2008 Massachusetts Green Communities Act created incentives for solar developers to work with municipal entities to develop projects. The municipality executes an agreement with a solar developer to purchase the entire output of a commercial scale solar array at a set price per kWh and then effectively sells the entire output of the array to the utility in return for net metering credits equal to a higher price per kWh. ... The City has signed five VNM contracts for close to 6 megawatts of solar, including, most recently, rooftop arrays at Alewife MBTA and the route 128 MBTA facility in Westwood.

Resolution #5. Resolution on the death of Arvilla Sarazen.   Councillor Toomey, Mayor Simmons

I was saddened to see this notice of the death of Arvilla Sarazen. I have crossed paths with Arvilla countless times over the years - in East Cambridge, at events of the Cambridge Democratic City Committee, at the Cambridge Senior Center where she often worked at the front desk, and elsewhere.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the necessary stakeholders to determine the practicality of buying the Tokyo site and converting it into affordable housing units.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux

Let's not forget that this idea was first introduced at the Oct 20, 2014 City Council meeting. What has happened since then? Is the property actually for sale now or is this just wishful thinking?

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor E. Dennis Simmons, regarding Policy Order #13 from Apr 24, 2017 Meeting.

This communication illustrates Mayor Simmons' capacity to look at a broad range of possible consequences of the vote on an Order that most of her colleagues probably barely read before giving it their stamp of approval. As the Mayor clearly states, "I very much believe that taking steps to move toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 is a laudable goal, and communities across the globe need to be taking more aggressive and coordinated actions to protect our environment." She continues, "That said, I believe that the City Council must be more mindful in how we work toward this goal. It would be irresponsible of us as a governing body to create policies in service of any specific goal without pausing to contemplate and acknowledge the impacts they may have on various aspects of our community. There is always the danger of doing the right thing the wrong way, and we must be mindful of the fact that enacting policies too broadly can potentially create negative unintended consequences for segments of our community. In this case, I am specifically thinking about the impact that Policy Order #13 may have upon the small business community of Cambridge, and upon individual homeowners."

The current City Council has repeatedly shown a tendency to vote for populist measures that appeal to whatever group can mobilize people to show up at City Hall. Whether these city councillors actually read and understand what they are voting for - especially any broader consequences and the impact on homeowners and small businesses - remains to be seen. - Robert Winters

Comments?

It's Budget Season - Featured Items on the April 24, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Budget Season!Here's a look at some of the more interesting items on this week's agenda.

The Budget

Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the FY2018 submitted budget and appropriation orders.

Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow $20,000,000 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 the Port neighborhood.

Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow $4,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,000,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including roof repairs at the Fletcher Maynard Academy, and a new boiler at an elementary school.

Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow $5,000,000 to provide funds for the Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan.

The Budget Hearings are scheduled for Tues, May 2 and Wed, May 10 at 9:00am for the FY2018 City Department Budgets and for Tues, May 9 at 6:00pm for the FY2018 School Department Budget.


Appointments

Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as member of the Community Preservation Act Committee for a term of five years, effective Apr 24, 2017: Anna Aldric and David Kale

Manager's Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Recycling Advisory Committee for a term of two years, effective Apr 24, 2017: New Appointments: Ilana Bebchick, Joel Dashnaw, David Frank, Martha Henry, Susy Jones, Liz Marr, Michael Papas, Anne Sherman, Matthew St. Onge, Quinten Steenhuis, Kristen Watkins Reappointments: Keith Cialino, Debby Galef, Rob Gogan, Debby Knight, Janet Mosley, Laura Nichols, Meera Singh and Mary Verhage

Manager's Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Envision Cambridge Focus Area Working Groups on Economy, Housing, Climate and the Environment, and Mobility. The Focus Area Working Groups are tasked with developing recommendations on topic-specific goals, strategies, and targets and indicators.


Items of interest to those who live in fear of being watched

Manager's Agenda #29. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a notification of a request from MIT to perform a test installation of a range of sensor technology along Massachusetts Avenue between Vassar Street and Lansdowne Street, in proximity to the MIT campus.

Manager's Agenda #30. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-15, Council Order Number 7 of 11/21/6 and Council Order Number 2 of 3/27/17, regarding an update on language in a proposed surveillance technology ordinance.

Tin foil hats may be ordered on eBay here. They can also be ordered on Amazon.


Zoning Stuff

Manager's Agenda #20. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Harding, et al Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #6. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge in Article 8.000 entitled "Nonconformity" by deleting Section 8.23 in its entirety and substitute a new Section 8.23. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Apr 17, 2017. Planning Board hearing held Mar 21, 2017. Petition expires June 27, 2017.

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 Apr 6, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinances in Article 20.50 entitled “Harvard Square Overlay and Harvard Square Historic District” by adding a new Section 20.54.7 Exempting rooftop spaces from FAR.

I expect the "Nonconformity" zoning amendment will be ordained at this meeting. The proposal to make it easier to open active roof decks in the Harvard Square area remains in committee, and the combatants have entered the ring.


Airbnb and related stuff

Communication #10. A communication was received from Rebecca Rutenberg, Chief Operating Officer, The Novus Group, transmitting the Airbnb -Cambridge Housing Report.

Communication #15. A communication was received from Caitlin O'Neill, Director of Public Policy, Sonder, 271 Cambridge Street, regarding model language for professional short-term providers.

Order #5. Proposed amendments to the Zoning Ordinance creating a regulatory framework to ensure the City's short-term rentals are legal, safe, and fair.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey

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 Apr 4, 2017 to conduct a general discussion on short-term rental uses throughout the City.

It's very important that this matter be resolved soon, but I have yet to see a completely coherent proposal that provides flexibility for homeowners but which does not overreach. As for the investors who are intentionally buying up multifamily houses so that they can run them as Airbnb profit-makers rather than as homes for actual people, I wish you all frontier justice. To those who paid far too much for your buildings and who now argue that the only way they can make ends meet is to rake in gobs of Airbnb cash, I say "Caveat Emptor". You should have bought a place in Malden.


Brief snippets of wisdom

Communication #8. A communication was received from Peter Valentine, regarding the reason humans don't need robots. [“The reason humans don’t need robots is that humans can be any kind of robot they want, and the reason for that is that they possess within themselves the ultimate chip, which is The Creator of All of Existence.” True or not true.” – Peter Valentine, 4/6/2017]


Birds, bees, flowers, trees, parks, and gardens

Manager's Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-17, regarding a report on a Tree Task Force to protect the Urban Canopy.

Order #1. That the City of Cambridge partner with the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Cambridge Neighborhood Association to revitalize Magazine Beach.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Conservation Commission and report back with a status update of the Community Garden program.   Councillor Devereux

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department to present zoning regulations that allow urban agriculture to the City Council as soon as possible so that an Ordinance Committee hearing can be scheduled.   Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to hold a community meeting to discuss the lighting design proposed for the path, steps being taken to make the lighting appropriate for the natural context of the Reservation, and steps being taken to make Greenway path safe and useful during evening commuting hours.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux

I could go on at length on a number of these matters - the great efforts of Cathie Zusy and others with Magazine Beach, some very short-sighted rules pushed by the City on community gardens under its jurisdiction, the absurd delay in adopting at least something on urban agriculture, and some of the overstated fears expressed regarding lighting on the proposed Fresh Pond Greenway - but perhaps another time. I'm sure there will be plenty of comment.


Minimal substance, but sure to draw comments

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to ban all City employees from using City funds on services provided by United Airlines when alternatives exist.   Councillor Cheung, Mayor Simmons

Order #10. That the City Manager, in instances where there is no significant additional cost defined in regulations, or conflict with law, is requested to refrain from entering into new or amended contracts to purchase professional, technical, scientific or financial services, goods, construction labor and materials or other services, or supplies from businesses that enter into contracts to provide such services, goods, materials or supplies to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux

I really despise Orders like these. In the former, an airline screws up and promises to do better, so the City Council wants to ban the use of City funds on that airline. Plenty of companies screw up at one time or another. Should they all be boycotted? As for the latter, that Trump wall is perhaps the single most stupid proposal I have ever heard from a U.S. President, but asking the City Manager to filter all contracts based on this criterion is just as stupid.


Obscure but curiously interesting

Order #9. That the Public Safety Committee begin a public discussion of potential methods of regulating an internet-based delivery system that makes any part of any road a possible loading platform in a way that allows such uses to continue without putting other users of Cambridge’s roads in danger or unreasonably obstructing traffic.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux

Now that I have read this Order carefully, it appears that the genesis of this Order is the belief that cyclists are incapable of any wisdom or road sense. This Order wants to encourage delivery vehicles, taxis and similar services to temporarily park in the middle of full travel lanes rather than pull to the curb. The authors apparently believe it is better for cyclists to pass vehicles on the right where active loading and unloading of cargo and passengers is taking place. This is lunacy. My guess it passes without debate.


Good intentions that will likely turn that $30K roof repair into a $150K roof repair

Order #13. Urge the Cambridge Legislative Delegation in the State Legislature to do everything in its power to bring Massachusetts closer to 100% renewable energy by 2035, and ensure that the benefits of renewable energy are realized by Massachusetts residents from all walks of life and supporting a goal of using 100% clean and renewable energy in Cambridge, including in building energy use and transportation, by 2035.   Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern

Who could argue with the rosy future painted by this Order? Well, at some point these matters do eventually get translated into things like stretch building codes and super-stretch building codes, and then one day when you just want to fix that leak in your roof and a City inspector informs you that in order to meet the new code your choice is to fix the roof in secret over the weekend without a permit or pay five times the cost in order to meet all the new standards. When that day comes, I do hope that our legislative do-gooders are as generous with their grant money as they are with their mandates. The devil is always in the details. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Springing into April - Agenda items from the April 3, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Impeach - The Honey DrippersThe BIG ITEM at this meeting is the ordination of the amendments to the City's Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance. Then there's also the call for impeachment of the President. Here are some nuggets that caught my attention:

Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $5,250,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account to facilitate the complete renovation of the building located at 859 Massachusetts Avenue.

I'm glad that this building is being rehabilitated for this purpose, but I am astonished at the size of the appropriation - apparently just for this one residential building. Is this what the costs are "to meet the requirements of the City’s Net Zero standards"?

Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $2,875,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account ($1,940,000) and to the Public Works Public Investment Fund ($935,000) to cover winter 2016-2017 snowstorm expenses associated with snow plowing contracts, salt, other material, repair costs and equipment.

I would like to request that the contract not be renewed for whoever was responsible for using the front of my and my neighbors' houses as a snow storage area for snow moved there from elsewhere. My only other complaint is that apparently the City's snow clearance guidelines no longer include plowing all the way to the curb on snow emergency routes even for relatively modest snow events. This led to cars being parked 3-5 feet from the curb on some of these streets. The result is a significantly narrowed roadway that is less safe for everyone. I could understand this being the case in an especially harsh winter (like two years ago) where there's just no place else to put the snow, but this should not have been the case for this relatively mild winter.

Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Betsy Allen as the new Director of Equity and Inclusion (formerly known as Director of Affirmative Action) for the City of Cambridge, effective Apr 10, 2017.

Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Vision Zero Advisory Committee, effective Apr 3, 2017 for a term of two years: Nicholas Dard, Anne Kreider, Jennifer Quick, Peter Kuhlmann, Stephen Varrichio, Becca Wolfson, Nathanael Fillmore, Stacy Thompson, Richard Fries, Wendy Landman, Amy Flax, Sean Peirce, Jim Gascoigne, Michael Muehe, Diane Gray, Todd Robinson, Michele Trifiro and Steve Crossley

I hope this newly appointed advisory committee will focus on actual safety rather than recommending disruptive changes to roadways that are more political than practical and which primarily serve to marginalize cyclists (literally).

Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt with suggested modifications, the Zoning Petition to Amend Section 8.23 - Reconstruction of Nonconforming Structure or Use Following Fire, Explosion or Other Catastrophe.

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 Mar 29, 2017 to discuss a proposed Zoning Ordinance amendment to strikeout Section 8.23 entitled “Non-conformity” and substitute in place thereof a new Section 8.23.

The modifications suggested by the Planning Board are sensible. The City Council may also wish to consider time extensions beyond the allowed time frame via special permit in case of extraordinary circumstances.

Update: The petition was amended by substitution using language recommended by the Planning Board, then passed to a 2nd Reading.

Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to amendments to Title 6 of the Municipal Code entitled "Animals" to include a new Chapter 6.20 entitled "Restrictions on the Sale of Animals in Pet Shops".

Very well, but where will you purchase mice and other live food for your pet snake or other animal?

Update: These amendments were referred to the Ordinance Committee.

Unfinished Business #7. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge in Inclusionary Housing, including the insertion of new definitions in Article 2.000 and the substitution of revised zoning text for the current text to Sections 11.200 through 11.206. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Apr 3, 2017. Planning board hearing held Dec 20, 2016. Petition expires Apr 4, 2017.

This should be all set based on the language that was passed to a 2nd Reading on March 20, and the vote will likely be unanimous unless there are some problematic last-minute amendments. It remains to be seen whether the 20% affordable mandate will be viable in the long term or if it only serves to exacerbate the gap between high income and low income residents. My greatest concern is that the current policies will eventually lead to a future where only very high income people can buy or rent unrestricted housing units and the only option for everyone else will be to file an application with a City housing agency to obtain housing.

Order #2. That the City Council call upon the United States House of Representatives to support a resolution authorizing and directing the House Committee on the Judiciary to investigate whether sufficient grounds exist for the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, including but not limited to the violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

This will certainly bring the TV crews out. [ABCNews story] City Council Orders don't generally get titles, but perhaps this one could be called "An Order Calling for Hard Right Conservative VP Mike Pence to Assume the Presidency". Be careful what you wish for. I received an email appeal recently about this Order with the subject heading "Support Bold Action by the City Council". It would perhaps better be characterized as a symbolic action meant to achieve nothing more than the attention of ill-intentioned Congressmen, Senators, and the Executive Branch. What exactly that achieves is yet to be determined.

Update: This purely symbolic order passed on a 7-1-1 vote with Councillor Maher voting NO and Councillor Toomey voting PRESENT. The real question is which councillor gets the most quotes in the local press and the most face time on national TV.

Committee Report #1. 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 Feb 15, 2017 to discuss next steps on bike and transit safety in Cambridge.

Suffice to say that I am very concerned that for purely political reasons some Cambridge streets may soon look like a forest constructed of upright PVC pipe, marginalized cyclists, dangerously narrowed roadways, loss of parking in places where it's needed, and no net additional safety. I am often reminded of the fact that "skyways", i.e. elevated highways, were one touted as the be-all-end-all solution to traffic problems. Decades later many of these misguided visions are being dismantled as the wrong solution. - Robert Winters

Comments?

End of the March - Interesting Items on the March 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda

First Sign of SpringHere's my take on this week's agenda:

Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Harvard Square Kiosk Working Group, effective Mar 27, 2017: Abra Berkowitz, Robyn Culbertson, Ankita Deshpande, Timothy Hyde, Janet Si-Ming Lee, Sarah Rosenkrantz, Daniel Andrew Schofield-Bodt, Kenneth Taylor, John DiGiovanni, Bertil JeanChronberg, Frank Kramer, Peter Kroon, Sohail Nasir, Abhishek Syal, Thomas Lucey and Mary Flynn

This is shaping up like a classic turf war and I hope these appointees can get beyond that. Personally, I would just like to see an active use for the Kiosk that's not all about the tourists - a place where the locals want to gather. My ideal would be something like Sullivan's at Castle Island in South Boston, but I don't suppose the Old Cambridge crowd could ever tolerate that much humanity.

Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the requirements of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) that the City Council adopt an order for the Statement of Interest Form to be submitted to MSBA no later than Apr 7, 2017 for the Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper School located at 197 Vassal Lane.

The Putnam Avenue School is done and the King Open and Cambridge Street Upper Schools are now under construction. This Statement of Interest concerns the next major renovation or replacement - the Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper School. Let's hope there's some state grant money available to help pay for the project.

Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a proposed ordinance related to the growth and maintenance of “Running Bamboo”.

Alternatively, we could import pandas. City officials are just so resistant to creative solutions.

Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 16-64 and 17-9, regarding trash and recycling pick up for small businesses.

"DPW is proposing to expand the municipal recycling pick-up program on a trial basis to small businesses beginning in the spring/summer of 2018. It is proposed that this program will be made available to all small businesses throughout the City on a once per week basis, and will help reduce the cost to businesses in eliminating the need for them to contract with outside vendors as well as enabling the City to further increase the quantity of material diverted from the waste stream in the City. Funds are included in the FY18 budget to initiate the program."

Manager's Agenda #14. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $1,000,000 from the Water Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance account to the Public Investment Fund Water Extraordinary Expenditures account to fund the replacement of water meters and meter transmitter units (MTUs).

Contained in the message is the following piece of good news: "In October 2016, the Council approved an appropriation to use $3.6 million from the Water Fund’s Fund Balance to purchase water from the MWRA to ensure an adequate supply of water to meet the needs of the community. The severity of the drought has lessened and the usable capacity in our reservoir system has stabilized. The City has not had to use MWRA water since the beginning of December and has only expended $1.6 million."

Manager's Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to recommendations for the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2017 and ending Mar 31, 2018.

According to the Manager's report, the average triple-decker uses about 122 CCF of water per year. My triple-decker apparently uses nearly twice that and we're generally pretty conscientious about water use. This past year I paid over $2850 and the report says the average for a triple-decker was $1590. Either something is amiss with the plumbing or the Manager's figures or my water meter is reading a lot higher than it should. Actually, I just checked my records and it appears that the higher readings coincide with when the new meter was installed. Time to call the Water Department, I guess.

Order #1. City Council go on record urging the Governor to resist reducing funding for The Ride.   Mayor Simmons

It's stunning just how backwards things are in this state and, in particular, the Boston Metropolitan Area when it comes to public transportation. I don't doubt that there are some efficiencies to be had with The Ride and other services, but this hardly seems the place to close a budget gap.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Acting Police Commissioner with a view toward piloting a Cambridge Police outpost located in Carl Barron Plaza, to be ready for operation by Summer 2017.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

What should really happen is for the City and the MBTA and a Central Square property owner to create a multi-function site that can house a police substation, an MBTA facility for bus drivers and other personnel, an information center, a public bathroom, and maybe even a newsstand. That, of course, would take coordination, so I won't hold my breath.

Order #6. That the City of Cambridge opposes H.R. 482 and S. 103, and calls on its representatives in the House and Senate to vote against these bills, and to exert influence on other representatives to oppose these bills and support the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in all efforts to affirmatively further fair housing and collect data to assess the progress of fair housing initiatives and inclusiveness of its communities.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

In addition to the many positive effects of the Fair Housing Act, there is also the unintended consequence that efforts to more equitably locate some social-service types of housing throughout the city have actually been hindered by this Act. There is no legal way to prevent the over-concentration of such facilities in a place like Central Square.

Order #7. That the City Council agenda be altered to create a section in the agenda between public comment and the City Manager’s agenda entitled “General Council Discussion,” where Councillors would be able to bring their colleagues up-to-date on projects in which they are engaged or ask for updates about projects that other Councillors are working on, even if these issues do not appear on the Council’s agenda or have never been the subject of formal City Council attention.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux

In an ideal world, city councillors would actually be working on such projects collaboratively and in accordance with the Open Meeting Law via the various City Council subcommittees. If this were the case there would be no need to set aside a special time at City Council meetings to reveal what they've been doing out of public view.

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 Mar 16, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Richard Harding, et al., to amend the Mass + Main Residential sub district and the Central Square Overlay District by amending Sections 20.307.8.1 (a) and (b) and 20.307.6.2 (a).

Even if someone has lingering objections to the Mass+Main project, this is an absurd way to go about expressing those objections long after that train left the station. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Springtime in Cambridge: Featured Mar 20, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Items

It's SpringHere's a sampler of items of potential interest at the March 20 Cambridge City Council meeting. Happy spring! (It'll be warm again before you know it.)

On the Table #5. That the City Manager is requested to establish the requirement that all appointments to the City's commissions, advisory committees, and task forces reflect the City's diversity and that the Civic Unity Committee is asked to sign off on all such appointments going forward. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Order #8 of Feb 27, 2017. Tabled on a motion by Councillor Cheung on a voice vote of 8 members on Mar 6, 2017.]

Perhaps they'll settle this on Monday. As I've stated before, the goal is laudable but you cannot give veto power over City Manager appointments to a committee.

Unfinished Business #6. An amendment to the Municipal Code Ordinance that Title 8 entitled “Health and Safety” be amended in Chapter 8.28 entitled “Restriction on Youth Access to Tobacco Products and in Smoking in Workplaces and Public Places” by amending 8.28.050 entitled “ Definitions for Prohibition of Smoking in Workplaces” by adding a new definition. [The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Mar 20, 2017.]

I'm sure a few of the smoking risk denial crowd will be there to testify against this. They should take a walk on Berkshire St. beforehand.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from the Friends of Observatory Hill Village, to establish the Observatory Hill Village Overlay District. (1000+ additional signatures for this zoning petition are on file in the City Clerk's Office.)

The language of the petition seems reasonable enough, but I'm always curious about what recent activities in an area lead to the decision to submit a petition for a change in the zoning. Are back yards being built over? Are new buildings being built that bear no relationship to the existing buildings. Just curious.


Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Latoyea Hawkins Cockrill, et a., to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to regulate short-term rental uses throughout the City.

Committee Report #3. 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 Mar 1, 2017 to draft language for short-term rental regulations to be forwarded to the Ordinance Committee.

These two have to be discussed together, and I wouldn't be surprised if this petition and the soon-to-be City Council petition on the same topic are processed concurrently. There has been some discussion on the neighborhood listservs that the Cockrill Petition is really being submitted by AirBnB to counter the proposal coming out of the City Council that would normalize short-term rentals but restrict it to owner-occupied properties. I expect there will be a lot of public comment on this one.


Communications #3. A communication was received from Peter Valentine, 37 Brookline Street, transmitting thanks for seeing the true totality of what he does, reducing complicated things to their simplest level.

In a strange way, I have to agree with Peter.

Resolution #2. Congratulations to the CRLS Boys Basketball Team on their Division 1 (North) Championship.   Councillor Toomey

Now we can add a 2nd straight State Championship to that. The CRLS Falcons won the championship game on Saturday night by a score of 70-43 over Franklin High School.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments on the feasibility of installing a hitting tunnel at Danehy Park for youth and high school sports.   Councillor Toomey

I've been badgering Kendall Square developers for years about putting a miniature golf course there. A batting cage would also be nice. Show us how Innovative you really are.

Order #5. Recognize the efforts of AIDS Action Cambridge, the SIFMA Now Coalition, and First Church in Cambridge to promote greater awareness about the ongoing opiate epidemic crisis, and their collective efforts to increase access to effective treatment throughout Cambridge.   Mayor Simmons

Further comment is unnecessary. This is important.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 14, 2017 to discuss the Retail Strategic Plan and similar issues related to the retail environment in Cambridge.

This report seems short on specifics, but apparently the process leading to a Retail Strategic Plan for Cambridge business districts still has a way to go. In any case, it's not always the City plans that govern the eventual outcomes. There are many hands stirring these pots and zoning alone cannot predetermine outcomes.

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 Jan 25, 2017 to discuss the City’s Fiscal Year 2018 Operating and Capital Budget.

The Manager and staff provided the context, and the councillors provided the wish lists. Tune in early May for the Budget Hearings.

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 Feb 28, 2017 to conduct an additional hearing to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend provisions of the Zoning Ordinance as it related to Inclusionary Housing, including the insertion of new definitions in Article 2.000 and the substitution of revised zoning text for the current text to Sections 11.200 through 11.206.

This is the meatiest item on the agenda. It is presumed that the petition will be passed to a 2nd Reading with the 20% net inclusionary housing mandate and other changes. The sticky point is whether the Council wants to jettison legal reasoning and retroactively impose the same requirements on Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) that have already received Special Permits. It may be politically popular to impose requirements that are certain to be challenged and likely to be invalidated by the courts but, hey, enjoy your Revolution. Then educate yourselves about long-term planning and financing of large-scale developments. - Robert Winters

Comments?

March in like a Lamb, now Lion, soon to be Lamb - March 6, 2017 City Council highlights

Lion or Lamb?This Monday's City Council meeting has a few interesting items on the agenda. Here's a sampler:

Reconsideration #1. Councillor Toomey filed Reconsideration of the vote taken at the City Council meeting of Feb 27, 2017 on Policy Order #7 stating that the City Council support the 10-citizen petition recently presented to the Cambridge Historical Commission, asking for a tiered designation system and other amendments to the Harvard Square Conservation District guidelines and possibly to its boundaries.

I'm curious what aspect of this proposal led to the request for Reconsideration.

Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request to establish the Richard C. Rossi Housing Assistance Fund (the “Fund”), and that $35,641.46 in donations received be appropriated into this Fund.

This is a great initiative, and it's very appropriate that it be named for Rich Rossi who was a consistent supporter of housing for people of all incomes.

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to establish the requirement that all appointments to the City's commissions, advisory committees, and task forces reflect the City's diversity and that the Civic Unity Committee is asked to sign off on all such appointments going forward. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Order #8 of Feb 27, 2017.]

As I stated last week, this Order is not lawful as stated. It would be better if it was rephrased to read: "That the City Manager is requested to establish the goal that the City's commissions, advisory committees, and task forces reflect the City's diversity." Even with that revision, this goal is probably not achievable in many cases due to the applicant pool and the nature of some of the commissions that are defined by advocacy for particular issues or constituencies.

Resolution #1. Celebrate Peter Valentine’s contributions to the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen, Mayor Simmons

In Cambridge, we appreciate our "characters", especially when he's the "National Officer In Charge". By the way, according to the registered voter database, Peter Zak Valentine was born on Valentine's Day and also registered to vote in Cambridge on Valentine's Day.

Order #1. City Council support of the ACLU's call for Massachusetts to withdraw from the 287(g) program.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Mazen

The quoted page gives a list of all state or local law enforcement entities that have such agreements. In Massachusetts, the only such entities are the Bristol County Sheriff's Office, the Plymouth County Sheriff's Department, and the Massachusetts Department of Corrections.

Order #2. That the Ordinance Committee is requested to hold a hearing on the future of zoning in Alewife and to review previous zoning changes made to the area.   Councillor Cheung

A few specifics here would be helpful. A working committee of Envision Cambridge has been looking at this area for much of this past year and may be close to the point where some zoning recommendations may be possible. It is ironic, however, that there is a City Council subcommittee that has long-tern planning as part of its name yet focuses on anything but long-term planning. So it goes.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to report back on how the City can mitigate the impact of work to the conduit property in Watertown and how it will be managed in the future, what efforts can be made to preserve the two mature trees that were marked but not removed, and how to involve the Watertown Tree Warden and Watertown Town Council in ensuring that Cambridge’s right to protect its water conduit is carried out while also preserving harmonious relations with the residents of Watertown.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Kelley

This would be a good opportunity for Cambridge residents to educate themselves on how all of their basic necessities (water supply, sewerage, gas and electricity) are configured. I have long been amazed at how many people count themselves as environmental activists but know so very little about their relationship with their own local environment. How many Cambridge residents know where their water comes from, how it gets to the treatment plant, and how it is conveyed to water mains throughout the city?

Order #6. That the Ordinance Committee is requested to hold a public hearing on the draft language for short-term rentals.   Councillor Cheung

Hats off to Councillor Kelley and Wil Durbin for riding herd on this issue. I had no idea how many people are doing AirBnB and similar rentals in Cambridge until a Council committee hearing last year.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Craig A. Kelley, regarding Open Meeting Law Training.

This is a good idea from Councillor Kelley. Ideally, the State Legislature should review the current law to make sure that it is not imposing restrictions that were never intended and which serve no useful purpose. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Before the March - Items of Interest at the February 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Time TravelIn between Resistance Rallies and Sanctuary Sessions, the Cambridge City Council occasionally meets to talk about Municipal Matters. Here are a few items that may be of interest to those not marching or carrying signs on Monday.

Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining its noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 35 municipalities in the United States with AAA ratings from each of the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.

It has become an annual tradition. Keep it up. People will complain anyway.

Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $48,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Finance (Personnel) Other Ordinary Maintenance account. This appropriation will be used to procure consultant services to assist in the hiring of a new Police Commissioner.

The public is invited to assist the City with the development of the leadership profile for the Police Commissioner search. Members of the public may participate in the process by attending one of the Citywide Public Forums or by providing written feedback. Two Citywide Public Forums, facilitated by PERF, are being held on:
  • Thursday, March 2, 2017, from 6-8pm, School Committee Room, CRLS, 459 Broadway
  • Saturday, March 4, 2017 from 10am–12pm, Citywide Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Avenue.


Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a revised and annotated version of the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #9. 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 an additional public hearing held on Feb 2, 2017 to discuss the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition. [The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 27, 2017. Planning Board hearing held Nov 29, 2016. Petition expires Mar 1, 2017.]

This is the last chance to ordain this before its expiration date. It appears to have unanimous support, but there could still be a tweak or two before it's official. The real question is whether these very modest zoning changes will provide sufficient incentive for us to see actual positive changes in Central Square. In any case, this is a good start.


Applications & Petitions #3. A Zoning Petition has been received from the owner of the property at Third Street and Cambridge Street to amend the existing zoning at that location to authorize the construction of a 45 unit residential building with small scale retail on the ground floor and parking below grade.

Another day, another zoning petition. Actually, there are two additional City Council zoning petitions being introduced at this meeting – Order #17 and Order #20.

Resolution #2. Thanks to Luis Vasquez for his service to fathers in Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

Luis Vasquez is one of the most decent people I have met in my nearly 40 years in Cambridge.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Mayor to make the Sullivan Chamber and the prior goal setting facilitator, or any professional facilitator, available on a weekly basis for half day or full day City Council goal setting sessions   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux

This Order seems to suggest that City Council goal-setting is an extended exercise that goes on for days and days. In truth, it's just a snapshot of general priorities at a given time - and it has never taken all that much time to develop nor should it. Like a party platform, it just lays out some general goals and principles. It's a bit bewildering that they haven't completed this by now, but it's not like building Rome.

Order #7. City Council support of the 10-citizen petition recently presented to the Cambridge Historical Commission, asking for a tiered designation system and other amendments to the Harvard Square Conservation District guidelines and possibly to its boundaries.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen

Though this petition appears to be a response to the current specific redevelopment plans for the Abbot Building in Harvard Square, the idea contained in this petition is interesting and potentially worth pursuing. I suspect it would simply make official what likely already happens, i.e. the Cambridge Historical Commission evaluating buildings as possessing varying degrees of historical significance.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to establish the requirement that all appointments to the City's commissions, advisory committees, and task forces reflect the City's diversity and that the Civic Unity Committee is asked to sign off on all such appointments going forward.   Mayor Simmons

This is a laudable goal but the Order as written is a clear violation of state law. The City Manager is the appointing authority and this Order calls for making appointments to all boards and commissions contingent on approval of a City Council subcommittee. Another problem with this order is that the word "diversity" means a lot of things - and not just what people look like. Should there be mandatory diversity of viewpoint on all advisory committees? We could use a lot more diversity of viewpoint, but some of these boards do, in fact, act as advocates for a particular point of view. Perhaps this Order should be amended by replacing the word "requirement" with the word "goal" and by removing the proposal to give the Civic Unity Committee veto power over City Manager appointments.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on what progress has been made in meeting the goal of creating 1,000 new affordable units by the end of this decade.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

As a rule, goals like this are far too constraining in the absence of other considerations. If this was to be accomplished via Inclusionary Zoning, this implies that the City should have a goal of producing over 8,600 new housing units per decade under current standards or 5,000 new housing units under the proposed new 20% standard. I don't wish to refer all such considerations to the Envision Cambridge process, but it is a valid long-term planning concern. In addition, housing growth (both "affordable" and in general) has to be accomplished in the whole region and not just in a few cities and towns within the region.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to work with relevant City Departments and industry leaders to generate a report on the potential growth of next-generation wireless technology in the City, to include: the expected footprint of citywide coverage from just one company and what market competition might produce; the integration of public and private infrastructure to support the network; what local standards the City might hope to maintain relative to aesthetics and safety; and how this new technology fits into our Broadband access plans.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Though these are all valid concerns, including the proliferation of seemingly random (and sometimes noisy and ugly) structures perched atop utility poles and buildings, my guess is that when all is said and done the selection of broadcast channels will continue to suck and the cost of access to "premium" services like Red Sox games will continue to soar without limit.

Order #17. Amendments to the Zoning Map and Ordinance by creating a new Section 11.900 - Registration of Vacant/Abandoned Buildings; Maintenance and Security Requirements.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone

I'm eternally curious about the motivation of actions such as this one. Could this be related to the long-term vacancy of a place like the Harvard Square Cinema building? Or is this just a way to address long-term horror shows like the Vail Court property on Bishop Allen Drive without having to file a half dozen City Council orders and inviting lawsuits after an eminent domain taking? I do find it curious that this proposed zoning amendment would assess a monthly fee at a rate of 4.17 percent of the assessed value of the property on any property that is vacant more than 6 months. That's 50% of the assessed value per year. With rates like that this really starts to look like a regulatory taking of the property and it's doubtful that courts will look kindly on such a fee structure.

Order #18. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to ask the Volpe Working Group to consider how the GSA building will be integrated in with the rest of the site and to ask the independent design consultant to be more involved in the urban design process going forward.   Councillor Cheung

At the MIT meeting on this matter it was revealed that the Volpe replacement building would have to be located at the northwest corner of the Volpe site and that much of the open space associated with the future federal property could be integrated with the rest of the open space planned on the site. Details at http://www.volpemit.com and, in particular in this PDF slide presentation of the Feb 16, 2017 meeting.

Order #20. Proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinances regarding rooftop spaces in Central Square.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone

This seems like a sensible outgrowth of the discussion that grew out of the Central Square Restoration Petition which will hopefully be ordained by the time this Order comes up in the agenda. See you at the March. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Monday the 13th - Featured Items on the Feb 13, 2017 Cambridge City Council Meeting Agenda

This is a very short agenda this week. Here are a few things of possible interest:

Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the revised and annotated version of the Central Square Restoration 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 an additional public hearing held on Feb 2, 2017 to discuss the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition.

It is expected that the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition will be passed to a 2nd Reading at this meeting. This will put it in the queue for ordination at the Feb 27 meeting - hopefully by a unanimous vote.

Resolution #5. Wishing Ken Reeves a Happy Birthday.   Councillor Toomey

When Ken was on the Council it was a tradition to not only wish him a happy birthday on his Feb 8 birthday, but to also commemorate him for the entire month of February. It's nice to see Councillor Toomey continuing the tradition - at least for the day. Happy Birthday, Ken!

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works, the City Arborist, and any other appropriate City department to establish a Tree Task Force to better protect the urban canopy.   Councillor DevereuxAll Hail Marx and Lennon

This is the only City Council Order on the agenda this week. Perhaps such a task force could be established within the Public Planting Committee rather than duplicating effort. More generally, this is a good time to take a look at all of the City's various Boards, Commissions, Advisory Committees, and Task Forces to make sure that the right issues are being addressed, there is no duplication of effort, and that volunteer energy is being best utilized.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 12, 2017 to review City Ordinance 12.08.010 regarding sandwich board and A-frame signs.

The littlest issue had its day in committee. Most seemed to agree that some basic guidelines should be established and that the permitting of such signs should be done in the future by City staff without the need for City Council approval of every such sign. An ordinance change will be required to make it so. - Robert Winters

Comments?

On tap at the February 6, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Patriots - Super Bowl ChampionsHere are some items of possible interest this Monday. Budget Season is on the horizon. More importantly, pitchers and catchers report February 13 and position players on February 16. Even more importantly, wasn't that come-from-behind Patriots victory in the Super Bowl just spectacular?

Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of of $3,709,949 in funds from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Grant to the Public Works Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures account for the Alewife Sewer Separation Program.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Department of Public Works to set and meet a firm 2017 deadline for fully completing all remaining parts of the Huron A, Huron B, and Concord Avenue contracts, provide a full accounting of all costs (to-date and future) compared to the original contracts and budgets and schedule a community meeting as soon as possible to update the public on the schedule and budget for completing the project, as well as a complete list of all remaining punch list items for each of the contract areas.   Councillor Devereux

Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,300,000 to provide funds for the design, drainage, and installation of new field surfaces at Russell Field and the Graham and Parks School.

Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $1,100,000 to provide funds for the construction of sewer separation, storm water management, and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the Cambridgeport Neighborhood.

Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $1,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

Call me an infrastructure geek, but I just love this kind of stuff - how all the systems of a city run from water supply to sewerage to electric service and everything else that goes on unseen and underappreciated (until something goes wrong).

Charter Right #8 (Order #3 of Jan 23, 2017). That the City Manager is requested to hire an independent consultant who shall assess the efficiency and effectiveness of how all City Departments conduct their work, who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary, and who will report back to the City Manager and the City Council on his or her progress in regular monthly intervals. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Jan 23, 2017. Placed On Table on motion of Mayor Simmons on Jan 30, 2017.]

My understanding is that better language was being worked out and this item should be voted on Monday. Most importantly, any consultant hired by the City should advise the City Manager, but it's still entirely the Manager's decision how to structure City departments. As I mentioned last week, this may also be a good time to look at the structure of all the City's volunteer Boards and Commissions, and maybe the City Council should also give some thought toward how its subcommittees function (or not function).

Unfinished Business #10. A proposed amendment to the Ordinance entitled "Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge" to insert in Article 11.00 a new Section 11.800 Medical Marijuana. [The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 6, 2017. Planning Board hearings were held Nov 1, 2016 and Jan 3, 2017. Petition expires Feb 7, 2017.]

The deadline is here, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to work with the relevant City staff to make available the City’s GIS system data regarding the total number of parking spaces designated as resident-permit only by street address, the total number of residential off-street parking spaces by street address, and the total number of cars registered in Cambridge by street address.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen

Councillors Devereux and Mazen are gathering data to make the case for removing parking on several major streets, including Broadway, Cambridge St., Hampshire St., and Mass. Ave. in order to remove bicycles from the roadway. They have apparently neglected to inquire about parking for schools, City buildings, churches, day care facilities, funeral homes, and all businesses. They also neglected to inquire about parking needs by times of day. I'm sure it was just an oversight. And pigs can fly. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Now Featuring.... Coming Attractions at the Jan 30, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

GroundhogWith Groundhog Day fast approaching, and in recognition of a really great movie, perhaps the City Council will find the wisdom (and the kindness toward the City Clerk) to dispense with On The Table Items #3, #4, #5, #7, and #8. I mean, seriously, the Nutcracker performances are over for 2016, so why is the matter of banners promoting the Boston Ballet's Nutcracker still on the agenda every week? This will take all of one minute to dispense with these zombies and allow the City Council move on to bigger and better things (as well as the usual lot of smaller and poorer things). Here are a few agenda items that seem either interesting, controversial, or just plain ridiculous:

Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an update on the Bicycle Safety Work Plan.

One conclusion that I draw from this report is that this plan is basically non-negotiable. On-street parking will soon be removed on major streets and any claims of "evaluation" are fiction. Politicians will henceforth be in charge of traffic engineering. Those who believe that bicycles belong on the sidewalk and not in the streets are now calling all the shots. Those of us who choose to ride in the street are now squeezed into narrower lanes and greater danger. I have yet to meet an MBTA bus driver who has anything good to say about Cambridge's plans. I only wish City officials would drop the pretense of calling these "temporary measures" while at the same time making them permanent as was recently done in the Special Permit conditions imposed on the Mass and Main development in Lafayette Square.

Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the comprehensive Needs Assessment Report relative to the Community Benefits Ordinance.

This has been long in coming. There is a need for a more rational process in determining how money derived from new developments will be distributed for projects and institutions for the public good. I still have some concerns about "mitigation as shakedown" and the possibility that not-so-great projects will be permitted to go forward as long as the developers sufficiently "sweeten the pot" with additional contributions. I would rather see good projects regardless of the mitigation.

Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the results of the biannual City of Cambridge Citizen Telephone Survey for 2016.

I have taught statistics courses, but I get no pleasure in reading statistical reports like these. All you really need to know is in the City Manager's cover letter. "Overall opinions of the City remain very positive. Citizens’ extreme satisfaction with overall performance of City government in Cambridge ... is a reflection on responsible, forward-thinking policies, and a capable and extremely dedicated workforce." "Affordable housing/housing was again identified as the ‘single most important issue facing the City of Cambridge today’." Enough said.

Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-110, regarding the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition.

Most of this is old news, but it's good to have it summarized in this report. There is an important legal opinion from City Solicitor Nancy Glowa on the legality of the proposed Formula Business regulations in the petition. The rest of the petition is pretty solid and received accolades from the Planning Board, but we may have to live for now without the proposed change from the current Fast Food Cap to the more desirable Formula Business regulations. Then again, maybe we'll see some revised language at the Feb 2 hearing on the matter. In any case, the core provisions of this petition should pass - and soon.

Charter Right #1. A zoning petition has been received from Richard Harding, et al. to amend 20.800 titled the Mass and Main Residential Mixed Income Sub district to reflect a more appropriate affordable housing contribution and height limitation for this zoning. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Jan 23, 2017.]

This petition was rendered moot by the granting of the Special Permit for the Mass and Main and related developments this past Tuesday by the Planning Board. The votes aren't there to pass this petition anyway.

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to hire an independent consultant who shall assess the efficiency and effectiveness of how all City Departments conduct their work, who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary, and who will report back to the City Manager and the City Council on his or her progress in regular monthly intervals. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Jan 23, 2017.]

The City Council should amend this Order to simply ask the City Manager to consider hiring a consultant to advise him on possible changes in the structure and function of City departments. While they're at it, the City Council and the City administration should take a good objective look at all of the City's volunteer Boards and Commissions to see if there are any efficiencies that can be made or if any of the ordinances that created some of these boards should be amended to better reflect today's needs and priorities.

Then the City Council should take a good hard look at its own operations. For example, wouldn't it work better if City Council aides were assigned to Council subcommittees rather than to individual councillors? Perhaps each Council subcommittee could also keep its own web page that tracks what each committee is doing, the status of any initiatives, and a record of all actions taken.

Resolution #2. Resolution on the death of Renae Gray.   Mayor Simmons

Renae was the first person to invite me (in 1991) to be on a board of a civic organization in Cambridge. She always brought positive energy to anything with which she was involved. This is a very significant loss to the civic fabric of the city.

Order #2. Amendment to Chapter 8.12.010 of the Municipal Code.   Councillor Cheung

This is almost like a mystery question. The Order basically just asks that the requirement that any gas station with self-serve pumps "have service bays and offer automotive repairs" be removed. On the face of it, this just seems like common sense since there are already self-serve gas stations in Cambridge where no repairs are made. But why is this revision being posed now? Is this just housekeeping or is there a service station that wants to do self-serve gas and get out of the repair business? It matters because self-serve stations usually come with bright lights, extended hours, and elaborate fire-suppression structures. That's a pretty big change from Goober's Fillin' Station.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the MBTA to install a shelter on Aberdeen Avenue without advertising or lighting comparable to what was originally there and to consult with City staff to develop a policy that prohibits advertising and illumination on bus shelters in residential areas citywide and as well as in the Parkway Overlay District.   Councillor Devereux

We probably all would rather see less advertising on bus shelters, Hubway stations, etc., but that is how the maintenance costs are covered. Perhaps they can just dim the lights and make the advertisements classier.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department, the Department of Public Works (DPW) and any other relevant City department and report back to the City Council on ways the City can help small businesses offset other costs, included but not limited to, the possibility of DPW picking up trash from these small businesses during their regular routes.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung

This debate has gone on for at least 25 years. The truth is that DPW already does pick up trash from small businesses in some mixed-use buildings (like next door to me). If the City did choose to include more commercial customers, they would also have to include recycling services.

Communications and Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by John Hawkinson alleging violation to attorney client privileged redactions of executive session minutes of the City Council for Aug 1, 2016, Oct 13, 2016 and the Oct 31, 2016.

While few will argue with the intent of the Open Meeting Law, there does come a point when complaints like these pass well into the realm of the ridiculous. In this particular case, these were Executive Session meetings specifically focused on contract negotiations. They are not subject to the Open Meeting Law and redaction in the minutes is permitted when appropriate, so no one should be surprised that much of the minutes were redacted. There are far more important things to worry about - even here in the Little Village of Cambridge. In any case, I wish the complainant would show a little more respect to the women who work in City government. Nobody appreciates being hounded while under threat of a negative "news" story that's barely distinguishable from a personal attack. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Coming up this Monday - Jan 23, 2017 Cambridge City Council agenda [extra detail here or here (15.4MB PDF)]

Jan 23, 2017

Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person to the position of Assistant City Manager for Finance, effective Mar 13, 2017:  David Kale.

It's like that line from the Blues Brothers - "We're putting the band back together." Welcome back, David.

Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-107, regarding the purchase of K9 Rumba by Officer Peter Neal.

There was no absolutely right resolution to this dilemma. In the end, four-year-old Rumba still has work to do for the City of Cambridge.

Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $35,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Human Services Other Ordinary Maintenance account, to be used to expand the existing contract with Food for Free to support the Weekend Backpack Program.

This is not the first time the City has taken up the slack when the state or federal government discontinued funding for a useful program such as this. I expect it won't be the last.


Manager's Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation regarding the Medical Marijuana Zoning Petition. [The Planning Board does NOT RECOMMEND adoption.]

Committee Report #2 and Committee Report #3 from the Ordinance Committee for public hearings held on Dec 21, 2016 and on Jan 3, 2017 relative to the City Council petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance to delete the existing Section 20.700 – Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts; create a new Section 11.800 – Medical Marijuana; and list Registered Marijuana Dispensary within Section 4.35 of the Table of Use Regulations, allowed only by Planning Board Special Permit within Business A, B, B-1, B-2, C, Industry A-1, B-1 and B-2 districts. These are the 2nd and 3rd hearings on this petition.

The basic issue here is that if there are to be medical marijuana dispensaries in Cambridge, the existing zones where it is allowed appear to be inadequate as evidenced by repeated zoning petitions to add new small zones tailored to specific sites. The alternative is to simply make this an allowed use in some or all of the existing business districts (as long as other constraints are met). One identified complication is that under the recently passed initiative petition to liberalize the use, possession, and sale of recreational marijuana, the dispensary sites could also become recreational marijuana outlets. One discussion I have not yet heard is the reality of where such facilities would actually end up being located if they become an allowed use in business districts. These are not the kind of facilities that would be dependent on foot traffic and they don't need a site that commands high rent, so the most likely sites would be in the smaller business zones or on the outer periphery of the Squares. Wherever they locate, their particular clientele will be sure to find them.


Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Richard Harding, et al. to amend 20.800 titled the Mass and Main Residential Mixed Income Sub district to reflect a more appropriate affordable housing contribution and height limitation for this zoning.

Communications #1. A communication was received from Massasoit Elk's Lodge #129 Membership, 55 Bishop Allen Drive, transmitting opposition to the 19th floor height of the B-1 and B2 towers that are grossly out of scale for Central Square and Port neighborhoods, and far higher even than proposed by the C2 study.

I'm at something of a loss trying to understand out of which blue this petition came. The Normandy/Twining petition of a couple of years ago that has made possible the Mass & Main development that is now being permitted was a very public process with more than its share of controversy. That petition was ordained on a 7-2 vote on May 18, 2015 with significant concessions to produce affordable housing units as part of that development. A tremendous amount of planning and negotiation has occurred since then and many opportunities for the public to weigh in. This new petition is really the horse that left that barn 18 months ago. All of the relevant issues have already been debated. The communication from the Elk's Lodge specifically references the petition. It's difficult to guess what the real motivation is for this petition's appearance at this time. It could be related to a potential City Council candidacy or maybe it's a proxy petition promoted by an activist group, but it could also be based on fear of construction disruption when the Mass & Main development gets underway later this year. In any case, this petition is long past its freshness date.


Resolution #2. Congratulations to José Mateo for being named a 2017 Commonwealth Award honoree for Achievement by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.   Councillor Devereux

Resolution #14. Retirement of Greg Russ from the Cambridge Housing Authority.   Mayor Simmons

In their respective fields, both José Mateo and Greg Russ are local giants.


Order #2. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the License Commission, the Cambridge Arts Council, the Community Development Department, the Police Department, and any other appropriate City department to discuss the feasibility of allowing small businesses to host live acoustic music performances without a license.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

This seems like a great idea - certainly for occasional performances and particularly for those without amplification. There are, however, some factors that the City Council and the City administration may want to consider before making such a change, e.g. hours of operation, whether the business has "operable windows" that would project the sound outward, and if there might be some conflict with any residential abutters. Not all acoustic music is low volume, e.g. drums and horns. Acoustic doesn't necessarily mean a folk singer gently strumming her guitar strings.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to hire an independent consultant who shall assess the efficiency and effectiveness of how all City Departments conduct their work, who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary, and who will report back to the City Manager and the City Council on his or her progress in regular monthly intervals.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Mazen

Assessing the effectiveness of City departments and making necessary improvements should, of course, be standard practice. In that spirit, this Order seems perfectly great. However, the phrase "who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary" in regard to a hired independent consultant is more than a little problematic. If read literally, this would imply that the City Manager would hire a consultant who would not merely advise the City Manager and the City Council but actually independently make changes in the management of City departments. At the very least, the City Council should amend this order to make clear that any recommendations are strictly advisory.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on current or potential future public-private partnerships that could deliver an operational Foundry that consists of significant community space for the community.   Councillor Toomey

Lately I have begun to think that the entire process regarding the Foundry building has become one large circular discussion that has brought of back to pretty much the same place we were at four years ago.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report on the current status of the Broadband Task Force, including a schedule for ongoing discussion and final decision and recommendation.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung

I still have not heard a convincing argument for why the City should invest a huge sum of money on a speculative initiative like this.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff and report back to the Council with an explanation of how the success of these “pop up” lanes will be measured and what lessens we expect to learn from them to help implement safer bicycling facilities throughout the City as soon as possible.   Councillor Kelley

This is an incredibly perceptive Order from Councillor Kelley. I have already seen at least one advocacy group running surveys designed to "prove" the desirability of these changes. I cannot speak for the one near the Harvard Law School, but it's hard to imagine that the obstacle course that was installed in Lafayette Square would pass muster in any objective analysis. There are plenty of trouble spots that can be identified for improved bicycle safety in Cambridge, but these don't especially coincide with those promoted politically.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 13, 2016 to discuss recent and anticipated development projects and commercial and institutional leasing in Harvard Square and how such changes may affect the future of Harvard Square.

This was an interesting hearing, but it's not at all clear what the action items are or where this discussion may be headed.

Committee Report #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 Jan 4, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend provision of the Zoning Ordinance related to Inclusionary Housing, including the insertion of new definitions into Article 2.000 and the substitution of revised zoning text for the current text of sections 11.200 through 11.206.

There is a noticeable urgency to pass these changes regardless of what the effect may be on new housing construction. The proposed mandatory percentage of "affordable units" is almost double what has been in effect since the 1998 ordinance was adopted. It may be economically sustainable, but this is not a sure thing. The only sure thing is that the adoption of these changes to Inclusionary Zoning will be prominently featured on a lot of campaign literature this fall. - Robert Winters

Comments?

New Year at City Hall - Jan 9, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

2017It's a relatively short agenda to open the new year, but there are some notable items:

Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Acting Police Commissioner Brent B. Larrabee, effective Jan 9, 2017.

Even if we'll have Acting Commissioner Larrabee for just the next 6-8 months, he comes highly recommended by former Commissioner Robert Haas. That's all I need to hear to know that the Police Department is in good hands.

Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt with suggested modifications, the zoning amendments to Article 19.000 related to lighting in project review.

This is a reasonable proposal and the modifications suggested by the Planning Board make sense. Nonetheless, the alarmists are out in full force arguing against reason. One message posted on a listserv states, "If you do not want Las Vegas style lights in Cambridge, if you believe you have the right to some darkness at night, you need to, once again, email your councillors right now." Yeah, right. Las Vegas here we come. Let's see if the tail wags the dog Monday night.

Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt with some minor modifications, the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition (Sater, et al).

I haven't yet heard any serious objections to this zoning petition. It's a very moderate step forward that may yield positive benefits for housing and retail in the Central Square area. It does not preclude further modifications that might one day emerge from the Envision Cambridge process.

Charter Right #2. City Council support of asking the Cambridge Historical Commission to initiate a landmark designation study process on the Abbott Building in Harvard Square. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Dec 19, 2016.]

Most of us want to see the exterior of this structure remain essentially as it is today - regardless of any changes in tenancy within the building. The word is that Curious George will find a new home nearby. One striking lesson from the Dec 19 City Council meeting discussion on this subject was that this area already has substantial protections as a neighborhood conservation district, and landmarking of this building really adds no additional protection. The issue, however, has become a political rallying point, so I don't expect the City Council to exercise good sense here. There are important discussions that are needed regarding the future of Harvard Square, but this isn't one of them. I would be much more thrilled if we could focus just a little attention on the detrimental effect of foreign investors treating this area and all of Cambridge as just a place to shelter their assets. Some of us actually live here - and not just for the investment value.

Communications and Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, relating to Council Goals and capacity building for the Community Development Department.

The City Council is long overdue in their periodic goal-setting process, and I imagine more than a few of them would like to address this sooner than later. Regarding whether the Community Development Department is understaffed or if there's a need for a "vision statement for how CDD will run differently in the year 2020", I look forward to hearing what City staff and the rest of the city councillors may have to say on the matter. - Robert Winters

Comments?

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