2018 City Council Agenda Notes
(transferred from main Council Notes page)
Rearranging the Deck Chairs - What's Up on the May 21, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here are my selections from this week's menu:
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $44,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Executive Department Extraordinary Expenditures which will be used to assist the Department of Conservation & Recreation in constructing an ADA accessible canoe and kayak boat launch.
I remember back in 1999 when the City first partnered with MDC (now DCR) to invest $1,500,000 to upgrade Magazine Beach in exchange for priority in field scheduling. This satisfied what would otherwise have been a need identified in the Green Ribbon Open Space Report (2000) for access to a community park for the Cambridgeport neighborhood. Most of that investment went toward the fields and landscaping in the eastern part of Magazine Beach. The City's later investment (approx. $300,000 plus over $700,000 in matching funds and capital expenditures by DCR) has been focused on the western part, and a lot of credit for that goes to the Magazine Beach Partners (originally formed out of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association as the Friends of Magazine Beach) for spearheading the renovations of the old powder magazine and its vicinity. This is civic activism at its best.
Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-17, regarding the status and proposed next steps to advance the urban agriculture initiative.
The City already established regulations for the keeping of honeybees (Dec 2017) and will soon address hen-keeping (as opposed to henpecking), but this report is specific to "urban farming" whcih will include zoning recommendations affecting "the cultivation of agricultural products for public consumption". It does not affect home gardening. The zoning recommendations are expected in Fall 2018 and will require City Council approval, and soil safety regulation will be determined by the Commissioner of Public Health.
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for approval to submit the attached Home Rule Petition that would authorize the City of Cambridge to include as part of the Inman Square Intersection Safety Improvements Project (“Project”) the planned reconfiguration of the intersection of Hampshire Street and Cambridge Street in the Inman Square area of the City (hereinafter, “Inman Square”) as well as a portion of the land that makes up Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci Community Plaza (“Vellucci Plaza”).
This agenda item will likely be the centerpiece of the meeting. There are a few points that warrant comment. First, the substance of this matter is the Home Rule Petition to the state legislature to swap existing designated open space for new "open space" in order to facilitate a realignment of the roadways. That has its own controversies, including different viewpoints regarding preservation of trees in the short and long term. The reconfiguration of the road is being supposedly done for the sake of safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicle operators, but it is not at all clear that the proposed configuration (at considerable cost) will actually improve anything. The City routinely invokes the "Vision Zero" mantra to justify non-debatable changes in infrastructure with the assertion that all decisions are "data-driven", but at one recent meeting on this topic it was asserted by someone very close to the debate that there have been no accidents at all in Inman Square since the simple application of green paint to the roadway to better clarify the presence of cyclists as they pass through the intersection.
What seems quite clear in the proposed road reconfiguration is that it is centered on pushing all cyclists to use the sidewalk as they pass through the intersection (which many cyclists simply will not do - and for good reason). Will this result in fewer traffic incidents? Or will there be a spike in altercations between cyclists and pedestrians? Will cyclists who choose to use the roadway have their safety compromised? Personally, though I suppose there may be some room for improvement, my sense is that the "short term" fixes of painting the green lanes and restricting some turning movements have addressed most of the safety issues and that this next round of "improvements" may actually make things worse. The proposed changes seem more ideology-driven than data-driven. There is a lot to be said for intuitive and simple road design, and this is anything but that.
PS - It is stated in the report that "the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Conservation District Commission approved the proposed Plaza design", but I heard from one member that this was only because their authority extends only to buildings and not to roadways, and since there are no buildings involved in either the land swap or the road design they didn't have standing in this matter.
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for approval to seek authorization from the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General (the “IG”) for the City to use the Construction Manager at Rick (“CMAR”) procurement and construction method (the “CMAR Method”) in connection with the redevelopment of the Foundry building.
How many years has it been now since we received this "gift" of the Foundry building?
Unfinished Business #1-4. Appropriation and Loan Authorization Orders for $5,000,000 (Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan); $650,000 (School building infrastructure projects, and a new boiler at CRLS); $61,500,000 (water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the The Port neighborhood, and the River Street neighborhood); and $21,000,000 (reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks).
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearings held on May 1, 2018, May 8, 2018 and May 9, 2018 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2019 and recommending adoption of the General Fund Budget in the amount of $597,219,385.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 8, 2018 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2019 and recommending adoption of the Water fund Budget in the amount of $13,973,855.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 8, 2018 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2019 and recommending adoption of the Public Investment Budget in the amount of $17,267,995.
Objectively speaking, this really is the most significant agenda item, but there's really nothing left but the vote (and, of course, the usual round of gushy thank-you's by councillors to City staff and vice-versa).
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a detailed accounting of locations, if any, where Cured-In-Place Plastic Pipe (CIPP) and other plastic pipes currently exists in Cambridge, when it was installed, and why there was no public process for such a potentially hazardous change in water policy. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui
There are several available methods for re-lining pipes as an alternative to replacement including Cured-In-Place Plastic Pipe (CIPP) which uses fitted mesh and epoxy. Some people, including members of the Water Board, have expressed concerns about this method based on possible leachate, but this seems to be more a function of quality control than of the material itself. The Order states that "all plastics leach chemicals" which may be true but is not helpful. People buy water and other beverages in plastic bottles all the time and those drinks are often in contact with their container far longer than municipal water is with those pipe sections that are lined with epoxy. In addition to the matter of real vs. perceived hazard, there's also an interesting question here of who really has the authority to make decisions like these - the Water Department or the volunteer Water Board. A century ago the Water Board had very broad authority, but it's not so clear today where that authority ends under the current form of City government.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to create a structured commercial tax rate system for FY20 that prioritizes lowering the tax rate for small businesses. Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Simmons
Any such change would require either a general change in state law or a Home Rule Petition. The tax classification (residential, commercial, industrial, open space, and personal property) allows different rates (within prescribed limits) among these categories but there is no further refinement within any of the categories. This can translate into a hardship for a small "mom 'n pop" retail business since (at least for Cambridge) the commercial tax rate is nearly 2½ times the residential tax rate, and there is nothing analogous to the residential exemption (which is a fixed exemption that can yield very inequitable benefit). Personally, I think the state legislature should create enabling legislation to give cities and towns a bit more flexibility, but there is an understandable risk that this would simply result in the maximum benefit being shifted onto those who vote in the local elections regardless of the net public good. Much of Cambridge retail is being driven into oblivion by rising rents (which factor in the taxes to some degree) and shifting consumer habits (like, you know, Amazon). Tax relief may help some, but the problem is bigger than that.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the relevant City Departments to launch a program during the summer months to activate the Front Lawn of City Hall in the afternoon with games (such as cornhole boards), food trucks, and other forms of entertainment to engage a diverse age range of residents in recreation. Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Zondervan
Why not a ferris wheel and a zipline? I do like the fact that people are drawn to this space, but it is passive for a lot of them and they may not appreciate all the activity. Regarding food trucks, there would be a certain irony in having them within 100 or so feet of the License Commission offices (but that cryptic reference is something you'll have to ask me about). In any case, a hot dog vendor on the sidewalk would be a nice addition, though I suppose it would have to be a vegan alternative "not dog" vendor to gain approval (in which case forget I ever mentioned it).
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the City Solicitor to report back to the Housing Committee on how the City could establish a method of eviction data collection. Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Cambridge Human Rights Commission to report back on housing-related activities including number of housing-related investigations, number of housing-related cases successfully mediated, relationships with regional housing-related organizations, and successes and challenges of the Cambridge Fair Housing Ordinance Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons
My presumption is that these requests relate to the ongoing agenda of the City Council's Housing Committee, but these issues have also been discussed within the Envision Cambridge Housing Working Group and elsewhere. My presumption is that the concern here is the Bad Behavior of Very Big Mean Landlords, but this is, after all, the People's Republic of Cambridge which, unfortunately, has at least some history of collateral damage against owners of rental property regardless of virtue.
Order #7. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to direct the Recycling Division of the Department of Public Works to study the feasibility of expanding the curbside composting program to small businesses and nonprofits in the City by the end of 2019. Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon
It's definitely worth looking into, but it's not so simple to determine what constitutes a small business deserving of the City's largess. For example, if a large office building houses 50 small businesses should the City pick up the tab (and the garbage) for the whole building? There is already a lot of ambiguity with mixed residential/commercial buildings all over the city. - Robert Winters
On the Agenda - May 14, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting
First... what's still Not On the Agenda (even though letters continue to pour in to the City Council commenting on this Non-Order): The HP Divest matter. Wherefore art thou? Perhaps it's with all the other missing Orders highlighting Bad Behavior (real or perceived) by governments around the world.
On the domestic front, there are these:
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-13, regarding electric vehicles.
It's an interesting report and it seems like the City is using good sense in knowing when and under what circumstances vehicles should be changed over to all-electric or hybrid-electric. Nobody wants to see a fire engine or police car crap out in an emergency situation because its battery ran down. This report also brings to mind two competing philosophies when it comes to making changes to meet environmental or other goals - the Carrot or the Stick. Some (like me) prefer the carrot to encourage people to make changes, i.e. to provide incentives or offer a convincing argument to make a switch, e.g. to participate in curbside organics collection or to buy efficient vehicles or appliances. Others are all about the stick, e.g. changing the Zoning Ordinance to TELL people what they have to do to be righteous - or else. I have long felt that mandates are what people make when they fail to make a convincing case on the merits.
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to develop a small business parking pilot that would allow temporary on-street employee parking during typical daytime operating hours. [Charter Right Exercised By Mayor McGovern.] Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons
I'm interested to see where this goes. People seem to have forgotten that there used to be a lot more unregulated spaces around the city, i.e. neither Resident Only nor sporting a parking meter. In fact, it has often been said by the folks at Traffic & Parking that parking meters are installed not for the revenue but rather to ensure sufficient turnover adjacent to businesses. I don't know that I believe them anymore. What I do remember is that an enormous number of unregulated spaces were changed to regulated spaces during the days of the Interim Parking Freeze because that was one way to get spaces in the Commercial Parking Bank that could be used in the permitting of new commercial development. The deal was that for every two spaces you regulated you could put one in The Bank. Prior to that there were unregulated spaces that were available to people who worked at local businesses or who taught in Cambridge schools. I'm sure some of the anti-vehicle zealots in the Community Development Department would set themselves on fire rather than agree to ease up on any parking restrictions, but simple deregulation of some spaces in some areas (while keeping some time restriction for nonresidents) might actually be a good way to resolve this dilemma.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council by June 11 with an updated schedule for resubmitting a revised draft of the Outdoor Lighting Ordinance that incorporates suggestions from the Light Cambridge Committee. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
I was wondering when this would again be brought back into the spotlight. The original idea to tone down lights glaring through bedroom windows was worthwhile (even though it originally - and wrongly - appeared as a proposed zoning amendment rather as a municipal ordinance) before it got clogged up and bogged down by its own details. That and the desire of some people to clamp down on lighting in places where they have no business calling the shots. Indeed, there are some places, e.g. Central Square, that would benefit by the return of some pretty spectacular lighting.
Applications & Petitions #1. A petition was received from Sue Butler, et al, regarding concerns of excessive speed on Clinton Street in mid-Cambridge, requesting the City install three speed bumps or speed platforms along the length of Clinton Street.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to explore the possibility of improving road safety conditions on Clinton Street. Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
As near as I can tell, it took just one car getting clipped when backing out of a Clinton Street driveway to get this response. There must be some Very Special People living on Clinton Street. To borrow from the statement in this petition, I just want to point out that "there are small children and pets and elderly people" living on probably every street in Cambridge. Perhaps we all deserve to have "three speed bumps or speed platforms" installed along the lengths of all our streets.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to complete a tree canopy study based on the April 2018 LiDAR data before the end of 2018, and to complete future LiDAR based studies as frequently as possible, but no more often than once a year. Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Kelley
I do like seeing the data generated by these studies, but I also find it curious how trees have become the defining Cambridge political topic for 2018. From one bandwagon to another, I suppose. I am once again reminded that there are Carrot Councillors and Stick Councillors. Some will prefer to give you encouragement and incentives to preserve trees on your property, while the others will make you hire a lawyer and file a string of permit applications before taking action against your resident Ents. - Robert Winters
On the Agenda - May 7, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting
Another week, another nonappearance of the much-heralded "Divest HP" matter. Perhaps it will never appear - good riddance. As for actual agenda items, here are some:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a supplemental appropriation of $125,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures account to support the revitalization of the Martin Luther King Plaza, the art components and enhance the primary entrance into the Central Square Branch Library.
While the improvements are appreciated, what would be even better is if an additional deck or two were added to the Green Street garage to compensate for future losses if and when housing (and more) is built on some of the area's surface parking lots. The whole facade of the library branch should also be reimagined. Today it appears to be little more than a public urinal and shelter for substance abusers. This would never be tolerated in Harvard Square, so why do we tolerate it in Central Square?
Charter Right #1. That the Ordinance Committee be and hereby is requested to review and consider the proposed amendment to §10.17.070-- “Fees for Residential Parking Stickers” for a hearing and report. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor McGovern on Apr 30, 2018]
When the lead sponsor of an Order calling for increases in Resident Permit fees responds to a Facebook comment that said "Ban cars" with a "Like", then I have to believe this isn't really about the revenue.
Communication #15. A communication was received from Steve Sands, 4 Buckingham Street, regarding Hewlett Packard Boycott.
I normally don't pay much attention to these sorts of things (except for the fun or it), but this gentleman captures the absurdity of the HP thing perfectly.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to develop a small business parking pilot that would allow temporary on-street employee parking during typical daytime operating hours. Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui
Oh my God! A reasonable viewpoint about compromise and reality.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City staff to work with all Harvard Square stakeholders, including the Harvard Square Business Association, the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, abutting businesses, and Harvard University to actively engage the community in a design charrette process with a view in mind towards making Palmer Street a more active and inviting pedestrian walkway and public space. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern
Great idea, and I would love to participate even though I don't fit into any of the named categories. Shared streets (woonerfs) are a great idea that seems to fail in the execution, e.g. Palmer Street, Blanche Street. I want to see both of those streets looking like a crowded street fair after all the trucks have made their deliveries. Palmer Street, in particular, is perhaps the street with the least motor vehicle traffic and it's in the middle of busy Harvard Square. It's interesting that nobody seemed to give a damn about Palmer Street until the Harvard Square Business Association tried to do something positive about it and caught grief for it.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to develop a plan to achieve the above policy goals as it relates to the digital divide. Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Simmons
This week's "I want municipal broadband" Order. I would like to see an Order that asks for a Cable TV package that can get Red Sox games for less than $100/month.
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Kelley, transmitting a memorandum regarding Bike Lanes, Street Use, and Micro-Mobility Challenges Facing Cambridge.
I really like reports like this from Councillor Kelley. Sometimes he seems like the only councillor who thinks broadly about transportation and the future. [Hint: It's not just about PVC plastic posts, segregation, and aggressive political lobbies claiming "turf".] - Robert Winters
Leaving April, Come What May - Spring Treats on the April 30, 2018 City Council Menu
Once again, the much-heralded "Divest HP" matter is NOT on this week's agenda, so if you want to get excited about this irrelevant initiative, come back in another week or so. Meanwhile, we close out April and look forward to the Lusty Month of May with the following featured treats:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a supplemental appropriation of $200,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account to fund the abatement and demolition of Vail Court.
Mister DePasquale, Tear Down These Walls!
Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Blake & Knowles Foundry at 101 Rogers Street.
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Cheney Read House at 135 Western Avenue.
These are highlighted because I really enjoy these histories and appreciate the work put in by the Historical Commission in producing them.
Charter Right #1. An application was received from the Harvard Square Business Association requesting permission for a temporary lighted banner across the Public Way located at 12 Palmer Street. [plus Communications #6,7,8,9,13]
Much Ado About Nothing. Objections from those who probably also disapprove of multi-colored Christmas lights as being too garish.
Resolution #1. Congratulations to the recipients of the Outstanding City Employee Awards. Mayor McGovern
This awards event is one of my favorite City events. The attendees are almost entirely City employees and their families, but it's an open event and really special.
Order #3. That the Ordinance Committee is requested to schedule a public hearing to consider the proposal put forward by the City Manager to amend Chapter 12.16, Section 12.16.170 of the Municipal Code, (the “Street Performers Ordinance”). Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
The proposed changes primarily involve easing up the fee structure for some street performers.
Order #4. Campaign Finance Reform. Councillor Toomey
I haven't yet seen a proposal for municipal election campaign reform that I can support and which is legal. I'm also not yet convinced that there's a need for this at the local level.
Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to provide a report on the history of Constellation Charitable Foundation's Parcel C in Kendall Square including tax status and other relevant information on the site. Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon
This is a timely Order. The City Council may want to consider some changes to the zoning for this site as well as ways to leverage the original intentions formulated nearly 20 years ago when what was then the ComEnergy site was developed by David Clem and Lyme Properties as Cambridge Research Park. A performing arts center may still be a good use to be integrated into the site by the next owner if the finances and zoning can be made to work.
Order #6. That the City Council go on record supporting the Mass Senior Action Agenda. Councillor Simmons
It's good common-sense legislation.
Order #8. That the Ordinance Committee be and hereby is requested to review and consider the proposed amendment to §10.17.070-- “Fees for Residential Parking Stickers” for a hearing and report. Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux
As near as I can tell, Councillor Zondervan's rationale behind his proposal to jack up the resident parking fee to $35 and then $40 is that Somerville charges $40. Some have argued that the fee should be nominal rather than either punitive (because motor vehicle operators are considered evil in Cambridge) or just another revenue generator. A $40 fee isn't going to convince many people to give up their vehicle, but many of us don't appreciate councillors raising fees simply because they can or because they get a rush out of the revenue paid by drivers being used to create obstructions to driving in the city.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to prioritize the installation of protected bike lanes and bicycle traffic signals in Porter Square. Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
The proposed changes that were presented a couple of months ago were pretty good for all users, including cyclists.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Chair Councillor E. Denise Simmons, of the Civic Unity Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 27, 2018 to discuss whether the City's Boards and Commissions adequately reflect the demographic makeup of the community.
Goals vs. Requirements - That is the question. I'll stick with goals.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on Wed, Apr 11, 2018 to discuss topics related to the MBTA bus service.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 28, 2018 to discuss Retail Strategic Plan.
I could say more about any of these committee reports, but for now they are provided here only for your reading pleasure. - Robert Winters
Budget Season Returns - Featured Attractions on the Apr 23, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda
On this week's agenda:
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the FY19 submitted budget and appropriation orders.
The Bottom Line is that the total proposed FY2019 Budget is $622,477,255. That's up 5.3% over last year's FY2018 budget of $591,057,460. You may want to take a longer view at the multi-year comparisons. The largest budget increases are actually in the Executive Department (City Manager's Office) with a 21.1% one-year increase. The budget for the Mayor's Office jumped by 11%.
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $5,000,000 to provide funds for the Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan.
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $650,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects, and a new boiler at an Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $61,500,000 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 The Port neighborhood, and the River Street neighborhood.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $21,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.
In addition to the Operating Budget, the City also each year seeks authorization to borrow significant amounts for various capital projects (presumably at very favorable interest rates thanks to our multiple AAA bond ratings). This year's loan authorizations total $88,150,000.
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a supplemental appropriation of $1,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Public Investment Fund account to fund snowstorm related road repairs and capital equipment.
Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a supplemental appropriation of $2,475,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account to fund snowstorm related expenses associated with snow plowing and snow removal contracts, salt, other materials, repair costs.
Winter doesn't come cheap. In addition to the amount already budgeted for FY2018, there are these $3,475,000 supplemental appropriations. You can See It and Click It, but it costs money to Fix it.
Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-23, relative to repairs to the Harvard Square Portland Loo and methods to prevent service interruptions in the future.
Whoever thought a bathroom would turn into a winter research project. I still think we should have found a way to integrate these bathrooms into existing buildings with actual heating systems.
Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Election Commission effective May 2, 2018 for a term of four years: Victoria Harris
Congratulations to Victoria Harris. Unlike some years, the City Manager had several qualified candidates from which to choose. Congratulations also go to outgoing Commissioner Polyxane Cobb who did an outstanding job during her time as an Election Commissioner.
Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Arts Council Advisory Board for a term of three years, effective May 1, 2018: Olivia D'Ambrosio and Michael Monestime.
Two more outstanding appointments. I do, however, have to make one correction. Contrary to the narrative provided, Michael Monestime and his family now live in North Cambridge, a.k.a. the suburbs, though he's still our Man in Central Square.
Applications & Petitions #5. A Zoning Petition was received from Douglas Brown Et Al, regarding Zoning petition that aims to balance the future health and safety impacts of climate change.
Frankly, I don't know what to make of this petition. There was supposed to be a petition filed several weeks ago that went by the name "The Pause Petition" that sought to put all new construction in the Alewife area on hold. That proposed Moratorium was endorsed by the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee (NCSC), the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance (FPRA), the Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR), Green Cambridge, and the Cambridge Residents Alliance (CResA). It was met by a harsh response from the folks from A Better Cambridge (ABC) and others who saw it primarily as a mechanism to stop the building of new housing and, in particular, "affordable housing". Soon thereafter, the moratorium morphed into this new petition wrapped in green, i.e. "Zoning Amendments for a Flood and Heat Resilient Cambridge". Some parts are cribbed from the preliminary recommendations being developed for Alewife as part of the Envision Cambridge process, but there's little doubt that a significant goal of this petition is to make it a lot more difficult to build in some areas - particularly the Alewife area.
In addition, there is a very prescriptive 2nd half of this petition that seeks to introduce a "Green Factor" to rule over any new construction requiring a Project Review Special Permit under Section 19.23 of the Zoning Ordinance [50,000 gross sq. ft. or more in all applicable zoning districts - except Business A, Business A-1, or Business A-2 districts where the threshold is 20,000 gross sq. ft.]. This Green Factor "uses a value based system to prioritize landscape elements and site design that contributes to the reduction of stormwater runoff, the improvement of urban air quality, mitigation of the urban heat island effect, and improved well-being of residents and visitors." Without surveying all built properties in the city, I think it's a fair guess to say that very few of them would have a "Green Factor" that would satisfy the wishes of the petitioners. However, it's already the case that most new significant building proposals in Cambridge that go before the Planning Board go to great lengths to factor environmental benefits into their plans with the possible exception of those built in dense urban settings (such as the major Squares).
My sense is that this will play out politically in such a way that instead of the "Pause Petition" being spun as blocking housing, this new Petition will be spun as something only a climate-change-denier could oppose. But that's just politics. Personally, I think the petition should be divided into two separate petitions - one dealing with potentially flood-prone areas (and specifically parts of the Alewife area) and another that focuses specifically on the sustainability stuff citywide. I do think the "Green Factor" approach is overly prescriptive, but it would not be a bad outcome if a handbook of recommended standards grew out of this exercise - even if it was separate from the Zoning Ordinance.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department, Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Department of Public Works, and any other City departments to work with the MBTA to address the above listed necessary improvements to the Harvard Square Station Tunnels while they are being renovated. Vice Mayor Devereux
The "above listed improvements" involve temporary relocation of stops, minor schedule adjustments, increased foot traffic in Harvard Square, repaving of bus tunnel roadways, hopefully better lighting and seating in the bus tunnels, general repair and restoration, and maybe even restoration of some of the artwork. To this you can add the current T elevator work that's going on there (as well as in Central Square).
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City staff to ensure that an additional commitment of $20 million from the City’s budget is devoted over the next five years toward the City’s efforts to preserve and create affordable housing units. Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui
As I often point out, the term "affordable housing" is a euphemism for regulated housing obtained by applying either to the Cambridge Housing Authority or similar agency. It is not the same as addressing the goal of affordability of housing in Cambridge and in the greater Boston area.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to contact the Constellation Charitable Foundation to receive an update on plans for the Parcel C in Kendall Square and when development can be expected to begin. Councillor Toomey
Based on the press release last week, that's a question best addressed by whatever party buys the property. When that sale happens the Constellation Charitable Foundation will be out of the picture.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City Staff, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Friends of Poorman’s Landing, and the East Cambridge Planning Team to ensure the timely repair of Poorman’s Landing. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
In addition to the letter and the pages specific to Poorman's Landing, the recently published (Jan 2018) Cambridge Riverfront Plan is worth the read.
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the City Solicitor to produce a report for use by the Housing Committee that contains information pertaining to the appropriate language for the creation of an Affordable Housing Overlay District. Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui
I repeat - The term "affordable housing" is a euphemism for regulated housing obtained by applying either to the Cambridge Housing Authority or similar agency. It is not the same as addressing the goal of affordability of housing in Cambridge and in the greater Boston area.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Quinton Y. Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 22, 2018 to gain a better understanding of the extent of the City's digital divide and to explore possible ways to increase digital access.
I'm sure this will get a lot of play during the upcoming Budget Hearings, but the bottom line is still The Bottom Line - the related proposal that the City should build its own municipal broadband system is a very expensive proposition. Furthermore, the jury is still out on whether exposing the City to this financial risk is even a wise approach. Everybody wants alternatives to the Comcast monopoly, but there may be better ways to achieve this.
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 Mar 21, 2018 to discuss the implementation of the Short-Term Rental Ordinance.
It doesn't help that AirBnB seems to be sending the message out to all of its "hosts" to join them in their lack of cooperation.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair and Quinton Y. Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 18, 2018, to discuss confirming the City's Manager's selection of Margaret Drury as a member of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA).
Slam dunk easy call on the reappointment of our most esteemed former City Clerk Margaret Drury to the revitalized Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Dosha E. Beard, Executive Secretary to the School Committee, transmitting a copy of an order from the School Committee recommending the FY19 General Fund Budget of the Cambridge Public Schools be adopted in the sum of $191,069,500.
This represents a pretty steady 31% of the City's Operating Budget (just in case you were wondering). - Robert Winters
Preview of April 2, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here's my pass at this week's agenda:
Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-33, regarding a report on whether or not Chapter 4.25 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance applies to the Inman Square redesign project and therefore whether or not a report should be made to the Planning Board.
The upshot: "Vellucci Plaza was taken by the City for a purpose (public open space) protected by Article 97 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution ("Article 97"), and as such is subject to the protections of Article 97. Therefore, it is likely that if a road is constructed through a portion of Vellucci Plaza at its current site, legislative approval will be required [the State legislature, that is, and not just the City Council]. Although the construction of a roadway on land protected by Article 97 requires legislative approval, it does not require relief from the provisions of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance."
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to compile a list of single family homes which could be purchased by the Affordable Housing Trust and converted to Single Room Occupancies or Housing Cooperatives.
And the train keeps a rollin'. Every week it's another proposal to transfer private property to public or quasi-public ownership. Is this really the ideal "vision" for the future? Will such acquisitions be uniform across the city or concentrated in just some neighborhoods?
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City personnel to place a commemorative plaque at eye-level at the plaza in Harvard Square dedicated to former judge, Mayor, and City Manager Joseph DeGuglielmo so that it is more prominent to pedestrians. Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey
For you newcomers, Joseph A. DeGuglielmo, better known as "Joe DeGug", began his public career in 1938 as Assistant City Solicitor of Cambridge. He first ran and was elected to the Cambridge City Council in 1945 and served 8 consecutive terms (1946-1963). He was elected every time he was a candidate and was chosen by his colleagues as Mayor for the 1952-53 term. Two years after leaving the City Council he was hired as City Manager in February 1966 and served through January 1968. In 1971, he was appointed an associate justice of the Boston Municipal Court by Governor Francis Sargent. He retired from the bench in 1978. He died in May 1983. His nephew is Jimmy Tingle - comic and now candidate for Lt. Governor of Massachusetts.
Order #4. That the City Council encourage residents to be more conscious of their water consumption during the month of April, to take steps to reduce storm water runoff on their own property, to prevent polluted runoff from entering our water system, and to find time to engage with our natural areas. Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan
Being conscious of water consumption, reducing stormwater runoff, and engaging with our natural areas are clearly good things, but perhaps the message regarding the prevention of polluted runoff entering our water system is best directed to the inhabitants of Waltham, Weston, Lexington, and Lincoln where our primary water source is located.
Order #5. City Council support of House Bill 3857, “An Act providing tax relief for rent-burdened individuals and families." Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui
This bill would increase the rental deduction for the Mass. state income tax and index it for inflation. It would also restrict eligibility for the deduction to taxpayers who earn no more than 100% of the Area Median Income (AMI).
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Law Department, Community Development Department and any other appropriate City departments regarding the feasibility of requiring property owners to give the City written notice when a storefront becomes vacant, including plans for finding a new tenant and keeping the premises tidy and in compliance with all applicable codes to mitigate any negative effects or safety concerns on the neighborhood. Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon
This is a good intention that needs amendment. Property owners should not be required to inform the City the moment a storefront becomes vacant or be made to instantly submit future plans for tenancy. Perhaps the City Council could establish a time frame after which these steps might be required - somewhere between a few months and Gerald Chan time.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to notify the owners of the former Harvard Square Theater that the City Council has requested that they provide a firm schedule for when they will submit their application to the Cambridge Historical Commission and begin the public engagement process along with a projected timeline for the rest of the process through completion of the project, once the necessary permits are granted. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
Speaking of Gerald Chan, whatever became of those good-looking plans for the transformation of the old Harvard Square Theater on Church Street? Tick tock tick tock......
Order #9. That the City Council go on record in opposition to the oppressive policies of Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) and Saudi Arabia. Councillor Zondervan
But they are letting women drive! Isn't that generous? Seriously, if we're going to single out repressive regimes that use religion and/or ideology to justify brutal repression, then let's start a list. It won't be a short list.
Order #10. City Council support of Massachusetts Resolve H. 4159: "Resolve creating a task force on sexual misconduct climate surveys for colleges and universities in Massachusetts." Councillor Mallon, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons
Good idea all around. You have to first measure the extent of a problem if you want to adequately address it.
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to work with Trinity Property Management to give the nearly 200 tenants of the EMF building additional time beyond Apr 30, 2018 to find new space, considering the unique circumstances and outsized impact of this eviction. Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
This a completely reasonable Order, but ultimately the only way to preserve space for uses such as these is through ownership of the building. Begging for handouts from the City is not a solution. Haven't we produced a few nationally known artists who wouldn't mind being seen as heroes by swooping in, buying and outfitting a building or buildings for this purpose? Where are you Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and Casey Affleck? Wasn't this your neighborhood? Maybe you guys can assemble a team. Give Mindy Kaling and John Malkovich and Sam Waterston and Jane Curtin a call. Maybe Lenny Clarke can pitch in a few bucks.
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to allow autonomous vehicle (AV) testing in Cambridge provided certain conditions are met. Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux
Please, just don't. - Robert Winters
Preview of Mar 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here's my take on what looks interesting this week.
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as new members of the Planning Board for a term of three years, effective Apr 2, 2018: Nikolas Bowie and Corinne Espinoza
Though it doesn't say it in the communication, both of these appointments are as Associate Members of the Planning Board replacing Ahmed Nur and Thacher Tiffany.
Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-18, regarding a report on the success of the Polystyrene Ordinance.
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-19, regarding Central Square pedestrian signals.
The proposed modification seems like a good plan that will not unnecessarily add to traffic congestion while providing a degree of additional safety and clarity.
Manager's Agenda #5. 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, 2018 and ending Mar 31, 2019.
The water rates are again held constant as the sewer rates continue to soar. The projections indicate that in the coming years the water rates will start to rise slightly and the sewer rates will moderate somewhat. It's worth reminding everyone that most of these costs are fixed costs, so as people do a better job at conservation the rates inevitably have to rise to cover the fixed costs.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to explore the possibility of accepting the City of Boston's invitation to join their intergenerational housing pilot program. Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey
People have been doing this since the dawn of time - renting rooms to younger people who can lend a hand as they benefit from decent rents, but it's definitely an idea that deserves promotion.
Order #2. That the City Manager conduct, compile, and publish an inventory of all City-owned vacant buildings and lots with the City's plans for them, if any. Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Devereux
Two words - Land Bank. This same concept was floated by then City Councillor Ed Cyr (and possibly others) about 25 years or so ago using the term "Land Bank". It inevitably led to a conflict among different priorities, esp. open space vs. "affordable housing", though there was at least one case in which a proposed site provided parking (and a turnaround) for a very congested dead end street. I'm sure there are some sites that should be made available for housing (whether "affordable" or just plain housing), but I'd hate to see the perception of "crisis" lead to the stifling of all other alternatives.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to appoint an appropriate City representative to work with the Historical Commission, the Veterans Services Department, representatives of the Cambridge African American Heritage Trail, Cambridge Historian Jon Hill, and any other appropriate parties in an effort to place markers on the graves of Mr. Cato Freeman and Mr. Neptune Frost at the Old Harvard Square Burial Ground, a marker for Mr. Agrippa Hull on the Cambridge Common, and markers for any other early unsung patriots of color that we may yet determine have been hidden in the shadows of history for far too long. Councillor Simmons
This is a great idea. It's probably also a good time to review and refurbish some of the historical markers all around Cambridge. We could also use an updated guide book for walking tours in both the Mount Auburn Cemetery and the Cambridge Cemetery highlighting the many significant people buried in these cemeteries.
Order #4. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development, the Executive Director of the Cambridge Arts Council, and the City Solicitor with a view in mind of drafting of an Arts Overlay District ordinance that would achieve the goals of creating and preserving spaces for the arts in the Central Square Cultural District. Councillor Mallon, Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern
While I think this is a good idea, I hasten to add that there are a lot of people who need or would want "live/work space" who you might not necessarily label as "artists".
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to compile a list of single family homes which could be purchased by the Affordable Housing Trust and converted to Single Room Occupancies or Housing Cooperatives. Councillor Toomey, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui
I think that the concept of Rooming Houses or Single Room Occupancy (SRO) residences is something that fell out of favor over the years but which might again make some sense in this age of micro-units, short-term rentals, and people choosing to live with relatively few possessions. That said, I'd hate to see this used as a pretext for the City to relentlessly buy up the city's housing stock. The fact that this Order specifically asks to "compile a list of single-family homes available on the market in Residential A1, A2, and B zones" seems rather politically motivated. Wouldn't it be better to simply provide some financial and other incentives to property owners to configure their properties so as to address current needs?
Order #9. City Council opposition to any legislation that would remove or limit the options of municipalities to pass local ordinances regulating short-term rentals to include accessing tax revenue similar to what is done with hotels and motels. Councillor Kelley
This was at the center of the discussion at last week's Public Safety Committee meeting on the subject of the City's regulation of short-term rentals. Briefly, the industry people (AirBnB) wanted to influence legislation now on Beacon Hill to permit taxation on short-term rentals by amending it to remove local regulatory controls as a precondition for accepting the potential revenue. This crooked attempt was apparently thwarted in the House, though the bill is now before the Senate and will likely have to go through a conference committee prior to its final passage and, presumably, the Governor's signature. - Robert Winters
Extra: Summary of what the House did last week on the AirBnB bill.
Much of the work up to this point on other short term rental bills has been to tax them like hotels. This bill introduces a whole new tax structure for short term rentals and the Senate may return to that structure.
Summary of the current bill
Also, an amendment was adopted that provides:
This should avoid the need for duplicative inspections for hosts who register with Cambridge and then must also register to comply with state law.
Pre-Spring Fling – March 19, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting
While we wait for the next Nor'Easter, here are a few things up for discussion this Monday. Sorry for the minimal comments, but I have to go to work.
Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the recommendation to reappointment Margaret Drury as a member of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Board for a term of five years.
Former City Manager Bob Healy's inspired appointments that revitalized the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority in April 2012 continue to be the gift that keeps on giving.
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-28, regarding Housing Choice Designation.
Cambridge continues to provide its share of new housing and then some. It will be great if this leads to some infrastructure funding under this new program. Now if we can only get all the other cities and towns in the area to do the same we might actually make a dent in the problem of actual affordable housing (as opposed to subsidized housing).
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-25, regarding a timeline for the next Incentive Zoning Study.
The City will authorize a thoughtful Nexus Study which will be followed promptly by several city councillors stumbling over each other to be the one who demands the greatest increase in the linkage fee regardless of the recommendations in the study.
Order #1. City Council support of S. 2306, “An Act to promote and enhance civic engagement.” Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon
Good idea worth supporting. The idea here is that “American history and civics education shall be taught as required subjects for the purpose of promoting civic service and a greater knowledge thereof, and of preparing students, morally and intellectually, for the duties of citizenship…” Take note that this refers to education so that students can develop well-informed points of view and make informed decisions. This should not be about training students to hold any predetermined point of view.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Election Commission regarding the possibility of instituting early voting in the 2019 municipal election. Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern
While we all hope to have good voter turnout and an informed electorate in all elections, I'm not at all convinced that the key to either of these goals is expanding the number of days during which people can vote. With 34 precincts spread around the city and a 13 hour window during which people can vote, there really is no problem here that needs a solution and there is a significant cost associated with this proposal.
Order #5. City Council support of implementing protected bicycle infrastructure on the Longfellow Bridge. Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone
I can only see this making sense if the width of the planned bicycle lanes are insufficient and result in slow-moving cyclists being too close to faster moving motor vehicles. The last diagram I saw had a 5.5 foot bicycle lane (plus an 8.5 foot wide sidewalk) toward Boston and a 6 foot bicycle lane (plus a 10 foot wide sidewalk) toward Cambridge. Those are good widths and installing barriers in the roadway could be problematic for emergency vehicles.
Order #6. City Council support of S.2302 "An Act to Promote a Clean Energy Future." Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux
Few would argue with the goals, but it would be helpful to hear about what costs are associated with this very long list of proposed requirements.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to work with all relevant City Departments to help facilitate the associated activities with the "Affordable Housing Week of Action." Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Assistant City Manager for Community Development to apply for a federal Opportunity Zone designation on behalf of the City of Cambridge. Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons
Order #9. City Council support of S.548 "Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017." Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux
All three of these Orders refer to "Affordable Housing". Though I certainly don't want to overstate this, the term "affordable housing" as a euphemism for "subsidized housing" has always irritated me. During Envision Cambridge meetings and elsewhere it has now become common for people to say things like "Capital A Affordable Housing" in order to clarify that they mean housing that receives some form of subsidy. Wouldn't it be better to just use plain English? If it's subsidized - either by government funds or by skewing rents in privately owned inclusionary housing - then it should be called Subsidized Housing. I was able to afford my triple-decker and have provided housing at affordable rents for over 30 years to my tenants, yet this is never acknowledged as "affordable housing". At best, City bureaucrats will refer to it as "small a affordable housing".
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to sign off on any Host Community Agreement for the purposes of filing an application with the State for an adult use cannabis retail establishment within the City of Cambridge, provided that said Host Community Agreement includes the maximum allowable taxation and relevant provisions that are substantially similar to or the same as those under which current medical cannabis establishments operate in the City. Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Simmons
I'm just glad I live on a street with an elementary school, two Montessori pre-schools, and a day-care center. That should keep the stoners at a tolerable level.
Order #11. That the Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee be and hereby is requested to schedule a meeting to discuss parking options for City and School employees who do not get jobs that come with parking. Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan
Considering the list of sponsors of this Order, I would have expected a mandate that these School employees ride their bikes to work or be required to buy Teslas.
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to have a funding plan in place to develop and implement protective barriers for Fresh Pond for the FY2018-19 budget. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey, Vice Mayor Devereux
I would like to see a more detailed rationale for this. Of course we all want to ensure the quality of our water supply (except Gary Mello), but the examples given in the Order are coastal locations that are vulnerable to storm surges. Any vulnerability of Fresh Pond would more likely come from sustained rain events and limitations to evacuating that stormwater primarily via the Alewife Brook and Mystic River.
On the Agenda - March 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here are the things sure to get a rise out of at least someone:
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to determine why there continues to be significant audio and video difficulties during live internet broadcasts of City Council meetings, how these difficulties can be resolved. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons as Amended.]
I have no idea what this was delayed or even debated last week. These live webcasts as well as the Cable TV broadcasts have always had problems no matter how many times they have been "fixed". That said, I'm not so sure that the best solution would be to host official proceedings on YouTube.
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with relevant City departments to create additional Safety Zones for safer streets. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons as Amended.]
There are places where this makes sense and other places where it would be a pointless restriction. It makes a lot of sense in our pedestrian intensive major Squares and a few other places but, like the boy who cried "wolf", if you overplay your hand you run the risk of the restriction being generally ignored.
Charter Right #3. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to draft language for a home rule petition for a Cambridge Right of First Refusal Legislation. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons.]
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk, Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Carlone, submitting draft language on "AN ACT TO PRESERVE AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN THE CITY OF CAMBRIDGE THROUGH A TENANT'S RIGHT TO PURCHASE".
This is the most incorrectly titled piece of legislation I have seen in a long time. It should more properly be titled "AN ACT TO EXPAND EMINENT DOMAIN AUTHORITY TO INCLUDE ALL RENTAL PROPERTY AT TIME OF SALE". Any city councillor who supports this as written doesn't deserve to ever be reelected. The same goes for any member of the state legislature who supports the proposed home rule legislation.
When you read through the details of this proposal it becomes clear that the most likely outcome will be that the "right of first refusal" will be directed to the City or one of its agents - especially in certain neighborhoods targeted for this treatment, and slowly but surely more and more rental properties will no longer be privately owned. If our elected officials actually want to do something useful, they should devise ways to encourage multi-family ownership by small landlords. This would do a lot to support housing affordability for middle-class residents and their tenants. This was the primary method of middle-class housing affordability in Cambridge for the last century.
Update: I was very pleased to see Carlone's pilfered Somerville proposal soundly defeated on a 2-7 vote with only Carlone and Zondervan in favor. Carlone, in particular, should reconsider his practice of using ghost writers for legislative proposals. The original order to have the City Solicitor draft the language also died on a 3-6 vote with Siddiqui joining these two on this misguided proposal.
Apparently (according to Zondervan) both Boston and Somerville are pushing this same approach to move as much privately owned rental property as possible into public ownership, and he was "embarrassed" that Cambridge would not be joining them. It doesn't surprise me that the Revolutionary Guard in Somerville (a.k.a. the current Board of Alderman) is pushing this. After all, revolutionaries tend to lose their credibility when not smashing capitalism or overthrowing something. I have to wonder if Boston is actually in favor of this. There are a lot of two-family and three-family buildings in Boston and a lot of owner-occupant small landlords who will not be pleased at this taking.
Resolution #1. Resolution on the closing of Ryles Jazz Club. Councillor Toomey
When I first moved to Cambridge 40 years ago the first building I was ever in was a gymnasium at the corner of Harvard and Prospect Streets (now and office building) to play frisbee in February, and the second building was Ryles for beers afterwards. I hope that a similar use can continue in that space.
Resolution #5. Resolution on the death of William "Bill" Noble. Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons
There was an obituary in the Feb 26, 2018 Boston Globe for Bill Noble - longtime tenant activist and one of the central figures at Cambridge City Council meetings during the rent control years in Cambridge. Present at most City Council meetings during many of those years were Michael Turk, Connie Thibaut, and Bill Noble from the Cambridge Tenants Union (CTU). There was a time when public comment at meetings happened whenever in the meeting a particular agenda item came up, so it was often necessary to stay through the end of the meeting if you wished to give public comment. The mainstays of the CTU were often there for the whole meeting. Some of the other regulars are quoted in the obituary. Bill Noble was also actively involved with the Riverside-Cambridgeport Community Corporation (RCCC - though everyone called it "R Triple C").
It was an interesting coincident that the obituary for Bill Noble was published the same day that many of the Small Property Owners Association (SPOA) from way back when were at the City Council meeting opposing what they see as a back-door attempt to impose similar controls on property that they successfully opposed nearly 25 years ago. It was almost like a virtual reunion - and a reminder of how Cambridge used to be an ongoing political war zone.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Community Development Department to apply on behalf of the City of Cambridge for the Housing Choice Designation before the Apr 30, 2018 deadline. Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon
At last week's City Council meeting, City Manager Louis DePasquale hinted at the possibility of some movement in the everlasting quest to build a new bridge over the railroad tracks west of the Alewife Brook Parkway that would connect the Alewife Triangle and the Alewife Quadrangle, but he gave no specifics. Everybody was intrigued about what he was driving at. [By the way, the only people who call it "The Quad" are people who attended prep school.]
I heard of one possible mechanism through which funding might be derived to build this bridge. The Governor recently created the "Housing Choice Initiative" which allows communities to apply to the state to be recognized and designated as a "Housing Choice Community." To qualify, you have to either show that you've produced a certain rate of new units or adopted certain best practices. Cambridge would be in that top tier for housing produced and would qualify. Communities that qualify would get an advantage in applying for discretionary state funding and exclusive access to a new capital fund called the "Local Capital Projects Fund", which will be funded by casino revenue. More information is available at: https://www.mass.gov/housing-choice-initiative
Wouldn't it be great if a by-product of Cambridge encouraging new housing (rather than trying to block it) was a community benefit like this bridge, hopefully built in conjunction with a new commuter rail stop to support the new housing and jobs?
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor, Attorney General and District Attorney to investigate the possibility of Cambridge joining this national suit against opioid manufacturers and distributors. Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Mallon
The Order sounds good, but I was intrigued by the fact that it has six co-sponsors. I think this is great, but I expect some ne'er-do-well will claim it's an open meeting law violation. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development, the Director of Communications and Community Relations, or any other relevant City department with the view in mind of producing a document that can be presented at the City Council Housing Committee to provide a better perspective on the City's current efforts to address the housing issues facing Cambridge. Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui
Perhaps Councillor Carlone can just ask the Somerville Board of Alderman to send the information.
Order #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to provide the City Council with an Inman Square Reconstruction Project Timeline. Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Kelley
This project is based on established Listen Zero principles, but I suppose the planners can at least pass on a calendar of non-negotiables.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the City’s plans for incorporating dock-less bikes into its urban mobility opportunities, to include licensing, contractual and liability issues; and that said report be transmitted to the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee for a public hearing on the issue of a dock-less bikeshare system. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Siddiqui
I had no idea that the City had any such plans but, then again, according to established Listen Zero principles, it's essential to push things like this through with as little discussion as possible.
Order #8. That the City Council, City Manager, and City Staff are requested to work as quickly as possible to enact the necessary laws and regulations, including zoning and licensing of retail cannabis establishments, in order to implement the state law in a manner that addresses the racial and economic injustices of the past. Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui
The gist of this Order is that anyone who is less than enthusiastic about the proliferation of marijuana (oh, excuse me - cannabis) is refusing to address the "racial and economic injustices of the past". The sponsors are intent on "ensuring equitable enforcement and reasonable availability of cannabis throughout the city." Well, I guess we all have our priorities. - Robert Winters
Bridging the Divide - Items of Interest on the Feb 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here are some of the more interesting items on this week's agenda:
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining its noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 33 municipalities in the United States with AAA ratings from each of the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.
This has become an annual tradition, and it's still something we should celebrate.
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for the City Council vote to approve the use of the new voting equipment and to discontinue the use of the existing voting equipment effective immediately.
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Deputy City Clerk, Paula Crane, transmitting a report for a City Council public hearing held on Tues, Feb 20, 2018 for the purpose of the City Council and the public to view the new voting equipment purchased by the Election Commission.
We first used the current AccuVote machines for the Sept 1996 State Primary, and they were a huge improvement over the punchcard system we used prior to that. It was necessary then to have some custom programming done so that the same scanners could also be used for the municipal PR elections, and that will again have to take place with the new ImageCast machines. That's just for creating the ballot data text files. The election tabulation will continue to be done the same we've been doing it. In addition to firming up our system for our own sake, it's worth noting that with Ranked Choice Voting being advocated in Massachusetts and elsewhere (though not necessarily PR), what we do in Cambridge may be helpful down the road in other places.
Charter Right #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Hovey & Markham Cottages as follows: 2A. Property located at 40 Cottage Street; and 2B. Property located at 44 Cottage Street.
As I said a couple of weeks ago, whether a building is landmark-worthy should depend only on the building and not on its owners or occupants.
Update: The City Council landmarked only one of the two properties (44 Cottage Street) and sent the other (40 Cottage Street) to Unfinished Business even though the landmarking only makes sense as the pair of buildings. Apparently, these councillors believe that landmarking is a function of whether they like the property owner or not (and whether they supported you politically).
Resolution #24. Congratulations and thanks to William B. "Bill" King on the occasion of his retirement. Mayor McGovern
Suffice to say that I have great respect for all who voluntarily serve on City boards and commissions out of a sense of civic duty rather than single-issue advocacy. Bill King is one of those people who has consistently defined over many years what it means to be a great citizen.
Communications #7. Sundry e-mails received on support of the protected bike lanes, relative to Policy Order #4 of Feb 12, 2018 Council Meeting. Copies are on file for review in the City Clerk’s office.
I generally ignore all emails that are the product of a coordinated campaign with a list of "talking points", but I did happen to read one of these sundry emails that stated "You will see no slander in comments from the people who support the new infrastructure." I am reminded of the statement "Fortunately time takes care of old people for us" stated by one particular idiot who didn't appreciate the criticism by older people of the Cambridge Street configuration.
PS - Former Mayor Alice Wolf submitted a late communication at the previous meeting with specific objections to the current configuration of Cambridge Street and the suggestion that a better configuration should be found. The Cambridge Bicycle Committee was created from her initiative, so let's put to rest the claim that criticism of this configuration is a fringe phenomenon of "the anti-bike people".
Order #2. That the City Manager and the Mayor’s Office are requested to direct the new bicycle lane working group, once it has been convened, to hold a series of “listening sessions” at the senior buildings throughout Cambridge in order to ensure that our senior residents, who might otherwise be unable to attend the various hearings to weigh in on this issue, will have adequate opportunities to have their voices heard on an issue that could have an outsized impact upon them. Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern
Wouldn't it be great if "Vision Zero" didn't always mean "Listen Zero" when it comes to public feedback and other points of view? I will try to be optimistic. Then again there's this:
Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-16, regarding a report on Inman Square construction.
Synopsis: The City is very interested in your ideas about the color of the sidewalk and what varieties of flowers should be planted in the vicinity of the planned reconfiguration of Inman Square that is not subject to any compromise, discussion, or alternative perspectives.
Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with relevant City departments to create additional Safety Zones for safer streets. Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux
I agree with this Order, but not just in the situation of "proximity to land-uses serving vulnerable populations". Some streets warrant lower speed limits simply because there is fast-moving traffic directly adjacent to a narrow sidewalk, e.g. westbound on Putnam Ave. When Prospect St. used to have an additional lane with neither a buffer nor parking it was very dangerous, especially close to Central Square. On-street parking can, in fact, be very effective in traffic calming - even moreso when speed limits are reduced.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to consult with City staff on the feasibility of initiating a formal transit study and action plan of the Alewife area in response to unanimous concerns of the Envision Alewife Working Group regarding the need for a pedestrian/bicycle/shuttle bridge from the Quadrangle area along Concord Avenue across the railroad tracks to the Triangle area on Cambridgepark Drive and a commuter rail stop which would be critical to create neighborhoods that are safe and healthy for residents and businesses. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Carlone
It would be great if the City and our various government representatives could find a way to make this happen, but not in the absence of either a new commuter rail stop or shuttle service or both. It will be very difficult to sell this proposal simply as a pedestrian and bicycle amenity (as has often been done), so I'm glad to see this phrased as it is. Contained in this letter is also one point of view that there should be a grade crossing of the railroad tracks (or underpass or bridge) at the western end of Cambridgepark Drive. You'll never see a new grade crossing approved there, and an underpass is unrealistic. As for a bridge option, it's only realistic to imagine one new bridge over the tracks and (even though I may like it there) all the proposals I've seen in the last few decades don't have it that far west. The letter also suggests a pedestrian bridge over the Little River. Except for the usual difficulties associated with building anything near a waterway, that bridge would be relatively easy to build and inexpensive. See picture (Blue Heron Bridge over the Charles River between Newton and Watertown - Wikipedia).
Update: City Manager Louis DePasquale hinted at the possibility of some movement but gave no specifics. Everybody is intrigued about what he was driving at.
Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to draft language for a home rule petition for a Cambridge Right of First Refusal Legislation. Councillor Carlone, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui
It's curious that the authors of this Order chose not to specify what form of "Right of First Refusal bill" they want. There are good reasons why House Bill 3017 never made it out of committee. Do the authors simply want the City Solicitor to provide language that's the same as H.3017 or do they want a Home Rule Petition that is fundamentally different? It would be nice if the focus was primarily on providing options for long-term tenants rather than on creating a framework for ensuring that private property in select neighborhoods is transferred to public/quasi-public ownership.
Update: Councillor Simmons exercised her Charter Right on this vacuous Order. This Order brought out more people during Public Comment than everything else on the agenda.
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to develop a timeline for the next Incentive Zoning Nexus Study. Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons
The current version of the Incentive Zoning provisions was ordained on Sept 28, 2015. That ordinance has the following provision: "The City shall initiate a reevaluation of the Housing Contribution Rate and any other aspect of these Incentive Zoning Provisions at an interval of no less than three (3) years from the time the rate was last amended by the City Council." That's what a nexus study is, so I suppose this Order is right on schedule. - Robert Winters
Rhetorical Conflict - Safe Streets and Vision Zero: February 12, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting
The battle for turf in the Rhetorical War continues this week with troops massing at the borders over the meaning of Vision Zero and Safe Streets. Continents could be sinking and frogs raining from the sky, but we'll once again get to witness the turf war over allocation of space on Cambridge roads (and sidewalks). Word has it that the Boston Cyclists Union has already rung the alarm and asked all troops to report for duty in the Sullivan Chamber on Monday to argue against "safe streets for all" if that might translate into giving up an inch of sand on the beachhead of segregated bike lanes. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition with the City hosting a Big Press Conference this past week announcing its Vision Zero Plan – basically reducing the speed limit to 20mph in the major Squares (a good thing) and creating a rhetorical framework to hush up anyone who questions future road reconfigurations. After all, you know, Vision Zero. If you don't like flexi-posts or traffic congestion or if you raise issues about road conditions in winter and safety considerations at intersections, surely you must be against traffic calming and in support of danger. Public Comment on Monday promises to be great (that is to say - bad) theater with about a 30 year age difference in opposing sides in the battle over the definition of safety.
Frankly, I'd rather talk about public transportation, but that would have far less drama. I was also unable to witness the presentation last week on the Battle of Inman Square that pitted tree huggers vs. bicycle segregationists (which actually pitted some people against themselves) in the elusive redesign of this crossroads.
Here's the menu of my personal favorite dishes being served up at this gathering:
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Lechmere National Bank building at 225/227 Cambridge Street.
Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Hovey & Markham Cottages located at 40 and 44 Cottage Street.
Communications #3-10,12-17. Fourteen letters opposing historical landmark designation of 40 Cottage Street.
We are blessed with our most excellent Historical Commission who generate landmark designation reports (and other publications) that are incredibly good. These two reports are no exception. In a city with so many significant historic buildings it's not surprising that the Historical Commission is recommending landmark status in both of these reports. What makes this noteworthy are the communications - many of which were generated from the same template. Some of them even make reference to the "weaponization of the Historical Commission landmark study and designation process". Personally, I hope the homeowners of 40 Cottage Street will be allowed to renovate their home to the highest energy efficiency standards while maintaining as much historical integrity as possible. That said, either your building is landmark-worthy or it's not, and I'd say the report strongly suggests that this one is. It's true that various legal processes are routinely used in Cambridge to stall or block projects, but I guess it apparently does matter whose ox is gored. If you know the right people then it's called "weaponization", and otherwise it's called "neighborhood preservation". In any case, it will be good to hear more about how the Historical Commission balances preservation vs. modernization in a time when energy conservation and sustainability are prioritized.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a Sustainable Materials Recovery grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in the amount of $38,800 to the Grant Fund Department of Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance Account which will be used toward the purchase of food waste collection bins for the citywide curbside organics program.
The starting date is now less than two months away. Speaking as the man formerly known as "Compost Man", I'm eager to see how this plays out and what problems arise as this service is rolled out citywide. I'm also mindful of the fact that this is just as much a rediscovery of former best practices as it is of innovative new practices.
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-111, regarding the feasibility of implementing neighborways.
In short, the report doesn't endorse using art to calm traffic. We had a good way of handling this when I was a kid growing up in Queens, New York. We painted bases and baselines on the street and played stickball. The message to drivers was abundantly clear and there was never an altercation. We would also chant "Car Car C-A-R" when a car was coming. Other streets had hockey goals in the street that had to be moved to allow cars to pass, but nobody ever complained. We never called these "neighborways." We just called them streets.
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-01, regarding a report on possibility of a supermarket opening at 20 Sidney Street.
Perhaps nothing will come of this, but at least there's this: "Community Development Department (CDD) staff have reached out to real estate representatives at several grocery chains, including Market Basket, Aldi, Trader Joes, and bFresh to inform them about the opportunity and connect them to Forest City. Several grocery store representatives mentioned that they do not have plans to expand at this time, or that the space is too small for their traditional size requirements. Regardless, CDD staff has relayed the grocery store chains contact information to Forest City staff. Staff will continue to explore options and communicate with Forest City about possible tenants." In my view Aldi is the one that might work best at this site, but only if the rental agreement makes it economically feasible.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and the Cambridge Public Health Department regarding the current status of zoning language and public health regulations for the keeping of hens and food cultivation and proposed next steps to advance the Urban Agriculture initiative. Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern
Perhaps we can just dispense with the supermarkets and just buy our milk and eggs from Farmer Jones down the street.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works to report back to the Council on the success of the Polystyrene Ordinance, including implementation, enforcement, and remaining concerns among the business community. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui
When I was on the Recycling Advisory Committee (22 years, I believe) I often learned how some initiatives that were very appealing were actually counterproductive or, at best, a break-even proposition. For example, a "paper" drink cup is still lined with plastic, and when you take away the paper there is still a significant amount of plastic - perhaps more than in a "Styrofoam" cup. This Order asserts that expanded polystyrene (EPS), a.k.a. "Styrofoam", has been shown to leach harmful chemicals into food and beverages, but most reliable sources dispute that or note that any potential hazard is negligible. The real problem is that it's difficult to recycle economically and it doesn't really biodegrade.
Regarding the ban of plastic bags, except for the fact that the plastic gets caught in the machinery at the materials recovery facility (MRF), the environmental benefits of paper bags over plastic bags is not a slam dunk. Reusable bags, on the other hand, win the argument easily. That's why the Cambridge ordinance is best referred to as the BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) Ordinance rather than as a plastic bag ban (which it isn't).
The jury is still out regarding the polystyrene ban. Some places now provide "compostable" plasticware, but recyclers aren't keen on it because it doesn't really biodegrade along with other organics except under very specialized conditions. Also, biodegradable plastic is often hard to distinguish from other plastic and this compromises the recyclability of all plastics. I suppose none of these details matter to city councillors as long as it makes them appear "environmental". I am, of course, interested to hear what DPW has to say about how the polystyrene ban has fared.
Order #4. That the City Manager and the Mayor’s Office are requested to establish a new working group consisting of a diverse set of stakeholders, including cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, small business owners, EMS/first responders, and City Officials to discuss the results of the protected bike lane pilot using clear evaluation criteria, and how best to construct a cohesive network in the future. Councillor Mallon, Councillor Kelley, Mayor McGovern
This is simply the fulfillment of the Jan 25, 2017 memo from Iram Farooq (CDD), Owen O’Riordan (DPW), and Joseph E. Barr (Traffic). That memo states in regard to the Cambridge St. reconfiguration:
In other words, there was always supposed to be a evaluation of this Separated Bicycle Lane Demonstration. It's interesting that at least one city councillor seems unable to grasp this in saying, "The protected lanes are here to stay and this order may suggest to some they are not." There is little question that enhanced bicycle (and pedestrian and motor vehicle) safety is the rule of the day (because, you know, Vision Zero), but the question remains how best to achieve this. Furthermore, saying that an evaluation will be "data driven" is insufficient. For example, banning all motor vehicles would surely produce data showing a reduction in motor vehicle crashes, but that would not imply that the ban was good policy or that a better solution was not possible.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to create additional opportunities for the community to evaluate and understand the plan to redesign Inman Square and to provide input, including: walk-in clinics between now and the next community meeting and making more details available online including alternative designs considered but deemed unworkable, traffic simulations, and other relevant data or information. Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui
Perhaps nobody wants to hear this but there really are currently two feasible options available for Inman Square. One is the "current plan" to wipe out the trees in Vellucci Park, relocate some of that space to the north side, and move all bicyclists onto the sidewalks. The other is to keep Inman Square more or less as it is with its newly painted green stripes for bicycles and maybe with some tweaking of the signals, lane markings, and pedestrian phases. Do we have any safety data on how the intersection is working since the "temporary" changes were made last year?
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report on progress and efforts made to date to provide greater access to internet services citywide for low income residents. Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Simmons
Translation: Some advocates want municipal broadband whether or not there is the demonstrated need or demand, and the fact that Cambridge has a significant "free cash" position will be perpetually used to justify any required expenditures. I also wonder sometimes what fraction of people nowadays use only their phone to access anything online (and to, of course, post silly pictures).
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Carlone and Councillor Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for an additional public hearing held on Jan 24, 2018 to discuss the Zoning Petition filed by Peter Kroon, et al, to amend Section 20.50 of the Zoning Ordinance in the " Harvard Square Overlay District" dated Sept 28, 2017.
This might win the all-time award for longest committee meeting leading nowhere. At least we now know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Coming up at the Feb 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here's my first pass (and Gronkowski didn't pull this one down either) at the interesting agenda items with the usual brilliant/annoying observations.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to inquire whether the Community Development Department will apply for the Targeted Brownfields Assessment Grant regarding Jerry's Pond. Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Kelley
Many people may have forgotten this by now but there were once plans to enhance that whole area - not only by making Jerry's Pond an available resource but also doing, dare I say, some development in the vicinity of the MBTA headhouse east of the parkway and within the fenced-in area associated with the W.R. Grace site on the north side of the path. First it was the threat of naphthalene in the soil, and then asbestos. I will never believe that permanently fencing in a contaminated site near a T station is preferable to cleaning it up and turning it into a resource rather than a liability.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and any other relevant City Department to gain a sense of who is purchasing buildings in Cambridge. Councillor Simmons
I think this will be very interesting information, and not only because I'd like to see just how much property Gerald Chan now owns in Cambridge. At least he lives nearby. The greater problem is that in an uncertain world there's a lot more financial security in Cambridge real estate than in either pork bellies or Chinese financial markets. This reality is not always compatible with the quaint old notion of buying property either because you want a place to live or you need a place to operate your business. Cambridge property has in many ways become primarily a place to store wealth. Barring some new form of gold rush elsewhere I don't see this changing any time soon.
Order #6. That the City Manager explore the possibility of an "ALL WALK" pedestrian signal at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, Prospect Street, and River Street. Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui
As appealing as this may seem, the traffic volumes on these streets may dictate otherwise. The greatest problem is the conflict between pedestrians crossing Mass. Ave. and right-turning vehicles from River Street onto Mass. Ave. There used to be a "slip lane" there, but that was even more hazardous for pedestrians. The real problem, in my opinion, is that many drivers and pedestrians don't have a clue about how to balance assertiveness and courtesy. I'm reminded of a small book from about 35 years ago called "The Boston Driver's Handbook: Wild in the Streets" that really said it all, especially the Cambridge tradition of acting aloof when crossing in Harvard Square.
I often think about writing a story on "How to Be a Pedestrian in Cambridge" complete with a guide to hand gestures and best ways to stop vehicles with just a look. These lessons will, of course, be lost on habitual cell phone users.
Order #7. City Council support of Representative Provost and the Cambridge Legislative Delegation’s efforts to pass a Right of First Refusal Bill, with an amendment for cities to provide final implementation modifications as needed. Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui
Please explain how this will apply to a multi-family homeowner who wishes to do a formal sale to family members or close friends for a price well below what is dictated by the market. - Robert Winters
Featured Items on the Jan 29, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Mayor McGovern has appointed the City Council committees and their Chairs pending final adoption of the City Council Rules. In addition, here are just a few of the noteworthy agenda items:
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding efforts to expand the number of electric vehicle charging stations, the feasibility of appropriately placing electric vehicle chargers on residential streets where there is need, the status of possible City fleet replacement to electric vehicles, expanded outreach and education on available rebates and incentive programs, and the feasibility of requiring developers to include a greater number of electric vehicle charging stations in new or substantially renovated multi-unit buildings. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons on Jan 22, 2018.]
This Order from last week exposed a potentially pretty significant rift. It's one thing to require electric vehicle charging capacity in new residential and commercial construction, but providing charging stations on public streets basically means that only those who can afford a $100,000+ Chevy Volt or comparable vehicle will be able to use those parking spaces. [Correction: It's the Tesla Model S that went for ~$100K. The Chevy Volt apparently goes for ~$30K.] It's understandable that people without driveways might want a mechanism for charging their cars (since running power cords across the sidewalk or down the street is not an option), but how will it go over with the neighbors if only some people are privileged to use these parking spaces?
Unfinished Business #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Devereux, Chair of the Ad-Hoc Rules Committee, for a public hearing held on Tuesday, Jan 16, 2018 to discuss and suggest changes to the City Council Rules and transmitting recommended changes to the City Council Rules.
I honestly don't know what Rules Changes they finally settled on at last week's meeting. The meeting materials only show the suggestions from the Ad-Hoc Committee and it's simply not worth reviewing the video to find out what the Council decided on before referring the revised version to Unfinished Business. It's primarily just nickel-and-dime stuff anyway.
Communications #16-25 and #27 transmitting written opposition to the Peter Kroon, et al. Harvard Square Overlay District Zoning Petition.
In addition to these communications, most of the public comment at last week's Ordinance Committee meeting was against the petition. I believe there may now be or will soon be expressed written opposition from more than 20% of the affected land ownership which means that a three-quarter super-majority vote would be needed to pass the Kroon Petition, i.e. 7 votes instead of 6 out of 9. I don't think it had the votes anyway, but it apparently doesn't matter because the Ordinance Committee failed to move it out of committee so it can't be passed to a 2nd Reading on Monday and it therefore cannot be ordained prior to the expiration date. It seems likely that a revised version will be filed after the Feb 19 expiration.
One particularly offensive part of the Ordinance Committee discussion centered on term limits on membership on the Harvard Square Advisory Committee and the desire of the petitioners and some councillors to drive one particular person out of the Chair and maybe even off the advisory committee entirely. There is a notification in this week's agenda for the reappointment of two 20+ year members to the Library Board of Trustees. Will the City Council now argue that they should be booted from the Board in the quest for "new blood"? City boards & commissions benefit greatly from having a mix of newer members and long-time members who carry a lot of institutional memory and skills. Having a good balance is what's really important.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor and any other appropriate City departments to report back to the City Council with an update on any work that is currently underway regarding regulating adult use marijuana and to suggest next steps to the Council. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern
This is a timely order. The Trojan horse of medical marijuana facilities has already entered the city and it has the munchies.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to explore funding options for the possibility of creating a Business Improvement District (BID) for Central Square. Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern
It is quite apparent that groups like the Harvard Square Business Association and the Central Square Business Association are already taking on some of the rules associated with a Business Improvement District. This may be the right time to make this official in Central Square. The benefits are many and the down sides are few.
PS - The Central Square Business Association and its most excellent Executive Director Michael Monastime hosted an especially good charrette on Saturday on the future of Carl Barron Plaza in the heart of Central Square. This was just the first of what will be many opportunities for public input on the upcoming River Street reconstruction project (from the river to Carl Barron Plaza) that will commence at some point in the next year or so.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department with the view in mind of creating a list of mitigated private spaces that are available to the public, what the exact eligibility of using these spaces is, and making the list available to the public. Councillor Toomey
This is a welcome request. Most people have no idea what spaces are available for use and what rules govern the use of these open spaces and meeting spaces. It will be great if this information can be made available along with information on all City-owned resources that are available for public use. Ideally there should also be a list of all spaces in churches and other buildings that are available for use at modest cost for meetings and events.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Commissioner of Public Works and the City Engineer on the potential of utilizing trenchless technology, micro tunneling and/or pipe jacking to lessen the time and impact on the residents of Gore Street. Councillor Toomey, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Mallon
Order #8. That the City Manager maximize the community benefits from and mitigating the impacts of the Cambridge Crossing sewer construction. Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Toomey
Suffice to say that if during the construction of that dedicated sewer line the century-old water mains and gas mains are replaced (which will have to occur at some point anyway), that is, in itself, significant mitigation. If some of the electrical infrastructure can also be renewed and moved from poles to underground that would be even better.
Order #7. Endorsing Requests for Action or Further Study for the I-90 Allston Interchange Project in Boston. Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone
This is a complicated project with the potential for a lot of benefit and a fair amount of disruption during construction. I won't offer any opinions just now, but there are plenty to go around. It's worth the read.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Mayor Marc C. McGovern, transmitting the City Council Committee Assignments for the Council Term 2018-2019 pending adoption of the Rules as amended.
There's nothing particularly stunning about the appointments - mostly natural matches of function and interest. There are maybe three out of the 11 standing committees that could become cauldrons of controversy, but it's probably best to wait and see. I'll let you guess which three. - Robert Winters
Choice Bits from the Jan 22, 2018 Cambridge City Council agenda
Here's my first pass at what seems interesting (at least to me):
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $23,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Elections Commission Other Ordinary Maintenance Account to reimburse funds used for the 2017 voter guide printing and mailing. The reimbursement is necessary to cover other election related expenses.
Voter turnout went up in the 2017 municipal election by about 26% from 17,959 to 22,581. There were many factors – reaction to the 2016 presidential election, multiple vacancies and a large field of interesting new candidates, several issues whose flames were fanned by activists, increased use of social media and related tools to target voters, and the citywide mailing of the voter guide. It's hard to say which factors had the greatest effect. I'll add that the most well-funded campaign was unsuccessful while a new candidate soared over quota with relatively little campaign funding. Perhaps money is no longer, as Tip O'Neill used to say, "the mother's milk of politics".
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $5 million from Fund Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Executive Department Extraordinary Expenditures account, for the City’s first contribution to the GLX project.
This expenditure has me thinking about the Mass Pike (I-90) realignment project now being planned for the Allston-Brighton area across the river, and the current omission of the proposed West Station that was to be part of it. I have been reading about suggestions that since the concurrent new development in that area would primarily be by Harvard University, then perhaps Harvard should be providing the funds for the new station. Could this be the new normal, i.e. that developers and host cities who would benefit by new transit should pay for the transit? The realization of the Green Line Extension seems to have been made possible, at least in part, by the promise of financial contributions from Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, and the developer of the NorthPoint area.
Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt parts of the Kroon, et al, Harvard Square Zoning Petition and to further study some parts.
There is wisdom in the Planning Board recommendations (as usual). It is especially interesting to see the Board agreeing that the "formula business" regulations adopted not long ago for Central Square would also be appropriate for Harvard Square (and presumably elsewhere). The Board makes a special point regarding the review of signage which might be subject to review by both the Historical Commission and the Planning Board. [Frankly, I think the issue of signage is overstated. Some business districts, e.g. Central Square, would benefit from some additional "gawdy" and "spectacular" signage.] Despite some legal risk in moving toward "formula business" regulations, it is far preferable to some previous regulation such as the regulation of "fast food". One other positive recommendation from the Planning Board is for the exemption of below-grade space from floor-area limitations. This is consistent with the Barrett Petition of a couple of years ago. The Planning Board also cites the City's recently completed Retail Strategy. Indeed, the whole matter of the table of uses in the City's various zoning districts needs some attention.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding efforts to expand the number of electric vehicle charging stations, the feasibility of appropriately placing electric vehicle chargers on residential streets where there is need, the status of possible City fleet replacement to electric vehicles, expanded outreach and education on available rebates and incentive programs, and the feasibility of requiring developers to include a greater number of electric vehicle charging stations in new or substantially renovated multi-unit buildings. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan
It's worth noting that Eversource doesn't exactly have the best track record for proactive electric utility planning in Cambridge. They generally upgrade service only when new development requires it or if the service fails. If electric vehicle charging locations are installed on some Cambridge streets it seems likely that increased capacity will be needed and aging and failed service will have to be upgraded - like on my street where the underground service failed several years ago and where numerous "temporary" quick fixes are now the norm.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Department of Public Works to publicize and enforce a “zero tolerance” policy on space savers, working to remove them as quickly as possible following snow events. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui
Is this really a widespread problem in Cambridge? The only places where I have seen this are on streets near public housing. A better solution would be to selectively have even/odd side parking restrictions during which all snow is pushed back all the way to the curb and/or consolidated - assuming there are no plastic "flexi-posts" there to prevent it.
Order #4. City Council support of the New York City climate lawsuit. Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux
I'm starting to get the sense that every City Council meeting agenda is going to have several climate change-related Orders, and that this will become the universal public policy litmus test - even for things that have little or nothing to do with climate change.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to explore mechanisms for achieving greater levels of snow clearing by the city and increase the public response during major snow events or heavy snow winters. Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Chief Information Officer for the City and report back with information regarding electronic device usage and current processes regarding the same. Councillor Toomey
Did the exiting three councillors run off with their City-issued computers and phones?
Order #8. That the Mayor is requested to work with the appropriate City staff to establish a method of effectively communicating the new rules for the 2018-2019 City Council term with the members of the public. Councillor Simmons
I'm on it.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Devereux, Chair of the Ad-Hoc Rules Committee, for a public hearing held on Tuesday, Jan 16, 2018 to discuss and suggest changes to the City Council Rules and transmitting recommended changes to the City Council Rules.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux regarding the outcome of the Ad-Hoc Rules Committee hearing.
There were some good ideas and some not-so-good ideas expressed at this meeting. It doesn't look like we'll be seeing any realignment of the Council committees. At some level it doesn't really matter. The real question is whether or not the councillors actually show up for the committee meetings and if they decide to take up matters of substance. - Robert Winters
Cold Start - Jan 8, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting
This first regular meeting of the 2018-2019 Cambridge City Council will be chaired by our newly minted Mayor Marc McGovern. As one might expect, it's a short agenda as the new and returning councillors settle in. City Council committee appointments may not be settled for a few weeks, so the only business will be what takes place in the regular Council meetings for now. There is one active zoning petition and 15 items from Awaiting Report that were requested to carry over to the new Council.
Here are some agenda items this week that seem interesting:
On the Table #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, regarding assessing and approving Neighborhood-Based Resiliency. [Tabled on the motion of Councillor Kelley on Dec 18, 2017]
I remember when the term "Sustainability" was first popularized. It took people years to decide what the word really meant with various interested people and groups trying to fashion it in a way that suited their ideals and/or agendas. I'm not really sure what was ultimately decided. Though I have some idea what the term "Resiliency" might mean, e.g. hardening of infrastructure, my sense is that we're in a place similar to where we were with "Sustainability" 25 years ago. For example, does Alewife Resiliency translate into transit-oriented development with better connections for all transportation modes or does it mean "Don't build anything there because there may be flooding at times." The current narrow political dichotomy will likely answer in two radically different ways. Soft definitions are always risky propositions.
Order #1. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to reach out to representatives of supermarkets other than Star Market, such as Market Basket, to determine the possibility of their opening a location at 20 Sidney Street, and to report back to the City Council on this matter. Councillor Simmons
There has been an active discussion about the store closure on the Cambridgeport listserv over the last few days. Here's an excerpt of what I wrote there:
The Memorial Drive Stop & Shop closed in May 1994 which left the Cambridgeport area very much in need of a local supermarket. I believe it was in 1997 when University Park (really Forest City) offered to host a Star Market in their hotel/garage building. This was definitely done in order to sweeten the deal in order to obtain the necessary curb cuts (and let's not forget the discontinuation of Blanche Street). There had been a City analysis of access to supermarkets in the wake of the Stop & Shop closure that informed the University Park decision.
At the time a lot of us felt that the whole concept of a 2nd floor supermarket with paid parking (though a discount was offered) was not a sustainable plan, but there really was a serious need for food access at that time - especially for Area 4 (now The Port) and MIT people who would get there on foot. Some of that logic has changed in recent years as more people live without motor vehicles, but most people who do any significant grocery shopping will choose to drive to a place like Market Basket in Somerville not only for the prices but also because there's (usually) available parking. It's virtually impossible that Market Basket would want to operate in the University Park space. It's completely contrary to their very successful business model in which they own most of the locations of their stores and pay no rent. There are other operators that have a very different business model that might be able to make it work at this location, but only if University Park is willing to negotiate a rent that can make it sustainable.
Though I don't believe there is any legal obligation that University Park must continue to host a supermarket, I think there's at least some moral obligation to do so. The original University Park plans called for a "marketplace" that was never built (as well as a movie theater), and some might argue that the inclusion of the Star Market was a sort of making good on that original concept. Perhaps more significantly, the offer to host the Star Market came at a point when the matter was before the Planning Board and the City Council (for the curb cuts), and it was part of the negotiation even if there was no formal commitment to maintain the supermarket in perpetuity. - RW
Back in 1998 I wrote this: "We also learned at this meeting that an agreement has been worked out with the new Star Market at University Park that would make parking for the supermarket free for the first 1½ hours. This was one of the stickier issues a few years ago when the City voted to grant various curb cuts and to discontinue Blanche Street in order to make way for the hotel and supermarket." - Sept 14, 1998 in CCJ Issue #12
Here's what I wrote on June 16, 2000: "There have also been persistent rumors about just how permanent the Star Market is at that location. For now, at least, it appears to be staying put." Well, it lasted longer than I thought and is now scheduled to close on Feb 3, 2018. Hopefully another supermarket operator can be found and that Forest City/University Park will be willing to offer a long-term lease with terms that can can allow a supermarket to economically operate there. Not everyone wants to shop by bike at Whole Paycheck.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on progress made in regards to the Stated Goals of the City Council, as outlined during the 2016-2017 City Council term. Councillor Simmons
Goals are important, but the primary goal should be to not spend an endless time talking about them. - Robert Winters
The Upshot: There was a very healthy discussion regarding the future of the supermarket site in University Park. Look for some community meetings to take place in the coming weeks and months.
Mayor McGovern has appointed Councillors Carlone and Kelley as Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee.
Mayor McGovern also appointed a Special Ad-Hoc Rules Committee to review the City Council rules and the recommend any changes, including possible restructuring of the City Council subcommittees. This Ad-Hoc Committee will consist of Vice Mayor Devereux (Chair) and Councillors Mallon and Kelley; as well as Donna Lopez, City Clerk; Nancy Glowa, City Solicitor; Maryellen Carvello, Office manager to the City Manager, and Wil Durbin, Chief of Staff to the Mayor. This committee is requested to come back with recommendations in time for the next City Council meeting on January 22.
City Council main page.