Cambridge City Council Notes  

updated Sunday, August 3, 2014 8:47 AM

Midsummer Night's Distraction - July 28, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City SealThe City Council returns briefly on Monday for its only meeting of the summer. Due to renovations to the Sullivan Chamber, this meeting will take place in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room, 459 Broadway, CRLS. Here is a sampler of items of interest:

Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $133,437.51 funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to the Grant Fund Police Salary and Wages account ($97,423.51) and to the Grant Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance Account ($36,014) which is a reimbursement of expenditures related to the 2013 Marathon Bombing during the week of Apr 15, 2013 through Apr 24, 2013 and will be used to offset overtime costs and to purchase a Morphotrak system used for identifying latent finger prints.

Though there isn't really anything controversial in this, I'm reminded of an appropriation a few months ago to cover costs associated with bomb-sniffing dogs that led to concerns about excessive police presence. In the end, most of us just got to pet Kevin, a very nice and very talented police dog.

Manager's Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to zoning text prepared by the Community Development Department in regard to a request made by the Ordinance Committee at its June 9 public hearing on the Chun, et al. Zoning Petition, which proposes amending the zoning in the Cambridge Highlands neighborhood.

Nothing special to say here - just that maybe third time's the charm. This is the Chun III Petition.

Manager's Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-71, regarding a report on the feasibility of streamlining the permitting process for one-day permits for food trucks visiting Cambridge for special events.

I suppose some steps have to be taken to ensure public safety, but I remember being a youngster in New York when all you needed was a low-cost vendor's permit and you could just park a cart along a road and sell hot dogs and other tasty stuff. I did that for a part of a summer and never once had to deal with regulators, inspectors, the fire department, or anyone else for that matter. When did eveything get so damn complicated?

Manager's Agenda #35. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-52, regarding a report on New Street improvements.

Not long ago, a City Council proposal to improve New Street was assailed by those who felt that improvements would facilitate the approval of new housing on that street - even though their original complaint was about the dreadful state of the street. Solution = Problem (to some). I hear that some paint has been applied to the street to better guide the traffic. The proposed improvements will be better still. The horror!

Manager's Agenda #37. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, request support from the City Council of my intention to submit an application for funding under the Commonwealth's Infrastructure Investment Incentive Program (referred to as the "I-Cubed" program).

The report provides some explanation. "The I-Cubed program provides a mechanism for funding public infrastructure associated with economic development projects. It relies on new state tax revenues derived primarily from new jobs associated with the project to pay debt service on the bonds which are issued by the Commonwealth to fund the infrastructure." The application is for future development in the NorthPoint area.

Manager's Agenda #38. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the Cambridge Conversations: Preliminary Summary of Process and Input.

The report covers only the initial "conversations" phase of the larger "Master Plan" process and mainly consists of a compilation of impressions expressed by residents. Some have suggested that the whole process may take several years.

Manager's Agenda #39. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to actions I am taking in light of the July 16, 2014 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in the case of Merit Construction Alliance v. City of Quincy as it relates to the Responsible Employer Ordinance.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to determine if there are other options for requiring apprenticeship programs and to report back to the City Council with a legal opinion on how to proceed in ensuring these programs remain part of the Cambridge Employment Plan.   Councillor McGovern and Councillor Simmons

The Order is in response to the fact that the court decision renders some of the City's legally mandated apprentice programs unenforceable. Ideally, voluntary compliance with the intent of that law could still provide the same benefits.

Manager's Agenda #41. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to proposed amendment to Chapter 6.04 of the Cambridge Municipal Code (the "Animal Control Regulations").

Those who fail to scoop the poop may soon have to pick up or pay more. Other proposed changes include giving Ranger Jean at Fresh Pond the authority to enforce all aspects of the Animal Control Regulations. Does this include speeding, lane violations, or failure to yield to smaller dogs?

Unfinished Business #8. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on June 24, 2014 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code entitled "Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance." The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after July 14, 2014.

This matter was passed to a 2nd Resolution at the June 30 meeting and is now in the queue for ordination. As this is not an especially onerous regulation, it could well be voted and approved at this meeting.

Resolution #11. Resolution on the death of Seth Teller.   Councillor Toomey

I knew Seth primarily via email and only met him briefly a few times. In addition to being a popular professor at MIT, he was recently very involved in organizing opposition to the proposed redevelopment of the former Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike Street (which will have its next hearing at the Planning Board on Tues, July 29). People who involve themselves in Cambridge civic affairs may often line up on opposite sides of an issue, but they are all players on the same field. When someone dies so unexpectedly, it leaves a void that crosses all lines.

Resolution #36. Resolution on the death of Kensley David.   Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to devise and implement a system that will require the City to publicize and convene a community meeting within 72 hours of any catastrophic event - including but not limited to murders, shootings, or other similar episodes - that could impact public safety or the perception of public safety.   Councillor Simmons

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Police Commissioner and report back to the City Council and the community on the specific number of additional police officers that will be assigned to patrol Area IV neighborhoods, whether this increased police presence will be in place through the winter months, and what other additional measures will be undertaken by the Police Department in Area IV.   Councillor Simmons

Kensley David was the young man who was recently murdered on Windsor Street. The two Orders are in response to this tragedy.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to resume negotiations with Mr. Fawcett regarding the Whittemore Avenue Community Garden and to explore the possibility of securing this space by eminent domain.   Councillor Carlone

Many of us would love to see this community garden restored and made a permanent part of the city's inventory of community gardens. It's worth mentioning, however, that over the years there have been a number of such community gardens on private property that were voluntarily made available to residents thanks to the generosity of the property owners. One such garden on Putnam Ave. some years ago was at the center of a controversy when new housing was proposed for that lot. Would that property owner have ever made the lot available for a community garden if he knew that one day it would prevent other uses on that lot? Let's hope that in the present case some mutually acceptable agreement can be reached.

Order #4. That the City Council go on record affirming its support for the preservation of the Silver Maple Forest.   Councillor Carlone

Yeah, sure, let's have another resolution. Many of us would like to see open space like this preserved, but these orders are getting tiresome. It's interesting that the language of the Order is directed toward the property owner "sending him our warmest regards" but also calling for taking "any and all legal steps necessary to prevent the City from providing any water or sewer connections to the proposed Silver Maple Forest development site". That's something of a mixed message. The "Silver Maple Forest" is the 15.6 acre site of a controversial development project along Acorn Park Drive in the Alewife area located at the intersection of Cambridge, Belmont, and Arlington.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments regarding the loss of on-street parking spaces as well as the loss of a handicap parking space in Municipal Lot #8 as a result of the reconstruction/reconfiguration of Western Avenue.   Councillor Toomey

My greatest concern about the Western Avenue reconfiguration has been that in order to accommodate bicycles on the sidewalk it would lead to dangerously narrowed lanes in the roadway that would endanger those of us who prefer to cycle on the roadway rather than on the sidewalk. There is still much work to be done before the road is completed, but recent visits have only confirmed my fears. This roadway will be worse for both motor vehicles and bicycles, and I fully expect less safety for pedestrians, bicycles, and motor vehicles.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to work with community experts, local universities and the Cambridge Water Department to produce a research study determining the possible harmfully effects of continuing to fluoridate the city’s water supply.   Councillor Mazen

I don't really know that fluoride is needed in the water supply in this day and age when every toothpaste has all the fluoride needed to provide any necessary dental health benefits. That said, I do love the alarmist language in the order like "adding industrial-grade fluoride chemicals to the public water supply". The Order calls for a research study but already contains the conclusions that "Fluoride is classified by the FDA as a drug, not a nutrient, with many side effects and known neurotoxicity and therefore it is not appropriate to add to a city's water supply" and "More than 33 studies have reported an association between fluoride drinking water concentration and reduced IQ." Having consumed lots and lots of fluoridated water over the last 59 years, I can only imagine how brilliant I might have been had I only abstained from consuming this toxic beverage known as water.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to form an advisory committee comprised of residents, business leaders and planning professionals to advise the City Manager and staff on ways to improve the Planning Board process while also determining ways to make the special permit process more understandable and transparent to the public and look for opportunities to provide greater public involvement and engagement.   Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Simmons

This is, in my opinion, the real centerpiece of this meeting's agenda. The Carlone Petition introduced at the June 30 meeting would politicize all Special Permit development projects over a certain size. It's a dreadful proposal. There is, however, a perception in some quarters that the current Planning Board procedures for hearings and decisions on Special Permits do not permit adequate public review and input. Whether true or not, this Order proposes that the City Manager form an advisory committee comprised of residents, business leaders and planning professionals to advise the City Manager and staff on ways to improve the Planning Board process. One simple revision that would make a lot of sense would simply be to have a proponent first bring in a concept and solicit public input prior to coming in with a fully-designed development proposal. Subsequent meetings would then benefit from this early feedback from the public.

If the City Council has any wisdom at all, they will pass this Order and ask that the City Manager move quickly to form this advisory committee and propose useful procedural changes at the Planning Board (which may soon see one or more new members). This could make things better for both residents and Planning Board members. This would be far better than disempowering the Planning Board and turning every development proposal into political theater before the City Council.

Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and reach out to the principals at Vecna to work with them and assist the company with its plan to create new retail and open space opportunities which could significantly add to the vitality of this growing area of Cambridgepark Drive.   Mayor Maher

One of the most positive trends I've noticed over the last year or two is that ground-floor retail is being regularly characterized as a community benefit. It wasn't all that long ago that only open space and "affordable housing" were seen as community benefits. Nowadays there is a lot of emphasis put on "place making" and that's a very good development.

Order #20. That the City of Cambridge joins with our fellow citizens, municipalities and elected officials across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in calling for a boycott of Market Basket stores in the spirit of unity with current and former employees of Market Basket   Mayor Maher

As a regular Market Basket shopper, I do hope there's some kind of resolution soon. However, I don't think it's good that elected officials or elected bodies are calling for boycotts. That's a decision best left to individuals.

Order #23. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all appropriate departments and explore the feasibility of creating a Cambridge City Youth Council that will represent the youth population of the city and serve as an advisory board to the City Council.   Councillor Cheung

I thought we already had such an advisory board - the Kids' Council. Their charge may be to coordinate services relevant to Cambridge youth, but advising the City Council could be added to that charge. Having a new, separate group seems a bit redundant. Modifying the existing Kids' Council seems like a simpler and more effective idea.

Order #24. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Community Development Department on the feasibility of producing a Cambridge Sustainability Plan with stated priority goals to complement Cambridge's Master Plan.   Councillor Cheung

I'm inclined to say that the policy goals contained in the Growth Policy Document (1992) coupled with the 2006 update is the Cambridge Sustainability Plan and it's a pretty good one. I would expect a few revisions to grow out of the next process but it's not like we have to revert to Square One.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee for a public hearing held on June 11, 2014 to explore the way forward for a shared use with a rail and trail path along the Grand Junction Corridor.

All good ideas, so let's get things moving. I would especially like to see some fresh ideas on how best to connect to the Somerville Community Path.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on July 2, 2014 to discuss the Timothy R. Flaherty, et al. zoning petition requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge to expand the Medical Marijuana Overlay District, MMD-1 to encompass 61 Mooney Street.

No comment - just the observation that Planning Board report has been received and with the Ordinance Committee report this matter could now be moved to a 2nd Reading putting it in the queue for ordination in September.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Leland Cheung transmitting information on The Rush to Build Walkable Urban Grocery Stores.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey Jr. regarding his appeal of a public records denial with the Division of Capital and Asset Management and Maintenance regarding the sale price of the Sullivan Courthouse.

Both of these communication have a relationship to the Legatt McCall proposal to redevelop the former Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike St. One of the benefits touted by the developer would be a new neighborhood grocery store to be located on the ground level of the First Street Garage. Regarding the sale price of the Courthouse property, I doubt whether that will be made known until the final transfer of title has taken place. As of this past Tuesday, no papers had been passed. It was anticipated that the transaction would be completed soon after the prisoners were evacuated from the jail and that took place last month. Perhaps we'll learn more at the July 29 Planning Board hearing. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Master Plans and Monkey Wrenches - June 30, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

The curtain falls tonight on the FY2014 Fiscal Year as the City Council enters its Summer Recess - but not without a little controversy. Councillor Dennis "Pearl Harbor" Carlone is the first signer of a new zoning petition that is almost guaranteed to bring some fireworks in advance of the July 4 holiday. The petition has near zero chance of ultimately passing but stands out prominently in its disrespect for the Planning Board, the Community Development Department, and previous Cambridge City Councils who have passed a variety of zoning petitions with detailed Special Permit criteria spelled out to guide the Planning Board in the granting of Special Permits under the Zoning Ordinance.

Monkey WrenchApplications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been filed by Dennis Carlone, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to designate the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.

The intent of this petition appears to be to enact an effective 30-month moratorium on all larger proposed developments in Cambridge by turning each project into a political football. Except for Councillors Carlone and Mazen (first and last signers), the signers of the petition consist almost entirely of principal players of the Cambridge Residents Alliance who have made no secret of their desire to enact such a moratorium. The essential component of the petition is the transfer of Project Review Special Permit authority from the Planning Board (where there is substantial professional expertise) to the City Council. Anyone who has ever witnessed the Planning Board working together to devise detailed conditions on the granting of a Special Permit should now imagine what this process might look like if conducted by the City Council as they play to the favor of their various political supporters. I shudder to think of it.

Fortunately, it appears that this misguided proposal has the support of only the two city councillors who signed it. Ideally, the City Council would just vote it down and declare it Dead On Arrival, but it's possible that it may be formally referred to the Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee (co-chaired by Carlone) so that it can receive a proper funeral. As a zoning petition, it would require 6 of 9 city councillors to support it and that's pretty much an impossibility unless they start lacing the Kool-Aid with hallucinogens.

Meanwhile the initial phase (Cambridge Conversations) of the upcoming review and possible revision of the City's existing master plans has been met with expressions of satisfaction from most members of the public. Perhaps this is why Carlone and Company have chosen to toss a monkey wrench into the process. Political organizing thrives so much more when wrapped in controversy.

Communications #6. A communication was received from Rick Snedeker, 107 Clifton Street regarding a request for a Special Act Charter for Cambridge that does not include Proportional Representation.

This is included primarily for comic relief. This Snedeker fellow has now written a series of letters to the Cambridge Chronicle detailing his hostility regarding the structure of Cambridge city government and the way municipal elections are conducted. He believes that having 90% of ballots count toward the election of city councillors is more disenfranchising than a winner-take-all election where often fewer than 50% of ballots count toward the election of a candidate. That's interesting math. He would have elections of ward councillors by simple plurailty vote with no runoffs or primary elections. This installment from Snedeker also calls for the Mayor and City Council to be able to dismiss any City department head by a simple majority vote. I can only imagine the thrilling City Council meetings when a department head says something not to the liking of the elected councillors.

Communications #11. Sundry communications were received regarding the East Cambridge Courthouse.

There are 38 individual signed letters plus an additional 74 petition signatures in support of the proposed redevelopment of the Courthouse building. The prisoners are now out of the East Cambridge Courthouse and the transfer of the property from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to Legatt McCall, the chosen developer, is imminent. While there is clear opposition to the proposed redevelopment from many residents, it's pretty clear that this is not a unanimously held position. The Planning Board is expected to make a decision on the Special Permit for the 40 Thorndike Street proposal at its July 29 meeting (to be held in East Cambridge, most likely at the Kennedy-Longfellow School). Regardless what the Planning Board decides, it is very likely that lawsuits will follow.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee and Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee for a joint public meeting held on June 25, 2014 to discuss the ongoing out of school/STEAM working group research.

I'm sure the participants at this meeting meant well and I think we all want to see some good programs developed in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM). The report, however, is remarkable in some of its convoluted quotes. Some of my favorites are these: "Councillor Mazen explained that it's important for one subgroup to track other subgroup. People in this subgroup should ask other subgroups: Are we talking around the subject or are we addressing it?" and "Councillor Mazen confessed he isn't opposed to having another subgroup but he feels that this can fall into other subgroups and can also be discussed by each subgroup." and "Councillor Mazen said he hoped next time will be an opportunity for everybody to work more circularly about a coordinator position".

Exactly how does one "work more circularly?" Does it involve beating around the bush? I'll have to consult with my subgroup about this. - Robert Winters

Note: Due to construction in the Sullivan Chamber, this City Council meeting will take place in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at 459 Broadway (CRLS).

Comments?

Reports, Responses, and Requests on the June 16, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Welcome to the Peoples RepublicThis week's agenda is dominated by a long list of reports from the City Manager. Of the 36 items on "Awaiting Report", we can now scratch off 15 of them. The City Council will, of course, continue to pile on more requests before they vacate for much of the summer.

Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-47, regarding a report on enforcement of ICE detainers against persons who may be wanted for immigration purposes.

After all the impassioned testimony at the meeting when this Order was introduced, Commissioner Haas' words say it best: "In many respects, the practices of the Department go beyond the scope of the City Council Order..."

Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-21, regarding a report on the implementation of a city-wide job fair for Cambridge residents.

This was a great initiative from Vice Mayor Benzan. The event is scheduled for Wed, Oct 8, 2014 from 10:00am to 1:00pm at the IBM Innovation Center, 1 Rogers Street at Charles Park.

Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-41, regarding the feasibility of push cart vendors and local artists both at Carl Barron Plaza and similar places in Central Square.

It never ceases to amaze me just how complicated it can become to carry out an otherwise simple initiative. Perhaps the most unsatisfying aspect of the proposed pilot program is that no food vendors will be permitted "due to limits on Peddler Licenses within 300 ft of a Common Victualer License and the Fast Order Food Cap in Central Square." I was really looking forward to picking up a pretzel or a hot dog smothered in sauerkraut and mustard on the street in Central Square. Regulations be damned!

Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-42, regarding a report on relocating the Planning Board hearing on the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment to a site in East Cambridge.

The Planning Board public hearing for 40 Thorndike Street will be held in East Cambridge, but the date and location has not yet been determined. The word at a recent meeting of the new Neighborhood Assn. of E. Cambridge was that the likely date would be July 15. The remaining prisoners in the jail are expected to leave (rather than escape) in the next week or two and it is anticipated that the transfer of the property from the Commonwealth and the designated developer Leggat McCall will be completed immediately following the closing of the jail. Though many have argued that the Commonwealth should have assumed greater responsibility for the environmental remediation of the property and possibly even the demolition of the existing building, it would appear that state involvement will cease with the transfer of the property. After that it will all be in the hands of the developers, the Planning Board, the various neighborhood groups, and the courts.

Manager's Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-50, regarding a report on an update of the City's composting pilot program.

Some highlights: Total collected to date, almost 30,000 lbs, (after week 9) averaging 3,270 lbs/wk (1.7 tons) over 555 participating households. From the pre-pilot trash run, the average household had 18.75 lbs/wk of trash. Composting reduces that ~33% to 12.1 lbs/wk. 64% of households now produce one bag of trash or less per week. 78% noticed they have less trash, 50% say their trash weighs less and 45% say that their trash smells better. So far, so good.

Manager's Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-37, regarding a report on the feasibility of painting green all designated bike lanes on all major streets.

The Bottom Line: "Our current policy is to install colored pavement markings at locations where it may be necessary for a vehicle or pedestrian to cross a bicycle facility. We believe reserving these special colored markings for conflict zones really emphasizes the importance of the location and indicates to all users that they need to give this area greater attention and proceed with caution. If all lanes were colored – we would lose the opportunity to differentiate these special locations of heightened importance." Makes a lot of sense.

Manager's Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-46, regarding an analysis and assessment of the position of Aide to the City Council.

The manager is recommending that the salary for these positions be increase by $3200, effective in FY14 (the current fiscal year). The original Order called for making these full-time positions, but the Manager's response only speaks of a salary increase. The committee report on this matter called for analysis of these positions but was not sufficiently explicit about what analysis should take place - even though the issue of the legality of the fundamentally patronage jobs was questioned at the hearing.

A message circulated by Councillor Kelley summarizes things rather well: "If one believes that Councillors should have personal assistants (often former campaign managers, donors, neighbors or other campaign supporters) then this pay raise may make sense. If you believe, as I do, that this extra layer of expensive bureaucracy gets in the way of Councillor-to-Councillor communication, has no professional standards or requirements in hiring, results in confusion as more political appointees get involved in issues and gives incumbents a massive City-funded leg up on challengers, you may wish to oppose the suggestion that assistants get a $3200/year pay raise, bringing the compensation for this part-time job up into the 50K range."

Manager's Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-54, regarding the feasibility of installing a large screen television to show the World Cup Matches.

Look for a large screen television showing the World Cup Matches to appear in the Lafayette Square area around Sat, June 28 and continue through the final round which ends on Sun, July 13. It should be a fun time in Central Square - unless the wrong team loses or the right team wins in which case let's hope the police are ready to manage the crowds.

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department to determine the legality and if feasible, the institution of a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage ordinance for the City of Cambridge, with special provisions for small businesses. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Amended Order Number Seven of June 9, 2014.]

As I stated last week, it seems perfectly clear that without enabling legislation from the state legislature, the City of Cambridge does not have the authority to institute its own minimum wage law. It also seems pretty certain that any Home Rule authority granted by the legislature would most likely require approval by local voters. This initiative has more to do with political organizing than anything else. Meanwhile the state is proceeding with what will likely be a successful enactment of a revised state minimum wage law (with some exceptions) somewhere around $11 per hour.

Resolution #12. Congratulations to Katherine Watkins on being appointed as City Engineer/Assistant Commissioner for Engineering for the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

Excellent choice of a well-deserving and thoroughly qualified engineer and a wonderful person. We are really lucky to have people like this working for the City of Cambridge.

Order #5. That the City Council go on the record in opposition to any type of casino project in the Greater Boston area whether constructed and managed by Mohegan Sun or Wynn Resorts.   Councillor Mazen

It's not our call and I seriously doubt whether anyone charged with making the decisions will take this Order seriously.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all appropriate city departments on the feasibility of allowing zoning data such as special permits, variances, and building permits to be available on the City's Open Data Portal.   Councillor Cheung

This is a good idea and it reminds me of an Order from Councillor Kelley some time ago calling for the tagging of all data relating to a given property across various City databases so that a person could get a complete picture. It's probably also worth saying that now that we have the City's Open Data Portal we will likely get another request every week for something else that should be included in the publicly accessible data. This will likely keep a lot of people busy for a long time.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a communication from Councillor Nadeem Mazen requesting the approval of the City Council to attend the 10th Annual International Fab Lab Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

It's interesting that the conference that Councillor Mazen wishes to attend with City support just happens to overlap substantially with what he does in his own personal business/employment. Perhaps this will start a trend. Councillor Simmons can have the City pay for her attendance at a conference of independent insurance brokers because, well, Cantabrigians need insurance. Councillor McGovern can attend a conference of social workers because, well, there's a need for social work in Cambridge. Councillor Carlone can attend a conference of architects on the City dime because, well, we have a lot of nice architecture in Cambridge. You get the picture. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Open data, bottle bans, and minimum wages - Interesting items on the June 9, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

In addition to 17 all-important birthday resolutions from Councillor McGovern and various other business items, there are the following items that piqued my interest:

Manager's Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-13, regarding a report on putting information on traffic enforcement, accidents and parking tickets online in a format that would allow electronic data analysis by the general public. [In particular: On June 4, the City launched its new open data site (http://data.cambridgema.gov). This web based tool will be ever evolving; current datasets will be updated with new information on a regular basis, new data sets will be published as they come available, and datasets requested by the public will be reviewed and made available when feasible.]

The new data site is pretty interesting and the promise of it being "ever evolving" is bound to please many who are just itching to crunch some numbers. So far I've only scouted out the Assessing data which is a big improvement over the existing tool that's been on the City website for a number of years. You can sort on any of the fields and export data in 8 different formats. You can even check out the location of all the fire hydrants in the city.

Manager's Agenda #23. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-18, regarding the Foundry Building.

The essential elements of this communication consist of a possible timeline for redevelopment of the Foundry building, a framework for a cooperative arrangement with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and a list of the next few opportunities for public input.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to prepare a draft ordinance that will limit the sale of single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter or less in the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mazen and Vice Mayor Benzan

The proposed ban on plastic bags is still pending under Unfinished Business and our restless City Council certainly can't let too much time pass without banning something. However, in spite of the co-sponsorship by four councillors and the magnificent expertise of their personal aides, I honestly can't tell what exactly they wish to ban other than the fact that it will be a container that holds less than one liter. The language in the Order prominently refers to "non-carbonated beverages, water, iced tea, juice and sports drinks" in one section referencing to state's proposed Updated Bottle Bill, but there is a later reference to "limiting the sale of non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water in single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter or less." The specific directive in the Order says only "to prepare a draft ordinance that will limit the sale of single-serving PET bottles of 1 liter or less." So, does this refer only to bottled water or to all of the other non-carbonated beverages? Does it ban smaller-size carbonated beverages as well? There is a reference to "expansion of alternative water sources, including public drinking fountains" that might lead one to believe that only bottled water is covered under this proposal, but that's not what the Order actually says. Surely eight people could have drafted an Order that's as transparent as water.

Ban or no ban, many people will continue to stock up at Market Basket in Somerville. Clever marketing people may also come out with a new 1.01 liter bottle to allow people to refresh themselves. Meanwhile, I'm taking bets on what next this City Council intends to ban.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department to determine the feasibility of instituting a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage ordinance for the City of Cambridge, with special provisions for small businesses.   Councillor Mazen

Despite what may have occurred in places like Seattle, San Francisco, and Santa Fe, it seems perfectly clear that without enabling legislation from the state legislature, the City of Cambridge does not have the authority to institute its own minimum wage law. It also seems pretty certain that any Home Rule authority granted by the legislature would most likely require approval by local voters. Maybe that's really the intention of the sponsor - the tried-and-true political organizing tool of a ballot question.

The only way a proposal such as this might make sense would be as a statewide proposal. The proposal also focuses almost exclusively on wage earners who are covering the costs for a household (which is where a "living wage" is meaningful). There are a lot of other people working jobs only to generate some extra spending money, including many students working in various campus jobs. Is the proposed $15/hour minimum wage appropriate across the board? Probably not. In any case, enacting this in one relatively small city could do more harm than good. - Robert Winters

Comments?

On the Menu at the June 2, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting:

Money!The central item on this week's agenda is the approval of the FY2015 Budget.

Unfinished Business #6-12: Public Investment loan authorizations totaling $15,405,655. In addition to funds for a variety of other essential investments, this sum includes $9,205,655 for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, stormwater management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City's Western Avenue and Agassiz areas as well as the Sewer Capital Repairs Program and public toilet installation at Harvard Square.

Committee Reports #1-3: Finance Committee reports for public hearings held on May 8, 2014, May 15, 2014 and May 21, 2014 relative to the General Fund Budget ($488,932,550), the Water Fund Budget ($13,964,275), and the Public Investment Fund ($16,548,370) for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2015.

Perhaps the only loose end is the tempest over the Cambridge Health Alliance plan to merge its Psychiatric Emergency Service (PES) and main emergency room at Cambridge Hospital. As is often the case, the submitted Budget will likely be passed with little or no change.

Reconsideration #2. [Order #13 of May 19, 2014]: That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department, the Election Commission, and the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance to determine the feasibility of publicly funded elections for Cambridge, taking into account models for implementation from other municipalities as well as the exploration of new publicly funded models. Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone [Order Adopted as Amended, Reconsideration Filed by Councillor Mazen; Motion to refer to Gov’t Operations approved on a 5-3-1 Roll Call vote with Benzan, Cheung, Simmons, Toomey, and Maher voting YES; Carlone, Mazen, McGovern voting NO; Kelley ABSENT]

Communications #7-62 (56 in all): Sundry communications regarding public financing of elections.

This is a bizarre choice on the part of Councillor Nadeem "Occupy" Mazen. Introducing the May 19 Order to look into the possibility of public funding for Cambridge municipal elections was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and the matter was appropriately referred to the Government Operations Committee for further discussion and possible action. The content of the Order was not amended at the previous meeting, so the objection here is purely about whether the matter should have been referred to committee. Apparently, Councillor Mazen wants this matter to only be discussed before the full City Council during its televised regular Monday meetings and he feels so strongly about this that he filed for Reconsideration and organized an email campaign to have his way. I expect there will be some public comment on this, but it's hard to imagine a majority of the City Council reversing its sensible choice to refer this matter to the committee where it belongs. My sense is that Councillor Mazen would prefer to have the discussion "out in the streets", but he will likely have to settle for "in committee".

The matter of publicly funded municipal elections is interesting for a number of reasons, though it's not at all clear whether any are applicable in this context. The chief motivations seem to be (a) lowering the barrier for entry for candidates, (b) increasing the ideological and socio-economic diversity among candidates, (c) expanding the range of policy positions put before the electorate, (d) making elections more competitive, and (e) reducing the influence of private contributions on both candidates and officeholders. Well, at least this is what is contained in the text of the Order.

In Cambridge it only takes 50 valid signatures to be a municipal candidate, so there is effectively no barrier for entry. What a candidate does after entry is another matter. Councillor Kelley and School Committee member Fantini run very effective campaigns on very little money simply be maintaining effective communication with their potential voters. Other candidates choose to hire "rent-a-campaigns" from a variety of companies such as Sage Systems and, yes, this requires money. It's noteworthy that the incumbent candidate who spent the most in the 2013 election was defeated, so it's clearly not just about the money.

As for ideological diversity among the candidates, anyone who attended any of the 2013 candidate forums will attest to not only a diversity of opinion but also a diversity of competence. It's also important to emphasize that in a PR election it's possible to target your campaign to ultimately achieve the 10% of ballots (14.3% for School Committee) necessary for election, but you do have to be a match for some constituency. In this regard the barrier to election is not nearly so high for candidates representing diverse points of view. Proportional representation facilitates diverse points of view. I worry that public funding in a PR election might translate into a group getting a dozen or more people to run as a slate where the individual candidates receive public funds and then pool their resources to fund their slate. There is clearly a lot of detail that warrants further discussion before wandering down this road.

The real problem in the Cambridge municipal elections is the difficulty in getting a less-than-interested electorate to spend a minimum amount of time getting familiar with the candidates. It's also not so appealing for a resident to actually choose to be a candidate - and this is not primarily because of the associated cost. I get the feeling that the role of campaign contributions from people associated with real estate interests may be a major factor in why some people might support publicly funded elections, but if we are to question this practice then we should also raise questions about money from unions, money from outside of Cambridge, and money from various other sources having nothing to do with municipal governance. The fact that campaign managers are subsequently hired as "Council Aides" should also be on the list of practices in need of closer scrutiny. If there's any one reform I would welcome it would be a cap on spending, but that would almost certainly run afoul of constitutional rights.

Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to proposed amendments to the Tobacco Ordinance (Chapter 8.28, Restrictions on Youth Access and Sale of Tobacco Products and on Smoking in Workplaces and Public Places). This amended ordinance includes recommendations previously transmitted to the City Council on July 29, 2013 and includes additional amendments that have subsequently been added. [Read Report]

While I imagine the proposed amendments will ultimately be supported, I expect there will be some lively discussion in the Ordinance Committee specifically on the proposals (a) to prohibit smoking in all parks and municipal open space, and (b) to prohibit smoking in all outdoor seating areas adjacent to restaurants where food is served.

Resolution #15. Urging members of the Cambridge community to participate in the Charlene Holmes memorial walk on June 3rd, 2014.   Councillor Cheung

I'm grateful that some people are keeping this matter in the public eye. To the best of my knowledge there have been no arrests in the murder of Charlene Holmes even though many have suggested that the killer may be known to witnesses of the murder.

Order #1. That the City Manager work with the Police Commissioner to ensure that only in cases where immigration agents have a criminal warrant, or Cambridge officials have a legitimate law enforcement purpose not related to immigration, will Cambridge Police comply with federal ICE detainer requests to hold persons solely for immigration purposes.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Cheung

Cambridge follows Mayor Curtatone of Somerville. Even if this change in policy is a good idea, it would be very helpful to hear the perspective of the Cambridge Police Department prior to implementing such a policy.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City Personnel and with the Central Square Business Association in order to establish a Central Square Action Team that will be charged with recommending and helping implement strategies that will help Central Square to capitalize on and enhance its designation as a Cultural District in the months and years to come.   Councillor Simmons

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of installing a large screen at a central location, like Lafayette Square, in order to project a number of soccer matches involving the United States and countries that are representative of the Cambridge resident population and determine the feasibility of granting special permits to food trucks and other food vendors during the duration of these games.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of developing units of up to 100% affordable, middle-income, senior, and family housing units at the corner of Bishop Allen Drive and Norfolk Street and a plaza in Central Square with affordable food and retail space.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

The potential of Central Square appears to now be a high priority for some of our city councillors. On a related note, the Cambridge River Festival will take place this Saturday, June 7 from noon to 6:00pm in Central Square (due to construction along Memorial Drive). Order #13 will require a lot more discussion - especially in the context of the range of recommendations presented during the recent K2C2 process.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with an update on the City's composting pilot program.   Councillor Toomey

I'll be interested to see the numbers, but the pilot program was only recently begun and it's doubtful whether the data will be sufficiently informative to draw any conclusions at this point.

Order #6. That the City Manager confer with the Community Development Department, the Public Works Department, the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and any other relevant City Departments to discuss ways in which the city can improve the design of New Street for both pedestrians and vehicles, and report back to the City Council with recommendations.   Councillor McGovern, Councillor Carlone and Mayor Maher

I wandered around the New Street area after spending the afternoon at the very well-attended Fresh Pond Day event on Saturday. This Order addresses what the obvious deficiencies are for this street - insufficient sidewalks, very poor parking practices, and the basic fact that it was not originally laid out as a typical residential street. Contrary to the general alarm about new housing being developed on New Street, I would characterize the housing built to date as maybe being a little on the bland side but I simply cannot fathom why people see this moderate scale housing as constituting some kind of a crisis. If some features of the street, the sidewalks, and the parking are reconfigured, and if laws regarding blocking the public (pedestrian) way are enforced, this could be a dandy residential street right across from the city's biggest park. Then again, actual solutions do often get in the way of political organizing.

Order #8. That the City Manager confer with the Community Development Department to work with local banking institutions to ensure financing opportunities are available for residents wishing to purchase shares in limited equity cooperative housing within Cambridge and also research and explore options for expanding the limited equity cooperative housing stock with Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen

I remember when limited equity coops were all the rage during the rent control era. I'd be interested to see just how many of them were actually established and if all of them are still active. It may be a good alternative today and could potentially provide some of the affordable housing that City officials desire with minimal need for City involvement. I'd love to hear what objections the banks may have to financing them. Perhaps it's the potential difficulties associated with the restrictions on re-sale, but surely this is something the lawyers and banks should be able to work out. Buying into a limited equity coop may not be for everyone, but it's probably a good option for some.

Order #10. That the City Manager confer with the Cambridge Community Development Department and the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department on the feasibility of creating designated parking stalls for food truck vendors in areas that allow them to sell their food but not harm established brick and mortar restaurants, and proactively finding spots on private roadways willing to host food trucks, and to compile a comprehensive list that offers clarity and certainty on available and suitable locations.   Councillor Cheung

Having once worked on a hot dog truck as an adolescent, I hope we can find a way to accommodate a wide variety of food vendors - trucks, carts, stands, etc. The Order refers to "culinary entrepreneurs" and "restaurant quality food." I do hope this includes such things as hot dogs, bagels, pretzels, sausages, and maybe even a cold fizzy drink on a hot day.

Comments?

The Courthouse Debate and other Key Items on the May 19, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Sullivan CourthousePerhaps the Really Big Item this week is the whole matter of how to proceed on the Sullivan Courthouse controversy. Two reports from the City Solicitor were tabled at the May 5 meeting and are scheduled to be discussed at this meeting. There is also an Order calling for the next Planning Board meeting on this matter to be held at a suitable space in East Cambridge.

On The Table #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the submission of two legal opinions as part of the City Manager's Supplemental Agenda on Mon, May 5, 2014, regarding Awaiting Report Item Number 14-22 concerning the Sullivan Courthouse and Council Order Number 13 of Mar 17, 2014 concerning the First Street Garage. [City Manager Agenda Number Eleven of May 5, 2014 Placed on Table for further discussion at City Council Meeting of May 19, 2014.]

On The Table #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-22, regarding whether the Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse qualifies as a pre-existing non-confirming structure. [City Manager Agenda Number Fifteen of May 5, 2014 Placed on Table.]

On The Table #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Council Order Number 13, dated Mar 17, 2014, which requested that city staff determine the relevant zoning requirements for the Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse with respect to use of the First Street Garage. [City Manager Agenda Number Sixteen of May 5, 2014 Placed on Table.]

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with all relevant City staff and departments in an effort to move the Planning Board's upcoming hearing on the Special Permit application for the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment from the Citywide Senior Center to a gymnasium or auditorium-type location within or nearby the East Cambridge neighborhood and report back to the City Council on this matter.   Councillor Carlone

I attended a meeting on this topic yesterday organized by the new "Neighborhood Association of East Cambridge" (NAEC) that was spawned in response to the courthouse disposition. Leading the discussion were David de Swaan, Bethany Stevens, Seth Teller, and Ilan Levy. Mr. de Swaan made clear that the meeting was to be "about facts, not opinions" and this was largely true. There were, as expected, some rather strong opinions expressed by at least one of the presenters who said, "We have not been well-served by the City apparatus." He called the Planning Board a "rubber stamp board" and (incorrectly) asserted that Planning Board members whose terms had expired were serving illegally on the board. Massachusetts law says otherwise. Though this may be bad practice, any board member whose term has expired may legally serve until his replacement is appointed. The speaker also emphatically expressed his disappointment with the Community Development Department; the Department of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation; and Inspectional Services - suggesting that they were all "asleep at the switch" in regard to the disposition of the Courthouse building.

The Planning Board decision on whether to grant a Special Permit is, I believe, currently anticipated to occur at its June 17 meeting. If I understand this correctly, as long as the minimum parking requirements are met both on site together with leasing from either the nearby City garage or the Galleria, then the decision may hinge on whether the proposal will have a "significant detrimental impact" compared to the previous use of the property. The Planning Board may otherwise be required to issue the Special Permit. There are good arguments to be made on either side of this issue, but one has to believe that a change from a prison to a mixed office/residential use is certainly a net positive. Perhaps this is why so much of the rhetoric seems to be centered around potential changes in wind, reflected light, and the likelihood that the building may be intensely used during late hours. Traffic and parking concerns are also an issue, but it's not so clear that these will be significantly different than how things were during the decades when the courthouse was in operation on the site.

There are some abutters who are likely to pursue a lawsuit arguing that the property is not legally a "pre-existing non-conforming structure." This conflicts with the opinion of the City Solicitor whose opinion was characterized by one of the NAEC presenters as simply "transferred from the developer." Others at this meeting apparently feel that the best strategy would be to create maximum delay so that further political avenues may be pursued after Gov. Patrick's term is over and a new administration is in place.

Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-25, regarding a report on the status of the Grand Junction Path project.

Order #17. The City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department regarding the feasibility of hiring a design consultant to design the rails-with-trail path along the Grand Junction corridor and to include money in next year's budget for design funds for the Grand Junction Rails-with-Trails path.   Councillor Cheung

The report provides an excellent summary of the current situation and the history of the Grand Junction corridor over the years. This is, without a doubt, a project that needs to be pursued. If created in conjunction with new housing options in Somerville, Cambridge, and Allston, this could be a great accomplishment that everybody will one day celebrate.

Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a proposed ordinance concerning building energy use reporting and disclosure.

This is perhaps the one feature of last year's "Net Zero petition" that had nearly unanimous support. As the Manager's statement says, "The ordinance would also enable the City and the community to plan more effectively for energy efficiency and renewable energy."

Applications & Petitions #4. A zoning petition has been filed by Timothy R. Flaherty, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge to expand the Medical Marijuana Overlay District, MMD-1 to encompass 61 Mooney Street.

This would be a very minor alterarion to the existing district. I suppose we may presume from this petition that there is a state-sanctioned dispensary that wants to move to a Mooney Street location.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments as to whether it would be feasible to issue licenses/permits to push cart vendors and local artists, both at Carl Barron Plaza and similar spaces in Central Square.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Cheung

When I served on a committee almost 20 years ago that made recommendations for streetscape and other improvements to the Central Square area, pushcart vendors were definitely a part of what was envisioned for the widened sidewalks and in places like Carl Barron Plaza. Some of the commercial establishments at that time had concerns about competition from vendors who did not have to pay property taxes, but the truth is that these kinds of uses can improve business for all parties if done well. I personally hope it's not just pushcarts and artists. A hot dog stand would be great. I'm sure the vegan and gluten-free crowd will disagree.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to determine the feasibility of taking the Vail Court lot by eminent domain for the good of the community.   Councillor Simmons

While there is nearly unanimous agreement that something should happen with the long-abandoned Vail Court property (where Temple Street meets Bishop Allen Drive), eminent domain seems like a bad road to go down - whether done by the City or by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority with the City's blessing. On the other hand, perhaps the mere threat of eminent domain may lead to some positive action by the property owner.

Order #7. Urge the Cambridge Housing Authority to delay implementing the smoking ban until such time as the organization can identify a new source of funding to robustly initiate the various smoking cessation programs that will be necessary to assist its tenants in complying with this new policy.   Councillor Simmons

Don't delay. Other than the courting of votes, there is no reason to grant exceptional status to CHA properties. Banning smoking in all of these properties is in the best interest of all and there's no excuse for delay. People will adapt to the change.

Order #9. That without discounting the gravity of the crimes perpetrated against Yngve Raustein, the City Council does hereby go on record expressing support for Joseph Donovan's application for parole, which will be reviewed on May 29, 2014.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor McGovern and Vice Mayor Benzan

This is a good action for the City Council to take. The site joedonovanproject.com provides the essential details of the case:

On Sept 18, 1992 at 9:45pm along Memorial Drive, three Cambridge teenagers – Joseph Donovan, Shon McHugh and Alfredo Velez – exchanged words with 21 year-old MIT student Yngve Raustein. This led to Joseph Donovan punching Raustein sending him to the ground, but it was McHugh who then pulled a knife and stabbed Raustein to death. Because McHugh was only 15 at the time, he was tried in juvenile court, received a 20 year sentence, served only 11 years for the murder, and has now been free for over a decade. Velez was sentenced to 20 years and served less than 10 years. Because Donovan was 17 at the time of the incident, he was tried as an adult for complicity with the murder and received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He has now served 22 years in prison while the actual murderer walks free. Both surviving members of Yngve Raustein's immediate family, including his mother and his brother, support the application for Donovan's release.

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the status of relocating the Department of Public Works and any plans for creating open space at the current location once DPW operations are moved.   Councillor Toomey

Having volunteered in numerous recycling and composting initiatives over the years, I have a certain fondness for 147 Hampshire St. (DPW Headquarters) and the Public Works Yard. That said, there are many better uses for that property as long as an appropriate alternative can be found for a new DPW yard. The current central location has been great for the Recycling Drop-off Center and other uses, but the surrounding neighborhood is quite dense and could benefit greatly from some well-planned open space on that site.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department, the Election Commission, and the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance to determine the feasibility of publicly funded elections for Cambridge, taking into account models for implementation from other municipalities as well as the exploration of new publicly funded models.   Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone

While I can certainly respect the sentiment espoused by this Order, I cannot imagine any reasonable way for such a proposal to be administered, and I'm not really convinced that it's a good idea. Contrary to what is stated in the Order, public funding will likely not reduce the influence of private contributions unless there's also a cap imposed on overall spending, and I don't see that happening. If the receipt of public funds is made conditional on refusing many private sources, then most or all of the successful campaigns will likely not participate, and this may become little more than a financing plan for fringe candidates.

In matters such as this, perhaps we should all take a few lessons from Craig Kelley and Fred Fantini who consistently run successful municipal election campaigns on a shoestring budget. If they can do it, I'm sure other candidates can do it. That seems like the preferred course of action.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to detail how the non-zoning recommendations that have emerged from the K2C2 Report can and will be implemented in the months ahead.   Councillor Simmons

It is my understanding that the recently rejuvenated Central Square Advisory Committee will advise on these matters, but there have not yet been any solid plans put forward for either the non-zoning recommendations or possible zoning recommendations. Hopefully there will be some movement on both as this year progresses.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee for a public meeting held on May 6, 2014 to discuss the effectiveness of the City Council Aide positions as well as procedural issues regarding the submission of policy orders and resolutions.

It's unfortunate that this is cast as a question of the "effectiveness of the City Council Aide positions" when the real question is whether it's appropriate that tax dollars should be given to what are undeniably political patronage jobs. If the City Council or its committees need enhanced staffing, there are far better and more legally defensible ways to provide such support. As I have stated before, political privilege is like entropy. It always increases. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Cinco de Mayo - Key Items on the May 5, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are a few things that caught my attention:

Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-34, regarding a report on the City's legal options on preventing the use of electronic billboards in the City.

billboardApparently, Clear Channel would like to replace many of its existing billboards with electronic versions. There's a hearing this week (May 8) in Boston regarding a plan to change the billboard where Broadway crosses the Grand Junction RR tracks (picture is from 2009 - an especially entertaining ad). The current mechanical sign has the capacity to rotate between, I believe, three different advertisements. Installing new advertisements takes time and money, but an electronic billboard would allow for an unlimited variety of advertisements at essentially no additional cost beyond routine maintenance of the display. It's pretty clear why Clear Channel and other billboard owners would like to make the change.

This is potentially a delicate legal matter. Once upon a time Cambridge sought to have all such billboards removed and, if I remember correctly, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. New billboards are now prohibited, but existing bilboards are grandfathered.

Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-07, regarding a report on the what steps would be necessary to change the method by which surplus votes are transferred in municipal elections and whether the Fractional Transfer Method could replace the Cincinnati Method and whether this requires a Charter change. [Read the report]

The report lays out various options the City could pursue if there was the will to make a change. It could be as simple as a majority vote of the Election Commission if there was even one place in the country in that was using Fractional Transfer (or something very close to it) at the time of passage of M.G.L. Chapter 54A in 1938. Since this is extremely unlikely (believe me, I looked into this a dozen years ago), the next simplest route would be to seek a Special Act of the Legislature via a Home Rule petition. The report wisely suggests that if the City Council and the Election Commission really want to pursue this, a consultant specializing in proportional representation and municipal elections should be hired to develop a "comprehensive plan regarding the possible effects, costs, implementation, laws/regulations, proposed schedules and completion dates, pros/cons, skills and knowledge required, etc., with regard to such replacement" before any proposal to move toward replacing the Cincinnati Method of surplus ballot transfer with the Fractional Transfer Method proceeds. This would be a wise course of action, especially since other changes would have to be made regarding recount rights and procedures. Specifically, existing law permits a defeated candidate to seek a "manual recount", so what exactly would that mean under a proposed system with fractional ballot transfers conducted by computer?

Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Cambridge Climate Protection Action Committee recommended goals and objectives.

It's worth the read, but perhaps the most relevant two phrases in the report are: "Cambridge’s contribution to atmospheric greenhouse gases is miniscule on a global level" and "The city must also begin to prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change even as we work to minimize the degree of those impacts." From a long-term investment point of view, many actions taken in the name of adaptation to climate change can also be good long-term infrastructure investments. Regardless how one feels about climate change, such investments are likely to be in the best interest of the city and its residents even if not all of the worst-case scenarios pan out.

Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the submission of two legal opinions as part of the City Manager's Supplemental Agenda on Mon, May 5, 2014, regarding Awaiting Report Item Number 14-22 concerning the Sullivan Courthouse and Council Order Number 13 of Mar 17, 2014 concerning the First Street Garage.

This remains one of the most significant challenges of this City Council term, and there's a chance that this will ultimately be decided in court. The City Manager promises to have responses at this meeting on (a) the legal opinion from the City Solicitor on whether the Sullivan Courthouse qualifies as a pre-existing non-conforming structure; and (b) the relevant zoning requirements for the First Street Garage. Meanwhile, the chosen developer for the property (Leggat McCall) has now introduced a plan to lease parking in the Galleria garage. This could greatly complicate the City's options because any arrangements involving the City-owned First Street Garage would afford the City some leverage in the project.

Manager's Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-12, regarding a report on developing a City parking ticket for parking in bike lanes violations.

Charter Right #3. That the City Council hereby endorses the National Association of City Transportation Official's Urban Street Design Guide. [Order #12 of Apr 28, 2014]

Order #3. That the City Manager confer with the School Department; the Public Health Department; the Community Development Department; the Police Department; the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department; and any other relevant departments on the establishment of a Safe Routes to School Program for Cambridge which includes safety improvements to the street infrastructure as well as promotion and education components.   Councillor McGovern and Councillor Mazen

One thing common to these three agenda items is the reference to cycling infrastructure, and there are divergent points of view regarding what facilities are appropriate in different contexts. One case in point is Vassar Street where "cycle tracks" were installed a number of years ago to mixed reviews. Travel lanes in the road were narrowed to the point where a cyclist who wants to use the roadway has little choice but to "take the lane". Pedestrians routinely use the sidewalk bicycle lanes, and delivery vehicles now park in the middle of the sidewalk because there's no longer any place to pull over in the roadway. Nearby on Ames Street, the City installed another "cycle track" to the right of parked vehicles, so now when a delivery truck stops to make deliveries they do so across the path of cyclists.

Few people disagree on the value of separate facilities for bicycles alongside arterial roadways and along recreational trails such as rail-to trail conversions, but there is plenty of room for disagreement on how best to accommodate cyclists on ordinary roads. Personally, I prefer to share the road with other vehicles and follow the same rules as motor vehicles.

Order #1. That the City Manager direct the Community Development Department to develop and create a solar PV incentive program for residential property owners in Cambridge, and to request any necessary budget allocations to fund such work, including potential staffing and direct funding of solar installation incentives, and using student canvassers to reach homes and businesses that have been pre-screened as suitable for solar PV installation.   Councillor McGovern and Vice Mayor Benzan

This is the kind of initiative I hope would come about as the City talks about "net zero" and other matters involving energy management. The bottom line is that if homeowners and other property owners can access such programs at a reasonable cost, many would do so in a heartbeat. In this regard, the carrot is far preferable to the stick.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with all relevant City Staff and Departments to prepare draft language that would enable the City Council to implement the 2002 nexus study recommendations, as an interim measure pending completion of the new nexus study.   Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen

An adjustment to the current formula is overdue. The current Housing Contribution rate is $4.58 per square foot of applicable gross floor area (of new commercial development) and the recommendation 12 years ago was to increase this to $7.83 (which would now be about $10 per sq. ft. in current dollars). It's worth emphasizing that these contributions are only associated with new commercial development.

Order #8. That the City Council does hereby go on record naming D. Margaret Drury as Clerk Emeritus of the City of Cambridge in recognition of her outstanding service to the City of Cambridge and its residents.   Mayor Maher

If the Vatican can have a Pope Emeritus, we can certainly have a Clerk Emeritus. We also had Mayor Emeritus Al Vellucci. Perhaps we should recognize Bob Healy as City Manager Emeritus.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Information Technology Department and members of the volunteer community to arrange an informal question and answer session with members of the City Council regarding the new Open Data Ordinance which is to come before the City Council.   Councillor Mazen

This was the subject of Committee Report #1 at the Oct 21, 2013 City Council meeting.

Order #10. That the City Council go on record urging elected officials of U.S. House and Senate to promote and support legislation that classifies broadband providers like Comcast as a telecommunications service under the common carriers provision of Title II of the Communications Act.   Councillor Mazen

Though I don't understand the genesis of this Order or if there is any kind of coordinated effort toward its goal, any actions to retain "net neutrality" are welcome. - Robert Winters

Comments?

FY2015 Budget - Key Items on the April 28, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

The central item on this week's agenda is the submission of the FY2015 Budget. The City Manager will present a Budget Overview at this meeting, and the series of Budget Hearings will take place over the next several weeks (May 8, May 15, and May 21). It is anticipated that the final vote to approve the budget will take place on June 2.

Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the FY2015 submitted budget and appropriation orders.

GENERAL GOVERNMENT FY05 submitted FY14 adopted FY15 submitted 1 yr % change 10 yr % change
Mayor $430,035 $558,785 $589,680 5.5 37.1
Executive $1,353,140 $2,008,150 $2,298,685 14.5 69.9
City Council $975,570 $1,683,125 $1,711,115 1.7 75.4
City Clerk $720,925 $1,119,765 $1,240,705 10.8 72.1
Law $1,780,975 $2,163,240 $2,176,975 0.6 22.2
Finance $8,837,560 $13,292,350 $14,540,220 9.4 64.5
Employee Benefits $20,499,920 $32,787,200 $32,882,665 0.3 60.4
General Services $984,345 $732,695 $704,725 -3.8 -28.4
Election $756,540 $1,013,565 $1,072,390 5.8 41.7
Public Celebrations $671,505 $891,945 $874,335 -2.0 30.2
Reserve $37,500 $37,500 $37,500 0.0 0.0
TOTAL $37,048,015 $56,288,320 $58,128,995 3.3 56.9
           
PUBLIC SAFETY FY05 submitted FY14 adopted FY15 submitted 1 yr % change 10 yr % change
Animal Commission $228,870 $309,700 $323,535 4.5 41.4
Fire $28,891,840 $43,350,275 $44,661,535 3.0 54.6
Police $31,515,220 $47,186,015 $49,260,625 4.4 56.3
Traffic, Parking & Transportation $8,175,095 $10,935,015 $11,088,415 1.4 35.6
Police Review & Advisory Board $77,210 $73,440 $75,235 2.4 -2.6
Inspectional Services $2,261,215 $3,180,045 $3,270,335 2.8 44.6
License $726,735 $1,030,970 $1,063,745 3.2 46.4
Weights & Measures $98,910 $138,540 $142,935 3.2 44.5
Electrical $2,239,640 $2,840,910 $2,767,880 -2.6 23.6
Emergency Management $137,820 - - - -
Emergency Communications $3,097,485 $4,434,425 $4,631,960 4.5 49.5
TOTAL $77,450,040 $113,479,335 $117,286,200 3.4 51.4
           
COMMUNITY MAINT/DEVELOPMENT FY05 submitted FY14 adopted FY15 submitted 1 yr % change 10 yr % change
Public Works $23,648,125 $32,859,690 $33,634,490 2.4 42.2
Community Development $4,472,620 $5,676,340 $6,335,440 11.6 41.6
Historical Commission $457,580 $632,940 $687,860 8.7 50.3
Conservation Commission $89,760 $123,470 $127,770 3.5 42.3
Peace Commission $76,215 $143,940 $148,445 3.1 94.8
Cable T.V. $999,500 $1,474,795 $1,452,495 -1.5 45.3
Debt Service $23,917,070 $49,716,250 $50,446,035 1.5 110.9
TOTAL $53,660,870 $90,627,425 $92,832,535 2.4 73.0
           
HUMAN RESOURCE/DEVELOPMENT FY05 submitted FY14 adopted FY15 submitted 1 yr % change 10 yr % change
Library $5,461,430 $8,946,395 $9,249,325 3.4 69.4
Human Services $14,581,590 $23,155,080 $24,225,290 4.6 66.1
Women’s Commission $155,860 $233,115 $241,295 3.5 54.8
Human Rights Commission $158,730 $249,380 $266,890 7.0 68.1
Veterans $510,885 $1,005,375 $1,092,655 8.7 113.9
TOTAL $20,868,495 $33,589,345 $35,075,455 4.4 68.1
           
CITY TOTAL $189,027,420 $293,984,425 $303,323,185 3.2 60.5
           
EDUCATION FY05 submitted FY14 adopted FY15 submitted 1 yr % change 10 yr % change
Schools Operating (TOTAL) $122,053,195 $150,989,445 $156,669,635 3.8 28.4
           
INTERGOVERNMENTAL FY05 submitted FY14 adopted FY15 submitted 1 yr % change 10 yr % change
MWRA $16,177,455 $21,346,815 $22,189,730 3.9 37.2
Cherry Sheet Assessments $11,569,960 $20,126,950 $21,504,975 6.8 85.9
Cambridge Health Alliance $6,500,000 $6,500,000 $6,750,000 3.8 3.8
TOTAL $34,247,415 $47,973,765 $50,444,705 5.2 47.3
           
GRAND TOTALS $345,328,030 $492,947,635 $510,437,525 3.5 47.8
            
  FY05 submitted FY14 adopted FY15 submitted 1 yr % change 10 yr % change
WATER $17,098,120 $14,238,700 $13,964,275 -1.9 -18.3
PUBLIC INVESTMENT $8,834,255 $34,407,930 $16,548,370 -82.2 87.3

Note 1: Though the City Council's budget is up just 1.7% over last year, it rose 75.4% over the decade - faster that all other entities in the General Government category.

Note 2: The overall submitted budget is $510,437,525 representing a 3.5% increase over last year's budget.

Note 3: The Public Investment Fund this year include $3,800,000 for Information Technology Initiatives - apparently a response to a variety of City Council Orders in this area.


Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Chun, et al zoning petition with suggestions for a possible alternative approach.

Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board Report on the 2014 Town-Gown Process.

No particular comments here - just two reports from the Planning Board worth noting.

Manager's Agenda #9-15. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow:

(a) $1,150,000 to provide funds for the design, drainage, and installation of new synthetic field surfaces on the soccer fields at Danehy Park.

(b) $150,000 to provide funds for the purchase and installation of mechanical components to ensure the operational integrity of the elevator at the Robert W. Healy Public Safety Facility.

(c) $550,000 to provide funds for renovations to the Thomas P. O’Neil, Jr. Fresh Pond Golf Course.

(d) $2,600,000 to provide funds for planning and municipal building renovations, including a Comprehensive Facilities Improvement Plan, design and construction of improvements at the City Hall Annex and upgrades to the City Hall Third Floor Women’s Restroom.

(e) $750,000 to provide funds for building renovations, including water infiltration system repair at the Haggerty School, replacement of the emergency generator at the Graham & Parks, Tobin and Cambridgeport Schools, and boiler replacement at the Graham & Parks School.

(f) $9,205,655 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, stormwater management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Western Avenue and Agassiz areas as well as the Sewer Capital Repairs Program and public toilet installation at Harvard Square.

(g) $1,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

These loan authorization orders are times to coincide with the FY2015 budget process.

Manager's Agenda #16-17. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the rescission of the remaining amount:

(a) $1,000,000 of the loan order authorized by the City Council on May 21, 2012 for the City Hall Roof replacement project.

(b) $100,000 of the loan order authorized by the City Council on May 21, 2012 for the Ryan Garage and Simard Building Roof Replacement project.

We got lucky with a very favorable bidding environment for both of these roof replacement projects.

On The Table #5. That the Cambridge Community Development Department shall hold a series of public meetings to discuss the range of planning and zoning issues that have recently been in active discussion across the city, including, but not limited to, all varieties of housing (such as affordable, middle income, or other types of housing units), the amount, type and location of new and existing development, pre-fabricated units, transportation, congestion, open space, streetscape design, building design, sustainability, infrastructure and economic development with recommendations for moving forward on short range and long range planning work that is recommended as an outgrowth of these discussions. [Order Number Fifteen of Apr 7, 2014 Placed on Table on motion of Councillor Simmons on Apr 7, 2014.]

Communications & Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a revised planning order submitted by Mayor David P. Maher and Councillor Dennis Carlone regarding the Master Plan.

MAYOR MAHER
COUNCILLOR CARLONE
WHEREAS: The City of Cambridge is required to have a comprehensive Master Plan to provide a basis for decision-making regarding the long-term physical development of the City; and
WHEREAS: The Master Plan should include: goals and policies, land use, housing, economic development, natural and cultural resources, open space and recreation, services and facilities, traffic and transportation, urban design plans, and implementation schedules; and
WHEREAS: According to the Community Development Department, the City's Master Plan is composed of a growth policy document, the Zoning Map, Zoning Ordinances, and a variety of planning studies which in many cases have focused on specific neighborhoods within the City; and
WHEREAS: The City has experienced significant development and change in recent years making the need for periodic review of our current growth policies essential to our efforts to promote good urban planning; and
WHEREAS: The City Council understands that a balanced and sensible approach is necessary to better guide future development, and that the amount of development that has occurred in our community has provided social and economic benefits to our residents, while also understanding that residents have questioned or expressed concerns with several projects and issues related to citywide planning/urban design; and
WHEREAS: The City Council recognizes that a diverse set of values exists in our City and further recognizes that our City government must respond to the needs and viewpoints of all neighborhoods, residents and business partners; now therefore be it
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to engage the services of an independent planning/urban design professional who will lead a community process beginning with a series of public meetings aimed at receiving public input and discussing the range of planning, urban design and zoning issues that have recently been in active discussion across the city, including, but not limited to, all varieties of housing (such as affordable, middle income, or other types of housing units), the amount, type and location of new and existing development, prefabricated units, building aesthetics, transportation, traffic and congestion, pedestrian and bicycle safety, open space, streetscape design, building design, community-building, sustainability, infrastructure, climate vulnerability and economic development; and be it further
ORDERED: That these initial meetings take place in a variety of neighborhoods throughout the city and that every effort be made to hold these meetings prior to June 30th, 2014; and be it further
ORDERED: At the conclusion of this series of meetings, the consultant along with CDD report their findings back to the City Council through the Ordinance Committee by July 31, 2014; and be it further
ORDERED: That the City Council then consider recommendations and a strategy for moving forward on short and long range planning/urban design work based on these discussions, and that the Mayor schedule an upcoming Roundtable Discussion to include the City Council and the Planning Board to address the issue of a Master Plan and to help establish the city's urban planning and community development priorities.

This was the central agenda item at the April 7 meeting at which the Mayor was requested to negotiate a substitute Order that might win the support of a clear majority of councillors. The essential difference between Order #14 and Order #15 at that meeting concerned whether any new look at comprehensive city planning should be a political process conducted within certain City Council committees (Order #14) or if it should be directed by those City entities (the Planning Board and the Community Development Department) whose job it is to carry out these activities.

It seems very unlikely that the proposed schedule can be met. It's also not at all clear whether such a short time-frame is even a good idea. It may simply prove to be just a series of meetings in which activists opposed to new housing development send their troops to each and every meeting/workshop to create the (false) impression that the residents of the city are up in arms over the "tsunami of development." Hopefully some rational people will attend to help balance the tone. The intent of the proposed Order appears to be to conduct a short process that will then lead to a larger planning process. It seems likely, however, that some people will intentionally misinterpret this to imply that the goal of the short process is to produce a set of specific goals and that the larger process will then be for producing ways to implement those goals. This is NOT what the Order says.

I'm concerned that the Order calls for the short process to culminate in a report to the City Council via the Ordinance Committee by the end of July. The purpose of the Ordinance Committee is to deliberate on proposed ordinances, and these come to the committee as a result of City Council Orders. I cannot recall any precedent for the Ordinance Committee ever bypassing this protocol. It would be far better for the report to be delivered at a regular or special City Council meeting after which one or more Orders would be submitted and approved by a majority of the City Council to look into specific proposals or a plan for a larger process. I hope the City Council modifies the proposed Maher/Carlone Order accordingly.

The competing Orders of April 7 differed primarily in regard to which body should ultimately conduct a review of comprehensive planning for the city. The proposed Maher/Carlone Order only calls for a consultant to conduct the short process. It is silent on the matter of who shall conduct the longer process. The City Council will ultimately have to approve any significant proposed changes in policy, but any extensive process leading up to that approval should not be conducted by the City Council or any of its subcommittees.

Another aspect of this issue is whether there should be any kind of moratorium imposed on either new development or on changes to existing zoning that would allow any greater development. Though none of the proposed orders specifically call for such a moratorium, many activists who want to slow or stop housing growth have expressed this as a goal and they will continue to advocate for it. Other activists who favor new housing and "smart growth" will continue to advocate for their position. It seems likely that these competing points of view will not find resolution any time soon.

Unfinished Business #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow an additional $11,000,000 to provide funds for construction and other associated costs of the King School project. The question comes on adoption on or after Apr 21, 2014.

This loan authorization order will likely get its final approval at this meeting.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to revisit the City’s policy of establishing Hubway stations in residential areas to determine whether this policy adequately balances the needs of the community and the desires of the residents and to report back to the City Council in a timely fashion.   Councillor Simmons

I suspect this Order grew out of the objections from some residents in the Dana Park area in Cambridgeport to a new on-street Hubway installation on Lawrence Street.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to draft a legal opinion on whether it is legally permissible to require a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) as part of the Board of Zoning Appeal special permit and variance application process and the Planning Board Project Review Special Permit application process and report back to the City Council on this matter.   Councillor Cheung

I'm guessing that this is not legal. There are plenty of worthy goals that cannot be turned into legally binding requirements. You will not, for example, find anything in the zoning code that mandates that union members must be employed in the construction of new buildings. A Memorandum of Understanding is one thing, but writing such agreements into zoning language is something entirely different.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to determine what options may exist to provide dedicated office space to the members of the City Council.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Carlone

Allow me to simply point out that during the last 15 years, city councillors have gained reserved parking spots behind City Hall that used to be available to full-time employees at City Hall; they saw their salaries rise dramatically; and they granted themselves the right to hire people from their political campaigns as taxpayer-funded "personal aides". In addition to the City Council office, the Sullivan Chamber, and relatively recent additional office space for councillors (and their "aides"), this Order now calls for there to be "dedicated office space to the members of the City Council". Almost all of the city councillors have other jobs. The job of a city councillor is not now and was never meant to be a full-time job. Adequate meeting space is what is needed - not private offices for individual councillors.

Order #11. That the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee is requested to provide an update to the City Council on any progress that has been made in drafting a Community Benefits & Mitigation Plan, and that an expected timeframe in which a formal recommendation on policy might be made to the City Council is also provided.   Councillor Simmons

I was wondering when this issue was going to find its way back into City Council consideration. It's a tricky issue that's been batted around now for a number of years without any serious movement.

Order #12. That the City Council hereby endorses the National Association of City Transportation Official’s Urban Street Design Guide.   Councillor Carlone

I hope the City Council takes the time to carefully go through this Design Guide before rubber-stamping it. For example, the NACTO website prominently features "cycle tracks" as their preferred facility for accommodating bicycle traffic. There are many people (including me) who disagree with this approach, and I have no doubt that if some of the designs were presented to the public there would be considerable debate. If one of the important roles of the City Council is to listen to the public, I would expect that at the very least this Design Guide should first get a hearing before the City Council's Transportation & Public Utilities Committee prior to any approval.

Order #16. That the City Manager direct the Community Development Department to work with the owner of 362 and 364 Rindge Avenue, non-profit housing agencies, the Affordable Housing Trust, and other potential public and private partners to develop a plan with the ultimate goal being the preservation of affordable units.   Councillor Mazen

These buildings were mentioned at a recent meeting of the City Council Housing Committee meeting as significant expiring-use residential buildings that were a high priority in retaining affordable housing in Cambridge. Though it's good to have a City Council Order to emphasize this matter, it was already a top priority among the City's various housing agencies and partners.

Order #28. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Public Works and Traffic, Parking, and Transportation Department on the feasibility of painting green all designated bicycle lanes on all major streets.   Councillor Cheung

It's feasible to lay down paint, but it would then also have to be maintained. Most of the painted lanes the City has marked in the past have long since faded away, and except for key locations where they may be useful, they will again fade quickly. It's better to provide this extra treatment at fewer priority locations that can be regularly maintained. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Master Plan Mythology and other Big Items on the Apr 7, 2014 City Council Agenda

City HallThere has been a great deal of myth-making in Cambridge over the last couple of years that, arguably, began with the "Central Squared" report from the "Red Ribbon Commission on the Delights and Concerns of Central Square" in December 2011. One of the more emphasized recommendations in that report was for the development of a significant amount of new housing (primarily targeting middle-income residents) in the Central Square area. This led to the formation of a group called "Essex Street Neighbors" who, along with other Area Four activists, opposed this concept and promptly filed a zoning petition to obstruct any such future plans. Even as most planners embraced principles of transit oriented development and smart growth, these residents moved in exactly the opposite direction by advocating for the preservation of surface parking lots and a decrease in density in the vicinity of transit in Central Square.

Their petition was eventually allowed to expire and the group re-branded itself as the Cambridge Residents Alliance (CRA) as it added activist partners including key players with the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods (ACN). As the "K2C2 process" got underway with the goal of making recommendations for Kendall Square (K2) and Central Square (C2) and the areas in between, the newly branded Cambridge Residents Alliance continued to oppose any zoning petitions or recommendations that might result in added density (including new housing). One part of their rhetorical arsenal was a call for a "citywide master plan" in the wake of what their group has characterized as a "tsunami of development". The clear implication in all of their rhetoric was that new development - primarily housing development - was being done with little or no guidance from the Planning Board or the Community Development Department and with minimal attention paid to transportation concerns.

That rhetoric continued unabated during the 2013 municipal election season as the Cambridge Residents Alliance and its Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods partners were ever-present at campaign events and actively tried to lure candidates over to their way of thinking - with some success. They ultimately endorsed just one candidate - Dennis Carlone - who was elected and who subsequently took on Mike Connolly as his "council aide". Mr. Connolly continues to be listed as the Secretary of the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods and is a primary communications person for the Cambridge Residents Alliance even though he is now being subsidized by the City of Cambridge. While these personal council aide positions have been filled with political supporters of the respective councillors from the beginning, never has the position become as overtly political as it has now become with the hiring of Mr. Connolly.

The CRA/ACN activists have continued their political organizing this year by targeting residents in areas where new housing has been built or where it is proposed to be built. In every instance the rhetoric is of the "tsunami of development" or "unbridled development".

It is interesting that the agenda of the April 7 City Council meeting includes not only an Order (from Councillors Carlone, Mazen, and Simmons) that is the capstone of the master plan mythology crafted over the last two years, but also an alternative Order (from Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern) that offers a much more factual point of view and, most significantly, an acknowledgment that the Planning Board and the Community Development Department have actually been doing their job and carrying out established City Council policies in recent years - including the development of new housing in accordance with smart growth principals and overall policies promoted by regional entities such as the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).

I find the discussion of the need for a "master plan" for Cambridge to be, on the one hand, naive and, on the other hand, disingenuous. Though I have not examined the zoning codes from other cities in great detail, I seriously doubt whether there are too many with as much detail as Cambridge's Zoning Ordinance. It's VERY prescriptive with its wide variety of overlay districts and planned unit developments. Cambridge's Zoning Ordinance coupled with its Growth Policy Document (initiated 20 years ago and updated several years ago) really does give a very comprehensive picture of Cambridge's "master plan". Cambridge officials are also ever-present at all regional planning meetings - especially those involving transportation planning.

Perhaps the real reason for all the talk now and during the recent City Council election about a "master plan" comes down to a single overriding policy and not actually about a master plan or any failings in the zoning code. That single policy is that housing is encouraged (with associated incentives in the zoning ordinance) on sites that were formally commercial or industrial. If you look at most of the significant housing developments now or recently under construction you'll find that most of these replaced non-housing uses. This policy is also very consistent with all of the regional plans developed and promoted by the MAPC and other regional planning entities.

I believe most planners, including Dennis Carlone, will tell you that housing is not a major contributor to motor vehicle traffic - at least not compared to commercial uses. If traffic is what's getting the activists' panties in a twist, they should not be looking at new housing as the cause for their discomfort. My sense has been that you can look to pass-through traffic in the Alewife area as the primary cause of any trouble there and not to anything recently or currently being built in Cambridge. The simple fact is that the highway part of Route 2 ends abruptly at Alewife and all that traffic has to connect to their destinations somehow, and it does lead to a ripple effect that clogs things up elsewhere.

There is also a fair amount of regional traffic that simply passes through parts of Cambridge at the eastern end in order to connect to arterials such as the Mass Pike. The River Street/Prospect Street corridor is problematic because it's a major connection from the Mass Pike. Unless a "Master Plan" intends to build new arterials to relieve the traffic, and we all know that will not and should not happen, then the call for a "master plan" is little more than a populist myth designed to win votes or, perhaps more correctly, a disguised effort to stop the development of new housing.

Here are a few more specific comments on the meeting agenda items:

Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointments of the following persons as members of the Central Square Advisory Committee as set out in Section 20.300 of the Zoning Ordinance.

Though I was personally very pleased to be reappointed to the CSAC, it was especially refreshing to see among the appointees a number of new names. This is a hopeful sign. The CSAC is purely advisory and has no actual regulatory authority, but it has the potential to be very helpful in facilitating community discussion on matters relating to Central Square. I look forward to the expanded role that has been proposed for the body.

Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-09, regarding a report on the status of the new Lechmere Station development and plans for the current Lechmere site.

I'll simply quote from the last paragraph: "Redevelopment on the current Lechmere Station site is permitted as part of an approved PUD master plan for the North Point area (Planning Board Special Permit #179). Part of the current station site will accommodate a northerly extension of First Street to Monsignor O’Brien Highway. The remaining land is permitted for residential development with a maximum height of 65 feet, with retail uses and plaza space at the ground level. Redevelopment would be contingent upon completion of the new station and transfer of the land to the private developer." This has the potential to really transform this site into something far better than is there today.

Manager's Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow an additional $11,000,000 to provide funds for construction and other associated costs of the King School project.

The additional cost will likely surprise no one. Bear in mind that this is just the first in a series of what will certainly be several more very expensive school replacement projects associated with the plans embodied in the School Departments "Innovation Agenda".

Order #7. That the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee is requested to review and evaluate the overall effectiveness of the Council Aide positions.   Mayor Maher

I am intrigued by the introduction of this Order at this time. While I have consistently questioned the idea of personal aides for city councillors, I have never questioned the need for adequate staffing. I have to wonder if the overt politicization of the council aide positions this year has anything to do with the timing of this Order. My other concern is that our well-paid councillors may actually want to turn these into full-time positions - an absurd proposition without justification, but not an impossibility.

Order #8. That the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge be amended to limit the number of non-locally owned financial institutions not to exceed the number of existing established financial institutions; said limit be in the overlay districts of Central, Harvard and Kendall Squares.   Councillor Cheung

I can't imagine any way that this could be done consistent with the laws of the Commonwealth or the United States Constitution.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to support the intent of the Master Plan initiative which seeks to provide the City Council, its committees, City Staff, members of the public, and all interested stakeholders with an opportunity to further explore traffic congestion, transportation financing, pedestrian safety, resident parking, and a desire for enhanced multi-modal transit infrastructure throughout the city.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Simmons and Councillor Mazen

Order #15. That the Cambridge Community Development Department shall hold a series of public meetings to discuss the range of planning and zoning issues that have recently been in active discussion across the city, including, but not limited to, all varieties of housing (such as affordable, middle income, or other types of housing units), the amount, type and location of new and existing development, pre-fabricated units, transportation, congestion, open space, streetscape design, building design, sustainability, infrastructure and economic development with recommendations for moving forward on short range and long range planning work that is recommended as an outgrowth of these discussions.   Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

See comments above. I only hope that the greater wisdom prevails and that the Order from Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern picks up a clear majority of votes. Professional courtesy and collegiality notwithstanding, I hope that if any part the "Master Plan" order is approved then it should be radically amended to remove the various references to noble goals that would, in fact, be thwarted by its underlying goal of slowing or stopping the construction of new housing in Cambridge.

Order #16. That the City Council urgently requests that MassDOT start the permitting process for underpasses for Anderson Memorial Bridge, Western Avenue Bridge and River Street Bridge immediately, given that MassDOT has changed its construction and design plans for all three of the above bridges where it is now possible for the timely addition of underpasses to such plans   Mayor Maher and Councillor Carlone

Though I may find the notion of bike/pedestrian pathway without street crossings along the Charles River quite appealing, I'm also quite respectful of the cost and engineering difficulties associated with such a plan. I could imagine ways to do this at the BU Bridge or the Anderson Memorial Bridge, but it's much more difficult to see a way to make this so at either the Western Avenue Bridge and River Street Bridge (or, for that matter, at the Mass. Ave. bridge). - Robert Winters

Comments?

Noteworthy Items from the March 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are a few interesting items. Additional comments may follow.

Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-10, regarding the feasibility of establishing an online list or map that indicates all outstanding pothole repair requests. ["In response to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-10, regarding the feasibility of establishing an online list or map that indicates all outstanding pothole repair requests, I am happy to report that this option is now available on the City's website at: http://www.cambridgema.gov/iReport/mapofopenservicerequestsforpotholes."]

Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-16, regarding a report on the status of the First Street Garage RFP process. [The last statement says it all: "I will take no further action as to this proposed disposition until I receive further guidance from the City Council."]

Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board that the Council not adopt the Linear Park Zoning Petition. [Planning Board report]

Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,720,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account to cover winter 2013-2014 snowstorm expenses associated with snow plowing contracts, salt and other material and repair costs.

Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a request for the City Council to move to Executive Session to discuss pending litigation in the case of Soto vs City of Cambridge. [Read the complaint here: http://www.universalhub.com/files/soto-complaint.pdf]

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City staff and report back to the Council on the possibility of instituting a parking sticker system that allows limited non-residential ability to purchase stickers to park on residential streets during normal weekday working hours.    Councillor Kelley

Order #2. That the Mayor is requested to confer with relevant members of the School Department and the School Committee and report back to the City Council on the status of any CPS efforts to ascertain why students choose Charter Schools over CPS options and any subsequent efforts by CPS to bring those students back into the District.    Councillor Kelley and Councillor Carlone

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to search for and examine any companies that could potentially offer to deploy fiber optic internet in the city.    Councillor Cheung

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to draft proposed language that will allow for the inclusionary zoning formula to be based on the gross square footage of a project rather than like units.    Mayor Maher

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Human Services to report to the City Council on the implementation of a city-wide job fair exclusively for Cambridge residents.    Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a task force composed of experts, residents, the Cambridge Housing Authority, and representatives from the local universities charged with developing a municipal broadband proposal for Cambridge, potentially also including extension of city fiber into public housing properties.    Councillor Mazen, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Carlone

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to seek a legal opinion from the City Solicitor on whether the Sullivan Courthouse qualifies as a pre-existing nonconforming structure and to report back to the City Council and Planning Board with this legal opinion.    Councillor Toomey

Comments?

Broadband, Bikes, and Buildings - March 17, 2014 City Council Agenda highlights

One highlight of this meeting is the annual presentation of the water/sewer rates for the upcoming Fiscal Year (FY15). The rest of the meeting could well be dominated by the ongoing saga of the future of two East Cambridge buildings - the Foundry building and the former Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse. But first, the water and sewer:

Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2014 and ending Mar 31, 2015. [City Manager's Letter]

This will be the 4th straight year of no increases in the water rate. Sewer rates continue to see moderate increases. Here's the 10-year history of water/sewer rate increases (rates are per CcF, i.e. 100 cu. ft., approx. 750 gallons):

Ten Year History of Water/Sewer Rate Increases

Percent Increases (Water) FY06 FY07 FY08 FY09 FY10 FY11 FY12 FY13 FY14 FY15 10 Year FY15 Rate
Block 1 0 – 40 CcF 0.0% 4.0% 0.0% 2.1% 2.8% 1.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.6% $3.02
Block 2 41 – 400 CcF 0.0% 3.7% 0.0% 2.0% 2.6% 1.6% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.2% $3.24
Block 3 401 – 2,000 CcF 0.0% 3.9% 0.0% 2.2% 2.7% 1.5% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.6% $3.44
Block 4 2,001 - 10,000 CcF 0.0% 3.9% 0.0% 2.0% 2.6% 1.4% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.3% $3.65
Block 5 Over 10,000 CcF 0.0% 3.9% 0.0% 2.2% 2.6% 1.5% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.6% $3.96
Percent Increases (Sewer) FY06 FY07 FY08 FY09 FY10 FY11 FY12 FY13 FY14 FY15 10 Year FY15 Rate
Block 1 0 – 40 CcF 7.6% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 7.9% 8.0% 0.0% 0.0% 4.2% 5.3% 55.6% $8.62
Block 2 41 – 400 CcF 7.5% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 7.8% 7.9% 0.0% 0.0% 4.2% 5.2% 55.4% $9.12
Block 3 401 – 2,000 CcF 7.5% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 8.0% 7.9% 0.0% 0.0% 4.3% 5.2% 55.4% $9.79
Block 4 2,001 - 10,000 CcF 7.5% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 7.9% 7.8% 0.0% 0.0% 4.2% 5.2% 55.2% $10.54
Block 5 Over 10,000 CcF 7.5% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 7.8% 7.9% 0.0% 0.0% 4.2% 5.2% 55.3% $11.21
Percent Increases (Combined) FY06 FY07 FY08 FY09 FY10 FY11 FY12 FY13 FY14 FY15 10 Year FY15 Rate
Block 1 0 – 40 CcF 5.1% 6.8% 0.0% 4.0% 6.3% 6.0% 0.0% 0.0% 3.0% 3.8% 40.7% $11.64
Block 2 41 – 400 CcF 5.0% 6.7% 0.0% 4.0% 6.2% 6.1% 0.0% 0.0% 3.0% 3.8% 40.3% $12.36
Block 3 401 – 2,000 CcF 5.0% 6.8% 0.0% 4.0% 6.4% 6.0% 0.0% 0.0% 3.1% 3.8% 40.6% $13.23
Block 4 2,001 - 10,000 CcF 5.0% 6.8% 0.0% 4.0% 6.3% 6.0% 0.0% 0.0% 3.0% 3.8% 40.5% $14.19
Block 5 Over 10,000 CcF 5.0% 6.8% 0.0% 4.0% 6.3% 6.1% 0.0% 0.0% 3.0% 3.8% 40.5% $15.17

Cambridge does a good job at delivering great water inexpensively. Sewerage costs considerably more.

Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $150,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expenditures account which will be used to hire a team of technical consultants to work with the Getting to Net Zero Task Force and City staff and provide subject matter advice and analysis.

It will be interesting to see where this task force eventually goes. One route could be to regulate and tax everyone into submission. Hopefully something better will come of these efforts, e.g. programs to enable homes and workplaces to be made greatly more energy efficient with associated long-term cost savings.

Resolution #16. Resolution on the death of Rosemary "Rosy" White.   Mayor Maher

Resolution #27. Resolution on the death of Steven Brion-Meisels.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

I didn't know Steven Brion-Meisels, but I knew of him. Marc McGovern's comment sums him up pretty well: "He was one of the most gentle, considerate, peaceful people I have ever met and he did a great deal for the children of Cambridge."

I have personally known Rosy White for over 20 years. I originally met her when she served as the campaign manager for City Council candidate (and former State Rep.) Elaine Noble who ran in 1991 and 1993. I will always value Rosy's great sense of humor which is the most important quality anyone can possess.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to develop proposed ordinance language that will limit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products in the City of Cambridge to individuals 21 years of age or older.   Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Councillor Carlone

As with the campaign a decade ago to prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants, and other indoor spaces, I find myself straddling the line between personal freedom and regulation for the well-being of those directly affected by the noxious behavior of others. This proposed ordinance would forbid the sale to anyone under 21 years of age "any product containing, made, or derived from tobacco or nicotine that is intended for human consumption, whether smoked, chewed, absorbed, dissolved, inhaled, snorted, sniffed, or ingested by any other means including, but not limited to, cigarettes, cigars, little cigars, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco, snuff, or electronic cigarettes, electronic cigars, electronic pipes, or other similar products that rely on vaporization or aerosolization."

If the residents of Cambridge and Massachusetts find acceptable restricting anyone younger than 21 from buying or consuming alcoholic beverages, they'll probably be agreeable to applying the same standard to tobacco products. If this is to be the law, I'm glad the proposal applies to so-called "e-cigarettes". I actually find these to be more disturbing than actual smoking. They seem more like an acknowledgement of addiction than the burning and inhalation of tobacco, and it's only a matter of time before their apparatus is modified to inhale other substances. Perhaps the next generation of products will involve direct intraveneous injection without the need to soil the lungs.

Bike PostOrder #8. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to develop a City parking ticket for parking in bike lanes.   Councillor Kelley

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to consult with appropriate City staff, cyclists and others in an attempt to figure out a more effective way for cyclists to use public bike parking for short, medium and long-term bike storage to alleviate the problem of abandoned bikes clogging bike parking facilities and to ensure that cyclists have appropriate public space in which to lock their bikes.   Councillor Kelley

I'm with Councillor Kelley 100% regarding the clearing of derelict bikes that are now cluttering up all the City's bike posts. I spoke with DPW Commissioner Owen O'Riordan about this a few days ago and my understanding is that DPW will be ramping up the tagging and removal very soon. I can agree with people using them short term where they live, but they really should bring their bikes into their buildings or elsewhere on the property rather than using up City-funded facilities for private use. This can be a real conflict in mixed residential/commercial areas.

I'm also in agreement regarding unnecessary parking in bike lanes, but I'm willing to acknowledge that sometimes this is unavoidable, especially with some delivery vehicles. They also park at taxi stands and bus stops for short periods when options are limited. One thing I do not agree with is giving a hard time to delivery vehicles that park in so-called "cycle tracks" at street grade level where the City has mandated that motor vehicles may not park next to the curb because they want bikes to ride between the parked vehicles and the curb. This is an abysmally bad idea in places where deliveries must be made. I know that some members of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee have been irritated by such occurrences on Ames Street, but my sympathies lie with the delivery vehicle drivers there. The natural place for motor vehicles to park will always be right next to the curb.

Order #10. That the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee hold an appropriate number of public hearings to investigate internet access issues in Cambridge, to include possible expansion of the City's fiber optic network and use by private entities and business of that network.   Councillor Kelley

Communications #6. A communication was received from Saul Tannenbaum, 16 Cottage Street regarding the case for Municipal Broadband in Cambridge.

I've been hearing about this now for over a decade and at one point even volunteered the roof of my building to install equipment to further the goal. As near as I can tell, all of the City's efforts have gone nowhere. Perhaps the best course of action would be for a group of movers and shakers to form their own task force, develop some resources, and make this happen with minimal City involvement. Rumor has it that there are a few entrepreneurs living in Cambridge who know a thing or two about such things.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the status of the First Street Garage RFP process and that the City Council urge the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance and the developer of the Sullivan Courthouse to work together to reduce the height, traffic, and environmental impacts of the developer's proposal so as to gain community support and resolve the uncertainty that surrounds the project.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Toomey

It's anybody's guess how this matter will ultimately be resolved, but it seems certain that unless the Commonwealth intervenes in an active way (which may mean accepting a lot more of the financial burden in the disposition of this property), the eventual outcome could be something that's loved by nobody. I do wish people would use better comparatives when assessing the impact of the various proposals. For example, any measure of traffic impact should compare with the property when it was actively used as a courthouse/jail and not during recent years when sagebrush could have been blowing through the near-vacant property. Perhaps the worst-case outcome would be for the Commonwealth's selected developer, Legatt-McCall, to just build whatever they can as-of-right in this nonconforming property. The trickiest part of this Council Order may be the potential impossibility of gaining "community support" in an environment where some people continue to insist that the only acceptable outcome is to have any future building on this site conform to current zoning.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to determine the legal and regulatory process necessary to collaborate with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA), companies in the private sector, and/or local universities, and/or donors that are willing to partner with the City to achieve the desired development objectives at the Foundry Building and report back to the City Council on the best manner in which to implement and fund the future community use of the building.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Carlone and Councillor Toomey

On the Table #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Arts Council to determine the types of spaces that are most needed within the local arts community with the view of using the Foundry to fill those needs and to allocate appropriate funds to make appropriate upgrades for the purpose of creating a community arts center. (Order Amended by Substitution.) [Order Number Ten of Jan 27, 2014 Placed on Table on motion of Mayor Maher on Jan 27, 2014.]

The Foundry issue seems a lot easier to resolve than the future of the Sullivan Courthouse. It's been trending toward a Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) role for the last month or so, and Order #16 seems consistent with this trend. I suspect that the programming of the space will continue to be debated for some time to come with good arguments being made for early childhood education, an arts center, and for some kind of Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics (STEAM) center. These proposed uses are only partially compatible, and it's still necessary to have the building work financially. One of the more interesting aspects of this process has been the growing acceptance of CRA involvement in this and potentially other projects around the city (as opposed to just Kendall Square). The CRA now even has a webpage for its strategic plan and potential initiatives. Not so long ago there was concern expressed about having the CRA involved in development projects because of their "lack of accountability." Now they are coming to be seen as a vehicle for delivering desirable outcomes.

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to confer with a representative from MIT with the view in mind of arranging attendance by an MIT representative to present the findings of the Graduate Student Housing Working Group to the City Council in either a roundtable or special meeting format.   Councillor Cheung

The report from MIT's Graduate Student Housing Working Group was pretty simple to read and digest. No decisions have been made yet where new housing will eventually be built, but the MIT administration has now quantified what the housing needs are. Other than the politics, it's hard to see exactly what a roundtable or special meeting would add to the discussion, but I guess there's no harm in asking. The main thing is that MIT representatives promised an honest evaluation of their (graduate student) housing needs when they sought approval of the MIT/Kendall zoning petition and they delivered on that promise. Some of the new housing will appear in and around Kendall Square, but it's likely that most of it will be constructed elsewhere on the MIT campus and on other nearby MIT-owned property.

Order #20. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor regarding the possibility of contacting the Attorney General's Office and requesting that a representative be made available to attend an upcoming Open Meeting Law training for the City Council.   Councillor Mazen

While it is certainly a good idea to have such a training (especially now that some councillors are using their "aides" as a means of getting around the restrictions of the law), it would be much better if the state legislature would intervene by evaluating and amending some of the more counterproductive aspects of their law. - Robert Winters

Comments?

FYI - Current Rules and Goals: Cambridge City Council & Cambridge School Committee

City Council Rules 2010-2011 (adopted January 4, 2010)

City Council Goals - FY2010-2011 (approved February 2, 2009)

City Council Committees (for the 2010-2010 term)
Note: The City Council Rules were amended to permit the splitting of the old Health & Environment Committee into the Community Health Committee and the Environment & Sustainability Committee.


School Committee Rules (adopted January 7, 2008)

School Committee Goals (adopted October 7, 2008)


Research Assistants? I don't think so...

May 2, 2006 – The Cambridge City Council voted 8-1 on May 1 in favor of giving themselves personal “research assistants.” Only Councillor Craig Kelley had the fortitude to raise any questions about the proposal. So it appears the proposal will sail through the Budget Hearings with barely a raised eyebrow. While I have raised the issue of the genesis of this proposal, the question of its merits and its implementation have not been addressed here. So, here are some observations, questions, and suggestions for our elected officials, City administration, and residents to consider:

1. There was a time when our elected officials enlisted citizens to assist them in research matters relating to public policy. Cambridge is perhaps the best city in the United States in which to find experts in almost any matter that the City Council (or School Committee) may need to better understand. There is a wealth of evidence over the last 65 years showing how citizens have worked with elected officials in the development of public policy. If the City Council feels burdened by the research needs of its committees, there is an enormous pool of talent available at no cost. Currently, the City Council makes very little use of this very available resource.

2. There was a time when councillors collaborated much more than they currently do in committee work and in the development of policies. A well-functioning City Council committee should delegate responsibilities so that each member masters certain facets of the tasks at hand and shares this knowledge with the rest of the committee. In effect, councillors serve as staff to each other. I would argue that it is better that elected officials educate themselves.

3. Are these jobs going to be publicly posted with a job description? Who will be doing the actual hiring? If Councillor Smith wants to hire Mr. Jones as personal staff, will the mayor have veto power over the hire? Does the Personnel Department have a role to play here or are these to be political hires? None of these details have been discussed publicly and they are important.

4. If these “research assistants” are to be hired, there should be policies and safeguards to ensure that they are not working on behalf of any councillor's political campaign. Otherwise, this proposal will have the effect of using taxpayer dollars to support the political campaigns of incumbent councillors. In fact, maybe it's time to consider a similar disqualification for staff in the Mayor's Office. A founding principle of Plan E government is the elimination of political patronage in favor of responsible, professional government. Some of us still believe in this ideal. At the very least, strong guidelines should be established for what is and is not permissible.

5. The existence of this proposal within the budget of the Mayor's Office is very strange indeed since it involves personnel for councillors, not the mayor. Should we not infer from this that the consensus of the councillors is that the City Council staff is not up to the task? If the job of councillor has changed so much, should there not be some discussion of revamping the Office of the City Council to better match the needs of the councillors? Why are these tasks being outsourced?

6. Some councillors have recently stated that the filing of City Council orders requesting information through the City Manager is not enough and that councillors would be better served by having their own staff to get this information. This strikes me as contrary to the intent of the Plan E Charter which dictates that all matters involving City personnel be directed through the Manager. One can easily imagine a scenario where each councillor has his or her personal staff contact City department heads for information rather than filing an Order as a body to get a common response. If the consensus is that the City Manager is being obstructive or extraordinarily slow in responding, shouldn't the City Council take more forceful action in holding the Manager accountable?

7. If the term “research assistant” is meant to be factual, then perhaps these RAs should be topic-specific so that we can have people who have some background or aptitude for the tasks at hand. If, for example, research in energy-related matters is what is needed, then someone with that knowledge would be ideal. Is any such protocol being discussed to ensure that the councillors and the taxpayers will get the best quality research for their tax dollars? I would hope that matters like scheduling and event planning will be handled by the City Council Office rather than by “research assistants.”

8. Several councillors have complained that e-mail has had a dramatic effect on the responsibilities of a city councillor due to the time consumption associated with responding to these messages. I don't doubt this. However, there are efficiencies that can make such tasks much easier. For example, if each councillor receives 100 e-mail messages on a particular topic, then rather than making 100 shallow replies, I would advise responding to ALL of the issues of substance raised by residents in a single, comprehensive message sent (using blind-carbon-copy) to all of the people who sent messages. Those of us in academics have been doing this for years. It's much more effective to craft comprehensive messages sent to the whole class rather than many nearly identical messages sent to individual students. There are MANY ways to be more effective in e-mail communication. Then again, if individual responses are seen as more valuable in securing potential votes in the next election, that's a choice each councillor must make on his or her own - independent of taxpayer-supported staff.

In summary, I am not questioning whether or not some changes in staffing are warranted. I am, however, asking that any such changes be done in the best interest of taxpayers and that City funds are never used to either directly or indirectly support the reelection efforts of elected officials. - RW, May 3, 2006


Punching Out Your Cake and Having it Too – a chronology of the proposal for personal Council staff
(posted April 28, 2006)

Jan 1998 - The vote for who was to be mayor went on for several weeks as Ken Reeves held out until there were 4 other votes for Katherine Triantafillou, an outcome sincerely supported by at most two councillors (Reeves and Triantafillou). The would-be mayor rounded up her supporters for the coronation. A congratulatory cake was ordered. As the vote occurred and there were momentarily 5 votes on the table for Triantafillou (Born, Davis, Duehay, Reeves, Triantafillou), Councillors Galluccio and Russell changed their votes to Duehay. Councillors Born, Davis, and Duehay then changed their votes to Duehay and Mayor Duehay was elected. Councillor Galluccio was then elected vice-mayor. Meanwhile, in the room next to the Council chamber, Alice Wolf aide and Triantafillou supporter Marjorie Decker exploded in anger and punched out the cake, police were called, and a grudge began that remains to this day.

Feb 1998 - Mayor Duehay made good on the deal by hiring Galluccio campaign worker Terry Smith to work in the Mayor's Office "to assist the mayor and vice mayor". This marked the first time (to my knowledge) that any councillor other than the mayor received personal staff (except for a brief experiment with interns some years earlier). Resentment grew among other councillors about the special treatment one councillor received in exchange for delivering the mayor's job.

1999 - Frank Duehay and Sheila Russell announced they would not seek reelection. Jim Braude, David Maher, and Marjorie Decker were subsequently elected to the City Council as incumbent Katherine Triantafillou was defeated, principally as a result of Marjorie Decker winning her seat.

2000 - After 1½ months without electing a mayor, Anthony Galluccio was able to secure 6 votes to become mayor (Braude, Davis, Galluccio, Maher, Sullivan, Toomey). David Maher was elected vice-mayor. Terry Smith became chief of staff of the Mayor's Office. David Maher did not request any personal staff. Kathy Born suggested during the Budget hearings that the idea of personal staff for councillors be referred to the Government Operations Committee. Ken Reeves said at this time, "I don't believe the vice-mayor needs the extra staffing and not us." Note that this was a reference to the previous administration (Duehay-Galluccio).

Around this time, the Government Operations Committee met to discuss the proposal for personal staff. The estimates given for City Council staff were: (1) $390,250 for a low-level, bare bones proposal; (2) $157,450 for 8 part-time staff with no benefits; (3) $72,300 for one legislative research assistant. Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi said personal staff was tried briefly about 10 years earlier with interns. Michael Sullivan voiced concern about keeping in touch personally with his constituents and wondered how he would find enough things for this person to do. Most of the councillors spoke in support of giving themselves personal staff. Kathy Born said that if she found her job to be too much, she could hire her own staff person, only she would have to pay for it out of after-tax money, unlike an employee of a business. She suggested higher Council pay with the option of paying for a staff person out of this additional pay. The option would remain for a councillor to act as a “full-time councillor” without staff. Jim Braude said that a councillor could lend his or her campaign the money for the staff person.

One week later, the City Manager proposed a 23% pay raise for city councillors and a change in the ordinance to allow for automatic increases so that they would never again have to vote to raise their own pay. The pay raise was approved and the question of personal staff disappeared for the rest of the Council term.

2001 - Kathy Born and Jim Braude chose not to seek reelection. Brian Murphy and Denise Simmons were elected to the City Council.

2002 - Michael Sullivan was elected mayor on Inauguration Day. Henrietta Davis was elected vice-mayor. Unlike the previous term, Henrietta Davis did request and receive personal staff as vice-mayor when Garrett Simonsen, Davis' election campaign manager, was hired to the Mayor's Office staff as her assistant. Indications are that he served more than just the vice-mayor.

2004 - Michael Sullivan was again elected mayor, only this time Marjorie Decker was elected vice-mayor. Garrett Simonsen became chief of staff of the Mayor's Office. Sullivan hired Kristin Franks (who had been Decker's campaign manager) as “assistant to the mayor and vice-mayor” but the indications were that she was working almost exclusively for Decker. By summer, Franks was gone and Nicole Bukowski, another Decker campaign worker, was hired as exclusive staff to Decker. For the remainder of the Council term, Bukowski waited hand and foot on Decker - and resentment among other councillors grew for the remainder of the Council term.

Late 2005 - Craig Kelley was elected to the City Council and incumbent David Maher was defeated. Speculation immediately began about who would be the next mayor. Some councillors reported that a plan was being discussed to give certain councillors personal staff as part of the vote-trading for electing the mayor.

Early 2006 - Ken Reeves was elected mayor and Tim Toomey vice-mayor. In a surprising turn of events, Bukowski continued to serve out of the Mayor's Office as personal staff to Councillor Decker - clearly a part of the deal to make Reeves mayor. Rumors circulated that there was a plan to assign some councillors additional committee chairs as justification for getting personal staff. When the committee chairs were announced, Councillor Decker (who, along with Councillor Galluccio, has maintained the worst record of committee attendance during her time on the Council) was surprisingly given four committees to chair. In contrast, Henrietta Davis (who has always been at or near the top in committee attendance) was given only one. This was seen by some as a way to justify Decker keeping her personal aide in exchange for her vote for mayor.

April 2006 - Ken Reeves submitted a budget for the Mayor's Office that is 54.3% higher than the previous year. The cause for the increase is a proposal for personal staff for all the remaining councillors at a recurring annual cost of about a quarter-million dollars. There was no public indication of any kind that such an extravagant plan was in the works. An order is on the May 1 City Council agenda (after the budget was already submitted on April 24 including the increase) formally calling for the major staff increase. The order is co-sponsored by Reeves, Toomey, Decker, Galluccio, Sullivan, and Davis. It is expected that, like every person hired to date as staff for the vice-mayor (and most of those on the mayor's staff), all of the new “research assistants” will be affiliated with the election campaigns of the officials they will serve. Curiously, these patronage hires will be occurring at a time when there are fewer major issues before the Council and when an unprecedented number of councillors are either serving in other elected positions or seeking election to other positions now or in the near future. - RW, April 28, 2006

April 27, 2006 Cambridge Chronicle story on the Council staff proposal 

April 27, 2006 Cambridge Chronicle story on the submitted FY07 Budget 

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all
and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

The nine Nazgūl arose as Sauron's most powerful servants in the Second Age of Middle-earth. It is said that three of the Nine were originally "Great Lords" of Nśmenor. They were all powerful mortal Men to whom Sauron each gave nine Rings of Power. These proved to be their undoing:

"Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron. And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thralldom of the ring that they bore and of the domination of the One which was Sauron's. And they became forever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgūl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy's most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death" (The Silmarillion: "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age", 289).

The corrupting effect of the rings caused their bodily forms to fade over time until they had become wraiths entirely. Given visible form only through their attire, their original form was completely invisible to mortal eyes. The red reflection in their eyes could be plainly distinguished even in daylight, and in a rage they appeared in a hellish fire. They had many weapons, which included long swords of steel and flame, daggers with magical venomous properties and black maces of great strength.