From Central Square to Lechmere - Preview of the Feb 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here are a few comment-worthy items on this week's agenda:
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-04, regarding an update on when the Central Square Branch Library will reopen.
The Manager informs us that "We anticipate the reopening no later than March 10th, weather permitting. In the meantime, please know that the book drop will remain open for the duration of the project."
Applications & Petitions #5. An application was received from Zevart Hollisian requesting permission for a curb cut at the premises numbered 300 Massachusetts Avenue; said petition has received approval from Inspectional Services, Traffic, Parking and Transportation, Historical Commission and Public Works. No response has been received from the neighborhood association.
This is in reference to the project now under construction that was the subject of a contentious zoning petition a year ago. Though the petition ultimately passed unanimously, I would be surprised if some disgruntled activists showed up now to obstruct the necessary curb cuts.
Applications & Petitions #8. An application was received from Massachusetts Institute of Technology requesting permission for a temporary banner across Massachusetts Avenue at Norfolk Street, fifty-seven banners on poles in Harvard Square, ninety-three banners on poles along Massachusetts Avenue from Memorial Drive to Harvard Square, sixteen banners on poles along Broadway from Ellery Street to Felton Street and eighteen banners on poles along Massachusetts Avenue from Inman Street to Bigelow Street announcing the Cambridge Science Festival Apr 18-27, 2014. Approval has been received from the Electrical Department.
I highlight this item only for the purpose of noting the date of this year's Science Festival (April 18-27). Every year brings something new and interesting.
Resolution #8. Resolution on the death of Carl F. Barron. Mayor Maher
Carl Barron was one of the most generous civic benefactors that Cambridge has known over many decades. Never shy about expressing his point of view and backing it up financially, Carl funded scholarships for CRLS graduates and improved health care facilities at Mount Auburn Hospital. He was the Central Square merchant who stayed in Central Square when everyone else was fleeing to the suburban malls. When we first met in 1992, we had little in common other than our dedication to the improvement of Central Square and the fact that we appreciated each other's sense of humor. Times change and Central Square is changing, but many of us will still remember Carl for all that he did for the area during some of its toughest days.
Resolution #20. Congratulations to the Central Square Business Association, House of Vans and the Middle East on the Snochi Winter Festival. Councillor Cheung
Speaking of the changing Central Square, did you ever think we'd have a pop-up winter carnival with snowboarding in Central Square? Well, last week we did.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and report back to the City Council on the matter of the closure of Lechmere Station before a new station is completed and operational and provide time lines for the new Lechmere Station development and plans for the current Lechmere site. Councillor Toomey
In addition to Councillor Toomey's concern about potential disruption to people who need to access the Green Line at Lechmere, he also wants "time lines for the new Lechmere Station development and plans for the current Lechmere site." This was a hot topic a couple of years ago when various neighborhood people were circulating the idea of a year-round market that might be developed as part of the current Lechmere Station site when it is vacated and the station moved to the other side of the McGrath Highway as part of the Green Line extension. What are the current plans for the Lechmere site?
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner and other appropriate City personnel and then report back to the City Council on the feasibility of installing a permanent Cambridge Police Officer within City Hall to better ensure the safety of the public and the people who work within the building. Councillor Simmons
I'm curious not only about the need expressed in this Order but also as to why it's being submitted now. Cambridge City Hall has seen its share of controversy over the years, especially during the days of rent control, but it's actually been relatively nonconfrontational through it all. Councillor Simmons' argument could be made for just about any building that is publicly accessible, but it's not at all clear that City Hall has any greater need for a dedicated police presence that any other place. Should the proposed policy be implemented, I expect that the City Hall Police Officer will have a lot of time on his or her hands. This doesn't seem like the best way to deplot police resourses. I could perhaps understand it for public meetings with large attendance, but otherwise it seems unnecessary.
Order #7. That the City Council go on record urging local business owners to make a concerted effort to shovel a path to parking meters immediately in or around their establishments. Councillor Simmons
Perhaps this Order should be amended to urge local business owners to also shovel out the bike posts in front of their businesses. Motor vehicles are not the only vehicles that need a parking space that can be accessed.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Mayor David P. Maher regarding a retrospective talk on the career of Roger Boothe, Director of Urban Design, on Tues, Feb 25, 2014 at 5:30pm at the Main Library.
I do hope they record this event and make it available for later viewing. Roger Boothe will be retiring this month. He has been an invaluable resource within the Community Development Department for as long as I can remember. He's also a hell of a great guy. - Robert Winters
Leaving Cincinnati? Feb 10, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
Here are a few Agenda items that sparked some interest.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the Early Education Services Task Force.
As the report states, "The charge to the Task Force is to identify a range of possible options for expansion of early childhood services and to explore the benefits and challenges of each option." Candidates and elected officials have talked for some time about the value of early education services as an effective means of preventing future achievement gaps and other hardships. Many people believe that directing these resources early may lessen the need for corrective action later. We have now apparently entered into the planning and implementation phase of this initiative.
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-03, regarding the progress of the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Committee.
The ECKOS planning study committee has been meeting for much of this past year to develop an initial vision and goals for the entire open space network in Kendall Square and vicinity building upon the K2C2 Planning Study. There is now underway a planning and design competition. My only question is where they will be locating the miniature golf course. I'm dead serious. Think about how amazing it would be to have a sculpture garden that doubles as a mini-golf course.
Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-02, regarding a report on determining whether Councillors "replying all" to emails, addressed to the firstname.lastname@example.org on business that may subsequently come before the Council are unintentionally violating the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law.
Though everyone applauds the goal of transparency in public process and open meetings that encourage civic participation, one really has to wonder if we've now gone way over to the other side when every interaction among elected officials and between elected officials and the public entails the risk technically violating this law. I simply cannot believe this was the intention of the legislature when they drafted the current version of the law.
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining the noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 33 municipalities in the United States with three AAA ratings from the nation's three major credit rating agencies.
We've come to take Cambridge's credit-worthiness for granted, but it's the result of the City administration and the City Council maintaining a steady financial plan even as we've undertaken some very ambitious and expensive projects. We often hear about Cambridge's "free cash" and excess levy capacity whenever someone wants the City to break the bank to pay for another public amenity, but maintaining such a buffer is precisely why our bond ratings are so good.
Unfinished Business #3. That City Council Rule 35A be amended to provide that no suspension of the rules shall be required for late ceremonial resolutions filed after the close of the meeting agenda or before resolutions are voted on at the meeting. [Order Number Eight of Feb 3, 2014 Placed on Unfinished Business on Feb 3, 2014.]
Unfinished Business #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a letter from Mayor David P. Maher regarding the Ad-Hoc Committee relative to changes to Rule 26 of the City Council Rules. [Communication and Report from City Officers Number Four of Feb 3, 2014 Placed on Unfinished Business on Feb 3, 2014.]
It was interesting to hear some of the back-and-forth at last week's City Council meeting about these proposed rules changes. The most significant changes are the reduction of the number of City Council Committees from 17 to 11 and the establishment of quorums for each of these committees. The proposals are simple, sensible, and workable (in spite of being called "fierce and complicated" by one observer). If all goes well, the rules changes (mainly the consolidation of committees) will be voted at this meeting and the City Council committee appointments will be made public. I'm looking forward to seeing how well this group of nine works together on specific matters in committee.
Resolution #1. Congratulations to State Representative Marjorie Decker for spearheading an amendment to fund a total of $13.5 million in Cambridge infrastructure transportation projects that was unanimously passed by the members of the State House of Representatives. Vice Mayor Benzan
Though it clearly takes more than one representative in a House of 140 members to bring home the bacon, it's good to see Marjorie Decker and the entire Cambridge delegation getting the job done. My understanding is that the Mass. State Senate and ultimately the Governor still have to weigh in before the deal is done. The noted $13.5 million is for the design and reconstruction of roads and sidewalks in Harvard Square and on River Street. There is also $3 million for completing the design and construction of the Inlet Bridge connecting North Point Park to the O'Brien Highway; $1.5 million for the design of a rail trail in the Grand Junction Railroad corridor in Cambridge, Somerville and Charlestown; $1.3 million for the Watertown Greenway which runs from Watertown to the Fresh Pond Reservation in Cambridge; $500,000 for construction at Fresh Pond Parkway and Mount Auburn Street; and $500,000 for a new pedestrian bridge at Alewife. None of this is final, but the signs are good.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all relevant city departments and engage with the leadership of Globe Direct to ensure that Cambridge residents who have not subscribed to weekly Globe Direct circulars and have indicated that they do not wish to receive more are promptly removed from further distribution lists. Councillor Cheung, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Carlone
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on Dec 19, 2013 to conduct a public hearing on an amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.68 entitled relating to Plastic Bag Reduction.
The topic of Order #3 is also contained in the committee report, i.e. those unnecessary red plastic bags containing advertisements that now litter Cambridge porches, sidewalks, and anywhere else they can toss them. The main subject of the committee report is a proposed ban on plastic shopping bags that's been kicked around for the last year or two. I need to point out that opinions are not unanimous in the recycling advocacy world on this topic. If plastic bags are replaced by paper bags, this is not necessarily a net positive from an environmental point of view. The hope is that the use of reusable grocery bags will greatly increase, and a proposed mandatory fee on paper bags is meant to encourage this. It's also worth mentioning that many Cambridge residents (perhaps most) do their grocery shopping outside of Cambridge, e.g. the Somerville Market Basket, and may bu only minimally affected by this proposed ordinance.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department and the Election Commission to determine what steps would be necessary to change the method by which surplus votes are transferred in municipal elections and whether the Fractional Transfer Method could replace the Cincinnati Method. Councillor Carlone
This is a good Order but it needs at least one more "Whereas" to emphasize the real reason why this reform should be considered. Allow me to go through this point by point (and you can feel free to tune this out if you've heard this before):
First, let's be clear that a candidate does not need to reach the election quota in order to be elected. The purpose of the quota to to limit the number of ballots a winning candidate is allowed to keep in order to assure proportional representation. It does happen in some elections that candidates elected late in the process do not reach quota, but all other candidates have then been defeated and the number of candidates is reduced to the number to be elected.
It's true that the Cincinnati method involves an element of chance, and that never sits well with people. It is, however, a fair system in that there is no systematic bias for or against any individual candidate, election precinct, or any subset of the electorate. The fact that shuffling and then recounting the ballots may give slightly different results is a serious problem, especially if there's a close election.
The primary reason why a change should be considered to a system that is independent of ballot order is not because the current method in unfair, but rather because it creates a perverse incentive for a losing candidate to seek a recount solely to take advantage of this random element. The recent Recount cost an additional $109,604 and served only to prove the relative accuracy of the original scan of the ballots. [It should also be noted that much of this cost is caused by the substantial time needed to recreate the original ballot order. If this sequence didn't matter, things would go a lot faster and cost far less.]
The Fractional Transfer Method noted in the Council Order is a ballot-order-independent method, but it must be noted that this requires somewhat more than simply changing the way surplus ballots are transferred. An equally important aspect of the method is how it deals with the election of a candidate during a round. In order to not have ballots transferred early in the round be treated differently than those transferred later in the round, it's necessary that candidates be allowed to go over-quota during the round and then have their total reduced to quota using the same fractional transfer rules. The Fractional Transfer Method is actually the default option for the tabulation software Cambridge uses. The use of the Cambridge Rules is an optional set of rules built into the software.
The real purpose of the Order is to get information from the Law Department and the Election Commission about what steps would be required in order to make a change. The Election Commission can make changes to the procedures by simple majority vote to another method consistent with the principles of the law, but only to another method in use at the time of enactment of the law (1938), and there is no evidence of Fractional Transfer being in use anywhere at that time. The real goal should be to add this method to the list of permissible methods now that it can be done simply and quickly using modern technology. It is likely that this can be accomplished via a Home Rule Petition and a subsequent Special Act of the State Legislature. However, it's important to also clarify how such a change might affect other provisions in the law, e.g. the right to a manual recount. It would perhaps be best if the standard for a recount could be clarified so that verification of voter intent followed by a computer count would be the preferred procedure should there be a call for a recount.
In anticipation of future conversations about this, today I carried out the Fractional Transfer Method and compared it with the Cincinnati Method for 7 City Council elections from 2001 through 2013. I will be happy to share the results with anyone who is interested (the winners are the same, by the way, though order of election does change in some elections). I also plan to do this for School Committee elections over this same period. - Robert Winters
Feb 3, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
Here are some items of interest. Comments may follow this afternoon.
1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $20,000 to the General Fund Election Other Ordinary Maintenance account from additional election revenue to pay for costs related to the municipal election recount.
Communications #7. A communication was received from John A. Hawkinson transmitting an Open Meeting Law complaint regarding meeting announcements not being posted on the City's web site.
Order #4. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinance filed by John Chun, et al be refiled. Mayor Maher
Order #7. That the City Council go on record opposing the most recent fee increases proposed for no-value liquor licenses due to the undue financial burden they would place on business owners in the City. Councillor Cheung
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting the legal opinion received from City Solicitor Nancy E. Glowa regarding quorum requirements for City Council Committees.
Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting the legal opinion received from City Solicitor Nancy E. Glowa regarding the submission of late policy orders during a public meeting.
Communications & Reports #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a letter from Mayor David P. Maher regarding committee assignments.
Communications & Reports #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a letter from Mayor David P. Maher regarding the Ad-Hoc Committee relative to changes to the City Council Rules.
Striking Before the Iron's Hot - Jan 27, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
This week brings two Orders relating to the disposition of the Foundry Building that was added to the City's assets as a result of the Alexandria rezoning process a few years ago. One City report last June recommended that the building be sold, but advocates for a variety of possible future uses have been making their wishes known ever since the building was transferred to the City. It's not so clear that any real consensus has been developed about what the next steps should be. In any case, we now have two somewhat competing Orders trying to steer the discussion. It's possible that the City Council committee appointments might be made known at this meeting, but it's not an agenda item. Here are some of the more interesting agenda items:
City Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a presentation on Poverty in Cambridge based on census data and American Community Survey data. [presentation dated Jan 21, 2013 (PDF)]
The data in this presentation dates to 2009-2011. At that point the median household income in Cambridge was $69,259; it was $130,349 for married couples with children, $92,604 for a single father with children, and $46,809 for a single mother with children. Black or Hispanic residents were more than three times as likely to be living in poverty as White or Asian residents. It's a short and not very detailed report, but it's interesting.
City Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an appropriation of $2,450,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures Account for audiovisual upgrades in City buildings, including: the Sullivan Chamber, the Ackermann Room, and Sophie J. Anastos Room in City Hall; the Senior Center Ballroom; the City Hall Annex Community Room; the Lombardi Room at 831 Massachusetts Avenue; the Walter J. Sullivan Water Treatment Plant Lobby at 250 Fresh Pond Parkway; and a portable AV system.
This appropriation is long overdue - and it's unfortunate that it's coming only after the strongest advocate for these improvements, Councillor Ken Reeves, has exited the City Council. Anyone who has attended public meetings and events over the years has experienced their share of malfunctioning equipment, poor acoustics, and presentations that could only be viewed if you picked the right seat. The range of proposed improvements is impressive and the price tag seems to be well worth it. The only thing I would add would be to have the City Council staff review the seating in the Sullivan Chamber where, under the current configuration, many of the audience seats are difficult to access and much of the space near the entry door lacks seating. Creating multiple aisles for greater access and providing some movable folding chairs would be a big improvement. [I'm speaking now as the official "long term observer" in the Sullivan Chamber.]
Resolution #11. Resolution on the death of Frederick "Chip" Norton. Mayor Maher
The announcement of Chip's unexpected death on January 13 left many of us stunned. Chip was the Watershed Manager for the Cambridge Water Department who led many public tours at Fresh Pond and in the Cambridge watershed in Weston, Waltham, Lexington, and Lincoln. He was one of the most decent, friendly people you could ever know and Cambridge was so lucky to have him working to protect the Cambridge watershed and educating people about our water supply.
My first serious involvement in Cambridge civic affairs came with my appointment to the Mayor's Water & Sewer Advisory Committee by Mayor Al Vellucci around 1988. Ever since then I've maintained a friendly relationship with many of the people who are responsible for Cambridge's water supply. For some of us, this is not just the death of a respected City employee but also the loss of a friend.
Order #1. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinances to rezone the northern border of Richdale Avenue from Upland Road to Walden Street from C1-A to residential C-1 be refiled Mayor Maher
Order #2. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinances in the Linear Park area be refiled. Mayor Maher
There are routine re-filings of zoning petitions that expired during the closing days of the previous Council term. They will now be the first order of business for the new Ordinance Committee whose Chair has not yet been announced. The only thing for sure is that the Chair won't be Mayor Maher. The mayor sits as an ex-officio member on all City Council committees but is the Chair of none of them.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City personnel to initiate a traffic and parking study pertaining to the further development of Area IV if one is not already available. Councillor Simmons
The incentive for this Order is apparently the long-anticipated opening of the H-Mart grocery store which is now finally starting to take shape in the old Harvest Market space. The Order also references the new 10 Essex Street building that will bring another 46 units of much needed houisng to the Central Square area plus ground floor retail (possibly associated with H-Mart). There's little doubt that the new housing and retail will have some impact on the surrounding area, but these are great new additions to Central Square. It's not so clear what additional purpose will be served by a traffic and parking study other than to confirm the obvious.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to compile a comprehensive list of nonprofit, for-profit, neighborhood associations, and distinguished individual-practitioner stakeholders who benefit from, inform, or participate in STEAM-related education and training in an effort to determine the feasibility of dedicating the Foundry to STEAM related entities. Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Mazen
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Arts Council to determine the types of spaces that are most needed within the local arts community with the view of using the Foundry to fill those needs and to allocate appropriate funds to make appropriate upgrades for the purpose of creating a community arts center. Councillor Toomey
These are probably the agenda items that will bring out more public comment than everything else combined. That said, there seem to be a number assertions made that are not necessarily accurate. For example, the Benzan/Mazen Order #9 states that "Our neighborhoods are in dire need of substantial new space dedicated to mentorship, apprenticeship, scholarship, fabrication, expression, and training related to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics)." When was this conclusion determined? If anything, what has become clear is that there is now passionate advocacy for many goals, and they are not necessarily all compatible. The Toomey Order #10 favors a community arts center. The previous City Council exhibited more than a little sentiment toward use of some of the Foundry space for entreprenuerial/innovation space.
There have been numerous instances over the years where political advocacy for "community space" ran well ahead of actual demand. Youth Centers have been built that were not particularly well-utilized. In East Cambridge, the Multicultural Arts Center hasn't always lived up to its public purpose. One could certainly argue that the latest trend toward STEM and STEAM are really educational functions that should more properly be developed in conjuction with the Cambridge Public Schools (and which may require a range of new employees). Though it's appreciated seeing both new councillors and long-term councillors jumping in early to address the future of the Foundry issue, it does seem that they are striking the iron before it's hot.
I would respectfully suggest that we should first take a step back and assess what all the unmet demands really are (and not just what some advocates say they are) and what assets the City has to meet these demands. It's particularly interesting that councillors who bought into the need for a "master plan" for development have not yet expressed any interest in a "master plan" for the many auxiliary services that the City does deliver and should deliver using its variety of school buildings, youth centers, and other facilities, including the Foundry building.
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and Massachusetts Attorney General to determine whether Councillors ‘replying all' to emails addressed to the email@example.com on business that may subsequently come before the Council are unintentionally violating the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law. Councillor Cheung
I hope I'm not the only one who believes that there's a need for Councillor Toomey and his colleagues in the State House to tweak the Open Meeting Law to correct for the numerous unintended consequences that it has caused that do harm to collegiality and cooperation among elected officials and with the public.
Order #12. That the City Council go on record urging swift passage of the STEM Gateways Act. Councillor Cheung
As a STEM person myself (mathematics lecturer), I can't argue with the sentiments contained in this Order. - Robert Winters
Setting the Table - January 13, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
The City Council successfully elected David Maher as Mayor at its January 6 Inaugural meeting, but now the business of representation begins. The appointment of City Council subcommittees and their Chairs will likely be announced in two weeks, but there's little doubt that some of the new councillors will try to assert themselves right away. Hopefully the twists and turns of the recent mayoral vote will fade quickly leaving only the spin of the blogosphere.
One observation I've recently made is that the current City Council committees don't really match the skill sets of the elected councillors. The City Council and the Mayor should take a serious look at the committee structure and possible merge some of them and invent others to better take advantage of what these 9 councillors may have to offer.
Here are a few specific Agenda items worthy of attention:
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the new Nexus Study for Incentive Zoning Ordinance.
This communication simply informs the Council that the process is underway and that a consultant will soon be hired to conduct the study "to assess the impact of non-residential development on the City's housing market." ... "A nexus study establishes the basis for requiring contributions from commercial developments as set forth in the Incentive Zoning Provisions. The new study will quantify the current impact of new commercial development on housing affordability. Study recommendations could form the basis for changes to the Incentive Zoning Provisions."
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $16,100,824 in funds received from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Grant to the Public Works Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures account for the Alewife Sewer Separation Program.
Mr. Rossi states: "This grant will fund the Concord Avenue construction costs, engineering services and final costs associated with the other Alewife area contracts.... The City has been working with the MWRA for over sixteen years executing projects in the Alewife watershed to reduce combined sewer overflows to the Alewife Brook. These improvements are part of the court-ordered cleanup of the Boston Harbor."
This is the real measure of a well-managed city - maintaining all of the things that allow a city to smoothly function, especially those things that would not otherwise receive any attention from those who see things only in political terms.
Applications & Petitions #3. An application was received from Whittemore Realty Trust requesting permission for three curb cuts at the premises numbered 12A-12B-12C Whittemore Avenue; said petition has received approval from Inspectional Services, Traffic, Parking and Transportation, Historical Commission and Public Works. Chair of neighborhood association disapproves the curb cuts and vice chair of the neighborhood association approves the curb cuts.
The entertaining part of this is that the Chair and Vice-Chair are husband and wife, so why wouldn't they disagree? The ridiculous part is that the response states that "I know of no opposition to the curb cuts. The opposition relates to non curb cut matters."
Note to councillors, especially the new guys: The matter before you is a curb cut application. Anything not relating to the curb cut application should affect your vote about as much as your preference in music or beer.
Resolution #19. Resolution on the death of Beatrice L. (Levy) Davis. Mayor Maher
Beatrice Davis was the mother of our recent Mayor Henrietta Davis.
Order #2. That the City Council go on record expressing support for fair wages and benefits for Cambridge's adjunct professors, the right of Cambridge's adjunct professors to form a union, and the adoption of free and fair union election principles, similar to those that have been adopted by many higher education institutions in other U.S. cities, which establish the commitment that workers are "free" to make up their own mind under "fair" voting conditions. Councillor Cheung
This is a matter that affects quite a few people who live or work in and around Cambridge. Standards vary widely among the various institutions, departments, and programs. Whether or not the formation of a union is the right approach, there really should be some reasonable minimum standards. If our local universities can sign on to a "sustainability compact" they should also be more than willing to ensure a little economic sustainability among their part-time and adjunct faculty. What exactly is the best way to achieve this is not so obvious, but the sentiment expressed in Council Cheung's Order is a good one.
The next three items share a common thread:
Communication #7. A communication was received from Tom Stohlman, 19 Channing Street transmitting suggested changes to the Council rules.
Order #5. That the Mayor is requested to schedule a City Council/School Committee retreat in the near future to allow all of Cambridge's municipal elected officials the opportunity to converse with each other and discuss shared priorities for this term. Councillor Simmons
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting the action taken by the Cambridge City Council on an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Ilan Levy dated Dec 10, 2013.
First, I really don't understand why Tom Stohlman has chosen to appoint himself "hall monitor" for the Cambridge City Council. The Council rules work reasonably well and I believe there are some adults among our newly elected representatives who can decide how best to conduct their meetings. I actually agree with Mr. Stohlman's first suggestion that the School Committee and the Mayor might consider a new custom of having the Mayor not necessarily act as Chair of the School Committee (just as the Vice President of the USA does not customarily act as President of the Senate even though this is what the Constitution states).
Mr. Stohlman's second suggestion (that the City Council should discuss who should be Mayor) is now a moot point, though I'm sure that many such discussions took place prior to last week's mayoral vote. The matter of what the Mayor of Cambridge actually does has been discussed forever by both elected and unelected people. I seriously doubt whether any new revelations will be forthcoming. I'll not comment on the remaining laundry list of suggestions from Mr. Stohlman. It's a mixed bag, but I especially don't care for his later suggestions that would turn every public hearing into a marathon.
I'm curious what Mr. Stohlman and his fellow complaint-filing pals might have to say about Order #5. If there were a combined City Council/School Committee Retreat, would it have to be streamed live and a stenographic record kept of all that is said?
Finally, I take note of the latest response from the City Council and City Clerk to yet another tiresome complaint. There were, I believe, three such complaints filed during the last term. The first was from Tom Stohlman who disagreed with the City Council's actions in the choice of City Manager. The only real error there was in the long-standing practice allowing councillors to sign on as co-sponsors on City Council Orders circulated independently by the City Clerk (without discussion). That protocol has now been modified. The second complaint was from Charles Teague who objected to the MIT/Kendall zoning vote long after that matter had been put to bed. The latest (from Ilan Levy) is based only on speculation by the complainant regarding the disposition of the Foundry Building in East Cambridge.
I really hope that civic participation during the next few years is characterized more by discussion, cooperation, and understanding than by threats of legal filings with the Commonwealth whenever an action is taken with which one disagrees. A little more respect for the elected officials, the City administration, and the many people who work for the City is in order. In the end, most of our goals are the same. - Robert Winters
The Final Curtain: Last Meeting of the 2012-13 Term – Dec 16, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Tonight's City Council meeting will be the last for City Councillors Ken Reeves, Henrietta Davis, Marjorie Decker, and Minka vanBeuzekom. It should be a time for reflection on their combined 66 years in elected office in the City of Cambridge. It will also be a time to wonder who will take up some of the important roles played by these councillors. I suspect the new guys will manage to carry on some of the passionate advocacy associated with Marjorie Decker. However, the loss of the collective wisdom of Councillors Reeves and Davis will not be so easy to replace - and that goes especially for Councillor Reeves who could always be counted on to put things into perspective.
Manager's Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to possible revisions to the Medical Marijuana Zoning Petition text in response to issues and questions raised at the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee hearings.
Unfinished Business #13. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 20, 2013 to discuss a petition by the City Manager to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to define and list Registered Marijuana Dispensary, delete Section 11.700 and create a new Section 20.700 entitled Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 16, 2013. Planning Board hearing held Oct 22, 2013. Petition expires Feb 18, 2014.
Manager's Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appointments to the Net Zero Task Force which is charged with advancing the goal of setting Cambridge on the trajectory to becoming a "net zero community".
Resolution #3. Appreciation and best wishes to City Councillor Marjorie Decker. Councillor Cheung
Resolution #17. Expressing appreciation and thanks to Henrietta Davis for her years of dedicated service to the city of Cambridge and extending best wishes in all her future endeavors. Councillor Cheung
Order #1. That all items pending before the City Council and not acted upon by the end of the 2012-2013 Legislative Session be placed in the files of the City Clerk, without prejudice provided that those proposed ordinances which have been passed to a second reading, advertised and listed on the Calendar under "Unfinished Business" during the 2012-2013 City Council term, along with any other pending matters on the Calendar listed as "Unfinished Business," shall be forwarded to the next City Council and further provided that any items pending in committee may, at the discretion of the committee, be forwarded to the next City Council. Mayor Davis
Order #3. That the City Clerk is requested to schedule a meeting early in the new year with all nine newly elected City Councillors in order to discuss and review Roberts Rules. Vice Mayor Simmons
Committee Reports #1-6. Communications were received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office, transmitting six separate report from Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Chair of the Public Facilities, Art and Celebrations Committee for public meetings held on Apr 19, 2012 and May 17, 2012 and Oct 25, 2012 and Nov 28, 2012 and Jan 10, 2013 and Oct 17, 2013.
These come on the heels of last week's reports from the University Relations Committee, also chaired by Councillor Reeves, from Apr 26, 2012 and May 24, 2012 and July 16, 2012 and Mar 20, 2013. Suffice to say that City Council subcommittees should ideally be discussing relevant matters and reporting back to the City Council in a timely fashion. Let's hope that the new councillors for the 2014-2015 term get the message that turning in reports 20 months late is not the best way to conduct business.
Communications and Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom regarding the Ames Street District rezoning.
Communications and Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker regarding the Final Report of the 21/365 Domestic Violence Campaign.
Perhaps a few more comments will appear after the meeting. - Robert Winters
FaTeague - Dec 9, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda
There are basically two noteworthy items on this week's agenda and both of them relate to Kendall Square. The first is the Ames Street Land Disposition. There's a public hearing at 6:30pm on the proposal by the City of Cambridge to sell a 20-foot wide strip of public land along the eastern edge of Ames Street between Main Street and Broadway in Kendall Square. The land would be sold to a private owner with the condition that it would be combined with adjacent land to enable the construction of a residential building with ground floor retail. The public hearing is being held pursuant to the requirements of Section 2.110.010 of the Cambridge Municipal Code, regarding Disposition of City Property. [text from the call of the meeting]
The Cambridge Revelopment Authority (CRA) supports the plan as does the Planning Board as indicated in:
City Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation supporting the proposed Ames Street Land Disposition.
Most reasonable people, including most or all of the city councillors, will likely agree with the assessment of the Planning Board. Nonetheless, the hearing is likely to bring out those who continue to object to last year's approval of the downsizing of a rooftop garden in exchange for a greatly extended time during which it will be maintained for public access (an additional 28 years). Some will likely testify that this is some kind of scandalous giveaway to big, bad corporations. Others will argue that the City should somehow try to leverage the delivery of All That Is Good in exchange for this unimportant strip of the public way. This is nothing but bad political theater.
Communication #3. A communication was received from Charles Teague, 23 Edmunds Street transmitting his reply to Cambridge City Council response on Open Meeting Law Complaint dated Nov 5, 2013.
Speaking of bad political theater, the meaningless saga continues of the unhappy activist filing Open Meeting Law complaints when votes don't go his way. This week's agenda brings a tedious 76 page communication from Charles Teague, the new right-hand-man of Councillor-Elect Dennis "Pearl Harbor" Carlone. The thought that this kind of pointless harassment may become the norm for the new City Council is enough to drive away even long-term Council-watchers like me. Is this what civic activism has degenerated into? Will every significant City Council vote now be subject to complaints filed with state agencies?
In baseball, when the 3rd out is registered in the bottom of the 9th, you accept your loss and head for the locker room. You don't file a protest with the Baseball Commissioner. The antics of Teague and company are the civic equivalent of bad sportsmanship, and this may soon become the norm.
You can never predict how an idiotic complaint like this will ultimately turn out, but the incident that was the subject of the complaint is simple to describe:
(a) MIT filed several iterations of a zoning petition for an area in and around Kendall Square where MIT owns a significant amount of property. The petition went through many public hearings before finally coming to a vote on Apr 8, 2013.
(b) During the weeks and months leading up to ordination, MIT representatives met with all of the city councillors and developed a memorandum of understanding that included substantial commitments.
(c) Prior to final ordination on the night of the vote, a series of amendments were proposed by several councillors. Councillor Kelley objected strenuously to the late arrival of the proposed amendments. There were so many opportunities to propose amendments during the months, weeks, and days leading to this vote, that there was no excuse for trying to rush these amendments through.
One such proposed amendment by Councillor vanBeuzekom would have required "net zero" energy standards on any new buildings. This enjoyed a temporary victory on a 5-3-1 vote with Councillors Cheung, Decker, Simmons, vanBeuzekom, and Mayor Davis voting YES; Councillors Kelley, Maher, and Toomey voting NO; and Councillor Reeves voting PRESENT. This led to very clear expressions from MIT representatives that such a requirement would invalidate the commitments to which they had previously agreed. This was communicated to Councillor Maher and through him to Mayor Davis. When informed that this burden could threaten MIT's other commitments, Mayor Davis reluctantly asked to change her vote from YES to PRESENT which defeated the amendment 4-3-2. This was a vote change that Mayor Davis clearly did not relish, but she did it for the greater goal of passing the entire package. All of this took place in full view of the public.
(d) The MIT/Kendall zoning petition was then ordained on a 7-1-1 vote with Councillor vanBeuzekom voting NO (as expected) and Vice Mayor Simmons voting PRESENT. The revised Letter of Commitment from MIT was approved unanimously.
There was NOTHING unusual in what transpired that evening. However, a photograph of MIT representatives explaining their position to Councillor Maher was used to claim that some sort of shenanigans had taken place. This led to a complaint being filed long after the period for such complaints had expired. The City Clerk and City Solicitor drafted a response that was approved by the City Council, and we now get this 76 page followup from the disgruntled political activist.
Many people have noted that the current City Council has at times engaged in pointless interpersonal bickering, and this is fair criticism. However, unless some of the newly elected councillors and the incumbent councillors take some affirmative action early in the 2014-15 term to set a good tone, we may find ourselves looking back longingly toward the relative peace and harmony of the 2012-13 City Council. - Robert Winters
Home Stretch - Dec 2, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
This Monday should be an interesting day. The City Council Recount commences at 8:30am at the Moore Youth Center (12 Gilmore St. by Hoyt Field), and at 5:30pm the City Council will meet in City Hall at the same time the Central Square Advisory Committee will be meeting next door in the Lombardi Building to hear testimony and discuss a housing proposal for 10 Essex Street. [The Planning Board will hold a hearing on Tuesday on the same proposal.]
There's not a single City Council Order on the agenda this week, but there are a few noteworthy items as the 2012-13 City Council heads into its final month.
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Council Order No. 28, dated Sept 9, 2013, regarding establishing a committee to monitor the progress of the non-zoning recommendations of the C2 Committee.
The proposal is to fold consideration of the non-zoning C2 recommendations into the scope of the existing Central Square Advisory Committee which has been around since the creation of the Central Square Overlay District over two decades ago. This will coincide with upcoming appointments to the committee to bring it back up to the 9 members specified in the ordinance. The zoning-related recommendations of the C2 Committee (as developed by CDD staff) will likely be where most of any controversy will play itself out, but the non-zoning recommendations will have a lot to do with defining the fabric of Central Square in the sense of "place-making."
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, regarding the creation of a short term task force that will consider drafting a municipal ordinance related to outdoor lighting.
The Teague Petition on this subject may have died last year due to its shortcomings, but a task force was promised to come up with a more appropriate proposal. These appointments mark the beginning of that process. Recommendations are anticipated in the spring. It's not surprising that Charles Teague is one of the appointed members, but it will be interesting to see whether or not he can work cooperatively with the other 11 appointees. As with most things it's better to have a balanced committee that can gather input from all stakeholders. This also applies to the soon-to-be-appointed "Net Zero" task force.
Unfinished Business #13. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 7, 2013 on the petition received from Boston Properties to amend the Zoning Ordinances and Zoning Map in the Ames Street area. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 2, 2013. Planning Board hearing held Nov 12, 2013. Petition expires Feb 5, 2014.
Communications #2. A communication was received from Kathleen Born, Chair, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Board transmitting the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Support for Boston Properties Ames Street Zoning Petition including a response to a request from the Ordinance Committee regarding fast food permits for the MXD District together with a Letter of Intent for the Ames Street Housing Project between the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority and Boston Properties Limited Partnership.
The Ames Street Zoning Petition has another City Council hearing scheduled for Dec 9, so this matter won't be voted until at least then. The communication from CRA Chair Kathy Born provides some details behind various provisions in the petition which is primarily about facilitating construction of housing on this stretch of Ames Street.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 20, 2013 to discuss a petition by the City Manager to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to define and list Registered Marijuana Dispensary, delete Section 11.700 and create a new Section 20.700 entitled Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts.
The proposed ordinance change is now taking shape, but it's probably a good idea to think of this in conjunction with proposed statewide ballot questions that could potentially legalize marijuana outright. It would be reasonable to speculate that regulations now being developed for dispensaries would become the basis for future regulations for general sale of this drug should any such ballot questions prevail.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 21, 2013 to conduct a public hearing on a zoning petition filed by Christopher H. Lutz, et al requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by rezoning an area on the northern border of Richdale Avenue from Upland Road to Walden Street from its C1-A designation to residential C-1.
There's not much to say about this except to note that the petition arose from a proposed redevelopment of the former Hathaway Bakery on Richdale Ave. for up to 54 units of new housing. Because the petition is opposed by owners of more than 20% of the affected area, it will require 7 votes out of 9 city councillors to pass the petition. As this may be difficult to achieve, it may well be the case that negotiation will be the preferred course of action for those unhappy with the proposed development. - Robert Winters
Lame Duck for Thanksgiving - Nov 25, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
5:00pm Special Presentation - First Annual Cambridge Volunteer Appreciation Day (Sullivan Chamber)
There's not a whole to say about this meeting, but some comments will likely follow late Sunday or on Monday morning. Here are a few items possibly worthy of comment:
Order #3. That the City Council go on record urging Kevin Sheehan, representative of Boston Properties, to meet with representatives of Unite Here Local 26 to address concerns over the size, scope and precedent of mixed-use development by Boston Properties at the site adjacent to the Boston Garden. Councillor Cheung and Vice Mayor Simmons
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development to ensure that the City of Cambridge is aware of transportation and pedestrian improvements being discussed or planned along the Webster Avenue corridor so that any future changes in this area within Cambridge will complement a regional plan. Councillor Toomey
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, for a public meeting held on Oct 16, 2013 to discuss ending homelessness in Cambridge with the Senior Policy Group on Homelessness.
Aftermath - Nov 18, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
The election has passed and the lame duck session commences from now through the end of December. Depending upon how a possible City Council election recount turns out, in addition to the two councillors who did not seek reelection (Davis, Decker), two incumbents will not be returning in January (Reeves, vanBeuzekom). The atmosphere this Monday should be somber at best, but the business of the City continues. Here are a few notable items:
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the zoning requirements that will allow a Registered Marijuana Dispensary as regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to be sited in Cambridge. [proposed text and maps]
Perhaps some people will soon be able to legally score some weed at the Fresh Pond Shopping Center or in NorthPoint.
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Ames Street Disposition Land Report, pursuant to Chapter 2.110 of the Cambridge Municipal Code. [attached letter]
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the Boston Properties Ames Street Zoning Petition.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 21, 2013 on the petition received from Boston Properties to amend the Zoning Ordinances and Zoning Map in the Ames Street area.
This seems pretty straightforward - particularly for those who actually believe in the need for new residential construction in the Kendall Square area.
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a special committee, to be comprised of both City Councillors and of Cambridge residents, to take up the work of holding monthly conversations about the lessons learned from the Malvina Monteiro lawsuit, and about how the City can improve upon its internal handling of race and class matters as an employer, beginning as of the start of the next calendar year. [Charter Right exercised by Vice Mayor Simmons on Order Number Eight of Nov 4, 2013.]
I'll simply reiterate what I said two weeks ago when this was introduced: "In accordance with the City's Plan E Charter, this is a matter properly handled within the Personnel Department with the guidance of appropriate City Council Orders directed through the City Manager. If the next City Council chooses to again take up this matter in one of its standing committees, they are free to do so."
Resolution #9. Congratulations to the 2013 preliminary elected School Committee members and City Councillors. Councillor Decker
Yes indeed, but not everyone his happy about the fact that the City Council will be going from four women to just one woman. Rumor has it that some residents are already looking toward the next municipal election in 2015.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report for Nov 8, 2013 from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, to discuss City Clerk's Office staffing.
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Councillor David P. Maher regarding informal discussions relating to staffing in the City Clerk's Office.
Apparently, in the aftermath of the election this committee wasn't able to muster a quorum - hence the additional communication to report on informal discussions that took place in the absence of a quorum. One of the issues under discussion relates to a point that I brought up at a previous Gov't Operations Committee meeting. The City Charter specifically states that the City Council directly hires just three people - the City Manager, the City Clerk, and the City Auditor. These appointees then chose their staff which includes such important positions as the Deputy City Manager, various Assistant City Managers (department heads), and the Deputy City Clerk. However, it has been the recent practice of the City Council to actually vote on the appointment of the Deputy City Clerk which is not really in agreement with the City Charter. The Gov't Operations committee is now trying to clarify this and other related issues.
Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Vice Mayor E. Denise Simmons transmitting congratulations to everyone who ran for election in the City Council race and notifying her colleagues that she will be unable to attend City Council meetings for a period of three or four weeks due to recovery and recuperation from a medical procedure.
In the hectic atmosphere of a municipal election we sometimes forget that the candidates are human beings. We all wish our good friend Denise Simmons the very best during her recovery and recuperation. - Robert Winters
Counting Down to the Count - Nov 4, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
It's the Eve of The Count - the night before the 2013 Municipal Election, and there's no getting around the fact that there will be some nervous energy flowing through the Sullivan Chamber. Some activists would have preferred to have a controversial issue or two voted at the 11th hour which might sway some voters, but this is not the case. There are, however, a few noteworthy items on what has traditionally been a short agenda on the eve of an election.
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Mr. Owen O'Riordan as Public Works Commissioner effective Nov 1, 2013.
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Mr. Stephen J. Lenkauskas as City Electrician for the City of Cambridge effective Nov 1, 2013.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Ms. Andrea Spears Jackson as the full time License Commission Chair for the City of Cambridge, effective Dec 9, 2013.
The Rossi Administration continues to take shape with a trio of excellent appointments.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a proposed Home Rule Petition which would provide an exception to the residency preference requirement for Cambridge police officer and fire fighter appointments for those high school graduates who were Cambridge residents at the time of graduation from high school.
Though I'm not entirely familiar with the background of this, it seems to be a simple case of fairness.
Resolution #28. Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox on the occasion of becoming Major League Baseball's World Series Champions. Councillor Toomey
We approve of this Resolution unanimously (and the crowd roared its approval).
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to consult with City personnel regarding the enforcement of rules and regulations governing bicycle riding, mandatory white lights on bicycles, and data collection of injuries resulting from cyclist-pedestrian conflicts. Vice Mayor Simmons
Let's make a list of some of the laws we would like to see actually enforced in Cambridge. I completely agree that cyclists must obey the same laws as motorists or pay the consequences, but I would also aggressively fine people who park their cars more than a foot from the curb (very unkind to cyclists) and motorists who "block the box" causing traffic congestion. It's not exactly martial law when police and parking control officers simply enforce existing, sensible laws.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the report of the net direct debt per capita which lists Cambridge as one of ten cities with the highest amount of net direct debt per capita; specifically how this report should be interpreted and what this means for Cambridge, now and in the future. Councillor Cheung
I read something about this the other day. I don't think it's an issue of great concern, but am looking forward to the response.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a special committee, to be comprised of both City Councillors and of Cambridge residents, to take up the work of holding monthly conversations about the lessons learned from the Malvina Monteiro lawsuit, and about how the City can improve upon its internal handling of race and class matters as an employer, beginning as of the start of the next calendar year. Vice Mayor Simmons
The Vice Mayor has been hosting meetings on this topic for some time, and dissenting opinions (like mine) were greeted with flagrant hostility by some of the attendees. In accordance with the City's Plan E Charter, this is a matter properly handled within the Personnel Department with the guidance of appropriate City Council Orders directed through the City Manager. If the next City Council chooses to again take up this matter in one of its standing committees, they are free to do so.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor Henrietta Davis transmitting to the City Council an Open Meeting Law Complaint from Charles Teague together with a proposed City Council response to the Attorney General, prepared by the City Clerk in consultation with the City Solicitor, for the City Council's review and approval. [HTML version of draft response]
The bottom line is simply this: Mr. Teague wants the City Council to be compelled to take the following actions in response to his allegations: 1) admit intentional violation of Open Meeting Law on April 8, 2013 which led to the failure of the "Net Zero Emissions Amendment" (NZEA) to MIT's zoning petition; 2) order correction of Zoning Ordinance by including the NZEA as Davis' first vote was legal, her change of her vote was not legal, and therefore cannot be honored. MIT can simply file another zoning petition to remove the NZEA; and 3) not appoint Councillors Maher & Reeves as chairs of any committees for the next two-year term.
A few observations: Anyone who was at that public meeting witnessed the very public response of the MIT representatives when this 11th hour amendment was introduced. There was nothing secret about it. They simply alerted the City Council that their "memorandum of understanding" (which was the basis upon which the votes of several city councillors depended) would be null and void if the NZEA was approved. In response, Mayor Davis chose to very publicly rescind her vote for that amendment so that the zoning petition would be voted favorably in accordance with the many concessions that had been made during months of negotiation. She took the time to very carefully explain her actions at that time. Some activists did not like the outcome, so they took issue with the procedures. Teague's Remedy #2 is especially comical in that he wants that single amendment to now be made law without regard to the rather obvious fact that the whole zoning petition may have failed had it been included. Simply noting that "MIT can simply file another zoning petition to remove the NZEA" ignores the fact that it would require a 2/3 majority to do so. Teague's Remedy #3 simply proves what an arrogant fool Mr. Teague is (as if this was ever in doubt). - Robert Winters
Another Monday - Oct 21, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
As Election Day draws near, the business of the City continues. Here are a few items of interest:
The City Manager's Agenda features 10 responses to the 34 items on "Awaiting Report". I'm sure the city councillors will do their best to grow the list back again with what are often questionable requests that could be more easily answered in person.
Manager's Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-34, regarding appointing a task force to further examine the Connolly Petition.
It's been entertaining to watch the spin associated with this whole matter. The bottom line is that few people disagree with the concept of encouraging highly energy efficient building construction, and the response from the City Manager reflects this. However, the Connolly Petition was, in fact, a zoning petition that would have mandated that any new development over a modest size not only meet energy efficiency standards (which many new buildings already do), but also that any energy needs that cannot be met on-site instead be purchased from a restricted list of suppliers and/or supplemented by the purchase of renewable energy credits (RECs). The petition also specifically mandated that this should apply to every tenant in the new buildings. [Note - I have repeatedly suggested that this goes well beyond what can be legally mandated via zoning.]
On the substance of the Connolly Petition, the majority of the City Council disagreed with the petition as drafted. This has been made clear in responses in candidate forums and in statements in the Cambridge Chronicle. Most challengers in this year's election have also made clear that they could not support the petition as drafted. The Mayor and City Manager convened a forum of experts a few weeks ago at the Cambridge Public Library and these experts generally disagreed with the substance of the Connolly Petition. The establishment of this task force can only be viewed as a way to craft an alternative that could actually be supported - and not in any way as what Mr. Connolly is now calling "a huge win for the hundreds of residents who signed on to our online petition." This is delusional at best.
My sense is that this task force will likely focus not only on new construction (which, let's face it, is what many of the petitioners wanted to block), but on developing policies and programs applicable to all Cambridge buildings. If this can "re-energize" some of the initial efforts of the Cambridge Energy Alliance and tap into grant money to help homeowners and other property owners to make their buildings more energy efficient, then this will be an outcome we can all support. The Connolly Petition was a lemon, but the City administration will make some lemonade.
Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been filed by Christopher H. Lutz, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Map of the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by rezoning an area on the northern border of Richdale Avenue from Upland Road to Walden Street from its C1-A designation to residential C-1.
Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been filed by John Chun, et al. requesting the City Council amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge in the entire district currently zoned Residence B located in the Cambridge Highlands neighborhood, situated north of Concord Avenue, south of and adjacent to the Blair Pond Reservation, and east of and adjacent to the municipal boundary with the Town of Belmont by deleting the designation Residence B and substituting therefore a designation of Residence A-2.
Order #5. That the City Council go on record re-filing a petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance in Section 17.20 to increase the setback requirement abutting Linear Park and to clarify form and density language with the residential neighborhood. Councillor Maher
That's three more zoning petitions in the queue.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel, City partners, and the Governor's Office to develop a contingency plan to ensure that Cambridge residents who see part or all of their rent subsidized by federal funding will not see their housing jeopardized in the event of a future shutdown of the federal government. Vice Mayor Simmons
Even though the shutdown of the federal government is over for the moment, this Order illustrates the dilemma that state and local officials face if and when we go through this again. Cambridge has long been supportive of public housing options within Cambridge, but much of this housing is funded by sources outside of Cambridge. If the flow of money is restricted, it cannot be easily replaced by local revenue sources. Vice Mayor Simmons' order is specifically about the Section 8 program (rental vouchers), but the hard reality is that federal policies and Congressional dysfunction can quickly disrupt local housing options. The Order calls for a contingency plan, but the local options for response are limited.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Chair of the University Relations Committee, for a public meeting held on Dec 7, 2012 to tour Harvard University.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Chair of the University Relations Committee, for a public meeting held on Mar 5, 2013 to tour Lesley University.
Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Chair of the University Relations Committee, for a public meeting held on Apr 5, 2013 toured the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
I note these more for amusement than anything else. For a long time now I have noted on the City Council Committees page regarding the University Relations Committee: "No reports have been filed by this committee. Until such time as reports are filed, it will be assumed that this committee has not actually met." The committee has apparently met 8 times dating back 18 months (Apr 2012), but these are the first reports being filed. Perhaps we'll see the other five reports on the eve of Election Day. - Robert Winters
OctoberFest - Oct 7, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Notes
Here are a few items of interest.:
City Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a request from Leggat McCall Properties that the City of Cambridge consider the disposition by a long-term lease to Leggat McCall of four-hundred twenty (420) parking spaces and a portion of the ground floor retail space at the City-owned First Street Garage.
There are a number of good reasons to do this as outlined in the City Manager's letter, but the devil is in the details and the City should not settle for just the promise of a grocery store and a better retail environment.
Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the proposed zoning petition regarding Medical Marijuana Regulations. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on City Manager Agenda Number Nine of Sept 30, 2013.]
It's pretty clear that these dispensaries will have to go somewhere and the proposed districts in NorthPoint and in the area of the Fresh Pond Shopping Center may be the best available option.
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to review the permitting process and any zoning and building code barriers to greater adoption of solar energy. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Decker on Order Number Fifteen of Sept 30, 2013.]
It's hard to understand why Councillor Decker felt the need to delay this Order other than to continue her pointless sniping of her less favored colleagues. As I said last week, this Order is the kind of energy efficiency initiative that actually makes sense in that it addresses what all property owners could potentially choose to do to conserve energy and save money and makes so much more sense than mandating "net zero" buildings.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Director of the Information Technology Department and with any other relevant City staff and City partners to determine the feasibility of bringing free wireless internet access to Central Square, and to report back to the City Council on what must be done in order to make this a reality within the next year. Vice Mayor Simmons
This is a good idea - even if it means having to suffer even more hipsters playing with their apps on their razor-thin Macbooks and other devices. My personal choice would be to create several designated areas for hot dog stands.
Order #4. That the City Council go on record strongly urging the Cambridge Housing Authority to reopen the public decision about the smoking ban that is scheduled to go into effect on Aug 1, 2014, in order to allow for a more robust discussion and greater collaboration with all of those will be directly impacted by this policy change. Vice Mayor Simmons
You just gotta love the exceptionalism. We go through a huge battle to make bars and restaurants more healthy and pleasant by driving out the smokers, yet when the same standard is applied to public housing there's outrage. I would never allow smoking inside my building, and I don't think the City or the Cambridge Housing Authority should permit it either. What kind of "collaboration" does Councillor Simmons have in mind?
Order #6. That the Mayor is requested to form a new standing committee of the City Council -- a Non-profit Relations Committee. Councillor vanBeuzekom
I have two objections to this proposal. First, the University Relations Committee is a relatively recent invention and it has never had a particularly heavy burden. If anything, incorporate this new focus into a modified "University and Nonprofit Relations Committee". My second objection the reference in the Order to any future Community Benefits Process. This could so easily become the committee assignment of choice due to the potential patronage benefits associated this any such process.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council the Assessing Department's findings regarding the feasibility of granting small commercial properties a modest exemption on their real estate property taxes. Councillor vanBeuzekom
This law states: "With respect to each parcel of real property classified as class three, commercial, in each city or town certified by the commissioner to be assessing all property at its full and fair cash valuation, and at the option of the board of selectmen or mayor, with the approval of the city council, as the case may be, there shall be an exemption equal to not more than ten percent of the value of the parcel." This is an interesting idea in that it would potentially provide a small benefit to small businesses at the expense of larger businesses. I look forward to what the Assessor has to say about this idea.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to provide the City Council with a report on how the city planning team supports and encourages safe bicycle lane travel citywide Councillor vanBeuzekom
My only concern about this Order is that it's almost exclusively about the blocking of bike lanes and, though cyclists may resent seeing vehicles stopped in those lanes, this is not an especially great hazard. As a daily cyclist, I'm far more concerned about problematic road surfaces and the idiocy exhibited by both cyclists and motor vehicle operators at intersections. If we are to take action against illegal parking, start by going after any driver who fails to park within a foot of the curb.
Order #10. That the City Manager, the Police Commissioner and their designees shall not activate or cause to be activated any security cameras, surveillance cameras, or any other video or audio recording, watching or listening devices or implement any policy relating to such cameras unless in either case there shall be held a prior affirmative vote of the majority of the City Council specifically authorizing the contemplated activation or implementation. Councillor Decker
I would like to see the authorization of a reasonable number of such cameras put to a vote of the City Council just so we can see which councillors are opposed to what most law enforcement officials see as a reasonable and very helpful tool for finding and prosecuting criminals. It would be especially nice if this could take place prior to November 5th so that I can further narrow the number of choices on my municipal ballot.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Chair of the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee and Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Chair of the Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations Committee for a joint public meeting held on Aug 5, 2013 to discuss the future of the Foundry Building.
In spite of the previous report on this property and the recommendation to sell it, there is no way this will politically happen. What will be interesting is to see if there is any creative way to deliver some of the benefits people seem to want without having this be a huge, permanent financial burden on the taxpayers. - Robert Winters
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)
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
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
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
One Ring to rule them all,
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.