Cambridge City Council Notes  

updated Saturday, July 1, 2017 7:40 PM

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Not much to say here - just interesting information.

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

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

Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an amendment to the City’s previous submission of a Home Rule Petition to the Legislature whereby I requested authorization to include in the planned reconstruction (the “Project”) of the King Open / Cambridge Street Upper School and Community Complex (“KOCSUS”) the area that is presently occupied by the public swimming pool known as the Gold Star Pool (the “Pool Site”) and to construct subsurface geothermal wells in a portion of Donnelly Field that lies directly along and adjacent to the current southerly boundary of the KOCSUS site.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 7, 2017 to have a general discussion to receive an update on the planning that has been going on for the Volpe Project. [appended materials]

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on May 30, 2017 to discuss the role of police officers in the community, the installation of a police substation in Central Square and the stationing of a uniformed police officer in City Hall.

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

Comments?

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

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

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

Vail Court - 2013
Vail Court in 2013

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

The gift that keeps on giving. </sarcasm>

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

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


Community Benefits $$

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

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

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

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


A Bonanza of Planning Board Reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 31, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance to create a new chapter 4.60 to regulate short-term rentals (STR).

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

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

Committee Report #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 24, 2017 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Latoyea Hawkins Cockrill, et al. to regulate short-term rental uses throughout the City.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on May 22, 2017 to discuss the creation of a section in the agenda entitled “General Council Discussion;” and dedications to identify a suitable location site to honor the commitment to the City made by City Councillor and State Representative Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. and to identify an appropriate building to dedicate to Richard C. Rossi’s decades of service to Cambridge.

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

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 23, 2017 to discuss a proposed Municipal Code amendment to Title 8 entitled “Health and Safety” by adding a new Chapter 8.69 entitled “Running Bamboo Ordinance.”

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

Comments?

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

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

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

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

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


The FY2018 Budget
Unfinished Business #7-10 relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow (7) $20,000,000 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Alewife Watershed, Cambridgeport neighborhood, and the Port neighborhood; (8) $4,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks; (9) $2,000,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including roof repairs at the Fletcher Maynard Academy, and a new boiler at an elementary school; and (10) $5,000,000 to provide funds for the Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearings held on May 2, 2017, May 10, 2017 and May 9, 2017 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the General Fund Budget in the amount of $568,246,680.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 10, 2017 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the Water fund Budget in the amount of $13,973,850.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 10, 2017 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the Public Investment Budget in the amount of $19,912,815.

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


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

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

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

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

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

Comments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 19, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge by creating a new Section 11.900 Maintenance and Security of Vacant or Abandoned Buildings. The proposed zoning would require that any building that is deemed to be vacant or abandoned for longer than 90 days shall be registered with the Inspectional Services Department, shall be secured and maintained so that it does not exhibit any evidence of vacancy, and shall pay an annual registration fee.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Comments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments?

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

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

The Budget

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

Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow $20,000,000 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Alewife Watershed, Cambridgeport neighborhood, and the Port neighborhood.

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

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

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

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


Appointments

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Zoning Stuff

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

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

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 6, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinances in Article 20.50 entitled “Harvard Square Overlay and Harvard Square Historic District” by adding a new Section 20.54.7 Exempting rooftop spaces from FAR.

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


Airbnb and related stuff

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

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

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

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 4, 2017 to conduct a general discussion on short-term rental uses throughout the City.

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


Brief snippets of wisdom

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Minimal substance, but sure to draw comments

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

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

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


Obscure but curiously interesting

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

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


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

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

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

Comments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 29, 2017 to discuss a proposed Zoning Ordinance amendment to strikeout Section 8.23 entitled “Non-conformity” and substitute in place thereof a new Section 8.23.

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

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

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

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

Update: These amendments were referred to the Ordinance Committee.

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

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

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

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

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

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 15, 2017 to discuss next steps on bike and transit safety in Cambridge.

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

Comments?

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

City Council Rules 2016-2017 (adopted Feb 29, 20160

City Council Rules 2014-2015 (adopted January 7, 2014, amended Feb 10, 2014 to reflect current Council committees)

City Council Goals - FY2012-2013 (adopted Dec 13, 2011)

City Council Committees (for the current 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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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