Cambridge City Council Notes  

updated Monday, December 5, 2016 1:18 AM

Dec 3 fireAny business before the City Council this week pales in comparison to the devastation caused by the 10-alarm Berkshire St. fire on Saturday in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood. In the midst of it all it was great to see Cantabrigians pulling together to help residents directly impacted by the conflagration. This is a neighborhood where people identify buildings by the names of the families who inhabit them - some for generations.

On the meeting agenda, here are some items of interest:

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with suggested changes to Cambridge’s policy regarding advertising revenue that could help support the continuation and expansion of Hubway in the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

The economic sustainability of Hubway may require additional advertising revenue or increased user fees (currently $20/month or $85/year). Or you could just buy a bike and a good lock.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to make the appropriate staff available to assist the Mayor’s Office in facilitating a community conversation about the roles and intersection of race, class, gender, and culture in Cambridge within the first quarter of 2017.   Mayor Simmons

Mayor Simmons has organized such events in the past and does a pretty good job at it.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 16, 2016 to discuss gradually increasing the parking permit fee and to consider other improvements to the program to help fund the City’s budget towards reducing vehicle miles traveled and to promote alternative forms of transportation.

This was the meeting where some city councillors (Mazen, Devereux) argued in favor of dramatic increases in the Resident Permit Parking fee. Basically, they would like to jack it up as high as they can politically get away with. Councillor Devereux wants to jack the fees up as a way of disincentivising automobile ownership - at least for those with lower incomes. She also noted that Uber does not have enough curb space to pull over and that this could be relieved by driving out resident parking from major streets. In a Twitter post recently she also expressed her desire to double Cambridge parking meter rates like Boston is planning to do in the Seaport District. Gee, thanks.

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 Oct 27, 2016 to discuss a zoning petition by the City Council to amend four sections in Article 19.000 of the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge.

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 Oct 27, 2016 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Title 15 entitled “Buildings and Construction” by adding a new Chapter 15.22 entitled “Outdoor Lighting.”

Rather than get into the details of all this, I will simply note that it is so classically Cambridge that a proposal that was originally intended to limit light trespass into bedroom windows has now morphed into a showdown on the aesthetics of building signage and architectural lighting. It almost makes me yearn for the days of "spectacular lighting" such as the one adorning the Shell gas station on Memorial Drive or, even more spectacularly, the much-beloved Citgo sign overseeing the good fortunes of the Red Sox. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Navigating the Post-Apocalypse in the Peoples Republic - Nov 21, 2016 Cambridge City Council Preview

Peoples RepublicWhile the Orange Emperor prepares to assume the throne, Cambridge responds with symbolic acts of virtual warfare. I expect that the next two months will be dominated by discussions of Sanctuary Cities and declarations of our municipal virtue.

Here are the City Council agenda items that seem most noteworthy:

Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an update on the drought conditions.

The drought persists, but things appear to be less dire than they seemed a month ago. The reservoirs are slowing gaining water and we have been able to use Cambridge water to some degree, so the cost of purchasing MWRA water is less than was projected.

Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to various projects and initiatives related to the City’s Bicycle Safety Work Plan.

City staff seem to be approaching this more thoughtfully than the "my way or the highway" approach suggested in recent City Council orders. For example, there is a substantial analysis of the pros and cons of completely revising the good plans already developed for Huron Avenue. Based on that analysis and the impacts associated with making major changes to the design at this point in construction, City staff does not plan to modify the layout of Huron Avenue.

There definitely are some modifications to street configuration and on-street parking that can be made for greater bicycle safety, but this is best done in conjunction with a thoughtful process involving all stakeholders - and not with the banging of drums. It is worth noting that at a recent City Council committee meeting on a possible increase in the cost of a resident parking permit, one councillor clearly stated that she hoped that by jacking the sticker price up sufficiently high it would lead to enough people giving up their vehicles so that parking could be eliminated from most or all of Broadway, Cambridge Street, Hampshire Street and Massachusetts Avenue. She especially liked that Uber vehicles would more easily be able to pick up passengers on these streets. Public process may be time-consuming, but it's far preferable to a dictatorial City Council.

Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the zoning amendments with recommended changes to the Inclusionary Housing Provisions.

Presumably, the zoning amendment process will now commence with referral to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee. It will be interesting to see if the shifting economic forecasts associated with changes in Washington, D.C. will affect the view of how viable the proposed 20% Inclusionary Zoning percentage might be.

Charter Right #1. The City Manager confer with the City Solicitor on the possibility of allowing non-citizen Cambridge residents to vote in municipal elections without a home-rule petition. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Cheung on Nov 7, 2016.]

Perhaps the juxtaposition of this with the Sanctuary City discussion may give this a boost, but I still think that individual cities and towns should not be setting their own policies in matters such as this. For a hundred years the standard has been that Citizenship = "Right to Vote", and a lot of us agree with that definition. I will again add that just about everyone is a citizen of some country and they likely still retain those voting rights even if they currently reside in Cambridge.

Order #3. That all Awaiting Report items on the Awaiting Report List on Nov 7, 2016 be placed on file.   Councillor Cheung

Perhaps most of the slate should be wiped clean, but maybe councillors should be afforded the privilege of selecting a few or the more substantial requests for retention on the list. While they're at it, we could also use a little Fall Cleaning of some of the items that are On the Table collecting dust and going nowhere. The City Clerk will, I'm sure, appreciate the gesture.


Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to commit to funding any and all programs that may be in jeopardy should the federal funds affect the viability of these programs.   Councillor Cheung, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Kelley

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to forward a letter to Cambridge organizations and City Departments regarding the status of our Sanctuary/Trust Act City and what this means for working non-citizens and the resources available.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen
[References1985 Sanctuary City resolution    2006 Sanctuary City resolution    Joint Statement by City Manager & Mayor Simmons]

Order #8. Nov 28th Roundtable/Working Meeting be changed to discuss Cambridge remaining a Sanctuary City.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

As an exercise, let's separate out the substance of these Sanctuary City resolutions from all the other statements of conditions, causes, and virtue.

The essential clauses of the 1985 resolution are:
"The City Council wishes to clarify its desire not to expend City resources, beyond the requirements of federal law, in voluntarily assisting or cooperating with investigations of alleged violations of immigration law by Salvadorean, Guatemalan or Haitian refugees, or in gathering or disseminating information on the citizenship status of those residing in the City of Cambridge"; and
"RESOLVED: That the City of Cambridge not participate in any form in the compounding of injustice against refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti or in the federal government's persecution of those, who in good faith, offer humanitarian assistance to the refugees"; and
"ORDERED: That the City Council declares it to be the policy of the City of Cambridge that, to the extent legally possible, no department or employee of the City of Cambridge will violate established or future sanctuaries by officially assisting or voluntarily cooperating with investigations or arrest procedures, public or clandestine, relating to alleged violations of immigration law by refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala or Haiti, or by those offering sanctuary"; and
"ORDERED: That no city employee or department, to the extent legally possible, will request information about or otherwise assist in the investigation of the citizenship status of any City resident, will disseminate information regarding the citizenship of a City resident, or condition the provision of City of Cambridge services or benefits on matters related to citizenship."

The 2006 resolution actually added little other than statements about how the Cambridge City Council at that time disagreed with a bill then working its way through the U.S. Congress.

Those were some pretty substantial statements in 1985, but they really aren't all that severe. In a nutshell, they basically say that the City of Cambridge won't carry out the work of the federal government in carrying out a policy with which the City of Cambridge has great disagreement. The federal government doesn't round up people who have failed to pay parking tickets while in the City of Cambridge, so this is, in some respects, just a statement that we'll do our jobs and the federal government can do their jobs.

What is insidious about the current situation is the threat of federal funds being withheld to any city choosing to not do the job of federal authorities. That's almost like saying that we're going to withhold your paycheck until you do your boss's job in addition to your own. Cambridge residents pay federal taxes (sorry, you can't claim the Peoples Republic of Cambridge as a sovereign state), so federal funding is really just a mechanism through which we get back some of our own money. What is most offensive is the manner in which the federal government attempts to micromanage local communities via the threat of withholding federal funds that they have extracted from residents of those same communities via taxation. This practice has been growing for years and is not particular to the latest dispute over Sanctuary Cities. Even President Obama threatened to withhold educational funds based on failure to reconfigure bathrooms, and there are plenty of other examples of federal authorities using taxation as a means of dictating policy.

So, the question I have is simply this: What aspects of Cambridge's Sanctuary City resolutions are actually in violation of federal law? Indeed, the last statement of the 1985 resolution states quite clearly that "the provisions of this Resolution shall be severable, and if any phrase, clause, sentence or provision of this Resolution is declared by a court of component jurisdiction to be contrary to the Constitution of the United States or of the Commonwealth or the applicability thereof to any agency, person or circumstances is held invalid, the validity of the remainder of this Resolution and the applicability thereof to any other agency, person or circumstances shall not be affected thereby."


Order #7. That the City Council go on record requesting that the Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee hold a hearing or hearings on the attached proposed surveillance ordinance, and that representatives of the ACLU be invited to this hearing or hearings to discuss the necessity of such an ordinance.   Mayor Simmons

I'm not exactly sure who wrote the text of this proposed surveillance ordinance, but I'm pretty sure he wears a tin foil hat.


On the Table #7. The City Manager coordinate with the Finance Department, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and community stakeholders to outline a proposed system of governance, management, and stakeholder engagement for the Foundry, to be discussed in a public forum with the Council and community. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Oct 31, 2016.]

Committee Report #2. 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 Oct 6, 2016 to discuss the redevelopment of the Foundry Building.

The more I hear about this the better I feel about how the City and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority came to this point. It seems as though every piece of real estate for which the City Council has some control has become a political football in a game in which All Great Things ride on the outcome. The Foundry is, at the end of the day, just another building. The City has lots of buildings serving community purposes, including multiple Youth Centers and all of the Community Schools programs. While everybody stamps their feet about The Foundry, where is the fervor about all of these other City programs and facilities? Perhaps the best thing would be to start viewing The Foundry as just another asset in an enlarged inventory of facilities. Maybe then we could start thinking less selfishly and more holistically. When was the last time the City Council and the School Committee looked at the bigger picture and asked if we're making the most of all of the City's assets?

Comments?

On the Eve of Celebration or Disaster - Nov 7, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda highlights

Question?With the Presidential election looming, it feels almost like the early 1960s when many people believed that nuclear annihilation was a real possibility. In contrast, the kerfuffles and excesses of the little fish in our City Council pond seem almost quaint. Here are a few items to distract you from the national picture:

Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, requesting the City Council accept Chapter 218 of the Acts of 2016, “An Act Modernizing Municipal Finance and Government”, Sections 193 and 194 giving municipalities the authority to reduce speed limits on all ways other than state highways.

You may recall that not long ago the City Council hastily voted to reduce the speed limit to 20mph citywide. This led to a thoughtful response from the Dept. of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation recommending a citywide limit of 25mph with a lower speed limit for legitimate "safety zones" (as was the intent of the state enabling legislation). The City Council was also alerted at that time to the fact that any change had to wait until the new state law went into effect before adopting its provisions. That time has now arrived and we'll shortly be seeing a 25mph limit in Boston, Somerville, Cambridge, and likely other places.

Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to Council Order No. 15, dated Oct 31, 2016, regarding a Request for Proposal for consultant services related to the visioning, programming, governance, and re-purposing of the Harvard Square Kiosk as well as creating a Harvard Square Kiosk Working Group.

Charter Right #1. The City Manager coordinate with the Finance Department, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and community stakeholders to outline a proposed system of governance, management, and stakeholder engagement for the Foundry, to be discussed in a public forum with the Council and community. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Oct 31, 2016.]

Both of these agenda items concern efforts by the City Council to intervene in processes that have been long underway and thoughtfully planned and implemented. Residents, including councillors, can raise questions and make recommendations about the outcomes of these process, but intervening in contracts is probably not the best way to proceed. In the case of the Harvard Square Kiosk and the surrounding plaza, the City is simply hiring a firm to create a vision for the programming, operation and governance of the kiosk and plaza. That consultant will be working with City staff and a working group of stakeholders on this task. The City has agreed to allow more time for public input on its Request for Proposals and to possibly generate additional respondents.

In the Foundry matter, the City Council voted to allow the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority to shepherd the process leading to the selection of bidder who promises to achieve both the programmatic and financial goals specified by both the City Council and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority. Now some city councillors want to go back to the drawing board and change the goals in such a way that the City's costs to operate this "gift" from Alexandria Real Estate will be substantially increased.

Order #2. That the City Council urge the City Manager to establish a deadline of Nov 1, 2017 for fully implementing the various street improvements and safety measures for increasing bicycle safety that were passed during the Oct 17, 2016 meeting.   Mayor Simmons

I hope that the interpretation of this Order is that whatever street improvements and safety measures are implemented are those that result from a thoughtful public process rather than in response to a blitzkrieg of pre-cooked solutions from activists.

Order #3. The City Manager confer with the City Solicitor on the possibility of allowing non-citizen Cambridge residents to vote in municipal elections without a home-rule petition.   Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

Every few years there's some kind of movement to allow non-citizens to vote in Cambridge municipal elections. This Order makes statements like "non-citizens ... are presently barred from formally voicing their opinions" that are clearly misleading. The Order also fails to note that any non-citizen living in Cambridge is a citizen of some country and generally is able to vote in those elections. Home rule petitions from Cambridge and elsewhere have been filed before and have not been approved. I certainly hope this is not approved either, but the Order also apparently seeks some kind of legal loophole that would allow non-citizen voting without any state approval. I seriously doubt if that is possible. In matters like voting it's best to have uniformity across all cities and towns in Massachusetts in terms of eligibility to vote in all elections.

Order #4. That the City Manager request permission from the DCR to continue Sunday closings on Memorial Drive year-round, starting in early 2017, and to work with the Cambridge Police, Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and Public Works Departments and any other staff to implement this plan, and to report back to the Council as soon as possible on the feasibility and schedule.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

I would rather see this expressed as a request to extend the season for this road closure rather than a year-round Sunday closure. There are consequences to these road closures, including increased traffic on other streets, and the costs should be weighed against the benefits (as well as the actual demand).

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report on behalf of Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 2, 2016 to discuss bicycle safety in Cambridge.

In reading this report I was glad to see that some City staff were taking a more thoughtful and measured approach than some city councillors. There is a lot of room for discussion and alternatives than just the blitzkrieg of orders introduced at the Oct 17 City Council meeting. I also hope that our elected officials can be educated about the difference between actual safety measures and politically expedient actions that don't address the acual causes of cycling fatalities and injuries.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Councillor David P. Maher, transmitting the Proposed Employment Agreement between the City of Cambridge and Louis A. DePasquale.

It appears that Louis DePasquale's first day of work in his new role as City Manager will be Monday, Nov 14, 2016 and his contract will extend through Jan 8, 2021.

Comments?

Happy Halloween!The ghosts and goblins will descend on City Hall this Monday. Here are a few agenda items of possible interest:

Sundry communications advocating for the segregation of two-wheeled vehicles from other vehicles.

Order #10. That the City Council acknowledges that said residents and other users desire the City to immediately enact safety improvements to bicycle infrastructure, starting with separated bike lanes on all major city thoroughfares.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux

I have been bicycling in Cambridge for over 35 years without incident, so I continue to be surprised by statements that Cambridge roads are some kind of death trap. It's simply not true. Is cycling in Cambridge absolutely safe? Of course not - nor is driving or navigating the streets as a pedestrian.

Most of us can easily identify particular intersections that really are fundamentally unsafe and have been for a long time. Chief on my list would be the Porter Square intersection, Inman Square, River Street coming from the river toward Central Square, much of the McGrath/O'Brien Highway, and the rotary at the BU Bridge. If I gave it some more thought, I'm sure I could come up with more.

I very much appreciate all input from all sources who have good concepts for how a difficult intersection like Porter Square could be made better. Some of those ideas may even be counter-intuitive, e.g. removing all the signals and other devices and forcing everyone to pass through with extreme caution. Even if you think that's crazy, it's still worthy of consideration - though it would definitely not be my chosen remedy. [Reference: woonerf, shared street]

What I really resent in some of the proposals introduced at the Cambridge City Council is their primary focus on "protected bike lanes" without any discussion of the many potential down sides of that proposal. They certainly don't address the actual problem – dangerous intersections. Side paths make a lot of sense in places where there is a significant differential in speeds between motor vehicles and cyclists, e.g. along Memorial Drive. They also make a lot of sense along a twisting road where a faster moving vehicle might come up on a cyclist on a curve, especially if there is little or no shoulder. I don't think they make a lot of sense on straight roads with moderate speeds.

Here are a few examples of what will likely happen if cyclists are channelled into a corridor between parked cars and the curb:

(a) Cyclists of varying speeds will have difficulty sorting themselves out since passing will be more difficult.

(b) Motor vehicles entering a road at an unsignalized intersection will have to block this "protected lane" just to be able to see the traffic before entering the intersection. Most pedestrians are already familiar with this and often have to decide between crossing in front of the car or behind the car. This will be much more problematic for bicycles moving at speeds greatly in excess of a pedestrian.

(c) Picking up and dropping off kids at the local school will become an adventure with significantly narrowed travel lanes and bicycles moving past on the passenger side. We have two Montessori schools on my block, a Cambridge public school across the street, and soon a day care center. Add the coffee shop to that and you have a disaster waiting to happen. Bicycle altercations along my street are few, if any. As I mentioned above, the primary danger is at difficult intersections with turning traffic.

(d) With significantly narrowed travel lanes, traffic congestion will soar in spite of any prophecies to the contrary. Locations where there is now room to maneuver around a turning vehicle will come to a standstill. I understand that this is what many of the "Complete Streets" advocates want to happen, but I really do hope there is at least some effort made to hear what others have to say.

(e) Pedestrians crossing a street will now be essentially crossing three streets and will have to take great caution - much more than they must now do.

(f) Faster moving cyclists will continue to use the regular travel lanes. Their speeds are not all that different than motor vehicles on many Cambridge streets, especially if there's even moderate compliance with the lower speed limits that are proposed citywide. For these cyclists, there will be far less wiggle room for passing and they will often have little choice but to "take the lane".

(g) Based on all the conflicts that are introduced it is more than likely that advocates will conclude that the only way to make things work is to remove the parking altogether. I see this as almost inevitable. Some will rejoice at this, but many others will not. As has been pointed out very eloquently on this list, people do get older and their mobility may be reduced for this and other reasons. You cannot simply wish away the need for some (many) people to have access to a motor vehicle and to be able to park it at least somewhere near where they live. In my neighborhood many of the streets are almost fully parked much of the time.

(h) Snow events will bring everything to a standstill. In particular, the ideal practice of plowing streets most of the way to the curb will be far more difficult when streets are divided into multiple sections. As we all know, sometimes the only practical option is to not plow all the way to the curb since there's need for that additional storage. What happens then? My guess is that winter cyclists will simply ride in the regular travel lanes which will now be far narrower than they are now.

If the City is absolutely set on trying out this idea, they should start with one road as a pilot and see what problems do or do not develop and evaluate the results honestly. I think it's very important that any such evaluation be done by an objective party.

There were two important matters embedded in the torrent of City Council orders introduced two weeks ago - (1) addressing problematic intersections (like Porter Square); and (2) addressing the fundamental incompatibility between vulnerable users (including pedestrians and cyclists) and very large trucks with limited visibility.

I also feel that much more attention needs to be spent on identifying quieter alternatives for cyclists. In Medford, one of the most significant recommendations in their Bicycle Infrastructure Master Plan is the conversion of some streets to "bicycle boulevards" where cyclists are given very explicit priority without being segregated. That would be a good thing to do for a number of Cambridge streets.

PS - I have neither the time nor the inclination to write petitions or gather signatures on this topic. It's easy to get signatures when you tell people that your way is the only way to achieve "safe streets". I believe that a lot more discussion needs to take place on this topic - and not in a hypercharged political atmosphere.

Order #2. That the Public Safety Committee hold a public hearing to hear about the various uses of drones in Cambridge and any concerns residents may have about them, with the goal of recommending guidelines for a municipal ordinance that would protect the public safety and the privacy of residents.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Kelley

Order #12. That the City Manager is request to confer with the City of Boston to include Cambridge in the autonomous vehicle initiative as a partner.   Councillor Mazen

It's entertaining to see the juxtaposition of orders expressing concern for public safety from unmanned drones while eagerly embracing unmanned motor vehicles.

Order #5. That the City Council go on record in support of asking the Cambridge Historical Commission to initiate a landmark designation study process on the Harvard Square kiosk.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

The entire area is already landmarked, and nobody is even considering doing anything to the Kiosk other than restoring it to a state much closer to what it was when first built. That said, if double-landmarking gives you thrills, knock yourself out.

Order #8. The City Manager coordinate with the Finance Department, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and community stakeholders to outline a proposed system of governance, management, and stakeholder engagement, to be discussed in a public forum with the Council and community.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

Translation - Throw the baby out with the bathwater. The City Council voted on a process with their eyes wide open, but apparently some city councillors would prefer to maintain a heavy hand on all aspects of the management of this City asset.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 28, 2016 to discuss the ongoing drought and the impact on the Cambridge water supply, what restrictions on water use may be appropriate to consider and what public outreach is needed on water conservation measures.

Anything that helps educate residents about basic City infrastructure, especially something like drinking water and fire protection, is welcome. It continues to amaze me how many people, including civic activists and even city councillors, don't understand some of the most basic things that we all take for granted every day.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 29, 2016 to discuss different models for campaign finance reform and publicly-funded municipal elections in Cambridge, and will focus on receiving feedback from the community.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 25, 2016 to discuss improving voter turnout for the municipal elections in Cambridge through voter reward options and will focus on receiving feedback from the community.

I gave testimony at both of these hearings. The "voter reward" idea is an absolute nonstarter. Campaign finance is a topic worthy of a lot of discussion, but most of what was presented at the hearing on that topic was at best underwhelming and misdirected.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, informing the City Council they may go into Executive Session on Monday to discuss on-going contract negotiations with the prospective City Manager.

I hope this gets settled at this meeting and that a contract is signed either this Monday or next.

Comments?

The dominant items this week are a flurry of environment-related communications from Acting City Manager Lisa Peterson and a torrent of bicycle-related City Council orders. There is also the anticipated filing of the "Central Square Restoration Petition." Here are some of the more interesting items:

Cambridge water
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $3,600,000 from the Water Fund Retained Earnings account to the Water Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance account to fund the purchase of water from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) for approximately three months.

One again we see the wisdom of the Cambridge Water Board in establishing years ago this backup plan for emergencies and prolonged droughts. Hopefully we'll be able to get back on Cambridge water (from Lexington, Lincoln, Weston, and Waltham) before too long.


Early Voting
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $93,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Election Other Ordinary Maintenance account to pay for costs associated with early voting for the State/Presidential election.

Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the transfer of $33,500 from the General Fund Employee Benefits (salary adjustment) Salary and Wages account to the General Fund Election Salary and Wages account to pay for wages associated with early voting for the State/Presidential election.

As you can see, Early Voting isn't cheap. It will be interesting to see what the actual utilization is by location, day, and time of day so that Early Voting can be done most efficiently in future state and federal elections.


Environment/Energy/Climate
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $120,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account to execute a Zero Waste Plan for the City.

Perhaps the most interesting sentence in the report is this: "The first phase of this plan is to ready the City for the expansion Citywide of the curb-side organics collection program. It is presently expected that such will occur in the fall of 2017."

Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $190,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance account to complete a Low Carbon Energy Supply Study.

Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $47,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance account to complete a community-wide Greenhouse gas inventory.

Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $38,300 from Free Cash to the General Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance account which will be used to procure consultant services to augment Cambridge’s core environmental goals.

I'm not sure why all of these appropriations appear on this agenda this week. It seems to not be a coincidence.


Zoning Petitions
Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board not to adopt the Urban Agriculture Zoning Petition to allow for the completion of the work of the Urban Agriculture Task Force.

Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the William Noyes Webster Foundation, Inc, Zoning Petition (expansion of Medical Marijuana Overlay District 1 in Alewife).

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 Sept 22, 2016 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Jane W. Heatley, President of the William Noyes Webster Foundation, Inc. to amend Section 20.700, Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts by extending the district.

In regard to this and other marijuana-related zoning petitions, they may all be eventually eclipsed by (a) a citywide change in the use tables in most business zones and (b) the outcome of Question 4 on Election Day that may legalize/regulate recreational marijuana. In spite of a variety of statements saying that there is no relation between medicinal marijuana legalization/regulation and recreational marijuana legalization/regulation, this seems nearly certain to be only a temporary state of affairs.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 5, 2016 to discuss the refiled petition to amend the Zoning Map in the Riverside Neighborhood from the existing Residence C-1 to Residence C within the area bounded by Franklin Street, River Street and Putnam Avenue.

It was interesting to read articles in the Boston Globe and elsewhere taking a very dim view of this zoning petition as thwarting the creation of affordable housing in the name of "neighborhood preservation". I suspect the truth is a little more nuanced, e.g. the desire to slow or stop infill/backyard development. It's not at all clear that any of that kind of development is leading to much or any "affordable" housing.

Applications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been received entitled "Central Square Restoration Petition," to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance in Article 2.000 ("Definitions") and Article 20.300 ("Central Square Overlay District") signed by area residents.

Though some may try to characterize this petition (whose lead signers are members of the Sater family who own and operate The Middle East) as some kind of upzoning of Central Square, I'd have to say that the name "Central Square Restoration Petition" characterizes it much better. Central Square used to be a major shopping destination and civic center for the greater Cambridgeport area (before the somewhat arbitrary re-designation of neighborhood names). It's in recovery, but it could be so much better than it is now. This petition cobbles together some of the better (and less controversial) ideas from the C2 Committee a few years back plus some other forward-looking features. The review before the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee should provide great opportunities for people of good will to "envision" Central Square in a manner that actually leads somewhere other than a dusty shelf along with decades of planning studies.


City Manager Search Process
Manager's Agenda #20. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $25,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund City Council Other Ordinary Maintenance account ($21,500) and to the City Council Travel & Training account ($3,500) to fund expenditures related to the City Manager search process.

It's much better to be now looking back at this process - the first ever during the Plan E era (since 1941). The official transition to City Manager Louis A. DePasquale is expected be completed within another week or so when all contract details are finalized.


BicycleBicycling-related
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department and the Cambridge Police Commissioner, and to report back to the City Council on what specific recommendations and measures the City should consider in order to prevent future bicycle accidents and fatalities from occurring, and to make our streets safer for bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Kelley

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City Departments to design a pilot system of flex-post separated bike lanes and intersections, along Massachusetts Avenue, Hampshire Street, and Cambridge Street to determine how installation of flex-posts might be used as either interim or permanent bike safety solutions while other infrastructure improvements can be designed and analyzed for safety and implemented as appropriate.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Kelley

Order #4. That the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations committee be and hereby is requested to hold a committee hearing to discuss the possibility of adding a bike-bus lane to Pearl Street and any measures that can be taken to accommodate on-street parking preferences of residents.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to include separated bicycle facilities or adjacent off-street paths in any plans for reconstructing all or part of Massachusetts Avenue, along the entire length of the reconstructed segment and to give first priority to the safety and convenience of the most vulnerable road users – pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users – with second priority to the safety and convenience of motor vehicles in any plans for reconstructing all or part of Massachusetts Avenue.   Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mazen

Order #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, Department of Public Works, Community Development Department, Fire Department, Police Department, Budget Department, and other relevant City departments to install pilot program protected bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue between Cedar Street and Harvard Square starting on Nov 1, 2016, to install pilot program protected bike lanes on Cambridge Street between Inman Square and Quincy Street and to install pilot program protected bike lanes on Broadway between Prospect Street and Quincy Street, all for the period of at least one month.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to include protected bike lanes on both sides of Huron Avenue for the full length of its reconstruction, per the Cambridge Bicycle Plan.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to form a Vision Zero Working Group comprised of staff from the relevant City departments and residents to collaboratively develop and review traffic safety plans, street designs, public education initiatives, traffic enforcement and related policies with the shared goal of eliminating crashes that result in serious injuries and deaths as quickly as possible.   Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to consult with staff on what authority the City has to further restrict the routes of travel and delivery hours of oversized trucks on City street.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern

These are a mix of good ideas and ill-considered opportunism in the wake of a tragic death in Porter Square. On the good side are Orders #2, #8, and #11. Order #2 asks City staff, including CDD and the Police Department, to report back on specific recommendations that might prevent future bicycle accidents and fatalities from occurring, and to make city streets safer for bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians. This is both timely and appropriate. We all know of locations, primarily complicated intersections, that need to be made safer for all users. Porter Square is one such location. We can likely assume that the Police Department will base their recommendations on actual causes rather than on a wish list generated by an advocacy group.

Order #8 is also a sensible request to establish a "Vision Zero Working Group" comprised of staff from relevant City departments and residents "to collaboratively develop and review traffic safety plans, street designs, public education initiatives, traffic enforcement and related policies with the shared goal of eliminating crashes that result in serious injuries and deaths as quickly as possible." We should hope that this group will take a broad look at the whole picture of safety and operation in the design of roadways, intersections, and signaling systems (as opposed to the narrow view of single issue advocacy).

Order #11 addresses the problem of the operation of oversized trucks on City streets. There may be limitations on what the City can do based on federal and state laws regulating interstate commerce, but there may be some opportunities. There certainly should be. Anyone who has ever seen an 18-wheeler blocking a swath of sidewalk and street lanes just to make a small delivery to a 24-hour store understands the current absurdity of the status quo. Every cyclist also needs to understand that whenever there is a large truck in the vicinity it is essential to get away from it pronto. Even if you believe you're riding lawfully, you still may not even be seen by the truck driver - and the risk is simply never worth it.

In contrast, Orders #3-7 are opportunistic moves that attempt to cure problems that don't necessarily exist and to do so with maximal disruption. The recent death in Porter Square was on a stretch of road where parking was prohibited and where there is already a "protected turn lane" for bikes heading inbound wanting to make a left turn toward Somerville Avenue, though it's not clear that many cyclists actually use it. This is what makes it so strange to hear advocates arguing for elimination of on-street parking and the segregation of cyclists from the roadway in response to this fatality. It will be helpful to eventually get a full report from the Cambridge Police and the District Attorney's Office on the exact cause of this fatality (and other fatalities in the last few years). It is often the case that the actual cause of such a tragedy does not coincide with the early conclusions of advocates who are understandably upset in the aftermath of tragedy.

I really hope that our elected city councillors pause and take a deep breath before demanding changes that will have little or no effect (and maybe even have negative effects) on actual safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. Address problematic intersections and designate some streets as bicycle-priority streets (like Harvard Street, Garden Street, Magazine Street and others) before radically altering currently well-functioning streets by destroying sight lines and dramatically increasing traffic congestion for little or no benefit. Eliminate parking at bends in streets where conflicts between cyclists and motorists are most likely. There's plenty to do right now in simply addressing intersection safety - and that's where most of the safety problems are. Let reason prevail. There is a whole city full of people - pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, residents with and without private parking, and businesses with and without customer or employee parking that need to be heard. Doing anything less would be undemocratic.


Alewife area
Order #9. City Council opposition to any pathway or other intrusion which might be developed through the woods, marshes, or Bordering Land Subject to Flooding (BLSF) or other natural resource habitat to create a pedestrian trail to the Alewife T stop from areas west and north of Little River and to any other development which could in any way impact the 100-year flood plain which is predicted to experience such flooding every 30 years, and wetlands, BLSF, or bordering vegetated wetlands (BVW), associated with the Alewife Reservation.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux

I can't speak to the broader goal here, but there is at least one location where a pedestrian bridge over the Little River in the vicinity of the recreated wetland area and its boardwalks would be a very welcome addition by creating a very nice walking loop.


Ordinances, Prohibitions, Bans
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 Sept 15, 2016 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Title 6 entitled “Animals” by adding a new Chapter 6.20 entitled “Restrictions on the Sale of Animals in Pet Shops.”

I certainly hope we don't ban excessively here. Unless such a ban were do be done statewide, the only effect will be to move the business to neighboring cities and towns or causing such sales to take place outside of established businesses.


Harvard Square Kiosk
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, 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 Sept 28, 2016 for the purpose of discussing the redesign of the Out of Town News Kiosk.

This was an interesting meeting - especially in learning that it may be possible to bring utilities to the Kiosk that don't currently exist. While it's clear that some would like this structure to primarily serve visitors to Harvard Square, I still would love for it to have an active use where residents to gather. It doesn't have to be a hot dog stand or lunch counter, but it sure would be great to again have something like that right in the middle of Harvard Square. My dream is still to be able to watch Red Sox games there projected onto a wall of the Kiosk while eating a hot dog in the open air.

Comments?

Special Cambridge City Council meeting - Sept 29, 2016

ORDERS
1. Offer of employment as City Manager to Louis A. DePasquale.   Councillor Toomey
Adopted 9-0

2. Appointment of Lisa C. Peterson as Acting City Manager   Mayor Simmons
Adopted 9-0

3. City enter into a contract with Elizabeth Valerio and John Foskett.   Councillor Maher
Adopted 9-0

TEXT OF ORDERS
O-1     Sept 29, 2016  Adopted 9-0
COUNCILLOR TOOMEY
ORDERED: That the City Council make an offer of employment as City Manager to Louis A. DePasquale, conditioned upon the successful negotiations of a contract with terms agreeable to both parties.

O-2     Sept 29, 2016  Adopted 9-0
MAYOR SIMMONS
ORDERED: That the City Council appoint Lisa C. Peterson as Acting City Manager commencing on Oct 1, 2016 and continuing until a new City Manager is appointed and that during her appointment as Acting City Manager that she be compensated with a weekly stipend of $1,000.00 in addition to her regular salary.

O-3     Sept 29, 2016  Adopted 9-0
COUNCILLOR MAHER
ORDERED: That the City Council request that the City enter into a contract with Elizabeth Valerio and John Foskett of the Deutsch, Williams Firm to advise the City Council in negotiating a contract with the prospective City Manager.

Decisions, Decisions.... Notable items on the Sept 26, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda

Barring any unexpected turns of events, this will be the last regular City Council meeting with City Manager Richard Rossi.

Decisions, Decisions....Here are the items that seem most interesting:

Appointments by the Manager
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Affordable Housing Trust: Reappointments: Peter Daly (2-year term), Florrie Darwin (1-year term), Gwendolen Noyes (1-year term), Susan Schlesinger (3-year term), James Stockard, Jr. (3-year term), William Tibbs (2-year term). New Appointment: Elaine Thorne (3-year term)

Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Water Board for a term of 5-years, effective Sept 26, 2016: Kathleen Kelly, Jason Marshall

Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the reappointment of the following persons as members of the Planning Board for a term of five years, effective Sept 26, 2016: Steven Cohen, Hugh Russell and Tom Sieniewicz

Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the Steering Committee for the City’s Birth to Grade Three Partnership.

Manager's Agenda #13. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Cambridge Arts Council Advisory Board for a term of 3 years effective Oct 1, 2016: Christine Lamas Weinberg, Katherine Shozawa and Olufolakemi Alalade

I have come to look upon those who choose to serve on City boards and commissions as possessing a sort of nobility. Regardless of their age, these public-spirited people are like the Village Elders. They serve without compensation and, in some cases, most notably the Planning Board, they devote a significant amount of time in this voluntary capacity. Perhaps we should form a congress of all those who serve or who have served at one time - The League of Extraordinary Ladies and Gentlemen.


Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Outdoor Lighting Zoning recommendations.

These are the zoning amendments that would go along with the proposed Outdoor Lighting Ordinance. It has been interesting, and at least somewhat entertaining, watching how this reasonable proposal to regulate intrusive lighting has led to some people wanting to expand it to deal with all lighting, including advertising signage that shine into the bedrooms of no one. This seems like a particularly Cambridge sort of thing - a proposal to regulate something turning into a proposal to regulate everything. I like the idea of establishing some standards for outdoor lighting, particularly in residential areas, as a courtesy to those who would like to get a good night's sleep. What this has to do with decorative lighting, especially garish and aesthetically questionable lighting in places like North Point, escapes me. Perhaps that's the real point of these zoning recommendations - to grant the Planning Board some regulatory authority for this other stuff while the Municipal Lighting Ordinance remains focused on ensuring that spotlights don't shine into people's bedroom windows or darken the night sky.

Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2017:
A. Authorize the use of Free Cash of $10,180,000 to reduce the FY17 tax rate;
B. Authorize $2,000,000 in overlay surplus/reserves to be used for reducing the FY17 tax rate;
C. Authorize $1,700,000 from the City Debt Stabilization Fund to be used as a revenue source to the General Fund Budget;
D. Authorize $517,970 from the School Debt Stabilization Fund to be used as a revenue source to the General Fund Budget;
E. Appropriate $8,000,000 from Free Cash to the City Debt Stabilization Fund;
F. Classify property into five classes;
G. Adopt the minimum residential factor of 55.9103%;
H. Approve the residential exemption factor of 30% for owner-occupied homes;
I. Vote to double the normal value of the statutory exemption;
J. Vote the FY17 exemption of $309.00 allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 17D;
K. Vote the FY17 asset limits of $61,298.00 allowed Under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 17E;
L. Vote the FY17 income and asset limits allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 41D as follows: income and assets limits for elderly persons from income limits of $25,346 for those who are single and $38,019 for those who are married, asset limits of $50,689 for those who are single and $69,698 for those who are married;
M. Vote the income limit for deferral of real estate taxes by elderly persons as determined by the Commissioner of Revenue for the purposes of MGL Chapter 62, Section 6, subsection (k) for a single person ($57,000) and for married ($85,000).

As Bob Healy would always say, the City doesn't set the property tax rates. The Department of Revenue does. He would also add that once these votes are taken these rates are virtually guaranteed to be the same as those given in the communication: "Based on a property tax levy of $372.7 million, the FY17 residential tax rate will be $6.49 per thousand dollars of value, subject to Department of Revenue approval. This is a decrease of $0.50, or -7.2% from FY16. The commercial tax rate will be $16.12, which is a decrease of $1.59, or -9.0% from FY16." Don't jump for joy just yet. Property values have been escalating so rapidly (average of 13.5% in one year for residential properties) that you should expect to pay a bit more, especially in Riverside and Cambridgeport.

Manager's Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Broadband Task Force recommendations and Tilson Report.

Boondoggle alert. One estimate is that it would cost $187 million dollars to build such a network, and there's no guarantee that customers would leave Comcast or another Internet service provider in favor of such a new network, especially if Comcast adjusts its pricing structure a little. That's a lot of public money expended for a discount. Anyway, this report just calls for a Feasibility Study.

Manager's Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to City accomplishments during City Manager 2013-2016.

Read Rich Rossi's memo. It has been a busy few years. Then think for a while about all of the major capital projects Richie has played a lead role in over the last few decades. It will make you feel pretty good about City government in Cambridge - even on the evening when votes are being taken to determine how much property tax you'll be paying this year.

Manager's Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-16, regarding the plan to take Vail Court by eminent domain.

Hallelujah! The City takes this step only when absolutely necessary, and this is long overdue.

Manager's Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the City's Agreement with MassDOT and MBTA regarding funding contribution agreement for Green Line Extension Project.

These are the details associated with the announced agreement that was made several months ago.


Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to refer the attached short-term rental draft ordinance to the City Solicitor, Inspectional Services Department and any other relevant department for comment and review as components of a potential short-term rental ordinance and be referred to a joint hearing of the Housing and Public Safety Committees scheduled on Oct 26, 2016, at 5:30pm for discussion, and to hear back from the City on the proposed policies.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux

The Statement of Purpose says it best: "The purpose of this ordinance shall be to make the operation of short-term rentals legal for Cambridge residents, protect the safety of renters, owners, visitors, and neighbors, and ensure that short-term rentals will not be a detriment to the character and livability of the surrounding residential neighborhood."

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Aug 30, 2016 to continue public discussion regarding the recent completed Inclusionary Housing Study and the Draft Recommendations of the Community Development Department.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 8, 2016 to continue the public discussion regarding the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and Draft Recommendations of the Community Development Department.

The Housing Committee has now voted that the Community Development Department's recommendations for Inclusionary Zoning be forwarded to the full City Council with a favorable recommendation. Primarily this will set the Inclusionary Housing required percentage for new construction over a minimum size at 20% net, though the City Council could still modify this proposed percentage. There will apparently still be some discussion about whether this will be phased in and, if so, over what period. I still remain skeptical whether this requirement will be economically feasible beyond the short term. I also have some misgivings about a future in which only wealthy people will be able to afford market housing with everyone else having to apply to a government agency to access housing that is affordable to them. The biggest mistake made over the last 20+ years was in allowing most of the housing stock of two- and three-family houses to be converted into now-unaffordable condominiums. That had previously been one of the most significant sources of affordable housing for both owners and renters.

Thurs, Sept 29
5:30pm   Special City Council Meeting to vote on extending an offer to a finalist for the position of City Manager. Additionally, the City Council may meet in Executive Session to conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with the prospective City Manager or to conduct contract negotiations with the prospective City Manager.  (Sullivan Chamber)

Later this week the City Council will vote on whether Jay Ash, Paul Fetherston, or Louis DePasquale will be the next City Manager of Cambridge. As I stated at the microphone last Monday - I wish the City Council good wisdom and good luck. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Peoples Republic of CambridgeHere are the items that struck me as most interesting:

Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-73 and Council Order Number 4 (of Sept 12, 2016), regarding lowering speed limits in the City.

In short, the City Council jumped the gun last week. For starters, the City Council must first vote to accept those sections of the new state law that would give them the authority to lower local speed limits. They cannot even do this until Nov 7. The intention of City traffic officials was to lower the speed limit on City-owned roads to 25mph, and this communication makes quite clear that a 20mph speed limit would be a challenge to enforce - to say the least. I challenge anyone driving in Cambridge to maintain a consistent speed of 20mph or less while driving in Cambridge. It's not unreasonable on a relatively narrow street that's parked on both sides, but it borders on the absurd on many other streets. A limit of 25mph is doable, but not 20mph. That lower limit should be reserved for locations where it actually makes sense.

Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a report from Public Works Commissioner Owen O'Riordan, regarding the Polystyrene Ordinance implementation. [Report]

One more example of how the City Council likes to take steps that they think will make them look "progressive" without actually thinking through the possible consequences. Few people would dispute the parts of this Ordinance that deals with expanded polystyrene (EPS), i.e. "Styrofoam". The issue is with other polystyrene products like straws, cups, lids and utensils. The available alternatives - bioplastic compostable products - decompose at much slower rates than are acceptable at any of the facilities that accept organic waste from the City of Cambridge. These materials will be rejected at these facilities. Public policy has to be based on more than just wishful thinking. I was at the committee meeting when these other materials were abruptly added to the proposed ordinance without so much as a conversation.

Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to CPA [Community Preservation Act]. [Report]

As always, it's 80% for affordable housing projects ($6,880,000 plus $1,280,000 in state matching funds), 10% for open space acquisition ($860,000 plus $160,000 in state matching funds), and 10% for historic preservation projects ($860,000 plus $1,280,000 in state matching funds). Additional fund balances will also be expended toward these three areas.

Resolution #2. Thanks to City Manager Richard Rossi for his 45 years of service to the City of Cambridge and best wishes for a truly happy and joyful retirement.   Mayor Simmons

Having known Rich Rossi for 27 years of those 45 years of service, I join in wishing Richie all the best in his many years of blissful retirement. I have known very few people who are as expert at getting things done as Rich Rossi. The people of Cambridge owe him a world class "thank you".

Tues, Sept 20

6:00pm-9:00pm   Meet the Finalists Forum  (Fitzgerald Theater, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School)

The City Council’s Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee, is inviting the public to a Meet the Finalists forum on Tues, Sept 20, 2016, from 6:00pm to 9:00pm in the Fitzgerald Theater located in the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. This forum is an opportunity for the public to meet the three finalist vying to succeed outgoing City Manager Richard C. Rossi. The meeting will be broadcast live on the City’s Municipal Cable Channel, 22-CityView.

Wed, Sept 21

5:30pm   Special City Council Meeting to publicly interview finalists for the position of City Manager, the City Council may meet in Executive Session to conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with the prospective City Manager or to conduct contract negotiations with the prospective City Manager.  (Sullivan Chamber)

Vote on the selection of the next City Manager expected week of Sept 26 (possibly Thurs, Sept 29).

I have watched this process evolve from the beginning and have kept a safe distance throughout. Now that we have three candidates before us it will be interesting to see if the 9 city councillors can reach consensus (and a majority vote) on one of these three excellent candidates (Jay Ash, Louis DePasquale, and Paul Fetherston). It will also be interesting to watch how the activists may try to influence the decision and how they will respond when a decision is made. If the City Council can actually come to some kind of unanimous or near-unanimous agreement on this most important decision, it may signal their ability to thoughtfully and cooperatively decide on other matters of significance. Hope springs eternal. - Robert Winters

Comments?

The Return - Notable agenda items for the Sept 12, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Peoples Republic of CambridgeThis is the "Back from Summer Vacation" meeting of the Cambridge City Council. Here are a few items that are at least somewhat interesting (with minimal comments):

Appointments to Boards & Commissions:

Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointments of the following persons as a members of the Commission on Immigrant Rights & Citizenship, effective Sept 1, 2016: Leslie DiTrani, Sana Ghafoor, Alejandro Heredia-Santoyo, Karin Lin, Marcio Macedo, Roxana Maldonado-Garcia, Swati Sawant, Jennifer Sparks, Merline Sylvain-Williams, Melanie Torres, and Yarlennys Villaman

Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointments of the following persons as a members of the Cambridge Public Art Commission for a term of three years: Judy Ann Goldman and Cecily Miller

Manager's Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a full member of the Cambridge Board of Zoning Appeals for a term of 5 years, effective Aug 29, 2016: Andrea Hickey

Manager's Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Cambridge Commission for Persons with Disabilities for a term of three years, effective Sept 12, 2016: Katie Ashwill Allen, Stelios Gragoudas, Mike Langlois, Luis Loya and Julie Miller


Appointments by the City Council:

Order #11. Reappointment of James Monagle as City Auditor.   Mayor Simmons

Order #12. Reappointment of Donna P. Lopez as City Clerk.   Mayor Simmons

Two of my favorite people in City government. The City Council gets to appoint the City Manager, the City Auditor, and the City Clerk (and by recent tradition, the Deputy City Clerk). The Really Big Question is whether the City Council will meet its proposed date of Sept 26 to appoint the next City Manager. That's just two weeks from now. In the meantime, congratulations to Jim and Donna (assuming their unanimous reappointment).


Buildings, architecture, and historic preservation:

Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the final Landmark Designation Report for the Ivory Sands House at 145 Elm Street and the Cambridge Historical Commission's recommendation.

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Historical Commission to produce a new status report that reviews the Harvard Square Conservation District’s effectiveness since 2005, and that considers whether new zoning regulations may be necessary to fulfill the community’s goals.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

My guess is that this is motivated by a combination of Curious George, the Kiosk, and, of course, some really problematic property owners who don't understand the value of keeping good long-term commercial tenants.


Marijuana-related:

Unfinished Business #10. A proposed amendment to the Ordinance entitled "Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge" as amended by the Planning Board recommendation to expand the requirements of the North Massachusetts Avenue Sub-district (Section 20.110) applicable generally within the portions of the Massachusetts Avenue Overlay District (MAOD) zoned Business A-2 (BA-2). The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Aug 15, 2016. Planning Board hearing was held June 21, 2016. Petition expires Sept 20, 2016.

Order #19. Zoning Changes for Medical Marijuana Dispensaries.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone

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 Aug 31, 2016 on a zoning petition by Healthy Pharms, Inc., to amend Section 20.700 Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts by creating an additional Medical Marijuana Overlay District (MMD-4). The new MMD-4 District would be coterminous with the Business B and Office 3 Districts that are within the Harvard Square Overlay District. The petition would also establish as criteria specific to the MMD-4 District that permissible dispensaries must be retail only (with no cultivation), must be set back from the sidewalk by a minimum of 15 feet and be appropriately shielded from public view, must be less than 10,000 square feet in size, are preferably located in areas with access to pedestrian and public transportation, and may be 250 feet, instead of the standard 500 feet, distant from a school, daycare center, preschool or afterschool facility or any facility in which children commonly congregate, or closer only if it is determined by the Planning Board to be sufficiently buffered such that users will not be adversely impacted by the operation of the dispensary.

Let's hope that the City Council finally figures out that you can't address the siting of marijuana dispensaries by a series of one-off zoning petitions.


Bicycle facilities, speed limits, and punishing drivers for the unpardonable sin of owning a motor vehicle:

Order #20. That the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee be and hereby is requested to hold a hearing to discuss how City staff review use of bike infrastructure to determine what works, what does not work and what could be improved and to specifically discuss the possibility of making the Western Avenue cycle track a two-direction bike facility.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Maher

The path along Concord Ave. abutting Fresh Pond would also function better as a two-way path.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to deem all residential zones as “Safety Zones” and lower speed limits to 20 MPH and to lower the speed limit in all office and business zones to 25 MPH.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Toomey

This is incredibly short-sighted. Many residential streets should appropriately have 25mph speed limits, especially streets where there's barely enough room for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to safely pass each other, but 20mph is more appropriate for an intensely pedestrian area such as Harvard Square or Central Square. There are many streets where the current 30mph speed limit is completely appropriate.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and other relevant City departments and report back to the City Council concrete next steps on how to go about lowering our speed limits as well as the timeline for these actions.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mazen

As stated above, this should be done in a more granular way rather than as a single citywide speed limit set so low that few people will respect it.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Traffic and Parking Department and all other appropriate City Departments to report back to the City Council on recommendations to gradually increase the parking permit fee and consider other improvements to the program to help fund the city’s budget towards reducing vehicle miles traveled and promoting alternative forms of transportation.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen

My guess is that Councillors Devereux and Mazen would like only bicycles and driverless vehicles to soon be allowed to operate in Cambridge. This is just a step toward that future. It's interesting that ZipCar founder Robin Chase is simultaneously tweeting comparisons between restaurant costs, housing costs, and the cost of a parking permit. I guess she believes that all three should be exorbitantly expensive.


Winner of the "Most Obnoxious Committee Meeting of 2016":

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 July 27, 2016 to hear from public safety officials on training equipment, response and communication policies pertaining to demonstrations, protests, memorials and similar actions involving large numbers of people in public space, ranging from CRLS student walkouts to Black Lives Matter memorials to the “let out” time of bars to Pokémon Go chasing and similar internet-driven meetups.


Everything Else:

Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the notification of approval of the Kendall Square Foundry Development Partners as the development entity for the Foundry.

Manager's Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to early voting sites.

Manager's Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-67, regarding a report on the Classification of Commercial Land Use and Recommendations study.

Charter Right #2. An application was received from Pill Hardware, requesting permission for a display of merchandise in front of the premises numbered 743 Massachusetts Avenue. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Devereux on Aug 1, 2016.]

Order #1. That the City Council go on record calling on the Massachusetts State Legislature to pass an Act affirming a terminally ill patient’s right to compassionate aid in dying.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of creating a temporary jobs program geared toward Cambridge’s homeless population and/or determine the feasibility of awarding homeless with priority in the City’s 9-week temporary jobs program.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Mazen

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Aug 15, 2016 to continue the public discussion regarding the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and the Affordable Housing Trusts’ recommendations to the City Council.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a copy of a letter from Hanne Rush, Assistant Attorney General, Division of Open Government, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Office of the Attorney General, One Ashburton Place, Boston, MA, regarding the resolution of an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by John Hawkinson on May 4, 2016.

You could define "frivilous" by some of these complaints. - Robert Winters

Comments?

There are a lot of substantive matters on the agenda for this meeting - primarily on the City Manager's Agenda and in a dozen City Council committee reports covering a range of topics. Here's a sampler of some items that I found especially interesting. The meeting is taking place at the Attles Meeting Room at CRLS (where the School Committee usually meets).

Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-43, regarding publishing a Cambridge Voter's Guide to be distributed to each household in Cambridge a month before the 2017 municipal election.

Order #2. That the regular City Council meeting scheduled for Oct 24, 2016 be a Roundtable/Working meeting to discuss election issues with the Election Commission.   Mayor Simmons

My guess is that the best we can hope for on the City side will be an improved and expanded guide to PR voting, relevant dates, and a list of candidate names with addresses and possibly photos. Having assembled the Cambridge Candidate Pages for over a decade, I will attest to the fact that voters do want information about candidates, especially in the days immediately preceding the election, but asking the Election Commission (and inevitably the Law Department) to manage this will open a huge can of worms. It would be preferable to get local media outlets to work out a cooperative arrangement to make unbiased information available about municipal candidates. Better coordination of candidate forums would also be helpful, but that also is out of the hands of City officials.

Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a $45,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection 604b Water Quality Management Planning Program, to be used to fund conceptual green street design plans for three public rights of ways, as well as guidance on green street implementation in space-constrained residential settings; with a focus on smaller scale reconstruction projects that are not part of larger utility reconstruction projects.

For those who haven't yet seen some of the innovative stormwater management projects in West Cambridge and along Western Avenue, you should check them out. It would be great if more of these projects could be done on a smaller scale. If done right, street trees might actually have a chance to flourish.

Manager's Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the "Friends of MAPOCO" Zoning Petition.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 22, 2016 to discuss a petition by Peter B. Kroon, et al, also known as Friends of MAPOCO, to expand the requirements of the North Massachusetts Avenue Sub-district (Section 20.110) applicable generally within the portions of the Massachusetts Avenue Overlay District (MAOD) zoned Business A-2 (BA-2).

This zoning petition will likely now sail through to a 2nd Reading and eventual adoption as amended.

Manager's Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to authorizing the Purchasing Agent to award a five (5) year, two (2) month contract to the successful proposer on the Metropolitan Area Planning Council Bike Share System RFP.

The idea is for Cambridge, Somerville, Boston, and Brookline to jointly put out a longer-term request for proposals in order to entice more vendors, hopefully allow for more consistency in service, and possibly get a better price.

Manager's Agenda #29. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to pursuing the planning and development of a multi-use, bicycle and pedestrian pathway along the Grand Junction corridor that links East Cambridge, Kendall Square, MIT, and Cambridgeport, with potential connections into Boston and Somerville.

Manager's Agenda #30. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Items Number 16-46 and 16-59, regarding the Grand Junction Greenway, including the status of construction, developer contributions, and the zoning overlay.

It's nice to see the cooperation of the Mass. Dept. of Transportation in these efforts.

Manager's Agenda #32. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-22, regarding the opposition to investment funds from the Retirement System.

Some of you may remember the extensive public testimony and countless communications on the topic of the Cambridge Retirement System divesting any funds from any entity that is in any way supporting the production or upgrading of nuclear weapons systems. As it turns out, this was a typical Cambridge tempest in a teapot. As this report states: "upon reviewing the summary, that the Fund's investments in the production and/or upgrading of nuclear weapons systems is de minimis." I hope everyone at least had fun making their speeches and writing all those letters that all turned out to be about nothing.

Manager's Agenda #33. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-54, regarding finding a long term solution to adding a dog park in East Cambridge by the end of 2016 and fencing in a temporary location for off leash use by the end of Summer, 2016.

Take note, politicos: There are a lot of Cambridge voters who really love their dogs and want places for them to run and play. Actually, there's a lot more interest in dogs than in nuclear weapons divestment.

Manager's Agenda #36. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the submission of the attached Home Rule Petition that would authorize the City of Cambridge 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 “Gold Star 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 (the “School Site”).

This is really a formality, but I always find it interesting which things require state authorization and which things do not.

Manager's Agenda #37. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the request that the City Council move to Executive Session.

Manager's Agenda #38. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $42,655 within statutory accounts of the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expenditure account to complete the purchase of two parcels from the B&M Corporation for the purpose of creating a future multi-use path and greenway.

These items are about making the necessary purchases to complete the Cambridge-owned portion of the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway along the now-abandoned railroad right-of-way. This will be a nice off-road addition when it's finally complete a few years from now.

Applications & Petitions #3. An application was received from Pill Hardware, requesting permission for a display of merchandise in front of the premises numbered 748 Massachusetts Avenue.

Central SquareWhenever I hear people talk about preserving the "funkiness" of Central Square, I want to remind people that before Central Square was "funky" it was an incredibly vital shopping district. It's really worth looking back at some of the available "Perceptual Form of the City" photos from over 50 years ago. This application to allow the display of mechandise on the sidewalk in front of Pill Hardware reminded me of one of those old photos. It's also a scene you can see today in Inman Square. The image shown is actually the frontage where the Mass & Main project is planned. This is the kind of thing some of us would love to see in some form as Central Square rediscovers its past and defines its future. It doesn't have to be just overpriced bars and restaurants.

Applications & Petitions #4. A zoning petition has been received from William Noyes Webster Foundation, Inc. to amend the provisions of the Medical Marijuana District Section 20.700 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Map.

Order #11. City Council support to Commonwealth Alternative Care to operate a Registered Marijuana Dispensary at 61 Mooney Street pursuant to local zoning and permitting.   Councillor Cheung

It should pretty clear by now that the way the City Council is handling the siting of medical marijuana dispensaries in totally wrong. Will there be a new zoning petition every time one of these facilities is proposed?

Resolution #6. Congratulations to Patrick and Norma Jean Barrett on the birth of their daughter Gemma Evelyn Barrett.   Councillor Toomey

Resolution #8. Congratulations to Jada Simmons and Toju Ononeme on their nuptials.   Councillor Toomey

Resolution #11. Resolution on the retirement of James Cullinane from the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department.   Mayor Simmons

This is a triple celebration - a birth, a marriage, and a retirement. Cambridge feels like such a little village sometimes.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Commissioner of Public Works with the intention of reinstating trash and recycling pick up for small businesses.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Maher

This proposal has been made at various times over the last 25 years. A case can be made for this based on the fact that the commercial property tax rate is considerably higher than the residential tax rate and perhaps there should be some benefits to go along with the payment of those taxes. The additional cost and time could be significant, but perhaps there could at least be some accomodation for mixed residential/commercial buildings where the lines are often already intentionally blurred. [This happens, for example, right next door to me, and this has been the case for decades.]

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on how traffic laws pertaining to crosswalks are currently enforced throughout the City, whether there are any regions where the City has found motorists tend to ignore crosswalk laws, and whether there are additional methods of reporting violators, raising awareness of applicable laws, and enacting stricter laws to ultimately increase pedestrian safety.   Mayor Simmons

Traffic laws pertaining to crosswalks are enforced? That's news to me. If we're taking requests, how about let's also start enforcing the requirement that motor vehicles must be parked less than a foot from the curb. That would make cycling safer. I never see that enforced.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Purchasing Department, the Community Development Department and any other appropriate departments to provide the City Council with an update on the status of the Classification of Commercial Land Use and Recommendations Study.   Councillor Devereux

This is included here only because I'm curious what's behind it. [Read the Request for Proposals] The RFP says: "In short, the expected result of this study is a commercial land use classification system that makes sense in modern Cambridge, that would be understandable to all community members, and that would be able to effectively regulate commercial use types as they evolve. Based on the study recommendations, the City would determine how the zoning could be amended to fit the recommended system, through either targeted changes to the current ordinance or a more substantial restructuring of the Table of Use Regulations." Uh, OK.


Inclusionary Housing Committee Reports:
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on May 31, 2016 to continue discussion regarding the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study with community feedback from the May 18, 2016 hearing being shared and discussed with consultant David Paul Rosen & Associates.

Committee Report #11. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on July 11, 2016 to continue the discussion regarding the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and the Affordable Housing Trust’s recommendations to the City Council.

Committee Report #12. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on May 18, 2016 to discuss the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and will focus on receiving feedback from the community.

Some revisions to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance seem inevitable later this year, but the economic foundations in the study still seem (to me) to be a bit shaky, especially the idea of increasing the net affordable housing percentage from 11.6% to 20% without any allowance for additional density. My first concern is that if the requirement is too high then it may be more economically advantageous to build something other than housing, e.g. labs. My other concern is that since zoning changes require a two-thirds vote for ordination there might never be the political will to actually lower the requirement even if the economics warrant a decrease. It would be better if there was some way to index the requirement based on current economics.


Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 28, 2016 to discuss the parameters for a potential zoning proposal that includes the Volpe Transportation System Center.

The Volpe zoning dilemma is unique in that it is contrained not only by the funding mechanism for a new Volpe building and the need to ensure that a developer might actually be able to deliver a development without financial loss, but also by a range of competing interests from residents for housing and open space. This may not even be a solvable problem even though the potential benefits could be enormous.

Committee Report #7. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee and Mayor E. Denise Simmons and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee, for a joint public hearing held on July 19, 2016 to discuss the presence and impact of short-term rental units (Airbnb, FlipKey, VRBO, etc.) in Cambridge, and to hear suggestions from community members and operators on how best to address the challenges of this emerging market.

This was an incredibly informative hearing. My guess is that short-term rentals in owner-occupied buildings may get the blessing of the City Council but perhaps not so for residential properties that are effectively being operated as hotels by non-resident owner/investors. Another hearing on this topic is scheduled for Wednesday, August 3rd.

Committee Report #8. 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 June 29, 2016 to receive an update regarding the City Manager's Search in the Focus Groups that took place and the development of the draft profile.

I'm taking bets now on whether the City Council will successfully meet its proposed September 26 date for selecting the next City Manager. Even if they do make a decision by then, it's likely that there will still be a period of time before the new City Manager can take the reins (unless it's an internal candidate).

Committee Report #9. 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 June 23, 2016 to discuss the proposed changes to the current liquor license regulations and the City Council policy goals on liquor licenses, economic development, the impact on neighborhoods and local businesses.

This was also an interesting hearing at which the rationale for these proposed changes was clarified.

Committee Report #10. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee and Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on July 19, 2016, to discuss safety issues as it relates to cyclist and pedestrians in Inman Square, and to hear suggestions from community members and on how best to address the safety challenges of this intersection.

This was a very well-attended meeting, especially by cyclists who were invited through various social media channels. The presentation by City officials was informative. The only down side was the manner in which attention to the safety of Inman Square was deflected by some, especially during public comment, toward other infrastructure proposals that have little to no bearing on the safety of this or any other Cambridge intersection. It was also interesting that numerous residents of Antrim Street were in attendence with concerns over the possiblity that one of the proposed realignment schemes might have the unintended consequence of redirecting more traffic onto Antrim Street.

Barring any emergencies, the next City Council meeting after this will be on September 12.

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.