It's Budget Season - Featured Items on the April 24, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here's a look at some of the more interesting items on this week's agenda.
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the FY2018 submitted budget and appropriation orders.
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow $20,000,000 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Alewife Watershed, Cambridgeport neighborhood, and the Port neighborhood.
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow $4,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,000,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including roof repairs at the Fletcher Maynard Academy, and a new boiler at an elementary school.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow $5,000,000 to provide funds for the Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan.
The Budget Hearings are scheduled for Tues, May 2 and Wed, May 10 at 9:00am for the FY2018 City Department Budgets and for Tues, May 9 at 6:00pm for the FY2018 School Department Budget.
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as member of the Community Preservation Act Committee for a term of five years, effective Apr 24, 2017: Anna Aldric and David Kale
Manager's Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Recycling Advisory Committee for a term of two years, effective Apr 24, 2017: New Appointments: Ilana Bebchick, Joel Dashnaw, David Frank, Martha Henry, Susy Jones, Liz Marr, Michael Papas, Anne Sherman, Matthew St. Onge, Quinten Steenhuis, Kristen Watkins Reappointments: Keith Cialino, Debby Galef, Rob Gogan, Debby Knight, Janet Mosley, Laura Nichols, Meera Singh and Mary Verhage
Manager's Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Envision Cambridge Focus Area Working Groups on Economy, Housing, Climate and the Environment, and Mobility. The Focus Area Working Groups are tasked with developing recommendations on topic-specific goals, strategies, and targets and indicators.
Items of interest to those who live in fear of being watched
Manager's Agenda #29. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a notification of a request from MIT to perform a test installation of a range of sensor technology along Massachusetts Avenue between Vassar Street and Lansdowne Street, in proximity to the MIT campus.
Manager's Agenda #30. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-15, Council Order Number 7 of 11/21/6 and Council Order Number 2 of 3/27/17, regarding an update on language in a proposed surveillance technology ordinance.
Manager's Agenda #20. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Harding, et al Zoning Petition.
Unfinished Business #6. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge in Article 8.000 entitled "Nonconformity" by deleting Section 8.23 in its entirety and substitute a new Section 8.23. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Apr 17, 2017. Planning Board hearing held Mar 21, 2017. Petition expires June 27, 2017.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 6, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinances in Article 20.50 entitled “Harvard Square Overlay and Harvard Square Historic District” by adding a new Section 20.54.7 Exempting rooftop spaces from FAR.
I expect the "Nonconformity" zoning amendment will be ordained at this meeting. The proposal to make it easier to open active roof decks in the Harvard Square area remains in committee, and the combatants have entered the ring.
Airbnb and related stuff
Communication #10. A communication was received from Rebecca Rutenberg, Chief Operating Officer, The Novus Group, transmitting the Airbnb -Cambridge Housing Report.
Communication #15. A communication was received from Caitlin O'Neill, Director of Public Policy, Sonder, 271 Cambridge Street, regarding model language for professional short-term providers.
Order #5. Proposed amendments to the Zoning Ordinance creating a regulatory framework to ensure the City's short-term rentals are legal, safe, and fair. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 4, 2017 to conduct a general discussion on short-term rental uses throughout the City.
It's very important that this matter be resolved soon, but I have yet to see a completely coherent proposal that provides flexibility for homeowners but which does not overreach. As for the investors who are intentionally buying up multifamily houses so that they can run them as Airbnb profit-makers rather than as homes for actual people, I wish you all frontier justice. To those who paid far too much for your buildings and who now argue that the only way they can make ends meet is to rake in gobs of Airbnb cash, I say "Caveat Emptor". You should have bought a place in Malden.
Brief snippets of wisdom
Communication #8. A communication was received from Peter Valentine, regarding the reason humans don't need robots. [“The reason humans don’t need robots is that humans can be any kind of robot they want, and the reason for that is that they possess within themselves the ultimate chip, which is The Creator of All of Existence.” True or not true.” – Peter Valentine, 4/6/2017]
Birds, bees, flowers, trees, parks, and gardens
Manager's Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-17, regarding a report on a Tree Task Force to protect the Urban Canopy.
Order #1. That the City of Cambridge partner with the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Cambridge Neighborhood Association to revitalize Magazine Beach. Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Conservation Commission and report back with a status update of the Community Garden program. Councillor Devereux
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department to present zoning regulations that allow urban agriculture to the City Council as soon as possible so that an Ordinance Committee hearing can be scheduled. Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to hold a community meeting to discuss the lighting design proposed for the path, steps being taken to make the lighting appropriate for the natural context of the Reservation, and steps being taken to make Greenway path safe and useful during evening commuting hours. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux
I could go on at length on a number of these matters - the great efforts of Cathie Zusy and others with Magazine Beach, some very short-sighted rules pushed by the City on community gardens under its jurisdiction, the absurd delay in adopting at least something on urban agriculture, and some of the overstated fears expressed regarding lighting on the proposed Fresh Pond Greenway - but perhaps another time. I'm sure there will be plenty of comment.
Minimal substance, but sure to draw comments
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to ban all City employees from using City funds on services provided by United Airlines when alternatives exist. Councillor Cheung, Mayor Simmons
Order #10. That the City Manager, in instances where there is no significant additional cost defined in regulations, or conflict with law, is requested to refrain from entering into new or amended contracts to purchase professional, technical, scientific or financial services, goods, construction labor and materials or other services, or supplies from businesses that enter into contracts to provide such services, goods, materials or supplies to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux
I really despise Orders like these. In the former, an airline screws up and promises to do better, so the City Council wants to ban the use of City funds on that airline. Plenty of companies screw up at one time or another. Should they all be boycotted? As for the latter, that Trump wall is perhaps the single most stupid proposal I have ever heard from a U.S. President, but asking the City Manager to filter all contracts based on this criterion is just as stupid.
Obscure but curiously interesting
Order #9. That the Public Safety Committee begin a public discussion of potential methods of regulating an internet-based delivery system that makes any part of any road a possible loading platform in a way that allows such uses to continue without putting other users of Cambridge’s roads in danger or unreasonably obstructing traffic. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux
Now that I have read this Order carefully, it appears that the genesis of this Order is the belief that cyclists are incapable of any wisdom or road sense. This Order wants to encourage delivery vehicles, taxis and similar services to temporarily park in the middle of full travel lanes rather than pull to the curb. The authors apparently believe it is better for cyclists to pass vehicles on the right where active loading and unloading of cargo and passengers is taking place. This is lunacy. My guess it passes without debate.
Good intentions that will likely turn that $30K roof repair into a $150K roof repair
Order #13. Urge the Cambridge Legislative Delegation in the State Legislature to do everything in its power to bring Massachusetts closer to 100% renewable energy by 2035, and ensure that the benefits of renewable energy are realized by Massachusetts residents from all walks of life and supporting a goal of using 100% clean and renewable energy in Cambridge, including in building energy use and transportation, by 2035. Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern
Who could argue with the rosy future painted by this Order? Well, at some point these matters do eventually get translated into things like stretch building codes and super-stretch building codes, and then one day when you just want to fix that leak in your roof and a City inspector informs you that in order to meet the new code your choice is to fix the roof in secret over the weekend without a permit or pay five times the cost in order to meet all the new standards. When that day comes, I do hope that our legislative do-gooders are as generous with their grant money as they are with their mandates. The devil is always in the details. - Robert Winters
Springing into April - Agenda items from the April 3, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
The BIG ITEM at this meeting is the ordination of the amendments to the City's Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance. Then there's also the call for impeachment of the President. Here are some nuggets that caught my attention:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $5,250,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account to facilitate the complete renovation of the building located at 859 Massachusetts Avenue.
I'm glad that this building is being rehabilitated for this purpose, but I am astonished at the size of the appropriation - apparently just for this one residential building. Is this what the costs are "to meet the requirements of the City’s Net Zero standards"?
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $2,875,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account ($1,940,000) and to the Public Works Public Investment Fund ($935,000) to cover winter 2016-2017 snowstorm expenses associated with snow plowing contracts, salt, other material, repair costs and equipment.
I would like to request that the contract not be renewed for whoever was responsible for using the front of my and my neighbors' houses as a snow storage area for snow moved there from elsewhere. My only other complaint is that apparently the City's snow clearance guidelines no longer include plowing all the way to the curb on snow emergency routes even for relatively modest snow events. This led to cars being parked 3-5 feet from the curb on some of these streets. The result is a significantly narrowed roadway that is less safe for everyone. I could understand this being the case in an especially harsh winter (like two years ago) where there's just no place else to put the snow, but this should not have been the case for this relatively mild winter.
Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Betsy Allen as the new Director of Equity and Inclusion (formerly known as Director of Affirmative Action) for the City of Cambridge, effective Apr 10, 2017.
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Vision Zero Advisory Committee, effective Apr 3, 2017 for a term of two years: Nicholas Dard, Anne Kreider, Jennifer Quick, Peter Kuhlmann, Stephen Varrichio, Becca Wolfson, Nathanael Fillmore, Stacy Thompson, Richard Fries, Wendy Landman, Amy Flax, Sean Peirce, Jim Gascoigne, Michael Muehe, Diane Gray, Todd Robinson, Michele Trifiro and Steve Crossley
I hope this newly appointed advisory committee will focus on actual safety rather than recommending disruptive changes to roadways that are more political than practical and which primarily serve to marginalize cyclists (literally).
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt with suggested modifications, the Zoning Petition to Amend Section 8.23 - Reconstruction of Nonconforming Structure or Use Following Fire, Explosion or Other Catastrophe.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 29, 2017 to discuss a proposed Zoning Ordinance amendment to strikeout Section 8.23 entitled “Non-conformity” and substitute in place thereof a new Section 8.23.
The modifications suggested by the Planning Board are sensible. The City Council may also wish to consider time extensions beyond the allowed time frame via special permit in case of extraordinary circumstances.
Update: The petition was amended by substitution using language recommended by the Planning Board, then passed to a 2nd Reading.
Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to amendments to Title 6 of the Municipal Code entitled "Animals" to include a new Chapter 6.20 entitled "Restrictions on the Sale of Animals in Pet Shops".
Very well, but where will you purchase mice and other live food for your pet snake or other animal?
Update: These amendments were referred to the Ordinance Committee.
Unfinished Business #7. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge in Inclusionary Housing, including the insertion of new definitions in Article 2.000 and the substitution of revised zoning text for the current text to Sections 11.200 through 11.206. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Apr 3, 2017. Planning board hearing held Dec 20, 2016. Petition expires Apr 4, 2017.
This should be all set based on the language that was passed to a 2nd Reading on March 20, and the vote will likely be unanimous unless there are some problematic last-minute amendments. It remains to be seen whether the 20% affordable mandate will be viable in the long term or if it only serves to exacerbate the gap between high income and low income residents. My greatest concern is that the current policies will eventually lead to a future where only very high income people can buy or rent unrestricted housing units and the only option for everyone else will be to file an application with a City housing agency to obtain housing.
Order #2. That the City Council call upon the United States House of Representatives to support a resolution authorizing and directing the House Committee on the Judiciary to investigate whether sufficient grounds exist for the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, including but not limited to the violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung
This will certainly bring the TV crews out. [ABCNews story] City Council Orders don't generally get titles, but perhaps this one could be called "An Order Calling for Hard Right Conservative VP Mike Pence to Assume the Presidency". Be careful what you wish for. I received an email appeal recently about this Order with the subject heading "Support Bold Action by the City Council". It would perhaps better be characterized as a symbolic action meant to achieve nothing more than the attention of ill-intentioned Congressmen, Senators, and the Executive Branch. What exactly that achieves is yet to be determined.
Update: This purely symbolic order passed on a 7-1-1 vote with Councillor Maher voting NO and Councillor Toomey voting PRESENT. The real question is which councillor gets the most quotes in the local press and the most face time on national TV.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 15, 2017 to discuss next steps on bike and transit safety in Cambridge.
Suffice to say that I am very concerned that for purely political reasons some Cambridge streets may soon look like a forest constructed of upright PVC pipe, marginalized cyclists, dangerously narrowed roadways, loss of parking in places where it's needed, and no net additional safety. I am often reminded of the fact that "skyways", i.e. elevated highways, were one touted as the be-all-end-all solution to traffic problems. Decades later many of these misguided visions are being dismantled as the wrong solution. - Robert Winters
End of the March - Interesting Items on the March 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here's my take on this week's agenda:
Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Harvard Square Kiosk Working Group, effective Mar 27, 2017: Abra Berkowitz, Robyn Culbertson, Ankita Deshpande, Timothy Hyde, Janet Si-Ming Lee, Sarah Rosenkrantz, Daniel Andrew Schofield-Bodt, Kenneth Taylor, John DiGiovanni, Bertil JeanChronberg, Frank Kramer, Peter Kroon, Sohail Nasir, Abhishek Syal, Thomas Lucey and Mary Flynn
This is shaping up like a classic turf war and I hope these appointees can get beyond that. Personally, I would just like to see an active use for the Kiosk that's not all about the tourists - a place where the locals want to gather. My ideal would be something like Sullivan's at Castle Island in South Boston, but I don't suppose the Old Cambridge crowd could ever tolerate that much humanity.
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the requirements of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) that the City Council adopt an order for the Statement of Interest Form to be submitted to MSBA no later than Apr 7, 2017 for the Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper School located at 197 Vassal Lane.
The Putnam Avenue School is done and the King Open and Cambridge Street Upper Schools are now under construction. This Statement of Interest concerns the next major renovation or replacement - the Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper School. Let's hope there's some state grant money available to help pay for the project.
Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a proposed ordinance related to the growth and maintenance of “Running Bamboo”.
Alternatively, we could import pandas. City officials are just so resistant to creative solutions.
Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 16-64 and 17-9, regarding trash and recycling pick up for small businesses.
"DPW is proposing to expand the municipal recycling pick-up program on a trial basis to small businesses beginning in the spring/summer of 2018. It is proposed that this program will be made available to all small businesses throughout the City on a once per week basis, and will help reduce the cost to businesses in eliminating the need for them to contract with outside vendors as well as enabling the City to further increase the quantity of material diverted from the waste stream in the City. Funds are included in the FY18 budget to initiate the program."
Manager's Agenda #14. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $1,000,000 from the Water Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance account to the Public Investment Fund Water Extraordinary Expenditures account to fund the replacement of water meters and meter transmitter units (MTUs).
Contained in the message is the following piece of good news: "In October 2016, the Council approved an appropriation to use $3.6 million from the Water Fund’s Fund Balance to purchase water from the MWRA to ensure an adequate supply of water to meet the needs of the community. The severity of the drought has lessened and the usable capacity in our reservoir system has stabilized. The City has not had to use MWRA water since the beginning of December and has only expended $1.6 million."
Manager's Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to recommendations for the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2017 and ending Mar 31, 2018.
According to the Manager's report, the average triple-decker uses about 122 CCF of water per year. My triple-decker apparently uses nearly twice that and we're generally pretty conscientious about water use. This past year I paid over $2850 and the report says the average for a triple-decker was $1590. Either something is amiss with the plumbing or the Manager's figures or my water meter is reading a lot higher than it should. Actually, I just checked my records and it appears that the higher readings coincide with when the new meter was installed. Time to call the Water Department, I guess.
Order #1. City Council go on record urging the Governor to resist reducing funding for The Ride. Mayor Simmons
It's stunning just how backwards things are in this state and, in particular, the Boston Metropolitan Area when it comes to public transportation. I don't doubt that there are some efficiencies to be had with The Ride and other services, but this hardly seems the place to close a budget gap.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Acting Police Commissioner with a view toward piloting a Cambridge Police outpost located in Carl Barron Plaza, to be ready for operation by Summer 2017. Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern
What should really happen is for the City and the MBTA and a Central Square property owner to create a multi-function site that can house a police substation, an MBTA facility for bus drivers and other personnel, an information center, a public bathroom, and maybe even a newsstand. That, of course, would take coordination, so I won't hold my breath.
Order #6. That the City of Cambridge opposes H.R. 482 and S. 103, and calls on its representatives in the House and Senate to vote against these bills, and to exert influence on other representatives to oppose these bills and support the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in all efforts to affirmatively further fair housing and collect data to assess the progress of fair housing initiatives and inclusiveness of its communities. Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons
In addition to the many positive effects of the Fair Housing Act, there is also the unintended consequence that efforts to more equitably locate some social-service types of housing throughout the city have actually been hindered by this Act. There is no legal way to prevent the over-concentration of such facilities in a place like Central Square.
Order #7. That the City Council agenda be altered to create a section in the agenda between public comment and the City Manager’s agenda entitled “General Council Discussion,” where Councillors would be able to bring their colleagues up-to-date on projects in which they are engaged or ask for updates about projects that other Councillors are working on, even if these issues do not appear on the Council’s agenda or have never been the subject of formal City Council attention. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux
In an ideal world, city councillors would actually be working on such projects collaboratively and in accordance with the Open Meeting Law via the various City Council subcommittees. If this were the case there would be no need to set aside a special time at City Council meetings to reveal what they've been doing out of public view.
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 Mar 16, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Richard Harding, et al., to amend the Mass + Main Residential sub district and the Central Square Overlay District by amending Sections 20.307.8.1 (a) and (b) and 20.307.6.2 (a).
Even if someone has lingering objections to the Mass+Main project, this is an absurd way to go about expressing those objections long after that train left the station. - Robert Winters
Springtime in Cambridge: Featured Mar 20, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Items
Here's a sampler of items of potential interest at the March 20 Cambridge City Council meeting. Happy spring! (It'll be warm again before you know it.)
On the Table #5. That the City Manager is requested to establish the requirement that all appointments to the City's commissions, advisory committees, and task forces reflect the City's diversity and that the Civic Unity Committee is asked to sign off on all such appointments going forward. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Order #8 of Feb 27, 2017. Tabled on a motion by Councillor Cheung on a voice vote of 8 members on Mar 6, 2017.]
Perhaps they'll settle this on Monday. As I've stated before, the goal is laudable but you cannot give veto power over City Manager appointments to a committee.
Unfinished Business #6. An amendment to the Municipal Code Ordinance that Title 8 entitled “Health and Safety” be amended in Chapter 8.28 entitled “Restriction on Youth Access to Tobacco Products and in Smoking in Workplaces and Public Places” by amending 8.28.050 entitled “ Definitions for Prohibition of Smoking in Workplaces” by adding a new definition. [The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Mar 20, 2017.]
I'm sure a few of the smoking risk denial crowd will be there to testify against this. They should take a walk on Berkshire St. beforehand.
Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from the Friends of Observatory Hill Village, to establish the Observatory Hill Village Overlay District. (1000+ additional signatures for this zoning petition are on file in the City Clerk's Office.)
The language of the petition seems reasonable enough, but I'm always curious about what recent activities in an area lead to the decision to submit a petition for a change in the zoning. Are back yards being built over? Are new buildings being built that bear no relationship to the existing buildings. Just curious.
Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Latoyea Hawkins Cockrill, et a., to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to regulate short-term rental uses throughout the City.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 1, 2017 to draft language for short-term rental regulations to be forwarded to the Ordinance Committee.
These two have to be discussed together, and I wouldn't be surprised if this petition and the soon-to-be City Council petition on the same topic are processed concurrently. There has been some discussion on the neighborhood listservs that the Cockrill Petition is really being submitted by AirBnB to counter the proposal coming out of the City Council that would normalize short-term rentals but restrict it to owner-occupied properties. I expect there will be a lot of public comment on this one.
Communications #3. A communication was received from Peter Valentine, 37 Brookline Street, transmitting thanks for seeing the true totality of what he does, reducing complicated things to their simplest level.
In a strange way, I have to agree with Peter.
Resolution #2. Congratulations to the CRLS Boys Basketball Team on their Division 1 (North) Championship. Councillor Toomey
Now we can add a 2nd straight State Championship to that. The CRLS Falcons won the championship game on Saturday night by a score of 70-43 over Franklin High School.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments on the feasibility of installing a hitting tunnel at Danehy Park for youth and high school sports. Councillor Toomey
I've been badgering Kendall Square developers for years about putting a miniature golf course there. A batting cage would also be nice. Show us how Innovative you really are.
Order #5. Recognize the efforts of AIDS Action Cambridge, the SIFMA Now Coalition, and First Church in Cambridge to promote greater awareness about the ongoing opiate epidemic crisis, and their collective efforts to increase access to effective treatment throughout Cambridge. Mayor Simmons
Further comment is unnecessary. This is important.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 14, 2017 to discuss the Retail Strategic Plan and similar issues related to the retail environment in Cambridge.
This report seems short on specifics, but apparently the process leading to a Retail Strategic Plan for Cambridge business districts still has a way to go. In any case, it's not always the City plans that govern the eventual outcomes. There are many hands stirring these pots and zoning alone cannot predetermine outcomes.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 25, 2017 to discuss the City’s Fiscal Year 2018 Operating and Capital Budget.
The Manager and staff provided the context, and the councillors provided the wish lists. Tune in early May for the Budget Hearings.
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 Feb 28, 2017 to conduct an additional hearing to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend provisions of the Zoning Ordinance as it related to Inclusionary Housing, including the insertion of new definitions in Article 2.000 and the substitution of revised zoning text for the current text to Sections 11.200 through 11.206.
This is the meatiest item on the agenda. It is presumed that the petition will be passed to a 2nd Reading with the 20% net inclusionary housing mandate and other changes. The sticky point is whether the Council wants to jettison legal reasoning and retroactively impose the same requirements on Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) that have already received Special Permits. It may be politically popular to impose requirements that are certain to be challenged and likely to be invalidated by the courts but, hey, enjoy your Revolution. Then educate yourselves about long-term planning and financing of large-scale developments. - Robert Winters
March in like a Lamb, now Lion, soon to be Lamb - March 6, 2017 City Council highlights
This Monday's City Council meeting has a few interesting items on the agenda. Here's a sampler:
Reconsideration #1. Councillor Toomey filed Reconsideration of the vote taken at the City Council meeting of Feb 27, 2017 on Policy Order #7 stating that the City Council support the 10-citizen petition recently presented to the Cambridge Historical Commission, asking for a tiered designation system and other amendments to the Harvard Square Conservation District guidelines and possibly to its boundaries.
I'm curious what aspect of this proposal led to the request for Reconsideration.
Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request to establish the Richard C. Rossi Housing Assistance Fund (the “Fund”), and that $35,641.46 in donations received be appropriated into this Fund.
This is a great initiative, and it's very appropriate that it be named for Rich Rossi who was a consistent supporter of housing for people of all incomes.
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to establish the requirement that all appointments to the City's commissions, advisory committees, and task forces reflect the City's diversity and that the Civic Unity Committee is asked to sign off on all such appointments going forward. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Order #8 of Feb 27, 2017.]
As I stated last week, this Order is not lawful as stated. It would be better if it was rephrased to read: "That the City Manager is requested to establish the goal that the City's commissions, advisory committees, and task forces reflect the City's diversity." Even with that revision, this goal is probably not achievable in many cases due to the applicant pool and the nature of some of the commissions that are defined by advocacy for particular issues or constituencies.
Resolution #1. Celebrate Peter Valentine’s contributions to the City of Cambridge. Councillor Mazen, Mayor Simmons
In Cambridge, we appreciate our "characters", especially when he's the "National Officer In Charge". By the way, according to the registered voter database, Peter Zak Valentine was born on Valentine's Day and also registered to vote in Cambridge on Valentine's Day.
The quoted page gives a list of all state or local law enforcement entities that have such agreements. In Massachusetts, the only such entities are the Bristol County Sheriff's Office, the Plymouth County Sheriff's Department, and the Massachusetts Department of Corrections.
Order #2. That the Ordinance Committee is requested to hold a hearing on the future of zoning in Alewife and to review previous zoning changes made to the area. Councillor Cheung
A few specifics here would be helpful. A working committee of Envision Cambridge has been looking at this area for much of this past year and may be close to the point where some zoning recommendations may be possible. It is ironic, however, that there is a City Council subcommittee that has long-tern planning as part of its name yet focuses on anything but long-term planning. So it goes.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to report back on how the City can mitigate the impact of work to the conduit property in Watertown and how it will be managed in the future, what efforts can be made to preserve the two mature trees that were marked but not removed, and how to involve the Watertown Tree Warden and Watertown Town Council in ensuring that Cambridge’s right to protect its water conduit is carried out while also preserving harmonious relations with the residents of Watertown. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Kelley
This would be a good opportunity for Cambridge residents to educate themselves on how all of their basic necessities (water supply, sewerage, gas and electricity) are configured. I have long been amazed at how many people count themselves as environmental activists but know so very little about their relationship with their own local environment. How many Cambridge residents know where their water comes from, how it gets to the treatment plant, and how it is conveyed to water mains throughout the city?
Order #6. That the Ordinance Committee is requested to hold a public hearing on the draft language for short-term rentals. Councillor Cheung
Hats off to Councillor Kelley and Wil Durbin for riding herd on this issue. I had no idea how many people are doing AirBnB and similar rentals in Cambridge until a Council committee hearing last year.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Craig A. Kelley, regarding Open Meeting Law Training.
This is a good idea from Councillor Kelley. Ideally, the State Legislature should review the current law to make sure that it is not imposing restrictions that were never intended and which serve no useful purpose. - Robert Winters
Before the March - Items of Interest at the February 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
In between Resistance Rallies and Sanctuary Sessions, the Cambridge City Council occasionally meets to talk about Municipal Matters. Here are a few items that may be of interest to those not marching or carrying signs on Monday.
Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining its noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 35 municipalities in the United States with AAA ratings from each of the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.
It has become an annual tradition. Keep it up. People will complain anyway.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $48,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Finance (Personnel) Other Ordinary Maintenance account. This appropriation will be used to procure consultant services to assist in the hiring of a new Police Commissioner.
The public is invited to assist the City with the development of the leadership profile for the Police Commissioner search. Members of the public may participate in the process by attending one of the Citywide Public Forums or by providing written feedback. Two Citywide Public Forums, facilitated by PERF, are being held on:
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a revised and annotated version of the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition.
Unfinished Business #9. 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 an additional public hearing held on Feb 2, 2017 to discuss the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition. [The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 27, 2017. Planning Board hearing held Nov 29, 2016. Petition expires Mar 1, 2017.]
This is the last chance to ordain this before its expiration date. It appears to have unanimous support, but there could still be a tweak or two before it's official. The real question is whether these very modest zoning changes will provide sufficient incentive for us to see actual positive changes in Central Square. In any case, this is a good start.
Applications & Petitions #3. A Zoning Petition has been received from the owner of the property at Third Street and Cambridge Street to amend the existing zoning at that location to authorize the construction of a 45 unit residential building with small scale retail on the ground floor and parking below grade.
Resolution #2. Thanks to Luis Vasquez for his service to fathers in Cambridge. Councillor Cheung
Luis Vasquez is one of the most decent people I have met in my nearly 40 years in Cambridge.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Mayor to make the Sullivan Chamber and the prior goal setting facilitator, or any professional facilitator, available on a weekly basis for half day or full day City Council goal setting sessions Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux
This Order seems to suggest that City Council goal-setting is an extended exercise that goes on for days and days. In truth, it's just a snapshot of general priorities at a given time - and it has never taken all that much time to develop nor should it. Like a party platform, it just lays out some general goals and principles. It's a bit bewildering that they haven't completed this by now, but it's not like building Rome.
Order #7. City Council support of the 10-citizen petition recently presented to the Cambridge Historical Commission, asking for a tiered designation system and other amendments to the Harvard Square Conservation District guidelines and possibly to its boundaries. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen
Though this petition appears to be a response to the current specific redevelopment plans for the Abbot Building in Harvard Square, the idea contained in this petition is interesting and potentially worth pursuing. I suspect it would simply make official what likely already happens, i.e. the Cambridge Historical Commission evaluating buildings as possessing varying degrees of historical significance.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to establish the requirement that all appointments to the City's commissions, advisory committees, and task forces reflect the City's diversity and that the Civic Unity Committee is asked to sign off on all such appointments going forward. Mayor Simmons
This is a laudable goal but the Order as written is a clear violation of state law. The City Manager is the appointing authority and this Order calls for making appointments to all boards and commissions contingent on approval of a City Council subcommittee. Another problem with this order is that the word "diversity" means a lot of things - and not just what people look like. Should there be mandatory diversity of viewpoint on all advisory committees? We could use a lot more diversity of viewpoint, but some of these boards do, in fact, act as advocates for a particular point of view. Perhaps this Order should be amended by replacing the word "requirement" with the word "goal" and by removing the proposal to give the Civic Unity Committee veto power over City Manager appointments.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on what progress has been made in meeting the goal of creating 1,000 new affordable units by the end of this decade. Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern
As a rule, goals like this are far too constraining in the absence of other considerations. If this was to be accomplished via Inclusionary Zoning, this implies that the City should have a goal of producing over 8,600 new housing units per decade under current standards or 5,000 new housing units under the proposed new 20% standard. I don't wish to refer all such considerations to the Envision Cambridge process, but it is a valid long-term planning concern. In addition, housing growth (both "affordable" and in general) has to be accomplished in the whole region and not just in a few cities and towns within the region.
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to work with relevant City Departments and industry leaders to generate a report on the potential growth of next-generation wireless technology in the City, to include: the expected footprint of citywide coverage from just one company and what market competition might produce; the integration of public and private infrastructure to support the network; what local standards the City might hope to maintain relative to aesthetics and safety; and how this new technology fits into our Broadband access plans. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung
Though these are all valid concerns, including the proliferation of seemingly random (and sometimes noisy and ugly) structures perched atop utility poles and buildings, my guess is that when all is said and done the selection of broadcast channels will continue to suck and the cost of access to "premium" services like Red Sox games will continue to soar without limit.
Order #17. Amendments to the Zoning Map and Ordinance by creating a new Section 11.900 - Registration of Vacant/Abandoned Buildings; Maintenance and Security Requirements. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone
I'm eternally curious about the motivation of actions such as this one. Could this be related to the long-term vacancy of a place like the Harvard Square Cinema building? Or is this just a way to address long-term horror shows like the Vail Court property on Bishop Allen Drive without having to file a half dozen City Council orders and inviting lawsuits after an eminent domain taking? I do find it curious that this proposed zoning amendment would assess a monthly fee at a rate of 4.17 percent of the assessed value of the property on any property that is vacant more than 6 months. That's 50% of the assessed value per year. With rates like that this really starts to look like a regulatory taking of the property and it's doubtful that courts will look kindly on such a fee structure.
Order #18. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to ask the Volpe Working Group to consider how the GSA building will be integrated in with the rest of the site and to ask the independent design consultant to be more involved in the urban design process going forward. Councillor Cheung
At the MIT meeting on this matter it was revealed that the Volpe replacement building would have to be located at the northwest corner of the Volpe site and that much of the open space associated with the future federal property could be integrated with the rest of the open space planned on the site. Details at http://www.volpemit.com and, in particular in this PDF slide presentation of the Feb 16, 2017 meeting.
Order #20. Proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinances regarding rooftop spaces in Central Square. Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone
This seems like a sensible outgrowth of the discussion that grew out of the Central Square Restoration Petition which will hopefully be ordained by the time this Order comes up in the agenda. See you at the March. - Robert Winters
Monday the 13th - Featured Items on the Feb 13, 2017 Cambridge City Council Meeting Agenda
This is a very short agenda this week. Here are a few things of possible interest:
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the revised and annotated version of the Central Square Restoration 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 an additional public hearing held on Feb 2, 2017 to discuss the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition.
It is expected that the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition will be passed to a 2nd Reading at this meeting. This will put it in the queue for ordination at the Feb 27 meeting - hopefully by a unanimous vote.
Resolution #5. Wishing Ken Reeves a Happy Birthday. Councillor Toomey
When Ken was on the Council it was a tradition to not only wish him a happy birthday on his Feb 8 birthday, but to also commemorate him for the entire month of February. It's nice to see Councillor Toomey continuing the tradition - at least for the day. Happy Birthday, Ken!
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works, the City Arborist, and any other appropriate City department to establish a Tree Task Force to better protect the urban canopy. Councillor Devereux
This is the only City Council Order on the agenda this week. Perhaps such a task force could be established within the Public Planting Committee rather than duplicating effort. More generally, this is a good time to take a look at all of the City's various Boards, Commissions, Advisory Committees, and Task Forces to make sure that the right issues are being addressed, there is no duplication of effort, and that volunteer energy is being best utilized.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 12, 2017 to review City Ordinance 12.08.010 regarding sandwich board and A-frame signs.
The littlest issue had its day in committee. Most seemed to agree that some basic guidelines should be established and that the permitting of such signs should be done in the future by City staff without the need for City Council approval of every such sign. An ordinance change will be required to make it so. - Robert Winters
On tap at the February 6, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here are some items of possible interest this Monday. Budget Season is on the horizon. More importantly, pitchers and catchers report February 13 and position players on February 16. Even more importantly, wasn't that come-from-behind Patriots victory in the Super Bowl just spectacular?
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of of $3,709,949 in funds from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Grant to the Public Works Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures account for the Alewife Sewer Separation Program.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Department of Public Works to set and meet a firm 2017 deadline for fully completing all remaining parts of the Huron A, Huron B, and Concord Avenue contracts, provide a full accounting of all costs (to-date and future) compared to the original contracts and budgets and schedule a community meeting as soon as possible to update the public on the schedule and budget for completing the project, as well as a complete list of all remaining punch list items for each of the contract areas. Councillor Devereux
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,300,000 to provide funds for the design, drainage, and installation of new field surfaces at Russell Field and the Graham and Parks School.
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $1,100,000 to provide funds for the construction of sewer separation, storm water management, and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the Cambridgeport Neighborhood.
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $1,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.
Call me an infrastructure geek, but I just love this kind of stuff - how all the systems of a city run from water supply to sewerage to electric service and everything else that goes on unseen and underappreciated (until something goes wrong).
Charter Right #8 (Order #3 of Jan 23, 2017). That the City Manager is requested to hire an independent consultant who shall assess the efficiency and effectiveness of how all City Departments conduct their work, who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary, and who will report back to the City Manager and the City Council on his or her progress in regular monthly intervals. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Jan 23, 2017. Placed On Table on motion of Mayor Simmons on Jan 30, 2017.]
My understanding is that better language was being worked out and this item should be voted on Monday. Most importantly, any consultant hired by the City should advise the City Manager, but it's still entirely the Manager's decision how to structure City departments. As I mentioned last week, this may also be a good time to look at the structure of all the City's volunteer Boards and Commissions, and maybe the City Council should also give some thought toward how its subcommittees function (or not function).
Unfinished Business #10. A proposed amendment to the Ordinance entitled "Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge" to insert in Article 11.00 a new Section 11.800 Medical Marijuana. [The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 6, 2017. Planning Board hearings were held Nov 1, 2016 and Jan 3, 2017. Petition expires Feb 7, 2017.]
The deadline is here, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to work with the relevant City staff to make available the City’s GIS system data regarding the total number of parking spaces designated as resident-permit only by street address, the total number of residential off-street parking spaces by street address, and the total number of cars registered in Cambridge by street address. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen
Councillors Devereux and Mazen are gathering data to make the case for removing parking on several major streets, including Broadway, Cambridge St., Hampshire St., and Mass. Ave. in order to remove bicycles from the roadway. They have apparently neglected to inquire about parking for schools, City buildings, churches, day care facilities, funeral homes, and all businesses. They also neglected to inquire about parking needs by times of day. I'm sure it was just an oversight. And pigs can fly. - Robert Winters
Now Featuring.... Coming Attractions at the Jan 30, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
With Groundhog Day fast approaching, and in recognition of a really great movie, perhaps the City Council will find the wisdom (and the kindness toward the City Clerk) to dispense with On The Table Items #3, #4, #5, #7, and #8. I mean, seriously, the Nutcracker performances are over for 2016, so why is the matter of banners promoting the Boston Ballet's Nutcracker still on the agenda every week? This will take all of one minute to dispense with these zombies and allow the City Council move on to bigger and better things (as well as the usual lot of smaller and poorer things). Here are a few agenda items that seem either interesting, controversial, or just plain ridiculous:
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an update on the Bicycle Safety Work Plan.
One conclusion that I draw from this report is that this plan is basically non-negotiable. On-street parking will soon be removed on major streets and any claims of "evaluation" are fiction. Politicians will henceforth be in charge of traffic engineering. Those who believe that bicycles belong on the sidewalk and not in the streets are now calling all the shots. Those of us who choose to ride in the street are now squeezed into narrower lanes and greater danger. I have yet to meet an MBTA bus driver who has anything good to say about Cambridge's plans. I only wish City officials would drop the pretense of calling these "temporary measures" while at the same time making them permanent as was recently done in the Special Permit conditions imposed on the Mass and Main development in Lafayette Square.
Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the comprehensive Needs Assessment Report relative to the Community Benefits Ordinance.
This has been long in coming. There is a need for a more rational process in determining how money derived from new developments will be distributed for projects and institutions for the public good. I still have some concerns about "mitigation as shakedown" and the possibility that not-so-great projects will be permitted to go forward as long as the developers sufficiently "sweeten the pot" with additional contributions. I would rather see good projects regardless of the mitigation.
Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the results of the biannual City of Cambridge Citizen Telephone Survey for 2016.
I have taught statistics courses, but I get no pleasure in reading statistical reports like these. All you really need to know is in the City Manager's cover letter. "Overall opinions of the City remain very positive. Citizens’ extreme satisfaction with overall performance of City government in Cambridge ... is a reflection on responsible, forward-thinking policies, and a capable and extremely dedicated workforce." "Affordable housing/housing was again identified as the ‘single most important issue facing the City of Cambridge today’." Enough said.
Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-110, regarding the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition.
Most of this is old news, but it's good to have it summarized in this report. There is an important legal opinion from City Solicitor Nancy Glowa on the legality of the proposed Formula Business regulations in the petition. The rest of the petition is pretty solid and received accolades from the Planning Board, but we may have to live for now without the proposed change from the current Fast Food Cap to the more desirable Formula Business regulations. Then again, maybe we'll see some revised language at the Feb 2 hearing on the matter. In any case, the core provisions of this petition should pass - and soon.
Charter Right #1. A zoning petition has been received from Richard Harding, et al. to amend 20.800 titled the Mass and Main Residential Mixed Income Sub district to reflect a more appropriate affordable housing contribution and height limitation for this zoning. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Jan 23, 2017.]
This petition was rendered moot by the granting of the Special Permit for the Mass and Main and related developments this past Tuesday by the Planning Board. The votes aren't there to pass this petition anyway.
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to hire an independent consultant who shall assess the efficiency and effectiveness of how all City Departments conduct their work, who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary, and who will report back to the City Manager and the City Council on his or her progress in regular monthly intervals. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Jan 23, 2017.]
The City Council should amend this Order to simply ask the City Manager to consider hiring a consultant to advise him on possible changes in the structure and function of City departments. While they're at it, the City Council and the City administration should take a good objective look at all of the City's volunteer Boards and Commissions to see if there are any efficiencies that can be made or if any of the ordinances that created some of these boards should be amended to better reflect today's needs and priorities.
Then the City Council should take a good hard look at its own operations. For example, wouldn't it work better if City Council aides were assigned to Council subcommittees rather than to individual councillors? Perhaps each Council subcommittee could also keep its own web page that tracks what each committee is doing, the status of any initiatives, and a record of all actions taken.
Resolution #2. Resolution on the death of Renae Gray. Mayor Simmons
Renae was the first person to invite me (in 1991) to be on a board of a civic organization in Cambridge. She always brought positive energy to anything with which she was involved. This is a very significant loss to the civic fabric of the city.
Order #2. Amendment to Chapter 8.12.010 of the Municipal Code. Councillor Cheung
This is almost like a mystery question. The Order basically just asks that the requirement that any gas station with self-serve pumps "have service bays and offer automotive repairs" be removed. On the face of it, this just seems like common sense since there are already self-serve gas stations in Cambridge where no repairs are made. But why is this revision being posed now? Is this just housekeeping or is there a service station that wants to do self-serve gas and get out of the repair business? It matters because self-serve stations usually come with bright lights, extended hours, and elaborate fire-suppression structures. That's a pretty big change from Goober's Fillin' Station.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the MBTA to install a shelter on Aberdeen Avenue without advertising or lighting comparable to what was originally there and to consult with City staff to develop a policy that prohibits advertising and illumination on bus shelters in residential areas citywide and as well as in the Parkway Overlay District. Councillor Devereux
We probably all would rather see less advertising on bus shelters, Hubway stations, etc., but that is how the maintenance costs are covered. Perhaps they can just dim the lights and make the advertisements classier.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department, the Department of Public Works (DPW) and any other relevant City department and report back to the City Council on ways the City can help small businesses offset other costs, included but not limited to, the possibility of DPW picking up trash from these small businesses during their regular routes. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung
This debate has gone on for at least 25 years. The truth is that DPW already does pick up trash from small businesses in some mixed-use buildings (like next door to me). If the City did choose to include more commercial customers, they would also have to include recycling services.
Communications and Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by John Hawkinson alleging violation to attorney client privileged redactions of executive session minutes of the City Council for Aug 1, 2016, Oct 13, 2016 and the Oct 31, 2016.
While few will argue with the intent of the Open Meeting Law, there does come a point when complaints like these pass well into the realm of the ridiculous. In this particular case, these were Executive Session meetings specifically focused on contract negotiations. They are not subject to the Open Meeting Law and redaction in the minutes is permitted when appropriate, so no one should be surprised that much of the minutes were redacted. There are far more important things to worry about - even here in the Little Village of Cambridge. In any case, I wish the complainant would show a little more respect to the women who work in City government. Nobody appreciates being hounded while under threat of a negative "news" story that's barely distinguishable from a personal attack. - Robert Winters
Coming up this Monday - Jan 23, 2017 Cambridge City Council agenda [extra detail here or here (15.4MB PDF)]
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person to the position of Assistant City Manager for Finance, effective Mar 13, 2017: David Kale.
It's like that line from the Blues Brothers - "We're putting the band back together." Welcome back, David.
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-107, regarding the purchase of K9 Rumba by Officer Peter Neal.
There was no absolutely right resolution to this dilemma. In the end, four-year-old Rumba still has work to do for the City of Cambridge.
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $35,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Human Services Other Ordinary Maintenance account, to be used to expand the existing contract with Food for Free to support the Weekend Backpack Program.
This is not the first time the City has taken up the slack when the state or federal government discontinued funding for a useful program such as this. I expect it won't be the last.
Manager's Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation regarding the Medical Marijuana Zoning Petition. [The Planning Board does NOT RECOMMEND adoption.]
Committee Report #2 and Committee Report #3 from the Ordinance Committee for public hearings held on Dec 21, 2016 and on Jan 3, 2017 relative to the City Council petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance to delete the existing Section 20.700 – Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts; create a new Section 11.800 – Medical Marijuana; and list Registered Marijuana Dispensary within Section 4.35 of the Table of Use Regulations, allowed only by Planning Board Special Permit within Business A, B, B-1, B-2, C, Industry A-1, B-1 and B-2 districts. These are the 2nd and 3rd hearings on this petition.
The basic issue here is that if there are to be medical marijuana dispensaries in Cambridge, the existing zones where it is allowed appear to be inadequate as evidenced by repeated zoning petitions to add new small zones tailored to specific sites. The alternative is to simply make this an allowed use in some or all of the existing business districts (as long as other constraints are met). One identified complication is that under the recently passed initiative petition to liberalize the use, possession, and sale of recreational marijuana, the dispensary sites could also become recreational marijuana outlets. One discussion I have not yet heard is the reality of where such facilities would actually end up being located if they become an allowed use in business districts. These are not the kind of facilities that would be dependent on foot traffic and they don't need a site that commands high rent, so the most likely sites would be in the smaller business zones or on the outer periphery of the Squares. Wherever they locate, their particular clientele will be sure to find them.
Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Richard Harding, et al. to amend 20.800 titled the Mass and Main Residential Mixed Income Sub district to reflect a more appropriate affordable housing contribution and height limitation for this zoning.
Communications #1. A communication was received from Massasoit Elk's Lodge #129 Membership, 55 Bishop Allen Drive, transmitting opposition to the 19th floor height of the B-1 and B2 towers that are grossly out of scale for Central Square and Port neighborhoods, and far higher even than proposed by the C2 study.
I'm at something of a loss trying to understand out of which blue this petition came. The Normandy/Twining petition of a couple of years ago that has made possible the Mass & Main development that is now being permitted was a very public process with more than its share of controversy. That petition was ordained on a 7-2 vote on May 18, 2015 with significant concessions to produce affordable housing units as part of that development. A tremendous amount of planning and negotiation has occurred since then and many opportunities for the public to weigh in. This new petition is really the horse that left that barn 18 months ago. All of the relevant issues have already been debated. The communication from the Elk's Lodge specifically references the petition. It's difficult to guess what the real motivation is for this petition's appearance at this time. It could be related to a potential City Council candidacy or maybe it's a proxy petition promoted by an activist group, but it could also be based on fear of construction disruption when the Mass & Main development gets underway later this year. In any case, this petition is long past its freshness date.
Resolution #2. Congratulations to José Mateo for being named a 2017 Commonwealth Award honoree for Achievement by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Councillor Devereux
Resolution #14. Retirement of Greg Russ from the Cambridge Housing Authority. Mayor Simmons
In their respective fields, both José Mateo and Greg Russ are local giants.
Order #2. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the License Commission, the Cambridge Arts Council, the Community Development Department, the Police Department, and any other appropriate City department to discuss the feasibility of allowing small businesses to host live acoustic music performances without a license. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern
This seems like a great idea - certainly for occasional performances and particularly for those without amplification. There are, however, some factors that the City Council and the City administration may want to consider before making such a change, e.g. hours of operation, whether the business has "operable windows" that would project the sound outward, and if there might be some conflict with any residential abutters. Not all acoustic music is low volume, e.g. drums and horns. Acoustic doesn't necessarily mean a folk singer gently strumming her guitar strings.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to hire an independent consultant who shall assess the efficiency and effectiveness of how all City Departments conduct their work, who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary, and who will report back to the City Manager and the City Council on his or her progress in regular monthly intervals. Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Mazen
Assessing the effectiveness of City departments and making necessary improvements should, of course, be standard practice. In that spirit, this Order seems perfectly great. However, the phrase "who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary" in regard to a hired independent consultant is more than a little problematic. If read literally, this would imply that the City Manager would hire a consultant who would not merely advise the City Manager and the City Council but actually independently make changes in the management of City departments. At the very least, the City Council should amend this order to make clear that any recommendations are strictly advisory.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on current or potential future public-private partnerships that could deliver an operational Foundry that consists of significant community space for the community. Councillor Toomey
Lately I have begun to think that the entire process regarding the Foundry building has become one large circular discussion that has brought of back to pretty much the same place we were at four years ago.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report on the current status of the Broadband Task Force, including a schedule for ongoing discussion and final decision and recommendation. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung
I still have not heard a convincing argument for why the City should invest a huge sum of money on a speculative initiative like this.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff and report back to the Council with an explanation of how the success of these “pop up” lanes will be measured and what lessens we expect to learn from them to help implement safer bicycling facilities throughout the City as soon as possible. Councillor Kelley
This is an incredibly perceptive Order from Councillor Kelley. I have already seen at least one advocacy group running surveys designed to "prove" the desirability of these changes. I cannot speak for the one near the Harvard Law School, but it's hard to imagine that the obstacle course that was installed in Lafayette Square would pass muster in any objective analysis. There are plenty of trouble spots that can be identified for improved bicycle safety in Cambridge, but these don't especially coincide with those promoted politically.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 13, 2016 to discuss recent and anticipated development projects and commercial and institutional leasing in Harvard Square and how such changes may affect the future of Harvard Square.
This was an interesting hearing, but it's not at all clear what the action items are or where this discussion may be headed.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 4, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend provision of the Zoning Ordinance related to Inclusionary Housing, including the insertion of new definitions into Article 2.000 and the substitution of revised zoning text for the current text of sections 11.200 through 11.206.
There is a noticeable urgency to pass these changes regardless of what the effect may be on new housing construction. The proposed mandatory percentage of "affordable units" is almost double what has been in effect since the 1998 ordinance was adopted. It may be economically sustainable, but this is not a sure thing. The only sure thing is that the adoption of these changes to Inclusionary Zoning will be prominently featured on a lot of campaign literature this fall. - Robert Winters
New Year at City Hall - Jan 9, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
It's a relatively short agenda to open the new year, but there are some notable items:
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Acting Police Commissioner Brent B. Larrabee, effective Jan 9, 2017.
Even if we'll have Acting Commissioner Larrabee for just the next 6-8 months, he comes highly recommended by former Commissioner Robert Haas. That's all I need to hear to know that the Police Department is in good hands.
Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt with suggested modifications, the zoning amendments to Article 19.000 related to lighting in project review.
This is a reasonable proposal and the modifications suggested by the Planning Board make sense. Nonetheless, the alarmists are out in full force arguing against reason. One message posted on a listserv states, "If you do not want Las Vegas style lights in Cambridge, if you believe you have the right to some darkness at night, you need to, once again, email your councillors right now." Yeah, right. Las Vegas here we come. Let's see if the tail wags the dog Monday night.
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt with some minor modifications, the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition (Sater, et al).
I haven't yet heard any serious objections to this zoning petition. It's a very moderate step forward that may yield positive benefits for housing and retail in the Central Square area. It does not preclude further modifications that might one day emerge from the Envision Cambridge process.
Charter Right #2. City Council support of asking the Cambridge Historical Commission to initiate a landmark designation study process on the Abbott Building in Harvard Square. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Dec 19, 2016.]
Most of us want to see the exterior of this structure remain essentially as it is today - regardless of any changes in tenancy within the building. The word is that Curious George will find a new home nearby. One striking lesson from the Dec 19 City Council meeting discussion on this subject was that this area already has substantial protections as a neighborhood conservation district, and landmarking of this building really adds no additional protection. The issue, however, has become a political rallying point, so I don't expect the City Council to exercise good sense here. There are important discussions that are needed regarding the future of Harvard Square, but this isn't one of them. I would be much more thrilled if we could focus just a little attention on the detrimental effect of foreign investors treating this area and all of Cambridge as just a place to shelter their assets. Some of us actually live here - and not just for the investment value.
Communications and Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, relating to Council Goals and capacity building for the Community Development Department.
The City Council is long overdue in their periodic goal-setting process, and I imagine more than a few of them would like to address this sooner than later. Regarding whether the Community Development Department is understaffed or if there's a need for a "vision statement for how CDD will run differently in the year 2020", I look forward to hearing what City staff and the rest of the city councillors may have to say on the matter. - Robert Winters
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
Jan 1998 - The vote for who was to be mayor went on for several weeks as Ken Reeves held out until there were 4 other votes for Katherine Triantafillou, an outcome sincerely supported by at most two councillors (Reeves and Triantafillou). The would-be mayor rounded up her supporters for the coronation. A congratulatory cake was ordered. As the vote occurred and there were momentarily 5 votes on the table for Triantafillou (Born, Davis, Duehay, Reeves, Triantafillou), Councillors Galluccio and Russell changed their votes to Duehay. Councillors Born, Davis, and Duehay then changed their votes to Duehay and Mayor Duehay was elected. Councillor Galluccio was then elected vice-mayor. Meanwhile, in the room next to the Council chamber, Alice Wolf aide and Triantafillou supporter Marjorie Decker exploded in anger and punched out the cake, police were called, and a grudge began that remains to this day.
Feb 1998 - Mayor Duehay made good on the deal by hiring Galluccio campaign worker Terry Smith to work in the Mayor's Office "to assist the mayor and vice mayor". This marked the first time (to my knowledge) that any councillor other than the mayor received personal staff (except for a brief experiment with interns some years earlier). Resentment grew among other councillors about the special treatment one councillor received in exchange for delivering the mayor's job.
1999 - Frank Duehay and Sheila Russell announced they would not seek reelection. Jim Braude, David Maher, and Marjorie Decker were subsequently elected to the City Council as incumbent Katherine Triantafillou was defeated, principally as a result of Marjorie Decker winning her seat.
2000 - After 1½ months without electing a mayor, Anthony Galluccio was able to secure 6 votes to become mayor (Braude, Davis, Galluccio, Maher, Sullivan, Toomey). David Maher was elected vice-mayor. Terry Smith became chief of staff of the Mayor's Office. David Maher did not request any personal staff. Kathy Born suggested during the Budget hearings that the idea of personal staff for councillors be referred to the Government Operations Committee. Ken Reeves said at this time, "I don't believe the vice-mayor needs the extra staffing and not us." Note that this was a reference to the previous administration (Duehay-Galluccio).
Around this time, the Government Operations Committee met to discuss the proposal for personal staff. The estimates given for City Council staff were: (1) $390,250 for a low-level, bare bones proposal; (2) $157,450 for 8 part-time staff with no benefits; (3) $72,300 for one legislative research assistant. Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi said personal staff was tried briefly about 10 years earlier with interns. Michael Sullivan voiced concern about keeping in touch personally with his constituents and wondered how he would find enough things for this person to do. Most of the councillors spoke in support of giving themselves personal staff. Kathy Born said that if she found her job to be too much, she could hire her own staff person, only she would have to pay for it out of after-tax money, unlike an employee of a business. She suggested higher Council pay with the option of paying for a staff person out of this additional pay. The option would remain for a councillor to act as a “full-time councillor” without staff. Jim Braude said that a councillor could lend his or her campaign the money for the staff person.
One week later, the City Manager proposed a 23% pay raise for city councillors and a change in the ordinance to allow for automatic increases so that they would never again have to vote to raise their own pay. The pay raise was approved and the question of personal staff disappeared for the rest of the Council term.
2001 - Kathy Born and Jim Braude chose not to seek reelection. Brian Murphy and Denise Simmons were elected to the City Council.
2002 - Michael Sullivan was elected mayor on Inauguration Day. Henrietta Davis was elected vice-mayor. Unlike the previous term, Henrietta Davis did request and receive personal staff as vice-mayor when Garrett Simonsen, Davis' election campaign manager, was hired to the Mayor's Office staff as her assistant. Indications are that he served more than just the vice-mayor.
2004 - Michael Sullivan was again elected mayor, only this time Marjorie Decker was elected vice-mayor. Garrett Simonsen became chief of staff of the Mayor's Office. Sullivan hired Kristin Franks (who had been Decker's campaign manager) as “assistant to the mayor and vice-mayor” but the indications were that she was working almost exclusively for Decker. By summer, Franks was gone and Nicole Bukowski, another Decker campaign worker, was hired as exclusive staff to Decker. For the remainder of the Council term, Bukowski waited hand and foot on Decker - and resentment among other councillors grew for the remainder of the Council term.
Late 2005 - Craig Kelley was elected to the City Council and incumbent David Maher was defeated. Speculation immediately began about who would be the next mayor. Some councillors reported that a plan was being discussed to give certain councillors personal staff as part of the vote-trading for electing the mayor.
Early 2006 - Ken Reeves was elected mayor and Tim Toomey vice-mayor. In a surprising turn of events, Bukowski continued to serve out of the Mayor's Office as personal staff to Councillor Decker - clearly a part of the deal to make Reeves mayor. Rumors circulated that there was a plan to assign some councillors additional committee chairs as justification for getting personal staff. When the committee chairs were announced, Councillor Decker (who, along with Councillor Galluccio, has maintained the worst record of committee attendance during her time on the Council) was surprisingly given four committees to chair. In contrast, Henrietta Davis (who has always been at or near the top in committee attendance) was given only one. This was seen by some as a way to justify Decker keeping her personal aide in exchange for her vote for mayor.
April 2006 - Ken Reeves submitted a budget for the Mayor's Office that is 54.3% higher than the previous year. The cause for the increase is a proposal for personal staff for all the remaining councillors at a recurring annual cost of about a quarter-million dollars. There was no public indication of any kind that such an extravagant plan was in the works. An order is on the May 1 City Council agenda (after the budget was already submitted on April 24 including the increase) formally calling for the major staff increase. The order is co-sponsored by Reeves, Toomey, Decker, Galluccio, Sullivan, and Davis. It is expected that, like every person hired to date as staff for the vice-mayor (and most of those on the mayor's staff), all of the new “research assistants” will be affiliated with the election campaigns of the officials they will serve. Curiously, these patronage hires will be occurring at a time when there are fewer major issues before the Council and when an unprecedented number of councillors are either serving in other elected positions or seeking election to other positions now or in the near future. - RW, April 28, 2006
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
One Ring to rule them all,
The nine Nazgūl arose as Sauron's most powerful servants in the Second Age of Middle-earth. It is said that three of the Nine were originally "Great Lords" of Nśmenor. They were all powerful mortal Men to whom Sauron each gave nine Rings of Power. These proved to be their undoing:
"Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron. And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thralldom of the ring that they bore and of the domination of the One which was Sauron's. And they became forever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgūl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy's most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death" (The Silmarillion: "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age", 289).
The corrupting effect of the rings caused their bodily forms to fade over time until they had become wraiths entirely. Given visible form only through their attire, their original form was completely invisible to mortal eyes. The red reflection in their eyes could be plainly distinguished even in daylight, and in a rage they appeared in a hellish fire. They had many weapons, which included long swords of steel and flame, daggers with magical venomous properties and black maces of great strength.