Pre-Spring Fling – March 19, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting
While we wait for the next Nor'Easter, here are a few things up for discussion this Monday. Sorry for the minimal comments, but I have to go to work.
Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the recommendation to reappointment Margaret Drury as a member of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Board for a term of five years.
Former City Manager Bob Healy's inspired appointments that revitalized the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority in April 2012 continue to be the gift that keeps on giving.
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-28, regarding Housing Choice Designation.
Cambridge continues to provide its share of new housing and then some. It will be great if this leads to some infrastructure funding under this new program. Now if we can only get all the other cities and towns in the area to do the same we might actually make a dent in the problem of actual affordable housing (as opposed to subsidized housing).
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-25, regarding a timeline for the next Incentive Zoning Study.
The City will authorize a thoughtful Nexus Study which will be followed promptly by several city councillors stumbling over each other to be the one who demands the greatest increase in the linkage fee regardless of the recommendations in the study.
Order #1. City Council support of S. 2306, “An Act to promote and enhance civic engagement.” Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon
Good idea worth supporting. The idea here is that “American history and civics education shall be taught as required subjects for the purpose of promoting civic service and a greater knowledge thereof, and of preparing students, morally and intellectually, for the duties of citizenship…” Take note that this refers to education so that students can develop well-informed points of view and make informed decisions. This should not be about training students to hold any predetermined point of view.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Election Commission regarding the possibility of instituting early voting in the 2019 municipal election. Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern
While we all hope to have good voter turnout and an informed electorate in all elections, I'm not at all convinced that the key to either of these goals is expanding the number of days during which people can vote. With 34 precincts spread around the city and a 13 hour window during which people can vote, there really is no problem here that needs a solution and there is a significant cost associated with this proposal.
Order #5. City Council support of implementing protected bicycle infrastructure on the Longfellow Bridge. Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone
I can only see this making sense if the width of the planned bicycle lanes are insufficient and result in slow-moving cyclists being too close to faster moving motor vehicles. The last diagram I saw had a 5.5 foot bicycle lane (plus an 8.5 foot wide sidewalk) toward Boston and a 6 foot bicycle lane (plus a 10 foot wide sidewalk) toward Cambridge. Those are good widths and installing barriers in the roadway could be problematic for emergency vehicles.
Order #6. City Council support of S.2302 "An Act to Promote a Clean Energy Future." Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux
Few would argue with the goals, but it would be helpful to hear about what costs are associated with this very long list of proposed requirements.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to work with all relevant City Departments to help facilitate the associated activities with the "Affordable Housing Week of Action." Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Assistant City Manager for Community Development to apply for a federal Opportunity Zone designation on behalf of the City of Cambridge. Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons
Order #9. City Council support of S.548 "Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017." Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux
All three of these Orders refer to "Affordable Housing". Though I certainly don't want to overstate this, the term "affordable housing" as a euphemism for "subsidized housing" has always irritated me. During Envision Cambridge meetings and elsewhere it has now become common for people to say things like "Capital A Affordable Housing" in order to clarify that they mean housing that receives some form of subsidy. Wouldn't it be better to just use plain English? If it's subsidized - either by government funds or by skewing rents in privately owned inclusionary housing - then it should be called Subsidized Housing. I was able to to afford my triple-decker and have provided housing at affordable rents for over 30 years to my tenants, yet this is never acknowledged as "affordable housing". At best, City bureaucrats will refer to it as "small a affordable housing".
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to sign off on any Host Community Agreement for the purposes of filing an application with the State for an adult use cannabis retail establishment within the City of Cambridge, provided that said Host Community Agreement includes the maximum allowable taxation and relevant provisions that are substantially similar to or the same as those under which current medical cannabis establishments operate in the City. Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Simmons
I'm just glad I live on a street with an elementary school, two Montessori pre-schools, and a day-care center. That should keep the stoners at a tolerable level.
Order #11. That the Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee be and hereby is requested to schedule a meeting to discuss parking options for City and School employees who do not get jobs that come with parking. Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan
Considering the list of sponsors of this Order, I would have expected a mandate that these School employees ride their bikes to work or be required to buy Teslas.
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to have a funding plan in place to develop and implement protective barriers for Fresh Pond for the FY2018-19 budget. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey, Vice Mayor Devereux
I would like to see a more detailed rationale for this. Of course we all want to ensure the quality of our water supply (except Gary Mello), but the examples given in the Order are coastal locations that are vulnerable to storm surges. Any vulnerability of Fresh Pond would more likely come from sustained rain events and limitations to evacuating that stormwater primarily via the Alewife Brook and Mystic River.
On the Agenda - March 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here are the things sure to get a rise out of at least someone:
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to determine why there continues to be significant audio and video difficulties during live internet broadcasts of City Council meetings, how these difficulties can be resolved. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons as Amended.]
I have no idea what this was delayed or even debated last week. These live webcasts as well as the Cable TV broadcasts have always had problems no matter how many times they have been "fixed". That said, I'm not so sure that the best solution would be to host official proceedings on YouTube.
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with relevant City departments to create additional Safety Zones for safer streets. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons as Amended.]
There are places where this makes sense and other places where it would be a pointless restriction. It makes a lot of sense in our pedestrian intensive major Squares and a few other places but, like the boy who cried "wolf", if you overplay your hand you run the risk of the restriction being generally ignored.
Charter Right #3. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to draft language for a home rule petition for a Cambridge Right of First Refusal Legislation. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons.]
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk, Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Carlone, submitting draft language on "AN ACT TO PRESERVE AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN THE CITY OF CAMBRIDGE THROUGH A TENANT'S RIGHT TO PURCHASE".
This is the most incorrectly titled piece of legislation I have seen in a long time. It should more properly be titled "AN ACT TO EXPAND EMINENT DOMAIN AUTHORITY TO INCLUDE ALL RENTAL PROPERTY AT TIME OF SALE". Any city councillor who supports this as written doesn't deserve to ever be reelected. The same goes for any member of the state legislature who supports the proposed home rule legislation.
When you read through the details of this proposal it becomes clear that the most likely outcome will be that the "right of first refusal" will be directed to the City or one of its agents - especially in certain neighborhoods targeted for this treatment, and slowly but surely more and more rental properties will no longer be privately owned. If our elected officials actually want to do something useful, they should devise ways to encourage multi-family ownership by small landlords. This would do a lot to support housing affordability for middle-class residents and their tenants. This was the primary method of middle-class housing affordability in Cambridge for the last century.
Update: I was very pleased to see Carlone's pilfered Somerville proposal soundly defeated on a 2-7 vote with only Carlone and Zondervan in favor. Carlone, in particular, should reconsider his practice of using ghost writers for legislative proposals. The original order to have the City Solicitor draft the language also died on a 3-6 vote with Siddiqui joining these two on this misguided proposal.
Apparently (according to Zondervan) both Boston and Somerville are pushing this same approach to move as much privately owned rental property as possible into public ownership, and he was "embarrassed" that Cambridge would not be joining them. It doesn't surprise me that the Revolutionary Guard in Somerville (a.k.a. the current Board of Alderman) is pushing this. After all, revolutionaries tend to lose their credibility when not smashing capitalism or overthrowing something. I have to wonder if Boston is actually in favor of this. There are a lot of two-family and three-family buildings in Boston and a lot of owner-occupant small landlords who will not be pleased at this taking.
Resolution #1. Resolution on the closing of Ryles Jazz Club. Councillor Toomey
When I first moved to Cambridge 40 years ago the first building I was ever in was a gymnasium at the corner of Harvard and Prospect Streets (now and office building) to play frisbee in February, and the second building was Ryles for beers afterwards. I hope that a similar use can continue in that space.
Resolution #5. Resolution on the death of William "Bill" Noble. Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons
There was an obituary in the Feb 26, 2018 Boston Globe for Bill Noble - longtime tenant activist and one of the central figures at Cambridge City Council meetings during the rent control years in Cambridge. Present at most City Council meetings during many of those years were Michael Turk, Connie Thibaut, and Bill Noble from the Cambridge Tenants Union (CTU). There was a time when public comment at meetings happened whenever in the meeting a particular agenda item came up, so it was often necessary to stay through the end of the meeting if you wished to give public comment. The mainstays of the CTU were often there for the whole meeting. Some of the other regulars are quoted in the obituary. Bill Noble was also actively involved with the Riverside-Cambridgeport Community Corporation (RCCC - though everyone called it "R Triple C").
It was an interesting coincident that the obituary for Bill Noble was published the same day that many of the Small Property Owners Association (SPOA) from way back when were at the City Council meeting opposing what they see as a back-door attempt to impose similar controls on property that they successfully opposed nearly 25 years ago. It was almost like a virtual reunion - and a reminder of how Cambridge used to be an ongoing political war zone.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Community Development Department to apply on behalf of the City of Cambridge for the Housing Choice Designation before the Apr 30, 2018 deadline. Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon
At last week's City Council meeting, City Manager Louis DePasquale hinted at the possibility of some movement in the everlasting quest to build a new bridge over the railroad tracks west of the Alewife Brook Parkway that would connect the Alewife Triangle and the Alewife Quadrangle, but he gave no specifics. Everybody was intrigued about what he was driving at. [By the way, the only people who call it "The Quad" are people who attended prep school.]
I heard of one possible mechanism through which funding might be derived to build this bridge. The Governor recently created the "Housing Choice Initiative" which allows communities to apply to the state to be recognized and designated as a "Housing Choice Community." To qualify, you have to either show that you've produced a certain rate of new units or adopted certain best practices. Cambridge would be in that top tier for housing produced and would qualify. Communities that qualify would get an advantage in applying for discretionary state funding and exclusive access to a new capital fund called the "Local Capital Projects Fund", which will be funded by casino revenue. More information is available at: https://www.mass.gov/housing-choice-initiative
Wouldn't it be great if a by-product of Cambridge encouraging new housing (rather than trying to block it) was a community benefit like this bridge, hopefully built in conjunction with a new commuter rail stop to support the new housing and jobs?
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor, Attorney General and District Attorney to investigate the possibility of Cambridge joining this national suit against opioid manufacturers and distributors. Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Mallon
The Order sounds good, but I was intrigued by the fact that it has six co-sponsors. I think this is great, but I expect some ne'er-do-well will claim it's an open meeting law violation. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development, the Director of Communications and Community Relations, or any other relevant City department with the view in mind of producing a document that can be presented at the City Council Housing Committee to provide a better perspective on the City's current efforts to address the housing issues facing Cambridge. Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui
Perhaps Councillor Carlone can just ask the Somerville Board of Alderman to send the information.
Order #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to provide the City Council with an Inman Square Reconstruction Project Timeline. Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Kelley
This project is based on established Listen Zero principles, but I suppose the planners can at least pass on a calendar of non-negotiables.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the City’s plans for incorporating dock-less bikes into its urban mobility opportunities, to include licensing, contractual and liability issues; and that said report be transmitted to the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee for a public hearing on the issue of a dock-less bikeshare system. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Siddiqui
I had no idea that the City had any such plans but, then again, according to established Listen Zero principles, it's essential to push things like this through with as little discussion as possible.
Order #8. That the City Council, City Manager, and City Staff are requested to work as quickly as possible to enact the necessary laws and regulations, including zoning and licensing of retail cannabis establishments, in order to implement the state law in a manner that addresses the racial and economic injustices of the past. Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui
The gist of this Order is that anyone who is less than enthusiastic about the proliferation of marijuana (oh, excuse me - cannabis) is refusing to address the "racial and economic injustices of the past". The sponsors are intent on "ensuring equitable enforcement and reasonable availability of cannabis throughout the city." Well, I guess we all have our priorities. - Robert Winters
Bridging the Divide - Items of Interest on the Feb 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here are 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 City of Cambridge retaining its noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 33 municipalities in the United States with AAA ratings from each of the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.
This has become an annual tradition, and it's still something we should celebrate.
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for the City Council vote to approve the use of the new voting equipment and to discontinue the use of the existing voting equipment effective immediately.
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Deputy City Clerk, Paula Crane, transmitting a report for a City Council public hearing held on Tues, Feb 20, 2018 for the purpose of the City Council and the public to view the new voting equipment purchased by the Election Commission.
We first used the current AccuVote machines for the Sept 1996 State Primary, and they were a huge improvement over the punchcard system we used prior to that. It was necessary then to have some custom programming done so that the same scanners could also be used for the municipal PR elections, and that will again have to take place with the new ImageCast machines. That's just for creating the ballot data text files. The election tabulation will continue to be done the same we've been doing it. In addition to firming up our system for our own sake, it's worth noting that with Ranked Choice Voting being advocated in Massachusetts and elsewhere (though not necessarily PR), what we do in Cambridge may be helpful down the road in other places.
Charter Right #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Hovey & Markham Cottages as follows: 2A. Property located at 40 Cottage Street; and 2B. Property located at 44 Cottage Street.
As I said a couple of weeks ago, whether a building is landmark-worthy should depend only on the building and not on its owners or occupants.
Update: The City Council landmarked only one of the two properties (44 Cottage Street) and sent the other (40 Cottage Street) to Unfinished Business even though the landmarking only makes sense as the pair of buildings. Apparently, these councillors believe that landmarking is a function of whether they like the property owner or not (and whether they supported you politically).
Resolution #24. Congratulations and thanks to William B. "Bill" King on the occasion of his retirement. Mayor McGovern
Suffice to say that I have great respect for all who voluntarily serve on City boards and commissions out of a sense of civic duty rather than single-issue advocacy. Bill King is one of those people who has consistently defined over many years what it means to be a great citizen.
Communications #7. Sundry e-mails received on support of the protected bike lanes, relative to Policy Order #4 of Feb 12, 2018 Council Meeting. Copies are on file for review in the City Clerk’s office.
I generally ignore all emails that are the product of a coordinated campaign with a list of "talking points", but I did happen to read one of these sundry emails that stated "You will see no slander in comments from the people who support the new infrastructure." I am reminded of the statement "Fortunately time takes care of old people for us" stated by one particular idiot who didn't appreciate the criticism by older people of the Cambridge Street configuration.
PS - Former Mayor Alice Wolf submitted a late communication at the previous meeting with specific objections to the current configuration of Cambridge Street and the suggestion that a better configuration should be found. The Cambridge Bicycle Committee was created from her initiative, so let's put to rest the claim that criticism of this configuration is a fringe phenomenon of "the anti-bike people".
Order #2. That the City Manager and the Mayor’s Office are requested to direct the new bicycle lane working group, once it has been convened, to hold a series of “listening sessions” at the senior buildings throughout Cambridge in order to ensure that our senior residents, who might otherwise be unable to attend the various hearings to weigh in on this issue, will have adequate opportunities to have their voices heard on an issue that could have an outsized impact upon them. Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern
Wouldn't it be great if "Vision Zero" didn't always mean "Listen Zero" when it comes to public feedback and other points of view? I will try to be optimistic. Then again there's this:
Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-16, regarding a report on Inman Square construction.
Synopsis: The City is very interested in your ideas about the color of the sidewalk and what varieties of flowers should be planted in the vicinity of the planned reconfiguration of Inman Square that is not subject to any compromise, discussion, or alternative perspectives.
Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with relevant City departments to create additional Safety Zones for safer streets. Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux
I agree with this Order, but not just in the situation of "proximity to land-uses serving vulnerable populations". Some streets warrant lower speed limits simply because there is fast-moving traffic directly adjacent to a narrow sidewalk, e.g. westbound on Putnam Ave. When Prospect St. used to have an additional lane with neither a buffer nor parking it was very dangerous, especially close to Central Square. On-street parking can, in fact, be very effective in traffic calming - even moreso when speed limits are reduced.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to consult with City staff on the feasibility of initiating a formal transit study and action plan of the Alewife area in response to unanimous concerns of the Envision Alewife Working Group regarding the need for a pedestrian/bicycle/shuttle bridge from the Quadrangle area along Concord Avenue across the railroad tracks to the Triangle area on Cambridgepark Drive and a commuter rail stop which would be critical to create neighborhoods that are safe and healthy for residents and businesses. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Carlone
It would be great if the City and our various government representatives could find a way to make this happen, but not in the absence of either a new commuter rail stop or shuttle service or both. It will be very difficult to sell this proposal simply as a pedestrian and bicycle amenity (as has often been done), so I'm glad to see this phrased as it is. Contained in this letter is also one point of view that there should be a grade crossing of the railroad tracks (or underpass or bridge) at the western end of Cambridgepark Drive. You'll never see a new grade crossing approved there, and an underpass is unrealistic. As for a bridge option, it's only realistic to imagine one new bridge over the tracks and (even though I may like it there) all the proposals I've seen in the last few decades don't have it that far west. The letter also suggests a pedestrian bridge over the Little River. Except for the usual difficulties associated with building anything near a waterway, that bridge would be relatively easy to build and inexpensive. See picture (Blue Heron Bridge over the Charles River between Newton and Watertown - Wikipedia).
Update: City Manager Louis DePasquale hinted at the possibility of some movement but gave no specifics. Everybody is intrigued about what he was driving at.
Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to draft language for a home rule petition for a Cambridge Right of First Refusal Legislation. Councillor Carlone, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui
It's curious that the authors of this Order chose not to specify what form of "Right of First Refusal bill" they want. There are good reasons why House Bill 3017 never made it out of committee. Do the authors simply want the City Solicitor to provide language that's the same as H.3017 or do they want a Home Rule Petition that is fundamentally different? It would be nice if the focus was primarily on providing options for long-term tenants rather than on creating a framework for ensuring that private property in select neighborhoods is transferred to public/quasi-public ownership.
Update: Councillor Simmons exercised her Charter Right on this vacuous Order. This Order brought out more people during Public Comment than everything else on the agenda.
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to develop a timeline for the next Incentive Zoning Nexus Study. Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons
The current version of the Incentive Zoning provisions was ordained on Sept 28, 2015. That ordinance has the following provision: "The City shall initiate a reevaluation of the Housing Contribution Rate and any other aspect of these Incentive Zoning Provisions at an interval of no less than three (3) years from the time the rate was last amended by the City Council." That's what a nexus study is, so I suppose this Order is right on schedule. - Robert Winters
Rhetorical Conflict - Safe Streets and Vision Zero: February 12, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting
The battle for turf in the Rhetorical War continues this week with troops massing at the borders over the meaning of Vision Zero and Safe Streets. Continents could be sinking and frogs raining from the sky, but we'll once again get to witness the turf war over allocation of space on Cambridge roads (and sidewalks). Word has it that the Boston Cyclists Union has already rung the alarm and asked all troops to report for duty in the Sullivan Chamber on Monday to argue against "safe streets for all" if that might translate into giving up an inch of sand on the beachhead of segregated bike lanes. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition with the City hosting a Big Press Conference this past week announcing its Vision Zero Plan – basically reducing the speed limit to 20mph in the major Squares (a good thing) and creating a rhetorical framework to hush up anyone who questions future road reconfigurations. After all, you know, Vision Zero. If you don't like flexi-posts or traffic congestion or if you raise issues about road conditions in winter and safety considerations at intersections, surely you must be against traffic calming and in support of danger. Public Comment on Monday promises to be great (that is to say - bad) theater with about a 30 year age difference in opposing sides in the battle over the definition of safety.
Frankly, I'd rather talk about public transportation, but that would have far less drama. I was also unable to witness the presentation last week on the Battle of Inman Square that pitted tree huggers vs. bicycle segregationists (which actually pitted some people against themselves) in the elusive redesign of this crossroads.
Here's the menu of my personal favorite dishes being served up at this gathering:
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Lechmere National Bank building at 225/227 Cambridge Street.
Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Hovey & Markham Cottages located at 40 and 44 Cottage Street.
Communications #3-10,12-17. Fourteen letters opposing historical landmark designation of 40 Cottage Street.
We are blessed with our most excellent Historical Commission who generate landmark designation reports (and other publications) that are incredibly good. These two reports are no exception. In a city with so many significant historic buildings it's not surprising that the Historical Commission is recommending landmark status in both of these reports. What makes this noteworthy are the communications - many of which were generated from the same template. Some of them even make reference to the "weaponization of the Historical Commission landmark study and designation process". Personally, I hope the homeowners of 40 Cottage Street will be allowed to renovate their home to the highest energy efficiency standards while maintaining as much historical integrity as possible. That said, either your building is landmark-worthy or it's not, and I'd say the report strongly suggests that this one is. It's true that various legal processes are routinely used in Cambridge to stall or block projects, but I guess it apparently does matter whose ox is gored. If you know the right people then it's called "weaponization", and otherwise it's called "neighborhood preservation". In any case, it will be good to hear more about how the Historical Commission balances preservation vs. modernization in a time when energy conservation and sustainability are prioritized.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a Sustainable Materials Recovery grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in the amount of $38,800 to the Grant Fund Department of Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance Account which will be used toward the purchase of food waste collection bins for the citywide curbside organics program.
The starting date is now less than two months away. Speaking as the man formerly known as "Compost Man", I'm eager to see how this plays out and what problems arise as this service is rolled out citywide. I'm also mindful of the fact that this is just as much a rediscovery of former best practices as it is of innovative new practices.
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-111, regarding the feasibility of implementing neighborways.
In short, the report doesn't endorse using art to calm traffic. We had a good way of handling this when I was a kid growing up in Queens, New York. We painted bases and baselines on the street and played stickball. The message to drivers was abundantly clear and there was never an altercation. We would also chant "Car Car C-A-R" when a car was coming. Other streets had hockey goals in the street that had to be moved to allow cars to pass, but nobody ever complained. We never called these "neighborways." We just called them streets.
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-01, regarding a report on possibility of a supermarket opening at 20 Sidney Street.
Perhaps nothing will come of this, but at least there's this: "Community Development Department (CDD) staff have reached out to real estate representatives at several grocery chains, including Market Basket, Aldi, Trader Joes, and bFresh to inform them about the opportunity and connect them to Forest City. Several grocery store representatives mentioned that they do not have plans to expand at this time, or that the space is too small for their traditional size requirements. Regardless, CDD staff has relayed the grocery store chains contact information to Forest City staff. Staff will continue to explore options and communicate with Forest City about possible tenants." In my view Aldi is the one that might work best at this site, but only if the rental agreement makes it economically feasible.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and the Cambridge Public Health Department regarding the current status of zoning language and public health regulations for the keeping of hens and food cultivation and proposed next steps to advance the Urban Agriculture initiative. Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern
Perhaps we can just dispense with the supermarkets and just buy our milk and eggs from Farmer Jones down the street.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works to report back to the Council on the success of the Polystyrene Ordinance, including implementation, enforcement, and remaining concerns among the business community. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui
When I was on the Recycling Advisory Committee (22 years, I believe) I often learned how some initiatives that were very appealing were actually counterproductive or, at best, a break-even proposition. For example, a "paper" drink cup is still lined with plastic, and when you take away the paper there is still a significant amount of plastic - perhaps more than in a "Styrofoam" cup. This Order asserts that expanded polystyrene (EPS), a.k.a. "Styrofoam", has been shown to leach harmful chemicals into food and beverages, but most reliable sources dispute that or note that any potential hazard is negligible. The real problem is that it's difficult to recycle economically and it doesn't really biodegrade.
Regarding the ban of plastic bags, except for the fact that the plastic gets caught in the machinery at the materials recovery facility (MRF), the environmental benefits of paper bags over plastic bags is not a slam dunk. Reusable bags, on the other hand, win the argument easily. That's why the Cambridge ordinance is best referred to as the BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) Ordinance rather than as a plastic bag ban (which it isn't).
The jury is still out regarding the polystyrene ban. Some places now provide "compostable" plasticware, but recyclers aren't keen on it because it doesn't really biodegrade along with other organics except under very specialized conditions. Also, biodegradable plastic is often hard to distinguish from other plastic and this compromises the recyclability of all plastics. I suppose none of these details matter to city councillors as long as it makes them appear "environmental". I am, of course, interested to hear what DPW has to say about how the polystyrene ban has fared.
Order #4. That the City Manager and the Mayor’s Office are requested to establish a new working group consisting of a diverse set of stakeholders, including cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, small business owners, EMS/first responders, and City Officials to discuss the results of the protected bike lane pilot using clear evaluation criteria, and how best to construct a cohesive network in the future. Councillor Mallon, Councillor Kelley, Mayor McGovern
This is simply the fulfillment of the Jan 25, 2017 memo from Iram Farooq (CDD), Owen O’Riordan (DPW), and Joseph E. Barr (Traffic). That memo states in regard to the Cambridge St. reconfiguration:
In other words, there was always supposed to be a evaluation of this Separated Bicycle Lane Demonstration. It's interesting that at least one city councillor seems unable to grasp this in saying, "The protected lanes are here to stay and this order may suggest to some they are not." There is little question that enhanced bicycle (and pedestrian and motor vehicle) safety is the rule of the day (because, you know, Vision Zero), but the question remains how best to achieve this. Furthermore, saying that an evaluation will be "data driven" is insufficient. For example, banning all motor vehicles would surely produce data showing a reduction in motor vehicle crashes, but that would not imply that the ban was good policy or that a better solution was not possible.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to create additional opportunities for the community to evaluate and understand the plan to redesign Inman Square and to provide input, including: walk-in clinics between now and the next community meeting and making more details available online including alternative designs considered but deemed unworkable, traffic simulations, and other relevant data or information. Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui
Perhaps nobody wants to hear this but there really are currently two feasible options available for Inman Square. One is the "current plan" to wipe out the trees in Vellucci Park, relocate some of that space to the north side, and move all bicyclists onto the sidewalks. The other is to keep Inman Square more or less as it is with its newly painted green stripes for bicycles and maybe with some tweaking of the signals, lane markings, and pedestrian phases. Do we have any safety data on how the intersection is working since the "temporary" changes were made last year?
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report on progress and efforts made to date to provide greater access to internet services citywide for low income residents. Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Simmons
Translation: Some advocates want municipal broadband whether or not there is the demonstrated need or demand, and the fact that Cambridge has a significant "free cash" position will be perpetually used to justify any required expenditures. I also wonder sometimes what fraction of people nowadays use only their phone to access anything online (and to, of course, post silly pictures).
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Carlone and Councillor Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for an additional public hearing held on Jan 24, 2018 to discuss the Zoning Petition filed by Peter Kroon, et al, to amend Section 20.50 of the Zoning Ordinance in the " Harvard Square Overlay District" dated Sept 28, 2017.
This might win the all-time award for longest committee meeting leading nowhere. At least we now know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Coming up at the Feb 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here's my first pass (and Gronkowski didn't pull this one down either) at the interesting agenda items with the usual brilliant/annoying observations.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to inquire whether the Community Development Department will apply for the Targeted Brownfields Assessment Grant regarding Jerry's Pond. Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Kelley
Many people may have forgotten this by now but there were once plans to enhance that whole area - not only by making Jerry's Pond an available resource but also doing, dare I say, some development in the vicinity of the MBTA headhouse east of the parkway and within the fenced-in area associated with the W.R. Grace site on the north side of the path. First it was the threat of naphthalene in the soil, and then asbestos. I will never believe that permanently fencing in a contaminated site near a T station is preferable to cleaning it up and turning it into a resource rather than a liability.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and any other relevant City Department to gain a sense of who is purchasing buildings in Cambridge. Councillor Simmons
I think this will be very interesting information, and not only because I'd like to see just how much property Gerald Chan now owns in Cambridge. At least he lives nearby. The greater problem is that in an uncertain world there's a lot more financial security in Cambridge real estate than in either pork bellies or Chinese financial markets. This reality is not always compatible with the quaint old notion of buying property either because you want a place to live or you need a place to operate your business. Cambridge property has in many ways become primarily a place to store wealth. Barring some new form of gold rush elsewhere I don't see this changing any time soon.
Order #6. That the City Manager explore the possibility of an "ALL WALK" pedestrian signal at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, Prospect Street, and River Street. Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui
As appealing as this may seem, the traffic volumes on these streets may dictate otherwise. The greatest problem is the conflict between pedestrians crossing Mass. Ave. and right-turning vehicles from River Street onto Mass. Ave. There used to be a "slip lane" there, but that was even more hazardous for pedestrians. The real problem, in my opinion, is that many drivers and pedestrians don't have a clue about how to balance assertiveness and courtesy. I'm reminded of a small book from about 35 years ago called "The Boston Driver's Handbook: Wild in the Streets" that really said it all, especially the Cambridge tradition of acting aloof when crossing in Harvard Square.
I often think about writing a story on "How to Be a Pedestrian in Cambridge" complete with a guide to hand gestures and best ways to stop vehicles with just a look. These lessons will, of course, be lost on habitual cell phone users.
Order #7. City Council support of Representative Provost and the Cambridge Legislative Delegation’s efforts to pass a Right of First Refusal Bill, with an amendment for cities to provide final implementation modifications as needed. Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui
Please explain how this will apply to a multi-family homeowner who wishes to do a formal sale to family members or close friends for a price well below what is dictated by the market. - Robert Winters
Featured Items on the Jan 29, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Mayor McGovern has appointed the City Council committees and their Chairs pending final adoption of the City Council Rules. In addition, here are just a few of the noteworthy agenda items:
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding efforts to expand the number of electric vehicle charging stations, the feasibility of appropriately placing electric vehicle chargers on residential streets where there is need, the status of possible City fleet replacement to electric vehicles, expanded outreach and education on available rebates and incentive programs, and the feasibility of requiring developers to include a greater number of electric vehicle charging stations in new or substantially renovated multi-unit buildings. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons on Jan 22, 2018.]
This Order from last week exposed a potentially pretty significant rift. It's one thing to require electric vehicle charging capacity in new residential and commercial construction, but providing charging stations on public streets basically means that only those who can afford a $100,000+ Chevy Volt or comparable vehicle will be able to use those parking spaces. [Correction: It's the Tesla Model S that went for ~$100K. The Chevy Volt apparently goes for ~$30K.] It's understandable that people without driveways might want a mechanism for charging their cars (since running power cords across the sidewalk or down the street is not an option), but how will it go over with the neighbors if only some people are privileged to use these parking spaces?
Unfinished Business #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Devereux, Chair of the Ad-Hoc Rules Committee, for a public hearing held on Tuesday, Jan 16, 2018 to discuss and suggest changes to the City Council Rules and transmitting recommended changes to the City Council Rules.
I honestly don't know what Rules Changes they finally settled on at last week's meeting. The meeting materials only show the suggestions from the Ad-Hoc Committee and it's simply not worth reviewing the video to find out what the Council decided on before referring the revised version to Unfinished Business. It's primarily just nickel-and-dime stuff anyway.
Communications #16-25 and #27 transmitting written opposition to the Peter Kroon, et al. Harvard Square Overlay District Zoning Petition.
In addition to these communications, most of the public comment at last week's Ordinance Committee meeting was against the petition. I believe there may now be or will soon be expressed written opposition from more than 20% of the affected land ownership which means that a three-quarter super-majority vote would be needed to pass the Kroon Petition, i.e. 7 votes instead of 6 out of 9. I don't think it had the votes anyway, but it apparently doesn't matter because the Ordinance Committee failed to move it out of committee so it can't be passed to a 2nd Reading on Monday and it therefore cannot be ordained prior to the expiration date. It seems likely that a revised version will be filed after the Feb 19 expiration.
One particularly offensive part of the Ordinance Committee discussion centered on term limits on membership on the Harvard Square Advisory Committee and the desire of the petitioners and some councillors to drive one particular person out of the Chair and maybe even off the advisory committee entirely. There is a notification in this week's agenda for the reappointment of two 20+ year members to the Library Board of Trustees. Will the City Council now argue that they should be booted from the Board in the quest for "new blood"? City boards & commissions benefit greatly from having a mix of newer members and long-time members who carry a lot of institutional memory and skills. Having a good balance is what's really important.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor and any other appropriate City departments to report back to the City Council with an update on any work that is currently underway regarding regulating adult use marijuana and to suggest next steps to the Council. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern
This is a timely order. The Trojan horse of medical marijuana facilities has already entered the city and it has the munchies.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to explore funding options for the possibility of creating a Business Improvement District (BID) for Central Square. Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern
It is quite apparent that groups like the Harvard Square Business Association and the Central Square Business Association are already taking on some of the rules associated with a Business Improvement District. This may be the right time to make this official in Central Square. The benefits are many and the down sides are few.
PS - The Central Square Business Association and its most excellent Executive Director Michael Monastime hosted an especially good charrette on Saturday on the future of Carl Barron Plaza in the heart of Central Square. This was just the first of what will be many opportunities for public input on the upcoming River Street reconstruction project (from the river to Carl Barron Plaza) that will commence at some point in the next year or so.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department with the view in mind of creating a list of mitigated private spaces that are available to the public, what the exact eligibility of using these spaces is, and making the list available to the public. Councillor Toomey
This is a welcome request. Most people have no idea what spaces are available for use and what rules govern the use of these open spaces and meeting spaces. It will be great if this information can be made available along with information on all City-owned resources that are available for public use. Ideally there should also be a list of all spaces in churches and other buildings that are available for use at modest cost for meetings and events.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Commissioner of Public Works and the City Engineer on the potential of utilizing trenchless technology, micro tunneling and/or pipe jacking to lessen the time and impact on the residents of Gore Street. Councillor Toomey, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Mallon
Order #8. That the City Manager maximize the community benefits from and mitigating the impacts of the Cambridge Crossing sewer construction. Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Toomey
Suffice to say that if during the construction of that dedicated sewer line the century-old water mains and gas mains are replaced (which will have to occur at some point anyway), that is, in itself, significant mitigation. If some of the electrical infrastructure can also be renewed and moved from poles to underground that would be even better.
Order #7. Endorsing Requests for Action or Further Study for the I-90 Allston Interchange Project in Boston. Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone
This is a complicated project with the potential for a lot of benefit and a fair amount of disruption during construction. I won't offer any opinions just now, but there are plenty to go around. It's worth the read.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Mayor Marc C. McGovern, transmitting the City Council Committee Assignments for the Council Term 2018-2019 pending adoption of the Rules as amended.
There's nothing particularly stunning about the appointments - mostly natural matches of function and interest. There are maybe three out of the 11 standing committees that could become cauldrons of controversy, but it's probably best to wait and see. I'll let you guess which three. - Robert Winters
Choice Bits from the Jan 22, 2018 Cambridge City Council agenda
Here's my first pass at what seems interesting (at least to me):
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $23,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Elections Commission Other Ordinary Maintenance Account to reimburse funds used for the 2017 voter guide printing and mailing. The reimbursement is necessary to cover other election related expenses.
Voter turnout went up in the 2017 municipal election by about 26% from 17,959 to 22,581. There were many factors – reaction to the 2016 presidential election, multiple vacancies and a large field of interesting new candidates, several issues whose flames were fanned by activists, increased use of social media and related tools to target voters, and the citywide mailing of the voter guide. It's hard to say which factors had the greatest effect. I'll add that the most well-funded campaign was unsuccessful while a new candidate soared over quota with relatively little campaign funding. Perhaps money is no longer, as Tip O'Neill used to say, "the mother's milk of politics".
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $5 million from Fund Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Executive Department Extraordinary Expenditures account, for the City’s first contribution to the GLX project.
This expenditure has me thinking about the Mass Pike (I-90) realignment project now being planned for the Allston-Brighton area across the river, and the current omission of the proposed West Station that was to be part of it. I have been reading about suggestions that since the concurrent new development in that area would primarily be by Harvard University, then perhaps Harvard should be providing the funds for the new station. Could this be the new normal, i.e. that developers and host cities who would benefit by new transit should pay for the transit? The realization of the Green Line Extension seems to have been made possible, at least in part, by the promise of financial contributions from Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, and the developer of the NorthPoint area.
Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt parts of the Kroon, et al, Harvard Square Zoning Petition and to further study some parts.
There is wisdom in the Planning Board recommendations (as usual). It is especially interesting to see the Board agreeing that the "formula business" regulations adopted not long ago for Central Square would also be appropriate for Harvard Square (and presumably elsewhere). The Board makes a special point regarding the review of signage which might be subject to review by both the Historical Commission and the Planning Board. [Frankly, I think the issue of signage is overstated. Some business districts, e.g. Central Square, would benefit from some additional "gawdy" and "spectacular" signage.] Despite some legal risk in moving toward "formula business" regulations, it is far preferable to some previous regulation such as the regulation of "fast food". One other positive recommendation from the Planning Board is for the exemption of below-grade space from floor-area limitations. This is consistent with the Barrett Petition of a couple of years ago. The Planning Board also cites the City's recently completed Retail Strategy. Indeed, the whole matter of the table of uses in the City's various zoning districts needs some attention.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding efforts to expand the number of electric vehicle charging stations, the feasibility of appropriately placing electric vehicle chargers on residential streets where there is need, the status of possible City fleet replacement to electric vehicles, expanded outreach and education on available rebates and incentive programs, and the feasibility of requiring developers to include a greater number of electric vehicle charging stations in new or substantially renovated multi-unit buildings. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan
It's worth noting that Eversource doesn't exactly have the best track record for proactive electric utility planning in Cambridge. They generally upgrade service only when new development requires it or if the service fails. If electric vehicle charging locations are installed on some Cambridge streets it seems likely that increased capacity will be needed and aging and failed service will have to be upgraded - like on my street where the underground service failed several years ago and where numerous "temporary" quick fixes are now the norm.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Department of Public Works to publicize and enforce a “zero tolerance” policy on space savers, working to remove them as quickly as possible following snow events. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui
Is this really a widespread problem in Cambridge? The only places where I have seen this are on streets near public housing. A better solution would be to selectively have even/odd side parking restrictions during which all snow is pushed back all the way to the curb and/or consolidated - assuming there are no plastic "flexi-posts" there to prevent it.
Order #4. City Council support of the New York City climate lawsuit. Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux
I'm starting to get the sense that every City Council meeting agenda is going to have several climate change-related Orders, and that this will become the universal public policy litmus test - even for things that have little or nothing to do with climate change.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to explore mechanisms for achieving greater levels of snow clearing by the city and increase the public response during major snow events or heavy snow winters. Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Chief Information Officer for the City and report back with information regarding electronic device usage and current processes regarding the same. Councillor Toomey
Did the exiting three councillors run off with their City-issued computers and phones?
Order #8. That the Mayor is requested to work with the appropriate City staff to establish a method of effectively communicating the new rules for the 2018-2019 City Council term with the members of the public. Councillor Simmons
I'm on it.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Devereux, Chair of the Ad-Hoc Rules Committee, for a public hearing held on Tuesday, Jan 16, 2018 to discuss and suggest changes to the City Council Rules and transmitting recommended changes to the City Council Rules.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux regarding the outcome of the Ad-Hoc Rules Committee hearing.
There were some good ideas and some not-so-good ideas expressed at this meeting. It doesn't look like we'll be seeing any realignment of the Council committees. At some level it doesn't really matter. The real question is whether or not the councillors actually show up for the committee meetings and if they decide to take up matters of substance. - Robert Winters
Cold Start - Jan 8, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting
This first regular meeting of the 2018-2019 Cambridge City Council will be chaired by our newly minted Mayor Marc McGovern. As one might expect, it's a short agenda as the new and returning councillors settle in. City Council committee appointments may not be settled for a few weeks, so the only business will be what takes place in the regular Council meetings for now. There is one active zoning petition and 15 items from Awaiting Report that were requested to carry over to the new Council.
Here are some agenda items this week that seem interesting:
On the Table #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, regarding assessing and approving Neighborhood-Based Resiliency. [Tabled on the motion of Councillor Kelley on Dec 18, 2017]
I remember when the term "Sustainability" was first popularized. It took people years to decide what the word really meant with various interested people and groups trying to fashion it in a way that suited their ideals and/or agendas. I'm not really sure what was ultimately decided. Though I have some idea what the term "Resiliency" might mean, e.g. hardening of infrastructure, my sense is that we're in a place similar to where we were with "Sustainability" 25 years ago. For example, does Alewife Resiliency translate into transit-oriented development with better connections for all transportation modes or does it mean "Don't build anything there because there may be flooding at times." The current narrow political dichotomy will likely answer in two radically different ways. Soft definitions are always risky propositions.
Order #1. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to reach out to representatives of supermarkets other than Star Market, such as Market Basket, to determine the possibility of their opening a location at 20 Sidney Street, and to report back to the City Council on this matter. Councillor Simmons
There has been an active discussion about the store closure on the Cambridgeport listserv over the last few days. Here's an excerpt of what I wrote there:
The Memorial Drive Stop & Shop closed in May 1994 which left the Cambridgeport area very much in need of a local supermarket. I believe it was in 1997 when University Park (really Forest City) offered to host a Star Market in their hotel/garage building. This was definitely done in order to sweeten the deal in order to obtain the necessary curb cuts (and let's not forget the discontinuation of Blanche Street). There had been a City analysis of access to supermarkets in the wake of the Stop & Shop closure that informed the University Park decision.
At the time a lot of us felt that the whole concept of a 2nd floor supermarket with paid parking (though a discount was offered) was not a sustainable plan, but there really was a serious need for food access at that time - especially for Area 4 (now The Port) and MIT people who would get there on foot. Some of that logic has changed in recent years as more people live without motor vehicles, but most people who do any significant grocery shopping will choose to drive to a place like Market Basket in Somerville not only for the prices but also because there's (usually) available parking. It's virtually impossible that Market Basket would want to operate in the University Park space. It's completely contrary to their very successful business model in which they own most of the locations of their stores and pay no rent. There are other operators that have a very different business model that might be able to make it work at this location, but only if University Park is willing to negotiate a rent that can make it sustainable.
Though I don't believe there is any legal obligation that University Park must continue to host a supermarket, I think there's at least some moral obligation to do so. The original University Park plans called for a "marketplace" that was never built (as well as a movie theater), and some might argue that the inclusion of the Star Market was a sort of making good on that original concept. Perhaps more significantly, the offer to host the Star Market came at a point when the matter was before the Planning Board and the City Council (for the curb cuts), and it was part of the negotiation even if there was no formal commitment to maintain the supermarket in perpetuity. - RW
Back in 1998 I wrote this: "We also learned at this meeting that an agreement has been worked out with the new Star Market at University Park that would make parking for the supermarket free for the first 1½ hours. This was one of the stickier issues a few years ago when the City voted to grant various curb cuts and to discontinue Blanche Street in order to make way for the hotel and supermarket." - Sept 14, 1998 in CCJ Issue #12
Here's what I wrote on June 16, 2000: "There have also been persistent rumors about just how permanent the Star Market is at that location. For now, at least, it appears to be staying put." Well, it lasted longer than I thought and is now scheduled to close on Feb 3, 2018. Hopefully another supermarket operator can be found and that Forest City/University Park will be willing to offer a long-term lease with terms that can can allow a supermarket to economically operate there. Not everyone wants to shop by bike at Whole Paycheck.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on progress made in regards to the Stated Goals of the City Council, as outlined during the 2016-2017 City Council term. Councillor Simmons
Goals are important, but the primary goal should be to not spend an endless time talking about them. - Robert Winters
The Upshot: There was a very healthy discussion regarding the future of the supermarket site in University Park. Look for some community meetings to take place in the coming weeks and months.
Mayor McGovern has appointed Councillors Carlone and Kelley as Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee.
Mayor McGovern also appointed a Special Ad-Hoc Rules Committee to review the City Council rules and the recommend any changes, including possible restructuring of the City Council subcommittees. This Ad-Hoc Committee will consist of Vice Mayor Devereux (Chair) and Councillors Mallon and Kelley; as well as Donna Lopez, City Clerk; Nancy Glowa, City Solicitor; Maryellen Carvello, Office manager to the City Manager, and Wil Durbin, Chief of Staff to the Mayor. This committee is requested to come back with recommendations in time for the next City Council meeting on January 22.
That's All Folks! - Featured Items on the Dec 18, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda
This will be the last meeting of the 2016-2017 Cambridge City Council and the final meeting for Councillors Cheung, Maher, and Mazen who will soon pass their seats along to Councillors-Elect Mallon, Siddiqui and Zondervan for the 2018-2019 City Council term. It's been great having Leland Cheung (first elected in 2009) and David Maher (first elected to the Council in 1999) for all the years they served and the wisdom they shared.
Here are some agenda items that seem to rise above the others:
Unfinished Business #8. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge on Beekeeping. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Nov 6, 2017. Planning Board hearing held on Oct 3, 2017. Petition expires Jan 3, 2018.
This is expected to be ordained at this meeting (or it will expire).
Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to letter from Leggat McCall Properties regarding the proposed disposition of a leasehold interest in the First Street Garage for parking spaces and the development of first floor retail space in connection with Leggat McCall’s redevelopment of the former Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike Street in East Cambridge.
Now that the series of lawsuits (that never had a chance) have expired, the redevelopment of the courthouse building is expected to proceed.
Unfinished Business #9. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge on Innovation Office Space in PUD-3A and PUD-4C Zoning Districts. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 18, 2017. Planning Board hearing held on Oct 17, 2017. Petition expires Feb 13, 2018.
This may also be ordained on Monday. The expiration isn't for some time but there's really no reason to kick this can down the road.
Resolution #6. Retirement of Alessandra "Sandra" Albano from the City Council Office. Councillor Cheung
Sandy's tenure dates to the days of Mayor Al Vellucci. It's hard to imagine City Hall without her. Happy Trails, Sandy.
Update: Here's the list of city councillors Sandra will have worked with by the time she leaves after the Inaugural meeting.
Order #1. That all items pending before the City Council and not acted upon by the end of the 2016-2017 Legislative Session be placed in the files of the City Clerk, without prejudice provided that those proposed ordinances which have been passed to a second reading, advertised and listed on the Calendar under "Unfinished Business" during the 2016-2017 City Council term, along with any other pending matters on the Calendar listed as "Unfinished Business," shall be forwarded to the next City Council and further provided that any items pending in committee may, at the discretion of the committee, be forwarded to the next City Council. Mayor Simmons
There's nothing nicer than a clean slate, and that goes especially for virtually all of the items on "Awaiting Report" - many of which have already been addressed and some of which should have been brushed off long ago. I hope the next City Council exercises more discretion in the demands made of City staff and the wild geese it chooses to chase. - Robert Winters
A Quick One - Featured Items on the Dec 11, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here are a few of the more interesting agenda items:
Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a legal opinion relative to the City Manager’s authority to make Historical Commission appointments.
This one was never in doubt. Councillors really should learn about the Plan E Charter.
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Harvard Square Kiosk.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $444,534.67 from the Hubway Capital Projects Equipment Fund to the Community Development Department Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures Account. These funds will be used for the purchase and expenses of Hubway bikeshare equipment. These funds represent the donor agreement revenues and will contribute to the purchase, installation and maintenance of approximately 10 additional stations and bicycles, pending identification of acceptable locations.
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $489,780 associated with the Hubway Bike Share Equipment from the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expenditures account. These mitigation funds will be used for the purchase and expenses of Hubway bikeshare equipment.
That's nearly a million dollars for Hubway.
Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-114, regarding a report on the plan for snow removal from the new bike infrastructure in the city.
Plow the streets from curb to curb. If any plastic posts get in the way, sharpen the blades on the snow plows.
Unfinished Business #8. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge on Beekeeping. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Nov 6, 2017. Planning Board hearing held on Oct 3, 2017. Petition expires Jan 3, 2018.
It's very possible this will be ordained at this meeting. - RW
Running Down the Clock - Dec 4, 2017 City Council Agenda Highlights
It's a pleasingly light agenda this week, and there are no more committee meetings scheduled this term. The Inaugural Meeting of the 2018-19 City Council will take place on New Years Day starting at 10:00am. In the meantime, here are a few items on this week's agenda - with minimal comment:
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the Beekeeping Zoning Petition with proposed amendments to the petition.
Unfinished Business #8. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge on Beekeeping. The Question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Nov 6, 2017. Planning Board hearing held on Oct 3, 2017. Petition expires Jan 3, 2018.
Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-118, regarding a report on an update on the City's plan to expand the curbside composting program citywide.
Sundry communications on the closing of Petco and appeals to rescind the ban on non-rescue animal sales.
Resolution #1. Resolution on the death of Kathleen P. (Tracy) Carlisle. Councillor Maher, Councillor Toomey
Kathy was my neighbor and a friend to all who knew her.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to mail the “Street Code” Booklet to all households in Cambridge as an educational outreach measure for road safety. Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons
There are a number of additions this otherwise decent booklet could use. For example, bicycles should be equipped not only with lights but with sufficiently bright lights that are not obscured by clothing, backpacks, or anything else. It's stunning to see how many cyclists have dim lights or no lights at all. Batteries are not eternal. Dark clothing may be a great fashion statement, but it's an invitation for disaster.
Order #3. That the City Manager request an investigation by the State Department of Public Utilities into the maintenance of the district energy system and ask appropriate officials from the State Department of Public Utilities to appear before the City Council to report on the state of repair of the district energy system in Cambridge and to discuss why there are no state regulations governing steam energy systems in Massachusetts when it is widely known that these operations create potential serious public health hazards and risks. Councillor Maher, Councillor Toomey, Mayor Simmons
I'm not sure what this is about but it has an ominous tone to it.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 10, 2017 to discuss feedback on bike safety related issues, and to plan for future bike safety measures in the City of Cambridge.
This was a meeting designed to not listen to anything the Chair didn't want to hear.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Vice Mayor Marc McGovern, transmitting Opioid Working Group Report.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #4. A communication was received from Tanya L. Ford, Executive Director, Cambridge Election Commission, transmitting the Final Official Results from the Municipal Election held on Tues, Nov 7, 2017 for City Council.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #5. A communication was received from Tanya L. Ford, Executive Director, Cambridge Election Commission, transmitting the Final Official Results from the Municipal Election held on Tues, Nov 7, 2017 for School Committee.
There is a minor error in the posted Final Official Results for the City Council election. The actual order of election was Simmons, Siddiqui, McGovern, Devereux, Zondervan, Mallon, Toomey, Carlone, Kelley. The posted document has Mallon and Zondervan in the reverse (incorrect) order. Additional information is posted on the CCJ Elections Page. - Robert Winters
Featured Items on the Nov 13, 2017 City Council Agenda
For the moment at least, all six incumbents who ran to retain their seats seem to have been reelected. We'll know for sure on Friday (Nov 17) unless the closeness of the results warrants a recount. In the meantime, here are a few items of interest on this week's agenda.
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $2,274,829 from Free Cash to the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund. Funds appropriated to the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund will be used to fund specific projects which will require individual appropriations by the City Council for the related projects in the future.
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board to adopt the Alexandria Zoning Petition regarding Innovation Space in the PUD-3A and PUD-4C Districts.
Manager's Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report 16-86, regarding a report on which public campaign finance options are legal for municipal elections in Cambridge; and Awaiting Report 17-84, regarding potential plans and options, responsive to community concerns, for creating a program of tax revenue financing for candidates running for City Council and School Committee in the City of Cambridge.
This is a topic that deserves a lot more discussion than was ever permitted in either the NLTP Committee (no idea why it would even be discussed as part of "neighborhood and long-term planning" or "public facilities" or "arts and celebrations") or the Government Operations Committee. It's not something Cambridge could even do without approval from the State Legislature and it's not at all clear that such approval would be forthcoming. In addition, there has been no indication of what scale of funding would be asked - and that's important in light of the fact that the total campaign expendtitures for the recent City Council election now totals about $600,000 and climbing. The correlation between campaign spending and electoral results is also not at all clear. The cost per #1 vote as of today among successful City Council campaigns runs from a low of $9.75 to a high of $33.50 (these numbers will rise).
It's also worth noting that MANY Cambridge voters are now consulting the Cambridge Candidate Pages and other resources to learn about candidates, and that costs NOTHING. Indeed the number of visitors to the Cambridge Candidate Pages last week went like this: Nov 4: 1,082; Nov 5: 1699; Nov 6: 6,632; Nov 7 (Election Day): 11,058; Nov 8: 3,584; Nov 9: 941. That's a lot of visits for an election that had about 22,600 voters, and the Cambridge Candidate Pages aren't even linked from any City website.
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a Transportation Task Force to develop a large and comprehensive street safety and education plan that speaks to the needs of bicyclist, motorists, and pedestrians, and that can be easily disseminated and understood by all citizens. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Oct 30, 2017]
At this point I'm leaning toward the belief that we should transition toward a single Transportation Board that has subcommittees for transit, motor vehicles, bicycling, and pedestrians. Single issue advocacy has become King and ideas like balance and collaboration among stakeholders has become all but lost. It's become militant with single-issue advocates using social media to pack any and all meetings. I gave up going to these meetings. It's become just Bad Political Theater at this point and, contrary to claims of relative safety, it's really all about turf - establish a beachhead and then defend it even against reasonable criticism.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the relevant City departments and report back to the City Council with an update on the City’s plans to expand the curbside composting program citywide. Councillor Cheung
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 Oct 12, 2017 to discuss a Zoning Petition filed by Christopher D. Smith, et al., to create a new Section 13.913 Graduate Student Housing Production Requirement. This petition would require new graduate housing to be built in conjunction with the development of commercial uses in the proposed Planned Unit Development 7 District as well as a phasing plan to implement graduate housing development.
Everyone agrees with the idea that MIT and other universities should provide adequate housing options for their students. As we saw with the recent Volpe Petition, this has been acknowledged by MIT and they are planning accordingly. This Smith Petition, on the other hand, is not only moot but misdirected. - Robert Winters
With the 2017 municipal election just a week away and the Volpe Petition settled last week, it's doubtful that more than a handful of people are even paying attention to this meeting. Here are the items that piqued my interest:
Charter Right #1. Right of first refusal 2 [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Cheung on Oct 23, 2017]
This was one of three interrelated Orders submitted last week. The first, Oct 23 Order #6, was a statement of support for House Bill 3017 that would give tenants the Right of First Refusal in the event that a property is put on the market for sale. The second, Oct 23 Order #7, is a proposed Condominium Conversion Ordinance that would, among other provisions, also grant a right of first refusal to existing tenants. Both of these Orders were referred to the Housing Committee. The third, Oct 23 Order #8, calls for Home Rule legislation to adopt a local Right of First Refusal Ordinance in Cambridge independent of any action the State may or may not take. Order #7 and Order #8 both appeared as Late Orders at the Oct 23 meeting.
Personally, I believe any longtime-owner-occupied property should be exempt from any such proposed regulation. Such homeowners may choose to offer long-term tenants a chance to own, but that should be their choice and not a government mandate.
Order #1. That the regular City Council Meeting scheduled for Mon, Nov 6, 2017 be changed to a Roundtable/Working Meeting to discuss the Comprehensive Housing Policy that was forwarded to the Housing Committee on Sept 18, 2017. Mayor Simmons
Honestly, few if any of the six councillors who are seeking reelection will be focused on this topic or any other topic unrelated to their reelection, and that's perfectly understandable.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City Departments to develop a document explaining how to ride a bike safely in Cambridge, and post in visible locations, on every Hubway station in the city. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Kelley
That's a document I may wish to write. I would make it a multi-part project with several sections: (1) How to Drive Safely in Cambridge (and elsewhere); (2) How to Bike Safely in Cambridge (and elsewhere); and (3) How to Walk Safely in Cambridge (and elsewhere). The City's answer to all of these questions during the past year generally involved white plastic posts, minimal public process, and segregation. Judicious use of green paint on the pavement in Inman Square, in contrast, has done more to enhance safety than any of the "demonstration projects" or future proposals to relocate cyclists onto busy sidewalks.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to convene a Comprehensive Arts Working Group, comprised of people from across the broad spectrum of ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds in our community, in order to begin drafting a Comprehensive Arts Planning Framework that shall help better incorporate the Arts into City planning and update the City Council on progress made toward appointing the members of this working group by the final City Council meeting of this term. Mayor Simmons
Art by committee is unlikely to inspire anyone, but it would be good to give more thought to the aesthetics of new and reinvented urban spaces from the very start along with the function of those spaces. I don't mind all the murals, but we could do a lot better than just murals. - Robert Winters
Countdown - Preview of Oct 23, 2017 Cambridge City Council Meeting
The municipal election campaigns are heading into the home stretch right alongside the disposition of the MIT Volpe Zoning Petition. The Volpe vote is expected next week (Oct 30) and Election Day is Tues, Nov 7. Here are the items I found most interesting on the agenda:
Update: The MIT Volpe Petition was ordained as amended on an 8-0-1 vote with Councillor Carlone voting PRESENT. The associated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining MIT's commitments was also approved on the same 8-0-1 vote.
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a communication from the Planning Board relative to the Christopher D. Smith, et al., zoning petition regarding graduate student housing production associated with development in the proposed PUD-7 district.
I will simply say that any zoning petition that is only applicable to one specific owner/developer (as opposed to the property - independent of ownership) should not be approved. The underlying goal of universities providing more housing and more affordability for its students is great - and necessary, but lobbying for that goal should not be done via a zoning petition. It's worth noting that MIT is now proactively addressing this need for additional housing, especially for graduate students. It's also worth emphasizing that not all graduate students want to live in campus housing.
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to information in response to discussion at the Ordinance Committee hearing of Oct 17, 2017 regarding the Volpe Petition.
Unfinished Business #7. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by adding a new Section 13.90 to Article 13.000 and amend the Zoning Map to add new PUD-7 District. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Oct 16, 2017. Planning Board hearings held July 25, 2017 and Sept 12, 2017. Petition expires Oct 31, 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 Oct 3, 2017 to continue discussion on a zoning petition by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a new Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center site in Kendall Square; said discussion to include the Planning Board and Community Development’s response to the petition and staff recommendations as to changes and remaining issues to resolve and any other matter that comes before the committee.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 17, 2017 hearing to continue discussion on a zoning petition by MIT to create a new Planned Unit Development Overlay district (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation systems Center site in Kendall Square; said discussion to focus on a final review of the zoning, review of the Design Guidelines and review of the Letter of Commitment.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting the Letter of Commitment from Massachusetts Institute of Technology relating to the amended zoning petition for PUD-7 District for the Volpe Transportation Center Site.
I won't go into all the details here, but there are many reasons to support the MIT Volpe Petition (as currently amended and coupled with the proposed Memorandum of Understanding) and few reasons to oppose it. That said, this is coming before the City Council a week before Election Day, and there may be some political reasons that one or two councillors may manufacture in order to justify voting against it just to appeal to a particular constituency. In contrast, both co-chairs of the Ordinance Committee (Councillors Carlone and Cheung) deserve a lot of credit for moving this forward and shaping it along the way. MIT officials and those associated with the MIT Investment Management Company (MITIMCo) also deserve praise for addressing so many of the requested changes and benefits from a range of stakeholders while still maintaining their fiduciary responsibilities. I don't think the City could have had a better partner in this than MIT.
Order #1. That the City Manager is advised that ensuring the safety of cyclists at intersections is of critical importance to the Council, and providing for that safety will require a review of the causes and response to these two listed collisions, as well as other collisions and near collisions. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Devereux
There have been more than two such collisions, and the number of near misses is much higher. There are places where separated facilities make sense, but what the City did to Cambridge Street is ludicrous and I fear that they may repeat this error elsewhere unless there is some kind of intervention.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with Commissioner of the Department of Public Works to update the City Council on the plan for snow removal relating to the new infrastructure in Cambridge. Councillor Toomey
In this, I believe global warming may be an essential part of the City's future plans for minimizing snow impacts on their poorly conceived road reconfigurations. If it does snow, some streets may simply become impassable for motor vehicles and for bicyclists. Where will they pile the snow? My guess is that they'll just ban all parking on some streets until springtime even for relatively minor snow events. - Robert Winters
Notable Items on the Oct 16, 2017 City Council Agenda
Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-78, regarding a Police Substation in Central Square.
It seems pretty clear that the Police Commissioner understands the need for police presence in Central Square. The issue is whether this is best accomplished with a fixed structure (whether it be a storefront or a stand-alone structure) or a more mobile presence. We should see a more detailed plan within the next several months.
Manager's Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-80, regarding a report on the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Study.
Just some good information about what's underway regarding open space. If, in addition, plans for the Volpe Center parcel proceed as proposed, the whole Kendall Square area will one day be dramatically improved and better connected. Better sooner than later.
Manager's Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City Council’s draft Guiding Principles and Goals developed with the assistance of Big Sky Blue Consulting over the course of three public goal setting meetings held during this term.
I have to admit that I don't put a whole lot of stock in these goal-setting processes, but it is interesting to see what the Council comes up with as a snapshot of current sentiments. The devil is usually in the details, and goal statements are generally light on the details.
Unfinished Business #7. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by adding a new Section 13.90 to Article 13.000 and amend the Zoning Map to add new PUD-7 District. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Oct 16, 2017. Planning Board hearings held July 25, 2017 and Sept 12, 2017. Petition expires Oct 31, 2017.
There have been some indications that MIT may come forward at this meeting with some commitments and timelines - possibly including greater details on its current and future plans for greater on-campus housing options for graduate students and other affiliates. The expiration date of this zoning petition is October 31 and there are just two more regular Council meetings before then (Oct 23 and Oct 30) [corrected]. An additional Ordinance Committee meeting on this topic has been scheduled for Tues, Oct 17 at 2:30pm.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department, the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Arts Council regarding the feasibility of implementing neighborways on certain streets in Cambridge, propose two streets to pilot as neighborways, and create a process by which a group of residents can request that their street be considered as future neighborways. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
This sounds interesting, but a few specific illustrations would be helpful. Just think how things might have played out if Cambridge Street residents and businesses were allowed to participate in a process like this instead of the "take it or leave it" approach the City took in reconfiguring that street with no real public process.
Order #8. The City Manager is requested to consult with relevant City staff to propose immediate and forward-looking measures to improve and prioritize conservation of Cambridge’s tree canopy before the Urban Forest Master Plan is in place. Councillor Devereux
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 26, 2017 to follow up on Policy Order #2 of June 20, 2016 to discuss the City’s Tree Protection Ordinance and possible ways to improve this ordinance to protect the tree canopy while protecting individual property rights.
We all love trees, right? One assumption that seems to run through this report is that tree removal on a neighboring property is something neighbors necessary oppose, but there are cases where a resident may actually want a neighboring property owner to remove a tree. I happen to be one of those residents. If neighbors mutually agree that a tree should be removed would any of the proposed ordinances stand in the way of this? - Robert Winters
Preview of Oct 2, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here are the choice items on this week's menu:
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2018. [Tax Rate Letter]
Highlights: The FY18 property tax levy is $389,080,359, an increase of $16,406,272 or 4.4% from FY17. The 4.4% property tax levy increase is below the FY17 increase of 5.1%, and slightly above the fiveyear annual average (FY14-FY18) increase of 4.19%. With approval of the recommendations, the ten-year annual average (FY09-FY18) increase will be 4.85%. The FY18 residential tax rate will be $6.29 per thousand dollars of value, subject to Department of Revenue approval. This is a decrease of $0.20, or -3.1% from FY17. The commercial tax rate will be $14.81, which is a decrease of $1.31, or -8.1% from FY17. In FY18, commercial property owners will pay 65.4% of the property tax levy, the same share as in FY17. Consequently, residential property owners’ share of the FY18 tax levy is 34.6%, also the same as in FY17.
Based on the FY18 property assessment, total residential property values increased by 7.87%. Total commercial property values increased by 14.36%. The median percentage tax increases for residential properties will be 2.8% for single-family homes, 5.2% for condominiums, 0.7% for two-family properties, and 1.1% for three-family properties. For FY18, the total assessed value of taxable property in the City equals $43,619,137,030 a 10.1% increase over FY17 values.
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-66, regarding additional information requested on a Grand Junction Overlay District.
This responds to a City Council request last week for additional information. We first suggested the use of this RR corridor as a bicycle/pedestrian connection in 1999 when I served on the Green Ribbon Open Space Committee. Back then I saw it primarily as a way of providing direct access to the open space and fields of Magazine Beach for the people of East Cambridge. My view now is that this would also make housing options in East Somerville and Allston more attractive for MIT students and staff and for people who work in Kendall Square and along the corridor. I really hope this becomes a reality within the next few years.
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the MIT Volpe PUD-7 Zoning Petition with suggested changes. [Letter][Revised Petition][Redlined Petition]
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 13, 2017 to continue discussion on a zoning petition by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a new Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation Center site in Kendall Square.
I am cautiously optimistic that we may see ordination of some amended form of this zoning proposal before the expiration date at the end of October. Much depends on what commitments MIT is willing to make in the weeks before ordination (independent of the disproportionate demands of the Smith, et al. petition re: graduate student housing). This really could become a great space, and I hope the planners can find room for some fun attractions, e.g. a batting cage where people can take a few swings.
Applications & Petitions #2. A Zoning Petition has been received from Peter Kroon, et al., transmitting a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance that would amend the Harvard Square Overlay District.
Read the petition and draw your own conclusions, but my read of this petition is that it wants to bring some of the best features of the recently ordained Central Square Restoration Petition up to Harvard Square, e.g. the transition from regulating "fast food" to instead regulating "formula businesses". It also prioritizes housing in the upper floors of any taller new buildings. (Don't worry, there's no towers expected anytime soon.)
Resolution #11. Congratulations to the Central Square Business Association for a successful Dumpling Fest and Central Flea. Mayor Simmons
Special thanks go to Michael Monastime, the new Wizard of Central Square, for pulling off one of the biggest daytime attractions Central Square has seen in years.
Resolution #12. Congratulations on Bill Cavellini, Bernard LaCasse and the Cambridge Arts Council on a successful restoration of the "Beat the Belt" Mural. Mayor Simmons
I wish I could have attended the dedication. Congratulations and thanks to everyone who helped.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with appropriate City departments with the view in mind of implementing systems in Harvard Square. Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung
The order contains a generally good list of suggestions for transportation and public amenities in the Harvard Square area. I hope that the inclusion of more bicycle lanes doesn't translate into additional mistakes like the Brattle Street Lanes of Confusion.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested, in as timely manner as possible, to determine if Cambridge can legally assist DACA beneficiaries by collecting donations from individuals and organizations. Managing and dispersing such raised donations on a reimbursement basis to Cambridge DACA beneficiaries. Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons
Cambridge works with plenty of nonprofits and religious entities that can provide the suggested services without running afoul of any state laws.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to create a volunteer bike registry program that can accept donations that will go to fund environmentally friendly projects in the City. Councillor Toomey
I would register my bike in a heartbeat and agree to adhere to any and all traffic laws. (I already do.) That said, I don't know that we would see much tangible benefit from such a voluntary program. If it could convince more cyclists to take more seriously their responsibilities as road users perhaps there might be some marginal benefit.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of subsidizing the rate of the “100% Green” option in the Cambridge Community Electricity Program to ease any financial burden that residents who want to use entirely renewable energy may feel when purchasing, using existing income thresholds such as the Fuel Assistance Program. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern
This is a very slippery slope. Relatively few residents opted into the more expensive “100% Green” option because people generally make rational economic choices. Just because City officials feel that choosing this option is a worthy goal doesn't mean that taxpayers should be subsidizing it. Buying groceries from the local market may be a worthy goal in support of local businesses, but many of us will still do much of our shopping at Costco and Market Basket. Should taxpayers pick up the difference if we do all our shopping locally? I don't think so. - 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.