Before the March - Items of Interest at the February 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
In between Resistance Rallies and Sanctuary Sessions, the Cambridge City Council occasionally meets to talk about Municipal Matters. Here are a few items that may be of interest to those not marching or carrying signs on Monday.
Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining its noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 35 municipalities in the United States with AAA ratings from each of the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.
It has become an annual tradition. Keep it up. People will complain anyway.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $48,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Finance (Personnel) Other Ordinary Maintenance account. This appropriation will be used to procure consultant services to assist in the hiring of a new Police Commissioner.
The public is invited to assist the City with the development of the leadership profile for the Police Commissioner search. Members of the public may participate in the process by attending one of the Citywide Public Forums or by providing written feedback. Two Citywide Public Forums, facilitated by PERF, are being held on:
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a revised and annotated version of the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition.
Unfinished Business #9. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for an additional public hearing held on Feb 2, 2017 to discuss the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition. [The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 27, 2017. Planning Board hearing held Nov 29, 2016. Petition expires Mar 1, 2017.]
This is the last chance to ordain this before its expiration date. It appears to have unanimous support, but there could still be a tweak or two before it's official. The real question is whether these very modest zoning changes will provide sufficient incentive for us to see actual positive changes in Central Square. In any case, this is a good start.
Applications & Petitions #3. A Zoning Petition has been received from the owner of the property at Third Street and Cambridge Street to amend the existing zoning at that location to authorize the construction of a 45 unit residential building with small scale retail on the ground floor and parking below grade.
Resolution #2. Thanks to Luis Vasquez for his service to fathers in Cambridge. Councillor Cheung
Luis Vasquez is one of the most decent people I have met in my nearly 40 years in Cambridge.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Mayor to make the Sullivan Chamber and the prior goal setting facilitator, or any professional facilitator, available on a weekly basis for half day or full day City Council goal setting sessions Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux
This Order seems to suggest that City Council goal-setting is an extended exercise that goes on for days and days. In truth, it's just a snapshot of general priorities at a given time - and it has never taken all that much time to develop nor should it. Like a party platform, it just lays out some general goals and principles. It's a bit bewildering that they haven't completed this by now, but it's not like building Rome.
Order #7. City Council support of the 10-citizen petition recently presented to the Cambridge Historical Commission, asking for a tiered designation system and other amendments to the Harvard Square Conservation District guidelines and possibly to its boundaries. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen
Though this petition appears to be a response to the current specific redevelopment plans for the Abbot Building in Harvard Square, the idea contained in this petition is interesting and potentially worth pursuing. I suspect it would simply make official what likely already happens, i.e. the Cambridge Historical Commission evaluating buildings as possessing varying degrees of historical significance.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to establish the requirement that all appointments to the City's commissions, advisory committees, and task forces reflect the City's diversity and that the Civic Unity Committee is asked to sign off on all such appointments going forward. Mayor Simmons
This is a laudable goal but the Order as written is a clear violation of state law. The City Manager is the appointing authority and this Order calls for making appointments to all boards and commissions contingent on approval of a City Council subcommittee. Another problem with this order is that the word "diversity" means a lot of things - and not just what people look like. Should there be mandatory diversity of viewpoint on all advisory committees? We could use a lot more diversity of viewpoint, but some of these boards do, in fact, act as advocates for a particular point of view. Perhaps this Order should be amended by replacing the word "requirement" with the word "goal" and by removing the proposal to give the Civic Unity Committee veto power over City Manager appointments.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on what progress has been made in meeting the goal of creating 1,000 new affordable units by the end of this decade. Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern
As a rule, goals like this are far too constraining in the absence of other considerations. If this was to be accomplished via Inclusionary Zoning, this implies that the City should have a goal of producing over 8,600 new housing units per decade under current standards or 5,000 new housing units under the proposed new 20% standard. I don't wish to refer all such considerations to the Envision Cambridge process, but it is a valid long-term planning concern. In addition, housing growth (both "affordable" and in general) has to be accomplished in the whole region and not just in a few cities and towns within the region.
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to work with relevant City Departments and industry leaders to generate a report on the potential growth of next-generation wireless technology in the City, to include: the expected footprint of citywide coverage from just one company and what market competition might produce; the integration of public and private infrastructure to support the network; what local standards the City might hope to maintain relative to aesthetics and safety; and how this new technology fits into our Broadband access plans. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung
Though these are all valid concerns, including the proliferation of seemingly random (and sometimes noisy and ugly) structures perched atop utility poles and buildings, my guess is that when all is said and done the selection of broadcast channels will continue to suck and the cost of access to "premium" services like Red Sox games will continue to soar without limit.
Order #17. Amendments to the Zoning Map and Ordinance by creating a new Section 11.900 - Registration of Vacant/Abandoned Buildings; Maintenance and Security Requirements. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone
I'm eternally curious about the motivation of actions such as this one. Could this be related to the long-term vacancy of a place like the Harvard Square Cinema building? Or is this just a way to address long-term horror shows like the Vail Court property on Bishop Allen Drive without having to file a half dozen City Council orders and inviting lawsuits after an eminent domain taking? I do find it curious that this proposed zoning amendment would assess a monthly fee at a rate of 4.17 percent of the assessed value of the property on any property that is vacant more than 6 months. That's 50% of the assessed value per year. With rates like that this really starts to look like a regulatory taking of the property and it's doubtful that courts will look kindly on such a fee structure.
Order #18. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to ask the Volpe Working Group to consider how the GSA building will be integrated in with the rest of the site and to ask the independent design consultant to be more involved in the urban design process going forward. Councillor Cheung
At the MIT meeting on this matter it was revealed that the Volpe replacement building would have to be located at the northwest corner of the Volpe site and that much of the open space associated with the future federal property could be integrated with the rest of the open space planned on the site. Details at http://www.volpemit.com and, in particular in this PDF slide presentation of the Feb 16, 2017 meeting.
Order #20. Proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinances regarding rooftop spaces in Central Square. Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone
This seems like a sensible outgrowth of the discussion that grew out of the Central Square Restoration Petition which will hopefully be ordained by the time this Order comes up in the agenda. See you at the March. - Robert Winters
Monday the 13th - Featured Items on the Feb 13, 2017 Cambridge City Council Meeting Agenda
This is a very short agenda this week. Here are a few things of possible interest:
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the revised and annotated version of the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for an additional public hearing held on Feb 2, 2017 to discuss the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition.
It is expected that the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition will be passed to a 2nd Reading at this meeting. This will put it in the queue for ordination at the Feb 27 meeting - hopefully by a unanimous vote.
Resolution #5. Wishing Ken Reeves a Happy Birthday. Councillor Toomey
When Ken was on the Council it was a tradition to not only wish him a happy birthday on his Feb 8 birthday, but to also commemorate him for the entire month of February. It's nice to see Councillor Toomey continuing the tradition - at least for the day. Happy Birthday, Ken!
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works, the City Arborist, and any other appropriate City department to establish a Tree Task Force to better protect the urban canopy. Councillor Devereux
This is the only City Council Order on the agenda this week. Perhaps such a task force could be established within the Public Planting Committee rather than duplicating effort. More generally, this is a good time to take a look at all of the City's various Boards, Commissions, Advisory Committees, and Task Forces to make sure that the right issues are being addressed, there is no duplication of effort, and that volunteer energy is being best utilized.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 12, 2017 to review City Ordinance 12.08.010 regarding sandwich board and A-frame signs.
The littlest issue had its day in committee. Most seemed to agree that some basic guidelines should be established and that the permitting of such signs should be done in the future by City staff without the need for City Council approval of every such sign. An ordinance change will be required to make it so. - Robert Winters
On tap at the February 6, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here are some items of possible interest this Monday. Budget Season is on the horizon. More importantly, pitchers and catchers report February 13 and position players on February 16. Even more importantly, wasn't that come-from-behind Patriots victory in the Super Bowl just spectacular?
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of of $3,709,949 in funds from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Grant to the Public Works Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures account for the Alewife Sewer Separation Program.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Department of Public Works to set and meet a firm 2017 deadline for fully completing all remaining parts of the Huron A, Huron B, and Concord Avenue contracts, provide a full accounting of all costs (to-date and future) compared to the original contracts and budgets and schedule a community meeting as soon as possible to update the public on the schedule and budget for completing the project, as well as a complete list of all remaining punch list items for each of the contract areas. Councillor Devereux
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,300,000 to provide funds for the design, drainage, and installation of new field surfaces at Russell Field and the Graham and Parks School.
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $1,100,000 to provide funds for the construction of sewer separation, storm water management, and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the Cambridgeport Neighborhood.
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $1,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.
Call me an infrastructure geek, but I just love this kind of stuff - how all the systems of a city run from water supply to sewerage to electric service and everything else that goes on unseen and underappreciated (until something goes wrong).
Charter Right #8 (Order #3 of Jan 23, 2017). That the City Manager is requested to hire an independent consultant who shall assess the efficiency and effectiveness of how all City Departments conduct their work, who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary, and who will report back to the City Manager and the City Council on his or her progress in regular monthly intervals. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Jan 23, 2017. Placed On Table on motion of Mayor Simmons on Jan 30, 2017.]
My understanding is that better language was being worked out and this item should be voted on Monday. Most importantly, any consultant hired by the City should advise the City Manager, but it's still entirely the Manager's decision how to structure City departments. As I mentioned last week, this may also be a good time to look at the structure of all the City's volunteer Boards and Commissions, and maybe the City Council should also give some thought toward how its subcommittees function (or not function).
Unfinished Business #10. A proposed amendment to the Ordinance entitled "Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge" to insert in Article 11.00 a new Section 11.800 Medical Marijuana. [The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 6, 2017. Planning Board hearings were held Nov 1, 2016 and Jan 3, 2017. Petition expires Feb 7, 2017.]
The deadline is here, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to work with the relevant City staff to make available the City’s GIS system data regarding the total number of parking spaces designated as resident-permit only by street address, the total number of residential off-street parking spaces by street address, and the total number of cars registered in Cambridge by street address. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen
Councillors Devereux and Mazen are gathering data to make the case for removing parking on several major streets, including Broadway, Cambridge St., Hampshire St., and Mass. Ave. in order to remove bicycles from the roadway. They have apparently neglected to inquire about parking for schools, City buildings, churches, day care facilities, funeral homes, and all businesses. They also neglected to inquire about parking needs by times of day. I'm sure it was just an oversight. And pigs can fly. - Robert Winters
Now Featuring.... Coming Attractions at the Jan 30, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
With Groundhog Day fast approaching, and in recognition of a really great movie, perhaps the City Council will find the wisdom (and the kindness toward the City Clerk) to dispense with On The Table Items #3, #4, #5, #7, and #8. I mean, seriously, the Nutcracker performances are over for 2016, so why is the matter of banners promoting the Boston Ballet's Nutcracker still on the agenda every week? This will take all of one minute to dispense with these zombies and allow the City Council move on to bigger and better things (as well as the usual lot of smaller and poorer things). Here are a few agenda items that seem either interesting, controversial, or just plain ridiculous:
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an update on the Bicycle Safety Work Plan.
One conclusion that I draw from this report is that this plan is basically non-negotiable. On-street parking will soon be removed on major streets and any claims of "evaluation" are fiction. Politicians will henceforth be in charge of traffic engineering. Those who believe that bicycles belong on the sidewalk and not in the streets are now calling all the shots. Those of us who choose to ride in the street are now squeezed into narrower lanes and greater danger. I have yet to meet an MBTA bus driver who has anything good to say about Cambridge's plans. I only wish City officials would drop the pretense of calling these "temporary measures" while at the same time making them permanent as was recently done in the Special Permit conditions imposed on the Mass and Main development in Lafayette Square.
Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the comprehensive Needs Assessment Report relative to the Community Benefits Ordinance.
This has been long in coming. There is a need for a more rational process in determining how money derived from new developments will be distributed for projects and institutions for the public good. I still have some concerns about "mitigation as shakedown" and the possibility that not-so-great projects will be permitted to go forward as long as the developers sufficiently "sweeten the pot" with additional contributions. I would rather see good projects regardless of the mitigation.
Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the results of the biannual City of Cambridge Citizen Telephone Survey for 2016.
I have taught statistics courses, but I get no pleasure in reading statistical reports like these. All you really need to know is in the City Manager's cover letter. "Overall opinions of the City remain very positive. Citizens’ extreme satisfaction with overall performance of City government in Cambridge ... is a reflection on responsible, forward-thinking policies, and a capable and extremely dedicated workforce." "Affordable housing/housing was again identified as the ‘single most important issue facing the City of Cambridge today’." Enough said.
Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-110, regarding the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition.
Most of this is old news, but it's good to have it summarized in this report. There is an important legal opinion from City Solicitor Nancy Glowa on the legality of the proposed Formula Business regulations in the petition. The rest of the petition is pretty solid and received accolades from the Planning Board, but we may have to live for now without the proposed change from the current Fast Food Cap to the more desirable Formula Business regulations. Then again, maybe we'll see some revised language at the Feb 2 hearing on the matter. In any case, the core provisions of this petition should pass - and soon.
Charter Right #1. A zoning petition has been received from Richard Harding, et al. to amend 20.800 titled the Mass and Main Residential Mixed Income Sub district to reflect a more appropriate affordable housing contribution and height limitation for this zoning. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Jan 23, 2017.]
This petition was rendered moot by the granting of the Special Permit for the Mass and Main and related developments this past Tuesday by the Planning Board. The votes aren't there to pass this petition anyway.
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to hire an independent consultant who shall assess the efficiency and effectiveness of how all City Departments conduct their work, who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary, and who will report back to the City Manager and the City Council on his or her progress in regular monthly intervals. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Jan 23, 2017.]
The City Council should amend this Order to simply ask the City Manager to consider hiring a consultant to advise him on possible changes in the structure and function of City departments. While they're at it, the City Council and the City administration should take a good objective look at all of the City's volunteer Boards and Commissions to see if there are any efficiencies that can be made or if any of the ordinances that created some of these boards should be amended to better reflect today's needs and priorities.
Then the City Council should take a good hard look at its own operations. For example, wouldn't it work better if City Council aides were assigned to Council subcommittees rather than to individual councillors? Perhaps each Council subcommittee could also keep its own web page that tracks what each committee is doing, the status of any initiatives, and a record of all actions taken.
Resolution #2. Resolution on the death of Renae Gray. Mayor Simmons
Renae was the first person to invite me (in 1991) to be on a board of a civic organization in Cambridge. She always brought positive energy to anything with which she was involved. This is a very significant loss to the civic fabric of the city.
Order #2. Amendment to Chapter 8.12.010 of the Municipal Code. Councillor Cheung
This is almost like a mystery question. The Order basically just asks that the requirement that any gas station with self-serve pumps "have service bays and offer automotive repairs" be removed. On the face of it, this just seems like common sense since there are already self-serve gas stations in Cambridge where no repairs are made. But why is this revision being posed now? Is this just housekeeping or is there a service station that wants to do self-serve gas and get out of the repair business? It matters because self-serve stations usually come with bright lights, extended hours, and elaborate fire-suppression structures. That's a pretty big change from Goober's Fillin' Station.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the MBTA to install a shelter on Aberdeen Avenue without advertising or lighting comparable to what was originally there and to consult with City staff to develop a policy that prohibits advertising and illumination on bus shelters in residential areas citywide and as well as in the Parkway Overlay District. Councillor Devereux
We probably all would rather see less advertising on bus shelters, Hubway stations, etc., but that is how the maintenance costs are covered. Perhaps they can just dim the lights and make the advertisements classier.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department, the Department of Public Works (DPW) and any other relevant City department and report back to the City Council on ways the City can help small businesses offset other costs, included but not limited to, the possibility of DPW picking up trash from these small businesses during their regular routes. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung
This debate has gone on for at least 25 years. The truth is that DPW already does pick up trash from small businesses in some mixed-use buildings (like next door to me). If the City did choose to include more commercial customers, they would also have to include recycling services.
Communications and Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by John Hawkinson alleging violation to attorney client privileged redactions of executive session minutes of the City Council for Aug 1, 2016, Oct 13, 2016 and the Oct 31, 2016.
While few will argue with the intent of the Open Meeting Law, there does come a point when complaints like these pass well into the realm of the ridiculous. In this particular case, these were Executive Session meetings specifically focused on contract negotiations. They are not subject to the Open Meeting Law and redaction in the minutes is permitted when appropriate, so no one should be surprised that much of the minutes were redacted. There are far more important things to worry about - even here in the Little Village of Cambridge. In any case, I wish the complainant would show a little more respect to the women who work in City government. Nobody appreciates being hounded while under threat of a negative "news" story that's barely distinguishable from a personal attack. - Robert Winters
Coming up this Monday - Jan 23, 2017 Cambridge City Council agenda [extra detail here or here (15.4MB PDF)]
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person to the position of Assistant City Manager for Finance, effective Mar 13, 2017: David Kale.
It's like that line from the Blues Brothers - "We're putting the band back together." Welcome back, David.
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-107, regarding the purchase of K9 Rumba by Officer Peter Neal.
There was no absolutely right resolution to this dilemma. In the end, four-year-old Rumba still has work to do for the City of Cambridge.
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $35,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Human Services Other Ordinary Maintenance account, to be used to expand the existing contract with Food for Free to support the Weekend Backpack Program.
This is not the first time the City has taken up the slack when the state or federal government discontinued funding for a useful program such as this. I expect it won't be the last.
Manager's Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation regarding the Medical Marijuana Zoning Petition. [The Planning Board does NOT RECOMMEND adoption.]
Committee Report #2 and Committee Report #3 from the Ordinance Committee for public hearings held on Dec 21, 2016 and on Jan 3, 2017 relative to the City Council petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance to delete the existing Section 20.700 – Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts; create a new Section 11.800 – Medical Marijuana; and list Registered Marijuana Dispensary within Section 4.35 of the Table of Use Regulations, allowed only by Planning Board Special Permit within Business A, B, B-1, B-2, C, Industry A-1, B-1 and B-2 districts. These are the 2nd and 3rd hearings on this petition.
The basic issue here is that if there are to be medical marijuana dispensaries in Cambridge, the existing zones where it is allowed appear to be inadequate as evidenced by repeated zoning petitions to add new small zones tailored to specific sites. The alternative is to simply make this an allowed use in some or all of the existing business districts (as long as other constraints are met). One identified complication is that under the recently passed initiative petition to liberalize the use, possession, and sale of recreational marijuana, the dispensary sites could also become recreational marijuana outlets. One discussion I have not yet heard is the reality of where such facilities would actually end up being located if they become an allowed use in business districts. These are not the kind of facilities that would be dependent on foot traffic and they don't need a site that commands high rent, so the most likely sites would be in the smaller business zones or on the outer periphery of the Squares. Wherever they locate, their particular clientele will be sure to find them.
Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Richard Harding, et al. to amend 20.800 titled the Mass and Main Residential Mixed Income Sub district to reflect a more appropriate affordable housing contribution and height limitation for this zoning.
Communications #1. A communication was received from Massasoit Elk's Lodge #129 Membership, 55 Bishop Allen Drive, transmitting opposition to the 19th floor height of the B-1 and B2 towers that are grossly out of scale for Central Square and Port neighborhoods, and far higher even than proposed by the C2 study.
I'm at something of a loss trying to understand out of which blue this petition came. The Normandy/Twining petition of a couple of years ago that has made possible the Mass & Main development that is now being permitted was a very public process with more than its share of controversy. That petition was ordained on a 7-2 vote on May 18, 2015 with significant concessions to produce affordable housing units as part of that development. A tremendous amount of planning and negotiation has occurred since then and many opportunities for the public to weigh in. This new petition is really the horse that left that barn 18 months ago. All of the relevant issues have already been debated. The communication from the Elk's Lodge specifically references the petition. It's difficult to guess what the real motivation is for this petition's appearance at this time. It could be related to a potential City Council candidacy or maybe it's a proxy petition promoted by an activist group, but it could also be based on fear of construction disruption when the Mass & Main development gets underway later this year. In any case, this petition is long past its freshness date.
Resolution #2. Congratulations to José Mateo for being named a 2017 Commonwealth Award honoree for Achievement by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Councillor Devereux
Resolution #14. Retirement of Greg Russ from the Cambridge Housing Authority. Mayor Simmons
In their respective fields, both José Mateo and Greg Russ are local giants.
Order #2. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the License Commission, the Cambridge Arts Council, the Community Development Department, the Police Department, and any other appropriate City department to discuss the feasibility of allowing small businesses to host live acoustic music performances without a license. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern
This seems like a great idea - certainly for occasional performances and particularly for those without amplification. There are, however, some factors that the City Council and the City administration may want to consider before making such a change, e.g. hours of operation, whether the business has "operable windows" that would project the sound outward, and if there might be some conflict with any residential abutters. Not all acoustic music is low volume, e.g. drums and horns. Acoustic doesn't necessarily mean a folk singer gently strumming her guitar strings.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to hire an independent consultant who shall assess the efficiency and effectiveness of how all City Departments conduct their work, who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary, and who will report back to the City Manager and the City Council on his or her progress in regular monthly intervals. Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Mazen
Assessing the effectiveness of City departments and making necessary improvements should, of course, be standard practice. In that spirit, this Order seems perfectly great. However, the phrase "who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary" in regard to a hired independent consultant is more than a little problematic. If read literally, this would imply that the City Manager would hire a consultant who would not merely advise the City Manager and the City Council but actually independently make changes in the management of City departments. At the very least, the City Council should amend this order to make clear that any recommendations are strictly advisory.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on current or potential future public-private partnerships that could deliver an operational Foundry that consists of significant community space for the community. Councillor Toomey
Lately I have begun to think that the entire process regarding the Foundry building has become one large circular discussion that has brought of back to pretty much the same place we were at four years ago.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report on the current status of the Broadband Task Force, including a schedule for ongoing discussion and final decision and recommendation. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung
I still have not heard a convincing argument for why the City should invest a huge sum of money on a speculative initiative like this.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff and report back to the Council with an explanation of how the success of these “pop up” lanes will be measured and what lessens we expect to learn from them to help implement safer bicycling facilities throughout the City as soon as possible. Councillor Kelley
This is an incredibly perceptive Order from Councillor Kelley. I have already seen at least one advocacy group running surveys designed to "prove" the desirability of these changes. I cannot speak for the one near the Harvard Law School, but it's hard to imagine that the obstacle course that was installed in Lafayette Square would pass muster in any objective analysis. There are plenty of trouble spots that can be identified for improved bicycle safety in Cambridge, but these don't especially coincide with those promoted politically.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 13, 2016 to discuss recent and anticipated development projects and commercial and institutional leasing in Harvard Square and how such changes may affect the future of Harvard Square.
This was an interesting hearing, but it's not at all clear what the action items are or where this discussion may be headed.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 4, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend provision of the Zoning Ordinance related to Inclusionary Housing, including the insertion of new definitions into Article 2.000 and the substitution of revised zoning text for the current text of sections 11.200 through 11.206.
There is a noticeable urgency to pass these changes regardless of what the effect may be on new housing construction. The proposed mandatory percentage of "affordable units" is almost double what has been in effect since the 1998 ordinance was adopted. It may be economically sustainable, but this is not a sure thing. The only sure thing is that the adoption of these changes to Inclusionary Zoning will be prominently featured on a lot of campaign literature this fall. - Robert Winters
New Year at City Hall - Jan 9, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
It's a relatively short agenda to open the new year, but there are some notable items:
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Acting Police Commissioner Brent B. Larrabee, effective Jan 9, 2017.
Even if we'll have Acting Commissioner Larrabee for just the next 6-8 months, he comes highly recommended by former Commissioner Robert Haas. That's all I need to hear to know that the Police Department is in good hands.
Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt with suggested modifications, the zoning amendments to Article 19.000 related to lighting in project review.
This is a reasonable proposal and the modifications suggested by the Planning Board make sense. Nonetheless, the alarmists are out in full force arguing against reason. One message posted on a listserv states, "If you do not want Las Vegas style lights in Cambridge, if you believe you have the right to some darkness at night, you need to, once again, email your councillors right now." Yeah, right. Las Vegas here we come. Let's see if the tail wags the dog Monday night.
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt with some minor modifications, the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition (Sater, et al).
I haven't yet heard any serious objections to this zoning petition. It's a very moderate step forward that may yield positive benefits for housing and retail in the Central Square area. It does not preclude further modifications that might one day emerge from the Envision Cambridge process.
Charter Right #2. City Council support of asking the Cambridge Historical Commission to initiate a landmark designation study process on the Abbott Building in Harvard Square. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Dec 19, 2016.]
Most of us want to see the exterior of this structure remain essentially as it is today - regardless of any changes in tenancy within the building. The word is that Curious George will find a new home nearby. One striking lesson from the Dec 19 City Council meeting discussion on this subject was that this area already has substantial protections as a neighborhood conservation district, and landmarking of this building really adds no additional protection. The issue, however, has become a political rallying point, so I don't expect the City Council to exercise good sense here. There are important discussions that are needed regarding the future of Harvard Square, but this isn't one of them. I would be much more thrilled if we could focus just a little attention on the detrimental effect of foreign investors treating this area and all of Cambridge as just a place to shelter their assets. Some of us actually live here - and not just for the investment value.
Communications and Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, relating to Council Goals and capacity building for the Community Development Department.
The City Council is long overdue in their periodic goal-setting process, and I imagine more than a few of them would like to address this sooner than later. Regarding whether the Community Development Department is understaffed or if there's a need for a "vision statement for how CDD will run differently in the year 2020", I look forward to hearing what City staff and the rest of the city councillors may have to say on the matter. - Robert Winters
Closing Down an Unusual Year - Dec 19, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda Notes
On the Table #1 and #2. Sidewalk sandwich board applications (CareWell Urgent Care, Esmeralda) languishing On the Table since being tabled by Councillor Devereux on Apr 25, 2016.
Applications & Petitions #1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. Applications and reapplications for sidewalk sandwich boards for Esmeralda, Honeycomb Creamery, Darwin's Ltd., Marimekko, and Mundo/Lux.
Normally I wouldn't even bother noting such minor goings-on, but when did the lowly sidewalk sandwich board become such a big deal? This year has been the Year of the Mountainous Molehill with the Cambridge City Council focusing excessively on advertising and identification signs on buildings, and on darkening as many lights as possible. We'll soon be a city of totally anonymous buildings that will only be identifiable via iPhone apps. Apparently the only signage that's completely OK is graffiti.
Bunches of Communications supporting the building of 100% affordable housing on the City-owned parking lots on Bishop Allen Drive.
Needless to say, all housing is affordable to someone. So the real question is what mix of household incomes should be represented in any new housing that may be constructed on these sites? Is segregating people by income the best strategy in the long term? The beauty of Inclusionary Zoning is that it integrates people of different income levels within the same buildings. I hope that any housing that may be created on these parking lots at leasts tries to achieve some sort of economic integration. Most of the communications posted in the agenda make no reference to economic integration. In fact, they bear all the signs of an organized effort - nearly identical phrases transcribed in response to an appeal from a single source.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Police Department and other relevant city departments to allow Officer Peter Neal to purchase Rumba upon his retirement. Councillor Cheung
This is a very nice gesture, but my understanding is that these police dogs (and I've met them all) were trained as bomb-sniffers at some expense and may not yet be eligible for retirement. If Rumba is nearing retirement age, I hope she gets a generous pension of dog bones and biscuits and gets to live happily ever after with Officer Neal.
Order #2. City Council support of asking the Cambridge Historical Commission to initiate a landmark designation study process on the Abbott Building in Harvard Square. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern
We all want to see the bones of Harvard Square kept somewhat intact even as new owners and new businesses replace others, and this building is certainly deserving of landmark status. That said, some alteration could still make for a better project. There is, however, something backwards about landmarking only after plans have been submitted. Wouldn't it make more sense to identify and landmark buildings (or entire areas) before they are purchased for redevelopment?
During a recent hearing on Harvard Square that was inspired by this development proposal, one public commenter offered an interesting proposal to create a mid-block alley through this property that would extend Palmer Street and serve as an interesting entryway to any businesses in this building. That would certainly disrupt the "historic facade" of the building, but it was an interesting idea that would be consistent with the many other alleyways and connections that are abundant in Harvard Square. Personally, I just hope that any displaced businesses can be accommodated somewhere in the greater Harvard Square area, though we would certainly welcome them in Central Square or another Cambridge location.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 1, 2016 to discuss the zoning petition submitted by Nabil Sater, et al to amend the Zoning Ordinances in the Central Square Overlay District, Section 20.300.
This petition - the Central Square Restoration Petition - received unanimous approval by the Planning Board at its initial hearing. It usually takes at least two meetings, so that's at least one measure of the quality of this petition. Central Square, however, has always been a political football, so I expect that some councillors will try to modify the petition in some ways, hopefully positive ways, in order to get their fingerprints on the football. It's worth noting that the Planning Board characterized this petition as a good interim measure and made it quite clear that other changes to the zoning in Central Square might be forthcoming as the Envision Cambridge process navigates its way through the next couple of years.
After the Fire - the Dec 12, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting (postponed from Dec 5)
Last week's meeting was postponed due to the relief efforts associated with the Berkshire Street fire. Any business then before the City Council paled in comparison to the devastation caused by the 10-alarm fire on Sat, Dec 3 in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood. In the midst of it all it was great to see Cantabrigians pulling together to help residents directly impacted by the conflagration. This is a neighborhood where people identify buildings by the names of the families who inhabit them - some for generations.
On the expanded meeting agenda for this week, here are some items of interest:
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with suggested changes to Cambridge’s policy regarding advertising revenue that could help support the continuation and expansion of Hubway in the City of Cambridge. Councillor Toomey
The economic sustainability of Hubway may require additional advertising revenue or increased user fees (currently $20/month or $85/year). Or you could just buy a bike and a good lock.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to make the appropriate staff available to assist the Mayor’s Office in facilitating a community conversation about the roles and intersection of race, class, gender, and culture in Cambridge within the first quarter of 2017. Mayor Simmons
Mayor Simmons has organized such events in the past and does a pretty good job at it.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding the potential of building affordable housing on City-owned parking lots along Bishop Allen Drive. Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons
At some point, city councillors and City staff will have to start distinguishing between "building affordable housing" and "making housing affordable". As an interim measure, creating housing accessible to low and moderate income people who access it by applying to a government agency or quasi-governmental entity makes sense. However, this contributes to the division of housing into high-cost housing for the well-to-do and subsidized housing for the not-so-well-to-do. It doesn't do much for those who are simply looking for an affordable place to live and who are not inclined to seek government-owned or government-controlled housing. Affordable options for most people should be available without having to apply to a governmental agency.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department with the intention of ensuring that zoning and building code restrictions will not prohibit the rebuilding of the damaged structures and to report back to the City Council with necessary language or steps needed to ensure a straightforward process for families and current property owners to rebuild. Councillor Toomey
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Inspectional Services Department, the Community Development Department, the Legal Department and any other appropriate city departments to determine what measures can be taken to fast-track the rebuilding of homes impacted by the fire that may be non-conforming with the current zoning code and report back to the Council in a timely manner on what actions can be considered. Councillor Devereux
These are both very timely, and if there's any need to insert an emergency amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to facilitate this, the City Council should fast-track it. Hopefully there's insurance money to cover most or all of the costs of rebuilding.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to ensure that all money raised during this campaign is distributed to the Wellington Harrington residents impacted by this incident and to report back to the City Council when all funds are distributed. Councillor Toomey
So far it seems that City efforts and the efforts of the Mayor's Office have been well-coordinated with the Red Cross and other agencies. Cambridge should be very proud of all these efforts and those of individuals who have stepped forward to assist with money, materials, and housing.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Director of Communications, the Community Development Department, the Human Services Department, and Public Safety Departments to develop an outreach and communications plan for renters in Cambridge about the importance and availability of renters insurance and consult with these departments to assist low- and moderate-income tenants in acquiring affordable renters insurance policies, and to report back on both orders. Councillor Devereux
Though clearly motivated by the Berkshire Street fire, the reality is that most Cambridge residents and certainly most residents in this affected neighborhood are renters. Buildings can be rebuilt, but the loss of personal property can be equally devastating. People often don't think about rental insurance, so this is, as they say, "a teachable moment".
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with DCR to request that the speed limit be reduced to 25 mph on Fresh Pond Parkway from the BB&N Upper School campus to the Route 2/16 split west of the Alewife MBTA station. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
Though it may not make sense to lower the speed limit to 25 mph on a limited-access highway or an arterial road with relatively few street crossings, Fresh Pond Parkway and Alewife Brook Parkway both have many intersections where vehicles and pedestrians and abundantly present. Since Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville are all reducing the speed limit on City-owned streets, the DCR should do the same on all of their roads that operate like major city streets. Having uniform traffic standards regardless of ownership makes a lot of sense.
Order #12. That the City Council’s Government Operations Committee seek to identify a suitable site to honor Representative Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. for his long and distinguished commitment to the City of Cambridge. Councillor Maher, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung
This is a great idea. I certainly hope that City Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. will continue in his role on the City Council for years to come - maybe even as Mayor.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 16, 2016 to discuss gradually increasing the parking permit fee and to consider other improvements to the program to help fund the City’s budget towards reducing vehicle miles traveled and to promote alternative forms of transportation.
This was the meeting where some city councillors (Mazen, Devereux) argued in favor of dramatic increases in the Resident Permit Parking fee. Basically, they would like to jack it up as high as they can politically get away with. Councillor Devereux wants to jack the fees up as a way of disincentivising automobile ownership - at least for those with lower incomes. She also noted that Uber does not have enough curb space to pull over and that this could be relieved by driving out resident parking from major streets. In a Twitter post recently she also expressed her desire to double Cambridge parking meter rates like Boston is planning to do in the Seaport District. Gee, thanks.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 27, 2016 to discuss a zoning petition by the City Council to amend four sections in Article 19.000 of the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 27, 2016 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Title 15 entitled “Buildings and Construction” by adding a new Chapter 15.22 entitled “Outdoor Lighting.”
Rather than get into the details of all this, I will simply note that it is so classically Cambridge that a proposal that was originally intended to limit light trespass into bedroom windows has now morphed into a showdown on the aesthetics of building signage and architectural lighting. It almost makes me yearn for the days of "spectacular lighting" such as the one adorning the Shell gas station on Memorial Drive or, even more spectacularly, the much-beloved Citgo sign overseeing the good fortunes of the Red Sox. - Robert Winters
Navigating the Post-Apocalypse in the Peoples Republic - Nov 21, 2016 Cambridge City Council Preview
While the Orange Emperor prepares to assume the throne, Cambridge responds with symbolic acts of virtual warfare. I expect that the next two months will be dominated by discussions of Sanctuary Cities and declarations of our municipal virtue.
Here are the City Council agenda items that seem most noteworthy:
Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an update on the drought conditions.
The drought persists, but things appear to be less dire than they seemed a month ago. The reservoirs are slowing gaining water and we have been able to use Cambridge water to some degree, so the cost of purchasing MWRA water is less than was projected.
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to various projects and initiatives related to the City’s Bicycle Safety Work Plan.
City staff seem to be approaching this more thoughtfully than the "my way or the highway" approach suggested in recent City Council orders. For example, there is a substantial analysis of the pros and cons of completely revising the good plans already developed for Huron Avenue. Based on that analysis and the impacts associated with making major changes to the design at this point in construction, City staff does not plan to modify the layout of Huron Avenue.
There definitely are some modifications to street configuration and on-street parking that can be made for greater bicycle safety, but this is best done in conjunction with a thoughtful process involving all stakeholders - and not with the banging of drums. It is worth noting that at a recent City Council committee meeting on a possible increase in the cost of a resident parking permit, one councillor clearly stated that she hoped that by jacking the sticker price up sufficiently high it would lead to enough people giving up their vehicles so that parking could be eliminated from most or all of Broadway, Cambridge Street, Hampshire Street and Massachusetts Avenue. She especially liked that Uber vehicles would more easily be able to pick up passengers on these streets. Public process may be time-consuming, but it's far preferable to a dictatorial City Council.
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the zoning amendments with recommended changes to the Inclusionary Housing Provisions.
Presumably, the zoning amendment process will now commence with referral to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee. It will be interesting to see if the shifting economic forecasts associated with changes in Washington, D.C. will affect the view of how viable the proposed 20% Inclusionary Zoning percentage might be.
Charter Right #1. The City Manager confer with the City Solicitor on the possibility of allowing non-citizen Cambridge residents to vote in municipal elections without a home-rule petition. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Cheung on Nov 7, 2016.]
Perhaps the juxtaposition of this with the Sanctuary City discussion may give this a boost, but I still think that individual cities and towns should not be setting their own policies in matters such as this. For a hundred years the standard has been that Citizenship = "Right to Vote", and a lot of us agree with that definition. I will again add that just about everyone is a citizen of some country and they likely still retain those voting rights even if they currently reside in Cambridge.
Order #3. That all Awaiting Report items on the Awaiting Report List on Nov 7, 2016 be placed on file. Councillor Cheung
Perhaps most of the slate should be wiped clean, but maybe councillors should be afforded the privilege of selecting a few or the more substantial requests for retention on the list. While they're at it, we could also use a little Fall Cleaning of some of the items that are On the Table collecting dust and going nowhere. The City Clerk will, I'm sure, appreciate the gesture.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to commit to funding any and all programs that may be in jeopardy should the federal funds affect the viability of these programs. Councillor Cheung, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Kelley
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to forward a letter to Cambridge organizations and City Departments regarding the status of our Sanctuary/Trust Act City and what this means for working non-citizens and the resources available. Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen
Order #8. Nov 28th Roundtable/Working Meeting be changed to discuss Cambridge remaining a Sanctuary City. Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern
As an exercise, let's separate out the substance of these Sanctuary City resolutions from all the other statements of conditions, causes, and virtue.
The essential clauses of the 1985 resolution are:
The 2006 resolution actually added little other than statements about how the Cambridge City Council at that time disagreed with a bill then working its way through the U.S. Congress.
Those were some pretty substantial statements in 1985, but they really aren't all that severe. In a nutshell, they basically say that the City of Cambridge won't carry out the work of the federal government in carrying out a policy with which the City of Cambridge has great disagreement. The federal government doesn't round up people who have failed to pay parking tickets while in the City of Cambridge, so this is, in some respects, just a statement that we'll do our jobs and the federal government can do their jobs.
What is insidious about the current situation is the threat of federal funds being withheld to any city choosing to not do the job of federal authorities. That's almost like saying that we're going to withhold your paycheck until you do your boss's job in addition to your own. Cambridge residents pay federal taxes (sorry, you can't claim the Peoples Republic of Cambridge as a sovereign state), so federal funding is really just a mechanism through which we get back some of our own money. What is most offensive is the manner in which the federal government attempts to micromanage local communities via the threat of withholding federal funds that they have extracted from residents of those same communities via taxation. This practice has been growing for years and is not particular to the latest dispute over Sanctuary Cities. Even President Obama threatened to withhold educational funds based on failure to reconfigure bathrooms, and there are plenty of other examples of federal authorities using taxation as a means of dictating policy.
So, the question I have is simply this: What aspects of Cambridge's Sanctuary City resolutions are actually in violation of federal law? Indeed, the last statement of the 1985 resolution states quite clearly that "the provisions of this Resolution shall be severable, and if any phrase, clause, sentence or provision of this Resolution is declared by a court of component jurisdiction to be contrary to the Constitution of the United States or of the Commonwealth or the applicability thereof to any agency, person or circumstances is held invalid, the validity of the remainder of this Resolution and the applicability thereof to any other agency, person or circumstances shall not be affected thereby."
Order #7. That the City Council go on record requesting that the Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee hold a hearing or hearings on the attached proposed surveillance ordinance, and that representatives of the ACLU be invited to this hearing or hearings to discuss the necessity of such an ordinance. Mayor Simmons
I'm not exactly sure who wrote the text of this proposed surveillance ordinance, but I'm pretty sure he wears a tin foil hat.
On the Table #7. The City Manager coordinate with the Finance Department, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and community stakeholders to outline a proposed system of governance, management, and stakeholder engagement for the Foundry, to be discussed in a public forum with the Council and community. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Oct 31, 2016.]
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 6, 2016 to discuss the redevelopment of the Foundry Building.
The more I hear about this the better I feel about how the City and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority came to this point. It seems as though every piece of real estate for which the City Council has some control has become a political football in a game in which All Great Things ride on the outcome. The Foundry is, at the end of the day, just another building. The City has lots of buildings serving community purposes, including multiple Youth Centers and all of the Community Schools programs. While everybody stamps their feet about The Foundry, where is the fervor about all of these other City programs and facilities? Perhaps the best thing would be to start viewing The Foundry as just another asset in an enlarged inventory of facilities. Maybe then we could start thinking less selfishly and more holistically. When was the last time the City Council and the School Committee looked at the bigger picture and asked if we're making the most of all of the City's assets?
On the Eve of Celebration or Disaster - Nov 7, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda highlights
With the Presidential election looming, it feels almost like the early 1960s when many people believed that nuclear annihilation was a real possibility. In contrast, the kerfuffles and excesses of the little fish in our City Council pond seem almost quaint. Here are a few items to distract you from the national picture:
Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, requesting the City Council accept Chapter 218 of the Acts of 2016, “An Act Modernizing Municipal Finance and Government”, Sections 193 and 194 giving municipalities the authority to reduce speed limits on all ways other than state highways.
You may recall that not long ago the City Council hastily voted to reduce the speed limit to 20mph citywide. This led to a thoughtful response from the Dept. of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation recommending a citywide limit of 25mph with a lower speed limit for legitimate "safety zones" (as was the intent of the state enabling legislation). The City Council was also alerted at that time to the fact that any change had to wait until the new state law went into effect before adopting its provisions. That time has now arrived and we'll shortly be seeing a 25mph limit in Boston, Somerville, Cambridge, and likely other places.
Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to Council Order No. 15, dated Oct 31, 2016, regarding a Request for Proposal for consultant services related to the visioning, programming, governance, and re-purposing of the Harvard Square Kiosk as well as creating a Harvard Square Kiosk Working Group.
Charter Right #1. The City Manager coordinate with the Finance Department, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and community stakeholders to outline a proposed system of governance, management, and stakeholder engagement for the Foundry, to be discussed in a public forum with the Council and community. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Oct 31, 2016.]
Both of these agenda items concern efforts by the City Council to intervene in processes that have been long underway and thoughtfully planned and implemented. Residents, including councillors, can raise questions and make recommendations about the outcomes of these process, but intervening in contracts is probably not the best way to proceed. In the case of the Harvard Square Kiosk and the surrounding plaza, the City is simply hiring a firm to create a vision for the programming, operation and governance of the kiosk and plaza. That consultant will be working with City staff and a working group of stakeholders on this task. The City has agreed to allow more time for public input on its Request for Proposals and to possibly generate additional respondents.
In the Foundry matter, the City Council voted to allow the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority to shepherd the process leading to the selection of bidder who promises to achieve both the programmatic and financial goals specified by both the City Council and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority. Now some city councillors want to go back to the drawing board and change the goals in such a way that the City's costs to operate this "gift" from Alexandria Real Estate will be substantially increased.
Order #2. That the City Council urge the City Manager to establish a deadline of Nov 1, 2017 for fully implementing the various street improvements and safety measures for increasing bicycle safety that were passed during the Oct 17, 2016 meeting. Mayor Simmons
I hope that the interpretation of this Order is that whatever street improvements and safety measures are implemented are those that result from a thoughtful public process rather than in response to a blitzkrieg of pre-cooked solutions from activists.
Order #3. The City Manager confer with the City Solicitor on the possibility of allowing non-citizen Cambridge residents to vote in municipal elections without a home-rule petition. Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern
Every few years there's some kind of movement to allow non-citizens to vote in Cambridge municipal elections. This Order makes statements like "non-citizens ... are presently barred from formally voicing their opinions" that are clearly misleading. The Order also fails to note that any non-citizen living in Cambridge is a citizen of some country and generally is able to vote in those elections. Home rule petitions from Cambridge and elsewhere have been filed before and have not been approved. I certainly hope this is not approved either, but the Order also apparently seeks some kind of legal loophole that would allow non-citizen voting without any state approval. I seriously doubt if that is possible. In matters like voting it's best to have uniformity across all cities and towns in Massachusetts in terms of eligibility to vote in all elections.
Order #4. That the City Manager request permission from the DCR to continue Sunday closings on Memorial Drive year-round, starting in early 2017, and to work with the Cambridge Police, Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and Public Works Departments and any other staff to implement this plan, and to report back to the Council as soon as possible on the feasibility and schedule. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
I would rather see this expressed as a request to extend the season for this road closure rather than a year-round Sunday closure. There are consequences to these road closures, including increased traffic on other streets, and the costs should be weighed against the benefits (as well as the actual demand).
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report on behalf of Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 2, 2016 to discuss bicycle safety in Cambridge.
In reading this report I was glad to see that some City staff were taking a more thoughtful and measured approach than some city councillors. There is a lot of room for discussion and alternatives than just the blitzkrieg of orders introduced at the Oct 17 City Council meeting. I also hope that our elected officials can be educated about the difference between actual safety measures and politically expedient actions that don't address the acual causes of cycling fatalities and injuries.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Councillor David P. Maher, transmitting the Proposed Employment Agreement between the City of Cambridge and Louis A. DePasquale.
It appears that Louis DePasquale's first day of work in his new role as City Manager will be Monday, Nov 14, 2016 and his contract will extend through Jan 8, 2021.
Trick or Treat - October 31, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting
The ghosts and goblins will descend on City Hall this Monday. Here are a few agenda items of possible interest:
Sundry communications advocating for the segregation of two-wheeled vehicles from other vehicles.
Order #10. That the City Council acknowledges that said residents and other users desire the City to immediately enact safety improvements to bicycle infrastructure, starting with separated bike lanes on all major city thoroughfares. Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux
I have been bicycling in Cambridge for over 35 years without incident, so I continue to be surprised by statements that Cambridge roads are some kind of death trap. It's simply not true. Is cycling in Cambridge absolutely safe? Of course not - nor is driving or navigating the streets as a pedestrian.
Most of us can easily identify particular intersections that really are fundamentally unsafe and have been for a long time. Chief on my list would be the Porter Square intersection, Inman Square, River Street coming from the river toward Central Square, much of the McGrath/O'Brien Highway, and the rotary at the BU Bridge. If I gave it some more thought, I'm sure I could come up with more.
I very much appreciate all input from all sources who have good concepts for how a difficult intersection like Porter Square could be made better. Some of those ideas may even be counter-intuitive, e.g. removing all the signals and other devices and forcing everyone to pass through with extreme caution. Even if you think that's crazy, it's still worthy of consideration - though it would definitely not be my chosen remedy. [Reference: woonerf, shared street]
What I really resent in some of the proposals introduced at the Cambridge City Council is their primary focus on "protected bike lanes" without any discussion of the many potential down sides of that proposal. They certainly don't address the actual problem – dangerous intersections. Side paths make a lot of sense in places where there is a significant differential in speeds between motor vehicles and cyclists, e.g. along Memorial Drive. They also make a lot of sense along a twisting road where a faster moving vehicle might come up on a cyclist on a curve, especially if there is little or no shoulder. I don't think they make a lot of sense on straight roads with moderate speeds.
Here are a few examples of what will likely happen if cyclists are channelled into a corridor between parked cars and the curb:
(a) Cyclists of varying speeds will have difficulty sorting themselves out since passing will be more difficult.
(b) Motor vehicles entering a road at an unsignalized intersection will have to block this "protected lane" just to be able to see the traffic before entering the intersection. Most pedestrians are already familiar with this and often have to decide between crossing in front of the car or behind the car. This will be much more problematic for bicycles moving at speeds greatly in excess of a pedestrian.
(c) Picking up and dropping off kids at the local school will become an adventure with significantly narrowed travel lanes and bicycles moving past on the passenger side. We have two Montessori schools on my block, a Cambridge public school across the street, and soon a day care center. Add the coffee shop to that and you have a disaster waiting to happen. Bicycle altercations along my street are few, if any. As I mentioned above, the primary danger is at difficult intersections with turning traffic.
(d) With significantly narrowed travel lanes, traffic congestion will soar in spite of any prophecies to the contrary. Locations where there is now room to maneuver around a turning vehicle will come to a standstill. I understand that this is what many of the "Complete Streets" advocates want to happen, but I really do hope there is at least some effort made to hear what others have to say.
(e) Pedestrians crossing a street will now be essentially crossing three streets and will have to take great caution - much more than they must now do.
(f) Faster moving cyclists will continue to use the regular travel lanes. Their speeds are not all that different than motor vehicles on many Cambridge streets, especially if there's even moderate compliance with the lower speed limits that are proposed citywide. For these cyclists, there will be far less wiggle room for passing and they will often have little choice but to "take the lane".
(g) Based on all the conflicts that are introduced it is more than likely that advocates will conclude that the only way to make things work is to remove the parking altogether. I see this as almost inevitable. Some will rejoice at this, but many others will not. As has been pointed out very eloquently on this list, people do get older and their mobility may be reduced for this and other reasons. You cannot simply wish away the need for some (many) people to have access to a motor vehicle and to be able to park it at least somewhere near where they live. In my neighborhood many of the streets are almost fully parked much of the time.
(h) Snow events will bring everything to a standstill. In particular, the ideal practice of plowing streets most of the way to the curb will be far more difficult when streets are divided into multiple sections. As we all know, sometimes the only practical option is to not plow all the way to the curb since there's need for that additional storage. What happens then? My guess is that winter cyclists will simply ride in the regular travel lanes which will now be far narrower than they are now.
If the City is absolutely set on trying out this idea, they should start with one road as a pilot and see what problems do or do not develop and evaluate the results honestly. I think it's very important that any such evaluation be done by an objective party.
There were two important matters embedded in the torrent of City Council orders introduced two weeks ago - (1) addressing problematic intersections (like Porter Square); and (2) addressing the fundamental incompatibility between vulnerable users (including pedestrians and cyclists) and very large trucks with limited visibility.
I also feel that much more attention needs to be spent on identifying quieter alternatives for cyclists. In Medford, one of the most significant recommendations in their Bicycle Infrastructure Master Plan is the conversion of some streets to "bicycle boulevards" where cyclists are given very explicit priority without being segregated. That would be a good thing to do for a number of Cambridge streets.
PS - I have neither the time nor the inclination to write petitions or gather signatures on this topic. It's easy to get signatures when you tell people that your way is the only way to achieve "safe streets". I believe that a lot more discussion needs to take place on this topic - and not in a hypercharged political atmosphere.
Order #2. That the Public Safety Committee hold a public hearing to hear about the various uses of drones in Cambridge and any concerns residents may have about them, with the goal of recommending guidelines for a municipal ordinance that would protect the public safety and the privacy of residents. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Kelley
Order #12. That the City Manager is request to confer with the City of Boston to include Cambridge in the autonomous vehicle initiative as a partner. Councillor Mazen
It's entertaining to see the juxtaposition of orders expressing concern for public safety from unmanned drones while eagerly embracing unmanned motor vehicles.
Order #5. That the City Council go on record in support of asking the Cambridge Historical Commission to initiate a landmark designation study process on the Harvard Square kiosk. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone
The entire area is already landmarked, and nobody is even considering doing anything to the Kiosk other than restoring it to a state much closer to what it was when first built. That said, if double-landmarking gives you thrills, knock yourself out.
Order #8. The City Manager coordinate with the Finance Department, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and community stakeholders to outline a proposed system of governance, management, and stakeholder engagement, to be discussed in a public forum with the Council and community. Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone
Translation - Throw the baby out with the bathwater. The City Council voted on a process with their eyes wide open, but apparently some city councillors would prefer to maintain a heavy hand on all aspects of the management of this City asset.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 28, 2016 to discuss the ongoing drought and the impact on the Cambridge water supply, what restrictions on water use may be appropriate to consider and what public outreach is needed on water conservation measures.
Anything that helps educate residents about basic City infrastructure, especially something like drinking water and fire protection, is welcome. It continues to amaze me how many people, including civic activists and even city councillors, don't understand some of the most basic things that we all take for granted every day.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 29, 2016 to discuss different models for campaign finance reform and publicly-funded municipal elections in Cambridge, and will focus on receiving feedback from the community.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 25, 2016 to discuss improving voter turnout for the municipal elections in Cambridge through voter reward options and will focus on receiving feedback from the community.
I gave testimony at both of these hearings. The "voter reward" idea is an absolute nonstarter. Campaign finance is a topic worthy of a lot of discussion, but most of what was presented at the hearing on that topic was at best underwhelming and misdirected.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, informing the City Council they may go into Executive Session on Monday to discuss on-going contract negotiations with the prospective City Manager.
I hope this gets settled at this meeting and that a contract is signed either this Monday or next.
Coming up at the October 17, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting
The dominant items this week are a flurry of environment-related communications from Acting City Manager Lisa Peterson and a torrent of bicycle-related City Council orders. There is also the anticipated filing of the "Central Square Restoration Petition." Here are some of the more interesting items:
One again we see the wisdom of the Cambridge Water Board in establishing years ago this backup plan for emergencies and prolonged droughts. Hopefully we'll be able to get back on Cambridge water (from Lexington, Lincoln, Weston, and Waltham) before too long.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the transfer of $33,500 from the General Fund Employee Benefits (salary adjustment) Salary and Wages account to the General Fund Election Salary and Wages account to pay for wages associated with early voting for the State/Presidential election.
As you can see, Early Voting isn't cheap. It will be interesting to see what the actual utilization is by location, day, and time of day so that Early Voting can be done most efficiently in future state and federal elections.
Perhaps the most interesting sentence in the report is this: "The first phase of this plan is to ready the City for the expansion Citywide of the curb-side organics collection program. It is presently expected that such will occur in the fall of 2017."
Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $190,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance account to complete a Low Carbon Energy Supply Study.
Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $47,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance account to complete a community-wide Greenhouse gas inventory.
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $38,300 from Free Cash to the General Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance account which will be used to procure consultant services to augment Cambridge’s core environmental goals.
I'm not sure why all of these appropriations appear on this agenda this week. It seems to not be a coincidence.
Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the William Noyes Webster Foundation, Inc, Zoning Petition (expansion of Medical Marijuana Overlay District 1 in Alewife).
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 22, 2016 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Jane W. Heatley, President of the William Noyes Webster Foundation, Inc. to amend Section 20.700, Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts by extending the district.
In regard to this and other marijuana-related zoning petitions, they may all be eventually eclipsed by (a) a citywide change in the use tables in most business zones and (b) the outcome of Question 4 on Election Day that may legalize/regulate recreational marijuana. In spite of a variety of statements saying that there is no relation between medicinal marijuana legalization/regulation and recreational marijuana legalization/regulation, this seems nearly certain to be only a temporary state of affairs.
Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 5, 2016 to discuss the refiled petition to amend the Zoning Map in the Riverside Neighborhood from the existing Residence C-1 to Residence C within the area bounded by Franklin Street, River Street and Putnam Avenue.
It was interesting to read articles in the Boston Globe and elsewhere taking a very dim view of this zoning petition as thwarting the creation of affordable housing in the name of "neighborhood preservation". I suspect the truth is a little more nuanced, e.g. the desire to slow or stop infill/backyard development. It's not at all clear that any of that kind of development is leading to much or any "affordable" housing.
Applications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been received entitled "Central Square Restoration Petition," to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance in Article 2.000 ("Definitions") and Article 20.300 ("Central Square Overlay District") signed by area residents.
Though some may try to characterize this petition (whose lead signers are members of the Sater family who own and operate The Middle East) as some kind of upzoning of Central Square, I'd have to say that the name "Central Square Restoration Petition" characterizes it much better. Central Square used to be a major shopping destination and civic center for the greater Cambridgeport area (before the somewhat arbitrary re-designation of neighborhood names). It's in recovery, but it could be so much better than it is now. This petition cobbles together some of the better (and less controversial) ideas from the C2 Committee a few years back plus some other forward-looking features. The review before the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee should provide great opportunities for people of good will to "envision" Central Square in a manner that actually leads somewhere other than a dusty shelf along with decades of planning studies.
City Manager Search Process
It's much better to be now looking back at this process - the first ever during the Plan E era (since 1941). The official transition to City Manager Louis A. DePasquale is expected be completed within another week or so when all contract details are finalized.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City Departments to design a pilot system of flex-post separated bike lanes and intersections, along Massachusetts Avenue, Hampshire Street, and Cambridge Street to determine how installation of flex-posts might be used as either interim or permanent bike safety solutions while other infrastructure improvements can be designed and analyzed for safety and implemented as appropriate. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Kelley
Order #4. That the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations committee be and hereby is requested to hold a committee hearing to discuss the possibility of adding a bike-bus lane to Pearl Street and any measures that can be taken to accommodate on-street parking preferences of residents. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to include separated bicycle facilities or adjacent off-street paths in any plans for reconstructing all or part of Massachusetts Avenue, along the entire length of the reconstructed segment and to give first priority to the safety and convenience of the most vulnerable road users – pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users – with second priority to the safety and convenience of motor vehicles in any plans for reconstructing all or part of Massachusetts Avenue. Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mazen
Order #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, Department of Public Works, Community Development Department, Fire Department, Police Department, Budget Department, and other relevant City departments to install pilot program protected bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue between Cedar Street and Harvard Square starting on Nov 1, 2016, to install pilot program protected bike lanes on Cambridge Street between Inman Square and Quincy Street and to install pilot program protected bike lanes on Broadway between Prospect Street and Quincy Street, all for the period of at least one month. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to include protected bike lanes on both sides of Huron Avenue for the full length of its reconstruction, per the Cambridge Bicycle Plan. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to form a Vision Zero Working Group comprised of staff from the relevant City departments and residents to collaboratively develop and review traffic safety plans, street designs, public education initiatives, traffic enforcement and related policies with the shared goal of eliminating crashes that result in serious injuries and deaths as quickly as possible. Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to consult with staff on what authority the City has to further restrict the routes of travel and delivery hours of oversized trucks on City street. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern
These are a mix of good ideas and ill-considered opportunism in the wake of a tragic death in Porter Square. On the good side are Orders #2, #8, and #11. Order #2 asks City staff, including CDD and the Police Department, to report back on specific recommendations that might prevent future bicycle accidents and fatalities from occurring, and to make city streets safer for bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians. This is both timely and appropriate. We all know of locations, primarily complicated intersections, that need to be made safer for all users. Porter Square is one such location. We can likely assume that the Police Department will base their recommendations on actual causes rather than on a wish list generated by an advocacy group.
Order #8 is also a sensible request to establish a "Vision Zero Working Group" comprised of staff from relevant City departments and residents "to collaboratively develop and review traffic safety plans, street designs, public education initiatives, traffic enforcement and related policies with the shared goal of eliminating crashes that result in serious injuries and deaths as quickly as possible." We should hope that this group will take a broad look at the whole picture of safety and operation in the design of roadways, intersections, and signaling systems (as opposed to the narrow view of single issue advocacy).
Order #11 addresses the problem of the operation of oversized trucks on City streets. There may be limitations on what the City can do based on federal and state laws regulating interstate commerce, but there may be some opportunities. There certainly should be. Anyone who has ever seen an 18-wheeler blocking a swath of sidewalk and street lanes just to make a small delivery to a 24-hour store understands the current absurdity of the status quo. Every cyclist also needs to understand that whenever there is a large truck in the vicinity it is essential to get away from it pronto. Even if you believe you're riding lawfully, you still may not even be seen by the truck driver - and the risk is simply never worth it.
In contrast, Orders #3-7 are opportunistic moves that attempt to cure problems that don't necessarily exist and to do so with maximal disruption. The recent death in Porter Square was on a stretch of road where parking was prohibited and where there is already a "protected turn lane" for bikes heading inbound wanting to make a left turn toward Somerville Avenue, though it's not clear that many cyclists actually use it. This is what makes it so strange to hear advocates arguing for elimination of on-street parking and the segregation of cyclists from the roadway in response to this fatality. It will be helpful to eventually get a full report from the Cambridge Police and the District Attorney's Office on the exact cause of this fatality (and other fatalities in the last few years). It is often the case that the actual cause of such a tragedy does not coincide with the early conclusions of advocates who are understandably upset in the aftermath of tragedy.
I really hope that our elected city councillors pause and take a deep breath before demanding changes that will have little or no effect (and maybe even have negative effects) on actual safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. Address problematic intersections and designate some streets as bicycle-priority streets (like Harvard Street, Garden Street, Magazine Street and others) before radically altering currently well-functioning streets by destroying sight lines and dramatically increasing traffic congestion for little or no benefit. Eliminate parking at bends in streets where conflicts between cyclists and motorists are most likely. There's plenty to do right now in simply addressing intersection safety - and that's where most of the safety problems are. Let reason prevail. There is a whole city full of people - pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, residents with and without private parking, and businesses with and without customer or employee parking that need to be heard. Doing anything less would be undemocratic.
I can't speak to the broader goal here, but there is at least one location where a pedestrian bridge over the Little River in the vicinity of the recreated wetland area and its boardwalks would be a very welcome addition by creating a very nice walking loop.
Ordinances, Prohibitions, Bans
I certainly hope we don't ban excessively here. Unless such a ban were do be done statewide, the only effect will be to move the business to neighboring cities and towns or causing such sales to take place outside of established businesses.
Harvard Square Kiosk
This was an interesting meeting - especially in learning that it may be possible to bring utilities to the Kiosk that don't currently exist. While it's clear that some would like this structure to primarily serve visitors to Harvard Square, I still would love for it to have an active use where residents to gather. It doesn't have to be a hot dog stand or lunch counter, but it sure would be great to again have something like that right in the middle of Harvard Square. My dream is still to be able to watch Red Sox games there projected onto a wall of the Kiosk while eating a hot dog in the open air.
2. Appointment of Lisa C. Peterson as Acting City Manager Mayor Simmons
3. City enter into a contract with Elizabeth Valerio and John Foskett. Councillor Maher
TEXT OF ORDERS
O-2 Sept 29, 2016 Adopted 9-0
O-3 Sept 29, 2016 Adopted 9-0
Decisions, Decisions.... Notable items on the Sept 26, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda
Barring any unexpected turns of events, this will be the last regular City Council meeting with City Manager Richard Rossi.
Here are the items that seem most interesting:
Appointments by the Manager
Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Water Board for a term of 5-years, effective Sept 26, 2016: Kathleen Kelly, Jason Marshall
Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the reappointment of the following persons as members of the Planning Board for a term of five years, effective Sept 26, 2016: Steven Cohen, Hugh Russell and Tom Sieniewicz
Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the Steering Committee for the City’s Birth to Grade Three Partnership.
Manager's Agenda #13. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Cambridge Arts Council Advisory Board for a term of 3 years effective Oct 1, 2016: Christine Lamas Weinberg, Katherine Shozawa and Olufolakemi Alalade
I have come to look upon those who choose to serve on City boards and commissions as possessing a sort of nobility. Regardless of their age, these public-spirited people are like the Village Elders. They serve without compensation and, in some cases, most notably the Planning Board, they devote a significant amount of time in this voluntary capacity. Perhaps we should form a congress of all those who serve or who have served at one time - The League of Extraordinary Ladies and Gentlemen.
Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Outdoor Lighting Zoning recommendations.
These are the zoning amendments that would go along with the proposed Outdoor Lighting Ordinance. It has been interesting, and at least somewhat entertaining, watching how this reasonable proposal to regulate intrusive lighting has led to some people wanting to expand it to deal with all lighting, including advertising signage that shine into the bedrooms of no one. This seems like a particularly Cambridge sort of thing - a proposal to regulate something turning into a proposal to regulate everything. I like the idea of establishing some standards for outdoor lighting, particularly in residential areas, as a courtesy to those who would like to get a good night's sleep. What this has to do with decorative lighting, especially garish and aesthetically questionable lighting in places like North Point, escapes me. Perhaps that's the real point of these zoning recommendations - to grant the Planning Board some regulatory authority for this other stuff while the Municipal Lighting Ordinance remains focused on ensuring that spotlights don't shine into people's bedroom windows or darken the night sky.
Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2017:
As Bob Healy would always say, the City doesn't set the property tax rates. The Department of Revenue does. He would also add that once these votes are taken these rates are virtually guaranteed to be the same as those given in the communication: "Based on a property tax levy of $372.7 million, the FY17 residential tax rate will be $6.49 per thousand dollars of value, subject to Department of Revenue approval. This is a decrease of $0.50, or -7.2% from FY16. The commercial tax rate will be $16.12, which is a decrease of $1.59, or -9.0% from FY16." Don't jump for joy just yet. Property values have been escalating so rapidly (average of 13.5% in one year for residential properties) that you should expect to pay a bit more, especially in Riverside and Cambridgeport.
Boondoggle alert. One estimate is that it would cost $187 million dollars to build such a network, and there's no guarantee that customers would leave Comcast or another Internet service provider in favor of such a new network, especially if Comcast adjusts its pricing structure a little. That's a lot of public money expended for a discount. Anyway, this report just calls for a Feasibility Study.
Manager's Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to City accomplishments during City Manager 2013-2016.
Read Rich Rossi's memo. It has been a busy few years. Then think for a while about all of the major capital projects Richie has played a lead role in over the last few decades. It will make you feel pretty good about City government in Cambridge - even on the evening when votes are being taken to determine how much property tax you'll be paying this year.
Manager's Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-16, regarding the plan to take Vail Court by eminent domain.
Hallelujah! The City takes this step only when absolutely necessary, and this is long overdue.
Manager's Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the City's Agreement with MassDOT and MBTA regarding funding contribution agreement for Green Line Extension Project.
These are the details associated with the announced agreement that was made several months ago.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to refer the attached short-term rental draft ordinance to the City Solicitor, Inspectional Services Department and any other relevant department for comment and review as components of a potential short-term rental ordinance and be referred to a joint hearing of the Housing and Public Safety Committees scheduled on Oct 26, 2016, at 5:30pm for discussion, and to hear back from the City on the proposed policies. Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux
The Statement of Purpose says it best: "The purpose of this ordinance shall be to make the operation of short-term rentals legal for Cambridge residents, protect the safety of renters, owners, visitors, and neighbors, and ensure that short-term rentals will not be a detriment to the character and livability of the surrounding residential neighborhood."
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Aug 30, 2016 to continue public discussion regarding the recent completed Inclusionary Housing Study and the Draft Recommendations of the Community Development Department.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 8, 2016 to continue the public discussion regarding the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and Draft Recommendations of the Community Development Department.
The Housing Committee has now voted that the Community Development Department's recommendations for Inclusionary Zoning be forwarded to the full City Council with a favorable recommendation. Primarily this will set the Inclusionary Housing required percentage for new construction over a minimum size at 20% net, though the City Council could still modify this proposed percentage. There will apparently still be some discussion about whether this will be phased in and, if so, over what period. I still remain skeptical whether this requirement will be economically feasible beyond the short term. I also have some misgivings about a future in which only wealthy people will be able to afford market housing with everyone else having to apply to a government agency to access housing that is affordable to them. The biggest mistake made over the last 20+ years was in allowing most of the housing stock of two- and three-family houses to be converted into now-unaffordable condominiums. That had previously been one of the most significant sources of affordable housing for both owners and renters.
Thurs, Sept 29
Later this week the City Council will vote on whether Jay Ash, Paul Fetherston, or Louis DePasquale will be the next City Manager of Cambridge. As I stated at the microphone last Monday - I wish the City Council good wisdom and good luck. - Robert Winters
Choice Items on the September 19, 2016 City Council Meeting Agenda
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-73 and Council Order Number 4 (of Sept 12, 2016), regarding lowering speed limits in the City.
In short, the City Council jumped the gun last week. For starters, the City Council must first vote to accept those sections of the new state law that would give them the authority to lower local speed limits. They cannot even do this until Nov 7. The intention of City traffic officials was to lower the speed limit on City-owned roads to 25mph, and this communication makes quite clear that a 20mph speed limit would be a challenge to enforce - to say the least. I challenge anyone driving in Cambridge to maintain a consistent speed of 20mph or less while driving in Cambridge. It's not unreasonable on a relatively narrow street that's parked on both sides, but it borders on the absurd on many other streets. A limit of 25mph is doable, but not 20mph. That lower limit should be reserved for locations where it actually makes sense.
Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a report from Public Works Commissioner Owen O'Riordan, regarding the Polystyrene Ordinance implementation. [Report]
One more example of how the City Council likes to take steps that they think will make them look "progressive" without actually thinking through the possible consequences. Few people would dispute the parts of this Ordinance that deals with expanded polystyrene (EPS), i.e. "Styrofoam". The issue is with other polystyrene products like straws, cups, lids and utensils. The available alternatives - bioplastic compostable products - decompose at much slower rates than are acceptable at any of the facilities that accept organic waste from the City of Cambridge. These materials will be rejected at these facilities. Public policy has to be based on more than just wishful thinking. I was at the committee meeting when these other materials were abruptly added to the proposed ordinance without so much as a conversation.
Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to CPA [Community Preservation Act]. [Report]
As always, it's 80% for affordable housing projects ($6,880,000 plus $1,280,000 in state matching funds), 10% for open space acquisition ($860,000 plus $160,000 in state matching funds), and 10% for historic preservation projects ($860,000 plus $1,280,000 in state matching funds). Additional fund balances will also be expended toward these three areas.
Resolution #2. Thanks to City Manager Richard Rossi for his 45 years of service to the City of Cambridge and best wishes for a truly happy and joyful retirement. Mayor Simmons
Having known Rich Rossi for 27 years of those 45 years of service, I join in wishing Richie all the best in his many years of blissful retirement. I have known very few people who are as expert at getting things done as Rich Rossi. The people of Cambridge owe him a world class "thank you".
Tues, Sept 20
6:00pm-9:00pm Meet the Finalists Forum (Fitzgerald Theater, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School)
The City Council’s Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee, is inviting the public to a Meet the Finalists forum on Tues, Sept 20, 2016, from 6:00pm to 9:00pm in the Fitzgerald Theater located in the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. This forum is an opportunity for the public to meet the three finalist vying to succeed outgoing City Manager Richard C. Rossi. The meeting will be broadcast live on the City’s Municipal Cable Channel, 22-CityView.
Wed, Sept 21
5:30pm Special City Council Meeting to publicly interview finalists for the position of City Manager, the City Council may meet in Executive Session to conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with the prospective City Manager or to conduct contract negotiations with the prospective City Manager. (Sullivan Chamber)
Vote on the selection of the next City Manager expected week of Sept 26 (possibly Thurs, Sept 29).
I have watched this process evolve from the beginning and have kept a safe distance throughout. Now that we have three candidates before us it will be interesting to see if the 9 city councillors can reach consensus (and a majority vote) on one of these three excellent candidates (Jay Ash, Louis DePasquale, and Paul Fetherston). It will also be interesting to watch how the activists may try to influence the decision and how they will respond when a decision is made. If the City Council can actually come to some kind of unanimous or near-unanimous agreement on this most important decision, it may signal their ability to thoughtfully and cooperatively decide on other matters of significance. Hope springs eternal. - Robert Winters
The Return - Notable agenda items for the Sept 12, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting
This is the "Back from Summer Vacation" meeting of the Cambridge City Council. Here are a few items that are at least somewhat interesting (with minimal comments):
Appointments to Boards & Commissions:
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointments of the following persons as a members of the Commission on Immigrant Rights & Citizenship, effective Sept 1, 2016: Leslie DiTrani, Sana Ghafoor, Alejandro Heredia-Santoyo, Karin Lin, Marcio Macedo, Roxana Maldonado-Garcia, Swati Sawant, Jennifer Sparks, Merline Sylvain-Williams, Melanie Torres, and Yarlennys Villaman
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointments of the following persons as a members of the Cambridge Public Art Commission for a term of three years: Judy Ann Goldman and Cecily Miller
Manager's Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a full member of the Cambridge Board of Zoning Appeals for a term of 5 years, effective Aug 29, 2016: Andrea Hickey
Manager's Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Cambridge Commission for Persons with Disabilities for a term of three years, effective Sept 12, 2016: Katie Ashwill Allen, Stelios Gragoudas, Mike Langlois, Luis Loya and Julie Miller
Appointments by the City Council:
Order #11. Reappointment of James Monagle as City Auditor. Mayor Simmons
Order #12. Reappointment of Donna P. Lopez as City Clerk. Mayor Simmons
Two of my favorite people in City government. The City Council gets to appoint the City Manager, the City Auditor, and the City Clerk (and by recent tradition, the Deputy City Clerk). The Really Big Question is whether the City Council will meet its proposed date of Sept 26 to appoint the next City Manager. That's just two weeks from now. In the meantime, congratulations to Jim and Donna (assuming their unanimous reappointment).
Buildings, architecture, and historic preservation:
Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the final Landmark Designation Report for the Ivory Sands House at 145 Elm Street and the Cambridge Historical Commission's recommendation.
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Historical Commission to produce a new status report that reviews the Harvard Square Conservation District’s effectiveness since 2005, and that considers whether new zoning regulations may be necessary to fulfill the community’s goals. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
My guess is that this is motivated by a combination of Curious George, the Kiosk, and, of course, some really problematic property owners who don't understand the value of keeping good long-term commercial tenants.
Unfinished Business #10. A proposed amendment to the Ordinance entitled "Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge" as amended by the Planning Board recommendation to expand the requirements of the North Massachusetts Avenue Sub-district (Section 20.110) applicable generally within the portions of the Massachusetts Avenue Overlay District (MAOD) zoned Business A-2 (BA-2). The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Aug 15, 2016. Planning Board hearing was held June 21, 2016. Petition expires Sept 20, 2016.
Order #19. Zoning Changes for Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 31, 2016 on a zoning petition by Healthy Pharms, Inc., to amend Section 20.700 Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts by creating an additional Medical Marijuana Overlay District (MMD-4). The new MMD-4 District would be coterminous with the Business B and Office 3 Districts that are within the Harvard Square Overlay District. The petition would also establish as criteria specific to the MMD-4 District that permissible dispensaries must be retail only (with no cultivation), must be set back from the sidewalk by a minimum of 15 feet and be appropriately shielded from public view, must be less than 10,000 square feet in size, are preferably located in areas with access to pedestrian and public transportation, and may be 250 feet, instead of the standard 500 feet, distant from a school, daycare center, preschool or afterschool facility or any facility in which children commonly congregate, or closer only if it is determined by the Planning Board to be sufficiently buffered such that users will not be adversely impacted by the operation of the dispensary.
Let's hope that the City Council finally figures out that you can't address the siting of marijuana dispensaries by a series of one-off zoning petitions.
Bicycle facilities, speed limits, and punishing drivers for the unpardonable sin of owning a motor vehicle:
Order #20. That the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee be and hereby is requested to hold a hearing to discuss how City staff review use of bike infrastructure to determine what works, what does not work and what could be improved and to specifically discuss the possibility of making the Western Avenue cycle track a two-direction bike facility. Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Maher
The path along Concord Ave. abutting Fresh Pond would also function better as a two-way path.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to deem all residential zones as “Safety Zones” and lower speed limits to 20 MPH and to lower the speed limit in all office and business zones to 25 MPH. Councillor Cheung, Councillor Toomey
This is incredibly short-sighted. Many residential streets should appropriately have 25mph speed limits, especially streets where there's barely enough room for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to safely pass each other, but 20mph is more appropriate for an intensely pedestrian area such as Harvard Square or Central Square. There are many streets where the current 30mph speed limit is completely appropriate.
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and other relevant City departments and report back to the City Council concrete next steps on how to go about lowering our speed limits as well as the timeline for these actions. Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mazen
As stated above, this should be done in a more granular way rather than as a single citywide speed limit set so low that few people will respect it.
Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Traffic and Parking Department and all other appropriate City Departments to report back to the City Council on recommendations to gradually increase the parking permit fee and consider other improvements to the program to help fund the city’s budget towards reducing vehicle miles traveled and promoting alternative forms of transportation. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen
My guess is that Councillors Devereux and Mazen would like only bicycles and driverless vehicles to soon be allowed to operate in Cambridge. This is just a step toward that future. It's interesting that ZipCar founder Robin Chase is simultaneously tweeting comparisons between restaurant costs, housing costs, and the cost of a parking permit. I guess she believes that all three should be exorbitantly expensive.
Winner of the "Most Obnoxious Committee Meeting of 2016":
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on July 27, 2016 to hear from public safety officials on training equipment, response and communication policies pertaining to demonstrations, protests, memorials and similar actions involving large numbers of people in public space, ranging from CRLS student walkouts to Black Lives Matter memorials to the “let out” time of bars to Pokémon Go chasing and similar internet-driven meetups.
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the notification of approval of the Kendall Square Foundry Development Partners as the development entity for the Foundry.
Manager's Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to early voting sites.
Manager's Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-67, regarding a report on the Classification of Commercial Land Use and Recommendations study.
Charter Right #2. An application was received from Pill Hardware, requesting permission for a display of merchandise in front of the premises numbered 743 Massachusetts Avenue. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Devereux on Aug 1, 2016.]
Order #1. That the City Council go on record calling on the Massachusetts State Legislature to pass an Act affirming a terminally ill patient’s right to compassionate aid in dying. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of creating a temporary jobs program geared toward Cambridge’s homeless population and/or determine the feasibility of awarding homeless with priority in the City’s 9-week temporary jobs program. Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Mazen
Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Aug 15, 2016 to continue the public discussion regarding the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and the Affordable Housing Trusts’ recommendations to the City Council.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a copy of a letter from Hanne Rush, Assistant Attorney General, Division of Open Government, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Office of the Attorney General, One Ashburton Place, Boston, MA, regarding the resolution of an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by John Hawkinson on May 4, 2016.
You could define "frivilous" by some of these complaints. - Robert Winters
Selected Agenda Items for the Aug 1, 2016 Cambridge City Council (Midsummer) meeting
There are a lot of substantive matters on the agenda for this meeting - primarily on the City Manager's Agenda and in a dozen City Council committee reports covering a range of topics. Here's a sampler of some items that I found especially interesting. The meeting is taking place at the Attles Meeting Room at CRLS (where the School Committee usually meets).
Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-43, regarding publishing a Cambridge Voter's Guide to be distributed to each household in Cambridge a month before the 2017 municipal election.
Order #2. That the regular City Council meeting scheduled for Oct 24, 2016 be a Roundtable/Working meeting to discuss election issues with the Election Commission. Mayor Simmons
My guess is that the best we can hope for on the City side will be an improved and expanded guide to PR voting, relevant dates, and a list of candidate names with addresses and possibly photos. Having assembled the Cambridge Candidate Pages for over a decade, I will attest to the fact that voters do want information about candidates, especially in the days immediately preceding the election, but asking the Election Commission (and inevitably the Law Department) to manage this will open a huge can of worms. It would be preferable to get local media outlets to work out a cooperative arrangement to make unbiased information available about municipal candidates. Better coordination of candidate forums would also be helpful, but that also is out of the hands of City officials.
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a $45,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection 604b Water Quality Management Planning Program, to be used to fund conceptual green street design plans for three public rights of ways, as well as guidance on green street implementation in space-constrained residential settings; with a focus on smaller scale reconstruction projects that are not part of larger utility reconstruction projects.
For those who haven't yet seen some of the innovative stormwater management projects in West Cambridge and along Western Avenue, you should check them out. It would be great if more of these projects could be done on a smaller scale. If done right, street trees might actually have a chance to flourish.
Manager's Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the "Friends of MAPOCO" Zoning Petition.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 22, 2016 to discuss a petition by Peter B. Kroon, et al, also known as Friends of MAPOCO, to expand the requirements of the North Massachusetts Avenue Sub-district (Section 20.110) applicable generally within the portions of the Massachusetts Avenue Overlay District (MAOD) zoned Business A-2 (BA-2).
This zoning petition will likely now sail through to a 2nd Reading and eventual adoption as amended.
Manager's Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to authorizing the Purchasing Agent to award a five (5) year, two (2) month contract to the successful proposer on the Metropolitan Area Planning Council Bike Share System RFP.
The idea is for Cambridge, Somerville, Boston, and Brookline to jointly put out a longer-term request for proposals in order to entice more vendors, hopefully allow for more consistency in service, and possibly get a better price.
Manager's Agenda #29. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to pursuing the planning and development of a multi-use, bicycle and pedestrian pathway along the Grand Junction corridor that links East Cambridge, Kendall Square, MIT, and Cambridgeport, with potential connections into Boston and Somerville.
Manager's Agenda #30. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Items Number 16-46 and 16-59, regarding the Grand Junction Greenway, including the status of construction, developer contributions, and the zoning overlay.
It's nice to see the cooperation of the Mass. Dept. of Transportation in these efforts.
Manager's Agenda #32. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-22, regarding the opposition to investment funds from the Retirement System.
Some of you may remember the extensive public testimony and countless communications on the topic of the Cambridge Retirement System divesting any funds from any entity that is in any way supporting the production or upgrading of nuclear weapons systems. As it turns out, this was a typical Cambridge tempest in a teapot. As this report states: "upon reviewing the summary, that the Fund's investments in the production and/or upgrading of nuclear weapons systems is de minimis." I hope everyone at least had fun making their speeches and writing all those letters that all turned out to be about nothing.
Manager's Agenda #33. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-54, regarding finding a long term solution to adding a dog park in East Cambridge by the end of 2016 and fencing in a temporary location for off leash use by the end of Summer, 2016.
Take note, politicos: There are a lot of Cambridge voters who really love their dogs and want places for them to run and play. Actually, there's a lot more interest in dogs than in nuclear weapons divestment.
Manager's Agenda #36. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the submission of the attached Home Rule Petition that would authorize the City of Cambridge to include in the planned reconstruction (the “Project”) of the King Open / Cambridge Street Upper School and Community Complex (“KOCSUS”) the area that is presently occupied by the public swimming pool known as the Gold Star Pool (the “Gold Star Pool Site”) and to construct subsurface geothermal wells in a portion of Donnelly Field that lies directly along and adjacent to the current southerly boundary of the KOCSUS site (the “School Site”).
This is really a formality, but I always find it interesting which things require state authorization and which things do not.
Manager's Agenda #37. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the request that the City Council move to Executive Session.
Manager's Agenda #38. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $42,655 within statutory accounts of the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expenditure account to complete the purchase of two parcels from the B&M Corporation for the purpose of creating a future multi-use path and greenway.
These items are about making the necessary purchases to complete the Cambridge-owned portion of the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway along the now-abandoned railroad right-of-way. This will be a nice off-road addition when it's finally complete a few years from now.
Applications & Petitions #3. An application was received from Pill Hardware, requesting permission for a display of merchandise in front of the premises numbered 748 Massachusetts Avenue.
Whenever I hear people talk about preserving the "funkiness" of Central Square, I want to remind people that before Central Square was "funky" it was an incredibly vital shopping district. It's really worth looking back at some of the available "Perceptual Form of the City" photos from over 50 years ago. This application to allow the display of mechandise on the sidewalk in front of Pill Hardware reminded me of one of those old photos. It's also a scene you can see today in Inman Square. The image shown is actually the frontage where the Mass & Main project is planned. This is the kind of thing some of us would love to see in some form as Central Square rediscovers its past and defines its future. It doesn't have to be just overpriced bars and restaurants.
Applications & Petitions #4. A zoning petition has been received from William Noyes Webster Foundation, Inc. to amend the provisions of the Medical Marijuana District Section 20.700 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Map.
Order #11. City Council support to Commonwealth Alternative Care to operate a Registered Marijuana Dispensary at 61 Mooney Street pursuant to local zoning and permitting. Councillor Cheung
It should pretty clear by now that the way the City Council is handling the siting of medical marijuana dispensaries in totally wrong. Will there be a new zoning petition every time one of these facilities is proposed?
Resolution #6. Congratulations to Patrick and Norma Jean Barrett on the birth of their daughter Gemma Evelyn Barrett. Councillor Toomey
Resolution #8. Congratulations to Jada Simmons and Toju Ononeme on their nuptials. Councillor Toomey
Resolution #11. Resolution on the retirement of James Cullinane from the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department. Mayor Simmons
This is a triple celebration - a birth, a marriage, and a retirement. Cambridge feels like such a little village sometimes.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Commissioner of Public Works with the intention of reinstating trash and recycling pick up for small businesses. Councillor Toomey, Councillor Maher
This proposal has been made at various times over the last 25 years. A case can be made for this based on the fact that the commercial property tax rate is considerably higher than the residential tax rate and perhaps there should be some benefits to go along with the payment of those taxes. The additional cost and time could be significant, but perhaps there could at least be some accomodation for mixed residential/commercial buildings where the lines are often already intentionally blurred. [This happens, for example, right next door to me, and this has been the case for decades.]
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on how traffic laws pertaining to crosswalks are currently enforced throughout the City, whether there are any regions where the City has found motorists tend to ignore crosswalk laws, and whether there are additional methods of reporting violators, raising awareness of applicable laws, and enacting stricter laws to ultimately increase pedestrian safety. Mayor Simmons
Traffic laws pertaining to crosswalks are enforced? That's news to me. If we're taking requests, how about let's also start enforcing the requirement that motor vehicles must be parked less than a foot from the curb. That would make cycling safer. I never see that enforced.
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Purchasing Department, the Community Development Department and any other appropriate departments to provide the City Council with an update on the status of the Classification of Commercial Land Use and Recommendations Study. Councillor Devereux
This is included here only because I'm curious what's behind it. [Read the Request for Proposals] The RFP says: "In short, the expected result of this study is a commercial land use classification system that makes sense in modern Cambridge, that would be understandable to all community members, and that would be able to effectively regulate commercial use types as they evolve. Based on the study recommendations, the City would determine how the zoning could be amended to fit the recommended system, through either targeted changes to the current ordinance or a more substantial restructuring of the Table of Use Regulations." Uh, OK.
Inclusionary Housing Committee Reports:
Committee Report #11. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on July 11, 2016 to continue the discussion regarding the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and the Affordable Housing Trust’s recommendations to the City Council.
Committee Report #12. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on May 18, 2016 to discuss the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and will focus on receiving feedback from the community.
Some revisions to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance seem inevitable later this year, but the economic foundations in the study still seem (to me) to be a bit shaky, especially the idea of increasing the net affordable housing percentage from 11.6% to 20% without any allowance for additional density. My first concern is that if the requirement is too high then it may be more economically advantageous to build something other than housing, e.g. labs. My other concern is that since zoning changes require a two-thirds vote for ordination there might never be the political will to actually lower the requirement even if the economics warrant a decrease. It would be better if there was some way to index the requirement based on current economics.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 28, 2016 to discuss the parameters for a potential zoning proposal that includes the Volpe Transportation System Center.
The Volpe zoning dilemma is unique in that it is contrained not only by the funding mechanism for a new Volpe building and the need to ensure that a developer might actually be able to deliver a development without financial loss, but also by a range of competing interests from residents for housing and open space. This may not even be a solvable problem even though the potential benefits could be enormous.
Committee Report #7. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee and Mayor E. Denise Simmons and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee, for a joint public hearing held on July 19, 2016 to discuss the presence and impact of short-term rental units (Airbnb, FlipKey, VRBO, etc.) in Cambridge, and to hear suggestions from community members and operators on how best to address the challenges of this emerging market.
This was an incredibly informative hearing. My guess is that short-term rentals in owner-occupied buildings may get the blessing of the City Council but perhaps not so for residential properties that are effectively being operated as hotels by non-resident owner/investors. Another hearing on this topic is scheduled for Wednesday, August 3rd.
Committee Report #8. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on June 29, 2016 to receive an update regarding the City Manager's Search in the Focus Groups that took place and the development of the draft profile.
I'm taking bets now on whether the City Council will successfully meet its proposed September 26 date for selecting the next City Manager. Even if they do make a decision by then, it's likely that there will still be a period of time before the new City Manager can take the reins (unless it's an internal candidate).
Committee Report #9. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on June 23, 2016 to discuss the proposed changes to the current liquor license regulations and the City Council policy goals on liquor licenses, economic development, the impact on neighborhoods and local businesses.
This was also an interesting hearing at which the rationale for these proposed changes was clarified.
Committee Report #10. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee and Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on July 19, 2016, to discuss safety issues as it relates to cyclist and pedestrians in Inman Square, and to hear suggestions from community members and on how best to address the safety challenges of this intersection.
This was a very well-attended meeting, especially by cyclists who were invited through various social media channels. The presentation by City officials was informative. The only down side was the manner in which attention to the safety of Inman Square was deflected by some, especially during public comment, toward other infrastructure proposals that have little to no bearing on the safety of this or any other Cambridge intersection. It was also interesting that numerous residents of Antrim Street were in attendence with concerns over the possiblity that one of the proposed realignment schemes might have the unintended consequence of redirecting more traffic onto Antrim Street.
Barring any emergencies, the next City Council meeting after this will be on September 12.
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.