Pre-Spring Fling - Select Items from the March 18, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here's my first pass at what seems comment-worthy:
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the bi-annual City of Cambridge Resident Telephone Survey for 2018. [Manager's message] [aggregate responses] [longer report]
The wording of the questions and the meaning of the choices can have a tremendous effect on surveys such as this. For example, if the question "What do you think is the single most important issue facing the City of Cambridge today—the one that affects you and your family the most?" simply lists one option as "Affordable housing/housing", then it's not at all surprising that this will be the overwhelming first choice. However, does this mean access to subsidized housing or, more likely, does this mean that most renters feel that their rent is higher than they would like it to be and that most buyers feel that purchase costs are much higher than they would like it to be? This is an important distinction because this survey may be used to justify only the expansion of subsidized housing without addressing what most people actually meant by their response in the survey.
Order #2. Reappointment of James Monagle as City Auditor. Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux
Good choice. Do it.
Bikes, Buses, Scooters & other Transportation:
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-142, regarding a report on efforts to educate cyclists about riding safety and sharing the road especially at intersections.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant staff about updating the bike data count chart, along with other data tables and charts, in the Cambridge Bicycle Plan to reflect 2016 and 2018 data. Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant staff to report to the City Council on how the data collected from the Broadway Eco-Display is used to inform the City’s transportation planning efforts and to address the possibility of installing additional Eco-Display counters at the highest trafficked bicycle locations to provide more comprehensive information about bike use and other vehicles such as scooters. Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City Staff and report back to the City Council on the status of any micro-mobility pilot programs or partnerships in Cambridge. Councillor Kelley
I'll be interested in seeing the requested data (with appropriate documentation to support its validity). I have come to believe that when you start factoring in such things as weather, the need to run multiple errands, electric vehicles and micro-cars, TNCs, and various micro-mobility options, as well as age/condition, we may conclude that Cambridge is not actually located in The Netherlands and that the choice of bicycle transportation may have a natural upper limit no matter how many flex-posts you bolt to the road.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 26, 2019 to discuss the MBTA’s Better Bus Project report as it relates to proposed changes to bus lines and service throughout Cambridge.
If Better Bus means little more than Cutting Corners then there's not a whole lot to like here. I do, however, think that folding the CT1 into the #1 Bus with more frequent service is a good idea, but only if they can finally solve the problem of Bus Bunching.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 27, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Title Twelve entitled “Streets, Sidewalks and Public Places” by adding a new Chapter 12.22 entitled “Cycling Safety Ordinance”.
The key question I would have asked is whether or not this proposal unnecessary restricts the ability of the City Manager and City Departments from using good judgment and appropriate discretion in deciding how future road projects should proceed. As near as I can tell, everything that was and is on the table came from just one lobbying group. Then again, that seems to be the way this City Council operates.
Order #5. Thanks to Mayor McGovern and all members of the Harm Reduction Commission and the Cambridge Opioid Working Group for their leadership and service and that a Human Services and Veterans Committee hold a future hearing to receive an update on the recommendations in these reports and on efforts in Cambridge to address substance use disorder and the opioid crisis. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon
Prelude to the Mayor enabling a "safe injection site" to be located inevitably in Central Square to supplement the existing Needle Exchange and other sites enabling IV drug users to flock to Central Square. Wouldn't it be great if we instead concentrated on things that helped to attract families with children to Central Square?
Order #8. City Council endorsement of the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act. Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon
This Order seems to be setting up for the case to be made that current Cambridge zoning is too restrictive and must be changed to allow for significantly increased density. Note the sponsors. It is curious how the extremely strict zoning restrictions of the suburbs and exurbs are somehow being invoked to make the case that Cambridge, with one of the highest population densities and highest proportions of subsidized housing in Massachusetts, is somehow comparable to Weston. Mendacity seems to be the new official language of Cambridge.
Order #13. City Council support for fully funding the Section 8 Housing Choice Tenant-Based Voucher Program. Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone
Good idea and more to the point than what is otherwise being discussed these days.
Order #14. That the City Manager direct the appropriate City staff to examine the need and possibility of neighborhood preference in Cambridge in the short and long-terms. Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez transmitting a memorandum from Councillor Siddiqui, transmitting the submission of the Mayor's Blue-Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement Feb 24, 2018 meeting minutes.
Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Zondervan, transmitting a memorandum regarding "Affordable Housing Overlay Initial Thoughts".
I'll be adding more than just my "initial thoughts" on this soon. This juggernaut really needs to be stopped and reconsidered.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 13, 2019 to receive an update on the progress to date on the retail strategy plan and vacant storefront initiative.
Faux Retail is apparently The Future. - RW
Update: Councillor Toomey exercised his Charter Right to delay all of the City Manager's Agenda until the next Council meeting (March 25). The only other consequential thing in the meeting was the back-and-forth posturing of Councillors Zondervan, Siddiqui, Mallon, Carlone, Devereux, and McGovern over Councillor Zondervan's "initial thoughts" memo on the Public Housing Expansion Initiative, a.k.a. the "Affordable Housing Overlay". Vice Mayor Devereux handled herself rather well. Councillor Mallon argued in favor having her own Maple Ave. be a preferred site for new Public Housing. Councillors Kelley, Simmons, and Toomey wisely remained silent.
Coming Attractions - March 4, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here's a quick look at some of the more interesting agenda items.
Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board to adopt following further staff review and improvements to the petition language, the City Council Zoning Petition to Amend Section 4.22 "Accessory Apartments."
Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board to not adopt the Petition to rezone the parcel at 234 Monsignor O'Brien Highway from Residential C-1 to Business A.
Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board to not adopt the Stormwater Separation from Flat Roofs Zoning Petition.
One thumb up, two thumbs down.
Manager's Agenda #13. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge has retained its noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 33 municipalities in the United States with AAA ratings from each of the nation’s three major credit rating agencies. [Moody's] [S&P Global] [Fitch]
This has become an annual tradition. It comes with other annual traditions - activists expressing dismay at Cambridge's fiscal position and elected officials using it to argue that more "free cash" should be poured into their favorite pet projects.
This bill is comprised of common sense measures: a) requiring rear lights on bikes; b) mandating that motor vehicle operators MUST give a wide berth to vulnerable users (like bikes and pedestrians) when passing; c) minimizing "blind spots" for motor vehicles; d) requiring guards on trucks to minimize the likelihood of someone going under the wheels; e) reducing speed limits to 25mph on state highways in thickly settled areas and business districts. I'm not sure if the requirement of safe passing distance applies to bikes passing pedestrians, but it should.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Assessor’s Office to provide Up-To-Date Condo Conversion Data. Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern
I am interested in this information, but most of those horses left the barn a while ago. Multi-family homes on the scale of two-family and triple-deckers were the single most effective affordable housing mechanism in Cambridge for most of the last century. As the condo craze swept through some people were able to get a piece of the action, but the mechanism for a working class family to house themselves and provide housing at affordable rents to cover the mortgage is now just a minor (but still important) part of the Cambridge housing picture. If limits on condominium conversion were ever to have happened it should have happened 20 years ago.
Order #8. City Council support of H1850: An act ensuring safe patient access to emergency care and H1346: An act removing the liability cap for malpractice resulting in serious injury or death. Councillor Mallon, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui
I'm all for H1850: An act ensuring safe patient access to emergency care. As for the other bill, there are good reasons for liability caps, and no amount of money will ever bring back someone who has died.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 30, 2019 to discuss a petition filed by Joseph T. Maguire, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. to amend the Zoning Ordinance by creating the Grand Junction Pathway Overlay District adjacent to the Grand Junction Railroad right-of-way between Binney and Cambridge Streets.
Based on the report, this petition may not float. The matter remains in committee.
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Mallon, transmitting notes of the meeting on Feb 7, 2019 of the Mayor's Arts Task Force. [Full Report]
The text of the report is reproduced here purely for informational purposes. However, I continue to ponder the question of what constitutes acting affirmatively on behalf of a constituency and just plain old political patronage. Should artists and musicians be provided advantages not available to other constituencies who are also struggling to live and work in and around Cambridge? - Robert Winters
Not So Great Expectations - Feb 25, 2019 City Council Agenda
Perhaps the biggest draw for this meeting will be the anticipated vote on a proposed moratorium on property owners removing any tree above a certain diameter without City permission and an onerous fine. Though I understand there may be some amendments, the current proposal would allow the removal of only "dead, diseased, or dangerous" trees. The background motivation is that some Big Developers removed some trees, so therefore every small property owner must be penalized or prevented from making difficult choices about how to manage their property. I'm still hoping that some wisdom may emerge from this hopelessly politicized travesty, but I expect to be disappointed. I suppose I should start getting used to it because this group of nine city councillors may continue to disappoint as the year progresses as they set the stage for the November municipal election. The script is basically to declare an emergency and then use it to justify loss of freedom and flexibility. Sound familiar? Here are the relevant items:
Unfinished Business #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 9, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.66 entitled “Tree Protection” to amend section 8.66.40 entitled “Applicability” and by adding a new section 8.66.055 entitled “Procedure for other projects.” THE QUESTION COMES ON PASSAGE TO BE ORDAINED ON OR AFTER FEB 18, 2019.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 14, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal code to amend Chapter 8.66 entitled “Tree Protection”: in section 8.66.055 entitled “Procedure for Other Significant Tree Removals”.
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-105, regarding the feasibility of placing a condition in the public bidding documents prohibiting municipal contractors from displaying any signage other than company makers and contact information on vehicles. [City Solicitor's Response]
If you recall, this requested legal analysis stems from that rather shallow reaction by some city councillors some months ago to a construction vehicle that carried a political message not to their liking. The City Solicitor's response confirms what everyone surely must have known when this Order was filed. Free speech may not always be what you want to hear, but it is protected. That's what has long been Great about America.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $600,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Executive Department Extraordinary Expenditures, to be used for shoreline and landscape improvements at Magazine Beach.
This continues to be one of the most refreshing collaborations in recent memory between local residents, their City and State government, and the Mass. Dept. of Conservation & Recreation (DCR). There will, of course, be hundreds of pages of gibberish filed by our local "Goose Guy" accusing all parties of every sort of malfeasance. Free speech, you know.
Applications & Petitions #4. A Zoning Petition has been received from the residents of the City of Cambridge requesting that the City Council amend Chapter 8.16 "Noise Control" of the Cambridge Municipal Code. [They are proposing an outright ban on leaf blowers.]
I suppose regulating leaf blowers just wasn't enough for some people. It's got to be a ban. There is a Cambridge subculture that really must be modeling their behavior on Boston's old Watch & Ward Society. Will books be next on the list of Things to be Banned? I'm already expecting to have the future Climate Police one day impound by gas-fired boiler and the internal combustion engine from my VW Bus. Please don't tell them that I also eat meat.
Resolution #5. Resolution on the death of Paula Sharaga. Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone
I knew Paula and considered her one of the most likable politically active people I have met in years. I don't have the words to say just how much of a tragedy this was and how much of a shock it was to hear the news of her death while she was bicycling in the Fenway area.
Resolution #7. Appreciation for Red Mitchell. Councillor Simmons
I want to join with Councillor Simmons in this appreciation. Red is a wonderful guy and a scholar of history. He and I will have to one day soon take a trip down to the Adams Homestead in Quincy, MA to indulge our shared interests.
Order #1. City Council opposition to MBTA Fare Increase Proposal. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon
I was looking for the clause in this Order with suggestions for other funding mechanisms for the MBTA. I'll keep looking. I'm sure it's in there somewhere.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department on a process for establishing a formal, thorough review of the City’s Affordable Home Ownership programs, incorporating a plan for obtaining and analyzing substantial quantitative data inclusive of all types of units. Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey
I suppose the requested information may prove interesting, but the whole concept strikes me as somewhat artificial. If you don't really have the freedom to do with your property as you see fit (within the bounds of applicable zoning), is it really yours?
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City department to discuss the feasibility of allowing small businesses to host live acoustic music performances without a license, and if feasible, present the City Council with a proposal to allow such performances. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern
The requirement of a license simply gives the City (and abutters) some recourse in the event that problems or abuses arise. Perhaps a better idea would be to establish a very simple and very inexpensive (maybe even free) licensing procedure for acoustic music performances. Maybe even have it be an over-the-counter transaction where you simply pick up the list of expectations with the license and we simply trust that they'll be followed.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and any other relevant City departments to amend the Zoning Ordinance “Table of Uses” to allow for lodging houses in Residential A1, A2, and B Zoning Districts and to determine what tax incentives could be utilized to assist in the conversion of single-family/multi-family houses into lodging houses. Councillor Toomey, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern
I think this could be a good thing that might provide some housing opportunities. The truth is that some people in these districts have been taking in boarders for ages. No whistle, no foul. I don't see the harm even if the whole building is given over to such a use - as long as a resident manager is required to live in the building and keep an eye on things. This idea is a lot better than some other proposals currently being considered, e.g. the "Affordable Housing Overlay".
Order #9. City Council support of retirement fund fossil fuel divestment bill. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone
There is something unsettling about city councillors dictating conditions on how public employees' pension money should be invested. I can certainly understand the City Council appealing to a retirement board to factor in the potentially negative consequences of their investment choices, but instructing them where they can and cannot invest those funds is a bit of an overreach. How would the City Council feel if the Retirement Board made recommendations about City Council salary and benefits?
Order #10. That the City Manager provide the City Council with information that is offered to limited equity condominium owners regarding the ability to recoup extraordinary repair and maintenance costs, the procedure that is in place to inform purchasers of existing or possible construction and maintenance issues that may result in higher-than expected condo fees, and the possibility of allowing roommates to cover unexpected expenses. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey
In an ideal world, limited equity condominium arrangements should be independent of City agencies. The fact that this Order is being filed only highlights the shortcomings of having the City play an oversized role in the affairs of such buildings. If questions of "the ability of owners of limited equity condominiums to recoup extraordinary repair and maintenance costs" even have to be asked, then maybe the real question should be about the sustainability of this kind of housing model. The order also asks about "the possibility of allowing limited equity owners to have roommates to allow them to cover these sorts of unexpected expenses". If you don't have the right to take in roommates to help cover your expenses, then you don't really own anything. This is more like "pretend ownership".
Order #13. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the Economic Development Department on expediting zoning based on the 2015 Commercial Land Use Classification Study and exploring the feasibility of hiring more zoning planners. Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone
I still fail to see why this has taken so long. When we reach the point where a City Council order is filed suggesting how a City department should be managed and how many people should be hired, then something has gone terribly wrong. I haven't seen any City Council orders lately offering managerial advice to the Department of Public Works or the Department of Human Service Programs.
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to provide the City Council with information regarding accessory dwelling units. Councillor Carlone, Councillor Siddiqui
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 5, 2019 to discuss the petition filed by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinances in Section 4.22 to allow for a special permit for the alteration of a single, two-family or accessory structure in existence as of January 2019.
I think there are definitely more opportunities out there for accessory dwelling units as a good way to provide housing and flexibility. The recent hearing on this topic seemed to produce more questions than answers. This Order is an attempt to address some of the questions raised. - Robert Winters
February Falderol - Feb 11, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda and OMFUG
In between bemoaning divine trees at Harvard and ordaining a Tree Tribunal, here are a few mundane Monday items up for City Council consideration:
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-08, regarding the Craigie Street Water Main break.
This is the kind of topic-specific response I especially like. For example: "The Cambridge water transmission and distribution system consists of about 185 miles of underground pipe, 4,450 valves and 1,800 hydrants (the “Water System”). All these pipes and appurtenances are documented in the City’s GIS system. Each water main is defined by its age (date installed), material, size and whether it is cement lined or not." And this: "CWD has replaced, repaired or added over 2,730 valves in the Water System since 1980 and has also formalized a valve exercising program." And this: "CWD has replaced/rehabilitated or improved about 43 miles of pipe within the Water System since 1992." And this: "In the 50’s and 60’s, all of the large transmission mains were cement lined. In the 90’s, about 9,500 feet of pipe were cement lined as well."
Cambridge residents should really try to get a basic idea of what it takes to keep the most basic elements of their city functioning - things like water, sewer, electric supply, natural gas infrastructure, roadways as well as things like rubbish disposal and recycling. Call it civic education.
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-111, regarding a report on TNC vehicles blocking travel lanes.
TNC stands for "Transportation Network Company", a relatively new term necessitated by the advent of entities like Uber and Lyft that do all they can to distinguish themselves from the (regulated) taxi industry. By their account, they're just referral services that connect customers to drivers. One big difference is that there is built-in accountability for taxis, e.g., you could lose your right to operate as penalty for frequent or egregious violations. In contrast, many TNC drivers are just people with a license to drive with no special requirements for either customer service, geographical knowledge of an area, or expertise in lawful driving. Bending and breaking rules are common. This response from Police Commissioner Bard is primarily about short-term blocking of bike lanes for pickup/dropoff of passengers. Designated curb space for this purpose would help, and some existing taxi zones should be re-purposed for this. I don't personally buy the notion that brief stops in bike lanes endanger either cyclists or pedestrians, but it is an inconvenience and the prevalence of these TNC vehicles warrants better allocation of space. However, congested areas with competing needs will never operate like a Swiss watch and it's foolish to believe they ever will. Everybody has to give a little.
Unfinished Business #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 9, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.66 entitled “Tree Protection” to amend section 8.66.40 entitled “Applicability” and by adding a new section 8.66.055 entitled “Procedure for other projects.” [THE QUESTION COMES ON PASSAGE TO BE ORDAINED ON OR AFTER FEB 18, 2019.]
It will be interesting to see if any actual wisdom emerges from the Feb 14 hearing on this (which some hasty councillors wanted to prevent). This has never been as simple as "Thou Shalt Not Cut That Tree No Matter What", and property owners deserve some flexibility in managing their property. Even if a tree is not currently dead, diseased, or dangerous there are situations when removal is still the best long-term option, especially if the removal may lead to better-situated, healthier trees thriving in the long term.
Applications & Petitions #1. A Zoning Petition has been received from Stephen R. Karp, Trustee of Cambridge Side Galeria Associates trust to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by adding a new Section 13.100 to Article 13.00 of the Zoning Ordinance and to amend the Zoning Map to add a new PUD-8 District overlay that certain area (which includes parcels and portions of ways and streets) labeled as "PUD-8 district".
It would be premature to comment much about this, but I definitely will look forward to a revitalized First Street, greater permeability through the site, and more diverse uses (including some housing), and improved architecture. I'm looking forward to hearing what the Planning Board and Councillor Carlone (who was involved in the original planning and development of the site) have to say as this petition makes its way through the hearings.
Order #1. That the City Council go on record reaffirming its support of the homeless issues bills awaiting action in the House and Senate, and entreats its elected delegation in both bodies to actively work on moving these measures out of their respective committees on toward adoption. Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons
Order #2. City Council support of legislation that protects children. Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons
Order #7. That the City Council go on record in support of an “Act relative to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program” and an “Act to ensure right to counsel in eviction proceedings". Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui
These three Orders encompass support for a range of proposals that shouldn't be particularly controversial.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the Apr 23, 2018 Policy Order seeking additional funding for affordable housing concerns. Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern
This Order really should be understood in the context of other housing-related proposals currently being considered. These include the "Overlay" proposal to facilitate the transfer of private property to public or quasi-public ownership, support for a real estate transfer tax either via Home Rule or enabling legislation at the state level to fund this property transfer, and other initiatives. The City's policy seems to be centered on transferring as much privately-owned property into public or quasi-public ownership as possible. I'm not so sure that this is a very good long-term policy in spite of any short- or medium-term housing affordability issues.
Order #9. That Rule 39, "Rules of Travel" under the “Rules of the City Council” hereby be amended to be titled "Rules of Travel and Other Council-Related Expenditures." Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey
The basic idea here is that some councillors want more flexibility in funds available to them for hosting constituents and similar purposes. Do they realize that this is the reason there is a City Council office with a budget and staff? When has it not been the case that a city councillor could simply ask the staff to make arrangements for such get-togethers?
Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez transmitting a memorandum from Councillor Siddiqui, transmitting the submission of the Mayor's Blue-Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement Jan 29, 2018 meeting minutes.
It will be interesting to see if this task force actually focuses on practical ways to address these difficulties.
Awaiting Report: 5 from 2016, 2 from 2017, 56 from 2018 (8 resolved this week), and 16 from 2019 (1 resolved this week).
That's a total of 79 items awaiting a response with 9 of them addressed in this agenda. That's better than most weeks. It really is ridiculous to be dragging along items from so long ago without a response. If there really is neither the need nor the willingness to act on some of these, a simple response to the effect of "Not now, Councillors" would be better than leaving so many of these things to moulder. Seriously, is anyone still all that fired up to modify zoning to restrict restaurants where a wood-fired oven is used? If the City would just come back with a very basic proposal for an Outdoor Lighting Ordinance, we could scratch a couple more items off the list. It's a lot easier to respond to a shorter list. - Robert Winters
Save the Groundhogs - Feb 4, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Research indicates that the groundhog population in Cambridge has reached an historic low. The consequences in terms of city planning will likely be devastating. While contemplating this impending disaster, consider the following items up for discussion as we enter the last six weeks of winter.
Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, requesting that the City Council vote to accept Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 64N, Section 3 (“G.L.c.64N, §3”), which is the state law that allows municipalities to impose a local excise tax of up to 3% on retail sales of cannabis within the City.
Into the General Fund, please. No earmarks.
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-104, regarding a report on a list of streets where it is recommended that the speed be reduced to 20 MPH.
If you look at the map, this is pretty close to a citywide 20mph speed limit.
Addendum: Sign, sign, everywhere a sign; Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind; Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign? Apparently there are over 400 streets that will have to get a 20mph sign because, you know, state law. You can't paint it on the roadway, and you can't just post the whole city as 20mph with the roads (including numbered highways) with slightly high speed limits being the exception. Logic vs. legislation.
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City departments to conduct a formal and professional financial assessment of the additional value created for the owner/petitioner by up-zonings for developments of more than 50,000 square feet.
The information will be interesting and useful, but I'm still concerned about the quid-pro-quo aspect of zoning for sale whether it be for cash or subsidized housing units.
Addendum: The Mayor amended the Order to also assess the added benefit to the City associated with upzoning. I pointed out to the Mayor after the meeting that similar analysis should accompany downzoning petitions as well. About 20 years ago downzoning was all the rage and this definitely reduced the value of many properties. Some of the upzonings in recent years simply added back the height/density that had been taken away.
Resolution #5. Retirement of Paul Burke from the Cambridge Police Department. Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mallon
I have met many members of the Cambridge Police over the years, and Paul Burke ranks among my most favorite. Happy trails, Paul, and I hope to see you around town.
Order #1. Dedication sign in honor of Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Mayor McGovern
Ray worked on my VW Bus once, but he'll never admit it. Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe.
Order #3. That the City Manager confer with Eversource and the appropriate City departments to undertake a series of studies and analyses related to finance, health and safety, building design, and long-term electricity needs before the construction of a substation in East Cambridge. Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Siddiqui
Anyone who has ever dealt with Eversource knows that they rarely do long-term planning - just reaction to developments being built, so let's just look at this as a way of assisting them. I'm sure they do need the new substation. The only question is where it should be located.
Addendum: There were concerns expressed during Public Comment and by some city councillors regarding potential adverse health effects associated with the electromagnetic fields adjacent to major electrical infrastructure such as the one proposed on Fulkerson Street. I wonder if they are aware that there are several high voltage underground transmission lines criss-crossing the city. Should we all run for the exits?
Order #5. That the Central Square Massachusetts Avenue sidewalk maintenance/repairs and replacement tree planting become part of the River Street/Barron Plaza project to bring Central Square back to the original circa 1990 intent. Councillor Carlone, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon
Sure, fix up the sidewalks of Central Square and then some. I'm not sure that the "1990 intent" is necessarily the appropriate standard. There have been many reconfigurations of the sidewalks and streets of Central Square over the years and not all have been for the best.
Order #6. City Council support of traffic safety bills SD.847/HD.1653, SD.1461 and SD.1383/HD.1534. Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern
The most significant of these (to me) is the setting of a safe passing distance of vulnerable road users, including cyclists. Nobody should get buzzed by a ton or more of flying steel, and that includes people standing on the sides of roadways. I also like the use of red light cameras, but you know all too well this will lead to hours of pointless debate about the evils of surveillance and the inalienable rights of scofflaws.
Order #7. Proclaim Feb 12, 2019 as Darwin Day in Cambridge. Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
You can use the opportunity to announce the Darwin Awards.
Late Order #12. City Council support of “An Act promoting housing opportunity and mobility through eviction sealing (SD 526 and HD 3815 HOMES).” Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey
The concern expressed in the Order is that if a tenant files a complaint against a landlord it will go on the tenant's "permanent record" and may make renting more difficult in the future. That's a perfectly reasonable concern, though I don't have much sympathy for repeat offenders.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 12, 2018 to discuss formation of a city commission dedicated to providing a forum for exploring and addressing the concerns of undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate and other post-high school students in Cambridge.
I wish I could have attended this hearing, but I was busy teaching some of the very same people this proposal is about. I do wonder if the students the City Council hears from are really a representative sample. I somehow doubt it.
Addendum: Several councillors chimed in on this. I have to say that forming a commission of young people that deliberates only about things of concern to young people seems awfully self-serving. A much better perspective (and one expressed by some councillors) was the importance of aggressive outreach to younger people who might serve on the whole range of City Boards & Commissions - maybe even some new ones. My suggestion is that we create the Board of Fun and charge it with coming up with ways to make Cambridge more fun for people of all ages. I can't imagine the Planning Board ever generating plans for miniature golf and/or batting cages. It took the Charles River Conservancy to bring the skate park to North Point.
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a memorandum from Councillor Kelley regarding Tree Removal Comments.
Councillor Kelley makes some good points in his memo. The real problem, however, is the complete inflexibility of the moratorium proposal some councillors are backing. The inability last week of four city councillors to understand the meaning of due process continues to stun me. Will blind zeal rule the day or will an adult legislator emerge with a thoughtful compromise that provides some flexibility for homeowners faced with difficult decisions? The hearing on Feb 14 should be very telling. - Robert Winters
Picking through the pieces of the Jan 28, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here's my initial selection of the agenda items that either I find interesting or which are sure to bring out a crowd:
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $175,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures account to fund a Climate Change Resilience Analysis which will focus on zoning recommendations.
Another $175,000 for a Climate Change Resilience Analysis? Didn't we do this not so long ago?
Applications & Petitions #4. A Zoning Petition Has been received from Melissa Grippo and Christian Grippo, et al, requesting the City Council to vote to amend Section 5.30.11 of the Zoning Ordinance by adding the following sentence at the end of that section: “Notwithstanding the foregoing, in the Industry B District, a hotel use (Section 4.31.2), shall be governed by the second number (4.0) for purposes of determining the Maximum Ratio of Floor Area to Lot Area.”
I don't know nuthin' about it, but there's now another zoning petition in the queue.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to review the City’s communications and emergency response policies and protocols related to flooding resulting from infrastructure failures. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Kelley
Order #2. City Council support for I-90 Hybrid Plan with request for further review. Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan
BIG projects can be fun because when the scale of spending is large it creates opportunities to do some creative things around the edges of the necessary stuff. Envision that.
Order #5. City Council support of HD2395: An act to further provide a rental arrearage program. Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui
This is the kind of idea I can get behind - assisting people to get through a bad patch with some transitional assistance. It makes a lot more sense than some of the other proposals that have been floating around over the past year.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City departments to conduct a formal and professional financial assessment of the additional value created for the owner/petitioner by up-zonings for developments of more than 50,000 square feet. Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan
I suspect the motivation behind this is not just information-gathering. It sure seems like a prelude to extracting more "community benefit" money out of proposed developments - or maybe just creating a political basis for not granting zoning relief at all. Naively, I would still like to believe that zoning should be based on good planning rather than on who's going to share the spoils.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 9, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.66 entitled “Tree Protection” to amend section 8.66.40 entitled “Applicability” and by adding a new section 8.66.055 entitled “Procedure for other projects.”
Order #7. That the tree protection ordinance amendment discussed at the Ordinance Committee hearing held on Wed, Jan 9, 2019 and referenced in Committee Report #3 of Jan 28, 2019 be further amended per additional language. Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Kelley
Basically, the sponsors want to enact a one-year moratorium on tree "removal permits" (where have we heard that phrase before) except for dead, diseased, or dangerous trees. This doesn't seem to allow any discretion at all to property owners, and it treats ordinary small-scale homeowners just as harshly as those big evil developers. If you violate this prohibition they'll make you pay into a tree replacement fund. I'm sure this committee report and order will bring out the troops to public comment, but there are some serious problems with this proposal.
Beyond the simple fact that there has not been proper legal notice (a moratorium is a lot stricter than a requirement to seek approval by the City Arborist), it also completely disrespects the rights of property owners to manage their own property. Furthermore, it would appear that the required payment for violating the moratorium will likely be well in excess of the cost of the tree removal. Most property owners would probably be OK with a reasonable ordinance that would dissuade them from wholesale deforestation of their property, but I seriously doubt whether there would be support for an ordinance that removed all discretion. Most property owners actually remove trees reluctantly and they certainly don't want to have to appear before the Tree Tribunal whenever they are faced with such a decision.
This is a municipal election year and it's pretty clear that some people are trying to make tree protection a defining issue for the upcoming election. So let me dabble in a little political calculus for you. There are two, maybe three city councillors who stand to gain politically by being the tree champions. The councillors who will be collecting those #1 Votes are the ones who already have them from those voters who are rallying around this moratorium proposal. Any other councillors will be getting a #3 at best, and those preferences will count for nothing. On the other hand, there are a lot of homeowners - and that includes a lot of environmentally-conscious homeowners - who will not be particularly keen about having their hands tied even though they probably won't be reaching for the axe anytime during the next 12 months.
Every week it seems like the current City Council shows just how little faith they have in the people who elect them.
UPDATE: The City Council passed to a 2nd Reading the proposed revision to the Tree Ordinance included in the Committee Report (as amended in the report). Though there was spirited public comment favoring Order #7 - the proposed moratorium and punitive fines ($300/day) for removing a significant tree, the City Council voted 5-4 to send that proposal to the Ordinance Committee for an actual hearing and possible revision. This was really the only reasonable course of action, but Councillors Zondervan and Devereux apparently feel that discretionary tree removal, even by a homeowner, is the moral equivalent of murder. Councillors Kelley, Mallon, Simmons, Toomey, and Mayor McGovern voted in favor of due process; while Councillors Carlone, Devereux, Siddiqui, and Zondervan would have preferred immediate action without any public notice. There has never been any hearing where this punitive moratorium was on the agenda and where property owners could address their concerns. Councillors Zondervan and Devereux made it quite clear that they believe that informing people after a law is passed constitutes adequate notice. Democracy, representation, and due process apparently mean little to these councillors. - RW
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor, in consultation with the Election Commission, to report back on the legality and constitutionality of the proposed “Cambridge Publicly Financed Municipal Election Program” and the “Cambridge Municipal Election People’s Pledge.” Councillor Toomey, Councillor Kelley
Though I would like to see the legal opinion on these ideas, I still think they are ill-conceived for Cambridge municipal elections.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Carlone Co-Chair and Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 29, 2018 to discuss Urban Form Recommendations from the Community Development Department.
Speaking of municipal elections....
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Co-Chair and Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui Co-Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Nov 28, 2018 to discuss the proposed Affordable Housing Overlay District and on the first annual Inclusionary Zoning report.
Here's an idea - Let the City's policy be simply to maintain the subsidized housing stock that already exists and add to it via Inclusionary Zoning. We're already way ahead of the game compared to almost every other city or town in Massachusetts.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Mallon, transmitting notes from the meeting of the Mayor's Arts Task Force from Jan 10, 2019.
These Arts Task Force minutes sometimes read like the psychiatrist's notes at a wacky therapy session. How does that make you feel? - RW
What's Coming Up at the Jan 14, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting?
Here's my take on the interesting stuff this week:
Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-126, regarding the River Street Infrastructure and Streetscape Project.
The basics: The outreach and design processes will occur throughout 2019 and into early 2020. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2020. $34 million has already been appropriated for the design and construction of sewer and drainage infrastructure improvements and surface enhancements on River Street between Memorial Drive and Central Square, including Carl Barron Plaza.
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-120, regarding the focus of Envision Cambridge goals during community presentations.
If you read the infographic and fact sheet that's meant "to clarify the 100% affordable housing overlay concept and address any misconceptions related to its potential implementation or impact" it becomes abundantly clear that the Community Development Department has already made its decisions and is now in the process of conducting an advertising campaign to sell it (even though it has received dismal reviews in most venues where it was presented - for good reasons).
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-97, regarding a report on updating vacant property database and reviewing strategies presented in the Storefront Vacancies Best Practices Report.
I just hope people understand that popup/activation/placemaking or art displays in vacant storefronts is a pretty lame substitute for the real thing. This is really about finding a new economic equilibrium between retail demand and the costs associated with occupying commercial space - and you can't blame it all on Amazon. My own admittedly naive view is that for multi-story buildings with ground floor retail, that retail space should be re-conceived as something akin to the utilities in the basement - an essential part of the building that should not necessarily be viewed as a primary revenue-generator for the property. Let the upper floors pick up some of the tab.
Resolution #10. Retirement of Timothy MacDonald from the Water Department. Mayor McGovern
Resolution #12. Retirement of Robert Reardon from the Assessing Department. Mayor McGovern
This is a double-whammy for me personally. I have known Tim MacDonald for over 30 years - ever since I served on a Water & Sewer Advisory Committee appointed by then-Mayor Al Vellucci. Tim served as Manager of Water Operations and Director of Water Operations. Blessed with a sense of humor and good nature to go along with his experience and expertise, Tim has long been one of the greatest assets of the Water Department.
Robert Reardon may be one of the most qualified people in his field in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He's also one of my all-time favorite people in City Hall. He could write a book on the political history of Cambridge. Maybe he should now that he'll have time on his hands. I don't know whether to congratulate him or to beg him to reconsider.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City personnel to compile a report outlining how a prolonged Federal Government shut-down may impact the people of Cambridge. Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Siddiqui
There are two sides to this inquiry. First, how will the lack of federal services and funds (for things like housing vouchers) affect residents who need those services and how many residents are affected? Second, how many residents of Cambridge have been furloughed from federal jobs? I'll add that banks, landlords, utilities, etc. should really step up and grant time extensions on bills and maybe even extend low or zero-interest loans in lieu of paychecks since (I hope) we all know this can't go on for too much longer.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Managing Director of the Water Department on whether the department is monitoring aged pipelines to prevent unexpected breaks and if information on the age of the pipes is readily available. Councillor Toomey
This provides an appropriate follow-up to last week's Order on the age and maintenance of the city's water mains.
Order #5. That the Neighborhood and Long-Term Planning Committee hold a public hearing to explore the feasibility of Transit X and their potential to provide an affordable, equitable, safe, practical, congestion-reducing, and eco-friendly public transportation solution for our community. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone
There was a guy going around maybe a year ago trying to sell people on this idea of mini-monorails running all over the city. It still seems a bit like something from a Fritz Lang film.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and the City’s legal services providers on establishing a system of information-sharing and/ or alternative method for making available that data which may be of beneficial use to the City in analyzing displacement. Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Carlone
Analysis is good, but please don't unfairly punish small-scale owner-occupant landlords who are just trying to manage their modest investment. I grow increasingly suspicious every week of the City Council's intentions. The Order provides a list of 46 outcomes of an eviction proceeding and not once does it make reference to an eviction being fairly carried out for justifiable reasons.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to explore the feasibility of designing the next iteration of the Cambridge Community Electricity program. Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui
If City intervention can land me a better deal on electricity, I'm all in. Otherwise, no thanks. - Robert Winters
Kicking Off the New Year - Jan 7, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
The beginning of a municipal election year often features some table-setting, i.e. framing some of the issues that are bound to play out as we work our way to the November election. If bike lanes were the AOC of 2017, then trees, battles over density, and the next round of challenges to property ownership are taking the early lead in the 2019 rhetorical derby. Here are some of the agenda items that drew my attention this week.
Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of Bob Richards. Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey
Bob passed away on December 19. He has been a long-time friend and neighbor, one of the founders of the Antrim Street Block Party - the longest in the city, a CRLS teacher, and a dependable ally on the Ward 6 Democratic Committee. The phrase "he will be missed" is often said, but I will really miss the frequent conversations Bob and I have had over many years - and not all about politics.
Order #1. Creating Gender X on Cambridge Birth Certificates. Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui
I have lived in Cambridge now for over 40 years and can honestly say that I identify as a True Cantabrigian. I have even been accepted by many native Cantabrigians as something more than a carpetbagger. That said, my birth certificate identifies me as a New Yorker. I would like the option to have my birth certificate revised to better reflect my current identity.
Order #4. Accessing revenue generated from new short-term rental legislation. Mayor McGovern
This is a timely Order now that the Commonwealth passed short-term rental legislation late in the previous session.
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Mallon, transmitting notes of the meeting of the Mayor's Arts Task Force.
Order #5. That the City Manager work with the Cambridge Arts Council and Department of Finance to allocate a percentage of hotel/motel tax revenue and adult use cannabis tax revenue to the arts in the FY20 budget. Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern
Order #6. That the City Manager work with the Cambridge Arts Council, Traffic and Parking Department, Community Development Department, and Central Square Advisory Committee to establish the Central Square Improvement Fund and allocate no less than 25% of funds generated to the arts. Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern
Order #7. That the City Manager work with the Cambridge Arts Council and Community Development Department to make the appropriate updates to the City's 1% for arts ordinance. Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern
As a long-time booster for Central Square, I suppose I should be thrilled with these Orders - and I am, but with reservations. I dislike the whole idea of earmarking revenues generated from specific activities for the exclusive use of very specific purposes - even if these purposes are things I support. Why should revenue generated by the cannabis industry be dedicated for arts purposes rather than early childhood education (just to give one example)? Why should 25% or more of a proposed Central Square Improvement Fund be dedicated toward arts projects? This is reminiscent of the whole Foundry Kerfuffle where some councillors felt that this building should be dedicated toward very specific arts-related purposes but other councillors had different priorities.
There is something of a "cutting the line" in all this - proposing specific earmarking before other priorities have been considered. It's not the first time we've seen this, e.g. there have been and continue to be proposals to earmark revenue for the purpose of buying up residential buildings and properties solely for use as subsidized housing. Priorities do change from year to year.
As for the One Percent for the Arts Ordinance, some revision may be in order, especially in regard to the rather harsh division between the commissioning of outside artists and the artistic talents of some of the people actually building publicly-funded projects. However, the rather simple math is that because a fixed percentage of the project funding is to be dedicated toward artistic components of a project, then as projects become more expensive the money dedicated for art rises proportionately.
Order #8. Support Green New Deal. Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui
Translation: This Order proposes to reject the plans proposed by the new House Democratic Leadership (Nancy Pelosi and Co.) in favor of a proposal from a newly elected member of Congress (AOC-NY). The Order also suggests corruption among Ms. Pelosi's leadership team ("will include legislators who have accepted contributions from or who have themselves made significant investments in the fossil fuel industry"). Please, councillors, edit out some of the WHEREAS's before voting on this symbolic Order.
Order #9. Water Mains Age and Maintenance Update. Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern
The requested report is one I will definitely look forward to reading. Yes, I am an Infrastructure Geek. It says so on my birth certificate.
Order #10. City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to prepare a draft Home Rule petition for a Real Estate Transfer fee. Councillor Carlone, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui
Insofar as this might cool down speculative investment in Cambridge real estate, I might be supportive. I do not, however, agree that any revenue generated should be dedicated exclusively toward the acquisition of property to be turned into subsidized housing. [See above remarks re: earmarking.] There is, however, a larger issue. Last year opened with a "Right of First Refusal" proposal to lay a heavy hand on who would have first preference in purchasing residential property put up for sale. Last year ended with the non-support of a state initiative re: housing growth and changes in the threshold for certain zoning changes based on concerns that there should be greater tenant protections (which often translates into greater restrictions on property owners). Councillor Siddiqui at one meeting referred to about 150 additional measures that could be considered in this vein. It is not at all surprising that property owners become concerned about all this - including many landlords who might otherwise be supportive of some of these proposals.
Here's a suggestion: How about the City Council make a Declaration to the effect that "The City Council shall pass no law infringing on the rights of small property owners to engage in the ordinary business of renting their property in accordance with general laws." If small property owners were not (justifiably) fearful that their local City Council was planning to make their lives especially difficult, they might be a lot more supportive of proposals floated by the Council.
Order #12. Amendment to the Municipal Code to create a new Chapter entitled "Cycling Safety Ordinance". Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone
Translation: This Order proposes to mandate via Ordinance that whatever the aspirational Cambridge Bicycle Plan (or any plan superseding it) says, then the City must implement those plans on any City-owned street under the City’s Five-Year Sidewalk and Street Reconstruction Plan unless there are extraordinary reasons for not doing so. It's amazing how wish lists becoming mandates [see Envision] has become the foundation for How We Do Planning in Cambridge.
Order #13. Volpe Project Updates. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone
I will look forward to hearing more about this. As the Order points out: "As a federal facility, the new Volpe Center will not be subject to the zoning or special permit requirements set out in the PUD-7 Zoning District that the City Council created in October 2017."
Order #14. Major Public Building Projects Selection Committee Representation. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone
We are once again nibbling away at the edges of the Plan E Charter. This Order proposes that there be "at least one City Councillor on the Selection Committee for any major public building project." In short, the Order wants to have an elected councillor involved in the awarding of City contracts. Red Flag.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Zondervan and Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Co-Chairs of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Dec 4, 2018 to discuss reviewing the preliminary LiDAR-based canopy study results from Apr 1, 2018 and to discuss potential reasons for the precipitous decline in our tree canopy and any other related matter.
There is a related campaign being floated to declare a Moratorium on the cutting of any tree on private property above a relatively low caliper except for reasons of safety. I actually do have very good reasons to cut down a significant tree in my yard, so give me at least a week's warning before you declare any Moratorium so I can take care of things. - Robert Winters, Native Cantabrigian
The Misdirection of One Way Zoning - Just One Slippery Item on the Dec 17, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Lately I find myself wondering if some of my local elected officials are either intentionally devious or just terminally dense. Zoning seems to bring on this wonder more than anything else. Three cases in point: (a) zoning for a cannabis future; (b) the so-called "affordable housing overlay", and (c) a late City Council order from last week (Charter Right invoked) supporting a state proposal to change the standards for passage of zoning amendments relating to some aspects of housing.
The latest stash of cannabis zoning changes is up for ordination this Monday. There has been a certain inevitability to this ever since Massachusetts voters legalized the sale of marijuana for recreational use. This is really about who can make lots of money from this newly legalized trade (and perhaps making sure that it's not just the usual suspects), but each city and town has to give the OK and can decide if and where this can take place. This makes it a zoning matter. I suppose much of what the Council has proposed seems reasonable though I do fear an Acapulco Gold Rush. I have some concerns about the expansion of this trade into some of the lower scale mixed residential/commercial zones in Cambridge that might well be characterized as "mom 'n pop" business zones, e.g. the BA-1 zones. I live in such a zone. Over the years it has hosted such businesses as a barber shop, a china-mending shop, second hand stores, a small grocery, a bike repair shop, a florist, a "spa" corner store, a coffee shop, a few small Montessori schools and a day care. A proposed amendment would allow cannabis sales in these zones - from "mom 'n pop" to marijuana. I don't really know any reason why this use should be added to such a district, but I did see that one councillor had knowledge that one pot dealer had designs on a location in a BA-1 zone and apparently that trumps all other considerations. I really hope they keep the pot shops in the larger scale business zones.
The "affordable housing overlay" proposal is not yet even in draft form as a zoning proposal but some councillors are already marking their calendars for all the necessary mileposts en route to ordination. The mayor even wove this into his "state of the city" address (or was it a 2019 campaign event?). It's not yet clear whether the proposal has the necessary votes, but the public relations campaign is already well underway to slander all who might disagree. Opinion pieces have been written and all the world's a twitter about how anyone who questions the specifics of the proposal is either a hopeless regressive (as opposed to a "true progressive") or worthy of one of several scarlet letters. One councillor has even created the false dichotomy that anyone who questions the proposal must be opposed to housing for nurses. By the way, Cambridge already has in excess of 7800 subsidized housing units (about 15% of all housing units) and the latest revision of the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance should yield on the order of about 18% of new housing being subsidized in some form.
Perhaps my prime objection to this proposal is the outright dishonesty of the proponents. There may be near-unanimous support for the goal of affordability in housing, but it's not at all clear that most people support socialized housing (takeover of an increasing fraction of the housing stock by government or by entities operating on behalf of government) or whether they understand that this will only benefit those seeking housing from the government and will do nothing to address affordability generally (and may even exacerbate it). What's currently being proposed is a plan that would permit a developer of 100% subsidized housing to build to a density up to 4 times what anyone else could legally build along with a reduction or elimination in setbacks from the lot lines and other requirements. The argument given is that this is necessary in order that these preferred developers can compete economically, but the rather obvious truth is that this also gives them the ability to effectively take property out of private ownership and into quasi-public ownership pretty much at will. The only limitation is their allotted budget, and it seems likely that this budget will grow once this little zoning hurdle is cleared. Oh, and if you have any objections you may as well keep them to yourself because all of this would be as-of-right. Let's add that every residential property that goes from private ownership into "social ownership" contributes considerably less in property taxes, so the tax burden will shift onto the remaining residential owners or must be mitigated by additional commercial development.
The latest twist is a Late Order from Councillor Simmons asking her colleagues to sign on in support of Mass. House Bill H.4075, Act to Promote Housing Choices, that would, among other things, reduce the threshold for some housing-related zoning proposals from a two-thirds super-majority (6 of 9) to a simple majority (5 of 9). [Note: This bill has been superseded by Bill H.4290.] The zoning proposals subject to this lower threshold would be things like smaller lot sizes, higher density and multi-family zones, accessory dwelling units, and reduced parking requirements - things we already have aplenty in Cambridge. The latest revision also lowers the bar for subsidized housing and housing near transit. Our House Socialist (Rep. Connolly) is apparently holding out for more guarantees that the maximum amount of any housing produced would be removed from private ownership.
Under existing state law if there is objection from owners of at least 20% of the land affected by any zoning proposal then a three-quarter super-duper-majority (7 of 9) is required. The proposed law would raise the bar to 50% land ownership to push the threshold from simple majority up to the current two-thirds majority. One interesting twist is that a simple majority would be required to permit some of these housing options but a two-thirds majority would be required to reverse it, i.e. one-way zoning. The fact is that almost every zoning proposal in Cambridge over the last two decades that had any merit managed to pass with a super-duper majority and often with unanimous support even with the two-thirds requirement. So why the insistence that the threshold be lowered? My sense is that this House bill is targeting our suburban neighbors and their preclusionary zoning. However, my strong sense is that these towns may well maintain majorities to preclude any increased density or multi-family housing and once again the lion's share of the burden of producing increasingly dense housing will occur in places like Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston, i.e. the opposite of what is intended in the legislation.
In fairness, it should be noted that the two-thirds super-majority requirement is not generally the standard elsewhere. My read of history is that the super-majority standard derives from the understanding that zoning is a form of police authority that affects property rights and this is at least in part intertwined with notions of constitutional rights - hence the higher standard. A better approach would be for the State Legislature to simply place limitations on what can be regulated by zoning. For example, they could start by not allowing absurdly large lot size requirements that prevent reasonable subdivisions. They should also require that all cities and towns permit some degree of multi-family housing and accessory dwelling units. If I were king I would also insist that there be at least one significant zone for apartment buildings in every city and town in Massachusetts. The singular focus on subsidized housing is shortsighted to say the least.
OK, now that I've said what I had to say, what's on the agenda?
Charter Right #1. Airplane Noise Reduction Update on noise and vibrations from a concentration of low-flying airplanes originating at runway 33L at Logan Airport continue to disturb many residents.
I offer no opinion on this. I also grew up not far from LaGuardia Airport in NYC and acclimated to low-flying planes.
UPDATE: Councillor Kelley and Vice Mayor Devereux submitted competing substitute Orders and the matter was TABLED (MM).
Charter Right #2. City Council support of Bill H.4075, Act to Promote Housing Choices, which would allow municipalities across the Commonwealth to change some zoning rules via a simple majority vote. [Note: This bill has been superseded by Bill H.4290.] [Comparison of original (H.4075) and latest revised (H.4290) versions of Housing Choice Initiative]
UPDATE: After an extended discussion, this Order failed on a 4-4-1 vote. (AM,DS,TT,MM-YES; DC,CK,SS,QZ-NO; JD-ABS)
Unfinished Business #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a draft zoning petition concerning the regulation of cannabis establishments in the City of Cambridge in response to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-75.
Also see above.
Order #1. That the City Manager confer with appropriate departments to advance the timetable for updating the Zoning Code's Table of Uses and determine a frequency at which they can be regularly reviewed and updated. Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui
Sometimes I wonder if CDD operates on a geological time scale. This has been on the back burner for years.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City staff, including the City Electrician and the Director of the Commission for Persons with Disabilities, to determine if there is a safe and effective way for people to bring power to the curb and cross City sidewalks, to include running power cords under the sidewalk, to charge electric vehicles and, if so, how the City might best go about appropriately permitting and monitoring such activity. Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan
I'm sure there will be some creative solutions to this in the future, but I doubt that running heavy duty extension cords under the sidewalk will be among those solutions.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assessor's Office on the topic of requiring that a business entity’s beneficial ownership be disclosed in all Cambridge real estate transactions. Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan
I doubt whether this is legal barring any discovery requirements triggered by something illegal. That said, I would love to know who's behind all those mysterious LLCs. Other than curiosity, however, what exactly is the public's interest in this information?
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Co-Chair and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 23, 2018 to discuss the status of the Harvard Square Kiosk.
Central Square should get a kiosk. Maybe then we can also get a 122-page report on what to do with it. - Robert Winters
UPDATE: City Clerk Donna Lopez informed the City Council that she will be retiring in May 2019.
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.