Taking a Break - Preview of June 27, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda
This will be the last regular meeting of the City Council before the summer break. They won't reconvene until the Special Midsummer Meeting on August 1. Here are a few items that I found at least somewhat interesting.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $750,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account to pay for design services for the building located at 859 Massachusetts Avenue and a feasibility study for municipal facilities. [The interesting part is the statement that "The renovation project at 859 Massachusetts Avenue is estimated to cost approximately $5 million."]
I am curious about the costs. I can perhaps understand the $750,000 price tag if this includes a feasibility study for a range of municipal facilities (as opposed to just for this one building). What I cannot grasp is the statement: "The renovation project at 859 Massachusetts Avenue is estimated to cost approximately $5 million." Sure, as a municipal facility it will have to be made fully handicap accessible, and a lot of reconfiguration will be necessary for its new use. That said, it seems as though you could knock it down and build an entirely new building for well under $5 million. This estimate works out to nearly $1000 per sq. ft. I do hope at least one city councillor asks for some explanation of this estimated cost.
UPDATE: City Manager Richard Rossi explained at the meeting that the facilities study as well as the $5 million renovation cost will cover three buildings - the newly acquired 859 Mass. Ave. building as well as 831 Mass. Ave. (the Lombardi Building) and 3 Bigelow St. (currently used for transitional housing). One possible outcome is that 859 Mass. Ave. would be used for housing and 3 Bigelow St. would be converted municipal uses and possibly joined to an expanded 831 Mass. Ave. This actually makes a lot of sense and would be well worth the cost of renovation.
Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item 16-29, regarding the implementation of the C2 non-zoning recommendations. [Report]
This update does include some timeframes for some of the more achievable and generally acceptable goals, but the involvement of the Central Square Advisory Committee (CSAC) in helping to shape this has been hampered by staff changes at CDD. Hopefully this will be resolved soon, and perhaps the CSAC may be useful in facilitating additional public dialogue. Lest the perfect become the enemy of the good, some of the more controversial and difficult-to-achieve stuff can probably wait. Meanwhile, a new zoning petition to implement some of the more universally acceptable C2 zoning recommendations is expected later this year.
Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a communication from the Affordable Housing Trust relative to the Inclusionary Housing Study. [Report]
This is a great statement of support from the Affordable Housing Trust, but it's still not so easy to see how the economics of the proposed changes would work without at least some adjustment of the density bonus to cover the additional costs associated with increasing the inclusionary housing requirement to a full 20% of a new residential building.
Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Healthy Pharms Inc., to amend the provisions of the Medical Marijuana Overlay district section 20.700 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Map.
You had to know this and other similar petitions were coming when the most recent borderline spot zoning change was made for the vicinity of Ellery St. and Mass. Ave. (Sage Cannabis). At some point the City Council will have to take a more comprehensive look at the Medical Marijuana Overlay district section of the Zoning Code instead of taking these one petition at a time. It may make more sense to just eliminate that section entirely and delegate the regulation of these facilities to the License Commission or other appropriate agency.
Resolutions #1-16. Congratulations to students elected for 2016-2017 to the CRLS student government and as representatives to the School Committee.
The CRLS student government voted earlier this year to use Ranked Choice Voting (and Proportional Representation) in their elections. I had the honor of tabulating the votes for them using the same software that the City of Cambridge uses in its municipal elections. Congratulations to all the winners!
Order #1. Declare that the five black marble slabs that comprise the perimeter of the Prince Hall Monument, which were mined in Africa and now are located upon the historic Cambridge Common, represent the more than 5,000 Black men who helped fight for this country’s independence during the Revolutionary War. Mayor Simmons
This is one of the reasons I really love Mayor Simmons. She knows and cares about history - especially local history. It was Mayor Simmons who several years ago was responsible for bringing the Prince Hall Monument to the Cambridge Common.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding the feasibility of the City of Cambridge filing its own home rule petition regarding reduced speed limits in thickly settled areas in conjunction with the City of Boston’s current efforts. Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung
Boston and Cambridge filing Home Rule petitions to be able to adjust some speed limits is not the ideal way to do this. What is really needed is for the Massachusetts Legislature to amend the Massachusetts General Laws so that there are more distinctions than just "thickly settled areas" in determining local speed limits. For example, a one-way street that is parked on both sides with a relatively narrow travel lane (like many Cambridge streets) should be declared a "neighborhood street" (or something like that), and it should have a speed limit of no more than 20-25 mph. There are other streets that by their very geometry should also be put in this category without having to carry out a detailed traffic study to justify the reduced speed. This should be established statewide. The 30 mph standard is still perfectly fine for many streets. All of Cambridge is "thickly settled", but not all roads in Cambridge can safely accommodate the same speeds.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of implementing a truck ban on Prospect Street during certain times of the day, or to otherwise mitigate the impact of the trucks utilizing this street. Mayor Simmons
Heavy truck traffic on Prospect Street (except for local deliveries) has been banned for a long time.
Order #10. That the proposed addition to Title 6, entitled “Animals,” regarding the restriction on the sale of animals in pet shops be referred to the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone
Many people choose to seek pets from local shelters, but it's really wrongheaded to unfairly restrict the ways a person can obtain a pet. The proposed ordinance would require that "A pet shop may offer for sale only those birds, mammals, or reptiles that the pet shop has obtained from or displays in cooperation with... an animal care facility... or... an animal rescue organization." A simpler ordinance would simply require that any such sales be accompanied by appropriate documentation of the source of the animal up for adoption/sale.
Not on the Agenda, but important:
There is no one right answer to this question. For starters, cyclists should never ride close to parked cars. Motor vehicle operators should always check and double-check before opening doors into a travel lane. Some will argue that the only solution is to move all cyclists off the roads so that they become the sole domain of motor vehicles. I disagree. There is a place for separate facilities, such as twisting roads and places where there is a great speed differential between bikes and motor vehicles (like along Memorial Drive or any DCR parkway), but in a local setting the best streets are still shared streets where all vehicles are clearly visible to each other. We have to do a much better job of educating cyclists and motor vehicle operators about how to safely operate their vehicles.
UPDATE: There was plenty of public comment at this meeting in response to the death of cyclist Amanda Phillips in the vicinity of Inman Square - much of it arguing for the need of "separated bike lanes" or "cycle tracks" that would remove cyclists from the regular travel lanes on Cambridge Street. However, the well-circulated description of what happened may not actually coincide with the facts. It has now been reported that this may not have been a simple case of a cyclist riding along a road when a door was opened into her path. It may actually be the case that Ms. Phillips was transitioning from the sidewalk into the street when she came around the parked car and either struck the door or swerved to avoid it. If this turns out to be the case, then the driver may well have checked for cyclists and saw none prior to opening the car door. We'll have to wait to see the report of the investigation before knowing exactly what happened next. This is important because the primary objection to cycle tracks is that they may actually be more dangerous at intersections and driveways by obscuring cyclists from the field of view of motorists - and there are plenty of intersections and driveways along that stretch of Cambridge Street.
There was also another murder (Anthony Clay, 49) in The Port on Friday night/Saturday morning on Harvard Street across from Greene-Rose Park. This neighborhood, and especially the area on or near Windsor Street has been the site of several murders over the last few years. We're all hoping for justice to be served in this latest murder, but at what point do we say "Enough is Enough"? We can "Envision Cambridge" from now until eternity, but it doesn't really mean much when the most basic human right is denied. - Robert Winters
Hot Town, Summer in the City - Coming up at the June 20, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here are a few of the more interesting agenda items this week:
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative the transfer of $860,000 within statutory accounts of the Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditure account for the acquisition of two parcels of the Watertown Branch railroad from B&M Corporation for the purpose of creating a future multi-use path and greenway.
The communication doesn't specify exactly which railroad parcels are being purchased, but presumably this includes at least the section adjacent to Fresh Pond. The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) will soon be constructing the connection to the existing multi-use path in Watertown.
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to recommendations from the Outdoor Lighting Task Force that address the potential detrimental impact of outdoor lighting and propose solutions that diminish existing problems and address problems that may be created by new development. [Report][Proposed Ordinance (HTML)]
The Task Force was appointed Dec 2, 2013 and was originally expected to complete its report and draft Ordinance by Spring 2014. It clearly took a lot longer than that with many different iterations of the proposed Ordinance. It's worth noting that the Ordinance will apply not only to new construction but to all properties in Cambridge with several years to bring all properties into compliance with the Ordinance.
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the approval and appropriation of an additional One Million, Two Hundred Thirty-Six Thousand, One Hundred Twenty-Five ($1,236,125) Dollars from Free Cash to the General Fund Law Department Travel & Training (Judgment & Damages) account, in order to settle the damages to be paid to the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, Inc. (the “Chamber”) with regard to the City’s eminent domain taking of the Chamber’s property on June 13, 2016.
This will complete the transaction. No word yet on exactly what use this building will serve.
Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-48, regarding a report on posting Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) information on the Election Commission website. [Election Commission page on Campaign and Political Finance][OCPF Reports]
Though this makes navigation from the Election Commission website a bit clearer, it's unfortunately still the case that campaign finance reporting for State Representative and State Senate candidates remains very sparse. The need only file periodic reports 8 days before each primary election or general election and at the end of each calendar year. In contrast, municipal candidates in cities the size of Cambridge must maintain depository accounts with reports twice per month. One has to wonder why the reporting requirements are far less frequent for state candidates.
Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a report on the continued progress on the application for funding under the Commonwealth’s Infrastructure Investment Incentive Program (I-Cubed) for the North Point area of the City. [Report]
As the report states: "The Infrastructure Investment Incentive Program (known as “I-Cubed”) is a Commonwealth program and proven economic development tool that uses new state tax revenues to build public infrastructure in areas that will generate economic and community benefits." In addition: "The I-Cubed infrastructure improvements will reconnect North Point to East Cambridge and jump-start the development of the North Point neighborhood."
Resolution #2. Retirement of Terry Dumas from the Cambridge Housing Authority. Mayor Simmons
Terry Dumas served as Director of the Planning and Development Department for over 25 years, and as a staff member of the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) for a total of 33 years.
Order #1. That the City of Cambridge stand in solidarity with the people of Orlando, the LGBTQ community, the LatinX community, the Muslim-American community, and all people in this country who reject the kind of violence that has visited far too many communities in recent years. Councillor Cheung, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern
This is a strong statement of solidarity from the City Council, though the last "Whereas" could perhaps have stayed more on point.
Order #3. That a joint hearing of the Public Safety and Housing Committees be formed for the purpose of gathering testimony from stakeholders in the City regarding the impact of short-term rentals on our communities with a view in mind to draft an ordinance that meets the goals outlined above, and to refer that proposed ordinance to the Ordinance Committee at the appropriate time. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Craig Kelley, regarding Short-Term Rentals in Cambridge: An Overview of Current Usage and Patterns as well as Policy Recommendations. [Kelley Communication]
The "sharing economy" is evolving and the question of whether to regulate or exactly how to regulate such enterprises as Uber and Airbnb is now coming into focus. Just as some taxi regulations should naturally also apply to Uber, the question of whether frequent Airbnb rentals should be treated the same way as hotels of lodging houses has to be eventually addressed. This is especially true in the case where housing originally built for regular tenancy is now being used effectively like a motel.
Order #8. That the City Council hold a joint meeting of Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration, and the Government Operations committee to discuss different models for campaign finance reform and publicly-funded municipal elections in Cambridge. Councillor Mazen, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux
Hot on the heels of a recent Order calling for cash prizes for voting (based on some rather shoddy "research"), this week's edition reintroduces an Order from a year or so ago calling for taxpayer-financed local election campaigns. There really isn't any legal way to restrict what a candidate chooses to spend on his or her campaign, so any such program would only apply to those who agree to specified limitations/restrictions. As much as I abhor the stratospheric spending on recent City Council campaigns, my strong sense is that this proposal would open a rather large can of worms. I also don't think it should be imposed without the prior approval of voters.
Order #10. The City Manager is requested to coordinate with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of introducing a municipal ID program in the city and respond to any and all community feedback regarding its possible implementation. Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern
I seriously doubt that the cost of obtaining a state ID is prohibitive, and a state ID would be applicable outside of our small city. A program providing assistance in getting a state ID would make a lot more sense.
Order #12. The City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to organize regular suppers on the second Saturday of each month, starting on the 13th of August, with free food for the Cambridge community in open public spaces throughout the various Cambridge neighborhoods. Councillor Mazen
Who pays for all the free food?
It will be interesting to see how much of this bill survives after all of the suburban legislators hack out all the really important provisions that might require their respective communities to share in the burden of providing affordable housing.
Kicking Off the Post-Columbian Era - June 13, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting
Now that Christopher Columbus is persona non grata in the City of Cambridge, the search for the New World continues...
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the reappointment of Larry Ward and appointment of Charles Marquardt as Election Commissioners.
Congratulations to Larry Ward on his reappointment to another term (through 2020) and to Charlie Marquardt on his appointment (through 2017) to complete the term of the late Peter Sheinfeld.
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Rainwater Separation from Flat Roofs Zoning Petition. [Report]
Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Riverside Neighborhood Protective Zoning Petition. [Report]
Committee Report #1. 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 May 25, 2016 to amend the Zoning Map in the Riverside neighborhood from the existing Residence C-1 to Residence C within the area bounded by Franklin and River Streets and Putnam Avenue.
That's two negative Planning Board recommendations. In addition, the Flat Roofs Zoning Petition was Placed on File due to the Ordinance Committee hearing not being held pursuant to M.G.L. Chapter 40A. The Flat Roofs Zoning Petition does have merit but needs refinement.
Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommendation that the City Council approve an Order to take by eminent domain a parcel of land comprising approximately 5,000 square feet of land located at 859 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge which is presently owned by the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and that the City Council approve an Order appropriating One Million Three Hundred Sixty-Three Thousand Eight Hundred Seventy-Five ($1,363,875) Dollars to the General Fund Law Department Travel & Training (Judgment & Damages) Account from Free Cash.
We don't see too many eminent domain takings, though this is a "friendly taking". It hasn't yet been determined whether this will end up as housing or for expansion of City offices. However, having watched the trend over the last 15+ years where city councillors got expanded office space, magnificent salary increases, and their own designated parking spots (previously were available to others), my guess is that unless this building is used for affordable housing somebody will get bumped up the street to provide even more full-time space in City Hall for our part-time city councillors.
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager review City policies on the availability and use of City office and meeting space for non-City appointed functions by non-City officials. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Mazen on June 6, 2016] [Order #4 of June 6, 2016]
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager review and report back to the City Council on the City’s policies and best practices in the use and supervision of City Council interns. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Mazen on June 6, 2016] [Order #5 of June 6, 2016]
These two Orders were the subject of quite the kerfuffle at last week's City Council meeting. The Orders themselves were worded so neutrally that you had to wonder what motivated Councillor Kelley to write them, but the heated exchange revealed that the attendees of one unofficial gathering somehow connected to one councillor was in conflict with an official meeting scheduled to take place in the same location. It seems pretty clear that if councillors intend to use City Hall as a staging ground for "civic engagement" only peripherally related to the business of the City Council, there will need to be some greater clarity about the rules and protocols. This isn't Dewey Square and people can't just Occupy wherever they please whenever they please.
Order #1. That the Mayor convene a Task Force charged with establishing recommendations for the City Council on what the ideal minimum wage in Cambridge should be, and how to best implement this increase without creating unintended consequences in Cambridge or elsewhere. Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Toomey
I suppose one could argue that the Community Advisory Board on the Living Wage has already been working on this, but what's wrong with a little redundancy? In any case, it has already been established that the City Council does not have the authority to impose a citywide minimum wage. That could change if the state legislature chose to grant such authority, but there are plenty of good reasons why it would be better to maintain a uniform statewide minimum wage in addition to the federal minimum wage.
Order #2. That the City Council reaffirm the month of October as Italian Heritage Month in the City of Cambridge. Councillor Toomey, Councillor Maher
It was interesting to read the actual language of the City Council Order of last week declaring the 2nd Monday of October to be Indigenous Peoples' Day. Nowhere in that Order does it say anything about it no longer being recognized as Columbus Day, so it really now has two designations instead of one having replaced the other. This week's Order simply reinforces the idea that Columbus Day hasn't really been so much about Columbus but rather a commemoration of our brethren with Italian heritage.
Order #4. The City Manager is requested to coordinate with the Election Commission in order to operate at least 5 early polling locations, for the entire day, for the entirety of the 11-day early voting period, coordinate with the appropriate departments to develop and launch an awareness campaign that will educate Cambridge voters, and operate the polling locations as non-precinct based, “Vote Centers,” thereby allowing anyone desiring to vote early the ability to do so at the center most convenient location. Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux
Why not also prescribe the color of the curtains on the voting booths as long as you're micromanaging down to this level? It's one thing for the City Council to express a policy regarding expanded early voting opportunities, but how this should be carried out is still a management issue with real cost consequences. It's not at all clear how many early voting days, hours, or locations are realistically needed, and the cost per day quoted by Common Cause seems completely unrealistic.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate city departments to determine the feasibility of requiring gas pump labels with information about the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels at all gas stations in the City. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern
Why stop there? I'm sure the authors of this Order may also wish to mandate appropriate labeling of beef products based on the same criteria. I'm just wondering what the gas pumps would say. Perhaps something like: "You are an evil bastard for using fossil fuels in your earth-killing machine. Shame on you!" I'm sure they'll also insist on placing signs in front of homes that use natural gas for heating and cooking declaring them to be unmutual enemies of the people.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to coordinate with the appropriate departments to explore voter reward options for municipal elections that are most appealing for citizens and businesses alike. Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern
Suffice to say that higher voter turnout is not a desirable end in itself if the only reason for the additional (likely uninformed) voters is a cash reward or other prize. Perhaps our elected officials could instead start by doing a better job of explaining why casting an informed ballot matters before doling out the cash.
Committee Report #2. 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 2, 2016 to discuss and review a proposed list of community focus groups that the search firm will be conducting with various groups during the month of June and any other business that may properly come before the committee.
The process continues and your input is being actively sought. You can access schedules, documents, and more at www.cambridgema.gov/CityCouncil/citymanagersearch.
Goodbye, Columbus? - On the Cambridge City Council Agenda - June 6, 2016
This week's meeting is a sure bet to bring out hordes of people speaking in favor of (a) housing preferences for "certified artists", (b) voting rights for non-citizens in local elections, and (c) striking the phrase "Columbus Day" from the list of acceptable speech within the City of Cambridge. There are also a few agenda items that actually matter, but they will likely have to wait until after what is expected to be a prolonged period of Public Comment featuring a long list of invitees from one particular city councillor.
Here are the items that drew my attention this week:
Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $42,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Finance (Personnel) Other Ordinary Maintenance account to be used to procure consultant services to assist in the hiring of a new City Manager.
The amount isn't so important nor is the particular consultant (GovHR - based in Chicago) that has been chosen to assist in the search for the next City Manager. What is noteworthy is that according to materials made available at the June 2 meeting of the Government Operations, Rules, and Claims Committee is that a series of 19 Focus Group meetings involving 96 "key constituency groups" is scheduled to take place between Thurs, June 9 and Thurs, June 16 - plus additional Focus Group meetings to bring the total to 28 such meetings. There will also be two drop-in sessions for City employees, one-on-one interviews with each City Council member, and approximately 16 one-on-one meetings with key City staff. The ultimate goal is to identify candidates leading up to a City Council vote to select the next City Manager (hopefully) by the end of September.
You can access schedules, documents, and more at www.cambridgema.gov/CityCouncil/citymanagersearch.
Manager's Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-9, regarding the organization of a Volpe Task Force.
The Community Development Department (CDD) proposes that a small working group (composed of a mix of residents from the surrounding neighborhoods – East Cambridge, the Port/Area 4, and Wellington-Harrington - along with representatives of the Kendall Square business community) be appointed. In Phase 1, the working group would work with staff and a consultant to support the Ordinance Committee’s development of a Volpe framework and would involve assembling the broad program parameters for the project including key ideas such as urban form, public realm, and goals for the character of the area. In Phase 2, the working group's work would inform the rezoning of the Volpe parcel after the General Services Administration (GSA) has selected a developer for the Volpe site.
Manager's Agenda #26. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter as Director of Libraries, effective Aug 23, 2016.
Ms. Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter will have some pretty big shoes to fill, and we all wish her well when she takes the reins of the Library later this summer.
Charter Right #1. That the Housing Committee hold a meeting to discuss the Inclusionary Zoning preferential point system to determine if there are certain occupations that should receive preferential points to prioritize their position on the Inclusionary Zoning list. [Order #7 of May 23, 2016, Amended by Substitution. Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons.]
This is the first of the three agenda items that will likely draw a crowd of invited guests to Public Comment. As I stated when this Order was proposed, this is a walk down a very slippery slope when you start giving housing priorities to people who have chosen specific lifestyles, professions, or hobbies. The original Order specifically called out "certified artists", but this was amended to be non-specific.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with appropriate City personnel to determine the cost and feasibility of adding additional parking levels to the Green Street Garage. Mayor Simmons
That whole block on which the Manning Apartments, the Central Square Branch Library, and the Green Street Parking Garage could use a more comprehensive look. The Manning Apartments are now undergoing renovations. If other Central Square parking lots eventually give way to housing, there will be at least some need for replacement parking and this is the most logical site. There are, of course, some who would simply wish away all motor vehicles, but even with a net drop in motor vehicles there will still be the need for some additional capacity on or near this site should new housing be built or if some additional density weaves its way into Central Square.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Executive Director of the Cambridge Election Commission to publish at an appropriate and clearly identified central location on the City’s website by Aug 1, 2016 all Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Office of Campaign and Political Finance information. Councillor Toomey
All of this information will eventually be available on the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) website. The problem is that it's only available in a timely way for candidates with depository accounts - and this does not include any of the State Representative or State Senate candidates. Those candidates only have to report immediately before each primary and general election and at the end of each year. Since all of the data is reported through the State's OCPF site, there's really little that the City can do other than to provide a link to this site that will only have updated information relatively late in the game.
Order #4. That the City Manager review City policies on the availability and use of City office and meeting space for non-City appointed functions by non-City officials. Councillor Kelley
Order #5. That the City Manager review and report back to the City Council on the City’s policies and best practices in the use and supervision of City Council interns. Councillor Kelley
I'm not quite sure what exactly is being sought here, but I will once again express my misgivings with the whole idea of personal aides for city councillors. There are some people currently serving in this role who would be great as additional staff working for City Council committees, but not as personal assistants. Interns are, I believe, something entirely different. These have generally been unpaid volunteers who work with individual councillors of specific initiatives. Even if they produce great things, they are not City employees and they should not have any special access to City resources, including offices, meeting rooms, or anything else over and above what any ordinary resident may access. More specifically, it needs to be emphasized that City Hall is not a place to build a political organization or movement dressed up as a personal initiative of any individual city councillor.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to assess the cost and feasibility of placing sunscreen dispensers containing broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher at Cambridge parks and playgrounds. Vice Mayor McGovern
Two words - nanny government. These "dispensers" already exist - they're called "stores". You can buy sunscreen there.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Civic Unity Committee, for a joint public hearing held on May 12, 2016 to discuss all issues related to non-citizen representation and outreach in Cambridge.
This is the second of the three agenda items that will likely draw a crowd of invited guests to Public Comment. In addition to the completely relevant and useful discussions about resources for people who have moved to Cambridge from elsewhere, this report also contains a proposed Order furthering the idea of non-citizen voting in Cambridge municipal elections. Cambridge has a long history of being welcoming to immigrants and for providing resources for them. The idea of voting is something completely different and any standards regarding age or citizenship status should be uniform across all cities and towns. If the state legislature wants to take up this issue, so be it, but this is not something Cambridge should be doing unilaterally. Furthermore, there are many people, including me, who feel that Voting and Citizenship are intertwined and that the appropriate way to acquire the right to vote is to become a citizen.
Committee Report #3. 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 May 20, 2016 to review and consider an extension to the current City Manager’s contract, to review and approve a response to the May 4, 2016 Open Meeting Law complaint of John Hawkinson and to continue development and approval of the new City Manager search process.
To the part of this report relating to this frivolous Open Meeting Law complaint, I will only say that just because one has a legal right to do something that consumes time and resources for no useful purpose, this hardly justifies doing so - unless you're primary goal is to waste everybody's time and to alienate those with whom you might otherwise have a cooperative relationship.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on May 24, 2016 to discuss the Green Line Extension Project (GLX).
Just read the report. The Cambridge and Somerville contribution toward making this a reality should be moved along without hesitation, i.e. on the fast track.
Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations Committee and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of Civic Unity Committee, for a joint public hearing held on May 26, 2016 to discuss Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
This is the third of the three agenda items that will likely draw a crowd of invited guests to Public Comment. Suffice to say that regardless how the City Council votes on this, almost everyone, including me, will continue to refer to Columbus Day as Columbus Day - even if we acknowledge some of the more despicable aspects of world history. Most of us don't know much about Christopher Columbus nor do we particularly care about what he did or represented over five centuries ago. Columbus Day has for many of us represented the start of the migration of European people to this continent. That is not something I find in the least way objectionable. It is how my ancestors came to be here generations ago, so it is, in a sense, how I personally came to be here. If there is to be a name change, let's call it Immigration Day and have it be a celebration of all immigrants who came to this continent and who continue to come to this continent and specifically to this country. This is not dismissing any of the great things that may be said of those whose ancestors were here earlier, but let's not choose sides. How about declaring the day before or after Columbus Day to be "Indigenous Peoples' Day" and we can celebrate our choices in our own way. Many people will, of course, just go shopping. - Robert Winters
Update #1: The City Council voted 9-0 to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day. So in Cambridge, it's Goodbye Columbus. Elsewhere, nothing has changed. I suppose the most substantial effect will be in the Cambridge schools where from now on Columbus' name will be associated with Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, and Charlie Manson.
Update #2: The City Council voted to extend the contract of City Manager Rossi through the end of September to allow time to (hopefully) complete the search for the next City Manager.
Budget Adoption Night - Highlights of the May 23, 2016 Cambridge City Council Meeting Agenda
The main order of business for this meeting is the vote to adopt the FY2017 Budget and related loan authorizations. There is, however, nothing to debate. Rarely are there any changes to the City Manager's proposed budget, so this usually amounts to a sequence of well-deserved thank-yous to City staff and the Chair of the Finance Committee for jobs well done. In addition to the committee reports relative to the Budget, there are a few other items of potential interest:
Relative to proposed changes to the current liquor license regulations:
Reconsideration #1. Councillor Devereux filed reconsideration of the vote taken at the City Council meeting of May 9, 2016 on Policy Order #2 as amended that the Public Safety Committee conduct a public hearing to discuss 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 business and that the License Commission refrain from any liquor license regulations changes until said hearing before the Public Safety Committee.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Councillor Jan Devereux, explaining why reconsideration was filed on the order adopted on May 9th pertaining to proposed changes to the city's liquor licensing regulations.
I will not pretend to understand all of the reasons for the License Commission's proposal to revise some of these regulations. Many date to an earlier time and some do not align with current state laws/regulations - hence the need for revision. On the other hand, one could also argue that the state laws and regulation could use some revision as well. For example, the current Cambridge practice of permitting sidewalk dining where the pedestrian way bisects the restaurant and the seating is apparently a no-no. Does anyone seriously believe it would be good to change this? State law also requires any outside dining that includes alcoholic beverages to be essentially enclosed in a steel cage. That's idiotic - but that's the law. [On an unrelated matter, if the legislature feels to compelled to address the matter of who may enter a given bathroom, don't you think they should also address the need to simply HAVE a public bathroom in areas where people may feel the need to use one. Isn't this a civil right?]
I found it interesting that it is not permissible for any licensed establishment to offer or deliver any free alcoholic drinks to any person or group of persons. Where I came from it was very common that after buying a few beers at a bar the bartender would "buy you back one" and, most likely, see a bigger tip later as a result. We even had one sentimental bartender who would sometimes send a free pitcher to your table if you played "Good Night Irene" on the jukebox (he was a widower whose wife's name was Irene). All this generosity and sentimentality is apparently illegal here in the Land of the Puritans.
Regarding the issue of "cap areas" and artificial limits on pouring licenses, this limited supply seems guaranteed to just drive up the value of a transferable license with no concurrent public good. It seems preferable that the License Commission should simply exercise good judgment of a case-by-case basis (assuming that revocation of licenses remains an available option for chronic or egregious offenders).
Regarding the notion that there may never have been a legal basis on which the City Council could (and did) delegate to the License Commission some regulatory authority, I shudder to think how things would be otherwise. A sizable fraction of City Council business would be consumed by this, and I can easily imagine Public Comment being dominated by patrons and potential patrons of various bars and nightclubs.
I continue to marvel at how basic maintenance-level legislation often evades the state legislature - simple corrections for ordinary purposes. Why does it remain so difficult to adjust the funding formulas for charter schools? Why can't we have a more rational way of filling legislative vacancies? How about making a few modifications to the Open Meeting Law to address the problem of frivilous complaints? If the legislature can devote time to who can use which bathroom, then surely they can take up some of these other matters.
Relative to the vote to approve the FY2017 Budget:
Unfinished Business #5-11. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow:
#5: $17,350,000 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Alewife Watershed, Cambridgeport Neighborhood, and areas in Harvard Square as well as the Sewer Capital Repairs Program.
#6: $5,000,000 to provide funds for a Comprehensive Facilities Improvement Plan.
#7: $2,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.
#8: $149,600,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including construction for the King Open/Cambridge Street Schools & Community Complex, building envelope repairs at the Fletcher Maynard Academy, and a new boiler at the Amigos School.
#9: $150,000 to provide funds for the purchase and installation of mechanical components to ensure the operational integrity of the elevator at the Robert W. Healy Public Safety Facility.
#10: $4,000,000 to provide funds for the renovations of the Out of Town News Kiosk Building and adjacent plaza area in Harvard Square.
#11: $10,000,000 to provide funds for the design and construction of a multi-use path/greenway along the eastern Grand Junction railroad right of way from Broadway to the city line.
That's a total of $188,100,000 in Loan Orders - dominated by the cost of construction of the King Open/Cambridge Street Schools & Community Complex.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearings held on May 5, 2016, May 12, 2016 and May 10, 2016 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2017 and recommending adoption of the General Fund Budget in the amount of $538,608,450.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 12, 2016 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2017 and recommending adoption of the Water fund Budget in the amount of $13,969,210.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 12, 2016 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2017 and recommending adoption of the Public Investment Budget in the amount of $16,890,570.
These are the three traditional Finance Committee reports associated with the Budget approval.
Relative to City Manager appointments to City Boards & Commissions:
Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following members to the Cambridge Human Rights Commission for a term of three years, effective May 23, 2016: Olinda Marshall and Chara Itoka
Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following members to the Cambridge Arts Council Advisory Board for a term of three years, effective June 1, 2016: Luis Edgardo Cotto, Lori Lander and Stella Aguirre McGregor.
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the reappointment of the following members to the Cambridge Public Art Commission for a term of three years, effective June 1, 2016: David De Celis and Dina Deitsch.
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Coordinating Council for Children, Youth and Families (aka Family Policy Council) for the 2016-17 term: Tony Clark.
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Harvard Square Advisory Board for a term of two years, effective May 23, 2016: Bridget Dinsmore and Maximillan Frank.
Manager's Agenda #21. 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 May 23, 2016: Patrick Tedesco.
Manager's Agenda #22. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Police Review & Advisory Board for a term of five years, effective May 23, 2016: Ted Robitaille.
Many appointments to Cambridge Civic University - no tuition required. Being an active member of a City volunteer board provides a great civic education as well as an opportunity to fully participate as a resident.
Other matters on the City Manager's Agenda:
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $10,500 from the General Fund City Council Travel and Training account to the General Fund City Council Other Ordinary Maintenance account for the facilitation of a goal setting session on June 8.
I hope and expect that this is a public meeting, but I'll be happy to just watch without comment.
Manager's Agenda #16. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $404,505 associated with Forest City’s 300 Massachusetts Avenue building project (Ordinance #1354) from the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund to the Grant Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance account which will be used to support middle income housing programs for Cambridge residents with consideration of neighborhoods impacted by development.
Manager's Agenda #17. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $375,000 associated with Novartis’ Special District 15 (opposite the NECCO Building; Ordinance #1338) from the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund to the Grant Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance which will be used to support middle income housing programs for Cambridge residents with consideration of neighborhoods impacted by development.
Every little bit helps.
Manager's Agenda #23. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, requesting the City Council move to Executive Session for an update on the potential acquisition of property located at 859 Massachusetts Avenue by eminent domain.
This has been the home of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce since the 1970s and any eminent domain action will be what is known as a "friendly taking". I'm not sure what City functions might end up there. There's a neat photo of the ribbon-cutting when the Chamber first moved there.
Notable City Council Orders & Resolutions:
Resolution #3. Urge all Cantabrigians to pause on Memorial Day, and every day, to remember and pay tribute to our nation’s defenders, living and deceased, for their service and devotion to country. Vice Mayor McGovern
With every passing year I find myself feeling more and more grateful to all the veterans who have served.
Order #5. That the City Council formally go on record declaring June 2, 2016 to be Gun Violence Awareness Day, and in encouraging all Cambridge residents to work proactively and collaboratively in preventing this shameful epidemic of violence to continue. Mayor Simmons
Cambridge has seen its own share of gun violence during the last few years with several murders still unsolved (or at least unprosecuted for lack of witnesses coming forward to help make a solid case for prosecutors).
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to collaborate with the Cambridge Arts Council to create a process for Artist Certification to ensure that applicants are full-time/career practicing artists and is requested to prioritize the placement of artists in the Inclusionary Housing Program by assigning artists who have been certified by the Cambridge Arts Council one additional point in the Rental Application Pool. Councillor Mazen, Councillor Cheung
This is not the first time there has been a City Council Order like this, and I remain unconvinced that this is a wise idea. It is never a good idea to play favorites like this. If we want to give preferential treatment to artists, what about the thousands of others who work traditional labor-intensive jobs at less than a living wage? Do child-care workers deserve less that artists? I can assure you that there are also many adjunct faculty who have annual incomes comparable to starving artists. Don't they count as much as artists? Perhaps everyone should just declare themselves to be performance artists and fill out the appropriate application form at the Cambridge Arts Council. - Robert Winters
At the Signpost Up Ahead - the May 9, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here are some of the items that drew my attention this week:
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Conservation Commission for a term to expire November : Dorothy Altman, Edward Pickering, Purvi Patel
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 Fresh Pond Master Plan Advisory Board effective May 9, 2016: Janice Snow (3-year term), Jim Barton (3-year term), Janet Burns (2-year term), Deborah Masterson (3-year term), Ann Roosevelt (3-year term), Claudia Thompson (2-year term), Susan Agger (2-year term)
I continue to celebrate all of the great people who agree to volunteer for Cambridge boards and commissions. Not only is it a great opportunity to offer your own insights and talents in the service of your community, it's also a great education that costs nothing but the time you put into the endeavor.
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Police Superintendent Christopher J. Burke as Acting Police Commissioner, effective May 8, 2016.
When I heard about this at last Thursday's Budget Hearings, I couldn't help but think of things said by outgoing Police Commissioner Robert Haas and former Commissioner Ronnie Watson regarding the "bench strength" we have developed in the Police Department and other City departments. We often have multiple great people who can step up into a leadership role either temporarily or permanently. Congratulations to Commissioner Burke, and grateful thanks to Commisioner Robert Haas for his years of service!
Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-39, regarding the Green Line Extension (GLX) Project.
Much could be said about the latest developments in the status of the proposed Green Line Extension and the unprecedented offers of financial assistance from Cambridge, Somerville, and other parties to improve the chances of it becoming a reality. It's definitely worth reading the multiple communications from City Manager Rossi (and Somerville Mayor Curtatone) on this topic. Even if the project is scaled back and is somewhat less spectacular than originally proposed, this is something that really needs to more forward in some form and I hope the contributions from Cambridge and Somerville help to influence the decision to carry on.
Resolution #4. That the City Council go on record congratulating the 2015-2016 Cambridge Rindge and Latin Boys’ Basketball players, coaches, and support staff for their well-earned championship and recognizing them for their dedication and hard work. Vice Mayor McGovern
I'm crossing my fingers hoping that our heroic Cambridge Falcons will be there for the reading of this resolution!
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all relevant City staff and departments to examine the feasibility of posting advisory signage to broadly encourage a motor vehicle speed limit of 20 to 25 miles per hour on City streets. Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern
I have been thinking a lot lately about how often the wrong questions and wrong solutions are offered in a variety of settings. This is one of them. As stated in this Order, there is plenty of evidence available showing how rapidly the risk of fatalities and severe injuries increases with motor vehicle speed. However, there are also compelling arguments that can be made in support of common standards across the borders of cities and towns. The issue really isn't what speed limit Cambridge or some other town should have the right to impose. The real issue is what the common standards should be for different kinds of roads and situations.
For example, on the many local one-way streets in Cambridge where there is one relatively narrow lane with cars parked on either side, the speed limit should be no more than 25mph because there is simply no time to otherwise react if someone were to dart out from between parked cars. Also, on these and other streets, no motor vehicle should ever pass a cyclist or pedestrian without at least 3 or 4 feet of clearance - and never at a great differential in speed. These are the kinds of laws that should be adjusted, and they should be adjusted statewide rather than by individual municipality. This is not just about whether or not a town is "thickly settled" and thereby subject to a 30mph speed limit (which is often not enforced other than to raise revenue). Standards for speed limits, sight lines, lane width, and more should be based on actual safety rather than political discretion. The proposal contained in this Order and in a concurrent effort in Boston should be addressed more comprehensively by the state legislature. Even the name "thickly settled" speaks to the archaic nature of how speed limits and safety standards are established and enforced.
Committee Report #2. 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 May 3, 2016.
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Councillor Jan Devereux, suggesting a random drawing of four City Councillors to serve on the Preliminary Screening Committee on the city manager's selection process.
The process continues. I'm perplexed at the addition of an "interfaith community representative" to the proposed Preliminary-Screening Committee. Unless the next City Manager will be delivering sermons, I see absolutely no reason to rub out the line between church and state here. Regarding Councillor Devereux's proposed random selection of City Council representatives in the screening process, I will say only that there are reasons why a majority of councillors choose a Mayor and how that Mayor chooses people to chair important City Council committees like the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee. There is still a place for good judgment here that is best not replaced by the successive flipping of coins or drawing of names from a hat. - Robert Winters
Resolution #1. Congratulations to the recipients of the 2016 Outstanding City Employee Award. Mayor Simmons
One of my favorite events. Special congratulations to Sandy Albano. The Awards Ceremony is this Friday, May 6 at 9:30am in the Sullivan Chamber at City Hall.
Order #2. That the Economic Development and University Relations Committee be and hereby is requested to review City Ordinance 12.08.010 Encroachments onto streets – Permit required – Fee – Exceptions to discuss whether including additional approval criteria and adjusting the permitting fees is appropriate. Councillor Devereux, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Mazen
On the Table #3-5. Three separate applications requesting permission for a sandwich board sign in front of the respective premises.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting additional information on sandwich board sign application for Mexicali Burrito.
How did sandwich boards get elevated to the highest level of attention in this City Council term? Can the color of sidewalks be far behind? Is adjusting the fee required for displaying a sandwich board sign really necessary? I often encounter a sandwich sign partially obstructing the sidewalk in front of a small place on Mass. Ave. on my way to MIT. I just move the sign to a location where it's less of an obstruction. Problem solved. If a business continues to obstruct the public way after a warning, just revoke the permit. Again, problem solved. Recently I saw a complaint filed on See-Click-Fix about a mattress that was set out on rubbish day on Inman Street that had toppled onto the sidewalk. Wouldn't it have been simpler to just move the mattress out of the way than to photograph it and file a complaint with the City? It's not like that property owner will be putting out mattresses every week. Simple solutions aren't complicated.
Order #4. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to coordinate with the appropriate City departments to publish a Cambridge voter guide to be distributed to each household in Cambridge a month before the 2017 municipal election. Councillor Mazen, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern
Interesting proposal. Having curated the Cambridge Candidate Pages for the last 7 municipal elections, I'm in a rather unique position to comment on this. My purpose in setting up the Candidate Pages was always to provide a neutral, level playing field with the hope that it would mitigate the advantages that incumbents and candidates with very deep pockets had in getting their name and campaigns out to voters. Judging from the number of hits, especially in the days immediately before each municipal election, the Candidate Pages have been quite successful.
Some of the things that you may not know about is that in every election there are candidates who fail to provide basic candidate information even after repeated requests, candidates who frequently ask to change their posted information, candidates who submit statements that are truth-challenged, and candidates who are totally uncooperative - even though the site is completely neutral. There is also the rather severe constraint that this imposes on me personally since I have to refrain from saying what I really think about the various candidates in order to maintain some impartiality as the curator of the Candidate Pages. If the City chooses to go forward with this, I suppose this would give me the freedom to say exactly what I think about the candidates - something I am often asked to do and which I have resisted doing ever since I started the Candidate Pages. I may still choose to be impartial, but having this option does carry with it a certain appeal.
I can't help but wonder how things will play out when some of the more "out there" candidates object to what's permitted to go into the proposed voter guide. Will fact checking be required? Who will be in charge of putting this together and interacting with the candidates and their campaigns? This could open an interesting can of worms. I might speculate that with this free political advertising this could lead to local political parties (or entities that are effectively political parties) recruiting scores of candidates just to pack the pages with their platform. When all the fringe candidates get included, this might end up looking more like a comic book than a voter guide. - Robert Winters
Real Money - The City of Cambridge FY2017 Budget tops the April 25, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda
One of the things that distinguishes a city manager submitted budget from what you might see in a city with a strong mayor form of government is its consistency from year to year. Rather than see budgets for individual departments or initiatives skyrocket or plummet depending on which voters the mayor is courting, we generally see in the Cambridge budgets predictable changes based on rational objectives. That's worth remembering the next time someone tries to convince you that we need to change the charter.
Here are what I see as the most notable agenda items this week:
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the FY2017 submitted budget and appropriation orders. [$560,592,915 total proposed FY17 Operating Budget - a 5.4% increase over FY2016; $13,969,210 Water Fund; $16,890,570 Public Investment Fund; (plus the total of $188,100,000 in Loan Orders - see #5-11 below)]
Communications and Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Judith T. Martin, Executive Secretary to the School Committee transmitting a copy of an order from the School Committee recommending the FY17 General Fund Budget of the Cambridge Public Schools be adopted in the sum of $172,793,980.00.
The City Manager and his Finance staff are expected to give a Budget Overview at this meeting during which they'll provide additional details (and a possible correction to the apparently missing Conservation Commission budget). The FY2017 Budget Book (either in print or online) is also expected to be made available around the time of the meeting. The Budget Hearings conducted by the City Council's Finance Committee commence May 5.
For the sake of comparison, here's a table showing how some of the budgets have changed over the last year, 2 years, and 12 years.
Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-14, regarding the possibility of closing two lanes to cars on Memorial Drive on April 29th for Walk/Ride Day.
I hate to say "I told you so", but... no, I actually enjoy saying "I told you so." The City's application was not approved due to concerns of the State Police around traffic safety and congestion. There was never any realistic chance that this would be approved. I told you so.
Manager's Agenda #5-11. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow:
#5: $17,350,000 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Alewife Watershed, Cambridgeport Neighborhood, and areas in Harvard Square as well as the Sewer Capital Repairs Program.
#6: $5,000,000 to provide funds for a Comprehensive Facilities Improvement Plan.
#7: $2,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.
#8: $149,600,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including construction for the King Open/Cambridge Street Schools & Community Complex, building envelope repairs at the Fletcher Maynard Academy, and a new boiler at the Amigos School.
#9: $150,000 to provide funds for the purchase and installation of mechanical components to ensure the operational integrity of the elevator at the Robert W. Healy Public Safety Facility.
#10: $4,000,000 to provide funds for the renovations of the Out of Town News Kiosk Building and adjacent plaza area in Harvard Square.
#11: $10,000,000 to provide funds for the design and construction of a multi-use path/greenway along the eastern Grand Junction railroad right of way from Broadway to the city line.
That's a total of $188,100,000 in Loan Orders - dominated by the cost of construction of the King Open/Cambridge Street Schools & Community Complex.
Manager's Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a report on potential issues related to the Barrett, et al. Zoning Amendment.
As promised on the night the Barrett Petition was passed, the proposed amendments have arrived.
Manager's Agenda #20. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge receiving a 5-STAR Rating from STAR Communities (STAR) - the highest score ever given in the country and Cambridge is one of only four cities nationally to earn the top 5-STAR rating.
More gold stars for Cambridge.
Unfinished Business #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 Mar 24, 2016 to discuss a zoning petition by the Sage Cannabis, Inc. to amend the Zoning Ordinance in Section 20.700 Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts by creating an additional Medical Marijuana Overlay District (MMD-3). Question comes of Passing To Be Ordained on or after Apr 18, 2016. Planning Board hearing held on Mar 15, 2016. Petition expires June 22, 2016.
Manager's Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-34, which requested a legal opinion on the legality of the Zoning Petition filed by Sage Cannabis, Inc. For a medical marijuana dispensary and whether it is spot zoning.
Communications and Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from Councillor Craig A. Kelley, regarding MDD-3 Special District Zoning Petition or the draft letter from the City Manager of non-opposition to the Department of Public Health for Sage Cannabis, Inc.
The Sage Cannabis Petition will likely sail through ordination at this meeting, but the communication from Councillor Kelley is interesting. Apparently, in some other places where marijuana dispensaries have been approved there were agreements signed that would produce revenues for the host cities. It's a bit odd that Cambridge with its host of community benefit and other mitigation protocols in place never asked for anything from Sage Cannabis.
Communication #1. A communication was received from Steven C. Marsh, Managing Director, Real Estate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Investment Management Company, 238 Main Street, providing a brief update on several requirements related to the Kendall Square zoning (PUD-5).
This letter notes that:
2) MIT has been working with the City to finalize the property transfer of 35 Cherry Street. The City is working through a community process to determine the future use of the parcel, after which the closing and the transfer of title will be finalized. The City's acquisition of 35 Cherry Street includes the stipulation that the parcel be used "in perpetuity in a manner that directly benefit residents in the Area Four Neighborhood and surrounding communities."
3) MIT's $500,000 contribution to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority's Grand Junction pathway project between Main Street and Broadway has enabled that work to proceed to the point that a grand opening celebration is now being planned for the spring.
Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of Suzanne Schell Pearce. Mayor Simmons, Councillor Maher
Cambridge has lost one of the most kind-hearted activists I personally ever met.
Order #1. That the City Council go on record urging the National League of Cities to move the venue for the NLC City Summit scheduled to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, in November 2017 to another state which does not have such discriminatory legislation on the books. Mayor Simmons
Punishing the local businesses who had no say whatsoever in what laws their state government chose to pass.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council and the community with a response to the concerns and assessment of the Bring Your Own Bag ordinance. Mayor Simmons
This might also be a good time to get some feedback on reactions to the proposed polystyrene ban set to go into effect later this year. There's nothing wrong with tweaking ordinances when necessary.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department, the Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Affairs, and other appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of waiving the motor vehicle excise tax for electric vehicles. Councillor Devereux
First, this would require authorization from the state. Second, it's a slippery road to travel when you start taxing people differently based on what you perceive to be better behavior. Why not charge different excise taxes for people who use their vehicles less frequently?
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council if any progress has been made on the willingness of the City of Cambridge to contribute to a successful Green Line Extension and if there has been conversations with local developers regarding the same. Councillor Toomey
Though I suppose you can make the case that "local developers" and cities through which public transit passes derive benefit from the presence of the transit, this is still a sorry state of affairs when the state and the MBTA cannot manage their fiscal affairs to maintain and enhance their assets.
Order #8. City Council opposition to any off-peak hour fare surcharges as a means of mitigation for continued off-peak hours T service and support for a fair and equitable solution to mitigating the loss of late night T service, specifically one that does not unduly burden those with the least flexibility in their reliance on an affordable means of off-hours transportation. Councillor Cheung
I didn't know this was even being considered. It is worth mentioning that when the T shuts down at night the cost of transportation goes up considerably for those who must then take taxis or one of the pseudo-taxi services.
Committee Report #2. 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 Apr 6, 2016 to continue to discuss the development of the process for the selection of a new City Manager.
The process continues. Hopefully not for too long and leading to a good outcome. If the Council becomes deadlocked, I'm happy to make the decision. - Robert Winters
Up the Inclusionary - Hot Topics on the April 11, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here are the relatively few agenda items that seem interesting this week:
City Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, recommending the reappointment of Conrad Crawford to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.
City Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, recommending appointment of Naomie Stephen to the Cambridge Housing Authority.
These are the only two City Boards for which City Council approval is required for appointments by the City Manager. Under recently amended protocols, these will each have a City Council committee hearing prior to coming back to the City Council for a vote.
This is by far the most significant agenda item. Any change to Inclusionary Zoning would be a zoning amendment, so this matter will now have to be referred to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board for further deliberation. The study and the Manager's recommendation call for a substantial increase in the inclusionary requirement. If I read it correctly, the current 15% requirement (which ends up being under 12% of the new units created after the density bonus is added in) would go up to somewhere between 17% and 20% after the density bonus is added. Some activists will, no doubt, want an even higher percentage, but there are at least some indications that the sky is no longer the limit in terms of housing prices and rents. There may be some logic in exercising at least a little caution in increasing the mandatory requirements.
Resolution #4. Resolution on the death of Dorothy Steele. Councillor Toomey
If you didn't see the recent Eric Moskowitz article on Dorothy Steele on the front page of the Boston Globe (Apr 5, 2016), you really should. It was one of the most beautifully written tributes I've ever read in a newspaper.
Order #2. That all future Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee meetings related to the selection of a new City Manager be televised. Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux
The actual level of interest in this process among the general public is not nearly as great as the sponsors of the Order seem to think. Interest will definitely pick as we get nearer to an actual vote, but for now it's just the usual suspects.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to write a letter to the Department of Public Health indicating the City of Cambridge's non-opposition for Sage Cannabis Inc., application to operate a RMD in the Business B-2 (MMD-3 Zoning) District within the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern
I can certainly understand why the City Council might support a zoning change to allow Sage Cannabis to operate a medical marijuana dispensary at a location not previously permitted under zoning, but does the City Council really have to also write them a letter of recommendation? Surely the zoning change should be sufficient. - Robert Winters
No Foolin' – Coming up at the April 4 Cambridge City Council meeting
Every once in a while, reality can be like an April Fools joke on an April Fools joke. As I was preparing to post my annual April Fools Edition of the Cambridge Civic Journal, along came Order #1 on this agenda. See below.
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and other relevant City departments to consider the pending State legislation and pending legislation in the City of Boston and any other actions that would allow Cambridge to institute municipal lobbying regulations. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Kelley on Mar 21, 2016.]
As I stated in advance of the previous meeting, this is a "solution" in search of a problem. Modeled on a similar proposal being explored in Boston, this Order would require that "lobbyists ... to file twice-yearly reports declaring campaign contributions, the names of their clients, policies that they tried to influence or that they advocated on behalf of, compensation received from clients, and dates of lobbying communications." Who exactly are we talking about here? Is this specifically targeting property owners and their representatives who bring forward zoning petitions or file Special Permit applications? Would this also apply to people employed by the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the government relations people associated with the city's major universities? Would representatives of hotel worker unions or the Sierra Club have to register and provide a log of all their activities? Why not also require anyone with a financial interest in the outcome of any City administration or City Council action to register and to provide detailed records of all of their interactions? What exactly is the problem that this measure seeks to cure? Should a residents organization registered as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit also then be required to divulge all of their contributions and expenditures if they exceed the minimum threshold?
Charter Right #3. That the City Manager is requested to update the City Council on the effects of the removal of sidewalk vaults in Central Square. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Kelley on Mar 21, 2016.]
Once again, this is just one of many things that continue to need attention in Central Square. See page 24 of the Central Square Action Plan (1987) which states; "Even upon completion of the MBTA project there will be many areas without trees or greenery because of the extensive vault and utility system that lies beneath the sidewalks. Improvement and maintenance of these improvements to Central Square's physical image, both public and private, is essential to gain consumer confidence and interest." Next time you walk through Central Square, take note of the broken sidewalk pavement, the missing, sunken, or heaving bricks (especially neat the T entrances), the number of dead or dying trees, and the tree wells that serve little function other than trip hazards.
Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from the Riverside Neighborhood Protective Zoning Proposal to amend the Zoning Map and the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by changing the current zoning designation for the parcels within the Putnam Avenue-Franklin Street and River Street boundaries from C-1 to C zoning.
Though I may need a registered municipal lobbyist to help me read and understand the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance, as near as I can tell this would reduce the permitted Floor/Area Ratio (FAR) from 0.75 to 0.6 (compare to 0.5 for Res A districts), increase the minimum lot area from 1500 sq. ft. to 1800 sq. ft., and increase the minimum ration of private open space from 30% to 36%. The biggest question I have is what fraction of residential properties in Riverside that might now be legally conforming to the Code would be made nonconforming. Would this change make it all but impossible for homeowners to make even modest changes to their buildings without have to expend a lot of time on money seeking a variance (that they might likely not even get)?
Resolution #7. Resolution on the death of Peter Sheinfeld. Councillor Toomey, Councillor Maher, Mayor Simmons
Peter has been a friend for many years. This was an entirely unexpected death - here one day gone the next. Peter had a constellation of friends as eclectic as Peter's many interests. I'll have more to say elsewhere - especially when some of the people who have known Peter over the years get together soon to exchange recollections.
Order #1. That the City Council go on record asking the Massachusetts State Legislature to review the symbolism of the Official Seal of Massachusetts to determine whether it may be perpetuating or promoting hurtful symbolism. Mayor Simmons
I had just put the finishing touches on an April Fools joke about the City of Cambridge changing its City seal to obliterate any and all references to anything more controversial than Winnie the Pooh when I saw this City Council order on this week's agenda. Is this what the future holds - that every historical reference has to be sanitized? This has become ridiculous. I'm sure somebody will be offended no matter what.
In any case, here's what Wikipedia has to say on the subject: "The seal was adopted by the Provincial Congress on Dec 13, 1780. The shield depicts an Algonquian Native American with bow and arrow; the arrow is pointed downward, signifying peace. A white star with five points appears next to the figure's head. A blue ribbon (blue, signifying the Blue Hills of Quincy, Canton and Milton) surrounds the shield, bearing the state motto "Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem" This comes from the Book of Mottoes in the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen, Denmark; written about 1659 by Algernon Sydney, English soldier and politician. It was adopted in 1775 by the Provincial Congress and the literal translation is, "With a sword, she seeks quiet peace under liberty." Although the looser English translation more commonly used is, "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty." Above the shield is the state military crest: a bent arm holding a broadsword aloft. The sword has its blade up, to remind that it was through the American Revolution that independence was won."
Go ahead. Be offended. Get a life.
Order #3. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinance in 5.23 Height Exceptions Proposal for Converting Flat Concave Roofs for Green Uses be referred to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board for hearing and report. Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern
This seems to be a reintroduction of something Councillor Kelley had pushed in the last City Council term. There is certainly some merit in the goal.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to take steps necessary to impose a moratorium, to include the possibility of the City Council implementing a zoning change, on the permitting of all new restaurants where a wood-fired oven is used as a significant method of food preparation. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
I can't say that a moratorium is warranted here, but one thing I will say is that in this age when "mixed-use districts" are being encouraged is that there doesn't seem to nearly enough attention paid to what the reasonable standards and expectations should be for places (like mine) where businesses and residents are crowded together. Perhaps it's not enough to just hope that the Cambridge License Commission will ensure that everyone gets along.
This specific Order is about emissions from restaurants (I'm interested in which ones in particular triggered the Order), but there's not a whole lot to be found in the Zoning Ordinance addressing the reality that some businesses that might operate late into the night in the middle of Central Square or Harvard Square might not be a welcome addition to a more neighborhood-scale mixed use district. This is something I got to thinking about a few years ago during the MIT/Kendall rezoning. Many people came out advocating for more housing (generally a great thing) but there was little attention paid to whether that housing should be located in the busiest location in Kendall Square or perhaps, more appropriately, with at least some small separation from all the activity. I suppose you could argue that tall buildings provide such separation but maybe being a short walk away is preferred.
Sorry for the digression, but I do think that the issue of well-functioning mixed-use districts that don't drive people crazy is a topic that needs more discussion.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to initiate a process to add high-capacity dedicated motor scooter and motorcycle on-street parking within dense commercial areas, taking care to coordinate with local residents, businesses, and business associations. Councillor Mazen
The City already does this during the warmer weather months for bikes, so why not? If the City is already OK with removing a few parking spaces in favor of bike parking, allowing for scooters and maybe creating smaller spaces for motorcycles seems worth considering. We're already seeing some of these scooters parked on sidewalks. On a related matter, we could really use a purge of all the derelict bicycles that are occupying the various bike posts and bike racks around the city.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works, the City Arborist and any other relevant City departments to discuss the feasibility of an education campaign that would be available to all property owners through tax bills and other sources to educate residents about watering street trees near their property, refilling Gator Bags, and other tips for caring for street trees and the possibility of implementing an "Adopt-a-Tree" program. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
There's already a really good program in place for this. It's called: "Just Do It." Seriously, if there's a street tree near your house that needs a little love, just adopt it and start taking care of it. Nobody from the City is going to haul you into court for doing so, and the costs are small enough that you hardly need a tax abatement to cover them. I've been pruning and watering trees in my neighborhood for years. The core message in this Order is that people just need a little more information and initiative - and that's worth it. If you do the math you'll quickly realize that when it comes to basic neighborhood maintenance (including keeping storm drains clear), there's no way it can get done if you expect others to do it. So..... Just Do It.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to investigate the possibility of allowing local businesses to voluntarily donate collected bag fees to non-profit organizations, the newly designed Community Benefits Fund, or the Cambridge Non-Profit Coalition. Councillor Cheung
The language is curious, don't you think? Do we really have to take legislative action to allow local businesses to make voluntary donations to non-profit organizations? Perhaps it would be appropriate to change "allow" to "encourage" and provide some suggestions for where the fees might be directed.
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with the number of parking spaces in the City of Cambridge as well as the number of cars registered in the city. Councillor Cheung
I would like to see this information, but the aggregate totals have little value. It would be much better if this could perhaps also be done by neighborhood or other some convenient divisions.
Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to develop a timeline for the implementation of the C2 non-zoning recommendations. Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons
While many of us appreciate the intention here, it needs to be pointed out that those non-zoning recommendations are just recommendations and some of them are pretty general and not necessarily in a form that can or should be implemented. The C2 recommendations were to be further refined with the help of the Central Square Advisory Committee, but that process could use a little more attention (and a little spark).
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to ban all taxpayer-funded travel to North Carolina due to the recently passed discriminatory legislation against the LGBTQ community. Councillor Toomey
The specific legislation is kind of backwards, but one core aspect of the North Carolina law is not so different than how we do things in Massachusetts. I'm not talking about bathrooms here, but rather the principle that some things are best done uniformly throughout a state and some things can and should be determined at the discretion of individual cities and towns. In Massachusetts there are many things that can only be enacted via Home Rule legislation.
Order #20. City Council support of State Senate Bill S. 1022 which would allow municipalities in Massachusetts to set their own minimum wage without contest. Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern
Here's a perfect illustration of the dilemma of who should have authority in enacting a law - the city or the state. Personally, I feel that minimum wage laws are appropriately determined at the federal level and at the state level - and NOT at the municipal level. The same was true about the smoking ban and it's also true for standards on voting. Uniformity across municipal boundaries is generally a good idea. If you want to adjust the minimum wage, talk to your state legislators and maybe suggest different zones in the state, but don't have different standards in every city and town.
Committee Report #1. 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 Mar 11, 2016 to discuss the continued employment of City Manager Richard Rossi beyond June 30, 2016 and to initiate negotiations for a successor employment contract and any other related business put forth.
Committee Report #3. 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 Mar 23, 2016 to discuss the development of the process for the selection of a new City Manager.
The process has begun and the next meeting is Wed, Apr 6. I just hope everyone can stay on task and not try to cure all ills when they should be focusing on hiring a person. I also really hope we can identify someone (soon) who can not only manager a city with a large budget but who also already has great familiarity with Cambridge and its people.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting the determination on an Open Meeting Law Complaint of Kim Courtney dated Oct 28, 2015, amended on Jan 5, 2016.
There really does come a point when the filing of complaints rises to the level of harassment. I'm glad this pointless complaint has been dismissed, but it's a shame that time and money had to be wasted on the changing of these particular diapers.
Happy Spring! Coming up at the March 21, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here are a few items that aroused my interest:
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Peter L. Cohen, et al., Zoning Petition, with a recommendation that the issue be incorporated into a broader study.
Not much to say about this except that the Planning Board recommends that "the issue of parking location may be best studied as part of the Envision Cambridge citywide planning process." There are some who would like to freeze all new construction until that process is complete (which is silly), but there are lots of issues major and minor that can be made part of that discussion without bringing the city to a screeching halt.
Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Complete Streets Policy and Council Order.
Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the adoption of a Policy Order committing Vision Zero, a set of goals of eliminating transportation fatalities and serious injuries.
I don't think anyone can argue against the general concept of safer streets that accommodate all modes of travel. My only concern here is that there needs to be some understanding that there is no universal agreement on how best to accomplish this. Some people will not be satisfied until all cyclists are removed from the roadways under the dogma that creating segregated facilities is the only safe way to accommodate cyclists. Many of us disagree strongly with that assumption except where there is a great differential in relative speeds of cyclists and motor vehicles, e.g. along most DCR parkways. I certainly hope that in accepting these reports there is no implied endorsement of segregated cycling facilities in all or even most circumstances.
Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2016 and ending Mar 31, 2017.
The Bottom Line: Another 0% increase in the water consumption block rate and a 3.2% increase in the sewer use block rate, resulting in a 2.4% increase in the combined rate for the period beginning Apr 1, 2016 and ending Mar 31, 2017. This is the sixth consecutive year that the City has been able to produce a 0% increase in the water rate.
Resolution #1. Congratulations to the CRLS Boys Basketball Team on their hard-earned semifinals victory and best wishes in the upcoming State Championship games against St. John's Shrewsbury. Councillor Toomey, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone
You can add the Division 1 State Championship to the resolution. The Cambridge Falcons (CRLS Boys Basketball) won the state title Saturday night against St. John's, 66-51.
Resolution #2. Retirement of Susan Flannery from the Cambridge Public Library. Mayor Simmons
We have been blessed with Susan Flannery as Director of the Cambridge Public Library for over two decades. Enjoy your retirement! The Order declares March 30 as Susan Flannery Day in the City of Cambridge. Celebrate by reading a book!
Resolution #3. That the City Council declare Apr 9, 2016 to be Tom Lehrer Day in the City of Cambridge. Mayor Simmons
Yet another fine example of how mathematicians can be good at more than just mathematics. The Resolution declares April 9 to be Tom Lehrer Day in the City of Cambridge. Coincidentally, that's also the anniversary of my own mathematics doctoral defense - a personal holiday of sorts. I think I have all of Tom Lehrer's records.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council as to what steps may have already been undertaken to examine the question of the legality of tying the Living Wage Ordinance to the Linkage Ordinance, what additional measures must be taken in order to obtain a definitive answer, and what the timeline for this process is projected to be. Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern
It's not entirely clear what is intended here, but I don't think it's such a good idea to intermingle policies regarding what can be built in Cambridge and how developers or commercial tenants should pay their workers. To the best of my understanding, there are also no requirements about hiring union workers in the zoning code, and only the Commonwealth and the federal government have the authority to determine any minimum wage or living wage.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and other relevant City departments to consider the pending State legislation and pending legislation in the City of Boston and any other actions that would allow Cambridge to institute municipal lobbying regulations. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen
Not only is this unnecessary given the limited authority of city councillors under the Plan E Charter, it also reads like an accusation from three city councillors directed at their colleagues. All campaign contributions are now easily accessible public records. There is no need for any additional layer of bureaucracy. This is a "solution" in search of a problem.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Managing Director of the Cambridge Water Department for the purpose of creating an online database of lead service lines similar to the one created by the Boston Water and Sewer Commission and to disseminate information to residents about the Cambridge Water Department's free quality testing and lead service pipe replacement services. Councillor Toomey
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Water Department to create an informational web page that will provide plumbing infrastructure installation tips for residents, commercial customers, and contractors in the City of Cambridge. Councillor Cheung
Unlike other cities across the country, the City of Cambridge has been way ahead of the game in terms of testing and replacement of lead services. My house is a good example. I replaced my old service in conjunction with an emergency repair by the Water Department some years ago, and my building has been one of the City's lead and copper testing sites for nearly three decades. We are definitely not Flint, Michigan.
Order #7. That the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Art, and Celebrations Committee and the Civic Unity Committee hold a joint hearing to determine the feasibility of facilitating the appointment of an “Non-Citizen Representative” to the City Council. Councillor Mazen, Mayor Simmons
This is a ridiculous proposal. There has never been a day in the history of Cambridge when a non-citizen couldn't bring concerns to any of the elected city councillors with every expectation that those concerns would be addressed. All five items proposed are already available to any member of the public - citizen or not. It is also abundantly clear that the appropriate City Council Committee for the substance of this Order would be the Government Operations Committee - and neither of the two committees specified in the Order.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to update the City Council on the effects of the removal of sidewalk vaults in Central Square. Councillor Cheung
For those not in the know, the continued presence of hollow sidewalks, a.k.a. sidewalk vaults or area ways, in Central Square is one of the main reasons why the sidewalks routinely fail and are difficult to maintain. Eliminating these area ways is not cheap and the financial burden primarily rests with the property owners. At the very least the City could require that these be remedied as a precondition for any City grant programs or zoning relief. This is just one of many things that continue to need attention in Central Square. - Robert Winters
The Eve of the Ides - March 14, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting highlights
With the announcement last Friday that City Manager Richard Rossi would not be seeking a contract extension at the end of his term this summer, things got really interesting really fast around City Hall. People are already speculating on possible successors. Let's just hope that the relative peace that we've see so far this term manages to reign - even as those with divergent points of view jockey for position to influence the process to come. The City Council's Government Operations, Rules, and Claims Committee will meet at 10:00am on Wed, Mar 23 to continue the discussion of the process and schedule for selecting the next City Manager.
In the meantime, we do have a regular meeting this week. Here are a few items of some interest - with minimal comment:
Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining the noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 36 municipalities in the United States with three AAA ratings from the nation's three major credit rating agencies.
This has become an annual event that is treated almost as routine - but it isn't. It speaks volumes regarding the fiscal policies of the City Management balanced against the policy initiatives of the City Council.
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to form a special working group that will be tasked with developing a framework for the continued stewardship, curatorship and oversight of the Out of Town Kiosk in Harvard Square.
The discussion of this item during the previous City Council meeting had more than a few hints of the desire of some city councillors to micromanage a process best left to the kind of public process that is generally followed in projects like this. Now if only half that much attention could be focused on Central Square.
Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of Margaret Carney-Myers. Councillor Mazen
Resolution #8. Resolution on the death of Steven Warren Reckhow. Councillor Maher
I remember Margaret from 25 years ago when some of us expended great effort organizing "Earth Day" events for Cambridge. Though they divorced some time ago, it is worth noting that Margaret was once married to former Cambridge City Councillor Jonathan Myers. The last time I saw her was several years ago while giving some lessons on composting at a community garden in Cambridgeport.
Steve Reckhow's rapid health decline and death came as quite a shock. Steve and his wife Sylvia have owned the property next to me on Broadway - the former Hubley's auction house - for a number of years now. They redeveloped that property and the triple-decker behind me with great attention to energy conservation and historic preservation. The Broadway building now houses the Barismo/Dwelltime coffee shop and the Wildflower Montessori School.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with relevant City departments to develop data on residents of housing developments with 16 units or more to capture such demographic information as the City might find relevant for future planning, to include the number and age of residents, as well as the percent of owner-occupied units, broken down by unit size, specific building and building location. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux
I like information as much as anyone, but this seems a bit on the intrusive side. Perhaps they can just take the information from the annual street listing and be satisfied with that. Do we really need to categorize everything and everybody to such a degree?
Leapin' Legislators - Items of Interest on the Feb 29, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda
There's not much to leap about on this week's agenda, but here are a few items that stirred my interest:
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the progress made in acquiring the Vail Court property, including a financial impact statement and a plan to move forward in acquiring this property through eminent domain. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Mazen on Feb 22, 2016.]
Under normal circumstances, an eminent domain taking of residential property is not the best course of action, but Vail Court is clearly exceptional. This property has been derelict now not for years, but for decades. It is problematic for abutters and for anyone who cares about the greater Central Square neighborhood.
Unfinished Business #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Mayor E. Denise Simmons transmitting proposed changes to the City Council Rules and the City Council Committee Assignments for the Council Term 2016-2017. [Placed On Unfinished Business for one week on Feb 22, 2016 per Rule 36b.]
For those unfamiliar with the City Council Rules, any rules change is required to "lay on the table" for at least a week before it can be finalized. Since the standing City Council committees are established within the City Council Rules, they are not formally reconfigured until the rules are finalized. However, since the Chairs of each of the committees were announced weeks ago, there was nothing preventing them from scheduling meetings. So far, only the Finance Committee has scheduled meetings.
Applications & Petitions #1. A petition was received from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, requesting permission for twenty-five banners on poles along Massachusetts Avenue from Memorial Drive to Vassar Street and six banners on poles along Broadway from Longfellow Bridge to Third Street to publicize the upcoming MIT celebration of their move from Boston to Cambridge 100 years ago.
This should be fun. The official "Crossing the Charles procession and competition" is set to take place on May 7.
Resolution #8. Congratulations to the African American Heritage Alliance on the unveiling of a memorial quilt which will illuminate the unique history and vital contributions of African Americans in Cambridge through the creation and dissemination of an historic trail, educational materials, and programs for residents and visitors. Mayor Simmons
One of the greatest things about living in Cambridge is that there's history to be discovered on almost any street in the city. This is a great addition to the historical fabric.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor, the City Assessor and the Community Development Department to prepare a Municipal Transfer Tax Ordinance and, if required, appropriate Home Rule Petition, to implement a municipal transfer tax on real estate transactions in the City of Cambridge such that the value of a real estate transaction not less than $1 million be taxed on a sliding scale based on said transaction value, with proceeds being earmarked for affordable housing initiatives in the City, and to report back to the City Council. Councillor Toomey
This will likely go nowhere in the state legislature, but it's an interesting new angle on generating funds for affordable housing programs. Legally there's a rather large obstruction to this proposal going anywhere - namely that the Community Preservation Act is already funded by such a tax on real estate transactions, and Cambridge already allots 80% of that CPA revenue toward affordable housing.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to form a special working group that will be tasked with developing a framework for the continued stewardship, curatorship and oversight of the Out of Town Kiosk in Harvard Square. Councillor Maher, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern
Perhaps this same special working group can take on the establishment of a jointly operated storefront abutting Carl Barron Plaza in Central Square that would house a Cambridge Police substation, coordination of MBTA bus activities, an information kiosk, and the promised public restroom from the last Participatory Budget process. Oh yeah, that's in Central Square, so I suppose that means it will be assigned a lower priority.
Arguably, the most significant thing on this week's agenda doesn't appear on the agenda at all - namely the question of a contract extension for City Manager Richard Rossi. According to the current contract, there is no set date by which Mr. Rossi must inform the City Council of his intentions, but the City Council is obliged to notify Mr. Rossi of their intentions no later than March 1, 2016. There is no doubt that the City and its residents would be well-served by having Rich Rossi continue as City Manager for at least another year or two (preferably more). I sincerely hope that a majority of the City Councillors will see the wisdom in signaling their intention this Monday to enter into discussions with Mr. Rossi on a contract extension. Indeed, based on Mr. Rossi's superlative performance over the last few years, I can see no reason why the vote should be anything other than unanimous. - Robert Winters
Back to Work (Really) - Monday, Feb 22, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting
Note: Much of this meeting's agenda was originally set for February 8, but all City of Cambridge offices were closed that day due to snow. All of those items were carried over to the February 22 agenda.
The 2016-2017 City Council committee assignments have been announced by Mayor Simmons. There are also proposed amended 2016-2017 City Council Rules on the agenda for this week's meeting. The proposed changes include uniformizing most City Council committees at 5 members and allowing for the possibility that some Roundtable meetings may be televised. One curious departure from tradition is that Mayor Simmons will co-chair the Housing Committee and also be a regular member of the Civic Unity Committee. In all my year's of Council-watching, I don't recall the Mayor being anything other than an ex-officio member of any subcommittees (other than committees of the whole) and certainly never a co-chair. I have to interpret this a strong desire of Mayor Simmons to continue work begun on these committees during the last term.
I'm especially pleased by the appointments to the Government Operations, Rules, & Claims Committee - especially with the City Manager's contract discussion coming up (very) soon. The City Council must give notice of its intentions no later than March 1.
Other interesting items on this coming Monday's City Council agenda:
Manager's Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Sharlene Yang as the new STEAM Coordinator.
So much of the focus on STEM/STEAM has seemed like little more than political fashion, but if any of these efforts result in matching young people growing up in Cambridge with real opportunities in the local economy of today, it will all have been worth it. That said, a coordinator needs to have something to coordinate and it will be interesting to see if the required opportunities develop.
Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Sage Cannabis, Inc., to amend the provisions of the Medical Marijuana Overlay District Section 20.700 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Map.
Communications #8. A communication was received from Michael Dundas, Chief Executive Officer, Sage Cannabis, Inc., 13 Commercial Way, Milford, MA, regarding a status update on the zoning amendment petition APP 2015 #72 filed with the Cambridge City Clerk on Nov 9, 2015.
Order #3. That the zoning petition filed by Milford Medicinals, Inc. be placed on file. Mayor Simmons
It's hard to say where this matter is going to ultimately end up, but it's important to note that the City Council and City staff spent a considerable amount of time on the current zoning that delineates two areas where medical marijuana dispensaries can operate. Has the case really been made that those districts are inadequate and that additional mini-districts have to be established whenever a medical marijuana dispensary wants to operate elsewhere? It's also worth considering how the marijuana sales landscape will take shape in the event that the ballot question on legalization prevails later this year.
Resolution #18. Congratulations to the MIT-based members of the LIGO collaboration on their contributions to the observation of gravitational waves. Councillor Cheung
Occasionally my worlds collide. The "chirp" of two black holes colliding was the talk in every corner of MIT on February 11. Even MIT President Rafael Reif was as excited as a kid at a carnival.
Order #5. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to amend the provisions of the PUD-KS District set forth in Section 13.10 of the Zoning Ordinances and which includes a majority of the Volpe Transportation Systems Center site, be refiled as of Feb 9, 2015. Councillor Carlone
This re-filing has been anticipated for some time, and now there will be an Ordinance Committee to work on it.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant City departments to study the benefits of a wellbeing index and plan for how it might be incorporated into various City planning processes, including the city wide Master Plan. Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern
Call me skeptical. I just read the following description of a wellbeing index: "The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is designed to be the Dow Jones of health, giving a daily measure of people's wellbeing at the close of every day. With a daily measure, determining the correlation between the places where people work and the communities in which they live, and how it impacts their wellbeing, is now possible. Additionally, the index will increase an understanding of how those factors impact the financial health of corporations and communities." This seems to be in part a continuation of the spectrum of policies that Cambridge planners have been using for years in promoting transportation alternatives and integrating passive and active recreational opportunities wherever possible. My skepticism comes from the potential subjectivity of such a measure. I'm reminded how when various measures of cycling safety led to inconclusive results, a new "comfort index" was invented in order to justify specific policies regarding road design that some planners wanted. How shall we measure "wellbeing"?
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding how the decision to move these festivals out of Central Square was reached, what plans the City has to initiate other festivals in Central Square to replace these lost activities, and what can be done to return these festivals to Central Square. Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons
It would be great if the Central Square Worlds Fair could one day be revived, but these events don't come cheap, and they don't all yield benefits for the existing businesses in Central Square.
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department, the Public Works Department, and any other relevant City department to level the sidewalks and add new lighting to Carl Barron Plaza prior to any renovations taking place. Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons
Any significant renovations to Carl Barron Plaza will likely be delayed until the River Street improvements happen a couple of years from now. That said, basic maintenance of the sidewalks and better lighting shouldn't be delayed. One comprehensive improvement that could also be made now would be a jointly operated storefront abutting the plaza that would house a Cambridge Police substation, coordination of MBTA bus activities, an information kiosk, and the promised public restroom from the last Participatory Budget process. An outside public restroom (the Portland Loo) recently open in the Harvard Square area, but it would be so much better (and more secure) if such a facility in Central Square was done jointly with enhanced police presence. The plumbing will also be a lot simpler.
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the progress made in acquiring the Vail Court property, including a financial impact statement and a plan to move forward in acquiring this property through eminent domain. Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons
The perennial sore thumb continues to throb. Non-friendly eminent domain takings are a huge hassle and don't always end well, but this situation is ridiculous.
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Clerk to communicate the City Council’s strong support of Harvard’s graduate research and teaching assistants to choose collective bargaining to the Harvard University administration. Councillor Cheung
Some form of collective bargaining may make sense here, but being a graduate student teaching assistant is not a career option and should not be categorized the same way as long-term jobs are - unionized or not. More than anything else, this is really a test of the ethical standards of universities like Harvard, and any discussion of what constitutes fairness should also be extended to adjunct faculty for whom this often does constitute a career choice.
Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to seek permission from the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) for the use of two lanes (one in each direction) of Memorial Drive for non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians only and further to coordinate with the appropriate city departments to close two lanes to cars (one in each direction) on Memorial Drive on Apr 29, 2016, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Walk/Ride Days, and the kick-off of the 5th Annual Walk/Ride Day Corporate Challenge. Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Mayor Simmons
Though there may be some popular appeal in doing something like this, the unfortunate reality is that the DCR "parkways" have become essential links between the urban core and major roads like the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 2. This includes the need for a through lane as well as a turning lane at numerous locations. Removing two travel lanes or even shutting these roads down altogether may be fine on weekends and holidays, but the road already operates at capacity during rush hour on working days. It is hard to imagine the DCR agreeing to such a road closure on a busy Friday. If so, perhaps the name should be changed from "Walk/Ride Day" to "Piss Off Thousands of Commuters Day." - Robert Winters
Groundhog Eve - A Few Items from the Feb 1, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting agenda
Perhaps there will be just six more weeks of winter, then it will get cold again. Until then, here are a few comment-worthy items on tap for this Monday:
Resolution #1. Happy Birthday wishes to former Mayor and City Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves. Councillor Maher
Happy birthday, Ken!
It's interesting that 55 years ago the same-numbered bill read: "1961 House Bill 3019. An Act Providing A Penalty For Operating A Motor Vehicle So Dangerously Under The Circumstances That The Operator Should Be Conscious That He Is Unreasonably Endangering The Lives Or Safety Of The Public."
The first of these measures would mandate better mirrors and side guards on some vehicles as a means of helping to prevent catastrophic injuries to cyclists. (A significant fraction of cyclist fatalities involve altercations with very large vehicles). The third of these measures would clarify the rights of a cyclist in a crosswalk (which could make a big difference in terms of legal liability in the event of injury or death). Bicycles are vehicles, but in a situation like the Minuteman Bikeway where there are crosswalks at intersections it's currently not clear what a cyclist is supposed to do - proceed with caution or dismount and walk.
The second of these measures is the most significant. It attempts to define "vulnerable user" and includes cyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders, people in wheelchairs, tractor operators, and people riding an animal. The proposed law would require that a safe distance of at least three feet be maintained for a motor vehicle traveling at thirty miles per hour or less, and one additional foot of clearance for every ten miles per hour above thirty miles per hour. The law would also require that if a passing vehicle cannot maintain this safe distance when overtaking a "vulnerable user", the overtaking vehicle shall use all or part of an adjacent lane, crossing the centerline if necessary, if it is safe to do so or wait for a safe opportunity to overtake. This should be standard practice anyway for any good driver, but it will be great if this is enshrined in law. The greatest danger for cyclists (and pedestrians) occurs when there are turning vehicles, but there is also some risk (and some fear) of getting "brushed back" by a careless motor vehicle operator who does give a wide berth when passing a cyclist, a pedestrian or, for that matter, even a slower motor vehicle.
If I could wave a magic wand and command the legislature to do right, I would also mandate lower speed limits on any road where the distance between moving vehicles and parked vehicles is below some minimum, e.g. many Cambridge one-way streets with cars parked on both sides. Nobody should be driving more than 25mph on streets like Lee St., Fayette St., or Antrim St. (just to name a couple of streets in my own neighborhood). I will also point out that according to the above proposed law regarding vulnerable users it may not even be physically possible to legally pass a cyclist on such road.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development with the intention of organizing a Volpe Task Force made up of representatives from abutting neighborhood groups and Kendall Square residents and businesses. Councillor Toomey
I would have thought that such a group would already have been formed, but this does again bring up the dilemma of who really represents the people in the various neighborhoods of Cambridge. I am reminded of Al Vellucci's oft-stated phrase "the self-anointed, self-appointed."
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Information Technology Department and any other relevant City departments on ways the City of Cambridge can implement such a service with the goal of notifying residents of city-wide and neighborhood events and meetings via automated calls or text messages. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux
This isn't a bad idea, but I have to wonder who will decide which meetings and events will be deemed call- or email-worthy and which residents will be contacted (abutters, immediate neighborhood, citywide).
This would provide an additional source of funds for expanding services like Hubway. Let me just say that as a cyclist who likes to work on my own bike, there' nothing like getting to know your own wheels.
Order #9. City Council support of a grant application by the City of Cambridge to the U.S. Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge, proposing the development of an automated, connected-vehicle transportation system that has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Councillor Toomey
Beyond all the greenhouse gas stuff, this grant could help in the development of the future Grand Junction Multi-use path which will help link together residential, commercial, and educational centers in Somerville, Cambridge, and Allston. There are reasons for doing this that go beyond climate change, but I suppose that's where the money is to be found in this political environment.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting notification from the President of the Massachusetts State Senate, calling for a special election to be held on Tues, May 10, 2016, to fill an existing vacancy in the First Suffolk and Middlesex Senatorial District [Petruccelli].
This means that there will also have to be a primary on Tues, April 12 and, since it's unlikely that we'll see a viable Republican or other party candidate, that's when the actual decision will be made with the Democrat running unopposed or minimally opposed on May 10. Special elections like this should not be conducted in this way. If there is to be a primary, it should be a single open primary where the top two finishers, regardless of party, advance to the final election. Better yet, require ranked-choice-voting (RCV) with transferable votes to elect a single winner and eliminate the primary altogether. It's idiotic that legislators should be determined in a low turnout primary. Isn't Massachusetts supposed to be a hotbed of intellect and innovation? Why can't we get elections right?
Don't forget - the Presidential Primary is also taking place on Tues, March 1.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., transmitting a series of articles regarding the affordable housing crisis. [San Francisco's Self-Defeating Housing Activists] [What's the Matter with San Francisco?]
The comparison of San Francisco and Cambridge may be imperfect, but the underlying issues explored in these articles do have some relevance here.
We'll also likely get the 2016-17 City Council Committee Assignments at this meeting (or at least we hope so). - Robert Winters
Tasty menu items for the Jan 25, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting
More than anything else, I'm hoping that the membership and Chairs of the City Council subcommittees will be completed in time for this Monday's meeting. There's also the possibility that the committees themselves could undergo some changes. In 2014 the number of committees was reduced from 17 to 11 via consolidation. It's unlikely that this number will be further reduced, but some reconfiguration is not out of the question.
Other than the committee appointments, here are some morsels that aroused my interest:
Regardless of the merits of the proposal, it's hard to tell what is meant here by "parity between the effective tax rates paid by the richest and poorest in Massachusetts". The proposed constitutional amendment would add an additional 4% tax on top of the current 5.1% state income tax on earnings in excess of $1 million in any tax year.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to communicate the Cambridge City Council’s full support of the Cambridge Housing Authority's proposed project funding to the Commonwealth and MassDevelopment and to convey the immediacy of the Cambridge Housing Authority’s need in requesting that the Commonwealth approve tax-exempt bond financing without delay. Councillor Cheung, Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern
This would be one more step to ensure that the financing is available to carry out the necessary renovations to the Manning Apartments in the Central Square area.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to coordinate with the appropriate City departments to report back with a rough estimate of capital and operating expenditures for a pilot City of Cambridge tool library for the year 2017. Councillor Mazen, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux
This is an intriguing proposal, though it seems like the best model would be more like a public-private partnership. Compare with Parts and Crafts in Somerville.
Order #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to coordinate with the Clerk’s Office and the appropriate departments to implement within three months an electronic public comment display in the Sullivan Chamber, listing the speaker’s name and affiliation as well as a timer. Councillor Mazen, Councillor Cheung
Just get a better timer - perhaps one with a green, yellow, and red light to alert the speaker when his or her time is drawing to a close. There is no need for "an electronic public comment display.... listing the speaker’s name and affiliation". Each speaker now provides that information verbally and that is sufficient.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Public Works and the Community Development Department to work with Eversource and other power providers to plan and implement infrastructure improvements to fully support future development in Cambridge and further to confer with the appropriate departments to draft an amendment to the City’s Zoning Ordinance that would see projects needing a special permit undergo a power needs assessment as part of the permitting process. Councillor Cheung, Councillor Devereux
This is a modified version of an order from the Dec 21, 2015 meeting. More attention needs to be given to the evolving infrastructure needs in Cambridge as new housing and other structures are introduced - not as a means of blocking development but to ensure that such things as electrical power are adequate to support future needs.
Committee Report #1. 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 Dec 14, 2015 to discuss the climate change vulnerability assessment.
I make note of this report only because my testimony at this hearing relates to the above Order regarding electrical infrastructure needs.
Order #9. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Affairs with a view in mind of scheduling two finance committee hearings to be chaired by a Councillor of the Mayor’s choosing, one as an update from the head of the Finance Department and the other to review budget priorities, to be held in the middle of February. Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux
It is likely that this Order will simply be redirected to the Finance Committee to schedule these meetings if the City Council committee assignments are completed in time for this meeting.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to amend Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich dated Jan 5, 2016.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Hasson Rashid dated Jan 8, 2016.
Shoo, fly. When well-meaning laws like the Open Meeting Law degenerate into vehicles for malcontents to act out their psychological issues, it's time for the State Legislature to consider amending the laws to better respect their intended purpose. City officials should not be required to waste their time on complaints such as the two listed above. - Robert Winters
Starting from Scratch - Agenda Items from the Jan 11, 2016 Cambridge City Council Meeting
It's hard to characterize as "new" an elected body that's 8/9 the same as the previous one, but it's a clean slate nonetheless with a new Mayor. We'll have to wait and see where this train takes us. Also, the City Clerk's Office has changed the way they make meeting materials available starting with the new Council term. It's good in some ways, but it's a lot more difficult in other ways, especially in linking to specific documents without having to open up a 30MB PDF file just to find a single item buried among 300 pages. Here are a few agenda items that seem worthy of comment:
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, in response to the City Council's request for a legal opinion on whether the City can act either through ordinance, home rule petition or additional avenues to protect tenants from dramatic rent increases or unfair evictions, and whether the City has the ability to strengthen the tenant protections provided under the state Condominium Conversion Act.
As the City Solicitor's opinion makes clear, municipalities have very limited authority in such matters, especially in the regulation of rents, but some specific tenant protections could possibly be enacted via a successful Home Rule petition.
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Barrett, et al, Zoning Petition.
Unfinished Business #9. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 19, 2015 to discuss a petition filed by Patrick W. Barrett III, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by amending Article 2.000 ("Definitions") and Article 4.000, Section 4.22 ("Accessory Apartment"). The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 28, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held on Oct 27, 2015. Petition expires Feb 17, 2016.
Communications #1. A communication was received from Patrick W. Barrett III, Esq., regarding the Barrett Petition.
These three items refer to the Barrett Petition that would modify zoning relating to Accessory Apartments and Basement Space. With a Feb 17 expiration date, now would be a good time to get the City Council Committee assignments completed so that the Ordinance Committee could reconvene and iron out any desirable amendments to this petition.
[UPDATE: The Barrett Petition passed (as amended only to insert an effective date of May 1, 2016) by a 7-1-1 vote (Cheung, Kelley, Maher, Mazen, McGovern. Simmons, Toomey voted YES; Carlone voted NO; Devereux voted PRESENT).]
Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item #15-32 (2015), regarding a report on the economic analysis for Central Square. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on City Manager Agenda Number Twenty-six of Dec 21, 2015.]
The timeliness, scope, and accuracy of this report hardly makes it a good starting point to reactivate discussions on the future of Central Square, but it's something. Even a refutation of some of its assumptions would refocus some attention back to this area.
Charter Right #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to amend article 4.000 of the Zoning Ordinance to require that a power needs assessment be a requirement for appropriate projects that undergo special permit review. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Order Number Twelve of Dec 21, 2015.]
There was a residential project proposed for 10 Essex Street that went through its required hearings and approvals two years ago and was never built. At the time, one topic discussed was the need to accommodate an electrical vault accessible from the street. This otherwise technical detail was relevant in light of the fact that the abutting new H-Mart in Central Square (which would have an entrance through this proposed building) had its opening delayed for a long time due to inadequate electrical infrastructure to service that block. Only a temporary waiver permitted the opening of this now very popular store and one might speculate that this could be related to the failure to build this welcome transit-oriented development. Either that or it's the usual inaction of this particular property owner.
When the City's latest Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment findings were announced recently, I made the point that the adequacy of the city's electrical infrastructure should have been given more attention in that study. Councillor Cheung's Order of Dec 21 is relevant in that it seeks to ensure adequate electrical infrastructure for new large developments, but greater attention also needs to be paid to the entire electrical network of the city, especially in view of potential additional burdens - often on very aged and inadequate electrical lines - that may come with extended summer heat waves.
Charter Right #6. That the City Manager is requested to coordinate with the appropriate departments to give recognized community groups the ability to present alongside or directly after city staff, on the record and as part of the presentation agenda during meetings of the Ordinance Committee. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Order Number Thirteen of Dec 21, 2015.]
I really hope this proposal is discarded outright or radically amended into something sensible. There simply is no standard for what constitutes a "recognized community group", and the proposal would in all likelihood simply confer a special status upon a political entity such as the "Cambridge Residents Alliance" to present their official review of all proposals to come before the Ordinance Committee. Nothing now prevents members of this or any other organization from presenting oral or written testimony just like any other citizen or interested party.
[UPDATE: After a curious discussion, this matter was referred to the Government Operations & Rules Committee (not yet appointed).]
Unfinished Business #8. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 18, 2015 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to amend Article 6.000 to create a new Section 6.24 Car-sharing Provision that will create a definition and general provisions for Car-sharing and will allow the limited use of parking spaces. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 28, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held Oct 27, 2015. Amendment submitted by Councillor Cheung on Dec 21, 2015. Petition expires Feb 16, 2016.
This will likely be ordained at this meeting (or very soon) now that the public notice requirements have been met.
[UPDATE: The Car-sharing Zoning Amendment passed on a 7-2 vote with Councillors Kelley and Toomey voting NO. Councillor Toomey has since filed for Reconsideration of the vote.]
Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Peter L. Cohen, with regard to a proposed amendment to the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to restrict garage development in dimensionally non-conforming lots.
I don't know much about this petition, but judging from the signatures on the petition it sounds like someone wants to build a garage on a dimensionally non-conforming lot on or around Donnell St. or R.C. Kelley St.
Resolution #5. Resolution on the retirement of Elaine Thorne. Mayor Simmons
Elaine Thorne has, in addition to other duties, served as the staff person for the Central Square Advisory Committee for many years. She has been a great friend for over two decades and I wish her well in her retirement. Perhaps one day we may see her again as a citizen member of on the City's boards & commissions. Her expertise and her perspective as a life-long Cantabrigian would be a welcome addition.
Resolution #7. Congratulations Chip Norton and Henrietta Davis. Mayor Simmons
It is very appropriate for this year's Fresh Pond Stewardship Award to be awarded to Chip Norton and Henrietta Davis. It was nearly two years ago that Chip Norton died unexpectedly, but he served many years working to protect the watershed areas of the Cambridge water supply. Henrietta Davis has also been an advocate for Fresh Pond and the watershed areas for many years (though I do wish she would return the MAPC Cambridge watershed study I loaned her many years ago!).
Order #3. That the City Council Ordinance Committee be and hereby is requested to review the attached proposed amendment to §12.16.030 TreesClimbing, Signposting, Fastening horses. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey
You certainly have to read the text of the Order to appreciate its intent, namely to address the problem of bicycles being recklessly locked to living trees. I do enjoy occasionally looking at the sometimes obsolete language of some of Cambridge's more dated ordinances. For example: "9.04.070 - Throwing objects in streets or on bridges. No person shall play ball or throw a stone or other missile in any street, or upon or from any bridge." You didn't know that stickball was illegal in the streets of Cambridge, did you?
Order #4. That the matter of creating smoke free places of employment to protect all workers in unenclosed areas be referred to the Ordinance Committee for consideration. Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone
A motivation for this proposed amendment seems to be to address the potential dangers of smoking at construction sites where there are flammable materials present. The fire at the new Putnam Ave. school that delayed its opening for six months seems to be the most obvious example of this hazard.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and other relevant departments to draft a zoning ordinance that would see the installation of solar panels be as of right in all zoning districts in the City. Councillor Cheung
This is a reintroduction of an Order from Oct 19, 2015. It remains an excellent idea after any potential conflicts have been resolved.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and report back to the City Council with language that could create a Grand Junction Overlay District that would help to create incentives and ensure the completion of the Grand Junction Multiuse Path. Councillor Toomey
This is basically a reintroduction of an Order passed on Feb 23, 2015. The only difference now is that there is some sense that funding may be more difficult to come by in light of the scaling back or indefinite delay of other MBTA projects, e.g. the Green Line Extension. Some "Occupy" types have suggested that "Cambridge should just build it", but that's problematic if you don't own or control the right-of-way or, most importantly, the RR bridge over the Charles River that carries an active rail line. That said, creating an overlay district with incentives for abutting property owners to facilitate the construction is a good start.
Order #8. That the City Council go on record accepting the attached provisions of Chapter 162 of the Acts of 2015, the same being ‘AN ACT RELATIVE TO THE TAX STATUS OF CERTAIN LAND OWNED BY A HOUSING AUTHORITY WITHIN THE CITY OF CAMBRIDGE.” Mayor Simmons
It's hard to say whether this was done for a specific property or in connection with some of the creative financing plans the Cambridge Housing Authority has been exploring and adopting. In any case, the Act was adopted and signed by the Governor, so all that's left is for the City Council to accept its provisions.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Transmitting An Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich, 955 Massachusetts Avenue #259, Cambridge, regarding the amended Minutes of the City Council meeting of Aug 10, 2015.
We can only hope that these two mosquitoes will soon fly away or find another host on which to feed. - Robert Winters
FYI - Current Rules and Goals: Cambridge City Council & Cambridge School Committee
City Council Rules 2016-2017 (adopted Feb 29, 20160
City Council Rules 2014-2015 (adopted January 7, 2014, amended Feb 10, 2014 to reflect current Council committees)
City Council Goals - FY2012-2013 (adopted Dec 13, 2011)
City Council Committees (for the current term)
School Committee Rules (adopted January 7, 2008)
School Committee Goals (adopted October 7, 2008)
Research Assistants? I don't think so...
May 2, 2006 – The Cambridge City Council voted 8-1 on May 1 in favor of giving themselves personal “research assistants.” Only Councillor Craig Kelley had the fortitude to raise any questions about the proposal. So it appears the proposal will sail through the Budget Hearings with barely a raised eyebrow. While I have raised the issue of the genesis of this proposal, the question of its merits and its implementation have not been addressed here. So, here are some observations, questions, and suggestions for our elected officials, City administration, and residents to consider:
1. There was a time when our elected officials enlisted citizens to assist them in research matters relating to public policy. Cambridge is perhaps the best city in the United States in which to find experts in almost any matter that the City Council (or School Committee) may need to better understand. There is a wealth of evidence over the last 65 years showing how citizens have worked with elected officials in the development of public policy. If the City Council feels burdened by the research needs of its committees, there is an enormous pool of talent available at no cost. Currently, the City Council makes very little use of this very available resource.
2. There was a time when councillors collaborated much more than they currently do in committee work and in the development of policies. A well-functioning City Council committee should delegate responsibilities so that each member masters certain facets of the tasks at hand and shares this knowledge with the rest of the committee. In effect, councillors serve as staff to each other. I would argue that it is better that elected officials educate themselves.
3. Are these jobs going to be publicly posted with a job description? Who will be doing the actual hiring? If Councillor Smith wants to hire Mr. Jones as personal staff, will the mayor have veto power over the hire? Does the Personnel Department have a role to play here or are these to be political hires? None of these details have been discussed publicly and they are important.
4. If these “research assistants” are to be hired, there should be policies and safeguards to ensure that they are not working on behalf of any councillor's political campaign. Otherwise, this proposal will have the effect of using taxpayer dollars to support the political campaigns of incumbent councillors. In fact, maybe it's time to consider a similar disqualification for staff in the Mayor's Office. A founding principle of Plan E government is the elimination of political patronage in favor of responsible, professional government. Some of us still believe in this ideal. At the very least, strong guidelines should be established for what is and is not permissible.
5. The existence of this proposal within the budget of the Mayor's Office is very strange indeed since it involves personnel for councillors, not the mayor. Should we not infer from this that the consensus of the councillors is that the City Council staff is not up to the task? If the job of councillor has changed so much, should there not be some discussion of revamping the Office of the City Council to better match the needs of the councillors? Why are these tasks being outsourced?
6. Some councillors have recently stated that the filing of City Council orders requesting information through the City Manager is not enough and that councillors would be better served by having their own staff to get this information. This strikes me as contrary to the intent of the Plan E Charter which dictates that all matters involving City personnel be directed through the Manager. One can easily imagine a scenario where each councillor has his or her personal staff contact City department heads for information rather than filing an Order as a body to get a common response. If the consensus is that the City Manager is being obstructive or extraordinarily slow in responding, shouldn't the City Council take more forceful action in holding the Manager accountable?
7. If the term “research assistant” is meant to be factual, then perhaps these RAs should be topic-specific so that we can have people who have some background or aptitude for the tasks at hand. If, for example, research in energy-related matters is what is needed, then someone with that knowledge would be ideal. Is any such protocol being discussed to ensure that the councillors and the taxpayers will get the best quality research for their tax dollars? I would hope that matters like scheduling and event planning will be handled by the City Council Office rather than by “research assistants.”
8. Several councillors have complained that e-mail has had a dramatic effect on the responsibilities of a city councillor due to the time consumption associated with responding to these messages. I don't doubt this. However, there are efficiencies that can make such tasks much easier. For example, if each councillor receives 100 e-mail messages on a particular topic, then rather than making 100 shallow replies, I would advise responding to ALL of the issues of substance raised by residents in a single, comprehensive message sent (using blind-carbon-copy) to all of the people who sent messages. Those of us in academics have been doing this for years. It's much more effective to craft comprehensive messages sent to the whole class rather than many nearly identical messages sent to individual students. There are MANY ways to be more effective in e-mail communication. Then again, if individual responses are seen as more valuable in securing potential votes in the next election, that's a choice each councillor must make on his or her own - independent of taxpayer-supported staff.
In summary, I am not questioning whether or not some changes in staffing are warranted. I am, however, asking that any such changes be done in the best interest of taxpayers and that City funds are never used to either directly or indirectly support the reelection efforts of elected officials. - RW, May 3, 2006
Jan 1998 - The vote for who was to be mayor went on for several weeks as Ken Reeves held out until there were 4 other votes for Katherine Triantafillou, an outcome sincerely supported by at most two councillors (Reeves and Triantafillou). The would-be mayor rounded up her supporters for the coronation. A congratulatory cake was ordered. As the vote occurred and there were momentarily 5 votes on the table for Triantafillou (Born, Davis, Duehay, Reeves, Triantafillou), Councillors Galluccio and Russell changed their votes to Duehay. Councillors Born, Davis, and Duehay then changed their votes to Duehay and Mayor Duehay was elected. Councillor Galluccio was then elected vice-mayor. Meanwhile, in the room next to the Council chamber, Alice Wolf aide and Triantafillou supporter Marjorie Decker exploded in anger and punched out the cake, police were called, and a grudge began that remains to this day.
Feb 1998 - Mayor Duehay made good on the deal by hiring Galluccio campaign worker Terry Smith to work in the Mayor's Office "to assist the mayor and vice mayor". This marked the first time (to my knowledge) that any councillor other than the mayor received personal staff (except for a brief experiment with interns some years earlier). Resentment grew among other councillors about the special treatment one councillor received in exchange for delivering the mayor's job.
1999 - Frank Duehay and Sheila Russell announced they would not seek reelection. Jim Braude, David Maher, and Marjorie Decker were subsequently elected to the City Council as incumbent Katherine Triantafillou was defeated, principally as a result of Marjorie Decker winning her seat.
2000 - After 1½ months without electing a mayor, Anthony Galluccio was able to secure 6 votes to become mayor (Braude, Davis, Galluccio, Maher, Sullivan, Toomey). David Maher was elected vice-mayor. Terry Smith became chief of staff of the Mayor's Office. David Maher did not request any personal staff. Kathy Born suggested during the Budget hearings that the idea of personal staff for councillors be referred to the Government Operations Committee. Ken Reeves said at this time, "I don't believe the vice-mayor needs the extra staffing and not us." Note that this was a reference to the previous administration (Duehay-Galluccio).
Around this time, the Government Operations Committee met to discuss the proposal for personal staff. The estimates given for City Council staff were: (1) $390,250 for a low-level, bare bones proposal; (2) $157,450 for 8 part-time staff with no benefits; (3) $72,300 for one legislative research assistant. Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi said personal staff was tried briefly about 10 years earlier with interns. Michael Sullivan voiced concern about keeping in touch personally with his constituents and wondered how he would find enough things for this person to do. Most of the councillors spoke in support of giving themselves personal staff. Kathy Born said that if she found her job to be too much, she could hire her own staff person, only she would have to pay for it out of after-tax money, unlike an employee of a business. She suggested higher Council pay with the option of paying for a staff person out of this additional pay. The option would remain for a councillor to act as a “full-time councillor” without staff. Jim Braude said that a councillor could lend his or her campaign the money for the staff person.
One week later, the City Manager proposed a 23% pay raise for city councillors and a change in the ordinance to allow for automatic increases so that they would never again have to vote to raise their own pay. The pay raise was approved and the question of personal staff disappeared for the rest of the Council term.
2001 - Kathy Born and Jim Braude chose not to seek reelection. Brian Murphy and Denise Simmons were elected to the City Council.
2002 - Michael Sullivan was elected mayor on Inauguration Day. Henrietta Davis was elected vice-mayor. Unlike the previous term, Henrietta Davis did request and receive personal staff as vice-mayor when Garrett Simonsen, Davis' election campaign manager, was hired to the Mayor's Office staff as her assistant. Indications are that he served more than just the vice-mayor.
2004 - Michael Sullivan was again elected mayor, only this time Marjorie Decker was elected vice-mayor. Garrett Simonsen became chief of staff of the Mayor's Office. Sullivan hired Kristin Franks (who had been Decker's campaign manager) as “assistant to the mayor and vice-mayor” but the indications were that she was working almost exclusively for Decker. By summer, Franks was gone and Nicole Bukowski, another Decker campaign worker, was hired as exclusive staff to Decker. For the remainder of the Council term, Bukowski waited hand and foot on Decker - and resentment among other councillors grew for the remainder of the Council term.
Late 2005 - Craig Kelley was elected to the City Council and incumbent David Maher was defeated. Speculation immediately began about who would be the next mayor. Some councillors reported that a plan was being discussed to give certain councillors personal staff as part of the vote-trading for electing the mayor.
Early 2006 - Ken Reeves was elected mayor and Tim Toomey vice-mayor. In a surprising turn of events, Bukowski continued to serve out of the Mayor's Office as personal staff to Councillor Decker - clearly a part of the deal to make Reeves mayor. Rumors circulated that there was a plan to assign some councillors additional committee chairs as justification for getting personal staff. When the committee chairs were announced, Councillor Decker (who, along with Councillor Galluccio, has maintained the worst record of committee attendance during her time on the Council) was surprisingly given four committees to chair. In contrast, Henrietta Davis (who has always been at or near the top in committee attendance) was given only one. This was seen by some as a way to justify Decker keeping her personal aide in exchange for her vote for mayor.
April 2006 - Ken Reeves submitted a budget for the Mayor's Office that is 54.3% higher than the previous year. The cause for the increase is a proposal for personal staff for all the remaining councillors at a recurring annual cost of about a quarter-million dollars. There was no public indication of any kind that such an extravagant plan was in the works. An order is on the May 1 City Council agenda (after the budget was already submitted on April 24 including the increase) formally calling for the major staff increase. The order is co-sponsored by Reeves, Toomey, Decker, Galluccio, Sullivan, and Davis. It is expected that, like every person hired to date as staff for the vice-mayor (and most of those on the mayor's staff), all of the new “research assistants” will be affiliated with the election campaigns of the officials they will serve. Curiously, these patronage hires will be occurring at a time when there are fewer major issues before the Council and when an unprecedented number of councillors are either serving in other elected positions or seeking election to other positions now or in the near future. - RW, April 28, 2006
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
One Ring to rule them all,
The nine Nazgūl arose as Sauron's most powerful servants in the Second Age of Middle-earth. It is said that three of the Nine were originally "Great Lords" of Nśmenor. They were all powerful mortal Men to whom Sauron each gave nine Rings of Power. These proved to be their undoing:
"Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron. And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thralldom of the ring that they bore and of the domination of the One which was Sauron's. And they became forever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgūl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy's most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death" (The Silmarillion: "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age", 289).
The corrupting effect of the rings caused their bodily forms to fade over time until they had become wraiths entirely. Given visible form only through their attire, their original form was completely invisible to mortal eyes. The red reflection in their eyes could be plainly distinguished even in daylight, and in a rage they appeared in a hellish fire. They had many weapons, which included long swords of steel and flame, daggers with magical venomous properties and black maces of great strength.